Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Taste of Classical Education

I can't quite remember where I first heard of Classical Education, but I didn't even include it on my list of philosophies for preschool. I was skeptical of what I assumed was a super structured approach, focused on bookwork and lots of worksheets. I was inspired by the Curriculum Fair on Simple Homeschool and Tsh's article on Classical Curriculum for a Flexible Lifestyle. I did some exploring online and went to our local library website to find "The Well Trained Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I placed it on hold, along with "The Well Educated Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer.

As I started reading, I was constantly arguing the points in my mind, wondering if there really was something to their philosophy of learning and that the first few grades of school are the appropriate time for practice work and memorization as this is the first stage in the trivium.

Let me back up here. The Classical philosophy focuses on three stages of learning called the trivium. The first is called the "grammar stage" as this is when the building blocks for learning take place. They consider this stage as happening in grades 1 to 4. The mind is ready to absorb information and children find memorization fun. (Charlotte is already repeating poems and sections of books that she has memorizes and uses them in her play!) The learning of facts plays an important part here. This includes phonics, spelling, rules of grammar, vocabulary of foreign languages, facts of mathematics, the stories of literature and history, descriptions of plants and animals and the list goes on and on. The focus is not on self-discovery or self-expression.

The second stage is is the "logic stage" during the middle school years. During these years, students focus on cause and effect, relationships between different fields of knowledge and the way that facts fit together. Abstract thought begins to mature at this age.

The third stage is called the "rhetoric stage" in which the high school student uses all of the knowledge they have built up to write and speak with originality. Students begin to specialize in their areas of interest at this point.

Classical education is print focused and not image or video focused. In other words, phonics and letters are not learned by watching animated alphabet letters jump and dance on the screen.

There is also a systematic way of organizing the information that is learned according to time periods in history. Knowledge is interrelated and one topic is not to be studied in isolation.

The Well Trained Mind website has piles of information and I have read a few of the articles under "getting started" and FAQ.

I have become very interested in this type of education. Although I would not follow "The Well Trained Mind" to the letter (the book is a curriculum for grade 1-12), I think it has some very interesting ideas in it's philosophy that I would not have previously considered. In my education degree, we were taught that project-based learning and thematic learning were the way of the future in education. The truth is, educational trends are always coming and going. I do not think there is anything wrong with projects, especially projects that students are interested in, however I DO think that a structure is key for education. A structure that builds on itself, and focuses on the teaching of skills so that students can use these skills without having to completely concentrate on the skill itself. For example, the student who struggles sounding out words and does not know the sounds for consonants and vowels will struggle to read until they have mastered the basic skills for reading. The same could be said of a skill like sewing. If I have not mastered sewing a straight line and how to thread my machine every time that I try to sew will be a frustrating project. I need to practice some basic skills before I can sew a skirt! (Which is the truth!)

As for preschool education? There is not much written about it in this book. They mention one resource book and discuss the importance of talking to your kids and reading with your kids. There is also a book about teaching your kids to read. I think that this is purposeful in that they don't intend for your three year olds to be sitting for an hour of bookwork and phonics skills!

I feel a bit of the pressure lifting for preschool education after reading this book and articles on the website. I feel like a focus on reading and making the sounds for letters is sufficient at this point. I am challenged and intrigued by this philosophy that originated in the Middle Ages, and I'm looking forward to studying it further if we do decide to homeschool.

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