Most individuals interested in education would say there is nothing more significant than reading to your child. True, but this is only part of the process of classical training. In preparation and continuation for a classical education, there is more you can do with your child.
At a young age, children can comprehend stories and dialog on a level much deeper than general comprehension. Examples of general comprehension questions would be, "What color was the wagon? Who was pulling the wagon? Where was she going?" These questions are directed at listening rather than understanding. A child can give details of stories from listening and still miss the flow of the story by not connecting the dots.
Do you realize that you bring your little bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked child to school in the fifth year of his/her life with major abstract concepts already well established? All kindergarteners know the concepts of fair, honest, evil, wise, trust, right, wicked, etc. This truth flies in the face of the modern educational model of teaching children the "concrete to the abstract" which says, we teach concrete concepts in elementary school and move on to the abstract concepts in middle/upper school.
So, take your reading time with your child to the next level and watch it flow in to many areas of your time together! To begin, have your child retell what you have read to him. This assures general comprehension and understanding. The objective is to totally engage your child by asking questions and leading their thinking. The goal is to teach them to approach everything with questions.
"The Princess and the Pea" is a fairy tale with which most are familiar and will serve as an illustration of how to engage children at the level of understanding the story as a whole. After reading the story and retelling, ask your child questions like " Was the prince right to hold out for a ‘real’ princess? Was the queen mean when she made the supposed princess sleep on a pea in order to test her? Was the queen actually kind because she did not slam the castle door in the rag soaked princess’ face?" The questioning could go on or stop after just one question because the resulting dialog was significant.
Always look for opportunities to ask questions. At school, your child is in a group, so stories work well. But, as parents, you have more opportunities because you are one on one. Ask them questions about sermons, newspaper articles, things friends say, movies, relationships, etc. Because we live in a word created by God with purpose about it, the whole world is your classroom!
Keep in mind that the answers are important to the children but the questions are the goal. This kind of dialog teaches the children HOW to question. This is significant because new ideas and concepts lead many children to mental shutdown. Most children are simply not engaged at this level. When a child learns to ask questions, new ideas will be approached with excitement rather than fear because the child knows what to do…QUESTION!
Be encouraged. You are equipped to work with your child. God gave each of us an imagination that gives us the ability to question. Imagination is the way we learn, understand and relate. It is why in third grade the teacher can teach passionately about Ancient Greece and Rome without actually having lived at that time or even traveled there. Imagination is why in sixth grade the entire class can be thinking like rabbits while teaching Watership Down.
If reading helps develop the imagination, then questioning sharpens it. If we fail here, the imagination becomes dull. We then lose the ability to deeply develop language which is the drive in lower school.
It is here in the younger grades where the habits of the mind are solidified. As the student grows and matures, the Classical education builds on early skill development to hone the ability of the student to discern truth and virtue and to recognize beauty and to stimulate wonder. In the middle school years formal logic gives structure to discernment by providing tools for delineating what is valid from what is invalid. In the Upper School, students learn to synthesize all that they have learned and to master the art of persuasive, valid (Logic), and winsome argument equipping them to defend what is true.
Begin with reading and questions and you begin the journey of a Classical Christian education. Talk, read, ponder, question, study, be right, be wrong, reason, explore, agree, disagree, investigate, learn, and contemplate with your child... and if you would like a partner in your efforts, please come visit our school to learn more.