Like so many things in my life, I've gotten ready to take a plunge, but there were so many options, that I didn't know which to chose. What did I do? I prayed. My Heavenly Father never let me down, and I know He never will. When my kids were little (and some of them not born yet) I prayed for God to show me how I should homeschool the children. I then was lead to books and websites that taught me about the Trivium approach to education, and that lead to my homeschooling via the Trivium method.
This is how education used to go. Have you ever seen some old movies, or read old books, where a grown up was reading a book, but then she would stop, to copy parts of the book into a personal notebook? Or perhaps she stops to copy a diagram or picture. Sometimes she reads a whole chapter, and then rewrites that chapter in her own words. Friends, this is how to study, and this utilizes a natural way to learn. Some students in schools do this automatically. I remember in school and in seminars I used to take, some people would be listening to the lecture, and writing notes as they listened. They are naturally utilizing the Trivium, and probably don't know it. They are taking what they are hearing from the one giving the lecture, and are re-writing the information in their own words. Have you ever done that? Have you noticed after doing so, you rarely had to refer to your notes, because you found you just remembered the information, even though you didn't officially study, or cram?
What is the Trivium?
The word "Trivium" is derived from the Latin, and basically means "the place where three roads meet." You may have already derived some of that definition on your own, from the word-part "tri," which means three.
The three roads of the Trivium are: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. These three stages also have scriptural names - Grammar is Knowledge; Logic is Understanding; and Rhetoric is Wisdom. You see these three words used often in the book of Proverbs.
The natural and most successful way to learn something, is to go with the nature of the brain, and its capacity to learn. First, we must get the basic information about something. For example, a flower - we can memorize the various parts of a flower. That is the Grammar stage, or Knowledge. Next, we learn how the flower grows and thrives, why it has the parts it does, and how they function - that is the Logic stage, or Understanding. From there, we go on to being able to explain the parts, functions, and why these things are, to others - Rhetoric - Wisdom.
We can use learning how to read as another example. First, teach children the sounds each letter makes. This is knowledge, the Grammar stage. Next, teach them how to combine the letter sounds, to form words - this brings understanding as to why each letter has a sound. When the sounds are combined, they become words - this is Logic. Then, the child practices the letter sounds and combinations, and starts reading sentences, and finally pages. It has clicked. They know how to read, and can put it into practice. They've gained wisdom in this area - Rhetoric stage.
Some Charlotte Mason and Montessori homeschoolers know that there are similar three stages in learning via the CM method of homeschooling as well. These three stages can be referred to as three periods in learning. In period one, the child is told the information they are to learn. For example - "this is the number 2." The second period then has the child showing you a number 2, by picking it out from a mix of a few other numbers. In the third period, you point to the number 2, and ask the child what that is.
These three periods are the same as the three learning stages in the Trivium. First, the child was given knowledge (Grammar stage), by being shown the number 2, and told it's a 2. Next, the child had to recognize the 2 apart from other numbers, which is understanding (Logic stage). The parent points at the number 2, and the child tells the parent it's a 2, which is wisdom (Rhetoric stage.)
The Grammar stage isn't referring to the school subject of grammar, but more to parts, pieces, knowledge, and the memorization of facts. The Logic stage is the further grasping and understanding, and then the Rhetoric stage is the understanding the newly learned principle well enough so that the pupil can successfully teach or relay the information to someone else, in their own words.
Back to our old movie or old book example, above... The woman reads a chapter from the book - Knowledge/Grammar stage. She then re-words what she read in her mind - Understanding/Logic stage. Lastly, she writes what she read from the book, in her own words - Wisdom/Rhetoric stage.
Just as we have these three natural stages in learning, which flows natural with the brain, Trivium has three roads of learning in another way, as well, and this has to do with growing up, and brain development.
A very young child mimics things around him, but you can't sit a 2yr old down, explain mathematic addition to him, and expect him to grasp it. His brain is not yet developmentally ready. Now, if you work with a child who is around the age of 5 or so, then they can see that 2+2=4. When a child has developed language and motor skills, then you can slowly start teaching the child the basics, such as shapes and colors. Under the age of 10 is the Grammar stage in brain development. This is when the memorizing section of the brain is very active. This is the age to teach things for the child to memorize, such as colors and shapes, etc, and eventually, how to read.
I taught all of my children how to read at the age of 4. Even though under the age of 10 is the Grammar (knowledge, or memorizing stage) do not take this to mean you should teach your children to read via sight words. The Trivium approach to education is parts to whole, while sight-reading is whole to parts. We'll get into that more in a few moments.
The Grammar stage is an excellent time to get your child into the habit of memorizing Scriptures and poetry.
Around the age of 10-12, something clicks in the brain, and the logic center of the brain becomes much more active. Now, it was already there and working a bit, but at this age, it really picks up. You may have noticed this in your children around this age. Suddenly your child isn't happy just knowing 2+2=4, but he wants to know WHY it does. He's not happy, just knowing he has to go to bed at 8:30, but he wants to know WHY. "Because I said so" isn't helping. Tell him why. It is because he is a growing child, and requires more sleep than do adults, and you want him to grow up strong and healthy. At around the age of 10, I add a few new subjects to the child's homeschool - I throw in a foreign language, and Logic lessons.
