Archive for November, 2008

As I write this, my husband is putting up the Christmas tree.  For everyone who stands aghast at the thought of putting up the Christmas tree before Christmas, I agree with you completely.  That’s right.  It’s not Christmas yet.  It’s Advent, a penitential season and time of preparation for the coming of Christ–both His Second Coming and the remembrance and reliving through the liturgical year of His birth as a baby.  Christmas BEGINS on December 25th.  It ends on the feast of the Epiphany, 12 days later, and in our family, we celebrate all 12 days.  It’s fun to be Catholic.  We party a lot. 

To get back to the tree, last year and the year before, we put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and kept it up through the 12 days of Christmas.  We also put outside lights up on Christmas Eve and kept them lit through all 12 days.  No doubt, most of our neighbors thought our calendar was off by a couple weeks. 

This year, my husband decided to use our Christmas tree as a Jesse tree.  For more information about what a Jesse tree is and how to make one, go to  The children will be coloring the Jesse tree pictures and gluing them to a cardboard backing and hanging them on the tree every Sunday.  The lights are going on the tree today, but they won’t be turned on until Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, we’ll add the Christmas ornaments to the Jesse tree ornaments.

There’s a wonderful book called Three Steps to a Strong Family that I read years ago.  The first step is a system of well-thought-out family laws.  The second step is creating a family economy.  The third step is building strong family traditions.  I think my husband has started a neat new family tradition today.

Speaking of family traditions, somewhere between 5 and 8 years ago, we decided that our immediate family would stop exchanging presents on Christmas Day and instead exchange them on the Feast of the Epiphany.  That has really been wonderful for several reasons.  First, the focus of Advent isn’t on shopping.  It’s on preparing for Christmas on a spiritual and a familial level.  Second, the focus of Christmas Day isn’t getting presents (well, to some extent–more about that in a minute).  Third, and this is from a purely material standpoint, we can buy whatever presents we don’t make from the After-Christmas sales.  Now, this sounds great (to us anyway) in theory, but the fact is that our extended family wanted to stick with their traditions, and we want to be a part of that as well, so in the end, we do spend Christmas Day with my family or his family, and we exchange presents, which also means that we prepare for present-giving during Advent.  After all, treating our families with love and respect is more important than our ideals for gift giving and Christmas.  It will be interesting to see what Christmas traditions our children and their families have in another 20 years.

While we’re on the subject of presents and traditions, my husband’s family has another neat tradition.  In an effort to avoid making Christmas a materialistic panacea, they started the tradition of Chinese auctions for Christmas years ago.  Here’s how it works.  Everybody brings a couple wrapped presents.  They can be from one’s home, from garage sales, handmade items, or other inexpensive items that would be of interest to at least a few of the people there.  Next, everybody there draws a number from a hat.  The person who has the number 1 starts, choosing the first wrapped present.  None of the presents have names on them.  He opens it, and it’s his.  The person with the number 2 goes next.  He has the choice of either choosing and opening another present or taking the present from the person who went before him.  It’s barrels of fun with lots of opportunities for practicing the virtue of detachment.  No one goes to much expense, and spending time together having fun and enjoying each other’s company is placed on a much higher level than what the items are.

On my blog debut, I mentioned Dorothy Sayers pithy article, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  I promised to explain in a shorter (but sadly, less pithy) way what classical education is all about.  Here goes! 

In the ancient world and, in a more developed way, in the medieval world, there were 7 disciplines that any scholar studied.  The first three made up the trivium.  They were grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  The last four, known as the quadrivium, were arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.  All seven liberal arts pointed toward the higher disciplines of philosophy and, above all else, theology.

