When, because of our wide or internet-based reading, the concept of classical education grows into this huge, contradictory tangle that is scary and confusing, we need to zoom out and get some perspective.

Classical education has never been one monolith practice. It has always had some core values and core practices, but there has never been a single “do this” methodology.

Classical education is a river flowing dynamically through history, from Abraham’s obedience to Plato’s reasoning to the medieval church’s expansion, to the branching rivers of different traditions, all running toward the same sea, the same goal: a complete man.

We are always imitating

Not an economic cog, not a trained monkey, not a docile citizen, but a mature man. When we seek to know what we should be and then try to attain it, we are in the stream of classical education.

Let’s not add more burdens to our backs than that. Let’s look at how we might actually be, in real life, more classical than we thought.

If you’ve ever scrapped the checklist to delve deep into one topic alongside your kids, you might be more classical than you think.

What is learning?

What is teaching?

If we are going to dedicate years of our lives to this project of education, these are basic questions we must answer for ourselves.

If learning is becoming what we should berepairing the ruins of our first parents, as Milton wrote – then what we should be sheds light on both questions. We were created as images of God, reflections of God, small mimics of God.

That is, we were created as imitations; therefore, it is when we are imitating the true, good, and beautiful that we are becoming what we should be, that we are truly learning.

We see this throughout Scripture:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. – Ephesians 5:1

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7

so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:12

We are called to be imitators. Our children are called to be imitators. And that means we are called to model and mentor those under our care while we ourselves imitate Christ as well as those who have gone before us.

We need to worry less about whether our children are visual or auditory or kinesthetic learners and more about who and what they are imitating, who and what they love, who and what they want to be like.

The desire to find someone to mimic, to imitate, to be like, is part of being human. And it is a good thing. Imitation is good; it is what is being imitated that might be cause for concern.

This reality is why it is important to filter the books and the music and the friends of the young: Their tastes – what they like and what they want to be like – is being absorbed, unconsciously and indiscriminately, from everything they take in.

This reality is why it is important to have conversations as we rise up and as we lie down with our children as they grow; we must help them to see that whom they hang out with and what they spend their time doing shapes them whether they recognize it or not.

This reality is why educating and growing ourselves is crucial: Our children are becoming like us, whether we want them to or not.

As Jesus said,

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. – Luke 6:40

Three Levels of Imitation

There are three ways we can imitate someone or something:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Intellectual

Physical imitation is the coach demonstrating the proper batting stance or the artist showing how to hold a brush.

Intellectual imitation is when the master, through questioning, leads the disciple through the process of thinking thoroughly in order to seek truth.

Verbal imitation is the bridge between the two, when a student is given models of work to copy, to memorize, to narrate.

Verbal imitation is where we spend the bulk of our instructional time in classical homeschooling. We spend time verbally expressing imitations when we teach through stories, examples, illustrations, and metaphors.

Our children produce verbal imitations when they memorize, read aloud, do copywork, and narrate. Regardless of learning style, these elements produce sound and effective teaching and learning.

And they often don’t look or feel like teaching to us.

It looks like living. It looks like playing. It looks like talking. It doesn’t look like producing. It doesn’t look like book work. It doesn’t look like mom in front of a whiteboard imparting wisdom.

Certainly there is a time and place for book work and white boards, but as we pursue true education, we need to give weight to the practices of imitation rather than of production.


Results will take longer to see. It requires trust and faith. It requires willingness to wait for the rain and the sun and the proper season.

As models rather than instructors, we must be content to be the ones to plant and to water, letting God bring the increase ( 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ).

And it means becoming what we want our children to become: learners, lovers of wisdom and truth, watchers of beauty.

It means that we not only pay attention to what our children are surrounded by and therefore imitating, but also what we are surrounded by and therefore imitating.

Behold Christ.

Behold truth and beauty.

Behold creation and learn from it.

And invite your kids along for the ride.

