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The Well-Trained Mind: A Must Read for Homeschool Parents

The decision to homeschool often feels a bit overwhelming. A whole new world suddenly opens up with choices galore. So how do you know what path to take for your family? You might hear terms like Charlotte Mason, Thomas Jefferson Education, Unschooling, Minimalist, Secular, non-secular…how in the world do you decide? I received some of the best advice when I made up my mind: read The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. It will set you on a path for creating a structure in teaching all of the subjects.

Learning about The Well-Trained Mind

I had a friend living near me for two years who homeschooled her kids, but I didn’t take the plunge to homeschool until after she left. Ridiculous, right? I had a resource so close, but I was still too scared. Now I wonder what was I scared of. When I finally decided to homeschool I contacted her first and asked her where to start. She told me to read The Well-Trained Mind. I did not hesitate to trust her and went straight out to get it with excitement. Luckily the library had it, but if you like to highlight and refer back, then I would suggest getting a copy. You can find it here.

Reading the Well-Trained Mind

I must admit to you, that I was a little intimidated when I saw The Well-Trained Mind. In my memory, it was four inches thick. Upon re-examination, it is only two, but that shows my intimidation. Now, I love to read, but I love novels. Not information only books. Yikes! So I took a deep breath, with resolve, and checked it out of the library.

That night, after the kids went to bed, I dove right in. It started with an introduction by the author, Jessie Wise, and how she came to homeschool her children in the early 1970s. This was a time when homeschooling was unheard of. She made herself and her family an anomaly. Jessie Wise was a pioneer for all of us who homeschool our children today.

My intimidation quickly faded to admiration, respect, and gratitude for Jessie Wise and those like her who risked so much to simply put her children first. I don’t know if I would have the same resolve and, frankly, courage, and especially confidence to say I could do better. It is thanks to women like Jessie Wise that I have the confidence to look at what is going on in school and say, I can do better for my children.

The Break Down

Now for some other info that will help when approaching The Well-Trained Mind. You don’t need to read the whole thing! Phew! The first 20 pages by Jessie and her daughter Susan, are reviewing their experience and what has driven them through their journey. After that, it is a guide on how to structure your curriculum including specific book recommendations. Then it is broken into three stages of education, Kindergarten-4th grade, 5th-8th, and 9th-12th.

It is then further divided into History and Geography, Science, Language Arts, Math, and a few minor subjects you can add on.


They suggest breaking history into a 4-year cycle.

Year 1: The Ancients: Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

We did not purchase any History curriculum, but instead went to the library and checked out as many books on Ancient Egypt as we could find. My kids were quickly lost in the mystery and enchantment of pharaohs, mummies, pyramids, and the treasures they hold. They couldn’t wait until reading time. We found some short documentaries on YouTube to supplement.  And my absolute favorite…I convinced them all to dress as Egyptians for Halloween. It was amazing!

Year 2: Middle Ages and Early Renaissance

Year 3: Late Renaissance to Early Modern (about 1850s)

Year 4: Early Modern to Present

Then repeat. When you go through the cycle again, you review what you learned the previous time and then dig deeper. With our Egypt study, I had my older son dive deeper and we read a book on the excavation of King Tut’s tomb. We learned all about the archaeologists, the long 8-year search for the tomb, all of the treasures they found, and why it was such an incredible discovery.


In The Well-Trained Mind, Wise and Bauer suggest basing Science around the culture and period you are studying. While you are studying the Ancients, study what the ancients learned about such as animals, plants, and anatomy. When you are studying Medieval times, combine it with astronomy and geography. During the Renaissance, study Newton, the invention of the microscope, and Benjamin Franklin.

History and Science are easily the most fun. You can find specific curriculum programs to base your study around. Or you can just go to the library and get books for the period you are studying. Going to the library can get your child excited about learning by letting them pick out their books and direct their study. This is what you want. You want them to get excited about learning.

We still just use the library as our main resource, however, I have added the audio CD, Story of the World, by Susan Wise Bauer to add to our history curriculum. The car is a great place to keep these and the kids love it. We might be in the car for just a short drive to the store and my kids ask for it before we even get out of the driveway. Every once in a while, I will stop the CD and ask them questions reviewing what we have studied or what was just talked about to solidify it in their minds. I may get a few eye rolls, but it is the confidence boost I need to assure myself they are indeed learning!

There is so much information that I had to split this into two posts. Part two going over Math, Reading, and Writing will be available soon!

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