by Joanne Schinstock
While sitting at the breakfast table, my oldest daughter noticed a beautiful, bright-colored bird sitting on our backyard fence. This observation of what we soon discovered was an eastern bluebird led to a substantial time of contemplation and learning through drawing, picture taking, watching its movements, and listening to his birdsong. The experience of learning about him engaged our entire family. How often do I stop and observe something long enough to draw it? How often do I stop and study an object closely enough to realize that in order to capture the intense, cobalt color of his feathers, I would need three different shades of blue Crayola crayons? How often do I simply play with crayons? The morning discovery brought together my husband, all three of my small children, and me in a close circle around our patio table, cultivating wonder and unity in a quiet, prayerful attitude of veneration for God’s creation.
This moment was not planned, scheduled, or orchestrated. My four-year-old daughter called us to recognize the beauty of nature. It was a moment of grace. By grace I stopped organizing the phonogram cards and witnessed the greatness of God in His creation. What was needed at the time was something better. Phonograms certainly have their time and place too, but the Christian classical tradition forms the conscience to be receptive to the Holy Spirit and to know when to set something good aside for something better, namely for something of beauty serving a higher purpose at hand. Plato once said, “The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.” That morning the something better was to sit at the feet of God to honor His creation—beautiful, pure, and transformative.
The conversation with my children fostered thoughts on beauty through a discussion on colors, shapes, textures, geography, and song, all the while nurturing habits of attention, wonder, and curiosity. The experience was truly restful. The presence of God’s truth and beauty natural to His creation captivated all of us, and there was no need for coaxing or incentivizing learning. Now, repentantly, I admit I do not always recognize what is holy, but when we’re in the right disposition we can be moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I pray to recognize more moments of the sacred and to cultivate the space in our domestic church for holy learning.
While these contemplative moments with small children can seem infrequent (and impossible), these moments naturally woven into our weeks and months bear fruit, and the grace builds upon grace (John 1:16). Of course, my children likely did not experience the moment quite like I did; however, this particular encounter with beauty touched their affections and bolstered their developing habits of attention and thinking whilst making memories.
Undoubtedly too, this experience of scholé with my littles embraced embodied learning. My oldest, the first to see the bird, noticed how his fluffy feathers moved with the wind, which provoked the discussion initially and then led us to listen to the sounds of various bird songs from an Internet video. This naturally encouraged my children, who are “songbirds” themselves, to imitate the sounds through whistling and humming. As a result, we marveled together and sat in awe of this beauty that we many times are too busy to enjoy. In view of this experience, my husband and I recalled the garden in our previous home, and we now want to design our current backyard to become a similar garden that invites these creatures and others to return and visit us often. In the end, the half hour we spent that morning admiring nature’s beauty transformed our typically noisy home into a peaceful sanctuary. And in that quiet, possible only when children are captivated, we each experienced restful, transformative learning.
Scholé is possible with littles, and in fact I’d argue the very young ones are more receptive to slowing the mind and engaging the heart in learning. Unhurried wonder comes naturally to these innocent ones. Whereas once we spent time playing freely and learning, the general practical demands of life and the pursuit of materialism (all of it not bad) can have a disordering and dulling effect on our affections and imagination. Also, I would say that in these times there is a definite influence upon our young children with a consequence being the loss of their natural receptivity to the transcendent. And so, in our home I’m discovering scholé is more likely to be encountered in a moment of grace and less because it was planned. We must always be on the lookout, tuning our senses to the Spirit in the same way that Scripture teaches us to be ready and have our lamps lit (Matthew 25:10). Our home ought to be a welcome dwelling for Him (Exodus 25:8). In striving to make our home and hearts a tabernacle, our children are witnesses to that example; in time, when they move from innocence to the age of reason, they too will habitually keep a dwelling space for Him, enabling transformative experiences of truth, goodness, and beauty.