In classical education, grades one through four–typically referred to as the grammar stage–are characterized by memorizing facts across many areas of knowledge, exposure to a variety of sources in history and literature, and developing solid reading and math skills. This stage is the critical foundation for all learning to come, the base that is built on in grades five through twelve, college, and beyond.
So how do we prepare to build that foundation? What should the pre-grammar stage, the preschool and kindergarten years, look like? The answer lies in the word preparation. Many times, parents look at the early years as more of a rolling start to the grammar stage. I encourage you to look at these years as something altogether different, more of a separate preparatory stage unto itself.
Here are four of the most important ways you can implement classical education principles into the early years.
Create a Rich Learning Environment in Classical Education
Hang out in classical education circles long enough and you will hear the word schole. This word originates from Greek and is best translated to mean leisure. What does this have to do with learning? Well, it invokes the mindset that learning is not a chore, it is an activity undertaken for its own sake–deliberately and with a sense of pleasure.
And how does one cultivate schole? By surrounding your child with an environment that is ripe for learning. Screen time is limited. High-quality picture books abound. Available toys include puzzles, math manipulatives, and building materials. Art and crafting supplies are plentiful and using them is encouraged.
If you put effort into creating the right environment, then you can let their natural curiosity and enthusiasm take over. You don’t have to manufacture and direct learning. It occurs spontaneously.
Use Nature to Teach the Scientific Method in Classical Learning
Playing outdoors and interacting with natural elements has innumerable benefits, and you can harness those to lay a foundation for future academic success. Experiencing nature creates a sense of wonderment, an interest in science, and a plethora of questions to be answered.
Use your time in the great outdoors to plant the seeds of the scientific method in your little one.
- Ask questions about what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste (with caution). Find out the answers.
- Make guesses together about why things are the way they are. Then, look it up and see if you’re right or wrong.
- Identify and classify your discoveries into different types and groups: types of birds, trees, flowers, reptiles, rocks, or clouds.
- Collect data by charting a sunflower’s growth, measuring how much rain falls, or noting the phases of the moon on a calendar.
Prepare Diligently for Math and Reading Later
Don’t stress about whether or not your preschooler can read words or sentences. Make sure she knows all the letters (especially lowercase) and proper letter sounds and that you read to her frequently.
Don’t strive for her to add and subtract. Make sure that she can count well, identify written numbers, and understands the concept of one-to-one relationships (that numbers stand for a certain amount of things).
Use these early years to focus on a handful of basic pre-reading and pre-math skills. Later, having laid that firm foundation, you will reap the benefits of that investment in solid reading and math progress.
Instill Good Learning Habits with Classical Education
You are preparing your little one to be a lifelong learner. And, as we know, it is far easier to start off properly than to try to correct poor habits later on. Take this time to focus on a few character traits that will directly impact their academic success, things like:
- attention to detail,
- listening carefully,
- following directions,
- perseverance on difficult tasks, and
- doing your best work.
Resist the temptation to treat the preschool and kindergarten years as just an early start to the grammar stage. That approach may squander the incredible gift of using this time as its own beautiful stage of preparation for what is to come.