Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Some notes on Classical Homeschooling

Before Isabelle began her third grade year, we decided to switch our very eclectic homeschooling approach for a classical approach. As I have been researching and reading on homeschooling and all its various methods since we began this journey, I was familiar with some points of classical education. However, I didn't fully grasp the in and outs of it until I borrowed The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer from our local library.

Basically, a Classical education consists of 3 stages, also known as the trivium. The first stage, The Grammar Stage, encompasses grades 1 through 4 and lays the foundation for all future learning. This is the stage when the basics, rules, and facts are taught. The second stage, The Logic Stage, encompasses grades 5 through 8, and it is a time when relationships between different knowledge are woven together in a logical way and cause and effect are explored. This is the stage when "the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature."* The third stage, The Rhetoric Stage, encompasses the high school years and has the student putting the first two stages of grammar and logic together to draw conclusions. This is the time when specialization in certain fields can begin also. A classical education is language focused, therefore a lot of knowledge is obtained through the written and spoken word as opposed to images.

To me, one of the neatest elements of a classical approach is the repetition process it applies to education. "Twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same 4 year pattern." The study pattern is as follows:

  1. The Ancients (5000 bc - ad 400) - Biology, Classification, Human Body - Grades 1, 5, 9
  2. The Medieval Period through The Early Renaissance (400-1600) - Earth Science, Astronomy - Grades 2, 6, 10
  3. The Late Renaissance through Early Modern Times (1600-1850) - Chemistry - Grades 3, 7, 11
  4. The Modern Times (1850-present) - Physics, Computer Science - Grades 4, 8, 12

I appreciate this approach because it begins in the beginning. Seeing as how history does not occur in a vacuum, and the United States does not exist in a vacuum, why should it be studied that way? Perhaps we give children too little credit when we assume that they are only interested in and capable of learning about that which is familiar. Also, the classical approach respects a child's intelligence and begins introducing original sources as early as possible. For example, when learning about Ancient Greece, Isabelle read The Odyssey by Geraldine McCaughrean, which is a very well-done retelling of Homer's original. Next time we work through Ancient Greece, she will read the original, and as she has already been exposed to it, it will neither be too difficult nor too boring for her.

Since this leg of our homeschooling journey was entered into a little late, Isabelle is doing stage 1 during third grade. She will have plenty of opportunity to play catch-up as we go and I hope to have her into the third, logic-focused stage, right on schedule for seventh grade. This will also work in nicely as the other children grow, so that we can all fall into stage 1 (the second time for Isabelle) about the same time.

Currently, I am also applying the classical philosophies with teaching Alex and Olivia. Quite simply, this means they are read to A LOT and they are learning their alphabet and letter sounds, and beginning to practice writing by drawing circles and loops. Now that they are both a little older and are capable of sitting peacefully for good stretches of time, I also plan to begin introducing some audiobooks in their school repertoire. This will be good practice for paying attention to details without looking at pictures, listening intently to someone other than mama or dada, and sitting quietly and contentedly for a set amount of time.

There is a wealth of information available on the classical approach to education. One of my favorite online sources is the Bluedorn's site Trivium Pursuit. Of course I also highly recommend The Well-Trained Mind; both the book and their website contain invaluable information.

*Please note that the quotes used in this post are taken directly from notes that I took as I read The Well-Trained Mind, and while I believe they are direct quotations from the book, I do not have corresponding page numbers written in my notes.


A Grammatical Disclaimer

I freely admit to consistently using improper grammar in the following areas:
1. I like run-on sentences.
2. I have a tendency to end sentences with a pronoun. (I really do. I can't help it.)
3. I always seem to use passive voice in my sentences. (See?)

I've been trying to break this habit, unsuccessfully, for years, so now I just accept that as my writing style, and since I'm not writing for grades anymore, I embrace it. (Again, see?)

Hence, I invoke Blogger Artistic License for this blog!

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