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Homeschool Methods: Classical Education

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Today I bring you the next post in my homeschool methods series. Have you loved these posts as much as I have?   Today is all about classical education at home written by Kathy at Busy Birder. I am thrilled to have her talk about how they implement classical education in their homeschool.

Classical Education at Home

Just the other day, I was driving my kids home from band practice when an ad came on the radio. As soon as it was done, I heard a voice from the back seat. “Mom, they are using ‘Circular Reasoning’ to manipulate the listener to buy their product!”

“What does ‘Circular Reasoning’ mean?” I replied.

Both kids chimed in, finishing each other’s sentences. They were so excited to apply what they learned in Logic class to the “real world.”

I was thrilled.

From that point “Classical Education” became my standard of excellence.

What is Classical Education?

In a nutshell, Classical Education is a method that changes its approach to learning, depending on the age or development of the child.

When kids are little, they love to memorize the names of dinosaurs, or perhaps all the Thomas the Tank Engine friends, or maybe the planets of the solar system and all their features. Names we can’t even pronounce, they rattle off like a foreign language.


Classical Education: The Grammar Stage

During this time, roughly grades 1 through 4, the focus is on memorization and foundational rules, such as vocabulary, historic events (in a four-year cycle), spelling, and grammar. Writing begins with the process of holding thoughts for a moment, and then writing them down completely. Math is tactile and visual.

classical homeschool method

Classical Education: The Logic Stage

Once the children are in 5th grade, many are ready for brain teasers and to learn the rules of logic. Math becomes a more abstract and history begins over again, back to ancient times, with sources that are more detailed and closer to the original. Grammar and Latin are central to the curriculum and writing systematically analyzes examples of good writing, and prompts the child to mimic it.


Classical Education: The Rhetoric Stage

By the time the kids are in 9th grade, they should be able to teach themselves most subjects and school takes on a life of its own. Now they apply what they know (Grammar Stage) with the rules they use (Logic Stage) to express themselves (Rhetoric Stage). Evaluation and Synthesis take center stage.

With their new skills, they tackle the history cycle again, but this time they read the original texts. In Latin, too, students can read the original texts and have developed enough emotionally and socially to discuss these ideas.


Real Life Application of Classical Education

So what about the subjects I haven’t mentioned? Initially, these are icing on the cake. Just as the curriculum follows a pattern of increasing complexity, the demands on the children increase as they get older.

For example, I used the early hours of the day, when the kids were little, to focus on language and math. Once these tough subjects were “out of the way”, we could choose between history and science, art and music. Sometimes we would follow the curriculum, other times we would “wing it” and visit the ducks in the park, and every so often we would just throw in the towel and visit Grandma.

As the kids grew older, I enforced studying of history and science more. By the middle school years, they have greater endurance.

In the final four years, they can make choices. They can specialize.

classical education at home

Is Classical Education a good fit for you?

Do you and your kids need

  • structure
  • rules
  • a system of study
  • step-by-step instructions
  • skills
  • critical thinking
  • self-discipline
  • an appreciation for the Great Works of literature and art?

With a Classical approach, you can develop these with your own style of teaching or coaching. If you prefer to “go with the flow” and see where the children’s interests lead, the Classical expectations might just frustrate you.

Can the Classical method be used successfully with kids on the Autism spectrum or with cognitive delays? Absolutely.  You are in control of the pace, the depth of material covered, and the modality or method of learning.

While reading and listening are key to this approach, you can work in more tactile or kinesthetic methods as well. For example, in addition to writing a spelling lesson, a child can also “finger paint” the words on a cookie sheet of bird seed. To study math, use manipulatives and images to reinforce a concept.

I chose this method specifically because it offers the structure that my son, who has Asperger’s, needs. My daughter, who is “neuro-typical”, has thrived with this method as well. She loves the time we spend doing the lessons together, although that has diminished now she is in high school. Now we enjoy lunch together.


How do you get started with Classical Education?

I highly recommend The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Susan was homeschooled by her mother, Jessie, and currently is a professor at The College of William and Mary, while also homeschooling her children with her husband’s help.

After she describes the theory behind Classical Education, she divides the book into the Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric stages. Within each section, she further breaks it down by subject and what is developmentally appropriate to expect a child to learn. She then reviews several popular curricula and lists the materials you’ll need and where you can find them.

I have loaned out my copy to different friends who were considering homeschooling, and I have received two types of feedback. “This is terrific! The plan is so clear. I’m getting my own copy.” And other friends hand it back to me and say, “Good luck with that.” What makes the difference?


Classical education is serious business and will require 6 – 7 hours a day of varied school work by the middle school years. You are training a child to think logically and to express themselves clearly and that takes time. And what a wonderful, fruitful way to spend your time!


Why Bother with Classical Education?

Homeschooling is a lot of work. Classical homeschooling is no exception, but the result is exceptional. Your kids will be equipped to think for themselves.


Author Biography

I’m Kathy Hunter and I am currently homeschooling my two 9th grade kids with the Classical approach. We’ve been loving homeschooling for 7 years and are looking forward to finishing high school at home. We live on a farm in Maine and tend our garden and chickens and ducks. I have a Master’s degree in Science Education and am also certified to teach science for grades 5 – 12.



You’re welcome to visit my blog, www.busybirder.com, but I also highly recommend Sara’s blog, at www.classicallyhomeschooling.com for a lot more information and experience with Classical Education. Finally, a www.welltrainedmind.com is a great place to ask questions and get answers.

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