By Sara Elsner
Why We Homeschool: Passion - Not Dogma
A large oak-framed vintage world map has occupied a space in our home since I began eager-beaver homeschooling our firstborn as a preschooler over twenty-three years ago. Phonics and handwriting charts that used to adorn the walls of our “schoolroom” have been replaced by framed graduation photos of now six homeschool graduates. It really does seem just yesterday I finally realized my dream of having a “real homeschool classroom”. As our youngest two teenage daughters work on assignments at the recently “farmhouse-refurbished” desk and table, I now dream about enlarging our kitchen by removing the wall that used to proudly display a chalkboard, primary handwriting lessons, and kids’ artwork. In just three getting-shorter years, this chapter will be over. Sort of. I’ve also realized the following truths as I’ve lived this chapter of my dream:
You don’t need a classroom in your home for learning to happen, regardless of whether or not you identify as a “homeschooling family”
Every parent “homeschools” to some extent and in some way, regardless of whether your children attend a classroom outside the home
When You’re at Home, AND on the Road….
Falsely sensing a need to supplement our oldest kids’ home education with a saturation of extra-curricular activities (more on that later), we literally learned some subjects “on the road”. They laughingly recount memories of human anatomy educational sing-along cassettes and cd’s played in our family van on the way to out-sourced canoeing, music, dance lessons, and sports.
But from the time parents begin singing and reading to their children, learning is happening at home. In moments of discovery together about God’s intelligent, creative design and order through nature walks and travel, math homework and book reports, and history and current events, all parents create relational environments in varying degrees, that influence their child’s learning and development.
Parents are the primary influence in their children’s learning experience, regardless of whether they homeschool, or partner with a professional educator – there’s just a variance in the quantity time spent under that influence. And with outsourced “a la carte” courses and homeschool cooperative options, this variance even exists among those of us who officially identify as “homeschoolers”.
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT
As I wrote in “School Dazed Part 1”, I’ve learned to be less dogmatic, as well as less idealistic, about the WHERE’s and HOW’s (public, private, or home school), and more focused on the WHY’s, of education for our children. There’s no such thing as a secular education for the Christian family, even if they attend public school. Christ-following parents have the freedom to give their children a “Christian education” in their family’s “private school”, both “at home” and “on the road” to out-sourced classroom instruction, whether public or private.
Some people may be motivated to homeschool based on perceived negative concerns about conventional schooling. But our family’s reasons for homeschooling our children have become more defined by the proactive enrichment opportunities of the homeschooling format, which allows us as parents to more conveniently and effectively engage our kids’ hearts to…
inspire them to love learning
prioritize seeking their God-given purpose and delight
customize learning without labels, and according to their strengths and challenges
“connect the dots” between academic study and God’s design
Evaluating the HOWs of Homeschooling in the Face of the WHYs of Education
“Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 NASB
Our schoolroom also has these words chalked onto a wall that holds a framed multi-cultural world history timeline: “History is His Story…God seeking the heart of man!”
As parents, we seek to engage our kids’ hearts to know their purpose and gifting. To inspire them to love learning. And to discover wholehearted wisdom with regard to God’s Truth about His creation and its order, beauty, and creativity, as well as His-story of seeking and redeeming the heart of mankind.
Even in Algebra.
We’ve found that for our family this most effectively takes place in a homeschooling format that has evolved over twenty-seven years as parents. Several things have been pretty constant in our “syllabus”, from pre-school to college prep, regardless of what curriculums we have chosen from an overwhelmingly vast plethora of homeschooling resources available:
The Bible is history, truth, light, comfort, alive, and a daily encounter in some way. SO many times the kids have seen a Bible truth from the day be linked to something we’re studying in history, science, literature, or at Youth group!
I read aloud to our children, from before they can talk and even well after they are reading their own independent assignments. It makes literature and history palatable and fun, it trains their attention spans, and we connect and learn together.
We design history, social studies, Biblical worldview, and reading and writing assignments to link and overlap – this “kills many birds with fewer stones” and connects dots in their learning. (I’ve briefly listed the curriculums I’ve used that do this.)
Math is necessary, beautiful, and it’s begun slowly to promote confidence in the early elementary years, with difficulty-progression accelerating according to the strength and weakness of each individual as they get older. (It’s my major, so I love teaching it, but many homeschooling families outsource instruction for higher level math.)
The TV is kept off during the day – except for carefully selected and intentionally limited educational videos for the containment and occupation of preschoolers.
While life’s realities demand that schedules be flexible, predictable structure helps promote peace. Depending on the dynamics of your household, this can be as basic as an outline, or as detailed as a color-coded Excel spreadsheet.
With an abundance of extracurricular opportunities available, we’ve learned it’s best when we’re intentional about leaving margin in our schedule.
Again, any Christ-following parent can engage their children in ways to connect the dots within academia and inspire delight in God’s creative order, regardless of their educational context. But homeschooling just makes these opportunities more accessible in customizing curriculums to learning styles, in the process of training our children to discover the way they should go!
Below is not an exhaustive list of our curriculum – I’m only listing tools that have helped us overlap multiple academic subjects with relational discussions that can enhance a Biblical worldview:
Five in a Rowby Jane C. Lambert – A read preK-aloud curriculum that also teaches social studies, history, geography, art, and sometimes science and math.
Tapestry of Grace by Marcia Somerville/Lampstand Press, Ltd. – A multi-level curriculum for Primary-12thgrade in History, Geography, Literature, Composition, Art Appreciation, and Worldview. Additional book purchases are required, but we are currently on our 3rd rotation of this 4 year cycle history-based curriculum.
The Elephant in the Schoolroom – What about Socialization?
As homeschooling has become more common, or maybe as our own kids have grown into outgoing and very social teens and adults, I’ve heard this question less. The truth is that home, private, and public schools are all made up of introverts and extroverts, and mixes of the two in varying manifestations. In our family’s experience, homeschooling, while staying engaged with the Body of Christ in all its diversity, has provided settings for balanced training that encourages socialization across age-peer lines. And this has happened both with and withoutexaggerated extracurricular schedules that we at first felt were needed in order to compensate for falsely- assumed lack in socialization. It’s also happened in spite of us being mostly introverts by definition.
As I wrote in School-Dazed Part 1, parents being intentional about relationally engaging our kids’ hearts is key to both their educational and spiritual growth. It goes without saying that it plays a key role in their social development. We’ve found that homeschooling naturally and consistently provides opportunities and topics for that relational engagement, but we still have to be mindful about intentionality. And we also need to be willing to process their questions, doubts, and peer/friendship concerns with wisdom that requires lots of T-I-M-E and dependence on God.
A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!