The first three are what interest us now.  Let’s talk about those and what they mean for our children’s education.  Now, grammar didn’t just mean grammar as we think of it.  It meant the learning of categories of knowledge.  That can include anything from the letters of the alphabet to the names of animals to Latin verb conjugations to the periodic table of elements.  This is the first stage, and what is being learned is actually of less importance than the use of the faculty of memory.  According to Laura Berquist in her book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, the time to begin the grammar stage is from about 3rd grade to about 6th grade.  I have come to believe, however, that it starts earlier than that.  The great thing about the classical method is that it takes into account the nature of the child.  Young children are great at memorizing things.  It comes easily to them.  The goal in my mind is to practice that skill on worthwhile subjects (avoiding what Charlotte Mason called “twaddle”) in order to make sure that the ease of memorization of a young child is retained into adulthood.

The next stage of the trivium is the logic or dialectic stage.  When your adolescent child begins arguing about everything, he is ready for the logic stage.  Perhaps a better way to put it is to say that he is in the logic stage.  The classical method takes advantage of the way God put us together.  That happens somewhere between 5th and 7th grade, depending on the child.  Obviously, the young person is still learning stuff at this point, but that is no longer the primary focus in a classical system of education.  Instead, the focus changes from memorizing to taking that knowledge gained and learning to think logically about it.  How?  Well, this can involve logic problems, analogies, computer programming (obviously not part of the medieval curriculum), scientific experiments, and convincing your parents of the value of spending the night at a friend’s house.  It can and should also include writing persuasively.  In order to write persuasively, it is necessary to gain a keen sense of what is true and what is not.  To quote the professor in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, ““Logic! . . . . Why don’t they teach logic at these schools!”

The final stage begins around 10th grade, according to Laura Berquist and others.  This is the rhetoric stage.  You know how teenagers are idealists?  How they want to change the world?  How they want to distinguish themselves in some way?  Well, that is just as it should be, and rhetoric is the skill of talking about that and writing about that (and anything else for that matter) elegantly. 

At this point, the young adult takes the knowledge he has gained, combines it with the ability to come to accurate conclusions through logical thinking, and then finally, he learns to express it in a convincing and beautiful way.

Well, I guess this wasn’t so short after all, but I want to make one final comment.  In today’s world, high school children are being taught rhetoric more or less (composition, speech, etc.), but they aren’t being taught logic.  They learn (at least they are supposed to learn) to write well, but there is no truth behind what they say.  That is incredibly dangerous, but it’s nothing new.  Socrates complained of the “sophists” of his time who did the same thing. 

In the end, the trivium comes down to the good (the grammar of things), the true (logical thinking), and the beautiful (rhetoric).  It is necessary for them to come in that order because the nature of the growing child demands it and because beauty without truth is not true beauty but a distortion of beauty.

Well, I could go on because this is a subject that I dearly love to talk about, but I’ll hop down off my soapbox for tonight.  May God bless you with every good thing!  Please tell me what you think.

Welcome!  I am Carla Hanson, the owner of Aquinas Homeschool Books, and I’m hoping to entice my husband, Robert, to join me here as well.  My goal here is to discuss homeschooling from a Catholic perspective.  I’ll tell you about what we do, and I hope to hear what works for you.  Though this is the 10th anniversary of our website, I am completely new to blogging. 

Here’s a little more about our family.  We have 5 great kids (so far).  The oldest is 13, and the youngest is 3.  We have homeschooled them most of the time and had a great deal of fun doing it.  We use a method that, like most homeschoolers, is all our own.  If I had to define it, I guess I’d call it ecclectic classical homeschooling with a cup of Charlotte Mason, a teaspoon of Maria Montessori, and a pinch of Mary Hood thrown in for good measure. 

When I say classical, I don’t mean that the children spend the majority of their time studying Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome (though we’ve been there and done that and will again in another year or so).  Instead, I mean that we use the trivium as the background and method for what we do on a daily basis.  For a wonderful, pithy, entertaining definition of just what that means, take a look at Dorothy Sayer’s essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  

If you don’t feel like reading that essay right now, well, my next post is an explanation of what classical education is all about.

My goal will be to add to this blog about once a week, so come back in a week (or two).  We can put our feet up and share a nice, warm cup of coffee.  Wait.  What’s that sound?  Is that your 3-year-old or mine?  Well, back to work, but what better work is there?

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