Classical Christian Homeschooling

Scheduling the School Day

Christine Miller

Important Considerations

The Grammar Stage

The Dialectic Stage

The Rhetoric Stage

Important Considerations

Before trying to establish a schedule, consider that homeschools are not locked into doing things as they are done in intstitutionalized school. Much of the institutionalized system comes from the Prussian model of schooling, which was established, not to give children the best education, but to mold children into the best citizens, who will do as the state wishes without causing the state too much aggravation. John Taylor Gatto, a past New York State Teacher of the Year and author of Dumbing Us Down, explores the roots of institutionalized schooling and what it means for a child trying to get an education in his excellent article The Public School Nightmare.

Since a school day with many short subjects has been designed, not to encourage a child to develop independent or sustained individual thought, but to condition a child to accept outside influences without question, then establishing a homeschool with a schedule similar to the public school’s model is undesirable. However, there are many subjects that deserve attention for each stage. So, a compromise is necessary which will give attention to the subjects while maintaining a relatively uncluttered daily study time.

Remember the core subject for each stage: Grammar in the grammar stage, logic in the dialectic stage, and rhetoric in the rhetoric stage. This is the subject that teaches the tool of learning for each stage, and is the subject around which all other work should be built. It is the one subject to which daily attention must be given, for the greatest amount of time in the day. Other subjects can be added as the homeschool parent is required by state homeschooling laws or as desired, but nothing less than attention to these three can constitute a classical education.

In general, in our homeschool I have designated four days out of every school week as core work days. The fifth day we have used as catch-up day, field trip day, and a day to pursue other interests within the classical model that we do not take time for on the other four days.

The Grammar Stage

Thus, in the grammar stage, the primary focus is on Latin and/or Greek grammar, and English grammar. For four days per week, we worked on Latin and/or Greek, English grammar, writing -- all three involving the “leg” of language study -- then, history, literature -- the “leg” of Western Civilization -- and math, the final “leg” in the core of classical education. In the earlier grades, when study times are shorter, we were able to accomplish most of our work in 3 to 4 hours, in the morning, and the children had the afternoon for additional reading, naps, and play time.

On the fifth day, we focused on art, music lessons, science, and geography. It is not necessary to cover each of these subjects every week. On nice days, we could take all morning for a nature hike (science), and on days when the weather was uncooperative, we could take part of the morning for map work or reading stories about other places (geography). Music lessons, especially if a child is learning the piano as recommended, can be at a set time every week, and art lessons can also be every week or several times a month alternating with science and geography work.

Breaking out of the institutionalized school mind set is the greatest challenge to scheduling your school day. It was important for us to do our Bible study with Dad, so we didn’t schedule that during the traditional school time, but in the evenings when Dad was home. (However, we did weave the biblical foundation of truth into everything we studied during school time. The evenings were for focused Bible study.) And remember that practice in oratory, in the grammar stage, does not require its own time slot, but is integrated with the other subjects.

Since science in the grammar stage involves identification and classification of the world around them, many families also reserve the bulk of the year’s work in that subject for the summer, when the weather is fine and there is more time for extended forays into all sorts of scientific discovery. We can do this, we’re homeschooling. It’s okay. :-) Occasional studies related to the turn of the seasons can of course be scheduled throughout the year.

The Dialectic Stage

In the dialectic stage, the core subject is logic. Since Euclid’s Elements -- geometry -- has traditionally been associated with logic in the dialectic stage, in the first year of the dialectic we study algebra, in the second we study formal logic, and in the third we study geometry, or Euclid’s Elements. In this way the subject of logic remains in the forefront of the curriculum all throughout the dialectic stage.

For four days per week, then, we study logic or math, Latin or Greek or other foreign language (if Latin or Greek study has been completed), writing, history, and literature. On the fifth day, we study government, science, art, and music. The difference in the dialectic stage from the grammar stage is that the government and science study is every week, using a much more structured approach. Logical argumentation -- the oratory of the dialectic stage -- is again not a separate class, but practiced in the discussions of the other classes, especially math and logic, history, government, and science. In our homeschool, we continue to study the Bible as a family after school hours.

The Rhetoric Stage

In the rhetoric stage, the core subject is rhetoric, which as a subject of study is simply the art and science of effective and elegant communication. Thus, rhetoric, oratory, and writing can be thought of as a single topic of study in the rhetoric stage. Some one-year classes on formal rhetoric are available, and formal rhetoric can be studied alternately with formal speech and formal debate, as algebra, logic, and geometry are studied alternately in the dialectic stage.

At this point in your child’s education, you have to decide what to do about math. Up through the 1950’s, a child in this country needed only one year of algebra and one year of geometry in high school in order to graduate. To take the SATs, a child need only have had and understood algebra and geometry. These were studied in the dialectic stage. A child who is going to study in a science, computer, or math-related field in college should take advanced mathematics and calculus in high school. A child who is going to study in a business, academic, creative, or people-related field in college probably does not need additional math in the rhetoric stage, unless he or she wants to study applied mathematics (the mathematics of art or music, for example) for their own interest.

For four days per week, then, we study rhetoric (which includes oratory and writing), Latin or Greek or other foreign language, applied history (economics, law, and politics), and literature, and possibly math depending on the settlement of the advanced math question. On the fifth day, we study philosophy, science, art, and music. We continue to do Bible study and apologetics as a family after regular school hours.

Important Links:

Managers of Their Homes

John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down

The Public School Nightmare

The Core of Classical Education

The Grammar Stage

The Dialectic Stage

The Rhetoric Stage

Scope and Sequence (K-12)

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WebMaster: Christine Miller / This page last revised: February 2003
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