The only guarantee is that it’ll be a wild and abundant one, one you wouldn’t see coming, one you wouldn’t have any other way when it’s over, because the entire journey is us growing in Christ-likeness, through ups and downs and twists and turns, and He promises to bring us to Himself in the end.

Living competently, learning attentively, loving profoundly is a lifelong project we do alongside our children, growing and becoming with them, apprenticing them as we go.


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Scholé Sisters: You’re More Classical Than You Think


  1. This is a struggle for me. I want so very much to be worthy of imitation, but when I have to correct and discipline so often, I worry all that my daughter will know how to imitate is “mean mom”. She can be so stubborn, even over the simplest of tasks….time to tidy up the living room for morning time, I say, ans she ends up aith multiple time outs and me snapping or raising my voice. I need to show patience, but she also must learn to respect her parents. I am having such a hard time finding the balance. I tell myself every day to imitate the good, true, and beautiful, to model it for my three girls, but every day I feel like Ihave failed because we have another “bad day”. How do I correct her, because she needx the correction, while still modeling the kind of woman I wNt her to be? I feel like my faith is being tested mightily right now….steady on and someday she will get there? That is the only solution I can come up with right now.

    1. I so hear you on this! I have the same struggle with my eldest. He pushes me to the end of my rope every day it seems. I am learning now to disengage when he tries to get into a power struggle. I do my best to keep calm and insist that what I said goes, no matter how he feels about it.

      I think that sticking to what I say is modeling integrity and showing him how important it is to be a person who does what they said they will do. So that’s one aspect of it. Another way to look at it is to remember that teaching children to behave is one of the best ways we can love them. If we love them we can’t allow them to do whatever they want.

      1. You are right, of course. I tell myself this. My husband tells me this. I know it will be okay in the end…I worry that it will adversely effect her schooling, though. It can be seriously disrupting, to the point of missing most of a day of school. I need a new strategy, but I haven’t come up with any genius ideas yet. :) Thank you for the reply!!

        1. Do we have the same kid somehow? ;) It’s very difficult. Parenting has driven me to my knees in prayer more than I ever thought possible.

          Another thought I just had that may be helpful: Sometimes (when I can remember) I try to imagine how I think that a person that I want to imitate might behave in a situation. That helps me to try and step out of my usual behavior patterns. I don’t always remember to do this, but it does help when I do.

          1. I already do this! It does help break up any bad behavior patterns I may have gotten into. It also helps to have a supportive husband to reassure me that being a good mother is not the same thing as being a perfect mother. Learning to forgive ourselves is important here, too, I think.

        2. Cindy Rollins once posted that mothers should contemplate the word “impervious.” That has helped me remember to not get emotionally engaged with the fits and arguments.

          Motherhood is a swift and intense form of sanctification, that’s for sure! Hang in there!

    2. I think this element of child rearing is important to the conversation of imitation. If our children do not obey us as parents who are visible how are they to come to terms with obeying an invisible God. We are modeling how to love, honor and obey the ultimate authority of God when we teach them to love, honor and obey our authority.
      I find John Rosemond’s recommendations very helpful. I have been finding it helpful to state very clearly, calmly, and concisely what I expect (no explanations necessary) and to have confidence in the directions I give. For me, remaining calm has been a big challenge. Getting emotionally wrapped up in a situation does nothing but model a lack of self control.
      Another thought that helps me is to remember that part of our vocation is bringing order to our children’s disordered souls and this is an excruciatingly long process . For some reason it helps me remain calm and not to panic when, first of all, I accept this commission and, secondly, I realize there are not going to be any quick fixes, especially when free will is involved.

  2. It was so interesting to read this today because the word mimic caught my eye. That is not a word you see often but it is a word I just taught my children today! We were reading a book called Caps for Sale and talking about the monkeys who mimic the peddler (who loses his temper!). We had an interesting discussion about finding good, true, and beautiful examples to mimic so that we can be wise monkeys – and about being aware of how someone may mimic us and considering what example we are setting.

    I love how God works to pull themes like this out in several places when He really wants me to pay attention to them!

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