Trivium Pursuit

Classical Q & A

Q. What makes a classical style of education different from other methods? – Linda in Michigan

A. We think the classical style provides a framework which shows us how to use all of the other methods – unit study, scope and sequence, Charlotte Mason, principle, etc. – to the best advantage. With the classical style there will be deliberate emphasis on language skills, reasoning skills, formal expression, and good literature.

Q. Will homeschooling with the Trivium be more expensive? – David in Illinois

A. Using the Trivium does not necessarily make homeschooling any more expensive than other approaches, and it is probably cheaper than some. It will not necessarily take more hours than other approaches, and may take less hours than some. Remember, you’re teaching your children how to learn, which means you are working yourself out of the teaching job.

Q. My children are twelve, ten, and eight. Is it too late for us to begin the classical approach? – Brenda in Illinois

A. It is never too late, but the later it is, the more you may need to do some catching up, and the more obstacles you may have erected in your way. For example, if your fifteen-year-old has been largely raised in the public schools, fed television and such like for 3 to 4 hours per day, seldom exposed to good literature, and generally not trained to think – or worse, trained not to think – then homeschooling with the Trivium will be a challenge – somewhat akin to going through detoxification treatments. A classical style of education is not just adding Latin and logic to the curriculum. It’s a whole way of living. But if the student and the parents are motivated and willing to make changes in their life, then anything can be accomplished.

Q. I have just finished reading Teaching the Trivium, and I now realize that I need to learn some things myself before I begin teaching my four-year-old son. What would you recommend? – Jodi in Michigan

A. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Turn off the television, and keep it off.

2. Begin reading. If you don’t like to read, then learn to like to read. And begin reading aloud to your children – not just the ten-minutes-before-bedtime-let’s-read-Green-Eggs-and-Ham type of reading, but the let’s-read-Treasure-Island- (unabridged version) -this-week-to-the-six-year-old type of reading.

3. With the children, investigate the world around you. When our children were little (and when they were older also) we explored everything, from the men black topping the road outside our house, to listening to all the visiting artists who came to town, to searching through all ten libraries in our area. Ask questions and learn from the experts. Ask the Lord to give you an inquiring mind.

4. Talk with your children. Argue with your children (not in the sense of fight, but in the sense of dialogue and debate).

5. Don’t talk baby talk to the children. Throw out the “grade level” mentality, in fact forget which grade they are in. Children are capable of understanding much more than we give them credit for. Read to them books above what you think their level is. Encourage them to listen to adult conversation.

6. Make sure the children obey you. Expect first time obedience.

Don’t think in terms of “well, I need to take a course somewhere to prepare myself to give my children a classical education.” It is in the process of teaching your children that you will be teaching yourself

Q. What languages do you recommend? – John in Michigan

A. If you are only going to study one classical language, we recommend Greek, because it is the language of the New Testament. If two languages – Latin and Greek, because Latin serves well as an intermediate between English and Greek, and because Latin is basic to English. Latin is the base of all of the Romance languages and is very useful in so many other fields of knowledge such as Science, Medicine, and Law. If three languages – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, because Hebrew is the language of the Old Testament and the bridge to Hebrew culture.

Q. The reading lists of some of the classical educators are slightly intimidating to me. Dante, Chaucer and Beowulf in the second grade? I didn’t read these until high school. – Debbie in Texas

A. The question I would ask is: do I want to require my children to read Dante, Chaucer, and Beowulf at all? Some of the principles to consider as we choose and study literature include:

1. I want to do what is pleasing to God. “Be not conformed to this world…” and “Keep yourself unspotted from the world…”

2. There is only so much time in the day.

3. Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean it is good. Much of Canterbury Tales is dusted with things gross and profane. I don’t believe it is fit for the eyes of a child, even in its abridged form. I’m sure there probably are sections which would be of some value, but I have better use for my time than pulling on the chore boots and wading through the muck for a few pieces of corn.

