My mom, who is “walking down her 88th year” as she says, often tells those familiar stories about her life as a child, how she walked 5 miles to school in snow and how the girls in the family had to wear boy’s galoshes because it was during the Great Depression. Typically these tales are brought on by hearing someone in the family talk about some newfangled this or that, something she finds to be unnecessary.
As I started thinking about minimalist influence on homeschooling and family life, I found myself sounding like one of the old timers, waxing eloquent about the good old days and proclaiming some of the new-fangled ideals in homeschooling circles as “unnecessary.” I hope you will indulge me.
It was interesting for me to read the reviews and see pictures from the Cincinnati Homeschooling Convention. What a tremendous event and amazing opportunities for the nearly 15,000 moms and dads, sons and daughters who attended. It certainly brought back a lot of memories for me from conventions we attended over the past two decades and reminded me of just how mainstream, if not trendy, homeschooling has become.
In the olden days of homeschooling, circa 1980’s, our first exposure to homeschooling was actually one workshop that was offered as part of the Central Illinois Sunday School Convention. A couple who had been homeschooling a few years talked about their convictions and offered a very short list of books and magazine articles to read. The 15 or so of us who attended chatted about homeschooling and the resources we had found available, mostly Christian school curriculum we would have to adapt for home use, and we each went our separate ways. A room full of novices and dreamers, we were.
As time went by, a local support group was formed and began hosting a small convention. Over the years, they brought in speakers who promoted the priorities of building character into children, becoming strong as families, and making the study of God’s Word central to all that we did.
The exhibit hall offered a handful of items to purchase but mostly the speakers were there to encourage and cheer us on; few had something to sell or promote other than the value of homeschooling. By necessity, we had to creatively find ways to teach our children the things we believed they needed to know and, in the process, learn ourselves.
I am in no way disparaging the wonders to be found at conventions, in the many homeschooling supply companies, or even the home businesses that started in the basements and garages of homeschooling families. In fact, I always take every opportunity to encourage moms to attend these wonderful events. Today, the possibilities are endless and the resources are awesome. But I think it would be in our best interest to consider how a minimalist influence in homeschooling, not only in curriculum purchases but in lifestyle, is needed to bring us back to the basics of why we educate our children at home and the priorities that bring about the best results of our efforts. Here are a few areas of concern that I have:
1. Homeschooling is becoming curriculum driven rather than an opportunity for children to explore and discover themselves. This was really confirmed to me a few months ago when I chatted with a mother of pre-schoolers who was intent on purchasing a curriculum package for her little boys. As I asked her about their interests and about the type of learners they were, encouraging her to not push an intense reading program on boys at too early of an age, it became obvious to me that her agenda was to purchase and proceed through a curriculum rather than to assess each of her children individually for what would be best for each of them. I smiled and nodded, any suggestions of reading a book by the Moores being rebuffed and I was told “Oh, I have heard of the Moores and we would NEVER be interested in what they have to say. We believe in early childhood education.”
This is exactly why I think curriculum packages can be so counterproductive. They assume that learning and education are somehow equated with formal school and seatwork. They promote doing public school in your home, assuming that all children learn in the same manner and that it must come from textbooks and worksheets. There is the assumption that if a book is completed during the school year, learning and education have occurred. This is the reason both moms and children, especially boys, often burn out in the early years.
On the other hand, real books from the library, a tub of art supplies, being read stories rich in vocabulary, a variety of good music, the daily discussion of God’s Word and how it relates to the world around him, and the attention of a loving parent who includes him in all the activities of real life are the secrets to a great learning experience for children. Winston Churchill once lamented, “My education was interrupted only by my schooling” and how very true that can be, even for homeschooled children.
2. Along with this notion about curriculum comes the one that the more money that is spent on teaching children, the better educated they will be. I remember hearing a homeschooling leader and conference presenter once admonish parents to understand that they would need to spend the same amount of money on home education as they would on tuition in a private school if they wanted to provide an adequate education for their kids. I can only imagine how discouraging that statement was and how many families ultimately decided that cost would prohibit them from homeschooling.
A few months ago I wrote about attending a local school board meeting and tediously listening to the bureaucracy that IS the public school system. I sat in amazement as teachers and principals talked about their various programs and the need for money to fund them. I kept thinking about the emperor’s new clothes, watching as one by one school board members and parents, ie taxpayers, nodded in support, clueless as to how unnecessary much of this funding truly is. Why is it that one room school houses were able to provide a far superior education to our grandparents than our grandchildren would receive today in school districts around the country, and all on a shoestring budget?
