The goal of Classical Education is to give students the tools with which to learn on their own — to liberate them from the drudgery of task-performance and to make them independent scholars. -Harvey Bluedorn
Before age ten, the child is in an early Grammar Stage where he is mostly dependent upon his concrete sensory experiences for learning. To put it in computer lingo, he is still "booting up." Around age ten, the child enters a more intense phase of the Grammar Stage where his 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.
Force feeding academic studies before age ten is not an efficient use of your time, is not going to accomplish all of the good which you desire, and may actually work some harm. Of course the exact age differs from child to child, but about age ten the child becomes developmentally mature enough to pursue studies which are more academic. We suggest that formal academics should be the focus after age ten, hence the focus before age ten should be to build a good foundation for the later academics. The way to accomplish this is to exercise the mind so as to develop those parts of the mind which are appropriate for the specific age of the child. The early years are the time to sow the seeds of honoring God and parents, developing the capacity for language and the appetite for learning, enriching the memory, encouraging creativity, and instilling a work and service ethic. These are the kind of things which will lay a good foundation for the formal academics later. First things come first. Academics must be built upon a good moral foundation.
At age ten, with a well prepared mind, you can choose the curriculum which best suits both your child and your circumstances. If you lay a firm foundation, then you can build upon it a mighty edifice. But if you skimp on the foundation and begin hastily, then the building may sag and lean, and parts may fall as the foundation sinks or crumbles beneath it. -From Teaching the Trivium Ch. 11 pg 301 I have taken excerpts from this chapter for this post, the whole chapter is found here.
1. Reading and Writing
Sometime before your child is ten, you should teach him to read, using a good intensive phonics method.
The first question is: At what age should I begin? A few children will learn to read at age four, while a few may be fully ten years old before they can confidently read a basic reader. Most children, however, will learn to read sometime between the ages of five and eight. The age at which a child learns to read is no indicator of how intelligent he is or how well he will do in academics later on. Our own children learned to read somewhere between age five and nine. We suggest beginning phonics at age five. If, after a reasonable amount of time, you find that your child is not retaining any of the instruction, even though he is putting forth an effort, then you may want to put the curriculum aside and wait a few months before trying it again.
The second question is: What materials should I use? There are many good intensive phonics reading programs. Some families will try one, find it does not work, try another, find it does not work, try another, find it does not work, try another, and at last it works. So in their mind this last one is the best one, when in reality, the child was finally old enough, developed to the point of true readiness to read.
English Language Notebook
We recommend that each student keep an English Language Notebook The notebook can begin with his study of phonics. Because pages can be taken out and replaced with new pages easily, three-ring binders seem to be more useful than spiral notebooks. Fill it with notebook paper, blank paper (white and colored) and subject dividers. Each child should have his own notebook. If phonics is new to mother, she may need one also. The student will add to this notebook each week.
At about the same time you are teaching your child to read, you should also teach him to write his letters. Most phonics curricula include instructions for how to teach writing. You begin with printing each letter of the alphabet. He may fill a page or two of his notebook with each letter of the alphabet. Decorate the pages with your child’s own drawings or with cut-outs from magazines: apples on the "A" page, buttons on the "B" page, etc. Have your child add pages of his practice letter writing to his notebook. You will add consonant digraphs, diphthongs and other letter combinations later. This notebook will supplement a phonics curriculum, but will not take the place of it.
When your child becomes fairly proficient at printing his letters and he is on the road to learning how to read, you can begin him on copywork. Copywork is an age-old practice dating back to ancient times, and is, along with oral narration, the first step in teaching a child how to write. Whose sentences and paragraphs should your child copy? Use the finest literature. Begin with the Bible. For more advice on selections, consider Philippians 4:8. Your child should spend some time each day doing copywork. Copywork could be kept in his English Language Notebook, or it may deserve its own separate notebook. Your child may copy from the Bible one day, copy poetry or literature the next day, copy famous speeches or sayings of important men another day. He may keep all of his copywork in one notebook, or he may keep different notebooks for different kinds of literature.
