We do school year-round with the kids, because that gives us plenty of flexibility to take days off whenever we’ve all HAD it (and because they get VERY bored with a three-month summer break). This tends to make the years ooze into each other, so that I have to stop and think to figure out what “grade” each child is in.

I do usually stop in July, though, and do my standardized testing and figure out what I need to order for the following year. This July, the figuring is particularly interesting, because I’m trying to tailor my oldest son’s curriculum to educate him as a writer.

In other words, I’m trying to practice what I preach. The classical pattern encourages students to specialize as they enter high school, rather than waiting until the junior year of college; in my opinion, we keep American students generalists for much, much too long. The requirement that they take more and more different kinds of classes, rather than being allowed to specialize in what they love, gives them broad but very shallow knowledge. It deprives them of the chance to develop a passion for some particular subject. It makes them planless and listless. (I’ve taught college freshmen for the past ten years; I know of what I speak.)

So rather than insist that Christopher stick to some standard liberal-arts curriculum, I’m allowing him to specialize. This is a child who has already written three novels and has a natural gift for language. He reads constantly. When he has a free afternoon, he runs away and writes. (By the way, I don’t take all the credit for this. I did work on giving him a good solid foundation, but he just came this way. My second son will be a WHOLE DIFFERENT MATTER. But more on this later.)

(Sons one and two: two years’ difference in age, two feet difference in height.)

Last year, his ninth-grade year, Christopher took an array of correspondence courses (art, psychology, shop…) that I allowed him to pick out of a catalog. He wanted to experiment a bit. This year, he wants to concentrate on his writing.

So here’s the plan I’m laying out for him.

Grammar, of course (Rod & Staff, skipping the composition exercises), twice a week.
Rhetoric exercises (The New Oxford Guide to Writing), once a week

(T.S. Eliot once said that every writer ought to learn another language well enough to read its literature, in order to see through different cultural eyes.)
Latin (Jenney, because I used it and I can tutor him), three times a week
Japanese (he’s taking this with a tutor from William & Mary), three times a week

History (Ancient world, using my unpublished manuscript; he reads and takes notes on five chapters at a time and then writes a composition on a topic of his choice every five chapters. This is working well so far), twice a week (He’s halfway through this already, and I’m hoping to have some medieval history written by Christmas for him to move on into.)
Literature, twice a week. I’ve decided that I’m going to take him through the novel study in The Well-Educated Mind. He’s interested in writing fiction, and I think this will be the best way to help him develop those skills. I do want him to finish a few works of ancient literature as well, but I think I’m going to have him read those as part of his history study instead.

Creative writing, four times a week. He’s interested in taking a short-story correspondence course, as an experiment.

Now, of course, the little voice in the back of my head is shouting, “Yes, but he won’t know everything if you let him spend so much time reading and writing.” I will ignore the little voice. If he develops his writing skills to a professional level, he’ll know how to go out and find (and learn) anything else he needs. So the only other courses I’ll be requiring of him are his high-school-transcript-non-negotiables:
Biology, correspondence course, twice a week
Algebra, with tutor, three times a week

We’ll start this mid-August, and no doubt tinker with it a bit as we go. I’ll report back about how it’s working out…

Showing 20 comments
  • Monica

    thanks for posting this. I was wondering if you were still homeschooling. these are my favorite types of posts – how the other moms do it.

  • Pat H

    Thank you for posting this. It will give me the courage to let my very science oriented, veterinarian wannabe, 15 year old out of traditional logic, lessen the creative writing, and allow her to take extra science courses. This is her heart’s desire. I have just had a hard time not caving to the generalized expectations of the modern educational world.

    Oh, we also have year round school. I alternate subjects for June and July so it is a little lighter load with lots of time to spend outdoors. Three months off seems to congeal my young boys’ brains into cement blocks!

    My high schooler is envious of Christopher for not being stuck with “The Human Odyssey” for history narrative. (She still enjoys listening to me read “Story of the World”!) At least her brother’s will have your writings at their disposal by the time they reach high school.

    Pat H

  • Mindy

    Thanks for the little view into your homeschool! 🙂 It is so fun to read about what and how other moms are doing it. I’ll be anxious to hear your plans for the others as well. It sounds like a great plan!

