What is Classical education?

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From ancient days until today, children began their education at home, where training in literacy walked hand in hand, as we have seen, with the inculcation of cultural ideals and habits of upright character… Children were not to be brought out of their shells; they were to be shown the consequential, the true, the beautiful.  Simmons, Climbing Parnassus, 73-74.



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Why homeschool?

Before I had children, I knew that I would want to homeschool.  This stems from many experiences in my past.  I taught Kindergarten and hold a Masters in Elementary Education, endorsed in Fine Arts, Language Arts, and Social Studies, so I feel “equipped” to homeschool.  Also, though I always went to a school as a child, my mom supplemented our learning at a private Catholic school, and later public school, with a strong phonics, grammar, and spelling foundation.

I remember my mom telling me that schools were beginning to favor “whole word” early literacy learning over phonics.  And I experienced my own distaste for public education in my Masters classes when emphasis was not on content, but rather on how to facilitate, not teach, in the classroom.  We were taught to appeal to a child’s creativeness and need for self-expression and “get out of the way” for the students to teach each other (Swope, 52).  {Certainly there is a difference in teaching a 3 year old and an 8 year old, so please don’t mis-read me — I still believe in allowing a child to be creative with set limitations, but I don’t believe a child will learn without a solid curriculum or teacher.}

So, as a new{er} mom, I am obsessed with researching the best curriculums and teaching styles.  Teaching my own children will be the most rewarding, and challenging, task of my life, and I want to be prepared.  {Every family and homeschooling parent will learn and prepare differently!}

I have an amazing homeschooling aunt, and mother of four, who has directed me towards the best homeschooling materials and curriculums.  Her first daughter, now in college, has special needs and has thrived in the homeschool environment.  I am constantly asking my aunt what she has used for her children, and it so wonderful to hear about how she tweaks her choices to suit the needs of each of her children.

She introduced My Father’s World to me years before I had children.  This program makes history and the Bible come alive through reading beautiful children’s literature.  I love that older and younger siblings can learn social studies and history together, while having separate language arts and mathematics.  I think this will be the right fit for my family.  My Father’s World emphasizes that they utilize both the methods of Charlotte Mason {think nature walks and whole reading learning, check out Simply Charlotte Mason to find out more} and Classical education.

Why choose Classical education for my child?

I was at a loss for what “Classical education” meant.  My aunt introduced Memoria Press curriculum and Classical education to me, and pretty soon, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  Grammar, Latin, Rhetoric, Logic.  It all seemed too much.  Too much for me, and certainly too much for young children.  But still, I was drawn to their fabulous phonics program, and the audacity to think I could teach my children Latin; I wanted to learn more.

I am thankful that I signed up to receive their seasonal magazine/ catalog, The Classical Teacher.  This free resource has become invaluable to me, and through it, I have slowly  begun to understand Classical education and all that it encompasses.

One of the frequent authors of articles in The Classical Teacher is Cheryl Swope, a homeschooling mother of two.  My grandmother bought her amazing book, Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child and gave it to me for my birthday.  As soon as I began reading, I could not put it down.  I read while nursing, while eating, while playing with my children.  This woman’s story is phenomenal.  And the best part about is that it is do-able.


She adopted twins, a boy and girl, when they were 13 months old.  She and her husband knew, upon adoption, that their children had severe learning and physical disabilities and a history of mental illness in the biological mother.  Schizophrenia, autism, cerebral palsy, bipolar disorder, hypotonia, asthma, heart murmur, etc.

Swope knew, from being an educator with a Masters, that her special needs children, would not receive the education that they needed for their mental health and well-being at a public school.  Too many children with special needs are only taught the simple basics of learning and functioning in society; their classrooms are often remedial and uninspired.  But every child deserves to be challenged and “do more than receive services; {every child} is called to love and serve his neighbor} (Swope, 18).  Swope opted to homeschool her children utilizing Classical methods.  And her children, now 18, are thriving — just like Helen Keller and Temple Grandin did in the past.  They only need to be given an opportunity.  Of course they still have intense disabilities, but they know Latin, write poetry, and love history and rhetoric.  Their story brings me to tears.

What is Classical education?

The Classically educated child is taught Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.  Classical education, begun in ancient Greece, has one purpose, to lead students towards the truth.  The roots of Classical teaching are in Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero and later, have its Christian roots in Augustine, Luther, and Lewis.  They emphasize upholding the traditions that created Western culture and civilization.

Classical education develops the mind towards all that is just, wise, virtuous, and eloquent.  Emphasis is on recitation as they “cultivate mental strength, power, and agility” (Swope, 101).


