History with the Classical Method

by Kathy Metzger
The Classical Method (CM) emphasizes the learning of History. History is the story of our World from its origins to its present state. The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer suggests the following format to teach History: Ancients 5000 BCE- 400 CE Medieval/Early Renaissance 400 CE-1600 Late Renaissance/Early Modern, 1600-1850 Modern 1850- Present day For instance, 1st grade-Ancients, 2nd -Medieval, 3rd -Late Ren., and 4th -Modern. This pattern repeats for the Logic and Rhetoric stages, but the work is more in-depth and incorporates complex ideas of the time. This is complete World history and can be covered in each grade. If you are starting somewhere in the middle always start in the Ancients because, again, history is a story.

Teaching History

The CM takes into account the child’s different stages of learning, so the following is how each stage learns History.

Although history may be a bit dry for a preschooler, one can still teach history through story telling. There are several books in the library that have historical themes that are written to the preschool age. For instance, what child doesn’t like a folktales or mythology? Excellent books to use: D’Aulaires Mythology series which includes “Norse Gods and Giants” and “Book of Greek Myths”These books have rich, child-like illustrations and the wording is geared towards the preschooler. Four and Five year olds love these books! Theseus and the Minotaur by Warwick HuttonThese books have nice illustrations and short paragraphs that tell the story. Persephone by Warwick Hutton. (This person makes many of these books) Always remember that common folktales carry many historical elements and many have been handed down through oral tradition. The Folklore and Mythology sections of the library are brimming over with selections. Make a weekly trip of going to the library!

Grammar Stage

The Grammar Stage (GS) student loves facts. During this stage the GS student does not need to analyze history, only understand a sequence of events that follow a chronological line.

To teach history, TWTM’s recipe will be followed. One will need to get a three ring binder and have four sections following the above pattern (Ancients, Medieval, etc…). Each section will be divided into subsections: Narrations and Illustrations. History should be taught for 3 hours a week. This means if you want to take one day to teach history for three hours that is fine. Our house does an hour and a half for two days. This all depends on the families’ particular situations. For two days a week we follow this pattern:

Monday: Read two pages from Dempsey Parr Encyclopedia of World History, and the child narrates what was read. For 1st and 2nd grade the parent writes down the narration, but 3rd and 4th the child writes his/her own narrations. Then he or she draws a picture of the piece read. We file these and then locate areas we are learning about on a wall map, in an atlas, and on a globe. Then we chose an interesting topic from the reading and get books from the library (usually we do this on the weekends so the books are available for the week’s work).

Tuesday: We go through the books from the library and read. We then get out black lined blank maps of the area we are studying and fill in place names, places of interest, places of monuments, etc… Recently, we have come across several books available through Dover Publications that are accurate recreations of ancient art. We have some on King Tutankhamen, Greek Myths, etc… Along with the maps we color the pictures and read the captions. This has greatly enhanced our History learning.

We try and cover a region a week. For instance we talked about Mesopotamia for a week due to lack of resources beyond our Encyclopedias. For Egypt we spent almost three weeks because of the over abundance of resources, and my 2nd grader was quite fascinated by mummies and pyramids! The WTM suggests a two page spread a week. But if your child really is interested in a section, let him or her explore further. During the Poll-Parrot and the Grammar stage History learning, fill the child’s mind with heroes, heroines, Gods, Goddesses, monsters, Titans, etc… Give them facts that become the foundation of the later stages. Watch your young child glow with the knowledge of their History!
During the prior two stages the children’s mind only wants the facts. They love to hear stories about history. They want to look up those places on a map and globe, color pictures about the topic, and tell the parent all about that area. Now the mind is moving into the analysis stage and the synthesis stage. These are important development and if nurtured they will create an impressive mind!

Logic Stage

The Logic Stage (LS) student want to know “Why” those things happened in history. At this stage history will take a bit longer. The child will want to explore ideas, facts, etc… in more depth. The child will also be producing more written products. This stage the parent will also need to prepare his or herself for the questions to be asked. This means as the parent, one should read up on the historical periods in question, but don’t be afraid to say, “ I don’t know!” This will open up a world of knowledge for not only parent, but also the child. The knowledge gained from questioning will remain engrained longer than that lectured with out interest.
As with the GS, the LS follows the recipe set out in the WTM. The LS student’s binder will look different though. The following sections will need to be included:
1. Outlines

2. Great Men and Women

3. Wars, Conflicts, and Politics

4. Inventions and Technology

5. Religion

6. Daily Life

7. Cities and Settlements

8. Primary Sources

9. The Arts and Great Books
Again you can choose either 3 days such as: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or 2 days such as: Tuesday and Thursday. You should be doing History 3 hours a week in this level as well.

We do our Monday and Tuesday for an hour and a half each day.

There are couple new additions at this stage. First the Outline and then the Timeline.


To begin the Outline the LS student take each paragraph and write a sentence about what he or she read. For instance, from March of the Titans by Arthur Kemp**:
“From 1800 to 400 BC, Celts in southern Germany and Austria developed two advanced metalworking cultures, named by archaeologists after the places where the most plentiful artifacts were found: Urnfield and Hallstatt in Upper Austria. The skills developed in each of these two spread throughout Europe – they introduced the use of iron for tools and weapons.

