Back to the Classics

To teach, to learn, to change

Trivium for young children

I had another epiphany about the same time as the one I mentioned yesterday. I was struggling with how to teach the trivium to that age bracket I was discussing, about 5 to 10 years old. Older children might be able to handle the subjects are separate things, but I could not for the life of me see a way to present them to young children. It was an odd block to have, because in the end, I already knew the answer. (Yes, that is a common problem for me. Tunnel vision sucks.) The fact is grammar, logic and rhetoric don’t exist in a bubble. They are part of a cultural and linguistic tradition. Heck, I’ve often explained to people when talking about this project that the Trivium is the language portion while the Quadrivium is the math/science part (music being very mathematical in nature when you study it).

So the answer was right there: you teach the Trivium by teaching language. Grammar is straight forward: teach them to read and write properly, to understand the symbols and sounds, using good literature. Once they can do that, start them writing and show them how Logic works as part of that. Find what interests them and get them reading about it, and help them analyze what they’ve read logically. One of my favorite writers of both fiction and blogging, Sarah Hoyt, mentioned recently how she had an old book on essay writing that she used with her boys when they were very little, and I think that’s fantastic. Most kids love to argue and debate things, or at least to question endlessly, so if you have a realtime arrangement (homeschool or private school) let them have discussions or debates and help them build logical arguments. Lastly, once they can think logically, continue using essays and debates to help them develop their Rhetoric, their ability to sway opinions or resist being swayed themselves. That’s a big one in our modern world. We are bombarded by rhetoric every day – commercial advertisements, politicians, people we do business with, neighbors and family members, you name it – and our children by and large don’t know how to judge what they’re hearing.

So in all this, we teach the linguistic skills by reading and writing. With critical feedback. A lot. Makes sense doesn’t it? Obvious isn’t it? Yeah. Hopefully the next epiphany will be a bigger leap.

This approach really applies through all age brackets, by the way, and across languages. Adults who are native speakers will need less grammar help, but the other portions still apply. Those who are non-native speakers (an American learning German, or a Brazilian learning English, for two not-really-random examples) will need to learn the fundamentals of the language first. Both will go through much the same process as a child, learning the trivium through language. Logic crosses languages, but how you express that logic changes, and rhetoric is a beast of a whole different type from one language to another. All this leaves me with a new challenge: I have to find language teachers who are well-versed in both their subject language and the classical trivium. They must understand both before they can create a useful curriculum to integrate them. I’m still wondering what languages we should offer as well. Sound off in the comments on what languages (besides English) you think would be of most worth to offer, as well as any suggestions on teaching logic and rhetoric to kids.

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