What is Classical Homeschooling?
When you think of classical what comes to mind?
Beethoven, Chopin, Handel, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, DaVinci, Michaelangelo and Monet?
In fact, the definition of classical is “regarded as representing an exemplary standard; traditional and long-established in form or style.”
Classical music, art, writing and dance are so extraordinarily exemplary that they are worthy of study from generation to generation.
Who wouldn’t give their right arm for that kind of an education for their children?
A Classical education includes those aspects, but is so much more.
What is Classical Education?
Classical education is an approach to teaching and learning based on the trivium, which describes the three learning stages of children as they mature. It focuses the educational method in each stage to best develop a knowledgeable and articulate student.
However, a classical education is more than just a pattern of learning. It is language-focused, meaning that learning is accomplished through words, which require the brain to work harder than when it acquires knowledge through images. Reading is active learning — it requires the brain to translate symbols (letters) into concepts, where screen learning is passive.
A philosophy rooted in the history and culture of the Western world, classical education includes both a classical approach (encouraging deep and thoughtful reading and writing within a moral framework) and classical content, (the study of Ancient Greek and Latin literature, history, art and languages).
Many of the world’s great authors, scientists and political leaders, including Copernicus, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglas, Marie Curie and Albert Einstein were classically educated. They became men and women who changed the world.
Although used in schools for centuries, in the past couple of decades many families have recognized the benefits of a classical education for homeschoolers.
How Did the Classical Education Model Develop?
Calling this model of education “classical” is new, but the education model itself is as old as time. Prior to the 1800’s, it was simply called education.
The philosophy and pedagogy of classical education began in ancient Greece, was adopted by the Romans, was further developed during the Middle Ages, then perfected during the Italian Renaissance. The goal was always to provide a systematic framework from which to teach all human knowledge, with emphasis on developing students’ language abilities was so they could delve ever deeper into scriptural interpretation.
Over the last 2500 years, each new generation has added its own selection of topics and made small modifications. After embracing the classical education model in England, the early colonists emigrated to America with their ideas, which were heartily welcomed.
Eighteenth-century Americans, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson studied Greek, Latin, literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history and art in addition to the trivium and quadrivium of the Middle Ages. They were taught to read the ancient classics in their original languages. College admission at that time required the ability to speak and translate Latin fluently.
The early nineteenth-century saw a shift away from Latin and Greek as many colleges began to teach English literature. Then, with the rise of the industrial and scientific revolution early in the twentieth-century, progressive educators like John Dewey (also the head of Columbia’s teacher’s college) advocated more pragmatic education.
Dewey believed education should equip individuals only for particular spheres of usefulness: business, medicine, factories or law. With his influence, it wasn’t hard to put this type of progressive education into place. Certain groups of people were educated for factories, while other groups were educated to rule, but everyone would be educated for practical reasons.
The primary criticism of progressives was that the classical method could not accommodate new research into child development. Classical education was nearly extinguished until in 1947, Dorothy Sayers wrote The lost Tools of Learning, defending the classical method.
She suggested a return to an older educational theory, including the medieval trivium. Her program acknowledged the factor of child development stages and overlaid them with the trivium. This brought about a revival of the classical method of education.
Modern, classical schools require several years of Latin study and uphold the same standards of teaching, curriculum and discipline found in the schools of old, but do not make ancient languages the basis of their studies. Graduates of modern classical schools don’t typically have enough Latin to read ancient Roman texts, and they are barely familiar with the Greek alphabet.
Currently the term “Classical education” refers to a broad-based study of the liberal arts and sciences, including Latin.
Key Elements of Classical Homeschooling:
The goal of the classical model of education is teaching children to think for themselves. Using the “trivium”, children move through three stages of learning: grammar, logic and rhetoric. In taking advantage of these three stages of a child’s growth, the Trivium complements how a child naturally learns.
Classical education is a language-based, literature-focused style of learning that has been adopted by many homeschooling families.
The Grammar Stage – In the classical model of education, this first phase focuses on the memorization of facts that will serve as the building blocks for later learning. Because children in the early elementary years think in concrete terms, the focus of learning in these years is on memorization and repetition. For homeschoolers, this boils down to making sure a student has a core knowledge of English, grammar, writing, math, science, history, geography and Latin.
The Logic Stage – Sometimes also called the Dialectic stage, this phase encourages children to ask questions and evaluate the facts they learned during the grammar stage. Analytical reasoning develops during this stage. Students are no longer willing to just accept information; they want to ask questions, compare and construct a framework of the ways in which facts are interrelated. This process is accomplished through dialogue—listening, reading and socratic discussion. Homeschooling a child during the dialectic stage involves introducing them to logic (asking questions that help them arrive at valid conclusions).
