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Classical Approach to Homeschooling: Part 1

“You mean I’m going to do this math book again next year?” my son complained as his father and I broke the devastating news to him last spring.

“Yes, son. You haven’t mastered the concepts in this book yet and you need to have this down before we move on,” we gently explained, expecting the floodgate of tears to begin at any moment.

“Won’t I be behind?” he pleaded.

“Behind what? Behind whom? The only thing you are behind on is mastering the math concepts and paying attention to details. If you move on to the next book, you think then you won’t be behind a ‘book,’ but you will still be behind on the concepts,” we tried to explain. This was a baffling idea to him, that although he had completed the book, he had not completed the purpose for going through the book which was to master the material.

My world is full of lists. I have grocery lists, to do lists, assignment lists, and lists of cards I never seem to write. There is a certain sense of satisfaction when you cross something off your list, isn’t there? I remember my mother actually writing something on her list which she had already done and then crossing it off right away, just because it felt good to know she had completed it! As homeschoolers we can fall into the trap of making our home school another checklist of things to complete. Spelling test, check; math worksheet, check; read science chapter, check. At the end of the day we might be exhausted, feel as though we lost our temper a time or two, and not really be sure of what our children learned that day, but we checked off all of the things on our home school list—or maybe we didn’t get it all checked off, but some of it we did!

At one time, education had nothing to do with completing a list, moving to the next book, and checking off the requirements for a transcript. Education used to be about learning, truly learning, soaking in knowledge, making it a part of you so that you could understand the world better and make an impact on it. In the days of the one-room schoolhouse the children did not progress to the next grade because of their age or by simply going through a book, but by mastering the material for each level. They utilized a classical method.

The classical method divides learning into three stages: grammar (memorizing facts and information), dialectic (understanding how the facts relate), and rhetoric (applying what you have learned and, therefore, demonstrating wisdom). Commonly, this is known as the Trivium. The Trivium can be applied to any subject because it is basically a method for learning. Simply put, it is a set of tools for learning anything.

The first stage of the Trivium, the grammar stage, is not to be confused with English grammar,. This grammar stage involves memorizing the basic facts of any subject. For English grammar this would mean learning letters and their sounds, learning rules for spelling, reading and writing, and so on. For learning something like piano, this would mean learning the notes and where they are on a staff and on the piano, learning the vocabulary words used in music, and so forth. This grammar stage is comfortable and natural for us. We tend to camp out here because it is full of lists! Children memorize math facts, vocabulary words, names of people and battles, spelling words, definitions, and so many more things in lists. These facts and particulars are the grammar of each subject. In our home school we drill and review facts from all subjects, trying to “train the brain to retain.” Pounding in pegs of knowledge over and over is the core of the classical tool of grammar work. Fortunately, children in their single digit years are naturally bent to do this. Has your child ever asked you to read the same book over and over? There is a sense of security and pleasure for them by hearing the same thing repetitively. They love to chant and repeat! Sound familiar? Memorizing the grammar facts of any subject does not have to be tedious as some may think it to be; it can actually be quite fun. Games, songs, and active play are all great methods of reviewing memory work in an exciting and entertaining manner with your child.


If you would like to know more about how the grammar stage builds into the dialectic and rhetoric stages, read part two of this article.


CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11)

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