Of Ages and Stages

"But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."--Hebrews 5:14 Do you remember when your kids started solids? We'd start out with that mushy rice cereal, and then

slowly branch out to pureed fruits and veggies. We'd let the kids try out a new food for a few days, check to make sure they weren't reacting to it, and then try another new one. Then we'd add meats and introduce finger foods. When they reached a year, they were free to try eggs. As our kids grew and their appetites and chewing capabilities improved, we would introduce more and more.

So it is with discipeship. When I started homeschooling, I did a lot of research, just like I do with everything I want to learn about. One of the popular approaches to homeschooling is called the classical approach, which is focused on developing our children's ability to think and reason logically. What I like about this approach is that it considers the developmental age that our kids are at when planning their lessons. As our kids grow, they are capable of moving into more complex levels of thought and reasoning. Like introducing foods, we would slowly advance and increase the challenges, based on what they can handle.

I have applied some of the things I learned about the classical method into our discipleship methods at home. I hope these brief descriptions of the stages and some ideas may help you as you are working with your kids.

The Stages

Traditionally, experts in classical education break down childhood into three stages. They are the grammar stage (to about age 10), the dialectic stage (about age 10-12), and the rhetoric stage (age 12 and up). Let me explain how we have used these to disciple our kids.

1. Grammar stage

At this age, kids are all about soaking up the facts. My youngest is an expert at rattling off movie lines. There have been many times when I have thought, "If only he could harness that brain power into memorizing Scripture!" (Well, that's one of our goals for this school year!)

Ideally, we are going through Bible stories, truth and doctrine over and over, at increasingly more detailed levels. I have already encouraged starting with board book Bibles and gradually, year by year, reading from increasingly more complex and detailed Bible storybooks over the years. We want our kids to be as familiar with the names, stories and truths of the Bible as they are with the characters of much-loved storybooks.

2. Dialectic stage

However, we don't want to stop with just the facts. In order for our kids to know how to think biblically, we need to take them to the next level. One thing we can do is to help them to show how the Bible fits together as a whole and not just as individual stories.

At this age, logic is developing, so kids start making connections, understanding relationships and cause and effect. This was a good time for us to read about evolution and discuss how evolutionary theory is not consistent. Now, our kids can begin to really compare and contrast and understand the creation story with evolutionary theory. Now we're linking Scripture to science.

Another thing I like to do is to start teaching my kids to pull out the principles from Scripture. It's one thing to read about David and Goliath, but with a dialectic child, we can a little further. We can help our kids through how to bring the Bible to a personal level. For example, in this story, we can learn that God is greater than any human foe we can ever face. With Him on our side, we can stand boldly before our enemies. For children, we can then use these stories to talk about how to deal with the school bully.

3. Rhetoric stage

The final stage in the classical method of education is training the ability to persuade, using our words and our writing. Ultimately, we don't want our kids just to know Bible stories. We don't even want them to just be able to understand doctrine and theology. We want them to be able to know the story of God's Word so well that they can articulate it and proclaim the Gospel appropriately when needed.

At this age is a great time to start putting things together and teach our kids how to defend the faith. With a strong foundation in biblical truth and doctrines, our kids at this age can start learning the art of apologetics. When combined with character training, our children can become winsome witnesses to the Lord that they have been learning to love.

Understanding the general phases of thought development in children has been very helpful for me when it comes to discipleship. Knowing this has helped me to then do things that honor where they are at developmentally. Keeping this in mind when trying to teach our kids may help me know when something is too simple or when something is way over their heads. It also helps me to keep taking my kids into deeper and deeper levels of understanding, and then helping them to articulate that understanding to others.

For you to think about:

Where do your children fall in the above stages?

What are some things you can start teaching them, based on their ability?