In Central Europe the Germans also established themselves in a wide belt running from eastern France through to Poland and south into the Balkans. It is presumed that advance parties of Germans could also have been responsible for the wave of Indo-European peoples called the Latini, who penetrated Italy around this time.”
The child would then write a sentence from each paragraph. It could look like this:
The Urnfield and Hallstatt were metalworking cultures that lived in Austria. They introduced iron for tools and weapons.
Germans lived in an area from eastern France to Poland and south into the Balkans.
**The portion of March of the Titans was used with permission from Arthur Kemp and adapted by George Collins.
The Outline helps the child to establish important facts from the reading selections. As the child progresses, s/he will be able move to a more traditional outlines. It is important that the outlines are in complete sentences and start with this method. As with all aspects of the CM, building a foundation is paramount.
For two days, this is the possible schedule:
Monday: As with the GS, we start out with reading a 2 to 4 page spread and outline the section. Fill in the timeline, find the area on the globe, map, and atlas. Then choose a couple topics from the reading for further study. This could be any of the above sections of the notebook. Really whatever the child is interested. Go to the library for books on the topics.

Tuesday: Do a history project that incorporates the reading. Do a report about the further reading and file in the appropriate section of the notebook. There is much flexibility as to what one wants to do. We like activities so we supplement with activities. It really makes History come alive.
Depending on the region and amount of information, we take about 2 weeks per area. Memorization of dates, people, etc… are very important. Also, using primary sources can be started at this stage. Tacitus, the Rig Veda, Epic of Gilgamesh, the Edda prose or poetic, etc… Some will still be very difficult to understand, so good translations are the key. If the child is not ready for such works, don’t use them yet. Remember that in 4 years the child will revisit the period.

Rhetoric Stage

I must preface this section with the fact that I do not have a RS student, so I will give you the suggestions in the WTM book.
“If grammar-stage is fact-centered and logic stage learning is skill-centered, then rhetoric stage learning is idea-centered.” ~TWTM
This encapsulates the focus of RS History. Instead of building a base of facts and skills the young adult will use that foundation to explore, analyze, discuss, and compare ideas. This is done through Great Books. TWTM has an extensive list of books, mostly primary sources, for each grade level that the young adult should read (to her credit, Mrs. Wise includes Mein Kampf as a recommended reading as well as Animal Farm and other political books, a bold move). The student now enters the “Great Conversation” by discussing complex ideas with a foundation of facts and skills for analysis!

Some basic texts are needed. These include A Short History of Western Civilization, The Timetables of History, and Dorling Kindersley History of the World. The last book is an excellent text. It is comprehensive and very religious neutral.

TWTM suggests the following scheme to explore ideas:
Each student needs a three-ringed notebook labeled Great Books. Each notebook has three sections: Context, Book Notes, and Compositions.
The pattern is as follows:
1. Glance at the appropriate sections in the basic texts and read the corresponding section of Short History of Western Civilization. Then, write a one-page summary, setting the book in historical perspective. Give basic information about the author, his times, his country, and his purposes in writing; summarize great events going on in the rest of the world. File this page in the Context section.

2. Read through the text , pencil in hand. File all the notes in the “Book Notes” section of notebook. (WTM suggests using a book called How to Read a Book, by Adler and Van Doren for note taking techniques.)

3. Discuss the text. Talk about its purposes, it strengths, its weaknesses. Have a conversation about the ideas and whether or not they are valid.

4. Write about the text. This is a flexible assignment. It could be a book report, an evaluation, an argumentative essay proving some point about the book or an analysis of the books ideas. The composition, at least 2 pages, should be put in the “Compositions” section of the notebook.

Writing Projects:

The student should do a spring research paper in 9th and 10th grade (6 to 8 pages and 7 to 10 pages, respectively). TWTM give a nice summary for writing a paper, but if one follows a writing program, it should include research paper writing.


For the RS, the schedule is 2 hours a day-5 days a week. This is a very flexible program where there is little “teacher” interaction. The PT only has to discuss with the student. This means that the parent needs a good grasp of information. If one has been using the CM should be able to discuss topics with relative ease. But one needs to take a bit of time to bone up on topics.

For a suggested, but not stringent, schedule:
9th – 10th: Read, discuss, write about great books; begin by using the 2-hour period to summarize How to Read a Book. In the spring, use the 2 hour period to work on research paper until it is finished.
11th – 12th: Read, discuss and write about Great Books.

Starting late

If one is starting at any stage other then the beginning, start with the Ancients and follow the prescribed patterns. In our family we started in 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th. The pattern for those grade levels worked out nicely. The biggest obstacle is un-training old habits that fostered lackadaisical learning. The older children hadn’t outlined before so we had to start from the basics, but they picked it up quickly and moved forward. The younger (and older) had never really “narrated” so we had to do many exercises to bring them up to speed. All in all, one can follow the patterns and suggested schedules and take time to become comfortable with the method.


The RS stage synthesizes 12 years of education. The child matures into a thinking adult that can partake in the Great Conversation. S/he begins with facts about Indo-Europeans to skills in making connections between past and present to finally analyzing the philosophies of the Greeks, Romans, and Celts, and how they compliment and, sometimes, contradict each other. A student exiting High School and possibly entering College will be able to excel, but more importantly “pursue learning instead learning pursuing him or her” (paraphrased George Bernard Shaw). This is something that is more important for life long learning!

The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer.

The March of the Titans by Arthur Kemp.

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