How to Start Classical Education in the Middle

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Homeschool moms often ask me how to start classical education in the middle and if it’s too late to start.

Quite frankly, it’s never too late to start. You can begin classical education in middle school, high school, or even as an adult!

The trick is to remember to take it slow. I know I always want to be done and finished quickly. The slow and steady approach drives me batty! But that’s the trick to starting classical education in the middle: remembering that the tortoise wins the race.


Begin with reading and math when you’re starting classical education in the middle. First, check your child’s reading level and ensure they’re reading well. Obviously, this is more of a concern with younger kids than middle school and high school-aged teens.

Now if your child isn’t reading well, work on phonics and reading for 15-30 minutes a day. Work slowly through Phonics Pathways or The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Reading. Sit down on the sofa and read together. You read a page, your child reads a page!

Take your time and enjoy teaching your kids to read. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and kids take time to learn how to read and read well.

If your kids are reading well, start a free reading time during the day.

Free reading is simple. Have everyone curl up in the living room with a good book and read for 30 minutes to an hour!

High school teenagers can free reading time to either enjoy reading or to read through the Great Books.

And don’t be afraid to read aloud as a family no matter how old your children are. Reading books aloud is a wonderful way to introduce kids to literature, history, and science. My own kids enjoy drawing, working on puzzles, or doing quiet crafts while I read.

{Related post: Study the Natural World with Beautiful Children’s Books}


Math is a subject that takes time to develop and is best learned through daily work. So you’ll need to find a program that works well for your family and diligently work through it every day.

If you haven’t been working through a math curriculum with your kids, ask homeschool friends for recommendations. Personally, I love, love, love Saxon Math. It’s incremental, explains the concepts, and provides plenty of practice. My family has used it for years!

But it’s not the only excellent math program available. Many families use and love Singapore Math and Mammoth Math. Cathy Duffy has a huge list of math programs she’s reviewed over the years. Browse through it and see what appeals to you.

When you find one, give your kids a placement test and order the math you need. And if your child doesn’t place as high as you’d like in high school, don’t sweat it. The same principle applies no matter how old your child is.

Diligently working on math daily will take you much farther than a hit and miss approach.


Once reading and math are going well, add memorization.

Memorize Shakespeare, science terms, historical events and dates, poetry, and literature terms with your kids.

Kids can memorize the layers of the earth and the definition of a mammal. They can memorize the dates of famous battles and the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

You can memorize your favorite poems.

Don’t be in a rush to memorize everything under the sun. Simply choose one or two pieces you’d like the kids to know and work from there.

Over the days, months, and years, memory work will accumulate.

Language Arts

Language arts includes grammar, spelling, writing, penmanship, literature, and even reading (which I covered earlier). Elementary kids will be learning all of these individually. By high school, it’s assumed kids know grammar, spelling, and penmanship so you concentrate on literature and writing.

Many families piece language arts together eclectically. They’ll use Rod and Staff English for grammar and skip the writing, using IEW instead. They’ll use Spelling Workout for spelling and Handwriting Without Tears for penmanship. And literature will be tied to history studies.

Or you can use a complete language arts package such as Learning Language Arts Through Literature.

A complete language arts package means you don’t need to worry about keeping track of many different curricula. And you sleep well at night knowing you won’t accidentally skip an important concept.

However, most kids have strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a second grader may read on a 3rd-grade level, write on a 2nd-grade level, and spell on a 1st-grade level. Perfectly normal! But it makes using a complete language arts package difficult. Some parts will be easy while others will be challenging. My recommendation is to place kids in their weakest area (most kids like to feel smart and love easy schoolwork).

And that’s the advantage of piecing a language arts curriculum together piece by piece. You can place kids at the correct level for each subject!

In high school, you’ll want to concentrate on working through the Great Books and teaching kids to write. I love IEW to get my kids writing and then I simply assign writing assignments from Tapestry of Grace.

As far as the Great Books, I assign them according to the historical period we’re studying. For instance, we read the Iliad and Odyssey while we’re studying the ancients. We read The Song of Roland while we’re studying the Middle Ages. And so on and so forth.


When it comes to history, start at the beginning. I don’t care what grade your child is in, history makes more sense if you work from the ancients forward.

Most classical history curricula assume a four-year cycle.

  1. Ancients
  2. Fall of Rome – 1650
  3. 1650-1850
  4. 1850-present

I use Tapestry of Grace which has a different 4-year cycle.

  1. Ancients
  2. Fall of Rome – 1800
  3. 1800-1900
  4. 1900-present

Year 2 of Tapestry of Grace is a sprint that always leaves me gasping. However, I love having the extra time to truly dive into modern studies.

But I’m getting off point. You’ll notice that there is no American history nor world history present. That’s because you study American history in the context of world history. Kids read about the Louisiana Purchase at the same time they’re reading about Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. And realize Napoleon sold Louisiana to President Jefferson so he could fund his war! Cause and effect. Cause and effect. American history and world history are intertwined.

If you’re starting in high school with a 10th, 11th, or 12th grader, adjust your plans so you can cover all of history in the remaining time. A 12th grader may dash through world history in a year, but that will give your child an overview of major events.


