Trivium Pursuit

Similarities and Differences

Your methods differ from that of the other classical educators. They believe that the time is ripe during the grammar stage for the “filling of facts” and encourage the memorization of many things. They begin Latin in the third grade and start with Saxon 1 in Kindergarten. This is very different from what you suggest for the grammar stage regarding math and Latin. In fact, many other classical/trivium catalogs have curriculum available on every subject, starting at the first grade. Does a child really learn all that he has to (or would have struggled to learn ) in the five or six years previously — in one month or so? What do you all use to ensure that your ten year old is prepared enough to process into Saxon 65 and will not struggle with the concepts presented there? What is your opinion on starting Latin in third grade? What disadvantage or advantages can you see? Dawn

I will try to describe the similarities and differences, as I see it, between our application of the trivium and the way others apply the trivium.

Similarities (these are just three of the similarities — there are probably others):

1. Memorization is important and should be started when the child is young–maybe age two or three–and continued on through high school. Time should be spent everyday reciting memory work. Memorization builds and strengthens the mind. We might differ from others on what should be memorized, though.

2. Reading aloud is important. We recommend at least two hours a day. My guess, but I don’t know, is that others recommend about the same, although if you have your children in a private school it might be hard to work in two hours a day.

3. Teaching classical languages is important, although we would place more importance on Greek rather than Latin.

4. Teaching logic is important, although we would spread the study of logic out from ages ten through eighteen (or longer if desired) rather than limiting the study of logic to just a few years.

Differences:

1. Math — Others recommend starting the study of formal math at age five (kindergarten) using a first grade math book. We would recommend starting formal math at age ten, starting with a 6th grade math book. See our article on teaching math. By age ten, the child will have informally, either with your help or often without it, learned a great deal of math. Now, if the child lives in a home where neither parent is around much, where the child is watching TV or videos much of the day and not given time to explore and investigate the world around him, and where the love of learning is never encouraged, then that child will never be able to start a 6th grade math book at age ten. But my guess is that most homeschooling families interested in pursuing the classical approach will not have homes like this. Here are just a few examples of how children can learn math informally:

playing games (Rummikub, chess, checkers, cards games, dominoes, jacks, pick-up-sticks, hopscotch)
playing store or restaurant with brothers and sisters
cooking
helping Dad around the house and learning the measurement system
children learn counting and numbers in all kinds of ways while doing chores (setting the table, etc.)
handling money
playing with cuisennaire rods
observations while driving in a car (mileage signs)
baseball statistics

This concept of waiting till age ten to begin the study of formal mathematics, and then using a 6th grade math book to start, is one that is very controversial. When we start talking about it in our seminar it is always interesting to watch the reaction of the audience. Eyes start to stare, jaws sag in some, some start to smile and really light up, some shake their heads and roll the eyes. But, you know, this idea is not something original with us. We didn’t think it up. We read about it first in the writings of Raymond and Dorothy Moore. When I first read about this concept of delayed academics (in 1978), I disregarded it as quackery. After all, our oldest child Nathaniel was quite smart, not a genius exactly, of course you know, but bright. I’m saying this facetiously, because he was, and is, just average, but when a parent is young and his children are little, he tends to have elevated views of the intelligence of his children. Anyway, we were sure we could get Nathaniel through all the grades by the time he was thirteen. So we began with math (and the other academics) at age four and a half. It is through our own experiences with our five children, our reading of the research done by the Moores, our own research, and the experiences of many others who have communicated with us that we have come to the conclusions that we have.

You expressed concern that perhaps a ten year old would not be ready to start in Saxon 65 if he has done no previous formal math. All I can say is that, from my own experience and from the experience of many others, an average ten year old raised in a nurturing home is perfectly capable of jumping into Saxon 65 at age ten. Other sixth grade math books would probably be just as good, but I only have experience with Saxon.

