Remember when you were a kid and suddenly realized that “elemenopee” wasn’t a word, but in fact five distinct letters? (L, M, N, O, P).
No? It was just me? Oh, how embarrassing. Well, then… Just forget I said that.
I’ve been trying to find a good way to explain the Classical approach of education to people who aren’t familiar with it, and the alphabet song seems to be the best example I’ve come up with yet. After all, most people are very comfortable teaching toddlers and preschoolers to sing the alphabet long before they understand what letters are, what letters do, or why we need them. We’re totally okay with them learning the information now, because ONE DAY in the not so distant future, it will make sense.
This, my friends, is the same belief that drives the first stage of a classical education (Dorothy Sayers calls it the “Parrot” stage, many modern classical educators call it the Grammar stage). During this stage, educators recognize a small window of time when kid’s minds fluidly absorb new information and then deliberately leverage that mental acuity by having them memorize lots of good, factual information. It’s okay that our kids don’t understand it, but they learn it now so that ONE DAY it will make sense.
In my opinion, one of the best upsides to following this approach is that it also creates a framework to associate other information, what classical folks often call “Memory Pegs” to hang new information on. I’m constantly amazed on how this happens. For example, here are our kids singing a song they memorized about the Bill of Rights (why the boys are wearing their snow boots when it was 65 degrees, I have no idea).
A few days ago I was doing lessons with our seven year old, reading a selection from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland about the Knave of Heart’s jury trial (you know, stealing that plate of tarts and all). He looked at me a little funny and then asked “what’s a jury?” and after I explained he said “OH! Like in the Bill of Rights? We all get to have jury?”
And then this afternoon we enjoyed a few episodes of Liberty’s Kids (the best $5 I’ve ever spent!) while I was doing Nora’s hair. The episode talked about the creation of the US Constitution and the Judicial Branch. Cha Ching! Light bulbs going off every where. So flat out, absolutely cool.
Of course, not every educational philosophy fits every child, so this may not be the solution for you. But at least I’ve come up with a better way to explain it to people!