Seven Arts define Classical Education:


Trivium {the three arts of language}

Grammar: letter sounds, reading, spelling, penmanship, constructing writing, recitation, rich literature

Logic: art of thinking, discerning, analyzing; strengthening a child’s mind for sound argumentation and clarity in reasoning 

Rhetoric: reading & listening to poetry and great orators; utilizing the rules of grammar and logic “to express knowledge eloquently, with beauty and persuasion” (Swope, 99)


Quadrivium {the four arts of mathematics}

Arithmetic: theory of number; number concepts, simple operations, systematic teaching & memorization of facts

Music Theory: number in time

Geometry: number in space

Astronomy: number in time and space


These seven arts are now combined with history, literature, music, and languages to form the core of Classical education.  The goal of its teaching is the formation of a child’s mind and character.  Swope articulates that modern education has moved from this type of education in favor of specialize, or servile, arts.  This began happening with the Industrial Revolution and continues today.

I think back on my the times that my grandmother described her studies in grade and high school.  Basic education “meant purposeful instruction” in the seven arts of Classical education.  Her classes consisted of Latin, History, Composition, Geometry, Algebra, Calculus, Biology, Physics.  In contrast, my senior year of classes looked like this: Choir, Mentorship, Teaching Aid — though I did have Calculus and AP English.  Today, the emphasis is not on content, but on experience.  We are taught according to our interests, or job aspirations, rather than on content and the development of the mind.  I regret that I don’t have a lot of experience reading the great works of the above mentioned scholars and theologians.  But there is hope, for even me, and for any child, whether he has special needs or not:

A pupil destined for the courts must make great efforts not only in one department but in everything that belongs to his profession… With weaker talents, on the other hand, one must indeed follow their bent by guiding them exclusively towards the goal that their nature suggests.  Quintilian, II:VIII.

Am I being too arrogant to think that I can teach my children Latin and the important works of Socrates and the like?  Is Classical education only for brilliant children?  Certainly not.  Classical education is of benefit to any and every child!  The nature of a Classical educator’s teaching is that of humility and service of others, so I certainly hope my children will be brought up in that mindset, with their personal learning needs always at the forefront.

Is this too large a goal for me?   Am I setting both myself, and my children, up for dismal failure?  Am I too lofty to expect my children to learn Latin and Greek and Hebrew?  First, I’d like to say that Swope has done it successfully, and so has my aunt.  Secondly, Plato can direct that criticism:

I am amused…. at the fear of the world, which makes you guard against the appearance of insisting upon useless studies; and I quite admit the difficulty of convincing men that in every soul there is an organ which is purified and illumined by these studies, when other pursuits are lost and dimmed; and this eye of the soul is more precious far than ten thousand bodily ones; for this alone holds the vision of truth.  Plato, The Republic, VII.

What about God?

The final element to the above, brief definition of Classical education is Christ.  Some may find that the teaching of the Greeks or Romans is counter-intuitive to the teachings of Christ because they were pagans.  However, God allowed the Greek culture to figure out much of what we learn today; they were the first to teach the natural order of the world.  Herodotus is the father of history, Homer the father of literature, and Plato the father of philosphy.  {See The Classical Teacher, Why Should Christians Read the Pagan Classics, Parts I-IV for more information.}

I want to give my children a Classical Christian education.  For “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned,” 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Having then read those books of the Platonist, and thence been taught to search for incorporeal truth, I saw They invisible things, understood by those things which are made … that Thou truly art who art the same ever, in no part nor motion varying; and that all other things are from Thee.  Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, VII:XX.

There are too many wonderful things to say about Swope’s book — and her arguments for beginning Classical education in my, and your, home.  If this has at all peaked your interest, I recommend that you buy her book.  You will not be disappointed.  Her wisdom is a blessing!  She includes the schedules she used for her family from age one up to the present, age eighteen.  Extensive book lists for boys, girls, and families are also included to develop a love for beauty, honesty, and truth.  Swope suggests many ways on how to incorporate physical exercise, for both fine and gross motor skills, into learning.  And countless learning adjustments are discussed for keeping children engaged.


What is next?

These thoughts have wildly shaped my ideas for my homeschooling.  I still love early education — it’s where we are right now — I still love hands-on activities, practical life and Montessori learning, and sensory play.  For us, more emphasis will be placed on reciting our numbers, reciting Bible passages and poetry, as well as classical music, music theory, and beautiful art.  

I have begun to read The Confessions of St. Augustine and seek to Classically invest in my own mind, as well.  I hope to make more printables for recitation purposes, to include the elements of our faith, our country, and great poetry.  So that is to come!

