Classical Education and Delayed Formal Academics — Essential and Nonessential

by | Classical Education, Delayed Formal Education | 1 comment

I came across your website recently
 in my search for classical curriculum providers. I read (and 
re-read) your article, Ten Things to Do with Your Child before Age
 Ten, and it has been 
insightful, however I have some questions. 

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, 
I’ll provide a brief profile of my home learning environment. I am
 fairly new to homeschooling. We began just over two years ago, when 
my eldest was 4. I taught her to read and kept things fairly simple. 
She is now 7 and is a voracious reader. My 4 1/2-year-old is now
 learning how to read (and, hopefully, my 10-month-old will be just as

My eldest is now in grade 1 and is 
working through Saxon Math, Shurley Grammar, handwriting, and a 
History/Bible curriculum through a private Christian school in the States
 (we’re in Canada). I had hoped to incorporate French into our studies,
 but simply could not find the time (learning French is a must in eastern 
Canada, so it will have to be a summer school project). 
We have naturally followed many of the suggestions you make in the
 above-mentioned article, such as teaching them to read early on, reading 
to them daily, frequent library trips, family devotions, however as I
 sit down to consider next year’s curriculum for my eldest, I am
 frustrated. I don’t believe I can continue with what I am doing and 
remain sane.

My husband and I believe that the
 classical approach to educating our children is the best way to go, but 
there are so many different points of view out there. I appreciated the information on your website, however what to choose remains vague for 
me. The bottom line is, I lack both the experience and confidence to
 create my own curriculum. What I like about the curriculum I’ve been
 using is that it is all set out for me — weekly lesson plans, beautiful
 reference books, great historical fiction, all tied into what we are
 studying. But as you’ve warned on your website, working with
 curriculum designed for a school can cause difficulties, and, from what I 
can gather from your recommendations, the sort of structured study that 
we’ve been engaged in is too much at this stage.

Also, I am unsure what you mean by
 informal math – is Saxon Math considered informal? What math programs do
 you recommend? I noticed that you do not even mention mathematics 
before age ten in your Suggested Course of Study outline. 
What about an English grammar program? We’ve been working through
 Shurley Grammar (a bit tedious, I must say), thinking that this was 
necessary, but you seem to be suggesting waiting for some time before
 digging into formal grammar. Are formal spelling and creative
 writing programs unnecessary as well at this point?

You mention
 learning Greek and Latin – I can’t even fit French instruction
Please forgive me for dumping on you
 here, but your suggestions just might be what I need to relieve the stress
 I’m already feeling. What I really need is something more
 concrete. As you have probably gathered by now, I’m not enjoying
 this process, that is, trying to decide exactly what to provide for my children’s education. There is simply too much out there. 
Please help! 
Thank you very much for your
Reading between the lines, I detect you are like me. We are a bit of a perfectionist, wanting to make sure we cover all the basics in a thorough manner. We enjoy learning and we see all this information we think we need to study, and we enjoy the process of teaching our children. It’s just that there’s SO MUCH to cover. Where to begin?

There’s only so much time in the day. This needs to be our guiding principle. Perhaps I can tap into my experiences to help you weed out the nonessential from the essential.

Let’s review what we have elsewhere written concerning what to do with a child before age ten. Around age ten, the brain becomes physically able to make more complex connections, which, among other things, makes the child more able to handle abstract concepts and helps the child with self-management and self-control. At age ten, the child is fully entering the grammar stage. Before this time, the child is mostly dependent upon his concrete sensory experiences for learning. He is really in a pre-grammar stage. He is still “booting up,” to put it in computer lingo. (See books by Jane M. Healy such as Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds and What We Can Do About It, Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It)

1. Reading and Handwriting

Sometime before your child is ten, you should teach him to read using a good intensive phonics method such as All About Reading. The age a child learns to read is no indicator of how smart he is or how well he will do in academics later on. Our children learned to read anywhere from age five to age nine. At the same time he learns to read he should learn to write his letters. Copywork is a good way to practice handwriting skills and to prepare him for creative writing when he is older.

Essential: teach child to read using phonics; copywork/handwriting
Nonessential: handwriting workbooks; teaching phonics/reading after the child is proficient in reading; copywork curricula; spelling curricula; grammar curricula; creative writing curricula

2. Narration

Charlotte Mason developed the concept of narration in Britain at the close of the nineteenth century. The concept has been reintroduced to homeschooling families by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her book For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Karen Andreola through her articles in Practical Homeschooling.

If narration is a new concept to you, then it is best to start out small. Read to the child just one short paragraph from a simple story, then ask him to retell, in his own words, what you just read to him. In the beginning you may need to prompt the child with questions about the passage. As the child becomes more practiced in the art of narration, he will be able to narrate longer and longer passages.

Narration is an exercise which builds mental stamina. According to Karen Andreola, Because narration takes the place of questionnaires and multiple choice tests, it enables the child to bring all the faculties of mind into play. The child learns to call on the vocabulary and descriptive power of good writers as he tells his own version of the story.

Essential: practice narration once a day
Nonessential: reading comprehension workbooks; grammar curricula

3. Memorization

Encourage the child to memorize things: the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, passages from the Bible, poetry, catechisms, excerpts from literature. Choose memorization topics which are important to your family. Perhaps the child can then recite his memory work in front of the family or a larger group. This is an excellent way to prepare the child for competitions in oral interpretation and speech and debate when he is older. Memorization, along with narration, trains, sharpens, and strengthens the mind and prepares the child for more rigorous studies later on. And that’s precisely what we want to do in the early years of a child’s life.

