Educating the Whole Child

Our school year is beginning to wind down. Yay! So this is also the time when I begin to think about the coming school year. And while my homeschooled kids take standardized tests to help me assess their overall progress, I also take time to think of the big picture.

After all, a real education is much more than just academics. Indeed, a real education entails educating the whole child.  There are many great thinkers who ascribe to the idea that a real education is more than book learning:

  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he has learned in school. – Albert Einstein
  • Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give an example of a virtuous life. – St. John Chrysostem
  • A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all of its students to become saints. – Pope Benedict XVI

While that all sounds good and true, what does it actually mean to educate the whole person, and how do we go about doing that?

Sitting in a rocking chair and musing over this while waiting for Junior to get sleepy, I envisioned this little diagram (Thank you, Holy Spirit!):

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Free Virtue of the Month Cards!

In my pediatrician’s office, there is a poster that says:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch you words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny

It’s so true that our actions become habits which build up or break down our character. And the time for developing good habits — virtues — is while children are young. Children’s characters are like freshly made play-doh – malleable and relatively easy to form. As children grow into teens and then into adulthood, their characters become harder to form, like old playdoh that dries up and gets crusty.

Most kids don’t think of the effect their actions have on their character. But once children reach the age of ten, I think it’s worth pointing out to them that the way they treat their family members now and the virtues they exercise now will have an impact on the type of person they will grow up to be. You don’t become an accomplished pianist just by waiting to become one. You practice daily and faithfully, drilling in those musical passages until they become a part of you. The same goes for developing one’s character. Want to be a great husband and father? Start by being considerate and generous now. Want to be successful in your career? Start by being industrious and persevering now. As I told my son, if you wait until you’re grown to be the wonderful person you want to be, it might be too late, because old habits die hard.

To be a little more proactive about growing in virtue this year, I made Virtue of the Month cards for my kids… and yours!

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Raising Virtuous Children: The Core Virtues of Spiritual Athletes

In my last post, I talked about the importance of virtues and how they enable us to love fully and freely. The foundational virtue, the one that sets the stage for the development of all others, is obedience.

In addition to obedience, we want our children to develop the four cardinal virtues: justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude. These are called the cardinal virtues because cardo means “hinge” in Latin and all other virtues hinge from these four. For example, honesty and responsibility stem from justice. Chastity stems from temperance. Patience comes from fortitude. 

Virtues are like the muscles in our body. When you exercise one muscle, you also exercise the others around it.  The cardinal virtues are like the core muscles of our body. Athletes need strong core muscles. Spiritual athletes are those who are striving for holiness and the ability to love fully and freely. And they need the cardinal virtues.

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