Homeschooling is one of the most important advantages and best starts in life we can give to our children. We are free to teach our children our beliefs and goals, molding them into the image we desire, not what the world wants from them. We can have engaging conversations with our daughters as we cook meals together. We can sit under the night sky with our sons as we talk about the stars we see through the telescope. The creativity of our children can run free, and we should encourage them to do so. At home, they are not bullied, indoctrinated, and created to be mindless sheep. Their growing minds are not bound to mundane facts that they read in the textbooks, taking impersonal tests to supposedly stimulate and check learning, all while sitting for six to eight hours at a desk, confined as they are in the institutes of public or private schools.
We all realize the benefits of homeschooling, and see the negatives of sending them off to someone else to learn. So then, why are we as parents so locked in this thinking of modeling our homeschool teaching and activities to mimic those of the institutional setting? Why do we strive to add more textbooks, more gadgets, more tests, and more “schoolwork” into our schooling, rather than streamlining and valuing the interaction and teachable moments in our children’s day-to-day lives? Why do we try and pattern the same frustrating and failing image of the schools that we know so much to be flawed?
We would laugh at a homeschooling father painting his fifteen-passenger van yellow with black stripes for a field trip. We would take the homeschooling mother who models the spare bedroom to look like a public school classroom to be silly. I show you the drastic to make my point — that just because we experienced a certain way of learning in our youth, and because everywhere you look “better education” is labeled as being a certain way, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right one. In fact, we know it’s not the right one. So here is the solution: We need to throw out this mindset of duplicating the methods of the nearby school system and replace it with life.
Have you ever watched your children? I mean really watched them. Your baby learns how to talk by repeating the sounds it hears and mimics from you. Your toddler learns his ABC’s by singing that silly song with you as you drive to the store. Your young daughters play “house” and cook, clean, and take care of their babies, just like Mama does. Your sons find scrap wood out in the shed and draw out a plan to build a fort. Sometimes you look at them and wonder “How on earth did they learn to do that?” The answer is simple – they were given the time and ability to figure it out on their own. Little ones learn their best through experience.
There are so many teachable moments in life, that layers of worksheets, book reports, and projects should be highly supplemental. If we use living as our main resource, our children will thrive by learning to their best ability, as well as knowing how to function in the real world. They won’t just have a bunch of book facts that they have no clue how to make work, if they even remember them. They will have pondered, experimented, made mistakes, and found solutions to what they are learning, all on their own or with minimal help from you.
Yes, of course you need to do some bookwork. It is impossible to do certain schoolwork (like geometry and algebra) without some worksheets and textbooks. Here in Ohio, we must have a sample of written work to submit for a portfolio every year. In some states you have to take a standardized test, so your children need to be familiar on how to do so.
I myself do use basic textbooks for every subject, my children read a chapter or study a few math problems, we talk about it, and they do a worksheet to make sure they grasp the knowledge. But it is not our dogma, nor are we bound to it. Our official “school day” never takes more then two hours. Then we close the books and expound on what we have learned, explore our new found knowledge, and discover so much more than the workbooks could show us. Years ago, a wise woman (who happened to be the schoolteacher reviewing our children’s school year portfolio) told me this: “Every waking moment of a child’s day is schooltime. Who needs worksheets when you have a living textbook to learn from in life?” Those words have stuck with me and remind me daily to use every activity as a teachable moment.
By all means, use schoolbooks and worksheets, enough to do your daily quota and get an idea and basic know-how of the topic at hand. Then go explore that concept with your children. Go to the history museum and talk about the colonial days, then come home and show them how to cook over an open fire outside and sew their own clothes. Walk along the hiking path and study the trees and different kinds of plants and flowers, that God has put there for our benefit, in terms of both beauty and medicine. Have the children help in the garden — here you can teach them the growth and needs of a plant, how the water cycle works, how to nurture the food and kill the weeds, the nutrition of the bounty, and so on. Rally up your daughters and have a baking spree, teaching them measurements and the chemistry of cooking. Join in with your sons as they build that tree house, helping them figure out their plans to the inch, and showing them how to make it all come together. Take your little ones grocery shopping, explaining the different labels on the products, having them figure out the price per unit, handling the budget, comparing sales, and so on.
See? There are so many ways to learn through life. I guarantee your children will walk away with more knowledge and know how with one hour of enjoyable learning through living , than with four hours of an exasperated mama making them learn the official birds and flowers of the fifty states out of the textbook.
God did not intend for people, especially children, to learn that way. Sitting at a table for hours on end while completing worksheet after worksheet can do nothing more for a child than stifle their imagination and creativity, blur their focus, and turn them into the mindless drones that we are complaining about in the world today. Children are active and full of energy for a reason. They ask a billion questions for a reason. They want to wear daddy’s suit and tie and sweep the floor with their toy broom right along with you, because they learn best by doing and copying you.
We know a family with eight children who homeschool. They have a largely successful goat milk soap business that is growing nationwide. Every day, the two older boys go out to milk the goats. When they are done, they measure and weigh the milk and log it into the books. The children feed and groom the goats, muck out the pens, then head into the soap room that they helped their father build. Here they make soaps, scrubs, lotions, and more for the next few hours. They know how to measure all the ingredients and to mold everything. They know how to cure and package the products. Their fourteen-year-old daughter spends time with her mother creating new items, and she even came up with and concocted her own amazing goat milk deodorant! Their twelve-year-old son is the webmaster for the website’s distributor page. The older ones can pull up the internet orders, and have the little ones (right down to the two year old) box them up for them while they calculate the shipping and print out the postage. The whole family goes to dozens of shows a month where they interact with thousands of people, and the children spend hours selling the items at the booth, collecting and changing money, demonstrating the soap-making process, and even volunteering their help to other vendors all around. In their spare moments, they are knitting washcloths to sell along with the soaps. The family has even gotten a green screen to make commercials for their product. With this, the children have learned acting, camera work, computer and sound editing, graphics, and more. By the end of the day, there isn’t much room left for lots of “bookwork,” is there? But these children are the most well-rounded and amazingly smart young people you will ever come across.
Think about the disciples: Jesus did not sit them down with the books of the prophets, having them study out the Scriptures so they could be ready for His pop quiz on Monday. No, He taught them through life — through walking and talking personally with them, by experience. And look what He created — men of God who would shame us with their knowledge. Our goals should be the same. We should be raising up a generation who would build God’s kingdom, because knowing the diet of an ant in Australia is not going to accomplish that.
Yes, we want children who are smart and well-rounded. We need to teach them math, science, history, and spelling. They need to know many things to be able to succeed in today’s world. But unless they are going to become a journalist or writer, do they really need to know how to diagram a sentence four different ways? It’s nice to touch on those subjects, but dwelling on them should not be our priority.
We all know it is our job to teach our children. But what is it we should be helping them learn? Our focus should primarily be to glorify God and raise them to do His work. Second, it should be to work right alongside them, showing them how to live, using those moments to expound on the learning experience, whether it be changing a diaper, learning fractions while cooking dinner, or learning proper spelling and language as they write a letter to their Congressman.
Your home school methods do not need to look like the world’s faulty model. Trying to make them into that is not only exasperating and futile, but can be devastating. Let’s not be sheep. God gave us this whole world, filled with His glory and knowledge. He intended it for our main resource of learning — and for our children too. Let’s not usurp God’s design and think we know best. Teach your children through life. Let them grow and learn alongside you, right where they should be.