What is Classical Christian Education?

Teaching Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the Glory of God

What is classical education?

Classical Education is language-focused, and it has a lot to do with content instead of images or visuals. It is a method of teaching children according to the medieval understanding of how children develop. Dorothy Sayers defines these three stages as Parrot, Pert, and Poet in her wonderful essay, The Lost Tools of Learning.

Grammar (Parrot)

The first stage calls for the storing of knowledge, often referred to as the Grammar Stage. Children find it easy to memorize facts and rules. It’s all about filling up the “sponges” with as much content as possible. Ages 4-10.

Logic (Pert)

The second stage calls for understanding, otherwise known as the Logic Stage. Children now begin to make sense of what they have learned. They will start to reason and analyze the information they have accumulated. Ages 10-14.

Rhetoric (Poet)

And the last stage calls for wisdom, what Classical educators call the Rhetoric stage. Most children at this age yearn for self-expression and independence. It is also at this stage where they acquire communication skills so that they apply and integrate the things they have learned. Ages 14-18.

Distinctly Christian WORLDVIEW

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

N.D. Wilson, son of Classical Christian Education proponent Doug Wilson, wrote this excellent piece on how to train children in his book Notes From The Tilt-The-Whirl:

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.

I truly believe that Classical Christian Education will give children the tools to do just that. Children will learn how to acquire information (Grammar), how to think critically (Logic), and how to communicate with clarity (Rhetoric).

Francis Schaeffer once said about education:

If Christianity is not just one more religion, one more upper story kind of thing… then it has something to say about all the disciplines, and it certainly has something to say about the humanities and the arts and the appreciation of them. And I want to say quite firmly, if your Christian school does not do this, I do not believe it is giving a good education… True Christian education is not a negative thing; it is not a matter of isolating the student from the full scope of knowledge. Isolating the student from large sections of human knowledge is not the basis of a Christian education. Rather it is giving him or her the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator’s existence and in the Bible’s teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false. It is not isolating students from human knowledge. It is teaching them in a framework of the total Biblical teaching, beginning with the tremendous central thing, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It is teaching in this framework, so that on their own level, as they are introduced to all of human knowledge, they are not introduced in the midst of a vacuum, but they are taught each step along the way why what they are hearing is either true or false. That is true education. The student, then, is an educated person.

Classical Christian Education is where knowledge and virtue converge. But ultimately, the goal is for children to recognize and treasure truth, goodness, and beauty, to the glory of God.

 

Resources

Learn more about the Trivium and Christian Christian Education from these valuable resources:

Commit to Memory, Commit to Heart

The second day of The Classical Preschool calls for memorization. And that is what we tried to do today. My tot grabbed another Curious George book about fishing right after breakfast, and I took the opportunity to teach him a nursery rhyme, “12345 Once I Caught A Fish Alive” which also teaches numbers.

I realized that I have to write down some goals for our homeschooling, and knowing his numbers, shapes and alphabets by the time he reaches three years old is definitely included. I have made a mistake of not being intentional about teaching preliteracy skills with my firstborn. I am not  going that same route again. We’re not doing any writing yet, but we’re committing these things to memory.

A big bulk of Classical Education composes of memorization during the Pre-Grammar and Grammar stages. Dorothy Sayers describes this life stage as Parrot, where children mimic and follow what has been taught to them,

The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things.

The Reformed tradition blends perfectly well with Classical Education as it also emphasizes on catechizing tender hearts early on. Although my two-year old may not yet “parrot” all that I teach him, I am hoping repetition and lessons through song would aid memorization at this stage.

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As a Christian parent, my aim for child-rearing is not only to help my kids accumulate academic skills; my primary role is to make them disciples of Jesus and own their baptism one day. One of the ways to do this is to give them the language of faith through catechesis. Anthony Hoekema gives the definition and purpose of this instruction,

Catechesis is the ecclesiastical training of the children of the covenant, aimed at preparing them for profession of faith, active church membership, and kingdom usefulness. In the light of this definition, the purpose of catechesis will be to teach the covenant child such material as he needs to know in order to make an intelligent profession of faith within the church to which he belongs, to be a well-informed member of that church, to be a ready witness to the teaching of the church, and to live a full-orbed Christian life in accordance with the principles taught by his church.

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

Catechetical instruction at home and at church, along with regular Family Worship, aids in this spiritual nurture.

How to Choose Books for Children

Time and again, I get asked for children’s book recommendations. I am a self-confessed bibliophile, and I have maintained a modest collection of children’s books at home. You should know that I am not an expert. But I am a mother who wants to share the love of great literature to my own children, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years in choosing books that would help build a home library. I say this because the Philippines does not have a lot of public libraries. This is why having your own library is essential in raising readers in our country. A decent collection could greatly benefit your kids or perhaps even your grandkids in the future, Lord willing.

Start Early

I don’t mean start hunting for books early in the morning, although that is good, too. What I mean is to begin building your collection early on, as long as your budget allows it. I started collecting children’s books when I was still single. Although I was unsure if I was going to have kids or even get married, I was placed in children’s ministry when I was doing practicum while I was in seminary. From there, my love for teaching and training children reflected my collection of worthy resources that would help address children’s needs. For more practical reasons, you may begin building your collection while your baby is still in the womb. Reading to children in utero helps mothers bond with their babies, aside from other developmental benefits.

