I recently received an email from a dear friend:
Okay…you got my attention. I will admit that when I read a book about the different methods of homeschooling, the Trivium as it was described was one that least appealed to me. … I have noticed more and more in this age of “reason” that we need to be training our children to be critical thinkers not parrots. This is what I desire, a child who is a critical thinker who loves learning and knows where to find information so that he can look up whatever he wants to learn. I started reading (didn’t even finish because I ran out of time, but that was all it took) the article on the things that your child should learn and do before they are 10.¹ The more I read, the more I realized this was exactly what they were talking about. I would really like to get a hold of their book… Could you tell me how you have applied this learning style to your homeschooling and give me a “picture” of how this works for you? I can’t say for sure that this is the way I want to go, but I am interested in learning more about it to see if there are any of these principles that I can incorporate.
I receive questions like this constantly, on the phone… on the soccer field … at church last week … on facebook … I decided it was high time I wrote down my answer so I can quit struggling to blurt out an answer in 30 seconds or less.
The Three (ok, Four) Levels of Learning
As you read about classical education, you understand that the learning process is divided into three levels: grammer, logic, and rhetoric. Biblical Classical Homeschooling is based on God’s model of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Though there are three stages to such learning, I insert a preliminary stage: acknowledgement of God and obedience to parents (babyhood to about age 3). This is the most important time to set the stage for all child-training. The child’s heart is turned toward God and the parents. The Bible is presented as the authority on all matters. The father is set up in the child’s heart as the head of the home. The mother begins dispensing godly wisdom with the first verses a child learns, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” The child learns to take instruction and to obey immediately and whole-heartedly. The stage is set for academic learning.
The second stage begins around age 3 to 5 years (the parents will know when it is time). The Knowledge Stage begins when the child’s will is submissive to the parents’ instruction and his young mind is inquisitive and excited to know more. The parent has already been reading aloud, and begins teaching phonics and reading skills. After reading, writing is quickly introduced and regularly practiced with copy work from Scriptures and excellent poetry and literature. Though excellent minds disagree with me, I begin teaching mathematical principles at this time too, using hands-on application and emphasizing an understanding of God’s patterns as it relates to time and counting. These three – reading, writing, and math – lay the foundation for understanding the world around him, so that foundation is most important and must be carefully laid. Once the child begins reading independently, writing with less help, and doing math mentally (that differs for each child), I begin adding laid-back History and Science, using note-booking for each (in a large family, history and science instruction will doubtless begin sooner as young children will be included in older sibling’s studies). Library reading begins to become increasingly important; books are gathered from a variety of genres.
As the child grows toward puberty, he should have amassed a large amount of knowledge from a variety of sources. He is ready for Understanding Stage. This doesn’t happen all of a sudden one day, but comes upon gradually as the Lord matures his thinking. He begins to take the biblical principles that his parents have been teaching daily and apply them to different subjects before Mommy brought it up, and he begins to evaluate his reading material not only on the basis of “does it not have bad words” but “are these characters living “and “does this author reflect God’s mind.” This will occur around the age of 10-12 for many children. My oldest son, who is turning 11 next month, just began this stage. He is memorizing large portions of Scripture each week; reading classic novels, biographies, and works on history and science each week; learning to write larger research papers and reports on a variety of topics; conducting science experiments and investigations for which he is alone responsible; approaching Pre-Algebra studies in math; and beginning logic studies.
The last level will be Wisdom. I can’t imagine I will ever admit my child is there (!). I don’t feel like I am there. But I want to train them to seek the Lord’s wisdom as they prepare to serve Him, and that will be the focus of that final stage. This will perhaps occur in our home around age 16 or 17. I imaging our child will be studying the Bible even more in-depth, adding to his personal and family devotions readings in theology and spiritual disciplines. He will be reading more substantial works of classic literature and writing detailed analysis of plot or characters and understanding the significance of the work as it relates to history. He will be studying calculus, advanced math, and/ or physics if his mathematics have progressed steadily; perhaps an applied math course if they have not. He will continue studying logic (both formal and informal). If he hasn’t already, he will study American Government and both macro- and micro-economics. History and Science studies will continue. If the Lord has already revealed to him and to us, his parents, what are God’s plans for his vocation, he may begin studying more specifically in preparation for that calling at this time. This is an excellent time to pursue an apprenticeship or part-time job. Many students seek advanced classes for college credit in their field, as well.
Living the Lifestyle
Here is a snapshot of what this looks like in our household. I have four children, ages 10, 8, 6, and 2. The eight-year old is the only girl. The oldest, as I said, is beginning Understanding and the eight- and six-year-olds are Knowledge. The six-year-old, a.k.a Sweetie Pooh, learned how to read independently last spring. He occasionally needs help with “special sounds.” He is still working on writing independently. Princess is a voracious reader and writes for fun. The Baby is mischievous but fairly obedient. Here is a typical day:
7:30 Bible – The three oldest have their Bibles on their laps and are waiting on the sofa for me. I am training the Baby to sit still and listen quietly as we learn. We sing a hymn together and I may teach a little about its history or explain the doctrinal teaching therein. We then discuss our catechism questions. They should be memorizing the answer and the Scripture proofs. Someone usually has a “word of testimony” how that verse applies to their life. We then turn to our lesson. I am currently reading through Genesis. During lesson time, we may get out a map to find the places each family settled (Genesis 9) or our Book of Centuries to record when an important event occurred. We end with prayer time.
8:15 Read aloud the history or science lesson while the children work something quietly with their hands.
9:00 Chores and begin studies. I am doing my exercises and getting dressed while the children do their housework and begin their math and grammar work.
10:00 Music lesson – I teach my three oldest children piano and violin or viola, so every day I try to give someone a lesson. The other two children are working quietly on math or grammar, or reading quietly. The Baby practices playing alone or comes in the living room to hear the music.
10:45 Back to studies for me! I answer Sweetie Pooh’s questions about his seat work. Next, I look over copy book writing assignments from him and Princess and coach each of them on spelling, grammar, and writing style. Then, I teach either of them their new math concept, if necessary. As a child finishes everything Mommy has given him to do, he will read quietly or run out in the backyard to explore until called back to discuss something new.
11:30 Check on Eldest Son’s work. Grade his math and explain any reoccuring mistakes; he corrects everything in red pencil. Coach him in writing.
12:30 Lunch! I read aloud for an hour or so while they eat and relax around the kitchen table. Baby has exhausted himself playing toys, coloring, listening to history and science, dancing during music lessons, and “re-organizing” the math manipulatives. He falls asleep face-first in his high-chair.
1: 30 Quiet Time – Sweetie Pooh retires to the living room sofa to read from his library bag; Princess goes to her bedroom sanctuary to do the same. I have moved Baby to his bed for a proper nap.
Eldest Son takes his History and Science supplemental reading to his room to study for a couple of hours. He will work on science observations and experiments later in the afternoon.
We find this schedule fun. The children have time to run and play in the afternoon or in the morning between discussions with Mommy. They are each playing sports they enjoy in the evenings. At suppertime, we have family devotions with Daddy. We are your-round learners; periodically Daddy will declare everyone needs more rest and play. And many days, our learning doesn’t take place at home at all – we may study science at the zoo; history at the art museum; math at the science exhibit; writing at the library.
I hope this helps give you a picture of a real Biblical Classical Homeschool family. Each family who incorporates Biblical principles into their child-rearing and child-training will do so in a slightly different manner. May the Lord help each one of us seek His will and way for our children.