2. Oral Narration
In Britain, at the close of the nineteenth century, Charlotte Mason developed the concept of narration as a method of teaching. In her book, For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay has reintroduced narration to homeschooling families. Karen Andreola has followed this up with her book A Charlotte Mason Companion. In oral narration, the parent reads to the child, or the child reads to himself, then the child "tells back" to the parent, in his own words, what was just read. It is best to begin narration at an early age, when the child is four or five years old, to practice it on a daily basis, and to continue the practice through high school.
Narration is an exercise which builds mental stamina. According to Karen Andreola, ". . . 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."
Narration is very difficult to do. Could you, without notes, narrate the sermon which you heard last Sunday? Most of us — including the pastor who preached the sermon — would have trouble remembering even the text of the sermon. Our adult minds have not been trained to listen to something, remember it, and then retell it. We were never trained in the skill of narration.
Memorization should be begun when your child is young — even as young as two or three — and continued throughout life. (It is good for us old folks, also). Time should be spent everyday reciting memory work. Encourage your child to memorize such things as the Greek and Hebrew Alphabets, passages from the Bible, poetry, catechisms, excerpts from literature. Your child could memorize passages of the Bible in Greek or Latin, and the same passages in English, in order to give them a feel for those languages. Memorizing passages of literature will prepare your child for the study of formal grammar at age ten. He gets a feel for the way sentences are put together and he builds his vocabulary. Memorizing also prepares your child to be a good writer. What goes into a child’s head as a little one will come out later as he writes.
4. Hearing and Listening
By reading aloud to your child, he learns the sound of words, he increases his vocabulary, he enlarges his conceptions of the world, and he develops his imagination. We suggest that you read to your 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.
Three do nots:
Do not be afraid to read to young children books with long chapters. A five year old is capable of attending to and understanding much of such books as Treasure Island or Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Do not waste your time reading "fast-food" type books (e.g. Babysitter Club books or Nancy Drew mysteries).
Do not require your children to sit beside you on the couch perfectly still while you read. As long as they stayed in the room and were not distracting or interrupting, we allowed our children to play quietly with their toys or to work on cross-stitching or to draw or some similar quiet project, while we read aloud. Many children listen much better when they are doing something with their hands — indeed, it seems some little boys cannot sit still long enough to listen unless they are holding something. Some parents combine narration with read aloud times.
We do not often read aloud in one uninterrupted two-hour-long stretch. We read some in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some at night. There are notable exceptions. I remember one day when we read The Long Winter by Laura Ingles Wilder in one long stretch, skipping everything else which would interrupt our reading the day away.
Reading aloud is my favorite part of homeschooling.
You can develop your child’s idea of the continuity of history by marking those things you study or read about on a time line. Stretch some paper out on your living room wall, draw a line down the middle, mark it off in fifty or hundred year increments, then leave it there for the next twenty years. You could have one family time line, or each child could make his own time line. Every time you read something historical, mark it on your time line. 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. The children could illustrate the time line.
We suggest each child begin a History Notebook. You could begin this notebook when the child is in the early Grammar Stage, or wait until he is older. Each child should have his own notebook. We suggest using a three-ring binder filled with subject dividers and paper (white and colored). We will discuss the History Notebook in more detail later.
5. Family Worship
Contrary to the old saying, "the family which prays together, stays together," studies have shown that the family which only prays together — that is, worships together only at church — does not usually stay together.
A method of Bible study which we suggest is Biblical and profitable is to have someone read a passage of Scripture, then have everyone in the family, perhaps in turn, ask the father a question about the passage. Before age ten, you may expect a child to ask mostly Grammar Stage questions of fact. By age thirteen he will ask more Logic Stage questions of theory, and by age sixteen he will ask more Rhetoric Stage questions of practice. Family training in God’s word should be your top priority — far above academics.
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 and thereby develop their elementary creativity.
