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What is classical education? {Season 9, Episode 111}

What is classical education? Come listen, or watch, to a quick look at this educational model on the Tips for Homeschool Science Show.

Welcome to season 9 of the Tips for Homeschool Science podcast! This season is a short one, with only 6 episodes, but we've got a brand-new feature for you - video! This season we'll be sharing both audio and video of each episode. 

In this episode, we'll be sharing about the basics of classical education and how science fits into that model. Let's dig in...

Key Takeaways

  • The heartbeat of classical education is to teach our students to think critically and to know how to learn.
  • In classical education, there are stages or cycles of learning that every student goes through. 
  • In each stage, you are teaching to the student's strengths. 

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Episode 111 - What is classical education? Transcript

00:00 - 00:47

Hi. I'm Paige Hudson, and you're listening to Season 9 of the Tips for Homeschool Science Show. This season, we're talking all about classical education and we're doing it in podcast and video form. Today we're chatting about classical education and how homeschool science fits into that model. Let's dig in...

(Intro Music)

Do classical education and homeschool science really meet? Normally when we think of classical education, we think literature-rich, Latin-based history-around, maybe not history-around, but history-focused. Science is often seen as this weak afterthought that we have to teach in a book-centered, literature-rich curriculum.

00:48 - 01:14

I would like to dispel this myth that classical education and science don't mix or the idea that they aren't partners in education. I want to share with you all that there is a partnership between classical education and homeschool science and how those two go beautifully together. In today's episode, we're going to chat about what classical education is.

01:14 - 01:36

In other words, we're going to lay the foundation for Season 9 and the series that I have planned for you. My own history with classical education is that we have chosen to follow the model laid out in The Well-trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. The method that was laid out in this book has kind of been our educational lighthouse. It's been the thing that has guided the curriculum choices we've made and the plans that we've had for our kids.

01:36 - 02:00

I found The Well-trained Mind about 16 or 17 years ago and right for the first time when our daughter was just beginning our homeschool journey and found that it really resonated with what we wanted to do for in our homeschool and with our educational goals. This idea that we create a well-rounded student who knows how to learn and the idea that there will be gaps in the education.

02:00 - 02:21

And that's okay because we're teaching our students how to learn and we're teaching them how to fill those gaps on their own. And that concept really resonated with my husband and I and how we wanted to run our homeschool.

On the flip side, I've also been writing homeschool science curriculum—so I finally put that science degree to good use, mom and dad!

02:22 - 02:49

I majored in science in college, and then as we were starting to educate our own children, I couldn't really find the science program that I like. I started writing a classical science program specifically for our child, and it turned into the company we have today Elemental Science. So even though Elemental Science has branched out into other methods and different ways to teach science, that classical education, or the Classical Science series, really holds a dear place in my heart because that's where it all began.

02:50 - 03:17

In a nutshell, classical education, as I said, is an educational model that really focuses on teaching students to think critically as well as training them with how to learn. We're teaching them to think critically and we're teaching them how to learn. Classical education doesn't believe that in the 12 years we're educating our children at home or in the school setting, that they'll learn everything there ever was to know, and they will never have anything more to learn.

03:18 - 03:43

That's impossible. Instead, it takes into account that we need to be able to think critically about the information we get, and then we need to be able to know how to find new information if we need it. So that's what the heartbeat, or the goal, of classical education is to teach our kids how to do those two things—how to think critically and how to find information on their own, while also building their knowledge base with key information.

What is classical education? Come listen, or watch, to a quick look at this educational model on the Tips for Homeschool Science Show.

03:43 - 04:13

There are several different flavors of classical education, such as those from Susan Wise Bauer and The Well-Trained Mind that I already mentioned. We have the Bluedorns with Teaching the Trivium, Leigh Bortins and The Core and Classical Conversations. There's Charlotte Mason with Ambleside Online, and there's more than I'm sure I'm forgetting, like Classical Academic Press, Memoria Press, and Veritas Press, all produce classical curriculum to help you do classical education at home.

04:14 - 04:36

Each one of these resources teaches that there are stages or cycles of learning that every student goes through. So the student will begin in what we call the elementary years, or the grammar stage.  In this grammar stage, they're learning the basics, the very foundation of their knowledge. Then they'll move on to the next stage, which is the logic stage.

