My husband Geoffrey and I have been home educating ourselves and our seven children for over 35 years. Along the way, we have discovered several principles that helped our children learn to take responsibility for their own education, and become proactive and self-directed in their studies.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” — Deuteronomy 6:4-7
One thing this verse tells us is that a child’s education should be integrated into his parents’ lives, as something they do with him as they go through life together. This is clearly about a lot more than textbooks, workbooks, and checking off boxes on a to-do chart: it’s about helping children learn to see the world with the Lord’s eyes, setting their feet to walk in His paths, and equipping them to do His work through everything that happens throughout the day.
The better our own children understood all that the Lord would expect and require of them as adults, the more invested they felt in their own education and preparation. They could see the consequences of arriving at adulthood unequipped for the job of discipling and educating the nations (Matt. 28:18-20), preaching the Word in season and out, doing the work of evangelists, and more. When they understood the final purpose of their education, they cared as much about furthering it as we did.
As you plan each child’s curriculum, take consideration of the specific gifts, abilities, and interests that the Lord has built into them. The goal is not to let your children’s pet likes or dislikes control the course of learning, but to help channel, guide, and hone what the Lord has given them into its most useful form.
Catching your child’s interest and firing his imagination is important, but the only way children will become diligent, consistent self-teachers is if we help them overcome the natural tendencies every child has toward laziness, impatience, and inability to focus: and train them in self-discipline, initiative, perseverance, and self-denial.
When it comes to education, be flexible and ready to change your plan if something better comes along (or if your plan turns out not to fit the child). Life-integrated learning is an adventure, so be ready to follow the opportunities the day offers. What do you do if the cat is having her kittens, but the chart on the refrigerator says it’s time to do math? Watch the cat have kittens, talk about it, and read up on how birth happens.
This is that brief shining moment when your child wants to know something. Take advantage of it. Find the answer together, or have your child look it up and tell you all about it. Learning something as the result of curiosity is the learning that happens most easily and probably the most permanently. I’m not advocating an un-schooling approach or a totally child-directed approach. You should have a plan for your children’s studies, just be flexible and ready to change your direction for the day if a great learning opportunity comes up.
One of the most counter-productive attitudes you can have about your children’s education is: Let’s get schoolwork out of the way so we can have free time. That makes education sound like something even Mom doesn’t like you want to avoid that. Mom and Dad’s example of being interested in learning new things may be the most important element in teaching your children to love learning.
Limit media use to things that are really valuable and educational, and rid the house of pointless games and media. If the most interesting things to do at your house are reading, drawing, playing piano or violin, building a tree house, sewing, or making a short film, your children will be educating themselves all day long without even knowing it. Using a computer should be on the list of useful activities too, just be sure you know what they are doing on it.
These are the building blocks of your child’s education. Readers truly do become leaders; be sure to set the example yourself of being a reader. Tell them what you are reading about, read aloud (a lot) and stock the house with good books. We didn’t use any purchased curriculum—in fact, except for math, we avoided textbooks. Real books—books written by an author who loves his subject—are much more readable and memorable. Perhaps 90% of the books we gave our children were non-fiction: some by Christian authors, some not. A valuable part of our children’s education was learning to analyze and evaluate what they were learning and to learn that all books but the Bible are flawed. We taught them to read from a Christian and Providential point of view and to spot error and refute it when what they were reading deviated from the truths of Scripture.