Seeking Wonder and Beauty in Education

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This post is sponsored by Christ the Savior Academy.


Before I had children, while studying art in Paris, France, I learned a few things from the French about parenting. In essence, French parents create and maintain well-defined boundaries, rules, and limits – collectively referred to as le cadre, or ‘the frame’ – but they allow their children much freedom within those limits. Children will undoubtedly test the limits, checking that they are firm. When they find it so, they go on to enjoy their freedom with renewed energy – and a respect for limits. 

Now that I’m a mother of three, the capacity for children to enjoy exploration and discovery within le cadre, noticing things that adults miss, never ceases to amaze me. My toddler son, even on the verge of falling asleep, will stiffen with excitement when he hears a barely-audible airplane flying above, something I have long since tuned out. My four-year old daughter, enamored with blades of grass sheathed in ice, lies on her belly on the frozen earth to get a closer look. On a daily basis, my children inspire me to thirst for truth, to seek out beauty, to slow down, to listen, and to watch. 

After moving to Wichita from San Diego a couple years ago, we sent our eldest daughter to a local classical school, Christ the Savior Academy. Since she started in Kindergarten there, we have watched her develop an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. At first we wondered: what is it that makes her so eager to learn? In wondering thus, we were not far off: for it is wonder.

Being Open to Wonder

This is a venerable truth. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that in the sciences “everyone begins from wonder that something is the way it is” (Metaphysics I.ii). More recently, Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, noted that “our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives.”

It tends to be in quiet moments of wonder and observation that learning finds real impetus. Albert Einstein famously elaborated:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead – his eyes are closed.” 

When we are open to wonder, we become more alive to the reality that surrounds us. It is a deeply scientific attitude, but also a faithful one.

Yet what is it that excites and causes wonder? Modern neuroscientists and medieval theologians agree: it is beauty. Beauty is id quod visum placet (that which, when seen, pleases). Wonder, then, is a type of pleasure: the pleasure of a soul faced with something it enjoys but does not understand – yet. When we make time for wonder and the careful observation that follows, the beauty of what we see will astound us. 

So it shouldn’t have been too surprising that, not just at home, but even at school, the education of children rightly involves wonder and beauty. 

Finding A School That Honors Wonder

You can imagine our delight as parents as we discovered Christ the Savior Academy to be a place where wonder and beauty are given a place. That place is enshrined in the classical curriculum and pedagogy, for which learning is a form of discovery, whether in books, binomial cubes, or garden beds. And this process of discovery moves in a purposeful direction. The consistency of routine, the warm community, and the clear standards for excellence in mind and heart at a school like CSA create a firm and loving cadre in which children can thrive. They feel secure and safe enough to dig their hands deep into the field of each subject.

The classical approach to education at CSA not only supports the possibility of wonder; it honors that possibility, and encourages it. Students are given time to reflect, to ponder, to ask questions, and to draw strength from times of silence. Full of budding scientists, each classroom regularly observes and tends to its own garden bed throughout the seasons. With manipulatives and developed numeracy, students practice analyzing and solving math problems in multiple ways. Through a growing repertoire of vocabulary in English, Latin, and Greek, and generous doses of literature, history, and composition, students expand and learn to share their knowledge of the world in which they live.

Children are willing to get down on their bellies and look closely at the world, in studious wonder. This is what my daughter is invited to do in her school, as a way of leading her into the fundamental skills of thinking, reading, writing, and arithmetic. To be honest, CSA has inspired me to join her in this pursuit: to seek out the beauty and mystery in our midst.


Megan Elizabeth Gilbert is a children’s book author and illustrator. She was raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and studied Art Education in San Diego, California.

After teaching art in Europe for a time, she found herself in British Columbia, Canada, where she obtained her teaching certification in the Montessori method.

She and her husband currently live in Wichita, Kansas, enjoying four very distinct seasons with their three children. View her work at www.megan-gilbert.com