By Anne Gebhart
Lesson #1: Never say never.
Home schooling was the last thing we thought we would ever do. More accurately, it was something we said we would never do. Our first exposure to home schoolers–a couple of aloof, unmotivated kids at church–only confirmed the decision that we would “never do that to our kids.”
Our eldest daughter Megan was two years old at the time and still an only child. We spent most of our time reading, doing art projects, playing, and going places together. By the time she was four, she could read fluently, although we never tried to formally “teach” her to read.
We never thought twice about it until a friend of ours, a former public school teacher, observed Megan and commented that she would be bored in kindergarten. She recommended that we look into another educational option for her so she could keep advancing. Public school would slow her down, our friend said.
We decided to look into private schools. That journey ended almost as quickly as it began when we discovered how much private schools cost. We concluded that unless we received a monetary windfall, private school was not an option for us.
By that time we had started attending another church and had become friends with a family there who had decided to homeschool their children. They invited us to attend a home school fair with them, but we had a prior commitment—not to mention, we were still unconvinced about the whole “home schooling thing.”
Months passed, and our circle of friends grew to include several home school families, some with older children who were quite different from the first home school kids we knew.
Which leads us to our next lesson learned.
Lesson #2: Home schooling does not make children socially aloof, just as public schools do turn children into social butterflies.
We began to realize that there are plenty of sociopaths who were educated in the public school system and that a child’s social nature is largely a by-product of his environment and what has been permitted to influence him.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves at the home school conference in Arlington. We attended several informative and encouraging workshops but were particularly impressed by the confident, articulate home school graduates who spoke during a forum about their experiences. We were also interested in viewing a particular curriculum, but the exhibit hall was so packed that we could not get anywhere near the vendor’s table to view the materials closely.
We went home empty-handed but encouraged that home schooling might be a viable option for us.
Lesson #3: “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Finding a curriculum is probably one of the most difficult decisions to make when beginning to homeschool. When we first began taking the idea of home schooling to heart, we were primarily concerned about academics. It was not until later that we realized that the focus of our children’s schooling should be the Lord.
The curriculum that first piqued our interest, while Christian-based, drew us solely on the basis of its academics. In fact, our very reason to homeschool was predicated on the idea that Megan needed an educational option that would allow her to advance academically.
We had it backward, but we did not know it until that curriculum failed us within the first few months of home schooling. We were forced to look for something else, and that search led us to the revelation that the Lord needed to be first and foremost in our school if we were to truly succeed. We became convicted that the lessons placed in Megan’s heart were much more important—and had far greater eternal significance—than the information placed in her head. Without the former, the latter was irrelevant.
The true benefit of home schooling is that it gives parents the ability to customize a child’s education to encompass not just intellectual growth but personal and spiritual growth as well. We came to the conclusion that if education was all about challenging academics and high test scores and if God was not the central focus, then all we were doing was moving the humanist classroom into our dining room. Yes, this can be true even with a Christian-based curriculum.<
We began asking ourselves: What is our focus? Did we want a curriculum that drew our child into a closer relationship with the Lord, or were we more interested in having our child drawn to information and books? Did we want a curriculum that helped our child understand who God is by integrating His character into each lesson, or did we want to keep knowledge and God separated, maybe by having a separate Bible time or by giving God an honorable mention as we discussed our lessons?
The curriculum we chose next made all the difference, not only in Megan’s character development but also in her (and our) attitude towards school. It has stood the test of time and is a curriculum we still use to this day.
Lesson #4: Education is a lifestyle, not something done between certain hours at a certain place.
Just as the church service should not be the only place and time we worship and treat others with brotherly love, neither should the schoolroom be the only place and time that education happens.
From the beginning of our home schooling journey my husband and I were both dedicated to the idea that education is an ongoing process and we were excited that we could put that into practice in our home school. While we did keep regular “school hours” each day, we did not limit Megan’s learning experiences to just those times. We loved the freedom that home schooling gave us to be able to incorporate learning into every aspect of our lives, whether at the grocery store comparing prices, at the zoo observing birds, or in the flower bed pulling weeds.
Another valuable lesson we were able to demonstrate to Megan through our “education is a lifestyle” philosophy is that learning does not stop once you reach a certain age—a huge fallacy that many students fall for once they are “graduated” and think they know all there is to know.
When we made the commitment to homeschool, a few people made the comment, “School is a microcosm of society.” Absolutely not true. Where else in society do you find yourself around others who are all the same age you are? Okay, maybe Sunday school … but that’s a pet peeve of mine, and I often wonder why in the world churches feel the need to emulate the government school model.
Lesson #5: Education is a form of worship.
In a sense, education is a form of worship. What one worships through education depends on the worldview of the teacher and curriculum. Education with a humanist bent elevates man and self; education with a Christian worldview elevates God. When we experience and learn about the world around us, dwelling on God’s wonderful mysteries, we are in effect worshipping God. Education as a lifestyle reflects a lifestyle of worship.
If you had asked us back when we first began homeschooling how long we intended to homeschool, we would have said, “We’re just going to take it year by year.” When we understood the relationship between education and worship, however, we knew we could not put our kids in public school. We feel that the secular humanist environment in the public school system is at direct odds with a Christian worldview that no amount of “salt and light” can overcome.
Lesson #6: It’s not what we know; it’s Who we know that truly matters.
Looking back, I cannot put my finger on what specifically caused us to change our minds about home schooling, except to say that it was the Lord’s leading. Although we did not know it at the time, the very fact that we were both in complete agreement about our commitment to homeschool our children was nothing short of a miracle.
Our reasons for homeschooling have matured over the years. Whereas we were first motivated by academics, our goals have become more diverse. There are myriad good reasons to homeschool, and the benefits far outweigh any inconvenience. Why does our family choose to homeschool today? The following is a short list of reasons:
- ~ strong parent/child and sibling relationships;
- ~ a tailor-made education to fit each child’s unique style of learning and array of interests;
- ~ positive social skills, incorporating interactions between people of many different ages and levels of experience;
- ~ real-world experiences under the guidance of a caring teacher, who truly has the child’sbest interest at heart;
- ~ the freedom to engage in honest debate about controversial issues, to sort out truth from propaganda;
- ~ the ability to provide a real education without indoctrination or “feel good” fluff;
- ~ and the ability to equip our children with a love of learning and the tools they need tobecome life learners.
Beyond all of those many benefits, however, the one that far outweighs the others is that we can point our children to God, the creator of everything and center of all knowledge. True education and wisdom begin and end with Him, and without Him learning has no real significance.
According to the Westminster Catechism, man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As Christian home schoolers, that should be the primary goal of our educational pursuits.
At the end of our lives God is not going to ask, “Do you know about worms?” … or stars, or explorers, or classical literature, or even world history. His one question will be, “Do you know my Son?”
As the Lord has grown our family from one child to five, so He has grown our home school vision. With all the educational options available today for home school families, it is so easy to be tempted and sidetracked by our own vision for our children instead of God’s vision for them. We must be vigilant not to shortchange them by offering them an educational counterfeit in the form of intellectual pursuits devoid of spiritual significance.
God’s plan is always better, and that is a lesson we are still learning.