Cambridge Distinctives: Classical

Nikki Rhodes, Parent, 5th Grade Unit, 3-5 Language Arts

“You read The Odyssey in third grade?”

“You do Shakespeare with fifth graders?”

Friends and family members with children in public schools are often astonished at the literature we expose our youngsters to at Cambridge.

It’s second nature to us because it fits in perfectly with the curriculum.

How could you teach Greek history without Homer’s epic voyage? The story is brimming with characters and scenes that help build prior knowledge; a schema palace in the minds of eight year olds. Eight year olds are in that bittersweet stage of childhood where they are starting to put away their toys and trying to make meaning of the world in more concrete terms. And yet...there is still a tremendous amount of childlike wonder and imagination there. Ancient Greece speaks to both sides of these kids. They get to imagine Odysseus fighting a cyclops while also wrapping their minds around concepts of astronomy, meteorology, and mathematics. The classical component to Cambridge’s curriculum speaks to the whole child, the whole eight year old.

I teach Shakespeare to my fifth graders each year, not just because his works rounded out the Renaissance time period. I teach them Shakespeare because his works are timeless, relevant, and most of all, because fifth graders (ALL fifth graders) have the capacity to understand and enjoy them. We start on the stage. We read scripts out loud. We debate character motives and make predictions about character outcomes. We laugh! Shakespeare wrote some of the funniest scenes in literature. How could I deprive such imaginative, inquisitive kids of that?!

The fifth grade year is all about embracing adolescence and beginning to discover who you are. We ask tough questions about God and law during the Reformation unit. We explore the stars and experience how very small we are while studying Galileo. We believe that fifth graders are ready to ask the tough questions. Exactly how big is the universe? Why do so many churches believe so many different things? What does Shakespeare mean when he says, “To thine own self be true?” It all connects. It all connects to God’s truth and the ultimate realization we pray each fifth grader will come to at some point during his or her own renaissance: that the God of the universe loves them.

We inspire children's imaginations by immersing them in time-tested, rich literature, history, art, and music where students are encouraged to question and explore. As genuine questions emerge and students examine truth that transcends history, they are transformed from passive participants into engaged and interested learners.  

Exposure to the Masters of art, literature, music, and science inspires students to appreciate the patience and practice required for excellence in their own work.

Lisa Bond