by Doreen Morgan
Choices are everywhere. Seems like I can’t even go to the grocery store and buy peanut butter without having to weed through 25 brands―Jiff, Skippy, Peter Pan, Smuckers. Organic, no-sugar, crunchy, smooth, natural? It’s enough to make a person pass by the peanut butter aisle for life―and not even get to the jelly!
We have the same vast choices in classical education courses, and it would be easy to pass by a classical approach to home education too. It has been labeled as a “high academic and rigorous course of study,” one that attracts parents who desire to see their children “master the tough stuff” and prepare them for what’s most certainly to come.
It is true that a classical education can be hard work, but isn’t schooling supposed to be a bit challenging? I’m not suggesting that we bring our children to the point of tears or have you end up crying yourself; however, our children need to feel challenged and have a sense of accomplishment. Mastery of any one thing breeds confidence to proceed to the next mountainous task.
That said, let’s take a look at reasons a classical education is the most natural choice.
The Way Children Learn
Almost all classical “how-to” books will introduce you to a buzz word called “The Trivium.” Basically, it is an academic and logical explanation of the way our children naturally learn.
See if this sounds familiar to you. You go to the store but forget the three things you needed. Your seven-year old rattles off the grocery list that you left at home on the counter! Or perhaps you can’t quite remember what your neighbor’s sister’s name is, much less her six children, but your ten-year-old can not only tell you their names, but ages, hair color, and favorite sports teams! What’s going on here?
This is called the Grammar Stage of a child’s life. These are usually the elementary years when your child can not only remember long lists of things but can also “copy” or “mimic” almost perfectly. This is when you teach him the “how to’s” from making a bed properly to mastering the multiplication tables.
All children will take on these “sponge-like” characteristics as they soak up everything in their paths. They begin to enjoy absorbing large quantities of info and can spit it out at the drop of a hat. What an excellent season to introduce to them to anything that needs memorization or recitation. Don’t worry if they don’t understand it all―that will come later.
Introducing Latin at this stage is one of the most important things a parent can do for their child right after phonics. Latin in itself is an amazing discipline to achieve, but it also makes up most of the language that we speak. Dorothy Sayers, a fascinating pioneer of the classical movement, once said, “Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent.” Now that should convince us to get started with a Latin program early on, especially during the “sponge” stage.
Next come the pre-teen years. In middle school, our children begin to “argue.” They question why you ask them to do something and begin to figure out other ways of doing things. You begin to argue back, thinking your child is just getting out of line or needs a good talking to. He challenges everything that is being said or done around him. You have just entered the Logic Stage of your educational process.
Once we realize that our children must go through this second stage, we can easily adjust how we respond to them and help them to develop formal reasoning skills. Our children need our help to show them the right way to make an appeal when they disagree with us. This is the first step in their understanding why they believe what they believe, and it will begin the process of their learning to take ownership of what they say and how it affects others around them.
Now is precisely the time to teach all children logic, both formal and informal. We begin by introducing our children to the fallacies out there in the world. We can refocus their energies into identifying what’s wrong with believing that if I use a certain shampoo my hair will forever be long, shiny and flowing, or that if I vacation at a certain destination all my troubles will disappear. How exciting to see them begin to reanalyze all of the information that they memorized.
The last stage of development comes as no surprise as teens start to focus on what they look and sound like. That “me-centered” mentality is just waiting for us to guide them through what classical education calls the Rhetoric Stage.
Once again we approach each subject they study with the intention of “going with a child’s own natural flow.” It’s time to take all those facts they learned and all that logic they processed and educate them in articulating that to the real world. They will learn to effectively communicate and to educate themselves as well as those around them.
Your child’s understanding of the knowledge he has will help him with higher education and with managing a career, a home, and eventually a family.
This impressive educational style taught some of the greatest, most successful men and women in our country. Let’s use our passion to train up our children and pass the baton. By using this approach, your child will achieve one of the final goals of a classical education―loving to learn.
Learn more about classical education here.
This article first appeared in the the The Virginia Home Educator, Spring 2009.