Kids around all day?

How can you stand having your kids around you all day and not be out there seeking your own fulfillment?

by Carol Munroe of Auckland

Home-schooling is so much a part of our lives, it is impossible to imagine what our lives would have been like without it.

When we were first married 20 years ago, we had never heard of the word, but it seems like right from the beginning God laid on our hearts to home educate our children. I just could not bear the thought that at 5 years old a child should leave the influence of home and be exposed for the best hours of the day to a situation totally outside parental control, where morality would be taught (or not), and where God would be considered irrelevant to life. It made no sense for God to entrust children to our care only to have us turn them over to someone else to be a major influence at five years old ! So we just never sent our first child to school! That was at a time when it was a bit “hippy” to do it, and we were looked askance at for a while.
Now we are at the stage where we are beginning to see some fruits for our labour, and although we have many years to go (our youngest is six), we know that the benefits are there, whereas in times past it was perhaps harder to see. In fact, there are so many advantages in home-schooling it is hard to figure what is most important.

Life Skills
We found that life skills are learned almost by osmosis. After each child was born the “formal” or bookwork part of our lives fell by the wayside for about six months, as I was just too exhausted to handle my normal routine. But the children learned about how to handle crotchety babies, to be flexible, change nappies and enjoy a new addition to the family. How awful to have to send siblings off to school when a new baby is in the house – all that getting-to-know-you time in the baby stage is lost. At home, it was another part of education – life – that children at school are not exposed to in full measure.

In a home-schooling situation, our children see us warts and all and we can’t hide that from them. It is a constant challenge to model godliness and be the example of Christ to them — showing patience under stress, calmness under pressure, making decisions based on Biblical principles — they see it all. We believe that academics are important, but more important than anything is to build godly character.
One of our children was witness to an argument Mark and I were once having. I have at times “a volatile personality” (politically correct for “bad temper”, due to Irish background and thus beyond my control!!) and this little note was handed up to me. It was a page from a phone message pad, and it read thus:
TO: mummy.
MESSAGE: why are you shouting at daddy all the time?
FROM: andrea
Everything was filled out nicely although misspelled. It brought us up with a round turn, I can tell you! Mark kept it as one of our “precious things”, a humbling reminder that we are constant examples whether we like it or not. While our children have seen us when we disagree, they have also seen us having a hug in the kitchen, holding hands, laughing together, and standing as one when our backs are against the wall. Consequently they will enter marriage realising that at times couples do disagree – sometimes very strongly — but what is more important than anything is to talk it through , and hang in there in the tough times.
Marriage is for life and there is tremendous stress on marriages these days. We want our children to enter marriage knowing that it is “till death us do part”, and we want them to know that every worthwhile marriage goes through hard times and takes work, but they are to be in there for the long haul.

As our children have become teenagers, I have enjoyed a different stage in our relationship, I remember someone saying to us years ago when our children were young – “You wait. They are O.K. now but when they get to be teenagers, you’ll find out all about it”. I half expected them to grow horns on their 13th birthdays, but it never happened! In fact, in a number of ways it is BETTER having teenagers because they can discuss issues and think and work things out — all the more reason to home-school through the high-school years, because it is that time that their faith takes on real meaning, and they see how the Bible applies to all of life.