Please head over to Memoria Press today to sign up for their free magazine, The Classical Teacher, so you can begin to devour their insight on Classical education, and their critiques of modern education.

If you are interested, you can download a free printable here of the Seven Arts of Classical Education.

I hope this blessed you today,




{Linking up at Deep Roots At Home and other wonderful link ups.  Art is public domain.  Girl Reading by Berthe Morisot found at Reviving Motherhood & Mother and Child Reading by Frederick Warren Freer.}

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  1. Amy,

    Thank you so much for posting this article. It has truly given me a lot to think about! I am also a qualified teacher and am currently on a career break to look after my 2 year old son. I am Scottish but live in Okinawa and, to be perfectly honest, have been horrified at what passes as a “school” here (both public and private).

    I’m now your newest follower!

    Best wishes,

    One, Two, Three: Math Time

    1. Thanks Lisa, your kind words mean so much! I’m sure you would love this book — it is amazing to see the potential of Swope’s children! Following back :) -Amy

  2. What great information you have provided! I was just looking up classical education the other day as it seems I have been hearing lot about it lately. Although I still have quite a few years until my boys will be officially in “school”, I like to understand all my options! Thanks for posting!

  3. Your article is thought provoking. In some ways I had a classical education as I was taught Latin, poetry and critical thinking. I learnt to love learning for its own sake rather than to pass exams. However, I went to a very academic private school in the UK so I am not sure whether this curriculum would go down well with all teenagers. I am a secondary school teacher and teach psychology to sixth formers, which I enjoy because of all the discussion and debates I have with my pupils. I found you on the Monday parenting pinit party. Please have a look at my recent post on whether attachment parenting is too extreme: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/546694842237637249/

    1. How wonderful to hear about those who have experienced a Classical education. I wish I had. And I agree, it must be adaptable to each individual learner!

    2. I hear you! I am very into free play and all that, but I also think there are inputs that children alone cannot have access to as those are simple not “just out there”, There should be a combination of both. For ex teaching Maths in a fun, useful way (Oxford Tree has amazing videos about this) will make the children actually understand Maths instead of struggling to learn it by memory afterwards, the way it happened to me. The same goes with phonics. Learning with time also works towards self confidence.

  4. This is such good information–I really appreciate it as we are just beginning our homeschooling journey too! I’m pinning it to my (CarlaINHouston) Homeschool board–thanks for sharing!!

  5. There is definitely a lot of goodness in classical education even though I personally don’t think that memory work is important in modern world. Good luck taking your own road in homeschooling and thanks for sharing with Afterschool!

    1. Thanks for your honest opinion! My son is still three, so I have a long way to go in our homeschooling journey ;)

  6. I love your ambition! I, too, want to provide my children with a classical education, and I’ll definitely check out Swope’s book! Have you read The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home? It’s pretty good, too.

    1. Thanks Alisa!! I don’t have Jessie Wise’s book and don’t think I’ll get it because I don’t want to “choose” my curriculum. I trust My Father’s World, and especially Memoria Press, for classical roots :) I will try to get it from the library though! Swope’s book is an incredible resource; you won’t be disappointed!!

  7. Thank you it is always good to look at things from a different angle. My boy with special needs would not get what he needs at home with me, I would not have the time or energy to fit it in, but it does sound very interesting.

    1. Thanks for commenting — yes, every child is different! It is just amazing to read about one family’s experience with Classical education — I’m sure you’re doing what is best for your family!!

  8. What a great explanation of Classical Education! I am pinning to my homeschool board and will be sharing on social media later today.

    Thanks for linking up to TGIF! I hope to see you linked up again later today.

    Have a great weekend,
    Beth =)

  9. What a wonderful post!! We just switched my daughter to a Christian School that offers a Classical Education. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

  10. I am not a homeschooler beyond preschool, but I have heard a lot about classical education. Thanks for laying it all out for us at After School!

  11. Have you come across any instruction or assistance in transitioning from American PS to classical homeschool in the jr high years? Pulled my 3 girls because they just weren’t getting what they needed. Love your article.

    1. Hi, Cerita, no I haven’t. Classical Conversations may be in your area as a support group. But I think if you picked up materials from Memoria Press, you would have more than enough to excel at homeschooling!! Another option, (This is what I’ll use with my children!!) since you have three in middle school on down, is My Father’s World!! (They are Classical based too.) Their system is: the children all learn social studies and history together, but do math and english separate. Here are the links:
      (The above link is to their 5th Grade Set — you certainly don’t have to do all in the set, but it’s nice to see suggestions per grade)

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