2. English grammar — Others recommend starting the formal study of English grammar in the first grade (age six). We would recommend starting at age ten (fifth grade). Our reasoning is that grammar is an abstract concept, like math, and is best left till the child is able to reason abstractly, around age ten. Memorization and narration and reading aloud and copywork before age ten will prepare your child for the study of formal grammar at age ten. Different parts of the brain handle the language itself, and the grammatical analysis of the language. The part which handles the language is developed enough by age four or so. He learns the language inductively. He knows the subject comes before the verb, and the direct object afterward, even though he has no way of conceiving what a subject, a verb, and a direct object are. He learns vocabulary and style without any way of conceiving what a noun, verb, or preposition is, or what iambic pentameter is. He just enjoys language. The part of the brain which handles the formal grammar is developed by age ten or so. If you try to teach formal grammar too early, you will put the information in odd places of the brain and it is more difficult for the brain to assimilate and use. See books by Jane Healy.

3. Latin — Others would recommend starting the study of Latin in the third grade (age eight). The children would be memorizing vocabulary, case endings, verb endings, and learning simple translation at this age. In fourth grade the student would begin the study of Latin grammar. We would recommend the study of Latin grammar begin at age ten (fifth grade). If desired, the book English From the Roots Up could be studied before age ten, but it is certainly not necessary. As mentioned above, we see value in having the young child (before age ten) memorize passages of the Bible in Latin or Greek.

4. Probably the biggest difference is that we believe the child’s place is in the home, not in a classroom situation.

many other classical/trivium catalogs have curriculum available on every subject, starting at the first grade

You are correct here. For example, some trivium catalogs seem to imply that Shurley grammar is the classical English grammar curriculum, and that parents should start Shurley grammar at first grade. I am sure the Shurley grammar is a fine grammar, but it is certainly not the only English grammar curriculum that can be used by a family pursuing the classical approach. There are many wonderful grammar curricula available. We used Noah Webster’s Spelling Book to teach English grammar. It’s not a grammar textbook per se, but can be used to teach English grammar. I liked Websters because it is inexpensive, non consumable, good for teaching spelling and vocabulary, and his sentences are beautiful. But Noah Webster’s Spelling Book is not the only good book for teaching English grammar. There are others that will do the job just as well.

Another example is the teaching of reading. One catalog seems to say that Sing, Spell, Read, and Write is what you need to buy if you want to follow the classical approach. Actually, there are numerous good intensive phonics programs available to families who want to pursue the classical approach. I am a little disappointed in one thing, though. All of the phonics programs have gotten quite expensive. The teaching of reading doesn’t have to be expensive.

Another example is literature. One catalog recommends that you purchase for your first grade student the book Corduroy. Not in second grade, nor kindergarten, but first grade. I love the book Corduroy. I probably read it 15,000 times to my kids. It’s in every library, and you might be able to find it in a used book store. Unfortunately, many families just beginning to homeschool will see that Corduroy is recommended for the first grade and think that, yes, they must read Corduroy in only the first grade, along with all the other specific books recommended for the first grade, and if they don’t read Corduroy in the first grade then they are behind. It puts an unnecessary burden on homeschooling families. Why not recommend instead that Corduroy be read sometime (and many times) between the ages of two and twelve? One of the beauties of homeschooling is that we are not bound by grade levels and graded reading lists and required subjects and books such as What Every Second Grader Should Know. Grade levels and graded reading lists and such are for private and public classroom situations where the teacher must gear his teaching to the average student in his classroom of 25 students. We as homeschooling families are not bound by those types of things.

The trivium catalog I have looked at is very valuable for its lists of recommended reading for history. I suggest disregarding the grade levels, though. Good history books are becoming harder to find in libraries, so you might want to purchase some of these history resources. It’s the same with science books.

Let me go over very briefly the ten things we recommend for children before age ten (these are not listed in order of importance):

1. Teach reading (intensive phonics) and handwriting (copywork).
2. Oral narration.
3. Memorization.
4. Read aloud at least 2 hours a day (history/geography, science, literature); history notebook; timeline
5. Family worship.
6. Arts (includes music appreciation).
7. Field trips and library research.
8. Work and service.
9. Discipline.
10. Plenty of time for play and exploration.

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