A couple of years ago we went through Understanding the Times by David Noebel, where every area of life – philosophy, law, biology, politics, etc., was looked at through the grid of a Biblical worldview, and we studied at the same time the other worldviews — Marxism, Humanism, New Age – and how they have influenced the world in which we live. It is alarming that so much worldly thinking has permeated Christianity, and we are not even aware of it. It was an exciting time discussing these issues with our teenagers and seeing their understanding of the faith deepen as they learned the relevance of the Bible to every area. What thrilled me was seeing the two children arguing points as they tried to nut out what the BIBLE said, where the world influences our thinking, and the need to yield every thought captive to Christ. We had some very exciting discussions!
Teaching the children at home has enabled us to become good friends with our children. We talk about things, and we as parents are the first port of call in difficulties rather than their peer group. Last year Andrea (16) read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina . I had read somewhere that this book was one of the most significant literary works ever written, so I picked a copy up in a second hand book shop and determined to read it. It was fascinating and I could hardly put it down. Andrea wanted to read it too, being an avid reader from an early age, so I passed it on, and when she finished, asked, “What did you think of it?” Then followed a discussion about the characters in the story, whether Anna was justified in her behaviour, the consequences of sin, double standards, was Anna a hero or antihero, the attractiveness (or repulsiveness) of the other characters, whether life is really like that — all sorts of perceptions and insights as a result of reading the book.
It crossed my mind later that there would be very few adults that you could have this kind of interaction with, and here is a 16-yr-old understanding it and wanting to learn through it. Where else does that sort of parent-child interaction take place apart through home education?
An exposure to good literature helps a child appreciate quality. This year Andrea enrolled in a full bursary course through correspondence (“I want a challenge, mum!”) and one of her subjects is English. She has recently been studying NZ poets and some of the material she calls “disgusting”, and “Why do we have to study this stuff?” She has developed an appreciation for the good, and home schooling has allowed us to influence her tastes. I remember reading somewhere that it is not enough merely to keep your children from the bad — you have to expose them to what is good. (Children of a Greater God by Terry Glaspey is an excellent book on this, although some have criticised it as being “too intellectual”). Music has always played a important part of our lives, and our children, naturally, have all developed a love for the classics (and some easy listening) because the music is there and they have grown up with it. None of the children so far has shown any interest in modern “rock” music, because they know that loud noise is not music. At school even Christian children have been heavily influenced by rock bands without really thinking what kind of things these groups are promoting, just because their peers think it is “cool”, and it is unthinkable not to be “cool”.
Home-schooling is a calling for the long term just like parenting. In fact, there is not much difference is there? We need to remember that there are “stages” in life, and we cannot — if ever — have perfection. This goes for our children as well — I have learned that there is growth taking place, that what is true now may not be true tomorrow, and behaviour problems can be worked on and maturity is the goal.

Character Building
It used to worry me that our children were quiet, “not outgoing”, and they had not had many opportunities to make friends their own age. Adult peer pressure comes into play here. I had been told that David (now 18) was socially immature and it was because he was home-schooled and he needed to go to school to be socially developed! Mark says the next time somebody tells him their children go to such-and-such a school, he will ask them, “What do you do about socialisation?” Our son David will never be a social whiz, but it was interesting at a Church camp where there were children of the same age and home-schooled (similar interests), there was no problem making friends at all. In fact, we hardly saw him! Now, as he is at university, he is always talking about people he has met, and there is certainly no evidence of personality problems because he has been home-schooled. He has taken to it like a duck to water. I heard a while ago a helpful perspective on this “shyness” issue and I mention it because another home-schooling mother shared she had had a similar experience with one of her children, so it is not uncommon. The world has an “ideal” that we must attempt to conform to — outgoing, life-of-the-party type, good at sport, leader, strong, etc. We need to realise that God deliberately did not make all people like that, and that in fact quieter people sometimes have depths and can be more solid and mature. There is nothing wrong with being quiet, and as home-schoolers we seek to enhance our children’s strengths and build their characters with the God given personalities the children have.

Enjoying Our Children
Like all home-schooling parents, we enjoy our children. Sometimes as I am cooking tea and may be a bit tired or pressured this beautiful music comes drifting out through the kitchen as Andrea plays the piano — our favourite hymns one after another – God and God Alone, Wonderful Grace, The Servant King, Majesty — and my heart is lifted with praise and worship as I cannot help but sing. Or coming home and finding Amy (14) has cleaned the whole bathroom without having been asked (she’ll fetch a good bride price!), Jonathan (12) cuddling up and holding my hand – in public! or irresistibly having to join in when he is just rolling on the floor with laughter, little Cam (6) covering my cheek with kisses, saying, “I love you, mum”. Children are indeed a gift from the Lord, and home-schooling has enabled us to develop the kind of close relationships and memories that we would never have had if we had chosen to send our children to school. We praise God for the privilege and opportunity it has been.

