Choices! They’re 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, Publix brand, Great Value, Smuckers…
Then which kind? Organic, no-sugar, crunchy, smooth, super-crunchy, natural – it’s enough to make me give up PB&J for life, and I didn’t even reach the jelly aisle!
Likewise, with the vast ocean of choices today, it would be easy to pass by a classical approach to home education. It has been labeled as a “high academic and rigorous course of study.” It attracts parents who desire to see their children “master the tough stuff” and prepare them for what’ most certainly to come.
While a classical education can be had work, isn’t schooling supposed to be challenging? I’m not suggesting we bring our children to tears (or worse, you ending up crying). However, our children need to feel challenged, if only to encourage a sense of accomplishment. Mastery of any one things breeds confidence to proceed to the next mountainous task. That said, let’s look at why a classical education is the most natural choice of all the “peanut butters.”
Learning to Learn
Almost all classical “how to” books will introduce you to a buzzword called “The Trivium.” Basically, it is an academic and logical explanation of how children naturally learn.
See if this sounds familiar: You go to the store for peanut butter but forget the three other things you needed. Your 7-year-old rattles off the grocery list you left on the counter! Or perhaps you can’t quite remember the neighbors’ sister’s cousin’s name – never mind her six children – but your 10-year-old can tell you their names, ages, hair color and favorite sports teams!
What’s going on here? What you are experiencing is called the Grammar Stage of a child’s life. These are the elementary years when your child remembers long lists and can “copy” or “mimic” almost perfectly. This is when you teach them how-to’s, from making a bed properly to mastering multiplication tables.
All children will by nature take on these “sponge-like” characteristics, soaking up everything in their little paths. They begin to enjoy absorbing large quantities of information and spitting it out at the drop of a hat. What an excellent season to introduce to them anything needing memorizing or reciting. 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 phonetics. Latin is an amazing discipline to achieve, and it also makes up most of the language you are speaking right now! Dorothy Sayers, a pioneer of the Classical movement, once said, “Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent.” Now that should convince us to get started with a Latin program early on, especially during the “sponge” stage.
Now come the pre-teen years. Our children begin to “argue” often. They question why you ask them to do something and begin to figure out other ways of doing things you have been doing the same way for years. You begin to “argue back,” thinking your child is just getting out of line or needs a “good talking to.” He is challenging everything being said or done around him. No, you are not the only parent sitting bewildered, wondering where you sweet little boy or girl went. 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 adjust how we respond and help them develop formal reasoning skills. Our children need our help to show them the right way to make an appeal when they disagree with us or anything else. This is the first step in them understanding why they believe what they believe, and it will begin their process of learning to take ownership of what they say and how it affects others around them.
Now is precisely the time to teach logic, both formally and informally. We begin by introducing them to the fallacies out there in the world. We can refocus their energies into identifying what’s wrong with believing that by using a certain shampoo, your hair will forever be long, shiny and flowing. How exciting to see everything they memorized now beginning to be re-analyzed for successful conclusions.
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 with the intention of “going with a child’s natural flow.” It’s time to take all those facts they learned and all that logic they processed and educate them in articulating it to the real world. They will learn to effectively communicate, educating themselves as well as those around them. Your child’s understanding of knowledge will serve him in higher education, a career, a home and eventually a family.
Loving to Learn
So we reach the final goals of a classical education. Sure, there is Latin, logic, stages and steps to ensure success, but it isn’t just “garbage in, garbage out” – we are using children’s natural abilities to learn and discern.
Classical education is about preparing children for a future based on what was available in the past. This educational style has taught some of our greatest men and women. There is still hope that, with a passion for training our children, we can continue passing the baton.
This article was written specifically for the FPEA Guide to Homeschooling in Florida by Doreen Morgan, an author and speaker who lives in Orlando.