Updated: Jul 21
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 13 to 17 (or 18 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 recommend reading 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
Taking time to connect with each child in discussing emotional upsets, dreams for the future, and stories about the parents' own childhoods
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.)
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.
Resources for Learning More About Core Phase
Want to learn more about Core Phase? Check out these resources:
Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, by Oliver and Rachel DeMille
A House United: Teaching Children Self-Government, by Nicholeen Peck (This book does not discuss Core Phase specifically, but is helpful in creating the type of family culture that works so well in Core Phase.)
The Child Whisperer, by Carol Tuttle (This book does not discuss Core Phase specifically, but is helpful in improving relationships with children in Core Phase.)
What is Core Phase? @ TJED.org
Core Phase: Creating a Solid Foundation for Ages 0-8 @ Simple Homeschool
Have you heard of Core Phase previously? Does it resonate with you as it did for me?
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