I have a love/hate relationship with GPS Navigation. While it is true that I never have that panicky feeling of being lost, I also never have a confident feeling of independence. As long as I depend on GPS for my every move, I never gain that comforting sense of place I get when navigating the old fashioned way. We recently went on a cross country trip with our kids and one of them asked with genuine wonder, “What did people do before MapQuest?”
“What do you mean? We used maps!” Came my equally wondering reply! Forget compass and star navigation, this generation is impressed with Rand McNally!
This year I have an 12th grader. As I approach the final year of our homeschooling journey with my firstborn, I feel like I have gained some perspective, a bird’s eye view if you will. After our many weaves and turns, we are coming into the homestretch and some things have come into focus. Don’t they say, “Hindsight is always 20/20?”
Homeschooling today can be compared to navigating with MapQuest. The internet has been hugely beneficial to the ease and availability of information, however, in the crush of information we have lost, or never got, that bird’s eye view. This has resulted in a lack of confidence and independence. I am seeing more and more homeschoolers who are dutifully following step by step directions without any feel for where they are going or what they expect to find when they arrive. It reminds me of navigating with GPS! The sole goal of education is not marketable skills, as if our children were merely cogs in some machine. The true goal of education is a well-rounded, humane person. Most homeschoolers would agree with me, but how do we get there?
I applaud families who have chosen to prioritize their children over careers and sometimes comfort! The parents who recognize that the seasons of life come and go, but in this season of their lives, this investment in their families and in our culture is worth their time, energy and focus. The passion is there; what I would like to do is add a little perspective, a bird’s eye view of the journey.
As I look back, I can see that the process of educating my children can be grouped into 3 broad categories or steps; I will call them “Loving Knowledge,” “Getting Knowledge,” and “Processing Knowledge.” While ideally a child would begin from birth at the beginning, life is not often ideal. Wherever you happen to find your family, everyone should start with the first step. Even if it means backing up or slowing down a little. The foundation of a building is the most important, if unseen, part of a building. Making sure that foundation is there will not be time lost. It will be well invested. Mirroring the uniqueness of each family, the path to accomplishing these three goals will by necessity be varied. However, understanding these three stages is imperative to developing that underlying sense of direction and peace.
Did you know that the word philosopher actually means “Lover of Knowledge”? It should be our goal to have our children be little philosophers! This is the first step of education.
If you can help your children fall in love with knowledge it is all downhill from there! If you can succeed in this one thing, your job description automatically changes from: Poking, prodding, dragging and nagging, to: Guiding, directing, steering and channeling. Your child is the driving force and you are his guide, or better yet, a discoverer right alongside him. This seems like a simple choice right? So how does this happen?
Is it really worth it?-
I believe it starts with you as the parent. You can’t lead where you don’t go. Are you a Lover of Knowledge? Do you believe it is really worth the investment of your time… even your “Me time?” Now read this carefully. I’m not asking “Is homeschooling worth the investment of your time?” I am asking, “Is pursuing knowledge worth your time?” And if the answer is no, why?
When I first started homeschooling I had this subconscious idea that, while teaching my kids was a productive and worthwhile use of my time, when the day’s lessons were done, I was going to devote my time and energy to more important endeavors. I was homeschooling as a job; I was not a “Pursuer knowledge.”
I was merely checking one more thing off of my to-do list. I had an eye opener one day as I was reading the story of King Solomon. When Solomon asked God for wisdom, not only did God give him sound judgement and discernment, but He also gave him the kind of knowledge that we typically think of as school work! The Bible specifically says, “…He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” All knowledge is part and parcel to God! There was no separation between Physical and Spiritual knowledge. All knowledge was God’s gift to Solomon and all knowledge is God’s gift to us. It is a worthy pursuit!
Suddenly, pursuing knowledge with my kids WAS the important part of my day. I had permission to use ALL of my abilities to this end. And then we began to bloom! I began to realize the value of a lifestyle of pursuing knowledge, and it didn’t stop when the kids were through with “school time.”
You won’t pursue something you don’t love, and you won’t love something you don’t value. Begin to value and love knowledge.
Prepare to be a Model -
It is important for our kids to see us modeling what we want to see in them. If I want my kids to love and value reading, they need to see me making a place for it during my own time. Not just during “school.”
If I want them to wrestle with and conquer math, they need to see me doing it, using it day to day, but also stretching myself in areas I may be weak in. Getting stuck (and admitting it!) and then figuring it out!
If I want them to value History and Science, do they see me valuing it? Do I pause in the middle of dinner preparations to turn up the TV and hear the latest update on the space satellite? Do I take the time to be outside, and in that time do I take time to really notice the things around me? Do I make a point to watch the documentary? Do they hear me discussing these things with my friends?