In your case, since learning French is a priority for your family, I would skip the Greek and Hebrew and concentrate on French. In a few years, if you are able, you can add the Greek, Hebrew, or Latin. Notice I said “if you are able.”

Essential: practice memorization once a day
Nonessential: memorizing random facts divorced from what is important to your family

4. Hearing and Listening

By reading aloud to your child, you teach him the sound of words and develop his vocabulary while enlarging his understanding of the world and developing his imagination. We suggest you read to each child at least two hours a day. Read from a wide variety of good literature: biographies and historical fiction. Include books on science, geography, art, music, and history. Audio books can be substituted for the parent reading, as necessary.

You can develop your child’s idea of the continuity of history by making a time line of the things you read. Tape a long piece of paper to the wall where he will see it every day and mark it off in centuries. When you read about the life of Bach, mark his birth and death on the time line. When you read about the invention of the printing press, mark that point on the time line.

So you see, your science and history will be covered by your read-alouds (or what you choose for the child to read). You can include simple projects to go along with your reading, similar to what is included in the Five in a Row curriculum.

Essential: read aloud two hours per day or use audio books
Nonessential: formal history or science curricula

5. Family Worship

With regular family worship, the mind is developed along spiritual and moral lines in a way which cannot be accomplished by Bible workbooks.

A method of Bible study we suggest that is profitable is to have someone read a passage of Scripture (the NKJV is a translation suitable for children), then have everyone in the family ask at least one question about the passage. Before age ten, you may expect a child to ask mostly grammar-level questions of fact. By age 13 he will ask more logic level questions of theory, and by age 16 he will ask more rhetoric-level questions of practice.

Essential: regular family worship
Nonessential: Bible study curricula; children’s Bibles

6. Arts and Crafts

Young children learn more through their senses. They need more hands-on manipulatives before age ten. Give them plenty of time to experiment with art and crafts. In the main room of your house, or wherever it is you spend the most time, keep a low shelf stocked with good-quality colored pencils, paints, clay, paper, scissors, glue, wallpaper sample books, fabric sample books, different kinds of crayons, sewing supplies, etc. along with a small table with chairs.

Children can easily work on their projects while you read to them or they listen to audio books. Younger children can do crafts while the older ones are being helped with math or science.

Essential: good quality art and craft supplies readily available to the child
Nonessential: a Better Homes and Gardens home

7. Field Trips

Take lots of field trips. Early on, get into the habit of visiting the library on a weekly basis.

When the child is four or five, begin attending your local Science and Engineering Fair. Observe all of the different kinds of projects and experiments. Encourage the child to think of what kind of experiment he could enter when he’s 13 (in the logic stage).

Take time to attend concerts and plays, museums and exhibits. Visit workplaces. Give him experiences from which to build his understanding of the world; experiences he will draw upon and perhaps revisit when he is older.

Essential: use field trips and other experiences to expand your child’s world
Nonessential: field trips in a cyber world

8. Work and Service

Help your child develop a love for work and service. From the time a child is able to walk and talk, he should be given regular chores to perform. We’re not talking about just feeding the dog or making his bed. A five-year-old is quite capable of putting the dishes and laundry away. A ten-year-old can prepare simple meals from start to finish. Children of all ages can straighten a house. The mother should never pick up anything off the floor. Your goal should be that by the time a child is in his teens he will be able to take over the running of the household.

Along with work, children should be taught to serve. One way we helped our children learn to serve was by visiting nursing home residents on a regular basis.

Essential: chore schedules which are clear and understood by the child
Nonessential: parent cleaning up toys while child is idle

9. Discipline

Children need parents to discipline them, or they will never learn self-discipline. If the child does not develop self-discipline, he will fail in many things including the academics you are preparing him for.

Ask yourself, “Do I speak to my child in a loving and respectful tone?” “Am I satisfied with the obedience of my children? Do I enjoy being around my children? Do my children honor and respect me?” If your answer is, “No,” to any of these questions, perhaps you should re-evaluate your priorities.

Essential: do all things with love
Nonessential: harsh communication by the parent

10. Play

Give the child plenty of time to explore and play. Don’t buy “toy store” toys (they’re expensive and are usually forgotten after the newness wears off). Invest in real things. Garage sales and auctions are an unending source for things like sewing machines, small tools for working in the garden, hammers, nails, and things for building, and maybe some wooden blocks and dress-up clothes. Buy tools for exploring (a good microscope, telescope, binoculars, dissecting equipment, basic chemistry equipment, etc.), not toys for adoring. Teach your children how to use them responsibly (safe, neat, and orderly – clean up when you’re done), and make them readily available for when your children want to use them.

Make sure much of their playtime is spent outdoors. If I had it to do over, I’d try for the goal of two hours of free play outside each day. “Explore what childhood might look like if the amount of time kids spend outside rivaled what the amount of time they spend in front of screens.” —1000 Hours Outside

Essential: Two hours per day of outdoor play
Nonessential: playing in a cyber world

You’ll notice we do not include formal math or formal grammar. We have written elsewhere about this subject, so I won’t say more here. Concerning grammar, our language arts recommendations for before age ten are reading aloud, copywork, memorization, and narration as described above.

1 Comment

  1. Rachel van de Burgt

    Thank you, Trivium Pursuit! I really enjoyed the advice, books, suggestions and tips! I will keep this information for use with my daughters! It is very precious to know how to select and identify our priorities!


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