Taking the Time to Discuss and Discover Connections: Of St Augustine and a Visit from the Firefighters

Let’s start with a story. A popular apocryphal tale from the Middle Ages relates that one day, while St Augustine was struggling with the concept of the Trinity, he took a break from his studies and walked alongside the beach. He saw a child that was running back and forth between the surf and a hole in the sand (far enough from the sea so that it would not be destroyed by the waves). The child was using a shell to bring ocean water from the surf and depositing it in the hole. St Augustine was charmed by the enterprising child and asked him what he was doing. The child responded that he was moving all of the ocean into the small hole. St Augustine replied that this was impossible to do, as the ocean was so much vaster than the hole in the sand. The child retorted that it was just the same as St Augustine trying to comprehend the vastness of God with his limited mind. Then, the child disappeared and St Augustine understood that he had just had a divine visitation, which comforted him, as he now understood that he could never apprehend all of the celestial mysteries, nor was he expected to do so. This story was no doubt inspired by the fact that children will sometimes be our greatest teachers. In order for us, educators and parents, to learn from our children (and for them to learn from one another), we must give them the space to wonder, ponder, and respond to what they are hearing, seeing, and learning in our classrooms as well as in their worlds. 

When asking a young child about an experience in school or life it might feel a little frustrating. For example, after visiting with the firefighters, preschoolers raised their hands and one took the opportunity to mention that “a real-life Spiderman came to my house for my birthday,” followed by another one stating, “I am already 5 years old.” However, a deeper look at these statements would show that one preschooler was equating the firefighters, who are “good guys” who protect, with superheroes. Then, the next child connected birthdays with age. Therefore, taking the time to work with the children to make these connections overt would help these children to feel that what they have to say is valuable (leading to even more thinking and responding, thus engaging), and that it is important to be a good listener. At the same time, it could inspire the parent or teacher to explore learning paths such as the concept of heroes. For example, there are some wonderful age-appropriate biographies for preschool children such as Brad Meltzer’s series “I Am __” (Ordinary People Change the World) series that could be used to talk about what makes a hero and how to apply this to our lives. Meltzer uses superheroes such as Batman, and also real-life heroes like Marie Curie.

In order for this exchange of ideas (based on real life and stories) to happen, we must not hurry through the day, but instead, give time and space to these associations. The dinner table is such a time that can be dedicated to conversations. As in the example above, do not get frustrated if it seems that your child is all over the place with his or her observations. Remember the truism that the journey is more important than the destination. When there is time for the children to discuss and discover things instead of just being passive receivers of knowledge, there will be enjoyment, and with this kind of emotionally and intellectually rewarding experience, memories will be long., and sometimes insights and applications to the children’s lives will also come.


Alismail, A. & McGuire, P. (2015). 21st Century Standards and Curriculum: Current Research and Practice. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(6). 150-155. Retrieved March 25, 2023 from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1083656.pdf

Barton, G., Baguley, M., Kerby, M., & MacDonald, A. (2019). Exploring How Quality Children’s Literature Can Enhance Compassion and Empathy in the Classroom Context. Compassion and Empathy in Educational Contexts. 165-188. Retrieved March 25, 2023 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334531285_Exploring_How_Quality_Children’s_Literature_Can_Enhance_Compassion_and_Empathy_in_the_Classroom_Context

Boodts, S. (2019). The Child By The Seashore: A Medieval Story About Saint Augustine. Retrieved March 25, 2023 from https://www.medievalists.net/2019/02/the-child-by-the-seaside-a-medieval-story-about-saint-augustine/

Jardine, D. W., Clifford, P., & Friesen, S. (2008). Back to the Basics of Teaching and Learning: Thinking the World Together. Taylor & Francis Group.

PBLWorks. (n.d.). What is Project Based Learning? In PBLWorks.org. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.pblworks.org/what-is-pbl

Random House. (n.d.). While. In Dictionary.com. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/while