At around the age of 15 or so, the child enters the Rhetoric stage, and this can continue into the early 20s. This is the "know it all teenager stage." Instead of so much "why" (however there will still be that) there is more 'know it all' going on. Suddenly the child acts as if he thinks he can run the household better than you can. He or she may think adults are dull minded, and oblivious to things so obvious to them, which they later learn - "mom was right, after all." This is a time to make sure you already have a close bond with your child, and make sure you are in the habit of talking things through. None of this "you'll do what I say, while you live under my roof." Sure, say that, but don't punctuate it there, tell him why you have such rules, and explain to him that you are doing this for him.
Bickering, bad attitudes and arguing have no place in the Christian family. We NEVER have the right to be grouchy, even if we've decided we're "having a bad day." If you must be grouchy, keep it to yourself, please. Outbursts or general rudeness should never be aloud to cross the threshold of your sacred family home. This rule should stand for the adults as well as for the children.
Some people, in the Logic or Rhetoric stage, put heavier focus on math. For example, I have my children doing grade level math for grades 1-7, but then at grade 8, I bump it up to advanced math, with the goal of the child being fluent in Trig and Calculus by the time they graduate. Now, each child is different, so perhaps you start advanced math at an earlier or later age. The beauty of homeschool, is that YOU know your child. TRUST that, and educate them accordingly. Don't copy me, don't copy Mrs. Smith down the street. There is no such thing as a carbon copy homeschool. Each one is different, and that's how it should be.
The Trivium and the Charlotte Mason Method
There are some striking similarities between the Trivium, and the Charlotte Mason Method, which I also refer to as CM. They both emphasize narrations as a core to education. For the younger child, read to them from one of their schoolbooks, and then have them tell it back to you in their own words. This is called Oral Narration. Then, the younger child can draw a picture of something from what you read to them. This is a Pictorial Narration. At the top or bottom of the picture, have the child copy a passage from the book - this is called Copy Work. The page which has the copy work and pictorial narration is called a Narration Page.
Older children can read the selection out loud or silently, and make a more advanced narration page. They can do an optional picture or diagram, and then they write what they read, in their own words. This is called Written Narration. Their narration page would then have a title (as all narration pages should) an optional picture, map, chart, or diagram, and then a written narration on it.
File your children's narration pages in notebooks, folders, or binders. Each year, I set up binders for each of my children, and I have several divider pages and tabs, so that they can file their narration pages in the proper section in their notebooks.
Dictation can also be used on narration pages. Dictation simply means you say or read a passage to the child, and they write down exactly what you say. For a Dictation Narration Page, you would read, or have the child read a portion of text, and then have the child narrate back to you, and then you'd dictate part of the passage for the child to write on their narration page.
Outlining is good for Logic and Rhetoric stage pupils. Sometimes, instead of doing a usual written narration, have the child write their narration in an outline format. Other times, have them make a chart, and write lists under certain headings - get creative with this, and have fun.
Both CM and Trivium utilize various forms of narration, copy work, and dictation. And, as you've seen previously in this article, they both have three stages of learning, whether they be three periods (like Montessori) or the three learning stages of the Trivium.
Now to a difference. CM is fairly whole/living book, while the Trivium uses whole or living books, but can also operate off of textbooks. While CM homescholers often have an emphasis on making sure the child is engaged and interested, the Trivium approach is more about teaching the child how to become interested, and how to self-educate, such that he can study and learn any skill he wants, without having to always go to mom, or later, "experts." With the Trivium approach, a hunger for learning and knowledge can grow and escalate. The child doesn't have to read a pretty picture book about cell structure in order to engage. He can just as well turn to that section in the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia and read the section about cell structure, and then write up his narration.
It boils down to attitude and self-discipline. Mom, if you expect your child to become bored and antsy, what's likely to happen? Whether you are conscious of it or not, you will treat your child in such a way as to what you expect they will do. If you expect your child to be interested and engaged, and you treat them accordingly, then perhaps your child will live up to those expectations. However, attitude plays a big part. Children are flesh, just as we are, and sometimes, no matter how much you expect good behavior, you're not going to get it. Your patience and attitude in response to this will help bring about the final result, and play a big part on if the goal was reached, or not.
Do you know what the real biggest killer is? It isn't heart disease or cancer - those are just side effects. The biggest cause of death is stress, or having a bad attitude. You may notice that stressed out people tend to have more allergy problems, more colds, get more injuries, and are sick more often. Genuinely happy people, even if grossly overweight, often have fewer health problems. Now, having joy and a good attitude is a hard, if not partially impossible pill to swallow for the unsaved. However, if you are a born again Christian, then you should know that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). God won't force a Christian to have joy, else it wouldn't really be joy, would it? Joy is still a choice, but it's something that is already there, on the shelf for the Christian. You just need to grab on to it, TRULY trust God, and reap the fruit of joy. J-O-Y - Jesus is On Your side, if you are living for Him. That's what being a born again Christian is all about - living for Jesus. Staying on this rabbit trail for a moment longer... this reminds me of a song we sing often at my church:
Living for Jesus, a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
How many congregations really mean it when they sing that song? Do you? If you are not a born again Christian, or you are not sure, I urge you to please click here.
