Teaching the Trivium and Other Principles of Classical Homeschooling

I’ve often shared about my early homeschooling years here on the blog. I began homeschooling with the intent to “do school” just like traditional school where I had been a teacher until I had children. When I left that structure behind and branched out, I was reluctant to call myself any particular kind of homeschooler. I would concede that I was using many Charlotte Mason methods, but even then, I wouldn’t truly call myself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler. I just picked curriculum that worked.

Classical homeschooling

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So I was pretty surprised one day when, in a conversation with a homeschooling friend, she told me that my homeschool style was very Classical. I didn’t agree because all I knew about Classical homeschooling was that it seemed very structured and that it used quite a bit of memorization. And that was something I didn’t want.

But she had piqued my interest. So I began to do a little research on Classical education. What I found was that, although I really wouldn’t call myself a Classical homeschooler, I do have many Classical ideas and principles that I follow in choosing our homeschool curricula and activities. In this post which is part of the Homeschool Methods series, I’m taking a look at Classical homeschooling- the ins and outs and principles and methods and some Classical homeschooling resources.

The Trivium and Other Classical Ideas

The Classical method of education is built upon organizing children’s learning into three main stages- Grammar, Dialectic (or Logic), and Rhetoric. The child progresses in these stages as he gets older. In each stage there is a different focus.

  • Grammar stage- This stage is when children will learn the words for the concepts they’ll learn later on. Young children often enjoy memorizing and can memorize easily through chants, rhymes, and songs. The Grammar stage of Classical education capitalizes on this, and young children will memorize words and ideas that they don’t yet understand but will understand with later learning.
  • Dialectic (or Logic) stage- In this stage children begin to make sense of the facts they’ve memorized by comparing them, sorting them, and understanding their relationships. The stage is called Dialectic because there is much dialogue or conversation as children begin to organize the facts in their minds.
  • Rhetoric stage– This stage builds on the other two. In this stage children begin to use what they’ve learned to solve a problem. They begin to apply what they’ve learned. Students in this stage also learn to express what they’ve learned and the conclusions they’ve reached.
Along with the Trivium, Classical education is also known for its language-focused learning. In Classical education, children learn primarily through words. From the memorization of words and facts in the early stages to the reading of great books and learning to express ideas and conclusions in later stages, Classical education involves words.
Another characteristic of Classical education is that it ties all learning together. This aspect of Classical learning is what I love most. And it’s this that my friend noticed when she called me a Classical homeschooler. In Classical education, the material that children are learning isn’t just random and isolated. Instead there are connections. What is being covered in history is tied into what is read in literature and what is learned in science and what is covered in other subjects that the child is learning. All learning is connected.

History and Science Cycles

This connected learning happens, primarily, around history cycles. The spine of Classical education is four historical time periods that will be cycled through again and again throughout a child’s education. The time periods are Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. Ideally, if a child begins with Classical education from the beginning, he would cycle through each in a simple manner in grades 1-4 (the Grammar stage), with more depth in grades 5-8 (the Dialectic stage), and in even more depth in grades 9-12 (the Rhetoric stage).

Everything else that the child is learning will tie in with the time period of history that he is studying. For example, when the Ancients are the time period studied, students will read literature set in ancient times or written about ancient people. This creates connections with what students are learning, instead of presenting subjects in a fragmented way.

Even science ties in with the cycles of history because students cycle through science topics roughly in the order that they were discovered- biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics and computer science. Students cycle through these topics every four years in more depth, just as with the history cycle.

Classical homeschooling method

Classical Homeschooling Resources

If you’re a Classical homeschooler or want to learn more about Classical homeschooling, here are some resources that might help. Some of these are books about Classical education and some are curriculum resources for Classical materials.

The Well-Trained Mind- This book by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise has been a “handbook” of Classical education. The book will walk you through how to develop a Classical course of study for your children.

The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins- This book, along with two others by the author- The Question and The Conversation, goes through each of the stages of the Trivium and gives parents practical suggestions for teaching children with a Classical approach.

Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn- Like The Well-Trained Mind, this book gives parents practical information about educating their children classically. The difference is that this book approaches Classical education from a distinctly Christian worldview.

Story of the World- The Story of the World books are written by Susan Wise Bauer and are children’s history books that follow the Classical cycle of history. They are a great resource, and I’ve often used the books as a spine for our history, adding in other books from the time period as we went along. The books are not written from a Christian worldview. The author claims they are “neutral” and that parents who are teaching can discuss their own worldview as it comes up.

Memoria Press is a publisher that offers Classical homeschooling curriculum from a Christian perspective. I’ve had the opportunity to use and review quite a few of their materials, and I’ve always been impressed by the quality.

My Father’s World- This curriculum is the primary curriculum we use. While it isn’t fully a Classical curriculum, it uses many Classical methods and follows the cycles of history and science. I’ve loved, loved, loved this curriculum and the way that it integrates all we’re learning each year.

While I still don’t consider myself a Classical homeschooler, there are many of the Classical principles that I use in our homeschooling. And much of the curricula that we use has a Classical bent. I think there are some very valuable ideas and methods in Classical homeschooling.

Are you a Classical homeschooler? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment telling me about your Classical homeschooling and some of your favorite resources.


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