3 Stages of Learning for Children

If you have small children, you have probably already noticed their propensity for asking “Why?” While the barrage of these “why”s can be exhausting some days, you understand that you are pouring information into little sponges who are anxious to learn about the world around them. But what about elementary age children? Or middle school? Or high school? How are these bigger kids learning?

Grammar Stage

Repetitio est mater studiorium.

– Latin Proverb

Repetition truly is the mother of all learning for this stage.

As an extension of the “why” preschool stage, the grammar stage covers from roughly ages 5 through 11. During this time, children are still sponges. As opposed to most adults, children can memorize information with ease. Children this age delight in singing songs to learn the Fifty States, memorizing science facts, or learning interesting historical tidbits. All of this information will become the “building blocks” of knowledge in the future.

“Why” seems like such a deep question, warranting philosophical responses, but that’s obviously not what your 4-year old or 7-year old is wanting! The “why”s of this stage are mechanistic in nature as children seek to understand the rules of the world.

You’ve probably noticed that children this age are sticklers for rules — not that they always follow them, but that they are quick to point out when others are breaking them. So, despite their personal rule-following preferences, kids this age want to know the rules for something instead of just feeling their way through. This is why the phonics approach to reading is so successful (teaching letter and phonogram sounds, then putting those together to form words).

This propensity for memorization, and a fascination with the novelty of language (word and vocabulary explosion!) is why you’ll often hear that it’s easy for young children to pick up a second language.

Logic Stage

Parents often discover with some frustration that such students grow increasingly better at pointing out the fallacies committed in dinnertime conversation by everyone present.

– Dr. Christopher Perrin

From roughly 10 to 14 years of age, children go through the Logic stage. One of the hallmarks of this stage is that the children love to argue. At a younger age, children may argue with their parents, but on a shallower level due to a lack of reasoning skills. However, as they are now older, their reasoning skills have improved. When this is combined with a mountain of absorbed information from the grammar stage, they are better equipped to more effectively defend their arguments.

Challenging their peers, teachers, authority figures, and parents becomes commonplace. Learning to argue, challenging assumptions, and thinking logically are critical skills needed for full adulthood. Brush up on your own logic and reasoning skills to make the inevitable debates a bit more pleasant.

The “why” questions are still here in this stage as well, but now those questions take on a deeper meaning instead of mere fact gathering. Their “why”s explore cause and effect, the scientific method, relationships between different fields of knowledge or “subjects,” and even how it can all be integrated into a consistent worldview.

Rhetoric Stage

If grammar stage-learning is fact-centered and logic-stage learning is skill-centered, then rhetoric-stage learning is idea-centered.

– Susan Wise Bauer

Oh, teenagers! From around age 13 through 18, children tackle increasing self-expression, the art of persuasion, creativity, and specialization. Funneling their passions into words and actions becomes the prime directive of this rhetoric stage — effectively communicating their ideas.

On the cusp of adulthood, teenagers understand that in the near future they are going to have to make their way in the world… their own way. For example, it’s at this age and stage that most youth narrow down their career choices and start making decisions for a specific vocation or career path.

“Why”s in this stage do begin to wax philosophical, or political. Why do some people go hungry? Why is there inequality? Why is there suffering in the world? (And what can the young adult do about it….)

Now, just because a child is in a certain “stage” doesn’t mean that the other stages are absent! Young children can still pursue creativity and self-expression, though the result will probably not be as sophisticated as a young adult’s. And despite leaving the memorization phase of Grammar behind, Logic and Rhetoric stage children will still have data, information and knowledge to assimilate (as do adults).

For more information on pre-grammar stage learning and “Why” questions, check out Why Do Kids Ask Why?

References: Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers, The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer,
An Introduction to Classical Education by Dr. Christopher Perrin

Photo Credits: Army Supports STEM and Beyond Night, Harford school hosts science night, eCYBERMISSION students take the STEM challenge, eCYBERMISSION showcase 2015 by U.S. Army RDECOM (CC BY 2.0)

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Stefani was raised in California; with her husband hailing from South Carolina, they've settled in the middle and are now raising three Texans. She loves classical homeschooling, great books, period dramas, modifying recipes, simple living, deep thinking, and cuddling up with her family to watch silly YouTube videos.

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