As another homeschool year comes to a close, I am struck with the usual flood of combined panic and relief. The panic sucks the breath out of me as I realize how short is the time that I have left with the baby of the family before she is flying. I run through a mental catalog of things I mean to teach her and do with her before it is over. And this time when I graduate this third student of Homeway Academy, it really is over. Poor child. She is my last one, and because of it I think the emotions are far more tangled than even the previous two times I aimed an arrow at adulthood. The relief I mentioned is a mere flash within my chest when I think of summer days by the pool reading and fun stuff to replace the badgering about unfinished algebra or chemistry lessons.
It is too easy to lose our focus in the rush to include everything our children need to know to succeed in life. I become a homeschooling Martha, my perfectionism on full display as I fret over what isn’t instead of rejoicing over what is. I quickly suck the joy out of learning when I give in to this tendency, and then wonder where the thrill of learning went! As we wrap up the loose ends this year, I realize that I need to reset my compass.
A compass is best used in conjunction with a map to find True North, as sometimes the needle that points the way can be off by a few degrees. Traveling steadily a few degrees in the wrong direction soon leads us way off course. Where are we trying to go? How will we reach our destination without a properly calibrated compass to keep us on track?
Thirteen years ago, my husband and I felt a strong conviction to homeschool our children because we wanted to raise our family according to the precepts set forth in the Word of God. A big part of that was a commitment to academic excellence through instilling a love of learning and the ability to find for themselves anything they needed to know as they grew. The biggest part, however, was that we wanted to raise children who love the Lord and seek Him. Remembering the purpose of the journey helps set the course. Let’s look at how to accomplish our goals in light of that purpose.
- Instilling a Love of Learning- This one can be tricky! We cannot force love for something on anybody. What we can do, however, is work on our presentation of it. For example, a chef can make a platter of ordinary macaroni and cheese look like a fancy dinner with the addition of some garnishes and a pretty platter. When we introduce a new topic to our children, do we approach it in a no-nonsense, “here it is, get it done” way? Or even worse, do we apologize for it and undermine the child’s enthusiasm from the beginning? “I’m sorry. I hated math, too. The sooner you start, the sooner it will be over.” Instead, try garnishing it! Smile as you announce the next thing on your agenda. Pique the child’s interest in the new history unit by making it a mystery. Hide a small lantern and a toy horse in a box to announce a study of Paul Revere and open it with a flourish. Write the day’s reading assignment for ancient Egypt on a piece of paper and roll it like a scroll. Take your high school student to McDonalds for a milk shake while she finishes her algebra lesson in a booth. Most of all, listen to your children. If a particular curriculum is just making him or her miserable, it’s time to consider another option. Consider his interests and relate what you are doing to those interests if at all possible.
- Instilling the Ability to Teach Themselves- Probably the most important academic skill you can impart to your children is the ability to find for themselves the information they need. In the age of “googling” whatever we need, most people can find the snippets of information to get them through, but building a working knowledge requires research skills beyond a wiki entry. Take your children to the library and teach them to delight in the array of real books on any given topic rather than only learning what a blurb in a textbook had to say. Watch videos pertaining to your studies during your lunch. And most of all, TRAVEL. If your budget can at all handle it, even small day trips, take your children to see, touch, and experience the things they are learning. Allow your children the luxury of realizing that learning is not limited to words on a page, but is part of everything we do. Allow them time to pursue their own interests, for this is one of the best ways to encourage self-teaching, and they don’t even realize they are doing it. My daughter loves birds. She has purchased many bird field guides with her own money, and has a device with electronic cards that replicate different bird calls. A nature journal filled with information about birds that she has seen, along with some items she has found, such as feathers, testifies to the motivation of a child pursuing a passion. On a trip out west, she her joy over seeing birds that aren’t found here on the east coast sent us down back roads on a quest, and our travels became a means for seeing first-hand what she had only read about. She taught herself a great deal about ornithology by just having freedom to do so, and she never even thought of it as “school.”
- Knowledge and Love of the Lord- Finally, and most importantly, our children need to know that they have a Lord and Savior who died for them. Without this knowledge, all other knowledge is meaningless. It is our first priority, and should be a joyful process, not something that is a stern and dull part of our day, dedicated to lots of memorization and tedium. Bible stories should be part of our little ones daily diet, read from books with beautiful pages by voices that convey awe and wonder. When the children are older, Bible studies which expand on and reveal the spiritual truths of those now-familiar stories should be a part of every day. Our children should be able to observe their parents living these truths to the best of our human abilities, and they should be included in the prayer requests that we have and the answers when they come! Christian curricula, especially in the areas of science, history, and the arts instill a Christian worldview, which will help them develop discernment in a hostile world. Our relationship with Christ is the umbrella underneath which all of the other important character qualities fall- honesty, integrity, compassion, respect, love, charity, perseverance, work ethic, and selflessness just to name some of the bigger ones.
These are the things that matter most. Whether quadratic equations remain a struggle or not, the journey is a success when we are following the signs along the trail that lead us to the destination with a view like this!