If I want them to value writing, do they see me making time for journaling, letters and compositions?
Sometimes from a child’s perspective we are teaching them the things “They should know,” but that they won’t use in real life. Are we modeling these things? Are we showing by example that these are valuable parts of real life; that life is made richer and fuller because of them?
Is knowledge worth your time? Are you a lover of Knowledge? If not, start now. I literally thought about the kinds of things I wanted my children to be interested in and chose to become interested in them myself! It is often true that feeling follows decision. As an example, I had always loved the idea of books, but I was never much of a reader! (Gasp! True confessions) I knew that for my kids to be life-long learners they needed to love books. I also knew that they wouldn’t unless I did; so I started reading. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. It has actually become a bit of an obsession! It changed my life; but more importantly it changed my kids. They love to read. We have created a culture of books. They love finding a shelf of books tucked away in someone else’s house. They love the monthly library book sale. They each have begun their own book collections. They followed in my footsteps. This will be true regardless; the question is, where do you want them to go? Go there yourself.
Are there requirements for love? –
To love something, by definition involves more than just our mind. One of the blocks to creating Lovers of Knowledge is a misunderstanding of what Knowledge is. Knowledge is more than facts. Don’t get me wrong, facts are great! I sometimes like to rattle off a list of facts just to make sure I still know them, plus it sounds impressive! There are some situations where facts are all you need. But facts are not enough to inspire love. Just as in our human relationships there is so much more than the mere facts and mechanics of the connection; There is a lot more to knowledge. Knowledge is fact clothed with idea. Spirit is to the body what ideas are to facts. Just as a body is not a person without a spirit; so facts are not knowledge without their corresponding ideas. It would be strange and unnatural to fall in love with just a body. In the same way, it is strange and unnatural to fall in love with just a fact. Yet this is what we expect our children to do!
There must be more to make the human connection. Knowledge is part of what it means to be human. Animals can be trained with facts, but it is our understanding of the idea behind the fact that sets us apart. One of the reasons we are failing to raise Lovers of Knowledge is that we have misrepresented knowledge. We have stripped the facts from the ideas behind them and then presented this as knowledge. And we wonder at the lack of connection?
Behind every fact is a story, a person, a dream. Behind every fact there is passion or a problem. These are the things that touch our heart, that touch our humanity. These are the things that capture our imaginations. These are the elements we remember and make us want to know more. Captivate a child with the idea and he will pursue the facts for himself. More than that, he will care about it. How often do we here this problem lamented, “How do we get the child to really care about what he is learning,” or, “How do we get him to engage in this subject?” Here is the answer. The human connection of an idea. Ideas give birth to other ideas. One thing leads to another. Knowledge becomes the child’s personal quest because a fire has been sparked. All he will need from you is an occasional sprinkling of ideas to keep it stoked. He will pursue because he loves, he will love because an idea has touched his humanity. He will care, though at this point caring will be an understatement.
The first step of education must be that a person becomes a Philosopher, a Lover of Knowledge. The rest will be difficult and ultimately not matter if you don’t lay this foundation. Take the time to lay it well, at whatever stage you find your family. Remember, you must lead by example and you must not misrepresent knowledge. Put your family in touch with ideas: Stories, Biographies, the debates and dilemmas of the past and the present. This step may take time, much like starting a fire with flint. Don’t rush, or get frustrated. The spark will catch, you and your children will fall in love, and then you will be ready for step two.
Once a person loves knowledge and wants to pursue it, he needs to know how to “get at it.” This step covers what could be called the “mechanics” of education, things like the ability to read, write, and do arithmetic. This is the step many people jump to first… and then never, ever leave!
Remember, education is all about knowledge; Knowledge is fact clothed with idea. Ideas are part of what it means to be human and a well-rounded person is the goal of Education. Our job is to equip our children with the tools they will need to reach this goal while not losing sight of the big picture.
First things first –
The starting point for “Getting Knowledge” is to recognize where all knowledge comes from. The Bible says that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father (God)...” Even if the “originator” of a particular idea was not a professing Christian we recognize that God is the giver of every good gift. Even in our fallen state we are always reflecting glimpses and glimmers of our Creator, however imperfect and tarnished those reflections may be; however unware the individual may have been. God is the God of truth and we can rejoice in and revel in the discoveries of others knowing that He is the source of every good thing. Helping your children recognize this will allow them to develop a healthy and balanced worldview as opposed to a narrow and close minded perspective.
