Education is not quite as mysterious as it sometimes seems. The truth is that education is a line upon line, precept upon precept project that never ends. Homeschooling recognizes that all of life is learning, and we seek to create life-long learners. Education is not confined to a classroom; it is life itself. While that sounds like an intimidating reality, it is a comforting one. As the homeschool journey unfolds, we realize that each year simply allows us to build on knowledge gained previously. It is an exciting journey. It reminds us why the foundation is critical.
Math is the simple example. Basic math facts develop into complicated algebraic equations over the years. But every subject shows us the exciting truth of learning’s progression. In elementary school we learn there was a deadly plague that devastated Europe in the 1300s. In high school we learn how the disease spread and begin to understand its impact on art, public policy and even the psyche. In Science our primary age children learn that some foods are healthier than others. In High School, nutritional complexities deepen to unveil nutrient transport to cells and healing potential within foods. Each layer of knowledge adds to the earlier layers and opens the door to exciting applications.
Keeping the progressive nature of education in mind quiets the fears when the process stalls. It helps us remember building takes time. Sometimes new facts pile up too rapidly and review is needed to reset the foundation. Other times minds grab facts too quickly and erroneous conclusions are jumped to because knowledge pieces are missing. Helping children hook new materials onto existing knowledge is a key to progress. In fact, that is the goal of an educator: find a place of understanding a child can put information upon and build a higher structure. The process is the destination!
When we added a puppy to our home, we purchased a set of training DVDs to help us ‘get things right. ‘I would love to say we are devouring those DVDs, but the truth is we snack at them. Even the snacking is bearing fruit. A recent clip from the trainer pierced my home schooling heart:
“Telling isn’t teaching.”
Wow! That was such a revelation to me. I realize it should not have been so shocking. After all, I have been a mom nearly twenty years. Just because I tell my child something does not mean they have learned (or even done) what I have said. Honestly, I have been a human nearly fifty years and I have not learned all that I have been told. But the truth of this little nugget is so convicting as an educator.
It is so easy to think that if a lesson has been presented, a lesson has been learned. Every life experience tells us that this is not true. Most things have to be learned, re-learned and practiced over and over before they are actually learned. One of my greatest joys in home education is not ‘teaching to the test’ as public school educators must. Our education goal is to take each subject and allow it to link to other knowledge and expand our ability to understand the world. Such a goal is not a one-time lesson approach to any subject.
Years ago, as a novice Sunday School teacher, a wise woman told me, “Remember: you are teaching children, not lessons.” When a curriculum is moving faster or delving deeper than the student’s mind can grasp, it may be time to set up camp for a bit. The intensive effort to fully grasp a subject will pay dividends as the course progresses. That does not mean that a fifth grade student must probe to the depths of DNA that a College Biology student will. Every year of education builds upon the previous years. There is time to delve but basic understandings can not be compromised.
In the early years of education children excitedly rush through lessons. The natural parent reaction is pride in their precious ones impressive intellect. We must take care that the accomplishments are solidly rooted in understanding. Sometimes ‘doing’ can happen without understanding. I can plug in a light but not know the details of electricity. That is okay in some cases, but it is not conducive to real learning in an education setting. Excellent readers may suffer from poor comprehension. Intuitive math ability may mask a total lack of process understanding. What appears to be repetitive, unnecessary work may be exactly what is needed to transform telling into understanding.
Finally, as a parent educator, grasping the truth that ‘telling isn’t teaching’ opens a door for patience–and humility. Our job is teaching: not telling. When our students have not learned, we have not taught. We must extend mercy to them in their ’failure to learn’ as they must extend mercy to us in our ‘failure to teach.’ The University of Home Education offers a curriculum for all. Be transformed!
One of the best things about home education is that it opens opportunities for learning that simply can not fit more traditional schedules. We will take a regular look at some irregular ways to maximize learning opportunities. Pets are a great place to start. Certainly I understand that children in public school have pets. I also understand that time shortages exist. Our lifestyle lends itself to getting the most out of every experience!
In a homeschool setting, the responsibility for caring for a pet covers a much broader spectrum than simply seeing him a few hours a day. Housetraining a puppy is an all-day proposition and waiting is not an option for a puppy. Both necessary tasks (I.e. English) and fun times (I.e. TV shows) alike bow to the needs of a puppy. Managing interruptions, sacrificing time, putting another (even if it is a four-legged other) are critical character concerns a puppy can teach. As a child ages, even night-time needs can become their challenge…a slow start in the morning will not upset the entire day!
The freedom to delve deeper into a topic offers great education possibilities. Over the years, the additions of new pets to our home have initiated many school projects. Researching breed characteristics (of dogs, horses, rabbits and even chickens) honed research and report skills. Persuasive writing techniques blossomed with a disagreement on which breed of dog we should purchase. Lessons on compromise presented themselves as well. Biology understanding deepened with a look at horse genetics. Catching a love of learning involves being interested in what you are learning. Pets are a terrific tool for planting seeds of learning excitement.