If you’re starting classical education in the middle, just jump into science where you are… especially if you have younger kids. Many study biology while kids are studying the ancients. Earth science and astronomy while studying the Middle Ages. Chemistry while studying the early modern period, and physics during the modern period.

But there’s no magical reason as to why you need to connect your science studies to history. Literature makes more sense when you do so, but science doesn’t. So if your kids have a strong preference for their science studies, roll with it.

Homeschooling is a lot easier with enthusiastic kids!

There’s also a strong case for covering all the scientific fields each year. This means you spend a portion of the year studying biology, chemistry, earth science, astronomy, and physics. Like math, skills, and knowledge slowly build and prepare kids for high school science.

However, if you’re starting in high school, you MUST place kids in science according to their math skills. Earth science, astronomy, biology, and physical science can be studied with basic math skills. However high school chemistry requires teens to have completed algebra 1 first. High school physics requires teens to have completed Algebra 2.

And colleges want to see at least 2 years of lab science on the high school transcript. (Always check with the colleges you’re considering first! Each university has different requirements.)

If your child is running behind in math, don’t panic. Adjust your science plans accordingly.

Latin and Modern Languages

Most classical homeschoolers begin Latin some time in the 3rd to 5th grades. If you’re starting with an older child, don’t rush.

Did I say don’t rush? I mean don’t rush! Trying to cram Latin doesn’t work any better than cramming for a test. Begin at the beginning, work slowly and diligently. Your child will learn!

Aim to complete two years of Latin in high school. It may not be the ideal, but it gives your child many of the benefits of Latin without stress.

While many universities accept Latin as a foreign language requirement, not all do. Check with any college your child may be interested in attending to find out if Latin fills the requirement.

The biggest key with Latin is to take it slow, work diligently, and aim for mastery.

Most classical homeschoolers add a modern language in addition to Latin. If you’re starting in high school, your child may love studying both Latin and a modern language at the same time.

If you were able to start Latin in the 3rd grade, consider adding a modern language in middle school.

However, if you started Latin in middle school, begin the modern language in high school.

If you’re jumping into classical education in high school, you have three choices. Begin Latin. Begin a modern language. Or study both Latin and modern languages.

Base your decision upon university requirements and your child’s interests. Remember, you can always study languages slowly and aim to cover two years of high school Latin over the 4 years of high school.

Mastery is more important than speed.

{Related post: 7 Amazing Reasons Why You Should Homeschool Latin}

Fine Arts

Don’t forget about adding art and music to your homeschool! All kids benefit from regular art and music studies – both fine art appreciation and actual lessons.

Music, art, and drama lessons count. So if your child is studying an instrument, they’re studying music. If they take art classes or act in the local play, they’re also studying fine arts.

Try studying fine art appreciation as a fun Friday activity. Head to the museum to look at the collection. Pull out the paints on a rainy afternoon. Take your kids to the community theater or some of the plays the local high school produces. Ask your kids to write and produce their own play to show family and friends.

Keep in mind that teenagers are usually expected to have at least 1 fine art credit on their high school transcript. You can break this up over 4 years, or you can spend time daily working on art and music for one year. Most families move slowly and include the fine arts all four years of high school.

Enjoy introducing your children to the fine arts.

As you start giving your kids a classical education remember that it’s never too late to begin. Classical education is a journey, an entry point into the Great Conversation humanity has been holding over the years.

Your job as a homeschool mom is to set your children’s feet on the path, not to complete the journey in 18 short years.

So take your time, adapt your homeschool slowly, and enjoy the process. And in a year, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Just keep in mind: the tortoise wins the race!

If you’d like a step-by-step approach to starting classical education in the middle, you need my workbook Building Your Perfect Homeschool in Just 13 Weeks. It walks you through slowly setting up your classical homeschool over 13 weeks.

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How do you start giving your kids a classical education at home when you have middle school or even high school teenagers? You can do it! Read how to start a classical homeschool with kids of any age! #classicaleducation #homeschool #homeschooling

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  1. Hi – I’m putting together next year’s curriculum, especially writing for my middle school and high school boys. I’m interested in this statement from you article: “In high school you’ll want to concentrate on working through the Great Books and teaching kids to write. I love IEW to get my kids writing and then I simply assign writing assignments from Tapestry of Grace.” I just looked at Tapestry of Grace, and I don’t see any way to just buy their Writing and Composition component. How do use it?

    1. Hi Sarah, Tapestry of Grace is the backbone of my homeschool, so I have the entire curriculum which includes the writing component. I also don’t use IEW and Tapestry at the same time. The kids usually spend about a year working through one of the IEW curricula before I switch. Then I assign the Tapestry writing assignments while using the IEW approach for outlining and writing the pieces.

      What are you using for history? We don’t always use the TOG writing assignments. At times I’ve skipped the writing assignments and had the kids write papers based on questions that popped up in their history lessons. Another option is to ask the kids their opinion about what they read in the Great Books or history. Once you’ve discussed their opinion, turn it into a thesis statement for an essay. 🙂

      I hope that helps!

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