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What is Classical Education?
Classical education takes different forms, although it's focus is always on language. Students learn to read and write proficiently early on. It is also based upon history and the idea that at a certain point, the student will demonstrate self-discipline to get things done. It is a great method for teaching gifted children. In The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise outline methods for facilitating classical education. They divide learning into three main stages and one minor stage. The stages are:
- The Poll-Parrot Years (Birth until age five - what we would consider preschool/kindergarten age)
- The Grammar stage (1st-4th grade or age 6 to about age 9 or 10)
- The Logic stage (5th-8th grade or age 10 to about age 13 or 14)
- The Rhetoric stage (9th-12th grade or age 14 to about age 17 or 18)
The various stages are based upon milestones in child development. The grammar stage is concerned with learning basic facts, learning how to read and write. The logic stage is concerned with learning how to organize these facts, and the rhetoric stage is about students learning how to argue and express ideas.
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Strengths of the Program
The Well-Trained Mind has many strengths as a curriculum and teaching guide. The biggest strength is that the book describes very well how to teach children grammar, spelling, writing, reading, math, foreign languages, and history. Most of the recommendations given are secular choices, but there are several recommendations for a Christian curriculum as well.
Another strength of the book is that it gives parents guidelines as to how long each subject should take and a suggested schedule. While some parents find the schedule overwhelming, you have to keep in mind that if a child were going to school outside of the home, they would be in class from eight o'clock in the morning until three in the afternoon and then often have homework to complete as well.
Also, many people utilize this method of homeschooling and support can be found in the Well-Trained Mind forums. Finally, the authors give tips on how to navigate college admissions and keep records.
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While The Well-Trained Mind has many definite strengths and benefits, it also has weaknesses. The focus is on language based media, leaving the science recommendations a bit weak. While children enjoy experimentation, I find that in order for students to grasp the meaning of experiments, additional outside reading is required. Also, while I agree that students shouldn't have computer substitutions for things they should be learning from books, I do believe education in technology is needed. Finally, there are no real recommendations for health and fitness. Parents shouldn't forget to incorporate a P.E. program with a health focus each year into their curriculum.
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Third Edition Changes
Many changes were made in recommendations for the third edition - most notably in the Latin Curriculum suggested for the grammar stage and the history and science curriculum in the logic stage. History in the logic stage is explained better in this edition - especially for parent-teachers who aren't comfortable with outlining. Science in the logic stage, in this edition is almost entirely experiment based.