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Calvert School Curriculum

by Robert Graham

Calvert School courses are part of a full curriculum, covering the basics and a wide range of other subjects, all rooted in the principles of a classical American education.

Since 1906, when Calvert School became the first formal homeschool curriculum provider in the U.S., Calvert’s mission for its courses has always been the same: To help children to reach their full potential.

The Calvert program, used by nearly 20,000 students this year, is firmly rooted in the work of Virgil M. Hillyer, the school’s first Head Master. A Harvard-trained educator, Hillyer set out, beginning in 1897, to develop a curriculum that would create "life-long students." He envisioned a course of study that would provide children with a deep educational foundation as well as a healthy dose of cultural pursuits that might spark the child’s interest in additional study in his or her later life.

Today, definitions of a classical curriculum vary, but the Calvert curriculum Hillyer created remains true to the purest definition of a classical American education. The Calvert School program is grounded in the "Three Rs." Reading, writing and arithmetic are what Hillyer referred to as the "meaty" part of an education, and Calvert students feast on the meat in each of the 160 lessons.

Calvert students learn to read with a phonics-based program, using Houghton-Mifflin readers. Calvert Script, the unique handwriting style Hillyer developed using block uppercase letters and manuscript lowercase letters, has for years proven to be easy for children to learn. Diagramming sentences, which many scholars say is critical to developing good writing skills, is an important part of Calvert’s upper grade instruction.

Calvert students enjoy classic English and American literature, including works of Shakespeare, Dickinson, Frost, Hughes, Dickens, Doyle, and Twain, to name just a few. They also devour Greek mythology in Grade 3.

The Calvert curriculum puts a great deal of focus on composition, with students writing full compositions as early as fourth grade. Topics for compositions often are generated from other subject areas in the course. It is common for Calvert students to write compositions about their literature selections or history lessons.

"The light of knowledge is expressed with real permanency in writing, for writing is not only a skill that is taught but also a means of embodying all varieties of learned facts," Hillyer wrote.

Calvert Math, which was developed by Calvert’s teachers to respond to the need for more real-world problem solving, has proven successful in developing children’s understanding of many mathematical concepts and ideas.

History plays a large role in the Calvert curriculum, as students develop an understanding and appreciation for ancient and modern civilizations. They study world history and American history, with instruction in these courses often linked to other study areas.

Other curriculum programs have kept their emphasis solely on reading, writing, and arithmetic, while Calvert enriches its students’ education with other subject areas. "The whole realm of knowledge is the true field of study," Hillyer explained.

Calvert students, as early as Kindergarten, are introduced to science, history, geography, art, and music, for Hillyer believed that an education had to be well rounded. Students learn to appreciate famous musical pieces and classic artwork.

The Calvert School program relies on integration among subject areas. A historic era being addressed in history might be covered in science, literature, art history, and music. Students, Hillyer reasoned, benefit from the ability to explore the various facets of a culture or time period. With this subject integration, Calvert students learn to make connections among topics, in what can be considered the first steps toward the highest level of thinking: Evaluation.

The Calvert curriculum, tested in its private school classrooms and written by its teachers, provides homeschooling families with all of the benefits of the Calvert program. Lessons are written specifically for the home teacher.

Taught with an eye toward the child’s age, Hillyer believed students at home could absorb much of the world about them with proper instruction. One of the books he penned, A Child’s History of the World, remains a staple in the fourth grade Calvert curriculum. It has become a keepsake for generations of children who love the playful, engaging, child-friendly approach to history captured in its pages.

To ensure order in teaching, Hillyer created a system that advocates working from general to specific. For instance, students learn about the Earth before focusing on continents or countries. In his classrooms and in the homeschool curriculum, Hillyer emphasized constant drilling, encouraging his classroom teachers to vary their approach from day-to-day and task-to-task to ensure that the drilling never became boring to students. The same holds true for homeschool parents, who use the varied lessons, which appeal to the three learning styles – auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

Hillyer believed in perfection. No task was complete -- be it memorization, a composition, or math work -- until it was perfect, and students who use the modern Calvert curriculum continue that practice. Students learn at an early age the benefits of revision, as they strive for perfection.

The Calvert program today takes the best of the creations of Calvert School’s first Head Master, Virgil M. Hillyer, and applies those innovations and ideas to lesson plans that employ the best of textbooks from major educational publishers.

To ensure that families succeed with this rich curriculum, Calvert offers a wide range of support, beginning with its placement testing. Calvert seeks to determine the appropriate grade level to challenge a child academically because students excel when properly challenged. To assist home teachers, Calvert provides access to Education Counselors, professional teachers who are experienced using the Calvert curriculum. Available by telephone, fax, or e-mail, Education Counselors can provide support in the form of answering questions or assistance with pacing instruction.

The Calvert Advisory Teaching Service offers the support of professional teachers, who correct and evaluate student work, and return it with a letter of support and encouragement written to the student. This service, started by Hillyer, continues to benefit families interested in record-keeping or an outside objective opinion on their children’s progress.

Calvert School’s time-tested classical program, while ensuring no gaps in instruction, continues to prepare students for the future. As Hillyer said, "School is not the preparation for life -- it is life." R.G.