  • Jenn

    Thanks for letting us into your homeschool. I too am looking at some alternatives for my kids. My 17yo senior will also be taking Japanese at community college as well as writing courses and reading classics this year. I’ll have to check out that novel study you mentioned for her.


  • shanmar

    So, this means I can blame you when I gain 200 pounds this next year, while I let my 14 year old daughter persue her heart’s desire.

    Her calling is to be a pastry chef!

  • Nan in Mass

    “Planless and listless” – yes. That is definately the most distinguishing feature of my 19yo’s friends. Except the ones who ignored the system and college expectations, and only barely graduated (or didn’t) – they have interests and a direction.

    Our younger two are homeschooling and we made the decision last year to let the middle one specialize for high school. Well, more like “decided it would be easier to let him specialize”, since it was happening already. It seemed like a good way to avoid the typical apathy and lostness of public schooled teenagers. We’ll have a lopsided child, and it will restrict his choices for college, but at least he’ll be someone. It was very comforting to me that TWTM said this was a good idea. Scary stuff, though. And all the high schoolers on TWTM board who are quick enough to do everything, all the general things and specialize in their field of interest, don’t help. I’m glad someone there linked to this blog. Thank you everyone.

    -Nan in Mass

  • Lori

    Thanks for the awesome ideas! My 13-year-old daughter also loves to read and write and that’s what she does for fun. I’ve been at a loss to figure out how to marshall that into writer’s training. This gives me a few ideas.

  • Padmé

    I loved reading your plans for your son, and will also love hearing how the year goes. What are your plans for your other children?

  • Melissa in Va

    Thanks for posting this! Very encouraging to my 12 yr old born writer. And…………what about that second son?

  • Camy

    I’m getting closer and closer to planning my 12 yo twin boys’ education around their area of specialization. The younger of the two is becoming very interested in the military chaplaincy. He is setting his thoughts on the Naval Academy. The other is gung-ho about playing computer games. HMMMM… (he’s the less-serious one). He is disappointed that he cannot get more serious about his interest at this time due to his mother’s interference (laugh).

    I have found myself hanging around WTM’s high school forum. Yikes. I become very intimidated and inspired at the same time.

    It’s neat to see your kids growing up, Susan! I’m so grateful for your writings and encouragement.



  • Jessica

    Can’t wait to see what you’re planning for your other son…

  • Joanna

    Me too! Please post your plans for your other children!

  • athena

    My husband and I are in the middle of deciding whether to have our 14yod follow a classical-type pattern or to specialize. Last year we sent her and her siblings to school in France where the educational format follows a rigorous liberal arts curriculum–which I liked very much. Anyway, while school hunting here in Texas I have to admit that I did like how students could begin specialising early, but with the drawback, it seems, of not getting a solid foundation in the key subject areas. Anyway, I just thought it was interesting that you mentioned that one can specialize and at the same time still follow the classical pattern.

    Appreciate you taking the time to write a blog to allow us to get a glimpse into your very productive life.

  • JohnH

    So, you’ve written ‘The Story of the World’ for when my kids are in grades 1-4, and ‘The History of the (Whole) World’ for when they’re in grades 9-12… what do you have up your sleeve for Jr. High 🙂

  • angela


    I’m starting a different season in my life, in which I will now school my 7 children(12,11,9,7,5,3,2), take some online writing courses, and start working part-time(The latter being the new season). My work will still allow me to be in the home, occassionally, though, I will have to leave for various appointments, but for the most part, it’s home based.

    I know I can do it, but, then again… I don’t know ??? I am going to have to be very organize(I know that), and my husband will have to help(we’re talking about all of this now. I even told him how your husband helps. My husband is good at coming home cooking and fixing our plates(he’s done that for at least fourteen years of our sixteen year marriage), however, cleaning and schooling he hasn’t done alot of. He’s good, in that, what ever I ask him to do he does, even if I have to tell him how to do it. I know we can do it, but I just wonder HOW TIRED WILL I BE???

    Please tell me how you do it??? When do you sleep??? What are your schedules like???

    If you can will you please share some of your school, work, and writing schedules with me.