One year I had the children read Beowulf in its unabridged form, and then they had to write a paper on it. Hans’s paper was entitled “Beer-wulf: A Story of How God Used a Monster to Rid the Land of the Beer Halls.”

Do you have a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in your house? I suggest putting it on a very high shelf.

There is no neutrality. If a piece of literature cannot be used to build Christian culture in my children, then it will be used to build something culturally anti-Christian in my children. Wasting time is anti-Christian. But I can hear someone protesting, “But, the Bible is filled with descriptions of the wicked sins of men.” True enough, but the Bible also tells you what to think about all that wickedness, and nevertheless there are sections of the Bible which we simply don’t read to young children because they are not ready to handle it. The Hebrews wouldn’t allow young children to read the Song of Solomon.

Have you ever read any of the works by John Bunyan? These are wonderful pieces of literature you will want your children to read over and over. And how about Robinson Crusoe – unabridged? The Waverly Novels? Or the histories of Herodotus and Josephus, or Xenophon’s Anabasis? (For more about this, see our book Ancient History from Primary Sources.) For more modern literature, stick with what is of good form and lasting value. (For specific lists, see our booklets Hand That Rocks The Cradle (fiction), and Lives in Print (biographies).)

There is good literature and there is bad literature, there is worthwhile literature and there is worthless literature. Just because something is old and it is required reading to enter college does not necessarily mean it’s good or that it’s worthwhile. I would suggest that your family list the principles which it should rely upon for choosing literature to read, then stick to those principles. Don’t be swayed by peer pressure – even classical homeschooling peer pressure.

Q. Won’t following classical education turn my children into snobs?

A. Classical education will neither make someone a snob, nor will it keep him from becoming a snob. Snobs are attracted to things that make them feel they are better than others. It is wrong to be a snob. But it is not wrong to pursue those things which are most excellent, and it is you alone who must learn to maintain a humble composure regarding your own educational attainments. The best way to avoid snobbery is to practice a humble servant attitude toward others.

Q. With young children in the Knowledge level, how important is it to study history in a chronological order? – Laura in Florida

A. Probably most families will find it difficult to pursue a strict chronological study of history. (By strict I mean working straight through from ancient to modern times with no deviation). Most families would like to, will plan to, and will begin in that direction, but the distractions which confront the normal homeschooling family in the course of a typical homeschooling year often interrupt the best laid plans. My goal for the study of history would be to give my children the tools for learning a new subject on their own. The subject of history is good material for forging these tools. I want them to be able to study history on their own, even when they are grown and have children of their own. If, for whatever the reason, I am not able, during the short time in which I have them, to take them through all of history, from ancient to modern times, then they can fill in any blanks using the tools which I have given them for learning on their own. But they will only pursue studying history on their own throughout their lifetime if they have first learned to love the study of history. And this is where following a strict chronological study of history might interfere. Imagine that you are following a plan to study the ancient Greeks in your first semester and study ancient Rome in your second semester. However, you discover that your children are wired for a different plan. Your lads spend all of their spare time making swords, armor, and castles, or your lassies are busy sewing Civil War costumes. Ancient history may be a wee bit boring to young children who are interested in medieval times or Civil War times. You may be able to redirect your children’s interests to ancient history, but should that fail (or you clearly see it failing before you begin), then you may choose to strike while the iron is hot, and redirect your own studies to meet their interests.

If you’re afraid they’ll be confused about the order and length of events in time, that is remedied by locating everything on a timeline. Of course, at some time, you’ll want to teach major segments of time in chronological order, but with the wee lads and lassies, interest-directed study is often more profitable.

