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The Grammar Stage

Diverse Exposure without In-Depth Analysis

When I first read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, I had a lot of difficulty with the concept of the Grammar Stage, the first four years of Classical Education from the first through fourth grade.  My main opposition was to the wording that the Grammar Stage should include memorization without understanding.  As an educator, I am 98% philosophically opposed to this.  For some reason, certain conservative homeschooling groups like Classical Conversations seem to have really latched on to the idea of memorization without understanding, and that further soured my take on the Grammar Stage for a while.

But  after multiple readings of the WTM, and after discussing it with parents who put some of the ideas into practice (please see our online book discussion here), I think that what Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise are really proposing is that in the Grammar Stage you flood children’s minds with stories and information.  Their theory is that children under the age of nine do not necessarily need to analyze and evaluate information deeply (although they might), but that they should hear as much information as possible.   

My understanding now is that SWB and JW are advocating exposing children to a plethora of information, not sitting them down and having them memorizes lists and dates.  Instead of “memorization without understanding”, why I think they meant was diverse exposure without in-depth analysis.  True understanding of this thesis put into practice becomes clear if you listen or read Story of the World with your children.  There are no lists to memorize, just lots of historical stories and myths to listen to and enjoy.  Here’s a quote from page 22 of the third edition of The Well Trained Mind that really sums up this point:

 “In the first four years of learning, you’ll be filling your child’s mind and imagination with as many pictures, stories, and facts as you can.  Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.”

 Right now we are listening to SOTW #3 in the car on the way to Bruce(6)’s school, and to Jenna(2)’s Kindermusik CD on the way home from dropping him off.  The Kindermusik CD has a lot of songs about trains on it, and as I was listening to the music today the perfect metaphor for the Grammar Stage came to mind.  The Grammar Stage is a time when parents can help their children lay down tracks for future learning.  Your goal is to lay down as many tracks to as many places as possible.  Some day in the future your child will be older and more mature, ready for full-blown locomotives of information.  If the tracks are already in place, those steam engines will be able to come quicker, faster, and heavier because they have someplace to stick to.  Kids who have a maze of tracks already in place will have a huge advantage over their peers who do not.

If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language as an adult, or pick up a new musical instrument, or (eek!) tried to fully understand and remember the Mongol Empire section from SOTW #3, then you know how difficult it is to learn something when you do not have the proper train tracks laid down in your brain.  There is nothing for the information to “stick” to.  That doesn’t mean you can’t learn new information at an older age, it just means it is more difficult.

Good public schools will hopefully be doing an excellent job of exposing children to great books, strong mathematics, beginning science concepts, and a smattering of social studies.  If you are lucky like my son is, school will also include music, poetry, and art.  But my job description as parent means that I am ultimately in charge of my children’s’ educations, and I take that role seriously through Afterchooling.  This is why we do cool science experiments on the weekend, listen to world history in the car, learn extra math over the summer, and (heaven help me!) are trying to learn Spanish at home.  At the end of the Grammar Stage both of my kids will have a maze of train tacks going through their heads, and when they hit middle school and high school– watch out!

Lists of Great Men and Women to Cover from The Well Trained Mind

 Wow.  That picture came out really awful, for which I apologize.  But my main point in taking it was to exemplify for those of you who do not yet own Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s book The Well Trained Mind, all of their wonderful lists of famous people to study with your child over the course of their education.  The authors have eight lists of people to know, divided into era and and categorized in both the Grammar and Logic Stage. In layman’s terms this means “Here’s a list of people your child should know about when they are in first grade, here’s a list for second grade etc.”

As an Afterschooling family who loosely incorporates a Classical Education model of learning, these lists of people are a good reference for me as a parent to look at from time to time, to keep us on track.  When we read about a famous person during bedtime read aloud, or listen to a CD about Abraham Lincoln, I make a little annotation in my copy of The Well Trained Mind.  I write a “B” next to the name for when Bruce has been exposed to the famous person in question, and I’ll write a “J” someday when Jenna is old enough to participate too. 

