I have been receiving quite a few questions on how to teach in a biblical classical style, otherwise known as the Trivium, to young children. There is a plethora of information available for ages 7 and above, or what many call “first grade” and upwards. But very little is said about early years learning. There are many reasons.
1. Biblical classical education is in opposition to early institutionalization or over-rigidity in study during these important early years.
2. Biblical classical education recognizes that growth and development is largely unique and personal during this time. Every child learns to walk, talk, hold a pencil, read, and count by 7s at a different time, depending on development of the mind, gross motor skills, small motor skills, health, family situation, and many other variables. None of these or other milestones are a determination of intelligence or future abilities (ok, maybe a little indication of gifts. I can see that some of my children showed clear aptitude in language or spatial thinking from toddler-hood and these gifts have carried through as they grew. But their siblings are not dumber, just different.).
3. Most importantly, biblical classical education is not primarily about academics, though academics are involved. The main goal is moving through knowledge and understanding toward godly wisdom. With that goal in mind, the wise parent sets the stage during those early years for obtaining these most-important truths.
Biblical Classical for Little Ones
What should they then learn? For pre-readers, a biblical classical curriculum would look something like this:
This principle, submission to authority, is so foundational to learning and life that God makes it the child’s first command (Eph. 6:1,2). Immediate, cheerful, complete obedience to parents and others should be the most important lesson each day.
A biblical classical education sets the stage for lifelong learning. Toward that end, parents begin mentoring the child toward independent learning. The child will become increasingly responsible for larger portions of his own education. During the early years, parents may instill this character with household chores. A young child should be growing toward doing their duties thoroughly, without being told.
Love and reverence for God’s Word is early instilled in the child with daily family readings. When the child is old enough to speak sentences, begin memorizing Bible verses together.
Reading to young children is fun … and sometimes tiring. Ask older siblings, Daddy, grandparents, and others to help out. Read picture books and read chapter books. Read poems and read fables. Read classics and read Seuss. Just read.
4. Literal Math
Count everything all the time – how many Cheerios are on the plate, how many cans of beans are in the cart, how many shoes are on our feet, how many cookies Mommy just ate – until the toddler can count without help. Cook and bake with the toddler, discussing units of measurement and time. Look at a real clock with hands often during the day and announce, dramatically, what time it is. Count out change loudly. Soon, you will become very sensitive to how often you use math principles during the day, and you will include your child in these lessons.
Last year is “history” to a young child. Forget trying to explain when things happened. Just relish the exciting stories that did really happen and share them, excitedly, with your child. Tell him the real history of Saint Patrick. Re-enact a battle of Romans vs. Goths (this happens repeatedly in my back yard). Tell the amazing true story of the Yukon Gold Rush. Take him to a museum to see the real armor, the real jewels, the real art from those you’ve studied. Read biographies. Visit historical places. Emphasize these are real events and that men and women lived these lives, were these heroes, and made these world-changing choices.
Allow the child to learn and explore in the real world. Grow plants (and watch them die, in my case). Take care of a pet. Visit the zoo, the aquarium, the apiary (in my case, avoid the aviary). Become more observant of the nature in your own backyard – the bugs, the grass, the birds, the trees, the sky. Encourage the child to explore, collect, investigate, and research his interests.
What Not to Do
1. Don’t load up an early learning with workbooks. I know I may be miss-quoted as saying don’t ever buy a workbook (I’m not saying that). However, the primary learning for an early, knowledge-stage child should be literal, real-world application as much as possible. Workbooks are entirely too theoretical for young children, by and large.
I now stay away from workbooks as long as possible, and when begun, use very limitedly. By very limitedly, I mean that an early knowledge stage child who is already reading independently and writing proficiently may perhaps do one grammar worksheet and one math worksheet in addition to copybook writing. Even later knowledge-level children should keep it down to that, perhaps adding longer copybook/journaling if they want to write more, and maybe a logic worksheet if they are very precocious. There will be time enough with that pencil in their hand in the understanding and wisdom stages.
2. Do not allow unrestricted “screen time.” In our home, we call all electronics “screen time,” including TV, videos, computer, hand-held games, etc. The less “screen time” young ones have, the better. Now, again, I run the risk of being accused of throwing out the TV (we have one, and my little guy has seen it, thank you). But putting limits on it will encourage real life learning, which is the point of this early stage. And there are just plain detriments to over-stimulation from these electronics, anyway.
3. Do not make learning a chore. From now on, learning and growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is the child’s life work. Help him enjoy it, love it, appreciate it, and see God through it all.