The Rhetoric Stage – The third phase enables students to synthesize their knowledge and apply it to meaningful living. The student combines their foundational knowledge from the grammar stage with the critical thinking skills they learn in the logic stage to be able to articulate their reasoned opinions and conclusions. Students are encouraged to use the analysis skills they’ve learned to become articulate teachers. Classically homeschooled high schoolers will focus heavily on the medium of communication through essay writing and public speaking.
Benefits of Classical Homeschooling
Some benefits of classical homeschooling are:
- excellent analytical skill due to the classical education foundation in reason.
- students will be literate and informed citizens.
- students will be able think logically and with discernment.
- students will be able to write and speak eloquently and persuasively.
- students are immersed in the basics: history, science, math and English as well as Latin, logic, rhetoric and religion.
- students are encouraged to question, probe and seek answers.
- students are able to synthesize information and create logical arguments.
- faith is integrated into most classical homeschooling curricula.
- Latin provides a basis of understanding for other subjects like botany, as well as ease further language learning.
- students acquire life skills in addition to education.
Classical Homeschool Curriculum:
Classical Conversations. A classical homeschool curriculum which teaches grammar, dialectic and rhetoric through a Christian worldview—and uses an educational approach ideally suited to a child’s natural learning style. This is geared to co-ops and group teaching because of the socratic discussion element, but can also be completed alone.
Memoria Press. This classical education company offers a physical curriculum for use offline and an online academy for pre-K through high school. They also provide teacher training and homeschool conferences.
Classical Curriculum. Based upon the 19th-century German-Latin method and following the great-books model, this materials list includes enough to be considered a stand-alone classical curriculum for homeschooling. Links are provided to all of the recommended resources.
Aquinas Learning. Catholic, classical homeschooling curriculum that is Catholic at its core, classical in its approach, family-friendly in its presentation, with subjects that are integrated in the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. This curriculum can be used independently as a self-paced home study, or in community at a center licensed to use the Aquinas Learning Program, where a community of learners meets once a week to learn materials that are further studied at home during the rest of the week.
Well Trained Mind Academy. This was founded in 2014 by Susan Wise Bauer to provide a natural extension of your homeschooling education, rooted in classical methods. We offer live, online instruction that fits your student’s overall educational plan. Our instructors are qualified in their fields and have years of experience in teaching, tutoring, and homeschooling.
Claritas Publishing. Claritas Publishing is a group of Bible-believing Protestants and Catholics who have written and compiled grammar stage memory work consisting of Scripture, Latin, English Grammar, Math, Science, History, Geography, Timeline, and Hymns with a goal of cultivating wisdom and virtue by nourishing the child’s soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.
Want to know more? Classical homeschooling resources:
You’ll probably be able to find most of these books on classical homeschooling at your local library.
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer
This was the first book on homeschooling I ever read, and I used it as a reference book for several years. It’s a very straightforward, no-nonsense, applicable guide to implementing the trivium in your own homeschool. The Well-Trained Mind will instruct you, step by step, on how to give your child an academically rigorous, comprehensive education from preschool through high school―one that will train him or her to read, to think, to understand, to be well-rounded and curious about learning.
Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedoorn
How can you give your children the tools they need to teach themselves? Long ago students were first taught how to learn. Today, students are taught an encyclopedia of subjects trivia but they are not taught the basic skills of learning: to discover, to reason, and to apply. They are not taught the trivium. Can you homeschool in a classical style without compromising your Christian principles? Can you homeschool in a classical style without buckling under the burden?
Classical Education and the Homeschool by Douglas Wilson, Wes Callihan and Douglas Jones
As we survey the educational ruins around us, classical and Christian education appears to be an idea whose time has come again. More and more Christian parents are seeing the failures of modern education, and they are hungering for a substantive alternative, one that has been tested before and found to be good. Classical and Christian education presents them with just such an alternative. This collection of essays by Douglas Wilson, Douglas Jones, and Wesley Callihan gives both a hearty defense of this kind of education, as well as descriptions of what it should look like on the ground.
Classical Homeschooling Blogs:
Would you like to know more about the other homeschooling methods?
Click the links to learn more about each of the following Homeschool Methods:
Reggio Emilia Approach(also known as project-based homeschooling)
Unit Studies Approach
Do you consider yourself a classical homeschooler? We’d love to hear about the resources and classical homeschool curriculum you use in the comments below!