Catholic Schoolhouse grew out of a desire to have something similar to Classical Conversations presented in a Catholic context. Catholic Schoolhouse is a three-year program that can be used within the framework of an organized program with paid tutors or by parents working on their own at home. Catholic Schoolhouse chapters (with paid tutors) require that parents attend class once a week along with their children, but they provide the resources and instruction.
Catholic Schoolhouse might serve as supplemental material for many subject areas or as the core for unit studies for the entire family. The program has tremendous flexibility. You can do as much or as little as you please. The target audience is the elementary grades, although some Catholic Schoolhouse chapters include higher level coursework for students in middle school and high school. (The resource list on the website includes some suggestions for Year 1 resources for the dialectic and rhetoric levels, but since the program is relatively new, these are listed for only the first year right now.) The program very rarely suggests activities for older or younger students, so for the most part it’s left to teachers or parents to figure out if they need to make adaptations for younger or older students.
The program primarily provides a framework for subject matter across the curriculum plus memory material for each subject. It is not intended to be the source for all of your instructional material. Art is an exception to this, since the art course book for each year provides all that you need.
A Catholic perspective is evident throughout much of the program. Students generally learn about at least two saints each quarter. In history, events connected to Catholicism receive more attention than in secular or Protestant resources. For example, U.S. History includes the founding of St. Augustine by Spanish Catholics about half century before the English settlement of Jamestown and the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock, a fact omitted in many Protestant courses. In art, courses for years two and three both include religious art, although the first year (focused on American art) does not. Science is presented with occasional mentions of God as Creator, but overall it has minimal religious content.
For each year of the program there are a number of components. All of the printed books have full-color illustrations and plastic, spiral bindings so they will lie flat.
The Tour Guide is a quick reference guide for both teachers and parents. It begins with a one-page list showing what will be covered each quarter for the school year in religion, history, geography, fine arts, science, foreign language, language arts, and math. Next is a one-page visual overview of the key topics covered in each subject area for the upcoming quarter. Then each quarter has one page per week with information and illustrations of what will be covered for that week. Each week’s page includes key memorization material children are expected to master that week as well as images of the history cards to be used. Teachers in a Catholic Schoolhouse program use the Tour Guide to present the memorization material, and parents use the Tour Guide at home to help their children review and master the material. Parents using Catholic Schoolhouse on their own will use the Tour Guide as a source of memory work and also as a spine or structure around which to build their curriculum.
Memory Work Audio CDs
Each year has a set of four audio CDs—one per quarter—with memory information for all subject areas set to music. Additionally, one saint is introduced every three weeks with a brief biography. Similarly, there is some explanation of featured composers and featured artists. Other than that, the rest of each CD is musical memory work. CDs follow the presentation in each Tour Guide exactly including a history song for the week that highlights the most important events. (The history songs are sometimes not as easy to sing as those used with Classical Conversations.) CDs add one- or two-sentence songs for the history cards. Memory work is presented by the week on the CDs, but it is also presented in its entirety for each subject in tracks at the end of the CD. Each CD includes the complete musical work featured that quarter so you need not hunt that down on your own. This makes it easy to review memory work for the week as well as for the entire quarter.
History Cards are a critical component since most of Catholic Schoolhouse is laid out in relation to the historical timeline. Year 1 covers United States History with 105 history cards. The 5.5” x 4.25” cards have an illustration for a key topic on one side and information about it on the reverse. Five new history cards are taught each week. In Year 1, the last three weeks are to be used for study of your own state, so there are no cards for those weeks. Year 2 and Year 3 each have 120 cards. The audio CDs provide musical memory verses for each week’s group of cards. You still need to use more comprehensive resources for history coverage. You can find suggestions at their “What Else Should I Use?” page, but with younger children you might just want to use real books on selected topics.
There is a science teacher’s guide for each year. It is set up primarily for group classes meeting once a week, although it can be used at home. The course teaches through activities and experiments, generally using easy-to-get materials. A supply list is at the front of each guide. However, the bother of collecting all of the resources for just your family is a good reason to participate in a group class. Year 1 for science covers zoology, weather, anatomy, electricity, and magnetism. In the second year, students learn about botany, chemistry, astronomy, sound, and light. Year 3 teaches ecology, earth science, forces and motion, nutrition, and health. While students are introduced to a broad range of topics the coverage is supplemental for most grade levels. It might be sufficient for your science for first and second graders, but not beyond.
Science guides state the key idea or ideas for the week’s lesson at the beginning. This is followed by three questions. The guides do not explain the purpose of the questions, but it seems clear that students should be able to answer these when they have completed the lesson. The science memory work on the CDs also supplies the information related to these questions.
Every lesson has an explanatory introduction, a list of required supplies, teacher prep activities (if needed), and step-by-step procedures. The guide suggests having students create a lab manual, but there are no instructions for doing so. Guides for the second and third year have a “Bonus” activity that you might want to try with eager learners. Doing the experiments and activities with a group is likely to be more productive and more enjoyable as students compare results with each other and share the fun activities. However, it might be more difficult to assess what a student is really comprehending in a group class. As with history, you can find recommendations for resources for a more comprehensive program at “What Else Should I Use?”
The fine arts are presented in two ways. Music is presented very briefly through the Tour Guide with short introductions to composers and musical samples on the CDs. Years 1 and 3 feature a composer and one of his works each quarter while, the second year teaches instruments of the orchestra, music theory, and use of a recorder. (The Year 2 Tour Guide has extra pages at the back for music instruction.)
Art is presented through separate course guides for each year. The art courses tie in with the historical timeline of Catholic Schoolhouse. Guides include large, full-color images of famous art works as well as illustrations relating to art projects. Courses teach art appreciation and art history as well as art skills. Each guide has a few reproducible pages at the back that you will need for some activities. While some projects fall into the “crafts” category, most teach art skills as students learn to work with various art media. There is at least one three-dimensional project each year. Some projects might be rather difficult for young students, so simplify if needed. As with the science activities, it might be easiest to work with a group class because of the effort required to gather materials for each lesson.
Math, Language Arts, Geography, and Foreign Language
Math work consists of memorizing basic facts through skip counting and memorization of definitions and formulae. Under language arts, students memorize definitions of the parts of speech as well as other elements of grammar and usage. The fourth quarter of each year adds composition concepts, but this is memorization work rather than actual composition writing. For geography, students memorize basic geographic vocabulary, states and capitals (of the U.S.), and countries and geographic features around the world. Free printable maps are available at “What Else Should I Use?” For foreign language, the first year teaches Latin prayers. Year 2 teaches some elements of Latin grammar and vocabulary (e.g. first and second conjugations with a representative word for each). The third year shifts to Greek and Latin roots.
As you can see, Catholic Schoolhouse covers a lot of subject matter even though it isn’t your entire curriculum. The Catholic Schoolhouse site has links to a blog with additional activity suggestions that should be very helpful. Their “Now What Do I Do? page” has suggestions for those working on their own. A “Local Chapters” tab lists active Catholic Schoolhouse chapters in which you can enroll. There’s lots of help and support from those already using Catholic Schoolhouse. I expect Catholic Schoolhouse will continue to sprout new chapters as more Catholic homeschoolers discover they have a Catholic option for this type of education.