We also need to point out the amazing ability of the Bible to speak not only to the spiritual side of reality but also to the physical side, they are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated. God doesn’t separate the two and neither should we. God is the source of ALL knowledge and the Bible is his message to us. Put your children in contact with God’s word directly. They do not need a middle man to translate, explain and interpret. Let them develop their own relationship with their Creator, He will speak to them for Himself!
Finally, don’t forget what Solomon wrote, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. In all your getting, get understanding.” I have heard it said that “Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge.” Getting all the knowledge in the world is useless if we don’t know how to apply it. I believe the Bible is uniquely qualified to offer Wisdom.
The tools and how to use them-
The “Three R’s” as they used to be called are not the end goal! There is a reason why we learn them, your children need to recognize that. They are a means to an end. They are tools you give your child for their own particular Pursuit of Knowledge. They are not a measure of intelligence.
Some people are great writers, but not great spellers! They may very well struggle with spelling their entire lives, but that need not exclude them from a career as a writer.. Conversely being a perfect speller won’t make you a good writer. Ironically spelling and writing don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Each tends to be a naturally occurring gift. That doesn’t mean we don’t develop the area that needs development. If your child is a writer, he needs the tool called spelling. You will be shirking your responsibility, and your child will grow to resent you, if you don’t help him get it. If your child is a perfect speller, he needs the ability to corral his thoughts and communicate them. Don’t neglect any tool in the box, but do keep the big picture in mind, and more importantly, help your child see the big picture.
For another example, some people are great logical thinkers, but not great with Math. I read about a brilliant Physicist who taught at a University. During his lectures he would get so lost and confused in his own equations that he would have to have someone else come in a finish them! Was he smart? Yes! He had the ideas! He just needed help with some of the facts.
Honestly, which is more important? The ability to work equations won’t necessarily enable you to know how and when to use them. Nor will the ability to work equations endow you with the ideas behind them! I say all of that to say this, be diligent with this step, but don’t get stuck here. Keep the goal of true education in sight. Keep a proper perspective of the tools used to get knowledge, but do get the tools!
Don’t be a know it all –
It is important for your children to know that no one person is the fount of all knowledge. The ocean of knowledge is wide and diverse and in the care of many and varied persons. This is where the ability and love of reading becomes important. This is where Living Books come into play. The greatest ideas of all times have been written down. Put your children in direct contact with these. Let them have conversations with the best the world has produced! I think this is an important point because it will protect your child from being taken in by every persuasive idea and megalomaniac that comes along. It seems innocent at first glance, but I don’t even want my children to view me as their source of knowledge. It is good for our children to hear us say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out!” What a relief! How many would-be homeschool parents have been deterred by feeling inadequate; when in fact that is the healthiest attitude you can have!
I can remember in my early days of Homeschooling that in preparing for a class or lesson I would read the material quietly and thoroughly so that I wouldn’t need the book while I was teaching. Then I could present the information as if I knew, perhaps as if it had originated with me? Now I make a point to read to my kids directly from the book! I am a co-learner right alongside them. This is good and healthy. Intelligence isn’t knowing all of the answers, it is knowing where and how to find the answers. I don’t want my children NEEDING someone to follow; I want to equip them with the ability to seek out knowledge for themselves.
A practical note –
At no point during the process of education do you leave one stage completely for the addition of the next. Each previous stage merely gets added to and embellished by the new. Think of it like juggling. So, once I introduce my kids to a love of knowledge via ideas (step one), I never stop stoking that fire with more and more ideas, I just starting handing them tools as well. In my experience the best source for ideas are real people. The next best are books written by “real” people, by real I mean either the originator of the idea or by someone who is passionate about the subject. (This is, incidentally, the definition of a “Living Book.”)
This emphasis on ideas usually rules out textbooks which are compilations put together by teams of people which by design have stripped the ideas from the facts in an effort to cover a lot of ground. Textbooks are books of facts, summaries and overviews. That is why none of us remember any of our textbooks, but we do remember the novels, biographies and histories we have read… they held not only facts, but more importantly they held ideas! There is no hard and fast rule. At different times and for different reasons I have used textbooks in various ways, but remember this is my Hindsight. I see now that the most memorable and productive learning took place around Living Books and that is the direction I will be steering my family for the remainder of our homeschooling journey.
I see this second stage of education as, ideally, reaching from K- 7th grade. This is the prime time to be handing out tools! Not only handing them out, but working on becoming proficient with them; Knowing how to use them and when. One of the things that bogged me down during this phase was the feeling of needing to “keep up” or cover a certain amount of material during this stage. It sometimes got in the way of my tool training! Here is my perspective now that we have finished High School. THEY COVER ALL THE SAME INFORMATION AGAIN! If there is something you don’t get to during elementary, don’t worry, they are going to cover it in High School and actually be more prepared to deal with and process the information than they were in elementary, providing you have given them the tools they need.
