It is good for us to learn from our own mistakes, but it is a lot less painful to learn from the mistakes of others! The following are twelve important principles that my wife and I have gleaned from fifteen years of home schooling. I hope you find something here to challenge and encourage you.
1. Remember that school is not life. This may seem an odd place to start, but it is good to remember that a child’s life is not only about school. Does my child have good manners? … an engaging personality? … compassion for the less fortunate? … a good sense of humor? … a servant’s heart? … courage of convictions? … a hunger for God’s Word? As we teach those much-needed academic skills, let us also remember to show our kids how to live and how to succeed?as God counts success (Joshua 1:8).
2. Keep a good historical perspective. Most people who have existed on this planet, including the heroic men and women of the Bible and some of the greatest minds of all time, did not do school like you and I did school. None of the early Pilgrims, Puritans, or Founding Fathers of this country knew anything even close to the standardized, secularized, compartmentalized, age-segregated, government-controlled schools that most of us attended. Yet they gave us our rich Christian heritage, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution! Do not let anyone make you feel guilty for not schooling your children the way you were schooled. There were godly, well-educated children long before someone invented yellow school buses, Friday night football, and the prom.
3. Do not worry if your daily schedule is not set in stone. The schedule under which most of us were educated (8:30-3:30, Monday through Friday, September through May) originated in America within the last 150 years or so. No particular model or schedule for schooling was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, so relax and do not be afraid to think “outside the box.” Routine is good, but flexibility is important, too.
4. Remember that curriculum is your servant, not your master. You decide what, when, and how much to do. If the kids (or you!) get tired, take a break. Slow down. Do something different. Take a field trip. Skip some pages or throw out something altogether.
I know this sounds radical, particularly to new home schoolers who may feel insecure about not following the lesson plans in that fancy curriculum! A little anecdote may be helpful here. Years ago, when I first began teaching at a local Christian school, I was completely flabbergasted at the amount of material that I was required to cover in a school year. Not once in twelve years of classroom teaching did I finish every lesson in the 180-day curriculum for a single subject that I taught. I used to feel bad about this until I made the fascinating discovery that much of our curriculum, which came from a particular Christian college, was written by unmarried, childless grad students! Keep that in mind when you are trying to figure out how you could possibly teach all “they” say you are supposed to cram into a school day! This is not an excuse to be lazy, and certainly you do not want to raise an illiterate child. But if you can cover the three R’s, instill a love for learning, and concentrate on character and spiritual training, do you really think you are going to scar your child for life?
5. Enjoy the unique aspects of home schooling. In my opinion, your goal in home schooling should not be to recreate the public school classroom, or even the Christian school classroom, in your home. Your goal should be to impart those unique insights that God has given you, to promote love of God, love of His Word, love of learning, love of family, love of neighbor, strong character. Along life’s way, you can teach your children whatever academics and skills they need to achieve these goals. School is a means to reaching these ends; it is not an end in itself.
6. Do not overemphasize rote learning of Trivial Pursuit-style facts. Before you require your child to sweat great drops of blood over learning something, make sure there is a compelling reason for him to know it. Remember all those tests for which you crammed in school? Remember how much of that information you had forgotten in a matter of days? If somehow you have managed to function well in society despite all those things that you have forgotten, then maybe your child does not need to be forced to “learn” them! Seriously, does he really need to know the Latin names of those butterflies or what kinds of trees grow in Zambia? Do you know those things? (I once had a classroom math curriculum that required students to read a gas meter. Do you know how to read a gas meter? Neither did I. I only learned it so I could teach it!) Let us purpose not to fill our children’s heads with such disconnected factoids. They can always research them should a gas meter emergency ever arise!
7. Give your children the freedom to discover what they love. I believe in giving children time to explore the things that intrigue them. I have heard this called “delight-directed” learning, and I love that phrase. Allow your child the freedom to discover her unique gifts and interests, and what a joy it will be when you see her love learning! This is truly one of the great blessings of home schooling; so after you finish the basics, do not be afraid to give your kids extended periods of time to study and do what they love.
8. Be prepared for the mid-year blues that may come. It is very common to get bogged down at least once or twice during the school year. (Guess what? I had the same problem when I taught in a classroom. I just did not tell the parents!) These blahs do not usually last very long. However, if you find this phenomenon lasting for many days or weeks, please change something! (See #4. Dad, see #10!) A primary reason that I have seen for burnout is that home schoolers often have unrealistic ideas about what “school” is supposed to be, and then they give up when they do not meet those expectations. Make sure you have reasonable expectations in the first place. (See #5.)
9. Think like a distance runner, not like a sprinter. If you have a gut-level, Scripture-based commitment to home schooling, then you must figure out how to stay in this for the long haul. Make whatever changes are necessary to maintain consistent, if sometimes slow, progress. As in “The Tortoise and the Hare,” slow and steady wins this race!
10. Fathers, turn your hearts toward home. As far as I have been able to tell, every child-training command in Scripture is addressed to fathers, not mothers (e.g., Ephesians 6:4). If you take God at His Word, that means that you, Dad, should have a direct hand in teaching your children, particularly Bible study or family devotions (Deut. 6, Psalm 78). If your wife is bogged down, stressed out, or discouraged, you must do whatever it takes to lift her up. She is your helper, but the buck stops with you. Oh, how Christ’s church needs fathers who are man enough to fulfill their God-ordained responsibilities! In my opinion, this is the most desperate need in the church and in our nation. God is doing something wonderful in the hearts of men all over our land. As one dad to another, let me admonish you to search the Scriptures to see what God says about fathers training their children, especially in spiritual matters. There is a great battle raging. The enemy of our souls is seeking to devour your children. Do not leave Mom to fight alone. It is time to take your place on the front lines!
11. Do not be a Lone Ranger. Stay connected with others of like mind. It will do you good to see that others have similar joys and struggles. As it serves the unique needs of your family, take advantage of the resources and opportunities offered through your local support group. If you are new, find those veterans who can advise and encourage you. If you have been homeschooling for a while, there are “newbies” who need you!
12. Come boldly before the Lord with your petitions for your children. Take them before the throne of grace daily (Hebrews 4:16). God has promised to give us the wisdom that we need for all of life (James 1:5). As you seek Him, He will give you the insight and perseverance that it takes to do this wonderful, terrifying, exasperating, blessed thing we call home schooling.
What a privilege to teach our own children! Have a wonderful year!