Some Backstory on History (and the Classical Trivium)

It’s about time I mention that I do, indeed, teach history to my kids. Actually, for the last four years we have spent a lot of time learning a ton of history, starting from the Ancients in 2013 and ending with modern times (well, we got as far as the space race) last spring. (No, not the 2013 Ancients. Two thousand thirteen was the year we started officially homeschooling and learning about the Ancients.)

One of the confusing and overwhelming things about starting homeschooling – to me, at least – was how to decide what and in what order I should teach the subjects in that nebulous umbrella category of “social studies.” I know it involves history, geography, and cultural awareness. Well, I think it does. That is what I remember from my days in public school. But it all seemed a little too fluid for me. I know there is a national schedule and curriculum and requirements about when you teach what, but on the outside, I didn’t understand the methods and reasoning. And homeschooling, for me, wasn’t about recreating public school anyway. So when it came time to do it all myself… (AHHHHH!!! What now?!!) I ended up reading a great classical homeschooling book and learned about the 4 year history cycle. (I’m sure it has a much more sophisticated name, but essentially that is what it is.

Year One (1st grade or whenever you start) – The Ancients up to the fall of Rome

Year Two – From the Byzantine to the beginning of the Renaissance

Year Three – Early Modern Times (I think this was up to around 1850s or so)

Year Four – Modern Times

This sequence compliments the 4 year science cycle (think ancient science, renaissance science, and the booming scientific discoveries and modern scientific geniuses.) For science, the sequence goes in the following order: 1 – Biology (including all life science), 2 – Earth and Space science (so geology and astronomy), 3 – Chemistry, and 4 – Physics and computer science (we also snuck in engineering last year).

The following information is a paraphrase of Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s words in “The Well-Trained mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.”  (I put the link here for the edition I have, but there are two newer editions available – which I should probably read someday.)

Through the course of the child’s education they will run through this cycle 3 times. This follows the classical pattern of the trivium, which is the three-part process of training the mind.

Grammar Stage: grades 1-4. These are the building block years where the foundations are laid. Memorization is fun and easy and children are ready and eager to absorb lots of information. So the idea is you provide them with LOTS of information, whether it be grammar, spelling, or math rules, history stories, new animals, plants, facts and data and all those interesting things kids will store in their little brains. Obviously they wont remember it all, but they will remember a lot. And what they miss, they will pick up again the next time round.

Logic Stage: grades 5-8. In these years the children are becoming mature enough to not just learn about their environment, learn stories, facts, rules and whatnot, but they can learn the logic behind these things. They start learning algebra and working on more abstract thought processes. In writing, a student uses logic to learn paragraph construction and thesis support. The logic of reading involves criticism and analysis of texts. In history they learn more than just stories, but the why behind the story. And so on.

Rhetoric Stage: grades 9-12. In this last stage students use the logic learned in the middle years and the foundational information of the grammar years to write and speak with “force and originality.” This is where the student will practice and learn to express conclusions in clear and elegant language. Also, students will want to specialize their education, whether that be taking college courses, utilizing internships, attending art and music camps, or experiencing foreign travel, etc.  (Personal Note: A while back I read a very interesting book contrasting current publicly funded literature and history classes and what the author believes would be more appropriate practices. It has shaped how I am planning on organizing the high school years in those subjects. More info and a sample course syllabi can be found here.)

So, after 4 years, I’m back in Ancient Egypt. This time, however, I’ve got 2 grammar kids and a logic kid (and the preschooler and toddler, not to leave them out.) There are many things that we’ve done the same, and a few things that we’ve done differently – mostly because I just don’t want to repeat myself every four years. Repetition is awesome and everything, but teachers get bored, too! But because 4 years ago I had a private family blog, I’m happy to share ALL of our history adventures, then and now, and also share what I have learned and gained in experience from my first time round to my second time round.

So… here we go. History, then and now!