Homeschooling families might want to take this even further and create a giant timeline in their living room with pictures of each famous person studied, as suggested in The Well Trained Mind.  But we are a bit more low-key than that, primarily because any history study we do at home is just a supplement to the excellent education my children are already receiving in public schools.  Who knows what we might get up to this summer though?  🙂

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 13

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 13

General Thoughts: The Argumentative Child? You might as well use that description for me or my son from day one. Impassioned, persuasive reasoning is something that is embedded in our very natures, and neither of us waited until the “Logic Stage” to deliver our viewpoint to anyone who would listen. 🙂

p 230: “Now is the time for critical thinking.” I have a fundamental problem with this statement. I really cannot understand waiting to teach critical thinking until the 5th grade. I don’t think that’s exactly what Jessie Wiese or Susan Wise Bauer really intend either. (See below.)

p 231: “But you shouldn’t consider critical thinking and fact gathering to be mutually exclusive activities.” Bingo! That’s my philosophy from the get-go. I cannot listen to Story of the World with my six year old and not encourage critical thinking at the same time, just because he would fall into the “Grammar Stage” category.

p 235: This page made me think of all of the wonderful Socratic Seminars my fifth and sixth grade teacher, Richard Gray, led us in. We used the Junior Great Books series and I still remember a lot of the stories we read and discussed.

p 235: There is an interesting line at the bottom of this page that says that homeschooling kids in the Logic Stage usually spend an hour working on their own for every ten minutes of direct instruction from mom or dad.

Jessie Wise’s Library List

For those of you familiar with The Well Trained Mind, this will be old hat to you.  Today I typed up Jessie Wise’s library selection guidelines and “laminated” a little card for our library bag using mailing tape.  For those of you unfamiliar with the WTM, here is the list:

Jessie Wise’s Library Selection List, from pp 6-7 of The Well Trained Mind

  • One science book
  • One history book
  • One art or music appreciation book
  • One practical book (a craft, hobby or “how-to”)
  • One biography or autobiography
  • One classic novel
  • One imaginative storybook
  • One poetry book
  • Anything else they please!

The idea is to take your children to the library every week and use the list to make sure you are selecting a wide range of topics.  Our family goes to the library frequently enough that we are on a first name basis with several of our librarians, but I haven’t tried using a selection process like this yet.  We are going to go to the library tonight and give it a try.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 12

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 12

General Thoughts: This chapter was about art and music which is of personal interest to me, because my whole family on my mom’s side is musical. My mother has taught piano for over forty years. My aunt is a music teacher. My grandfather was a middle school music teacher and violinist in the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. My great grandparents met while playing in an orchestra in Kansas. I myself play piano and also studied organ in college. On my dad’s side of the family, there is an “art gene” that I unfortunately did not inherit. My great grandfather was a commercial artist who created the original Quaker Oats design as well as the Florsheim Shoe logo.  He also did some of the murals in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

P 206: This is the one and only page in WTM when Charlotte Mason is mentioned. Is this a major oversight perhaps?

p 207: I finally (just now!) looked up www.artisticpursuits.com. Wow! That really does look good. The problem with being an Afterschooling family instead of a Homeschooling family like the WTM authors, is that there just isn’t enough time in the day to do all of the things I want to do with my children.

p 207: The recommendation to listen to music at an early age is very anti-Waldorf. One of my big problems with the Waldorf method is that they sometimes encourage families to not listen to any recorded music until after age 8. In the interim, children are supposed to produce their own music.

p 208: I’m sorry but this is the most ridiculous piece of advice in this entire book. John Thomspons Modern Course for the Piano? You have got to be kidding me! There are such better piano lesson books out there, especially for appealing to young students. In the world of piano teaching, Thompsons is a dinosaur, and not in an “oldie but goodie” sort of way either.

p 214: Piano Adventures would be a much better pick. My mother also likes the Bastien series.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 11

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter.  I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 11

General Thoughts:  This was the chapter on teaching religion in the Grammar stage.  The WTM is written from a secular perspective, although the author Susan Wise Bauer is I believe married to a Christian pastor.  I thought that chapter 11 was written quite well.  For me, the key sentence is on page 203 when the authors write: “We’re not arguing that religion should be “put back” into public schools.  We’d just like some honesty: and education that takes no notice of faith is, at the very least, incomplete”. 

Memorization of Bible verses, Talmud passages, etc. is often a big part of early religious education in many faith backgrounds.  This fits in nicely with the structure of the Grammar stage in the Classical Education model. 

Our own family is from the Methodist faith, and we have been introducing world religions to my son (6) by reading kiddie versions of ancient religious texts.  For more on this, please see here.

The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 10

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time, and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I want to be conscientious about not violating any copyrights, so I will not be including quotes from the book on my blog. I will however, be referencing specific page numbers from the third edition. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 10

p 200: The author’s guidelines for when to use TV seem really reasonable to me, and are in accordance with our own family’s philosophy. I understand that some people ban the TV entirely from the house, but we have found that if you are choosey about what your kids watch, then television can be a wonderful learning medium if used appropriately and in moderation.

p 201: I agree with the author in lumping computer time in with TV time. We call this “screen time” in our house. For my son (6) two pages of math, or one page of math and 15 minutes of spelling = 30 minutes of screen time. This is pretty much a racket on my part, because almost all of his screen time is educational! We don’t own a DS or any sort of gaming system.