Posted in Keystone Magazine Articles
by Barbara Smith
Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
We find that we are not home schooling or even home educating our children now but are discipling our children. We began back in 1985/6 by bringing school into our home. This current movement of home schooling began to mushroom back in 1983 in the States after an interview between Dr Dobson and Dr Raymond Moore on “Focus on the Family”. So we were there near the beginning. There was not much in the way of curriculum back then, only what was used in the schools. Local head masters gave out exemptions in those days, so the goverment had no idea how many children were being home schooled then.
We knew God was calling us to home school, but it was a new thing, there was not much information around at the time and the curriculum available was designed for schools. I thought that my education was lacking but Craig’s was good. His job was such that he was available to teach the children, so he taught our oldest three. For two years we struggled using a curriculum that our children were not responding too well to. Finally Craig took a child on his knee and worked through the workbook verbally: doing it this way caused them to get through it in a much shorter amount of time. We found that our children loved to be read to and to read. They especially loved to hear stories and would listen for hours, for Craig and the children would discuss all sorts of things from the reading they were doing. Gradually we realised that the school curriculum was not helping us at all, so we jumped ship and put together our own programme and began home educating our children instead of home schooling them.
I thought that you had to be one step ahead of your children. That meant you’d have to know everything you were teaching them and spend hours preparing each lesson. With the large numbers of families beginning to home educate, many more minds were exploring these issues. Home educators soon worked out (or perhaps simply rediscovered a principle lost when compulsory schooling took over in most countries) that one did not have to be one step ahead but could be more effective when learning along with the children.
As our personal circumstances changed, I also gained the confidence that I could home educate the children, so took on the task with our youngest three in 1997. I was challenged and have been influenced by the Charotte Mason and the Christian Classical approach, and later on by Diana Waring and family.
Our concern is that there are about 1000 children beginning home education every year in New Zealand and nearly 1000 children going back into the schools. We reckon this is largely because of stress and burnout of parents trying to keep too much of a school routine at home. This does not have to be. In a United Kingdom study of learning methods, Alan Thomas found that “Families starting out on home-based education who at first adopted formal methods of learning found themselves drawn more and more into less formal learning. Families who started out with informal learning at the outset found themselves drawn into even more informal learning. The methods that both groups grew into had much more in common with the method of younger children. The sequencing of learning material, the bedrock of learning in school, was seen increasingly as unnecessary and unhelpful.” Then he goes on to say, “This study challenges the almost universally held view that children of school age need to be formally taught if they are to learn. In school this may be the case, but at home they can learn just by living.”1
When do children learn the most? Yes, during the ages of 0-5. Do parents need a curriculm for this? No, although some within the teachers’ unions are trying their best to change this. Children ask lots of questions during this time which very effectively fills their current learning gaps. Tell me, do you have no learning gaps? Of course you do. When we began home schooling, we thought we needed to use a packaged curriculum so that we would not miss anything that our children should be learning, so that they would keep up with everyone else, so that they would have no learning gaps. Do the curriculums teach our children everything? No! So even the best curriculum will still leave learning gaps!!
How exciting to read Alan Thomas’s research and to put it together with our own experience and that of other home educators around us. What we find we are doing now is to extend the “natural” learning atmospere we have with our 0-5 year olds through to our 9 year olds. “You don’t need 15 years to educate somebody but you need 15 years to socialise somebody,” says Sir Neil Waters, past vice-chancellor of Massey University and NZQA’s Board Chairman.2 Yes, he is right…you can teach your child all the tools they need for learning in 2-4 years. (More on this in a future article.)
Since the home schooling movement has been around for 18 or so years, there are children now in their 20s who have been totally home educated. There are a lot of parents who have learned a great deal over this time about what home education is and isn’t. Some are even writing books and curriculum from their experiences, meaning for the first time ever there are books and curriculum written by home educators for home educators who understand what home education is all about. On top of that there are home educators who have written these materials from a Biblical Christian worldview.
One of these books is Educating the Wholehearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson3 who say, “You may ask how we know we are cooperating with God’s design when home schooling, per se, is never mentioned in Scripture. It’s because home education is not our primary goal at home – home discipleship is, and home education is simply the natural extension of home discipleship….God designed the home for discipleship, and when we follow God’s patterns and prinicples, the natural and normal fruit will be not only spiritual growth and maturity, but intellectual growth and maturity as well…. Your home is a dynamic living and learning environment designed by God for the very purpose of raising your children to become mature, useful disciples of Jesus. When you begin to understand the dynamic, you will find a freedom you never knew was possible in your home education. Home-centered learning helps you discover that dynamic so your home will work for you in discipling and educating your children.
“Home-centered learning is not just a new perspective on your home and family, though, it is also a new perspective on your children. Not only did God design home and family to be a learning environment, but He also designed children to learn naturally within that environment. Because children are made in God’s image, they are already intelligent, creative and curious. No matter what you do (or don’t do!), God has already put within them the drive to explore, discover, question and to learn….Your role as a home educating parent, then, is to provide a rich and lively living and learning environment in which your children can exercise their God-given drive to learn, and then to train and instruct your children within the natural context of your home and family life. It’s that simple.”
Discipling our children is a whole-of-life activity, not necessarily confined to a strict timetable, text books or so many pages in a workbook per day. Such an approach we have found to be far less stressful as well as a lot more fun, and we suspect that if more home educating parents caught on to this idea, fewer would be inclined to chuck it in after only a couple of years.
1. Home-Based Education – Not “Does it work?” but “Why does it work so well?” by Roland Meighan, University of Nottingham School of Education.
2. NZQA’s magazine LEARN, Issue 10, November 1996, p8. as quoted in Preparing for an ERO Review by Craig S Smith, available from Home Education Foundation, PO Box 9064, Palmerston North.
July 2001, Vol. VII No. 4
Editor: Craig Smith
PO Box 9064
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389