Q. I have four children ages ten, seven, and four years, and another at seven months. I can read aloud for about an hour when the seven month old is with us, but it is a very challenging hour. Any suggestions? – Marty in Nebraska

A. Imagine this scenario: Mother calls up the stairs, “I’ll be reading in five minutes.” Instantly five little munchkins come tumbling down, ever anxious for the next installment of Island of the Blue Dolphins. Nine-year-old Nathaniel quietly sits down at the art table Mother has positioned next to the art shelf in the living room, intent on working with the new markers Uncle David bought him. Seven-year-old Johannah picks up her cross-stitch project she is attempting to finish for the 4-H exhibit at this year’s county fair. Five-year-old Hans plays quietly in the corner with his Legos. Three-year-old Ava happily sits near Mother on the couch sucking her thumb and holding Mother’s hair. And last but not least, little Helena crawls around examining the furniture, then counting her toes, and finally falls asleep on the floor an hour into the reading. All the children work and play quietly, never causing Mother a moment’s worry or distraction. She never has a need to tell anyone to be quiet or stop fighting. All is peace and calmness. Mother reads for two hours, stopping occasionally to call for narrations, and then stops to prepare dinner. Is this reality? I think not.

Some years ago, as I was reading Two Little Confederates by Thomas Nelson Page to my three (now much older) daughters, I had to stop twice to ask the girls to please stop talking. They were discussing among themselves which web page they should go to in order to buy a certain vintage sewing pattern. Then the boys came in from working on the barn roof to check on what had come in the mail. Then my mother called to tell me that Aunt Rowena was just married. By the time I hung up the phone, I had lost my audience.

I determined long ago that if I waited for the perfect time to read aloud I would be waiting forever. But I really do think that by the time the youngest is twenty-four, they will have finally learned to be quiet while I read. Of course, by then they will all be married off and living in their own homes, and I’ll be left alone reading aloud to the empty chairs. Oh, sorrowful day. But, I won’t think about that today, I’ll think about that tomorrow.

My daughter Helena just asked me if I told you to keep a fly swatter next to your chair as you read. I guess I must have done that when they were young, but I really don’t remember. Children do remember the strangest things.

In the real world, when the children are small, you will have interruptions. The smaller the children and the larger the number of children, the more the interruptions. But what is motherhood all about but a training of these children, and it is a training process which seems never to end.

Here are some suggestions which may help. A three or four year old is old enough to be required, for half an hour, to stay in one area, perhaps on a blanket or small rug, busy with Legos or some such toy. After that, you may switch places and toys and require him to play quietly for another fifteen minutes. By then, Mother will need a break from reading, and everyone can move on to the next thing on your schedule. Perhaps you could keep back some special toys just for read aloud times. If the child becomes noisy in his play, stop reading and gently remind him to “modulate your voice,” as Laura Ingles Wilder’s mother used to say. There may be times when you judge that the switch is in order. Although we would like no interruptions when we read, even more important is the training process on the road to no interruptions. The children remember how we mothers did things, not necessarily the end result. The children may not remember that everyone was quiet while Mother read, but they will remember that she was always gentle and kind in her training – well, almost always.

Q. My oldest child, a girl age twelve, is having a hard time working independently. She has a difficult time reading directions or explanations, and understanding what is required from her. She will read through her math lesson, then tell me she doesn’t get it. Whenever I sit down and read it to her and walk her through the examples, then she understands it perfectly. Any thoughts? – Carol in Illinois

A. The government school professionals would likely call this a learning problem or disability or some such thing with a complicated label. I would call it normal. Both of my boys were like that until they were twelve or so. They wanted me sitting with them when they did math and grammar and Latin. I think my being near helped them to focus their attention. I remember that if Nate had to do his math alone, he would later come to me with a “?” next to half of the problems, meaning he couldn’t figure out how to do them, but if I sat next to him he rarely had a problem figuring out even the most difficult problem. There is nothing wrong with sitting near the child and helping. It gives him confidence and it motivates him to work diligently. And that’s exactly what we are attempting to do with our children: teaching them to work diligently and be confident in all their work. With some children it takes longer to learn this, so we must be patient. Young children just don’t fit into the classroom model of working at their desk all alone. Now that my children are older, I will never have to work another math problem with my children. It makes me cry to think about it. Oh, to have someone asking me to sit by him to do math again. I would gladly give him my entire day.

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