Monday, January 18, 2010

Eclectic Education Series

image The Eclectic Education Series is a set of textbooks that was used extensively in schools across the US from 1865 to 1915. These books were the standard for education during this time period and include such classics as the McGuffey Readers and Ray’s Arithmetic.  These books have all been compiled onto cd-roms and can be printed or read from the computer.

Some of the numerous books that are included in this set are:

Ray’s  Arithmetic (10 books covering basic math through Integral Calculus)

McGuffey’s Readers ( 19 books, including alternate readers, eclectic spellers and more)

Thalheimer’s Histories

Cromwell (history and collection of letters)


Rhetorical Reading

Good Morals and Manners

Norton’s Elements of Chemistry

Norton’s Elements of Physics

Pinneo’s Grammar

Harvey’s Grammar

Teacher’s books (Manual of Methods, Question Book, Successful Teaching in Rural Schools)

…and dozens more!

Many people are attracted to older, classic materials such as these because of their emphasis on patriotism and traditional values. Because of their intended use in one room schoolhouses, they are very adaptable for larger homeschool families.

We tried out a few of these resources:

Ray’s Arithmetic held some surprises for me since I didn’t image expect a hundred+ year old math program to be very strong. First, most of the first few years of arithmetic instruction are done orally. I see some advantages to this—errors can be corrected immediately and students become competent in mental arithmetic. Second, most of the problems are word problems. This makes math concrete to the student instead of abstract. In fact, the word problems are fairly difficult compared to those in modern math programs. Emily and I worked in this daily for a few weeks. I plan to continue Ray’s once or twice a week as a supplement to our regular math program. I think it will really improve her mental math skills. The Ray’s series includes many books from primary math all the way through calculus and astronomy. We used the Ray’s Intellectual Arithmetic, which is appropriate for 3rd-4th grades. Here is a sample problem from the end of the book: If 12 peaches are worth 84 apples, and 8 apples are worth 24 plums, how many plums shall I give for 5 peaches?”  Pretty tough!

McGuffey’s Readersimage

I have read that these are advanced and the reader numbers  don’t correspond to actual grades. For example, the Fourth Reader is actually high school level. I don’t entirely agree. Emily is reading the Fourth Reader now and I would guess that the early selections are about a fourth to  fifth grade level. The end of the reader includes selections by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and others, so it is more of a middle school level at least. I have had Emily read aloud to me from the reader every day and we are enjoying it more than I expected. There is a nice mix of prose and poetry and many of the selections have moral lessons in the quaint manner of the 1800’s. Emily was excited to read a mention of McGuffey’s Readers in the American Girl historical mystery book she was reading just today.

Nature Studyimage

This is a delightful book that includes lesson plans for nature study. For example, one lesson topic is the butterfly. Extensive information is provided, then the student is asked to observe a butterfly and to answer various questions, to make a drawing, and to write a composition describing the butterfly.

On a rare snow day, we read another lesson on tracks and Emily excitedly went on a hunt for animal tracks in the snow.

Most of the science and history books appeared to be most appropriate for middle school and up. Apparently, in the past, these studies were not undertaken until students were older.

Note: With the vast number of resources included, the Eclectic Education Series can be rather overwhelming at first. Fortunately, I was given a tip by one of my TOS Crewmates to begin with the Manual of Methods (in the science section) and the Teaching in Rural Schools books. These excellent teacher’s guides led me to the appropriate books to look at for Emily’s grade and explained how the lessons were typically taught.

Many (but not all) of the individual books of the Eclectic Education Series are available free online since they are in the public domain, but this set is easy to find all in one place. In addition, the  publisher has “cleaned up” many of the books and removed the answers from each page of the arithmetic books so that they can be used as student books.  The books are scanned and in some cases, although the print is quite legible, the pictures are not of high quality.

Personally, I prefer more modern materials, but a family who wants a back-to-the-basics approach could use these materials for the core of a K-12 curriculum. And even I found some gems in the series that will be a nice supplement to our other studies. It has been fun to experiment with what was an important element in our country’s history!

The Eclectic Education Series sells for $159. Visit the TOS Crew site for more opinions on this series!

I received this item free  in exchange for my honest review.

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