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A Perfect Trifecta:Teaching the Trivium

Posted by Tina Sneed on Jul 30, 2019 7:00:00 AM

trĭvĭum , i, n. 

Literal definition: a place where three roads meet, a fork in the roads, cross-road

Idiomatic definition: a public square, the public street, highway.

Those steeped in the jargon of classical education can poll-parrot Dorothy Sayers’ profundities {found here} concerning the trivium with alacrity. A quick Google search will reveal copious articles that expound on her ideas. In an effort to avoid repetition, I would like to approach the trivium from a personal angle – anecdotally.

mom adult children in italyA few years ago while in Italy, two of my almost adult children awoke early in order to accompany their old, classical, schoolmarm of a mom on a wild-goose chase. They could have spent the day lounging by the Mediterranean sipping lemonade sourced from the local citrus trees along the Amalfi coast, but instead they chose to humor me. This day was just another installment in our journey of classical education. 

Classical education structures itself on the trivium – a place where three roads meet. What are those three roads? The grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages.


trivium chart


This perfect trifecta of stages naturally aligns with the stages of child and adolescent development thereby creating an effective educational model.

So how did the trivium play out that day as we searched for the ruins at Paestum? Almost two decades prior as all children do, my little ones toddled into the grammar stage. They learned fundamental facts, rules, and general knowledge: colors, numbers, shapes, letters, directions, laws of nature, words, etc – in other words, the grammar of life. As the middle school years approached, my children ventured into abstract thinking. They wanted to reason and think for themselves. The study of logic was vital! And then they became high school/rhetoric school students where they tackled mastering their both their written and spoken communication skills. They were studying traditional subject matter: math, English, foreign language, science, history, etc.; but through the structure of the classical model.

trivium students in italy So did it work? I am happy to report that we found our way from Positano to Salerno to Paestum and back again via water taxi, bus, train, and a lot of walking. Yes, Samuel and Laura Elizabeth were well-equipped to read maps, bus charts, and train tables. Since these documents were in Italian, they conjured their knowledge of basic Latin vocabulary and gave translation their best shot. They used logic and sound reasoning to make quick decisions; and engaged their sense of adventure when it was obvious their methods of reasoning had failed. They communicated with an assortment of people who were speaking a myriad of languages in order to find how HOW TO MAKE THIS BUS STOP! They planned well, so that we were not left dehydrated and sunburned on a shade-less plain in Southern Italy. But most of all, they were amazed to witness first-hand the ruins they had studied many years prior.

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Topics: Education, Parenting, Classical Christian, Graduation, college