To Teach a Child

We’re homeschooling this year!

The original plan was to homeschool our oldest, who just turned five, for Kindergarten. But then her little three-year-old brother (and constant playmate!) saw her getting all these cute little books to practice her handwriting, and he felt very much left out. So now I have a big preschool book for him, and they are very much looking forward to “playing” together this game of school.

Here’s a picture of them studying their books together!

My older kids, getting excited for school.

Of course, this reminded me of a popular scene that is commonly illustrated… the image of Saint Anne teaching her daughter, the Virgin Mary, how to read. In fact, there’s actually quite a bit of artwork showing St. Anne teaching the young Virgin Mary how to read by presenting her with scriptures.

Here is one such artwork! Isn’t it lovely?

Saint Anne Teaching the Virgin to Read, by Murillo
Saint Anne Teaching the Virgin to Read, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1655. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

In the forefront, St. Anne (who is the figure to the left) is teaching the young Virgin Mary (the figure on the right) how to read. St. Anne has a book laid across her lap and looks to be explaining something, while the Virgin Mary looks attentively at her mother, her finger marking the place where she last read.

Now, the background is a little bit… interesting. It’s supposed to be laid out in a way that kind of indicates Heaven meeting Earth.

For instance! To St. Anne’s left is a sewing basket, which is full of her mending. It appears as if St. Anne had been sewing before, when this impromptu reading lesson happened, perhaps when the Virgin Mary came to ask her a question about a word in the book that she was trying to read. And so, it is a fairly typical domestic scene!

Or…is it?

While the left side of the painting is pretty domestic and normal, the right side of the painting explodes into a Heavenly scene. Whereas the left shows a wall and seems to almost indicate a domestic scene, the right has an open space that leads to the sky. Heaven. And then, just in case that imagery was too subtle, two angels come out of the sky, holding a flower crown for Mary.

And why not celebrate this moment? It is from this early formation of Mary’s character that she will eventually respond positively to God’s eventual call and accept Jesus Christ into her body, thus prompting the salvation of mankind.

Why wouldn’t Heaven celebrate that?

Which brings me back to my original point… the idea of teaching my children how to do things, like reading, in these formative years.

In many ways, it seems so simple. My children come to me with plenty of questions and I try to answer them patiently. I teach them how follow directions, both in their little workbooks that they now have and in their domestic lives, which I lead. I take them on little adventures and they learn things. Just a couple of days ago, they learned how to weigh pears on a scale at the grocery store. They are learning all the time.

It is simple stuff. Very simple. Sometimes even mind-numbingly simple, to be completely honest.

And yet, perhaps it is these simple scenes — like a mother teaching her child how to read — that create a celebration in Heaven.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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