We believe that children deserve to be introduced to the best — most profound, exciting, thought-provoking, character-building, eloquent, and adventuresome — creations of Western literature.
There exists a vast body of exquisite literary texts which have been written by master-writers specifically for children and which were loved by generations of British and American youngsters but which, in the last half century, have been all but forgotten by mainstream American education. While American students may know their Disney renditions, the original versions of such English classics as The Jungle Book, Hiawatha, Tom Sawyer, or Winnie the Pooh are seldom read in modern elementary schools. At the Classical Academy, we work to ensure that our students encounter classic texts such as these not as an intimidating challenge but as an exciting adventure.
Beginning with kindergarten, students are exposed to a variety of fairy tales, myths, legends, fables, classic short stories, and biographies of famous historical characters from America, Europe, and Classical Antiquity. Our reading list includes Aesop, Brothers Grimm, Andersen, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, the D’Aulaires, and Jack London; and, in older grades, Shakespeare, Swift, Fielding, Austen, Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Melville.
Woven into these readings are stories of famous historical and Biblical characters and events, which introduce children, in the form of short and simple yet inspiring stories, to such momentous and colorful characters as Samson, King David, Julius Caesar, Richard the Lion Hearted, and Joan of Arc, to name a few. Such encounters help develop young imaginations by opening wide vistas of far-away times and places and of strong and courageous men and women.
Prose readings in literature and history go side-by-side with, and often interconnect with, English poetry. From kindergarten onward, children read, discuss, copy by hand, memorize, and recite progressively longer and more sophisticated selections from Blake, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Cowper, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, Longfellow, Whittier, Dickinson, Stevenson, and Frost. These poets remain at the students’ side from year to year, with the selections growing in complexity and length.
Our students are introduced to the “toolbox” of poets and writers, learning about different meter and rhyme schemes and their aesthetic effects as well as about such concepts as alliteration, allegory, foreshadowing, simile and metaphor.
Twice a year, at our festive Poetry Nights, students have the opportunity to share their poetry memorization and recitation skills with family and friends. Hand-in-hand with our focus on literature and poetry goes our rigorous study of language arts: phonics, spelling, grammar, penmanship, composition, and oratory.
From kindergarten onward, students engage with the basics of English grammar and syntax, making connections with analogous concepts in their study of French (e.g., noun, verb, adjective, singular, plural). Then, as Latin is introduced in fourth grade, it becomes among other things also a powerful tool for a better understanding and appreciation of the grammatical and syntactical structures of both English and French. Students parse words and diagram sentences in all three languages and discover how Latin, a highly inflected language, achieves its rhetorical and poetic power through case declension, verb conjugation, and meter. At the same time, students acquire a unique perspective on English, which, as a language practically devoid of inflection, achieves elegance and expressivity by altogether different syntactical means. The study of Latin likewise enables students to discern the origins the reasons for the spelling of many English words, thereby strengthening spelling and vocabulary skills.
In older grades, students undertake the study of oratory, committing to memory passages of literary prose and excerpts from the rhetorical works of historical figures. The study is rooted in the students’ active engagement with literary and poetic texts, but its effects go well beyond academic analysis and have a direct positive impact on the character, leadership skills, and the overall self-confidence of our students. As children advance in their study of Latin, selections from Cicero’s speeches are added to their prose memorization and students have the benefit of comparing and contrasting Latin and English oratory (e.g., Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”; Cicero’s “Pro Caelio”). Seventh and eighth grades combine memorization of historical speeches with public speaking, composing their own speeches for imagined occasions and declaiming them out-loud before the class.
At the Classical Academy, we believe it is vital for children to have sound knowledge of their heritage, both Western and American.
Our students discover the thrill of journeying to distant times and places and encountering fascinating characters—heroes and villains, kings and saints, warriors and thinkers, artists and inventors. Throughout, we work closely with primary source materials and highlight the connection between these encounters and parallel studies in literature, languages, and science: thus, for example, knowledge of Latin adds a critical dimension to the students’ understanding and appreciation of the historical Julius Caesar.
The emphasis of our history program is fourfold: (a) contrast between ancient Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures; (b) the ongoing synthesis of these two traditions throughout Western history; (c) the central role of both traditions in the founding and development of American democracy; (d) the implications that this twin legacy has for the role of America in the present-day world community.
In kindergarten and first grade, children study early American history, including the Age of Exploration, the Thirteen Colonies, the events leading up to the revolution, and the Revolution of 1776. Special attention is devoted to historical and literary-historical heroes: Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Smith, Pocahontas, Squanto, Longfellow’s Hiawatha, Paul Revere, and the Founding Fathers. Literary works, such as D’Aulaires’ Benjamin Franklin and Longfellow’s poems “Hiawatha” [selections] and “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” supplement the history lessons. Beginning with second grade, our history program goes back in time, to a survey of the ancient world, and then begins to progress through the epochs year-by-year.
Main Line Classical Academy’s History Sequence Grades K-8:
- Kindergarten & First Grade: American History through the Revolution
- Second Grade: Survey of Early Ancient & Biblical History
- Third Grade: Ancient Greece
- Fourth Grade: Rome
- Fifth Grade: Medieval History
- Sixth Grade: Renaissance & Reformation
- Seventh Grade: 17th & 18th Century European History
- Eighth Grade: Early American History