My advice is to use these elementary years to really focus on ideas and tools. Develop the love, but also develop the handwriting, phonics, reading, spelling, and BASIC MATH. I can’t emphasize this enough… basic math. It is better to go slow here and really know what you know then it is the have gone through a certain number of books. Know the multiplication tables, the 4 operations of arithmetic, fractions and decimals, money and time. A firm foundation with these things will give them a launching place when they get curious about Algebra and Geometry or when they decide they want to take the ACT and go to college. I knew a girl who took Algebra 1&2 in one year when she decided she wanted to go to college! She was motivated! What if they don’t get curious or if they don’t choose college? The basic math will be what they need for day to day living. Keep them challenged – always challenged; different kids will be challenged at different levels and this approach will let them naturally raise to their personal highest level while still retaining their love of learning.
Finally – Don’t let the tools become what it is all about at any point. Using these tools can be tricky and skill doesn’t develop overnight. Be patient and remind your child of the why behind each skill. Let the bulk of each day be ideas. Ideas about people, history, science, myths and fables, poetry and art, music and nature. These are the things that nurture and refresh the soul, these are the things that will make you and your child want to continue the journey… and that is invaluable!
Along the road of “Getting Knowledge” we will eventually come to an obstacle, for while all of the best ideas have been written down, so have all the worst! I believe knowledge is made up of both. What is a parent to do? Speaking as a sometimes “over-protective” parent (Is there really any such thing?!) I am not a fan of protecting children from every wrong idea (And yes, there are wrong ideas.)
I am not talking about wallowing in moral filth, I am speaking of ideas; ideas like evolution, socialism, and in our post-modern culture, ideas like abortion and questions of gender and sexuality. (Obviously the age of your children will be a determining factor here.) I say, as I said above, put them into direct contact with the authors of ideas. Ideas are powerful. Some of these people will become their mentors, while others will serve as warnings. The thing to remember is, as a Pursuer of Knowledge your child will come into contact with wrong ideas sooner or later. The question is: What will they do with those ideas?
I am not talking about wallowing in moral filth, I am speaking of ideas; ideas like evolution, socialism, and in our post-modern culture, ideas like abortion and questions of gender and sexuality. (Obviously the age of your children will be a determining factor here.) I say, as I said above, put them into direct contact with the authors of ideas. Ideas are powerful. Some of these people will become their mentors, while others will serve as warnings. The thing to remember is, as a Pursuer of Knowledge your child will come into contact with wrong ideas sooner or later. The question is: What will they do with those ideas? This is where the third level of education becomes cruci
I am not talking about wallowing in moral filth, I am speaking of ideas; ideas like evolution, socialism, and in our post-modern culture, ideas like abortion and questions of gender and sexuality. (Obviously the age of your children will be a determining factor here.) I say, as I said above, put them into direct contact with the authors of ideas. Ideas are powerful. Some of these people will become their mentors, while others will serve as warnings. The thing to remember is, as a Pursuer of Knowledge your child will come into contact with wrong ideas sooner or later. The question is: What will they do with those ideas? This is where the third level of education becomes crucial.
Like I said above, the age of your kids will come into play here. If this basic outline is begun at birth, by the time they reach this stage they will naturally be ready for this step. They will have been raised on a diet of good and true ideas and at this stage (7th-8th grade) they will begin to notice discrepancies and contradictions in some of the material they come across. They will begin to ask harder and more complex questions. That is why I see this as a natural progression for education. If you are starting somewhere midstream with your family, these stages will by necessity overlap. That is ok, just don’t get them out of order. The order is what is important. Each step rests on the previous and can’t stand alone.
Once your child has the Love of Knowledge, and the Tools to get Knowledge, he needs to know how to Process that Knowledge. Here is where we stand: He loves knowledge, he knows how to get it, and now he has all of these ideas floating around him, but all ideas are not equal! Remember, knowledge is - fact clothed with ideas, and ideas have power. They have power to inspire- but that inspiration can sometimes be insidious. Instead of seeming like our ally, they can seem to be working against us!? Should we panic? Should we change our course? I think this is why many well-meaning Christian parents go on “lock down mode” at this point. This is a mistake for more than one reason. What we need to do is, teach our children to think critically.