Even physical fitness requirements can flow into and out of a pet. Building dog agility or horse-back riding into the school day accomplishes much more than just meeting state mandates for physical education. The homeschool lifestyle is a course study in flexibility, individual passion and creativity. Enjoy the uniqueness of your children and your family as you accomplish the over-arching goal of education.
My favorite nuggets of advice when we began the homeschooling journey were:
“You know your weaknesses, so pray.”
“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
I’ve relied on those treasures of wisdom for thirteen years now! There were a few years where I modified the second one to “If I’m not having fun, we’re doing something wrong.” Your home may be different than ours, but our reality has been that sometimes the kids do not look at homeschooling as anything more than drudgery. I still believe the love of learning that often launches we parents into homeschooling will be ‘caught’ by our children—but there are definitely days they will not have that love!
This week, as we struggled through two very difficult courses high school courses, (read that, ‘difficult for me’) the laughter in the midst of perseverance reminded me how very right this has been!! I was the Valedictorian of my class; a nerd who felt bad if I did not have an “A” in every subject. Even then I knew that there was merit to lesser grades and fuller lives, yet I could not quite grasp that concept for myself. Praise God, my husband, children and our home education journey have taught me better. Lest you think we do not take grades seriously, we do. The children demonstrate a competitiveness in grades and a desire to excel that I appreciate. Yet we have learned together that the deepest lessons of home education transform our character. My heart rejoices that laughter sweetened our hard work. I want that to be a lesson the children apply the rest of their lives. Balancing a chemical equation and efficiently utilizing a compass for angle re-creation are beneficial; a right attitude in hard times is priceless.
This is a truth we have lived for several years. Math struggles faced by my son taught him more about perseverance—and his capabilities—than soaring through his Bible lessons. The college-level Counseling program my daughter is taking (in her sophomore year of high school) instructed her in the value of talking through confusing topics to deepen understanding. For most of our years, academics have not been a struggle from the ‘parent’ perspective. I must admit, though, some of our high school courses reveal how much I did not really learn in my own years of education. While those times are weaknesses, they are not failures. In fact, those things which I know well are sometimes the most difficult for me to teach. I cannot give a process when it is something I just ‘do.’ Beyond that, I do not expect my children to learn things I am unable to learn. Therefore, my weaknesses allow me to set the example and persevere with them. I suspect that the subjects we work harder at will be the content they remember best. I know the attitude we approach our difficulties with will be part of the legacy of our homeschool.
Discipline. It really is not a word we like, but it is one of the most important words in our homeschooling vocabulary. It is a character trait that increases in importance as we age. My body demands far more attention to stay healthy as I near fifty than it did at twenty! Most worthy activities require discipline to see them to completion. An efficient homeschool demands discipline from students and adults.
The most challenging aspects of homeschooling—in my experience—have not come from the academic side of the education equation. The greatest difficulties stem from ‘people’ issues. I believe life will show that the greatest blessings of this homeschool effort will show forth in the ways our character (all of us in the family—child and adult) has been transformed in the process. Let’s take a moment and look at discipline in particular.
In the early years of homeschooling, discipline mostly looks like: PARENTING! Truly, home education IS simply parenting on steroids. Instilling discipline in young children is an absolute necessity for parents who intend to home educate. Back-talk, disobedience and open rebellion prevents learning. Proverbs admonishes us as teachers to choose our words wisely—and instruct in the nature of our child—but it also has much to stay about a teachable spirit. We do much to help our children learn to be teachable when we teach discipline (through obedience). Cooperation from our young ones is a definite exercise of discipline for them.
On the parenting side, discipline looks like doing what you really don’t want to do—or putting off what you would rather do. (It is not much different than the child’s issue, is it?) That great sale at the grocery store may tempt us to slide the dreaded math lesson off another day. Learning to make school the priority and refusing distractions is our part of discipline. Helping family and friends understand that school IS a priority is a discipline in itself—and a topic we will tackle on another day. We teach discipline by example.
Are you seeing the beauty of discipline? As we practice it, it will become dear to us. The accomplishments ARE worth it. Watching our children discipline themselves to press on for a goal is a joy. Seeing them become Disciples of Christ—willing to endure hardship for His glory—requires a character that embraces discipline. Every challenge we face in life demands the practice of discipline. The homeschool experience provides us teachable moments daily for this important characteristic. Point to the great good that comes with slugging through hard times in Algebra…don’t argue about whether a particular ‘fact’ will ever be needed. Simply direct your attention (and your child’s) to the deeper truths being practiced—and instilled in the character. Discipline is only one of many character traits enhanced through home education, but it is a vital one.