It may come as a surprise to hear that children are a (fairly) blank slate and what we say and do sets a standard for them that will follow them into adulthood.

If our family life is centered around the TV, for example, or various other devices rather than people throughout their early lives, that’s what they think is normal. They go into life as adults thinking that’s what everybody does.

Likewise, if we minimize technology in our daily interactions and, say, have meals together as a family every single day, that’s what they’ll think everybody does.

I don’t say that with my nose in the air; I am appalled at myself when I think of my almost-1-year-old and how much of me she’s seen behind a phone. So let’s call me a work in progress. I’m always on my hobbyhorse about living purposefully, but when it comes to living out that value daily, there is much to be desired in the practice of what I preach.

But I have to start somewhere in building a philosophy as I raise kids. What do I want my children to remember about their childhoods? What do I teach them is worthy of their time and attention? They learn to value what I value, and whether I value my phone or housework or leisurely strolls or bungee jumping, they will see it by my example.

With this in mind, I have chosen to homeschool my kids and give them plenty of exposure to what I value so that I am teaching them both implicitly and explicitly. Within that context, I have put a high value on the transcendentals — truth, goodness and beauty — and teaching my children how to seek them out, appreciate them, and, within their personal capacity and aptitudes, create them.

The transcendentals are not necessary for physical survival. But for the growth and wellbeing of the soul, I believe they are imperative. Part of my curriculum at present includes a lot of poetry memorizing and recitation.

This gives the girls a chance to learn the music and rhythm of language masterfully expressed.

The stories we read have clear delineations between the good and the bad — a necessity for building within them a clear sense of right and wrong — while also showing them that truth and beauty can take many forms.

Their art books already give them historical works of art to ponder and teach them to appreciate their beauty as well as the truths they express about the world around us.

From this exercise with my children, I hope to find it is easier to distinguish the good from the bad in the world around me, to lift the cloud of my cultural upbringing that tries to turn all blacks and whites into a murky brown. I want to know truth, goodness and beauty when I meet them and be able to discern what is not.

I think too many years of watching crime shows and drama-clogged reality TV, along with a lot of other garbage I’ve wasted time on, has taken its toll on my moral measuring stick and dulled my senses. It has taught me to believe that everything I put into my mind and heart is as good or true or beautiful as anything else, or at least that it doesn’t really matter what I put in because none of it sticks, and those are lies I have to fight against every day.

So if I can do anything as a parent of sponge-like minds who are right now soaking up the values their environment offers them, I want to instill values that are firm and lasting and will follow them around forever.

They may take directions with their lives I can’t foresee and wouldn’t ever choose for them, but if I arm them with these simple essentials in preparation for their future decision-making, I know I will have given them a powerful tool indeed.

Adrienne Tratz is a full-time Catholic homeschooling mom to four daughters.

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