Exactly what ‘is’ a Classical Education? Well, as always, there is some healthy debate about what it all means. Here is an article that touches on the basics of what makes up a ‘Classical Education’.
So, what is this thing we call Classical Education? I read somewhere recently that the “whole point of Classical Education was to cover each topic three times, once in each stage of development of the child”. Well, that’s partly true – the main thing we consider when homeschooling our children via the ‘Classical Method’ is that there are three distinct phases in a child’s development. Now of course, these have been given some marvellous, technical names – those being the ‘Grammar Stage’, the ‘Logic Stage’ and the ‘Rhetoric Stage’. Let me explain a little bit.
The ‘Grammar Stage’ is when the child is just starting out on their schooling journey. This is the age, (around grades k-4), where memorisation, and the recitation of facts, jingles, nursery rhymes and stories all come very easy to them – they just LOVE to hear the same story told over and over again. Memorisation is the key – someone once described little children in this stage as ‘sponges’ – they soak everything up, and enjoy it!
The ‘Logic Stage’ comes next – usually beginning around 5th-7th grade – and this is when their young minds begin asking those difficult questions – why this? Why that? It’s not enough anymore to know the light comes on when you turn on the switch – but ‘why’ does it happen? This is the age for discussion and analysis – lots of time discussing history lessons, discussing science problems – predicting what will happen in experiments, and so forth.
And finally, comes the ‘Rhetoric Stage’ – where they learn to explain ‘why’ they believe what they believe. They’ve learnt about World War 1, say, they learnt some of the reasons why it happened, and have had some quality discussions and research projects about it. Now is the time they begin to express their own ideas, and state what they believe about the war – what should and shouldn’t have happened, and put forward reasons why.
And that really, is the basis for the modern-day Classical Education – recognising the three stages of development, and building your curriculum around it. So yes, we usually do cover topics three times – one time in each stage of development. History, for example, is usually done this way in a Classical Education – Grades 1-4 cover history from the dawn of time to the present day, and then we begin again around grade 5, covering the topics in further detail and with more discussion, and then we again return to the beginning in grade 8, this time covering history in greater depth again.
While there are many resources available for Classical Educators, you don’t ‘need’ to purchase curriculum designed solely for this purpose – just recognise the child’s abilities as you go. One example of this was when my daughter, just 6 years old, came across a problem in her Maths book. She had to estimate how many marbles would fill a container. So, I presented the problem to her, held up the container and the marbles, and with a confused look on her face, announced, “umm…. a hundred?”. Taking a deep breath, I gently suggested that it would not be anywhere near that amount, and so in an effort to give me a more pleasing answer, she suggested that “two” would probably be better. At this, I simply sighed, we did the measuring (coming up with an answer of around 20), and moved on. You see, a young child does not have the knowledge or experience to do all these things (oh, yes, I Know there are the exceptions, I hear you loud and clear!), but they will later on, never fear!
Latin, (Greek sometimes, too), is often taught as part of a Classical Education – mainly because if you have a good understanding of Latin grammar, you will automatically understand English very well – as our English language has been derived from Latin. It will also give your students an excellent head start to learning another modern-day language, like French, or Italian, as they, too, were derived from Latin.
They study of Roman and Greek history also play a prominent role – as after all, these are the empires from which the modern western world is built, and it is so amazing to see how much of our modern lifestyles relate back to ancient Rome and Greece.
Reading Literature, discussion, analysis, presenting forth ideas and writing form much of the typical homeschooling day in a Classical Education homeschool. Sometimes, it’s noisy, sometimes quiet – but it’s certainly fascinating, with lots of learning involved! But, with all that said, Classical Education really has one main goal in mind – and that is ‘To teach our children how to think, and how to learn’. If we can achieve this, then no matter what life may throw at them down the track, we know they’ll be OK. It’s not easy (is homeschooling EVER easy?), in fact, some days it’s a real challenge – but we keep plugging away, and you know, I think we’re getting there!