Classical Method: Homeschool Philosophy Spotlight Series


The classical approach is a very popular method that parallels a teaching style dating back to the Greeks and Romans. A classical education is language-based, rather than hands-on or video-based like many of the other homeschooling styles. Subjects are taught in chronological order so they can overlap historically making events in history much easier to follow. In place of traditional workbooks, there is a lot of debate and discussion used.

Children go through three stages of development called the Trivium. There are also three stages in each subject: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, which correlate with the Trivium.

Grammar Stage

This first stage aligns nicely with the elementary years. Children in this stage love memorizing and cheerfully agree with you about everything. They parrot jingles from commercials and quote parents. Young children love memorizing facts, even if they don’t truly understand the facts. The little grammar students are busy laying the foundation for future education.

A lot of emphasis is placed on “great books” throughout each level. In modern classical education, elementary kids memorize history lists, parts of speech, and multiplication tables. These years are also the perfect time to have kids memorizing beautiful poetry and Bible verses. Even if they don’t memorize every fact, the object is to expose them to incredible stories. Stories of great men and women from fairy tales and mythology. Stories of good versus evil that will help shape them into men and women of good character.

As you’re teaching your youngest students, remember that you’re laying a foundation. Young kids should love their studies and be eager to learn more.

Dialect or Logic State

If the grammar stage aligns with the elementary years, the dialectic stage aligns with the middle school years. However, there is quite a bit of discussion about when kids move from the grammar stage to the dialectic stage, simply because kids mature at different rates. If the grammar stage is about memorization, the dialectic stage is about argumentation, which corresponds nicely to the tween and early teen years, doesn’t it? Since children in this stage love to argue, it’s the perfect time to teach them critical thinking, logic, and argumentation.

Middle school kids need to learn critical thinking skills and how to argue well. And not only by using a critical thinking text, but also through discussion in all the subjects they are studying. This is a great time to ask kids about cause and effect, about why things happened the way they did. And also to let them squirm just a bit as they think critically about the world. Uncomfortable questions and gray areas can be fodder for some incredible conversations!

Rhetoric Stage

Gradually, when your child stops arguing with you at every turn and you find yourself having deep philosophical discussions about the state of the world or why people are not logical, then your child is entering the rhetoric stage. And the rhetoric stage aligns well with high school.

Once the student reaches this stage, they usually have a good grasp of various subjects such as history and science. They’ve learned the basics and learned to think critically about the world. It’s now time to learn to express themselves well. So encourage your teenagers to ponder and discuss the world around them. Ask questions and encourage your teens to elaborate on their thoughts about everything. You’ll be surprised at the depth of their thinking!

What It Looks Like

For many homeschoolers using the classical model, history is at the center of the education. History provides a systematic framework to develop young minds over 12 years. And literature, writing, geography, fine arts, philosophy, and government can all be taught in and around history. A 4-year rotation through history is popular as it allows you to cover all of world history at each stage.
The four-year rotation is usually:

  1. Ancient History
  2. Fall of Rome – 1650
  3. 1650-1850
  4. 1850-present

The first time through the rotation happens during the grammar stage. So concentrate on teaching kids the essence of what happened and stories of the men and women who shaped history. The second time through history occurs during the dialectic stage so you concentrate on teaching kids to think critically. Why did Napoleon need to sell Louisiana to President Jefferson? Your kids will be in high school during the third time rotation. So now expect your kids to not only think critically but also analyze their studies. What were the long-term consequences of selling Louisiana for both France and the United States? And how can you apply the lesson to your life?

Systematic Studies

This systematic study doesn’t just apply to history, but also to all other disciplines. For instance, many classical educators rotate through the scientific disciplines in a similar manner.

  1. Biology
  2. Earth Science and Astronomy
  3. Chemistry
  4. Physics

And the same happens for literature. Grammar stage kids begin by reading children’s books, Bible Stories, fairy tales, and mythology. In the dialectic stage, they move to classic literature or abridged editions of the Great Books. During the rhetoric years, teenagers read through the Great Books of Western Civilization.

Where to Find It

Because this is such a prevalent way of teaching, there are many pre-packaged curricula choices available to homeschoolers giving you many options to choose from.

Classical Conversations is probably the most popular classical curriculum today. It is is usually done in a co-op so homeschooled students can learn in groups for a few hours each week, and it’s more reasonably priced than most classical curriculum.

Veritas Press is another great option. They offer different plans from K-12th grade, with younger grades being cheaper, while older grades are more expensive. The  plans range from book work alone, all the way to live classes with a teacher and students from all over the world!

Memoria Press has a wide variety of curricula, including pre-school and junior kindergarten and offers offline, book ordering so students can work at their own pace.

There is also a great Classical curriculum available for FREE here.

Pros and Cons

This method can be very time consuming for the student, requiring a lot of reading and taking away from other potential activities. This is more thorough than an education from the school system but will also require more time and dedication. If you’d prefer a more laid back approach, this might not be the best fit.

Ultimately classical education isn’t about just giving your kids an excellent education to get them into college. It’s about teaching your children about what is good, beautiful, and true, about giving them the gift of clear thinking and good expression.

Lots Of Options

These are just a few of the many classical schooling options out there! There are several  methods or styles of homeschooling and figuring out which one works for your family can take some trial and error, but the journey is so worth it! And the time with your kids is priceless!

Unsure where to start? Take our Homeschool Philosophy Quiz to get an idea what style suits you best.

Check out the other methods in our Homeschool Philosophy Spotlight Series.

Traditional (textbook) Method

Online Schooling Method

Unschooling Method

Charlotte Mason Method

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