In the main room of your house, or wherever it is you read to the children and spend the most time, keep a low shelf stocked with good quality colored pencils, crayons, or markers, paints, paper, scissors, glue, clay, wallpaper sample books, fabric sample books, matting board scraps, sewing, knitting, and crocheting supplies. Next to this shelf you may have a small table with chairs where the children can easily work on their projects while you read to them. Younger children can do crafts while the older ones are being helped with math or science. Art and craft projects can be sent to relatives, made into gifts, given to residents at the nursing home, entered into contests, taken to the county fair, or simply displayed in the home. In our home, we have framed many of the children’s works, and the walls are covered with the results.
7. Field Trips
Take field trips frequently. Take time to attend concerts and plays, museums and exhibits. Visit workplaces. Give your child experiences from which to build his understanding of the world — experiences he will draw upon and perhaps revisit when he is older.
Do not let your child explore the world only from a cathode ray tube. Children need real experiences to relate to. Seeing a jet take off on television is not the same as seeing a jet take off in front of you. Hearing an orchestra on television or radio is not the same as hearing an orchestra in person. Watching a computer simulation of a scientific experiment, or watching a video of it, is not the same as doing it in front of your very own eyes. Yes, you can learn some things by the tube. But it is not the same. There are also some things which you are not learning.
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 is thirteen (in the Logic Stage).
If I had to do it all over again, I would have bought our microscope and dissecting kit when my children were young (age six or seven) and have taught them to use this equipment even at that young age. I would also have bought a good telescope, binoculars, basic chemistry equipment (beakers, test tubes, burners, etc, not necessarily any chemicals) for them to experiment with. I would have set up a section of the house with this equipment spread out and ready to use whenever my child wanted. Of course, they would be taught how to keep everything safe and neat and orderly. In other words, when the child is young (in the early Grammar Stage) I would spend my money on tools, instead of workbooks. I would motivate him to enjoy using the tools and to learn how to use the tools.
8. Work and Service
Develop in your child 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 do not mean simply feeding the dog and making his bed. A five year old is quite capable of putting the dishes away and folding the laundry. A ten year old can prepare simple meals from start to finish. Children of all ages can clean and straighten the house. The mother should not be picking up things from off of the floor. Your goal should be that by the time a child is in his teens, he is able to take over the work of the household, from cooking to cleaning to caring for his younger brothers and sisters. This not only teaches them to appreciate work while removing some of the burden from the parents, but it is good training for when they have their own households.
Do not do for your child what he can do for himself.
We have found in our own experience that if the area of discipline is neglected, then we may as well forget about academics altogether. Children will never learn self-discipline if parents do not train them in it. The child who does not develop self-discipline will fail in many things — including the academics you are preparing him for.
Ask yourself these questions: 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, then you should re-evaluate your priorities. If you do not have first time obedience from children of all ages, your homeschool journey will be beset with all number of difficulties.
Do not allow your child to ignore you. You are the immediate reason for why he is alive. When you tell him something, make sure he hears you. When you read to him, do not let his attention wander too far. Of course, be sensitive. There are going to be times when he has something he needs to think about, and you may need to leave him do so. But do not let him shut you out. You must always have his attention when you speak. You must always have something for him to hear. No, we do not live up to that standard. But that should be the standard by which we measure.
Do not let your child rule you. Let him rule himself. A man must rule himself before he can rule others. (Think of all of the offices which have become inverted and perverted because of men who could not first rule themselves.) Nobody learns to rule himself by obeying his own desires. He can only learn to rule himself by obeying another’s desires. There must be something larger than himself to serve. (That is why the concept of God is inescapable. If you do not follow the true God, then you have to invent a substitute god to serve a similar function.) If you can teach your child to know himself and rule himself, then he will be able to rule that part of the world which you give to him, and eventually that part of the world of which God places him in stewardship
10. Play and Exploration
Give the child plenty of time to explore and play. Do not buy "toystore" toys — they are 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, 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 are done), and make them readily available for when they want to use them.