To know God and to make Him known.

Help! I didn’t have a classical education!

Ever since the launch of the Cultivating Classical Parents webinar series, I have received many emails from parents with the same theme. How can I give my children a classical education when I didn’t receive one?

If you have had thoughts like these, you are in good company. Very, very few of the folks involved in restoring classical, Christian education actually had a classical education themselves, and we are each at different place on our educational journey. Some of us had stellar educations; most of us did not. We all recognize areas where we have room to grow. This recognition paired with the desire and willingness to learn is where we began and it is all you need to get started as well. We are in a generation of hard work as we recover these lost tools of learning. None of us have arrived yet. Rather, we uncover another layer each year as we dig deeper. It will be exciting to see what our grandchildren can do!

Since we did not have a classical education ourselves, we must educate ourselves slightly ahead of or alongside our own children. In the last ten years, I have learned Latin from scratch and have reviewed my knowledge of upper math and high school science. Thankfully, we have an ever-growing array of support tools and, more importantly, we have each other.

I love to read history and literature aloud with my family in the mornings. Over the years, we have read series like Little House on the Prairie and The Great Brain, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. Most of these children’s classics record the educational practices of the times. I am often astounded by the difficulties that the colonists and explorers encountered as they attempted to educate themselves and their children. I am relieved that we do not face nearly as many obstacles. We have a wealth of resources available to us, and yet we often fail to take full advantage of them.

So, the good news is you will not be limited by any lack of resources as you seek to restore your own education. You just need to begin!

Get Your Bearings

Even if you are learning alongside your students, it is also important to know where both you and they are headed. If possible, before you begin an in-depth study of a specific subject, take the time to read brief histories of subjects you may not be familiar with; a quick overview of the development of the different branches of science will help you know the scope of the possibilities and give you direction for your future studies. A short history of mathematics will provide a rich context for the more granular studies of specific problem-solving methods. Particularly if you have not received a classical education, you often don’t know what you don’t know, and these overviews will help you as you begin to identify areas for growth and map out the path of study that you would like to take.

Develop the habit of curiosity. Learn to ask questions. We are all in the grammar stage when we tackle a new subject or encounter new information, so if you hear a term, concept, historical reference, or word that you do not understand, take a few moments to look it up! After even a cursory overview of an encyclopedia article, you will be farther ahead than you were, and will have a stronger foundation on which to lay new information. Maybe even keep a list of topics you would like to explore further as time allows. As one way to help yourself and your students maintain this active curiosity and engagement with new information, consider inviting your students to create a “What on earth is…?” jar. If you or they run across an unusual word, place, concept, or theory, jot it on a slip of paper and toss it in the jar. Take twenty minutes once a week or so to pull a few slips out of the jar to let the proud owner of the new and exotic information share what they have learned with the rest of the family.

Map Your Route

Once you have devoted some time to broad-bush overviews of topics you want to grow in, it is time to select a subject for specific study. Your choice will depend on your desires for your children, the ages of your children, and the gaps you have identified in your own education. Once you have chosen a subject, select a resource text, plan a time to study, and get started. For your project to succeed, you must set a reasonable goal with reasonable timeframes and be accountable to those goals. If possible, you can study in a group. The group will help to hold one another accountable for reaching the milestones. If it is not possible to study in a group, consider giving yourself deadlines or even taking tests or quizzes to check your progress.

With any subject, you should start at the beginning. If you want to give yourself a literary education, start with quality children’s literature and progress to the more complex adult classics after that. Start by reading the Challenge A and Challenge B literature. Use Words Aptly Spoken: Children’s Literature to guide your reading. Better yet, start a parent’s book club in your community and read together.

If you want to study Latin, start with a Latin text designed for children and work your way up. Many texts now have video instruction for each lesson. Do the lessons with your children. I used First Form Latin for my children and myself as we started, but there are many other series to choose from. After memorizing the Latin noun and verb endings, I worked through this text with my children. Then, I worked my way through Henle Latin, First Year (see Poolside Latin, Anyone? for tips on how to study). Finally, I found a mentor, a homeschool mom who had taught Latin for years, and worked my way through Henle Latin, Second Year with her.

In my own education, I had a pretty solid foundation in math, but there were many things I needed to remember, so I started reviewing with Algebra II and worked my way back up to trigonometry and other advanced math. If you do not feel solid in math, though, it is best to back up to junior high math (say Saxon 8/7) and work your way up from there. Most math curricula today come with DVD or CD-ROM video instruction. There are also online math tutorials. As I got into more advanced concepts, I found a math mentor in my community and got help from her and from her son. (Incidentally, her son was a student of mine and once told me that he can read math problems the way other people read stories. I hope to get to that point one day.)

Find Company for the Journey

As you can see, none of us have taken this journey alone. Make every effort to find a group, partner, or mentor to study with. A learning community can provide rich opportunities for discussion, and offers the accountability that each one of us needs. If you are in a Classical Conversations community, ask around. The moms and dads in your group may astound you with their gifts and abilities. In the last ten years, I have found many great mentors for my educational journey. Finally, plan to join us twice a month for the Cultivating Classical Parents webinars. Over the course of the year, we will tackle all kinds of different and possibly difficult subjects together. If you have missed any webinars, you can watch the recordings on the CC Connected subscription tiers.

As a special note, sometimes the company on the journey looks a little different. Sometimes, even while we are actively working to restore our education in order to provide our students the classical education we did not receive, our family circumstances change and our plans must be laid aside for a time. If there is a subject that your student actively needs help with and family circumstances are preventing you from equipping yourself to help your student in a timely fashion, consider securing a tutor for the time being. Long-term illness, special needs, and other circumstances can impact our families for certain seasons, and during these times, finding and providing the help your student needs through another source may be the best solution for your family.

Keep Your Eyes on the Goal

No matter where you are on your educational journey or what season your family may be in, remember to keep your eyes on the goal. We should at all times be “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Knowing Him and making Him known first to ourselves and then to our families, our communities, and our world is the ultimate aim of our education. Your areas of past academic limitation need not be a source of anxiety and stress. Instead, as you begin to remedy them, they become opportunities to grow in your knowledge of God and His world and to model learning for your children. As you take up the hard work of equipping yourself and educating your children, as you identify areas of weakness and map out and travel your path to mastery, remember and revel in the knowledge that God is the source of all wisdom and the author of the new worlds of knowledge that you encounter. Go with God on your journey!


CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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