04:36 - 04:58

Or dialectic stage. Usually this happens in upper elementary or middle school years. Then they'll move on to the rhetoric stage, which will be like our typical high school years. Typically, these will be about four years, but sometimes it could be more or less depending on how your student is as they mature. But in each stage you are teaching to the student's strengths.

04:58 - 05:23

So in each stage there's the idea that your student is really good at one way of learning or they can really do something well, like they really have the ability to memorize or they really have the ability to question why. And in each stage, we are play up to those strengths and then also building the skills and the knowledge that will become assets in the next stage.

05:24 - 05:47

So science is taught like any other subject in classical education, meaning that you focus on the different skills and knowledge, or pieces of information, about the subject that are appropriate for the age of your student. You seek to build that knowledge base at each level. You're sharing things that your student will understand the key information that your student will understand.

05:47 - 06:11

And you're doing it in such a way that plays to their strengths. So in the grammar stage, you're going to be working on sharing basic information, basic facts about science. So male have a mane – very basic information. In the logic state you're building upon that foundation that you built during the grammar stage years and asking why they are the way they are.

06:11 - 06:35

So why do male lions have a mane? What benefit is it for them to have a mane versus female lions that don't? In the rhetoric stage, they're going to analyze what you know and apply to something they don't know. So they're going to take that information that they learned and discovered in the grammar stage and in the logic stage years, and then they're going to apply it to something that they see that they don't know about.

06:36 - 07:12

For science, The Well-trained Mind suggests that you do this in a four-year cycle, so you're focused on a field or a discipline of science each year. The first year you'll do biology, the second year you'll do earth science and astronomy. Year three, you'll do chemistry, and year four, you'll do physics. The idea is not only that historically it'll be easier to understand in that—you know, during the ancient times and Middle Ages, there would have been more biological and astronomical discoveries, whereas chemistry didn't really or chemical knowledge didn't really get started until the 18th or 19th century.

07:12 - 07:35

The idea is that your science history will kind of follow the history of the things that you're studying. And then on top of that, we're also increasing a difficulty. So biology tends to be a more easy science subject, whereas physics would tend to be considered one of the hardest. So you progress through not only historically, but also in difficulty level.

07:36 - 08:02

Then you'll rinse and repeat. Digging deeper each year you go, so you study biology, earth science chemistry, and physics. Then, you come back around to the biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics, building on what you learned during these years, adding to that knowledge and getting a deeper understanding and then by the time you get to high school, you will have gone through these subjects two different times and you'll have a good knowledge base and it'll be much easier to tackle some of the harder concepts.

08:03 - 08:24

This is a great way to learn about science, whether you were doing one discipline a year or whether you're doing multiple disciplines per year. It's an excellent way to approach science because you learn the basics. And then when you get to these harder concepts, it's much easier to focus on these difficult concepts because you already have all this background, the basic knowledge leading up to it.

08:24 - 08:47

So the other flavors of classical education have similar goals, as they progressed through these stages, but different nuances in how they lay out the goals and how they're carried out day to day. In the coming weeks, we're going to talk more about classical science and whether or not it can be rigorous, whether it should be considered rigorous.

08:47 - 09:09

What is rigorous science? What are we aiming for with science education, that kind of stuff. We'll talk about what science looks like at the different stages—grammar stage, logic stage and rhetoric stage—what your goals are and what you can do to put that together. And then we'll wrap up the season with a comparison of traditional science with classical science, because there are benefits and downsides of both.

09:09 - 09:43

We want to be honest about it. So that we can choose what is best for our homeschool and our educational goals for our kids. I hope you enjoyed this quick version of what classical education is and how science fits into the classical education model. Of course, we'll be digging deeper into this as the season goes on. Thanks for listening, or watching, and I hope you have a great week with science!

(Exit Music)

Have you struggled with finding a science curriculum that fits the classical education model that you want to use in your homeschool? 

09:43 - 10:10

Rest easy! At Elemental Science, we have easy-to-use, award-winning science plans to help you teach classical science to your students. Each of our classical science programs will focus on an area of science all year long, giving you plans for weekly demonstrations or experiments for reading assignments from visually appealing children's encyclopedias from publishers like DK, Usborne, and Kingfisher.

10:10 - 10:33

Plus, you'll have customized student pages specifically for what you are studying that week. The programs in our classical science series are part of Well-trained Mind’s Top Recommendations, are part of Cathy Duffy's Top Picks, and every year homeschoolers say they love our programs! Come see how we can help you teach classical science in your homeschool at

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