In the midst of our busy homeschooling lives, we can easily make the mistake of concentrating our attention on truth and goodness alone and neglecting the need for beauty in our educational efforts. John Mark Reynolds offers parents another approach in his seminar session titled “What Do Plato and Homer Have to Do With My Fifth Grader?” The director and founder of Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute points out that “Plato was a great advocate of aesthetic value as part of education.” John Mark encourages parents to “start with aesthetics as the foundation of a K through twelve classical education.” He further explains that the main focus of K through five should be to enwrap our children’s lives in beauty, to fill our homes with serenity and peace, for “goodness and truth will inevitably follow from beauty.”
Practically speaking, that means placing music and art at the center of education in those early years. John Mark recommends beginning with learning to play an instrument, primarily the piano, though he suggests the recorder as a less expensive option. He emphasizes being makers of music, not just consumers, since music “most unites” a human being by combining the head (mathematics), the heart (passion), and the hands (playing). Some of his other suggestions for training aesthetic sensibilities include reading great prose and poetry, writing using good models, watching Shakespeare, and attending live theater and concerts. As much as possible, he implores, set young children in a “delightful garden of God.”
If your children have already passed the tender age of ten or eleven, do not despair. While it might be too late to recapture that sense of childhood innocence, we have a gracious and merciful God who is more than capable of redeeming the time. It will be more difficult to infuse the lives of our older children with beauty since, like many of us adults, they might initially rebel purely out of boredom with the unfamiliar. But it is extremely important to include the beautiful along with the good and the true; we don’t want to abandon the attempt simply because we did not start at the ideal age. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that you actually have included quite a bit of beauty in your school days as you reflect on your study of the Bible and the art, music, and literature you have exposed your children to over the years.
In our own homeschooling, I struggled repeatedly with adding art and music into our school days. Finally, I dedicated one day each week to those areas, calling it our art and music day. On Wednesdays, we set aside our more academic studies and spent the day listening to music, studying art, drawing, reading and watching Shakespeare plays, and reading and memorizing poetry. Each year for three years I chose three composers, three artists, and three Shakespeare plays to include in our schoolwork. Then I mixed up the order and repeated most of all nine from each category to increase familiarity so we would better remember the works we had encountered.
For art and music studies, I relied on the library and inexpensive resources. Composers’ Greatest CD set featuring the London Symphony Orchestra served as our entrance into the world of classical music. I read aloud about the composers and artists in the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest . . . series of books, along with any interesting picture book biographies I discovered nearby on the library shelves. My children and I learned basic drawing techniques first with Mona Brooke’s Drawing With Children and then with Bruce McIntyre’s Drawing Textbook, though my older daughter is far more talented than the rest of us. I read Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by Edith Nesbit to acquaint us with the plots and characters of the plays, and then we watched the available library tapes or DVDs. For poetry, we began with the poems I remembered from my youth and branched out to others that caught my eye in our poetry anthology. This simple approach can be used with all ages.
Adding musical training to your homeschooling might take more effort, but keep a prayerful eye out for God’s provision and look for a way to get the whole family involved. While my children have sung in the youth choir at church for six years, they had not received any other music lessons until just last year, except for my younger daughter, who has been learning to play chimes at church for a few years. When my two oldest children started classes at the local community college through the Advanced Education Program for high school students, they began with voice and piano, followed by music theory the next semester; my son is now in his third semester of theory. Last winter my two girls began taking lessons through the orchestra and band classes offered by our church’s newly formed music academy, and my husband is helping with band this year. My son and I joined the adult choir at church last year, and this spring all five of us are singing together in the adult choir. We are blessed that our church places such great emphasis on music, providing us with unique opportunities to learn and to serve through music.
Aesthetic training is crucial to a complete education for our children. As John Mark explains, “the teleology [the end or purposefulness] of a human being is to become a soul fit for paradise. So souls should become increasingly more beautiful.” If we look upon beauty subjectively and justify ugliness in music or art, John Mark warns, our children will do the same, and they will begin to look at goodness and truth subjectively as well. Far from being a subject to add on to our studies when we can manage to fit it in, aesthetics serve us better as the foundation that our homeschooling efforts rest upon. May goodness, truth, and beauty thrive within our hearts and within our homes so that they can flourish in the church and in our culture.