    Thanks for all you do.
    King regards,

  • Cindy

    Thanks for this post!

    We’re about to begin our 4th year homeschooling (3rd grade for my oldest, 1st for my second) and until I ran across “The Well-Trained Mind” at Barnes and Noble, had been following an unstructured, mish-mash of whatever we felt like…kind of ‘unschooling lite.’

    I’m totally sold on the Classical approach and motivated thanks to your book. I can see in my boys that both of them will thrive under a structured, rigorous schedule. And you know what? So will I.

    I’m sure we’ll encounter many bumps along the way, but I intend to bookmark your website. I’m also ordering your book “The Well Educated Mind.”

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Cindy Adams

  • Spring


    Thank you for this post. I am a bit new to your website, and to classical education. I attended one of your seminars in Freeport Maine several months ago, and it was just the direction I needed. I was disatisfied with our current homeschool curriculum, but I didn’t know why. I realized, after the seminar, that i needed the BIG PICTURE of what my seven year old’s education would be, and you gave me just that. I have since scrapped the curriculum I was using, and I am focusing more on training his mind to think, using the learning stages and methods you recommended.

    As far as your post, I am thankful for it, since I know that ‘even you’ struggle with imparting your children with ‘everything’ they need to know! As a bit of a perfectionist, I can agonize over whether or not my son knows what he ought to know. Having read your post and attended your seminar , I can see that it is OK to direct him towards his interest, and away from the vast amounts of trivia that certain curriculums (and public schools) proudly flaunt. My son is already interested in architecture, and I will allow him to follow his bliss!

  • Ruth

    I have, for the past few years, been on a quiet quest to educate myself in the way you described at the Modesto Conference. I love to read, but with 4 blessings to educate and raise (in addition to my nephew who has fallen through the cracks and has definitely been “left behind” in the public school system), this love of mine has been forced to take a back seat to the more “squeaky wheel” of trivial urgencies made up in my own mind that come with the territory of homeschooling (going into our 11th year) and parenting. NO MORE!!! I purchased your book, The Well-Educated Mind, as well as Adler’s on how to read a book. I will make time to read daily for my own, as well as my children’s education (how can I pass on to them that which I don’t possess?).

    I didn’t know that you had a blog until today. Actually, to tell the truth, I had never been on your website until today. I had just seen your material on other websites that sell it. As I read your “plan” for your oldest boy (my oldest will be in 10th this year too), I knew in my heart that it is not just ok, but vital to educate our children in this manner. There is nothing wrong in letting them do and pursue what THEY love. You are so right in stating that if they really explore a subject and become deeply and intimately familiar with it, this ability to aquire knowledge will translate over into other areas they wish to learn about.

    “Creativity springs unsolicited from a well-prepared mind”. I read this somewhere a while back and wrote it down, but didn’t include the source :-(. This is my mantra of the month!

    Thank you for all the hard work that you have done to help other homeschooling families find their “way”.


  • Angela, Mother Crone

    I love hearing that others are doing what we chose to do for high school. My son dreams of becoming a history professor (and attending William and Mary). This past summer, I chose the path less traveled and created a literature rich history curriculum for him. Besides a great deal of classic tomes, we are using Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People as our spine. We added in quality writing course, and Latin. He does the required science and math,but on a much looser schedule.

    The result? He is thriving this year, and loving it more than any of the previous ten years homeschooling. He has immersed himself in the Middle ages, devouring Beowolf and Ivanhoe, reading plenty of non-fiction accounts and joining a theatre troup to perform Shakespeare. As many of his same age peers are watching their fires for learning peter out, his spark has been lit anew.

    I am now encourage to begin the same thing with my daughter, a science and nature lover, even sooner!

  • Sahamamama

    The Source of Ruth’s Quote: John Saxon

    Scroll down to #6 on this website: http://www.ednews.org/articles/1233/1/An-Interview-with-Frank-Wang-About-The-Beauty-of-Mathematics/Page1.html

    Frank Wang (Saxon’s student): My favorite quote of my mentor John Saxon was “Creativity springs unsolicited from a well-prepared mind.” I believe that if we focus on developing a well-prepared mind – by focusing on a mastery of the basic skills and concepts then everything else will follow.

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