My office sits right across the hall from the daycare, adjacent to the preschool wing of the Academy. All throughout the day as they walk through the hallways, I hear daycare and preschool teachers making the same reminders:
“Walking feet, please.”
“Hands at your side.”
“Put a bubble in your mouth.”
“Don’t forget you have a bubble in your mouth.”
“Follow the friend in front of you.”
“Watch where you are walking!”
Over time, these lines straighten out, the talking lessens, the stomping and running settle down, and the teacher reminders become more infrequent. These young students have learned how to walk through the hall.
It’s easy to diminish the value of the beginnings of things – the first things we learn before we learn the next, more complex things. These are the days of learning the alphabet and counting to 10 and how to share toys with our friends and how Jesus is God’s son and He loves the little children. Maybe they seem small and not so significant. But these first things are not unimportant; these first skills are foundational. And solid foundations are crucial in building structures that hold up well.
The Building Blocks of Classical Christian Education
This month we will be focusing on building solid foundations. In our classical Christian approach, the first building block of our learning structure is the grammar stage. Developmentally, children in this stage love collecting and sorting items, learning new facts, memorizing, singing songs, and repeating rhymes. In preschool and elementary years, we engage these innate interests to introduce a wide base of facts and information — knowledge that will prove vital in the next stages of learning.
In the next stage of learning, known as the logic stage, students are ready to debate and curious to understand why things are the way they are. Building on the knowledge they’ve learned, they start to develop their ability to reason and to make connections among things they already know. And finally, with this background knowledge and the beginnings of the ability to reason their way through an argument to a conclusion, students in the rhetoric stage (typically in high school) start to hone their skills in expressing themselves and their ideas eloquently and persuasively.
The Foundation of Classical Christian Education
Each stage of learning is a building block, with which one’s perspective on the world is shaped and understood. But, ultimately, the foundation upon which these building blocks are being placed matters most. Consider Matthew 7:24-26 — “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Education that isn’t founded on God’s Word (and how it applies to who we are and how we live) falls flat. What is the ability to reason without an understanding of Truth? Of what benefit is eloquence and persuasion in a young man or woman who lacks the fruit of the Spirit to use them well? What good is knowledge without a heart that understands the call to serve others with it? If God’s Word is not the foundation of acquiring wisdom, but rather we educate for the primary purpose of helping our students achieve worldly success, we set them up “to gain the whole world but lose their soul.”
Solid foundations are crucial for the integrity of a structure. What happens at the beginning of a structure being built matters greatly to how a structure holds up over time. What children learn early in life – about numbers and letters and poetry and nature, as well as how Jesus loves them and how God calls us to love others – yes, even how to walk quietly through a hallway with our friends – shapes the way they understand their world in the future. These first things are the foundational things upon which their whole world will stand.