The aim of a classical education is to form children into adults who pursue truth, prefer goodness, and proliferate beauty. The art of grammar provides practice in gathering truth naturally through hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling. The art of dialectic provides practice in wisely analyzing the goodness of the things we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. The art of rhetoric allows us to adeptly share the beauty of what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.

We want to teach our children to have ears that hear, eyes that see, touches that heal, tastes that celebrate, and smells that remind. Parents are very good at helping young children to develop their senses and to attend to their surroundings. By the time children reach age four, parents often turn to institutional education, abandoning the wonderfully simple techniques of discipleship. If we are wise, we will remember that classical education should be as beautiful as playing with our preschoolers.

Just this week, I spent a morning playing in a sandbox and pool with my two-year old granddaughter and was reminded of how quickly the world will attempt to dull her senses. As we sat in the sand and made castles and mixed recipes, we stopped and listened every time a car went by, a train whistled, or the wind picked up. We looked hard as we counted and classified leaves, sticks, rocks, and sand cookies. We tasted the wind, the bath water, and the sand. We smelled the peanut butter crackers and apple juice. We touched water-shriveled skin, cold sand, hot showers, and sticky apple juice.

As I told her Bible stories, scary events and bad characters were met with the word “yucky.” The name “Jesus” was met with a happy sigh and “He’s a nice guy…” in her self-soothing voice. She looked at me hard when she had swallowed too much water or contemplated disobeying me. And she yelled, “Tada!” as she released each beautiful sandcastle from its bucket. Even a two-year old knows thoughts and actions have consequences.

Too often, I have harmed her instead of helped her to develop the love of good things. Recently, on a cold day, I took her to a fast food restaurant to eat and play. As we entered, she yelled, “Too loud. Yucky!” We moved to a cold, pleasant park to eat a healthy lunch and watch dogs play. Sometimes, it seems I am too lazy to live as well as infants do.

As she learns to see better, “bird” will expand to “duck, mallard, and water fowl.” As she learns to hear better, “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack” will lend itself to “amo, amas, amat.” As she learns to touch better, my pots and spoons will be replaced by a piano. As she learns to smell better, ground beef will be substituted with grilled sirloin. And as she learns to taste better, crackers and juice will be replaced by the communion wafer and wine.

By developing attention and memory, classical education helps us to prefer the abundant gifts God has already given us.

Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Leigh Bortins can be found playing in parks with her granddaughter Lily when she isn’t working hard to help classical education be approachable to homeschool moms and dads.