While CM and Trivium dovetail in many ways, you will find differences in some homeschools, in regards to the level of reading, and read alouds. Many CM (not all) households will hold family read aloud times with simpler books, such as Pinocchio, while many Trivium households may be in books with higher vocabulary. For example, at the writing of this article, my children currently range from ages 6 to 13, and our current family read aloud book is "Great Expectations." Before that, we read "Pilgrim's Progress." We don't read dumbed down editions, or abridged in our family read alouds. My children don't know these are considered "hard" books to understand, because they've been around them all their lives. To them, these are normal books.
I mentioned earlier, that I taught each of my children how to read at age 4. This is also the age when they get their first text Bible, instead of another picture Bible. At age 4, all of my children read from the King James Bible. No one told them it was hard, so it never was, for them.
I believe children's reading lists, for their silent reading, should be a mix of easier to read/understand books, and ones above their level. In family read alouds, we generally do the harder books, such as "Great Expectations," but sometimes we throw in the easier books, such as Little House on the Prairie, or the Narnia books. (I like Narnia, but not Lord of the Rings, BTW - that's a whole other article, though - for some other day, perhaps.)
I think the reason why CM and Trivium have so much in common, is because both methods treat the child as a whole human, who is fully capable of thinking, feeling, growing, and behaving.
In raising children, I don't go with "let them be kids." I treat childhood as the time for them to learn how to be good, happy, balanced, responsible adults. All of my children have heard me tell them that childhood is about learning how to be a grown up. While being a child was fun, I personally much prefer being an adult.
Certainly, my children get time to play, and do "kid" things. Why wouldn't they? Obviously, they are kids, LOL. I still like to play too, and I'm not a kid.
Parts to Whole
The Trivium is a parts to whole education. Because of this, reading is taught via phonics, and not sight words. Certainly, there are some words that break most phonics rules, and need to be sight words, but for the most part, most Trivium educators are phonics people, with me being in that number. The child first learns the letter sounds, then how to blend the sounds, and then read words. This is stages 1-3, as discussed earlier.
In a whole to parts education, the child would be shown whole words, perhaps in lists, or via flash cards. They would be told to memorize that word, and then they'd be tested to show if they memorized what the word was. The problem is, now they don't know why that word is the word it is. Why are those specific letters used in that specific word?
Mathematics-wise, parts to whole would involve first learning numbers, then basic math, such as addition, and build up from there. Certainly, we wouldn't start a first grader on algebraic equations. However, with the Trivium, mathematic review is important. As the child advances in his math, he should have occasional reviews of what he's learned previously in that chapter or unit, and also occasional cumulative reviews, reviewing principles learned earlier in the whole book. This re-enforces parts to whole, by reminding the pupil why the equations he is working on, are what and how they are.
A Classical Christian Home Education
Another term that some use, in the place of the word "Trivium," is "Classical Education." The Trivium isn't just about the three stages of learning, and the three stages of learning development, but is also about studying and enjoying the classics. This includes art, literature, and poetry study. In addition, many Trivium households include study on the ancient Greek myths. I'm a bit uncomfortable with many of the ancient Greek literature and myths, because so many involved hateful retribution, fornication, incest, and more. These are not pictures I want into introduce into my children's minds. Instead, I focus on teaching about the false gods and their myths of various ancient civilizations, by going through Christian books and sources, which always bring one back to the wholesome truths of the Bible, and which show a clear demarcation between false gods and myth, and the true God and His Holy Word.
General Trivium Homeschool Subjects
Every homeschool is different, and will have emphasis in different areas, and will likely teach some different subjects. In general, a Trivium homeschool would at least teach the following subjects:
Copywork/Dictation/Various forms of Narration
Reading and Literature
History and Geography
Religion (Christianity and appologetics)
Greek mythology, and/or ancient false gods
Art and Music
Foreign language, such as Latin
I don't start Latin and Logic until the fifth grade, with my children. Also in the fifth grade, they start doing more reading silently on their own, and writing down their narrations, for me to look over later in the day.
The beauty of the Trivium, is you can teach from whole/living books, from textbooks, or even from encyclopedias. For years, I taught science from homeschool textbooks, but instead of the boring, non-Trivium friendly "comprehension questions" that came with the books, I instead had the younger children do some copy work from the lesson, and older ones do written narration pages.
There are no Trivium pre-packaged curricula out there, that I know of, and even if there is, there is not one size fits all. Therefore, I think it's best for the Trivium home educator to put together their own personalized curriculum package. They can choose from, or have a mix of - whole books, textbooks, and encyclopedias. They can personalize each lesson, and make each lesson a fascinating journey of learning. It's hard to get into a rut when you are teaching via Trivium methods, because the method is so fluid and alive.
The Trivium is the method I use to educate my children. It's the only method I've ever used, and the only one I will use. It fits and works for my family, and I feel it rightly equips my children for future self-education into whatever peaks their curiosity.