Slow and Steady in Your Homeschool

This year Everyday Scholé is taking an in-depth, practical look at the eight principles of classical education. This month we are looking specifically at festina lente or make haste slowly. You can find my introductory post about combining classical principles and Charlotte Mason here.

One of the biggest worries and concerns I see voiced in the homeschool community is some aspect of “is my child behind.” Usually the parent begins their question by citing something a child of similar age or grade level is doing in the public schools or in another homeschool family. If you have had this worry, then this principle of classical education is for you.

Festina lente is a Latin phrase that is translated “make haste slowly.” The classic example of this principle is Aesop’s tale of The Tortoise and the Hare in which the natural winner of the race should be the hare but due to his over confidence and start and stop approach comes in last because the tortoise keeps plodding along, however slowly, but at a steady pace. A child who is mastering the material, however slowly, will have an advantage over a child who is pushed to run ahead based on the faulty idea that they are “behind.”

Two Ways to Turn Your Child into the Hare

1) Running ahead when the foundation has not been properly laid. When we are so worried about keeping on pace to meet some arbitrary standard {that’s an entire other soapbox I could wax poetically about!}, it is very easy to push our children on in their work when they don’t have the basics they need to move ahead. For example, Grace has a difficult time memorizing items in general. I never made a huge issue out of this even when it came to math facts. I listened to other homeschoolers that encouraged me she would eventually learn them without too much work on either of us. Nope, didn’t happen. It came back to slow her down when it was time for long division because you really need to have those multiplication facts down to work a division problem. Long division is difficult enough for most children without having to throw in the added impediment of trying to remember your multiplication facts. Needless to say, we had to put math on hold for a bit and concentrate on fact practice. If I hadn’t let her run ahead and made sure she had a solid foundation, we would not have needed to stop and back track.

2) Jumping over skills. This idea is similar to the first, but in this case you’ve given the foundation material and now you try to jump ahead in skill since you know the foundation is there. Recently Sophia finished her cursive workbook so, of course, I was certain she was ready to begin writing in cursive. The very next time she had a sentence of copywork to do, I told her to use her newly learned skill and do it in cursive. She made it through one word before she tossed her pencil on the table with tears in her eyes and informed me that she couldn’t do it. At which point, I was mentally kicking myself because it became obvious to me that I was turning her into a hare! Even though she knew the individual letter formation (foundational), she had not practiced enough at joining the letters to be successful at what I was asking her to do. I was jumping straight to mastery, which is the goal of festina lente, without taking the steps needed to insure an easy transition.

Applying Festina Lente to Two Common Homeschool Philosophies

When I started this series last month, I wanted to show how these seven classical education philosophies dovetail nicely with Charlotte Mason and other common homeschool approaches with which I’m familiar. We’ve all seen the fallout of the inability to apply festina lente in public schools due to the model on which public schools work. Teachers, despite how much they wish to, cannot put instruction on pause until Johnny and Susie have mastered the basics. They are teaching a class and must move on as needed to get the kids ready for the test {another soapbox which I could rant for days about!}. I bring up public schools because festina lente is definitely a classical education philosophy that is just a good education practice in general, so let’s see how you can use it in a non-classical homeschool.

Festina Lente and Charlotte Mason
One of the things I find most inspiring about Charlotte Mason’s schools is the students were grouped into levels, not grades, that were ability based instead of birthday based, like the public school system with which we are familiar. Usually within one level (or forms as CM referred to them), you would have multiple ages, and you entered that level based upon what you had mastered previously. In other words, you didn’t just jump into a level you were not adequately prepared for. I so wish that the American system would take this approach, and I wish more homeschoolers would view their child’s education this way as well. I’m not saying you should never talk about what grade your child would be in if they were in the public school, sometimes our children need to know those things for outside activities. Instead be aware that educationally if the cover of the math textbook says 5 on it, but your child is struggling with most of the lessons or some of the basic concepts presented in the book, you should NOT press on just because their birth date would place them in the grade 5 math book. Take a page from Charlotte Mason and put in place the principle of festina lente, work toward mastery not toward a grade level.

Festina Lente and a Traditional Homeschool
While I’m not a traditional homeschooler, I was a teacher in my former life so I know the system of using textbooks and workbooks as your main method of instruction for all subjects. The number one area in which I know textbooks and workbooks give a false sense of security is that if my child finishes the textbook/workbook for the year, then they have mastered the material contained within. Um….no. It means they have finished a textbook/workbook over the course of your homeschool year. To attain mastery of the subject, you might have more work to do. Think back to your school days. Usually you came relatively close to finishing a textbook over a year. How much of your high school Spanish do you feel that you mastered? Do you still know a few phrases here and there or could you say that you mastered the language? Did completing two or three years of work on a foreign language bring you to mastery? For everyone I’ve ever met that answer is no. Don’t fall into the trap of believing completion of curriculum equals proficiency. There is nothing wrong on stopping or backing up if you child needs more help, but there is a problem if you push ahead because it’s time for the next textbook. Also, there is nothing wrong with skipping entire chapters or half the exercises in the book if your child has already shown they have mastered the material. Focus on your child really learning the material, mastering it, instead of finishing it and calling that mastery.

My Disclaimer

Children and their abilities are different from one child to next. The amount of time it takes one child to master something will be very different with how long it takes another child to master the same skill. There is nothing wrong with your child, or you, if it does take longer than what it takes other children of the same age. Turning them into a hare because you are worried about the grade level on a book or curriculum is not the correct approach. Make haste slowly. Teach them at their pace making sure they master each step, and they will, in the long run, be better off and feel more successful.
On the other hand if you have a child who is gifted that doesn’t mean they will immediately master everything they come across. Be sure to watch for pockets of learning where they have not mastered the material or skills they have jumped over. Sometimes gifted children need the festina lente principle applied the most because they do seem to be a rabbit and speed through things, but the ability to learn quickly does not always equal mastery.

Check out what Tonia and Sara had to say about festina lente and how they implement this classical principle in their homeschool.


Do you struggle with festina lente in your homeschool as opposed to running ahead?