3. Filling days and nights with activities outside the home is now equated with a “well-rounded” homeschooling experience. How often I have heard homeschooling moms lament how busy their weeks are and how much time they spend in the car rather than at home. One mom told me how their family gives one day each week to her co-op and that it takes her at least one other full day and sometimes two days prior to their class day to help her children prepare. Other moms have 4 or 5 children to taxi to various lessons and practices each week and when added to church activities, family meal time and free time to just live in the world around them is often compromised.
Having older children who desire fellowship and friendship is a good reason to get involved in occasional outside events and classes where particular skills can be honed is often a great idea. But the subtle pressure to provide “enrichment” for our children can often turn into an endless list of outside pursuits that steal away the hours of family living. Any time spent away from home should be measured by the benefits. Does it leave time to explore and learn new things on our own? Does it inspire creativity and further study? Does it promote a healthy lifestyle or does time outside the home mean that McDonalds and Burger King provide frequent meals for your family? Does it mean that younger children spend endless hours strapped into car seats while older children are taken to one event after another? Do you find yourself looking for ways to offer your children all the amenities of the public school system or are your children having time to serve others? Do your children spend most of their time with people who are a variety of ages or mostly with peers? Are you the one providing most of their Bible instruction and discipleship or is it done by your church? Do your children know that you always have time to listen to them and pray with them every single day?
4. What is the goal of a real education? One of the common concerns often expressed to us over the years about homeschooling is whether or not we could possibly teach our children everything. My answer is always “no” followed by the correct observation that there is no teacher or institution or family who could possibly teach everything. And it shouldn’t even be a goal! The vast amount of information, especially technological information, that is generated increases exponentially each year. Rather than worrying about knowing it all, our goal as homeschoolers ought to be to raise and become, ourselves, lifelong learners. This is accomplished first by providing an environment rich in life experiences and then giving our children an introduction to ideas and concepts outside of those experiences. By teaching and training in research skills and not uploading them with information and allowing them plenty of space to study things they are curious about (delight centered learning), we have given them the tools to be successful no matter where the Lord leads them.
Let me encourage you to take the coming summer months to consider the following:
1. What are the areas of your life as a homeschooling family that are the most important to you? Brainstorm, making a list and narrowing it down to your top five priorities. Consider how the curriculum, programs, activities, and learning methods you now enjoy either enhance or detract from these goals.
2. Begin to eliminate those things that are not beneficial or that take time away from accomplishing these five goals. Ask yourself if those goals can be better met at home rather than outside the home and be honest. Remember that life is short and life with our children at home is even shorter. Imagine yourself, 25 years from now, talking with your adult children who are raising your grandchildren. How can you spend your time today that will best prepare them for that task?
3. Say “no” to new things that come along that also won’t help you accomplish your goals for your family. There is a plethora of opportunity for homeschooling families but ask yourself which options are the best choices for yours. Don’t succumb to the latest curriculum fad just because it is popular and appealing. Don’t jump on any homeschooling lifestyle bandwagon without evaluating it according to your goals. Don’t sign up for a single thing that will not help you accomplish one or more of your five goals.
4. Make time for those things that are important. Never allow yourself to say “I don’t have time” if it is something that will help you attain your goal. For example, if you want to develop a new family habit, wrap that activity around something you do every single day. For years we began the day as a family with Bible reading and prayer but found it difficult to keep as a routine because of Clay’s work schedule. A few years ago we decided to include it as part of something we do together every single day so we incorporated it into our evening meal. Success!
5. Throw yourself into accomplishing those five goals. Read, study, and learn everything you possibly can about things related to that goal and see how it changes your life!
6. Remember that the eternal always trumps the temporal. This will be a continual battle as long as we live in this world but purposing to live each day with this agenda at the core of your life will be worth it all. As I have been making these evaluations for my own life and family, the Lord brought this old hymn to mind. So often I am distracted by the “sights that dazzle” and the “tempting sounds I hear” but know that my calling as a Christian means that my goals and priorities are not to be shaped by the things of this world.
O Jesus I Have Promised Hymn
O Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end;
Be thou for ever near me,
My Master and my Friend:
I shall not fear the battle
If thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If thou wilt be my guide.
O let me feel thee near me:
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.
O let me hear thee speaking
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me,
To hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
Thou guardian of my soul.
O Jesus, thou hast promised
To all who follow thee,
That where thou art in glory
There shall thy servant be;
And, Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end:
O give me grace to follow,
My Master and my friend.
O let me see thy foot-marks,
And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
Is in thy strength alone:
O guide me, call me, draw me,
Uphold me to the end;
And then in heaven receive me,
My Savior and my friend.