Parents vs. Professionals

How can parents armed with only love for their child and good intentions provide an education anywhere near as good as a professional with a teaching degree?

Ok, ok, I can already hear all you veteran home educators out there choking and gagging at this one. But let’s break it down and examine it.

The stated issue is that trained and certified teachers are obviously superior teachers to untrained parents. The assumptions behind this are many: that certified teachers are far more knowledgeable than parents about what constitutes education; that the money and resources behind certified teachers in registered schools are clearly superior to what all but the more financially endowed parents can provide; that the entire school environment, from dedicated Ministry personnel and curriculum developers to textbook providers to overworked school administrators and board of trustee members to the enthusiastic teachers at the coalface and the brilliant variety of peers within the typical classroom, that all these things combine to provide a palpably well-rounded and comprehensive educational experience the like of which an isolated mum at home with only some out-dated School Certificate passes could never hope to match.

These assumptions, however, are all false for they are based on the false foundational idea that politically conceived, taxpayer-funded, secular and compulsory mass schooling is equivalent to even a basic education. Leaving aside completely the argument as to whether Christians should allow their children to attend secular schooling institutions, let us examine the simple logistical advantages of one mum teaching a small number of her own beloved children at home compared to the conventional classroom situation.

Most of us are aware of cases where teacher certification has not meant the same as teacher competency. In addition, there is the almost unrecognised fact that classroom logistics can make even the best teacher’s efforts an exercise in futility: over-crowded classrooms, lack of discipline, unsupportive administration, inability to give needed individual attention, time restraints which force them to move on to new material before the previous material is comprehended. Teacher certification does not ensure a quality education. In fact, many students who do not catch on at school must go home and get their parents to help out. There are already many parents out there who do the real teaching at night after school while the certified teacher gets the credit.

Home education is a tutoring or mentoring situation. One mum can give her full attention to one or two or three children at a time for whatever period of time is practical and comfortable for them all. Or she can focus on just one child for a piece of time and move to the next and then to the other. Overall she will have far, far more significant one-to-one time than what occurs in the typical classroom where the teacher can often expect no more than one minute of significant one-to-one time per pupil per day. Because of this the home school mum can cover a vastly increased measure of subject matter in the same length of time even though she may be dealing with a range of ages, possibly including a toddler and a newborn. She can assess more exactly whether each child has grasped the concepts or mastered the skills for she is observing the child for most of the waking day, is far more concerned for the child’s welfare and future prospects and is more intimately in tune with the child, being her own flesh and blood, than even the most highly trained and skilled professional teacher could ever possibly be. The enthusiasm, commitment, love, vision, intimate knowledge, and one-to-one tutoring situation of the home school mum, combined with the God-given heart-desire of the child for its mother, ensures that the average home education teacher/parent is starting with vast logistical and relational advantages the classroom teacher can only dream about.

So what does a true and useful education consist of? For the school teacher it is in a politically determined mix of subjects pitched a certain way for a classroom full of children from all sorts of backgrounds and filtered through legal and other socio-political parameters with the aim a producing an outcome in students’ lives which matches a stated objective in a Ministerial document. If the powers that be decide a change is necessary, it will be a good seven years before the drafts are formulated, trialled, assessed, redrafted, approved, adopted and actually introduced and implemented. By then of course the initial problem has mutated beyond recognition and the target children have passed through the system and a new set are being served a special mix designed for a situation and a time which no longer exist.