There is a great big world out there -
Somewhere around 7th or 8th grade your child will become aware that there are two sides of every debate. When they are younger they have a sweet trust in our perspective as parents. If we see things a certain way, chances are they will too. But as they grow and mature, part of that maturing process is a desire to look for ideas beyond where they have looked before and to ask questions and debate the answers. This makes some parents nervous. Know that this is good and natural and to be encouraged. This is part of the process of them taking pocession of ideas as their own. Remember, we don’t want them needing someone to follow. This would handicap them for life. The only person worth following is God Himself… but during this phase they may even question that! Don’t panic! If you have laid the proper foundation, this stage will be the capstone, not the crushing blow. Play it cool!
Think about it Logically -
Oh yeah! Let’s teach them to argue… during the time when all they want to do is argue!! I remember sensing the irony of this! But really, doesn’t it make sense? This is the stage they are in and they need the tools to do it well. They need you as their parent to equip them so that they will not be taken in by fine sounding arguments… even if they are crafted by their own mother! It really kept me on my toes!
Everyone needs the ability to think objectively and logically. To be able to examine ideas beyond their initial impression is a life skill. It is not optional for a Lover of Knowledge because a Lover of Knowledge is also a Lover of Truth and won’t settle for anything less. That is the foundation you are trusting in. Truth resonates and has staying power. I like John Milton said “Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
You don’t really need a curriculum for this though there are good books out there.If you have cultivated a lifestyle of knowledge and ideas over the years, this is the stage where those kinds of conversations will begin to develop naturally. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by these discussions. Even at this stage it is good to admit that we don’t know some things and to model how and where to find answers. Learning to think about ideas on a deeper level takes practice. Here are a couple of good statements for consideration: “For something to be true it must be true even if taken to its most extreme point.”
“For Something to be true, it has to work in real life.”
This stage is also the most productive time to introduce the study of Apologetics. Once again, when they are young they have a sweet trust. “Of course Jesus was raised from the dead! Why are we still discussing it?” But now that they are in this questioning stage, they begin to have questions. If they don’t ask, it may be because they think it is wrong to ask certain questions. Assure them that God does not have a problem with honest questioning. Use Job as an example. We also don’t need to be afraid of the answers, truth will remain.
This plays hand in hand with critical thinking but focuses more on the defense of the Christian Worldview. I think this is important in a post-modern culture where all moral ideas are considered valid. It is here that we take a long focused look at the philosophical and scientific evidences that point to Christianity. The idea behind it is that your children will be prepared to argue their defence of the truth.
In my experience, very few people are “argued” into a belief in Jesus Christ. The true value of this study is to underpin your child with a firm foundation of the “Why.” This is after all the stage they are in… “Why?” “How do we know?” And this is good! Give them the answers they need; It will build their confidence. (Make sure this study does not take the place of devotional readings and quiet time. They are very separate pursuits and each needs its own space of time.)
This final stage of education is the place where I have seen a lot of famiies derail. While there are many factors to consider in bringing a child into adulthood, I think two of the biggest reasons people fail here are: They panic and don’t recognize that this, reaching beyond boundaries and questioning, is an important step in education and maturity. Because of this they pull the reins in too tightly and inadvertently spur their children away from truth instead of steadily guiding them to it.
The other reason I see, is a failure to lay the proper foundations of education early on. I once heard Jeff Baldwin say “Our sanctification is tied up with our education.” I couldn’t agree more. When we begin to recognize that the Bible speaks directly to all aspects of reality, both spiritual and physical, the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”, begins to take on new meaning. It is not only speaking of “spiritual training” but all training. All knowledge is equal to God, it was his gift to Solomon and it is His gift to us. Embrace it, Love it, Pursue it!
So there it is. My Hindsight. The things I wish I had known before I started. What I hope I have created here is not so much of a detailed outline; a step by step plan for you to take my hand and follow. (Remember that is the problem with GPS Navigation.) Rather, I hope I have given you an aerial view and a compass that will point to the goal. Something you can have so that when you are in the middle of the daily grind, trudging through the muck and the mire, you will have something to look back at, and get that fresh perspective for yourself but also for your children.
I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. I want you to have that calm, confident feeling of independence that is so empowering.
Blessings on your family and your journey.
P.S. You just thought I was through! Now comes my shameless plug for Charlotte Mason. (Hey! this is my Hindsight! Did you really want only half of it?)
I feel like Charlotte Mason’s ideas about education are the most effective way to accomplish the above goals. After many years doing a lot of different things, I have settled here. Her ideas on “Self Education,” her techniques for developing the “Habit of Attention,” Her emphasis on ideas and prescription for how to use “Living Books” resonate with truth. They seem to produce stress free moms and motivated kids. What is not to like? You might want to look into it!
(I wish someone had told me sooner!)