If you’ve ever thought your kids learn more on the family camping trip than they do from formal lessons, you might be more classical than you think. They very well may learn more on the camping trip, after all, and it’s high time that we realize the best learning is often caught, not taught.

There is a certain kind of knowing that even the most skilled educators cannot teach. 

Though classroom teachers must work very hard to facilitate it, we homeschoolers live it every single day.

It’s poetic knowledge, which St. Thomas Aquinas describes as that which “begins in sense and is completed in the intellect.”

  • It’s feeding and brushing the horse, rather than reading about one in a science book.
  • It’s building a fire, rather than hearing a lesson about the chemical reaction between oxygen and fuel.
  • It’s splitting a slice of pie equally among friends, rather than working a division problem on paper.
  • It’s having a conversation while washing dishes, rather than listening to a lecture in a classroom.
  • It’s watching a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis, holding a baby’s hand as he first learns to toddle, using a whisk to whip sugar and cream for dessert.

It is life, sprung before you with a shock; a profound sense of knowing deep in your bones that you can’t quite place.

There is quite a difference, after all, between hearing someone explain how a body properly performs the breaststroke and actually doing it, water gliding around your limbs as you navigate the icy lake.

Your homeschool is probably already chock full of poetic knowledge, because quite frankly, it’s what we mothers do.

Classroom teachers have to work very hard to bring real life into their lessons, so they plan field trips, put sofas or futons in the reading corner, and invite the local firefighter to come talk to an assembly.

Some might call it delight-directed, others may say it’s project-based or hands-on. We’re homeschoolers, though, so we can just call it Monday.

The act of philosophizing, genuine poetry, any aesthetic encounter, in fact, as well as prayer, springs from some shock. And when such a shock is experienced, man senses the non-finality of this world of daily care; he transcends it, takes a step beyond it.

– Josef Pieper in Leisure, The Basis of Culture

Perhaps you’ve experienced a moment where it seems the curtain has been drawn back- that moment when you haven’t just learned something intellectually, but… well, poetically.

This can’t be taught

We can’t fit this into a lesson any more than the mysteries of the universe can be captured in a box.

When our student experiences learning as diving in, talking about great ideas, and getting lost in the beauty and Truth of a classic or an algebra problem that works out just perfectly (as it always does)- when learning is more a liturgy of love than a daily slog – only then will he realize his full potential as a student.

Real learning happens when a child encounters an idea for himself.

We are responsible for presenting the feast, but we can’t always predict when or how that encounter will happen. It likely won’t be as tidy and quantifiable as we think it should be.

Here’s a hard truth we might as well get used to: much of the best learning cannot be proven, documented, or demonstrated.

The kind of encounters that form our children’s hearts, minds, and souls occur as they come in contact with great books, learn to ask hard questions, and their minds are trained to think logically and well.

The Gift of Time

You are probably already living this out quite a bit in your home. In order to really bring this principle to fruition, however, we’re going to have to make sure there is time free on the schedule for it to happen.

Poetic knowledge does not leap out on demand. We can’t will it or wish it or roll up our sleeves and force it into being.

Instead, we must go about living our lives, taking care to recognize that everyday moments are packed with meaning.

We take our time, and talk about everything. We do this both in front of and with our kids, and by so doing, we realize that our family camping trip is ripe with learning opportunities. We come to value that week in August as much as we value a productive academic week in January.

We can’t plan for poetic knowledge or schedule it in, but we can unplan for it.

We can allow enough white space in our day to allow connections to form and the act of contemplation to have its due.

It takes a spirit of silence for ideas to wrestle themselves out in our minds, and when they surface, according to James Taylor, we “see with delight or terror the significance of what is really there.”

Our everyday moments are ripe with poetic knowledge as we go about our daily tasks, relish experiences, and wrestle with ideas.

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