For the home educating mum it consists of those basic skills plus general and specific knowledge she knows are required to get on in the world: she and her husband and extended family talk about what it’s like out there to be a worker, an employer, a homemaker, a spouse, a parent. They know the character qualities employers want, that they have always wanted throughout history, and that neither School Certificate exams nor university degrees impart those qualities. Christian parents in particular are individually crafting unique children to serve the God of the Universe according to the syllabus He has provided in the Scriptures. They are not that impressed with the state’s attempts through the schools to improve children, which the politicians constantly tell us are this country’s most valuable natural resource (right up there with wool bales and chilled lamb carcasses), or with the socialists’ attempt to inculcate the simplistic non-judgmental vision of tolerating every perversion under the sun, somehow making our “global village” a “better place in which to live”.

The home educating mum knows that rooms, desks and books are dead things. It is imparting life from her heart to her child that makes an education. The most important lessons in her life she did not learn in the classroom but in the school of hard knocks. This is what she imparts. The children are not left interminably to interact with books or CD ROMs, but are encouraged to interact with mum and dad and other siblings and people in the real world of the home, the marketplace, the workplace and the community. They don’t only do word problems from a text book, but do real-life problems like working out the week’s menu from the available budget, balancing the cheque book or helping plan and implement a strategy for improving the safety of the neighbourhood.

Christian parents in particular can hardly justify leaving their children in the care of those who discount, deny and even despise their Christian faith. Even Christian teachers in state schools have their hands tied, for the NZ Education Act Section 77 declares that “the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character”. Every Minister of Education with whom this writer has communicated from David Lange onwards has concurred that the working definition of “secular” as it is used in the Act is “with no religious instruction or observance”. This clearly is not a neutral stance toward Christianity, but one that seeks to eliminate it from the classroom.

The Scriptures tell Christian parents what teaching qualifications are necessary. Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” Not much left to love anything else. Do you love the LORD this way? Well, one thing is for sure, that teacher in the state school is not legally allowed to demonstrate such a love even if he or she should actually have it. And how many of them that you know actually do? Then Deuteronomy 6:6 says, “And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart.” Of course, that which is on your heart will be constantly running through your mind and coming out of your mouth. The Christian teacher in a state school cannot allow that to happen, for it would mean her job. Yet these are the Bible’s credentials for teaching, as the next verse, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “and you shall teach them diligently to your children.” Note that the word “them” is referring to the words of God. What the Bible commands teachers to teach, teachers in state schools are forbidden by law to teach. Mum at home has no such restriction.
If you are inclined to argue that the verses in Deuteronomy are addressed to parents and not teachers in the classroom, think again. Some say that teachers are still considered in loco parentis, in the place of parents, and therefore theoretically required to conform to whatever parents demand (impossible in our pluralistic society), and Christian parents would need to demand teaching according to these verses. Otherwise the Christian has to justify allowing his child to be filled with nonChristian presuppositions and philosophies, which of course he cannot do and still remain consistent with Scripture. The fact is, Christian parent, you will be held responsible for what you allow your children to be exposed to and influenced by day after day after day.
Deuteronomy 6:7 further says, “and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.” There is the context and frequency parents are to employ when teaching: all the time in every situation; that is, in the context of everyday life. Classroom instruction is in an artificial environment, segregated by age groupings and separated from the real everyday life experiences in the workplace, the home, the marketplace and the wider community. Classroom instruction cannot do as the Bible here bids. Mum at home can do this as she goes about her everyday business.

In short, marriage, parenthood and homemaking are probably the best teaching credentials one could have.

“Loving and genuinely concerned parents are the best qualified of all to teach their own children. Who else is more motivated to invest the time, the money, the blood, sweat, toil and tears required for the child’s best interests than the parents? Who knows and understands the child better than the parents?
“Parents only need a shot of confidence to realise that they are qualified to teach, and in most cases will actually do a superior job. Whatever they may lack in the area of formal educational qualifications they will usually more than compensate for in motivation and the advantages of one-to-one teaching.”
– Craig Smith