Stick with the Classics

My biggest tip if you have a limited budget is to pick the classics—classic books or classic authors. There is a reason why they are bestsellers. Their style and content has lasted from one generation to another, making them family favorites for years. Another tip is to look out for the Giesel Award, Caldecott Medal and Newbery Award badges when hunting for good books. Any of these awards boost the credibility of a children’s book. Find out more about these badges over here. The same goes for all-time favorite children’s book authors like Dr. Seuss (The Cat in a Hat or Oh, The Places You’ll Go), Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear or The Little Hungry Caterpillar), Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon or The Big Red Barn), and others. Their books come up often in recommended lists (see below). You might want to stick to these classic authors if you’re building a small collection.

Stay Away from Twaddle

Choosing classics does not mean you should not buy new ones. But try to stay away from twaddle as much as possible. You can recognize twaddle when you have been surrounded by good books. Twaddle books are badly written second-rate literature that underestimate children’s intelligence, and are often book versions of their TV or movie counterparts. You can read more about what twaddle is over here. Not everyone will agree, but educator Charlotte Mason was adamant about not tolerating twaddle books when reading to children,

They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.

Study Book Lists

Familiarize yourself with recommended book lists. I was surprised how little some people know about good resources that would point them in a right direction. A quick search in Google or Pinterest would get you there. But knowing the difference between quality books and twaddle take a lot of practice, and reputable book lists help you with that. See The Classical Reader for a compendium of age-appropriate book recommendations by different classical educators. You could also try homeschooling resources like Five In A Row or literature-heavy curricula like Sonlight or Veritas Press.

Scavenge Second-Hand Bookstores

If you have a mental list of good books to find, going to second-hand bookshops like BookSale or Biblio would be so much easier since you already know what you’re looking for. I could spend all day scavenging for good finds. But if you’re like me—a hands-on mama with two active kids—you know it’s next to impossible. So I resort to online shopping. Sure, you pay a little more than the brick and mortar shops, but it saves you a ton of time and energy. I will provide a list of my recommended online stores some other time. Also, watch out for book fairs like the Big Bad Wolf Book Fair this month, and the Manila International Book Fair every September for books sold at bargain prices.

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So far, these are the top five basic things you should look out for when choosing books for children. Selecting Christian books deserve a full post, and will be reserved for another time. My recommended book lists are also in the pipeline.

Please let me know in the comments section if this post has been of help to you and your family. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add as well. 

Read Aloud Day

I am adapting The Classical Preschool for homeschool, and the first day begins with Read Aloud. As I have mentioned in my previous post, my two-year old tot loves to read with me. I have discovered today that he only enjoyed reading books that interest him. He would usually choose the books he wants to read—our open bookshelf allowed him to do that.

I was ecstatic to start teaching my toddler, and I chose the beloved children’s classic, Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina for our Read Aloud Day. I thought it would be fun to read about the peddler selling caps. Since my son is big fan of Curious George, I also chose Caps For Sale because monkeys are a big part of the story. But I was wrong. He wasn’t interested in reading the book with me at all.

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I managed to snap a quick photo of my tot checking out the book before we got started. He opened a few pages, and he diverted back to one of his favorite books instead, that is the Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle. You could say that my attempt at restarting homeschool is #FAIL. Oh well. That just proves that not everyone gets into the whole homeschool rhythm from the outset. But I will try this again, and maybe start with the book that he likes.

How did your first day of homeschooling a preschooler go about? I would love hear all about it in the comments.

Beginning Our Homeschool Journey

I am not a professional teacher. My training was Computer Science in university, and Biblical Studies for my post-grad. But I have always loved teaching. And this was one of the primary reasons why I entered seminary almost 10 years ago.

Teaching the Bible to adults is quite different from teaching little children, I tell you. So when I became a mama about five years ago, I was convinced that it was my calling to teach and train my firstborn. She wasn’t as keen as I hoped she would be so I pushed homeschooling to the side. I recently learned that it may because of a learning disability. I will write about that some other time. Now that I have grown older and wiser (hopefully), I am eager to restart homeschooling with my toddler who just turned 2 years old last week, and supplement my prechooler’s phonics education using the Orton-Gillingham approach.

I have held Classical Education in high esteem ever since I was first introduced to Dorothy Sayer’s essay, The Lost Tools for Learning. Like Sayers, I too believe that children are like sponges. Just as in the Reformed tradition where children are catechized with Biblical doctrine during their tender years, Classical Education also seeks to provide the knowledge base that is foundational to their living in and enjoying God’s world. This why I’m going through the Classical route, even though I have been tempted to explore other more child-centered approaches like Montessori.

I’ll be adapting “The Classical Preschool” by Living and Learning at Home. But I’ll be trimming down the curriculum into four days (Tuesdays to Thursdays).

Here’s what I hope to do with my two year old this year:

  • Day 1: Read Out Loud + Narration
  • Day 2: Memorize
  • Day 3: Manipulate
  • Day 4: Explore

Since Day 1 (Read Out Loud) and Day 4 (Narration) in the original curriculum was related to each other, I decided to combine the two. My toddler thoroughly enjoys reading with me, and I wish to do something more systematic to improve his speech and vocabulary. It is my hope that he can string more words in the coming weeks because of this activity.

I have originally wanted to use A Year of Playing Skilfully as suggested by Classical Academic Press. But the curriculum is just way out of budget for us right now. Plus, I have to admit that I am not a very tedious person who will prepare crafts and activities ahead of time. I am very practical, and prefer ready-made resources whenever possible. I’ll be using what I already have at home, that is June Oberlander’s Slow and Steady Get Me Ready for our Explore day. This book is also recommended in The Well-Trained Mind by one of the classical homeschooling pioneer, Susan Wise Bauer.

My aim is to learn while I teach my two kids. I also want to document the highlights of our homeschooling experience, and hopefully introduce the beauty of Classical Christian Education to the rest of the Filipino people.