When all is said and done, children learn much more by observing what a parent does than by hearing what a parent says. This parallels Jesus’ instruction to “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works,” rather than a perspective that states, “Talk about light, and show why proper lighting is important.” All parents must appreciate that they are engaged in an ongoing performance before their children. This performance needs to have content that is communicated with conviction and done consistently. Wait! Don’t panic! No one I know (including myself) gets rave marks in this area all the time. That however doesn’t alter the reality that actions scream louder than words and that the presence or absence of an unswerving Biblical witness in all areas of our lives is especially on display in the homeschool setting.
I don’t intend to go into detail here about how the moral and ethical actions of parents need to be in harmony with their instruction to their children. The Scriptures repeatedly address making one’s confession of faith match one’s profession of faith. However, this concept is also relevant to academic issues. Parents need to guard against giving lip service to the importance of a subject or course of study that they themselves refuse to do. Your students will see right through the charade of “you need to be a good reader” when they never see you read anything more than the sports or gardening sections of the newspaper or your daily email. Telling a child how necessary it is to do well in math, but responding to requests for assistance in Algebra with the retort, “I can’t do that very well. It’s just not my thing. Why don’t you ask someone else?” gives the message that mathematics must not be so important. After all, you seem to be doing okay in life without it! Like it or not, the contradictions in our lives often overshadow those areas where our witness is reliable.
This begs the questions: what exactly makes up a good course of study? Should it be dictated by the state or some private educational institution? What is the end result you are going for? I’ve heard the expression time and again that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Homeschooling parents need to search the Scriptures and seek the guidance of faithful believers to ascertain what a Godly education consists of. My experience tells me that this kind of effort will raise one’s definition of education and enable you to make deliberate rather than casual choices when it comes to curriculum decisions.
So, how do you know if you are on the right road? The answers vary depending on where you are on the journey. However, an honest assessment of your commitment to raising your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (in all areas of life, including academic subject matter), along with an accurate evaluation of how well prepared you are to teach your children, is essential.
Some General Guidelines
Parents of children in infant/toddler stage:
Now is the time to assess your own academic skills. If you had a good education, then it is a matter of brushing up on skills stored in the dusty attic of your mind. If you didn’t (and many graduates of public schools didn’t), now is the time to lay a sturdy foundation in areas you failed to learn years before. With the number of Christian publishers who specifically gear their textbooks for homeschoolers (text, teacher prompts, and answer key), there is really no significant barrier to getting yourself ready for teaching grammar school subjects. And, no, a degree in education is not mandatory in order to teach the basics of your own language and the principles of arithmetic to your child. If you can do it yourself, you can teach it. What’s more, since your children are still quite young, you can further prepare yourself by reading books on teaching philosophy and practice.[i] You might even find opportunities to “apprentice” your skills as you help other homeschooling families.
Parents of school age children:
The same advice given above applies, but you may have to also make use of a homeschooling co-op situation because you don’t have as much lead time. This is a particularly useful tool to handle subject matter in areas you feel less-than-adequate to teach. Put any group of committed parents together, and you’ll find a mom or dad who has ample background in many areas (engineers, nurses, former teachers) and can help construct a good syllabus and course of study for you to work with your child on days that the co-op doesn’t meet. Another option is part-time enrollment in a day school that provides enrichment classes for homeschoolers. My only MUST in this area is to have subjects you cannot teach adequately yourself taught by people who LOVE that subject. Nothing replaces enthusiasm and devotion in imparting something you love to another, especially a young person. Don’t worry; these folks are out there. You’d be amazed at how many would love the opportunity to teach. Who knows? Those subjects you currently dread might actually seem more appealing once you understand the things you missed in your own school days!
Additionally, don’t fall in love with all the decisions you make. Feel free to revise and revamp as needed. What works for one child, won’t necessarily work for another. What is the appropriate learning style one year might well change as the child matures. Be flexible with the details, but be steadfast in the goal.
Make the commitment that you will never assign pointless tasks or busywork to your child. I recall when my son was just beginning to write essays that he would balk about putting all the time and effort into writing something only to have it put in a folder that no one else ever looked at. He had a great point: I wouldn’t have subjected myself to that. So, I began to send his grandfather his essays, which gave my son an incentive to write. (Often Grandpa sent royalties of one to five dollars to encourage my essayist!) As he got older, this didn’t satisfy. So I told my son that if he wrote, I would publish what he wrote. That gave birth to the Kids for Life Newsletter that had a run of about five years and ended up being circulated in our own community and had subscribers around the country. Needless to say, besides helping his writing improve, we were establishing a solid Biblical view of the evil of abortion as he and other young people constantly found fresh, innovative ways to express themselves on this topic.
Finally, let your children know if you struggle with a subject. Rather than reduce your authority or status with them, it will communicate that you are willing to work through something difficult so they can learn and gain a mastery of it. With all the resources of people, publishers, and other parents available, you should have no trouble getting questions answered and some real help when you need it. What’s more, you’ll be showing your children/students the importance of what is being studied because you are studying it with them. Or, if you are unable to master it enough to teach, you’ll be demonstrating that you are willing to seek out tutors who can assist them. You’ll be communicating that you deem their studies important enough to shell out the resources of time and/or money. Interestingly enough, if you’re like me, you’ll discover that one of the greatest by-products of homeschooling is that you become a more informed, well-educated individual yourself!
[i]The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum by R.J. Rushdoony; How to Tutor by Sam Blumenfeld