Monday, August 15, 2016

Core Phase of Childhood Education: Age 0-8, and Always Thereafter

This post is the second in my Back-to-Homeschool Series for 2016.

As described in my previous post, there are three phases of learning in childhood and the early teen years and the prevalent conveyor belt model of schooling can hinder the advancement through these phases. The three phases (as defined in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning) are:
  • Core Phase, which focuses on character development and typically lasts from age 0 to 8 (or 9 in boys), 
  • Love of Learning Phase, which focuses on giving the child the opportunity to fall in love with learning and typically lasts from age 8 to 12 (or 13 in boys), and 
  • Scholar Phase, which focuses on the child studying a wide range of topics with increasing ability and commitment, and typically lasts from age 12 to 16 (or 17 in boys).
In this post, I will discuss Core Phase in more detail.

The Foundation For All Other Phases

Core Phase is the foundation upon which all the other phases are built. In Core Phase, the
"curriculum" is essentially the development of good character. This is accomplished through:
  • focusing on and improving family relationships, so that children feel loved and supported as individuals and know that their parents are "on their side",
  • participating in family work and responsibilities, wherein children learn how to be responsible and the inherent value of a job well-done,
  • being immersed in a home culture that demonstrates what it means to have good character, and
  • exposure to great books, music, and art in an environment where learning is celebrated and unpressured.


    Academics in Core Phase

    Academic pursuits are to be freely explored and enjoyed in Core Phase, without any pressure. This sets the stage for the following phase of learning, which is Love of Learning. Core Phase does not include forcing children to accomplish academic tasks such as reading, writing, and math.

    To readers who may feel panicked or uneasy at the idea of kids "falling behind" if they are not forced to do schoolwork at a young age, I would recommend these articles:

    Examples of Core Phase Activities

    To help readers get a better idea of what Core Phase looks like in practice, below are some examples of Core Phase activities.
    • Focusing on family relationships:
      • Spending lots of time together in daily home life as well as enjoyable activities such as playing games, circle time, going for walks, and visiting the zoo
    • Character development:
      • Being surrounded by people, and specifically parents, who demonstrate good character and an earnest desire to continually improve themselves
      • Giving the child lots of unstructured play time, wherein they have the opportunity to explore and understand who they are as well as the world around them
      • Exposure to books, audio books, and media that propagate good ideals and examples of good character
      • Discussing virtues while reading aloud books, such as when characters make poor choices or have tough decisions to make
    • Family work and responsibilities:
      • Working alongside each other to accomplish tasks such as dinner preparation, kitchen cleanup, and yard care
      • Teaching age-appropriate responsibilities such as getting dressed, feeding pets, and brushing teeth
      • Doing service as a family, such as helping an elderly neighbor, providing clothing to a homeless shelter, and helping at an animal rescue organization
    • Unpressured exploration of academic pursuits:
      • Following the children's interests, wherever they lead, with no pressure to continue when they lose interest
      • Helping children who are in the latter years of Core Phase create a homeschool compass every 3-6 months
      • Making trips to the library, wherein the children are allowed to select picture books about a wide variety of topics (such as animals, vehicles, planets, etc.)
      • Enjoying nature study together, using things such as nature notebooks, microscopes, and field guides to encourage exploration
      • Playing math games such as Uno, Yahtzee, and Sum Swamp
      • Reading aloud math books such as Anno's Magic Seeds and Bedtime Math
      • Parents setting a good example by focusing on their own educations, reading, writing, etc. 


    My Experience With Core Phase in Our Homeschool

    I started out homeschooling with an intense focus on academics when my daughter was just 4&1/2 years old. By the time she was 6, she had lost her joy in learning. I had felt like there was such an urgent need to push the academics that I didn't have enough time to work much on her character development, because I didn't want to be pushing her all day long. Our relationship was suffering because of our interactions surrounding school work.

    Then I found Leadership Education.  It was hard for me to let go of the desire to keep pushing my daughter academically, but yet I knew that something needed to change. I started implementing Core Phase into our lives, and things started to shift. Being able to focus so much more on our relationship, and on building good character, resonated deeply for me. 

    It took a leap of faith for me to really stop pushing my daughter academically, and numerous other times when I had to re-commit myself to that principle. The conveyor belt mentality was so strong because I was raised within that system of education myself, and we are surrounded by it in this culture.  But, inch-by-inch, we made headway as I was able to change our priorities away from academics and onto improved relationships and character development. 

    The results have been amazing: my relationship with my daughter has improved, she has more time to enjoy her childhood, she loves home school, and she even loves math now. More importantly, she is a kind, sweet kid who has great character and fulfills her household responsibilities. She's 9 years old now, and she transitioned into the next phase (Love of Learning Phase) about a year ago.

    My son is now 6 years old, and still solidly in Core Phase. He has had the benefits of Core Phase since well before being school age, so he loves school, has good character, and is becoming increasingly responsible. He's right on track.


    Core Phase is Life-Long

    Core Phase does not end when the child transitions into the next phase (Love of Learning Phase).  The lessons of Core Phase, such as having good character and being responsible, are foundational to all other phases of life and learning. As described in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, "Core Phase is always part of any other phase, and its neglect negatively impacts the student's whole education and life."

    When there is a pattern of repeated issues involving poor character (such as lying, shirking responsibilities, disrespect of parents, and unkindness), a weakness in the Core Phase is a likely cause. No matter how old the student is, revisiting the Core Phase is good starting place for correcting issues such as these.

    Parents transitioning from using the conveyor belt model of education into following the phases of learning should also start back at Core Phase, regardless of the age of the children. Once the foundation of the Core Phase is laid, the child will naturally transition into Love of Learning Phase. I will discuss Love of Learning Phase in more detail in an upcoming post.


    Resources for Learning More About Core Phase

    Want to learn more about Core Phase? Check out these resources:


    Have you heard of Core Phase previously? Does it resonate with you as it did for me?

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    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for your post. It was an easy and effective straight to the point read. I liked the links too. Thanks for the motivation about the core phase, I needed to read this as I prepare my upcoming school year.

    a. borealis said...

    I was previously unfamiliar with Core Phase, but the idea of it has been in practice over at our house for a long, long time. It resonates deeply. I would even go as far to say it was essentially my innate sense of things in our life and little homeschool with our young boys. It has been hugely boosted on my journey through the Charlotte Mason approach to education.

    Although . . heh . . . I get a little panicky having an 11 year old and reading things like this with feeling of, "My chance is gone!" and "I hope to God I did it right!" Oh man. It is so easy to beat oneself up. As I continued reading I realized, "Oh yes . . . I did all that". :) We all make mistakes, but the under-girding of daily life and all the right things we did RIGHT digs deep wells.

    Nancy said...

    This very much corresponds to the Montessori philosophy and Maria Montessori's research observing children. She calls them the Four Planes of Development.