by Matthew McDill, August 2021
My dad always used to tell my sister and me: “You’ve got to learn to get along with each other. You two are best friends.” We would often make faces and deny this, but in the end, my sister and I were very good friends. This is the spirit in which my wife and I have raised our kids as well. Public school kids, like my sister and I, can certainly develop strong relationships. But there are some extra benefits and opportunities for strong family life and relationships when we homeschool.
Homeschool families usually develop close relationships because they spend more time together. They learn together, work together, play together, and eat together more than the average family. Spending more time together also presents its challenges. There is often yelling and fighting between siblings. I have heard some parents say that they put their children back in school because they could not get along with them. They said it was hard enough to be their parent; they couldn’t be their teacher as well. This is understandable because it is very challenging to spend a lot of time with people, living and working with them. But if we do not give up but grow through these challenges, we can learn how to love one another and enjoy strong relationships with each other. It is worth it!
We’ve had plenty of fights at our house between siblings and between parents and children. One of the lessons we have learned and taught our children is how to resolve conflict in a healthy way. Instead of lots of yelling, hitting, and tattling, we teach them another way. There are three simple steps: 1) Ask nicely; 2) If he won’t listen, warn him that you are going to tell a parent; 3) If there is still no response, go tell a parent.
If there is any yelling or hitting at our house, the one yelling and hitting gets in trouble no matter what the other offense may be. The most important issue is that they learn to talk with each other about their problems. When a child tells on a sibling, my first question is always, “Did you talk nicely to him or her about it?” If not, I will not listen to the child’s complaint. If they have, then I handle it in the fairest way possible. Sometimes I even have to call witnesses. The children quickly understand what the rules and expectations are. They learn not to come to parents if they haven’t tried to work it out among themselves. They learn what is right and wrong and only bring issues they believe to be right. They learn to listen to each other.
When families learn how to love one another and live life together, there is such wonderful fruit in the relationships that are built. I was recently able to enjoy this relational fruit when my family went on a camping trip. My oldest daughter and her husband and my two boys in college met Dana, me, and the six kids still living at home at a campground in the mountains. What a fun time! We had enough people to play volleyball as a family. We played in the lake, ate lots of food, roasted marshmallows, sang around the campfire, laughed, encouraged each other, and had lots of one-on-one conversations. I love seeing my little boys look up to their older brothers as their heroes and seeing my older boys play with and talk to their little brothers. I love seeing brothers hug their sisters and encourage them. I love seeing my teens talk to their older siblings and ask them for advice.
This kind of fruit comes by working through a lot of difficulties and many years of investment and growth. The years go by so fast. We captured that reality on this trip when my oldest daughter and son recreated a picture that we took almost twenty years ago in the exact same campground.
We are so thankful to God for our children, for homeschooling, and for the strong family life and relationships we have been able to build over the years.
by Matthew McDill, Aug 2021
Some of my very favorite times as a dad are when I sit with my teens, enjoying some coffee and real-life conversation. We talk about school, work, relationships, faith, the Bible, the world, philosophy, politics, and anything else they have on their mind. There is nothing more rewarding than to see their spiritual and intellectual hunger grow, be satisfied, and continue to grow. Of course, this journey started long before they were teens. We teach our little ones basic truths about God and the Bible. We teach them about creation, the fall, salvation in Christ, and the coming judgment. We explain how these basic truths impact every aspect of life.
Many parents choose to homeschool for this very reason: to teach their faith and values to their children. This goal makes sense from a biblical perspective because parents are explicitly given the responsibility to pass on faith and love for God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4). This goal makes sense from a constitutional and legal perspective because of the principles of religious freedom and parental authority. Unfortunately, many parents have abdicated this responsibility completely to the church or the school system. And the public school system seems to be happy to take this responsibility away from parents. Home education is an excellent path for accepting and fulfilling the parental responsibility of passing on faith and values to our children. I want to explore three reasons why this is true.
Preparation for life requires more than knowledge.
When I was in public school in Beaverton, OR, my mom had us come home early from school every Thursday. During that time, we had what she called “wisdom class.” She knew that we were gaining some knowledge at school, but she also knew that we were not sufficiently gaining wisdom there.
Knowing stuff is not the most important thing about us. Knowledge is undoubtedly important and necessary, but there is more. When we use knowledge rightly, it is called wisdom. We have historical examples of some very well-educated, brilliant people who were also horribly evil. The question is: What will our children do with their knowledge? The answer to this question comes from their values and character. In home education, we have the freedom to teach content that goes well beyond knowledge. We can spend significant amounts of time focusing on faith, values, and building character.
Education is rooted in worldview.
Where did the world and humanity come from? What is the meaning of life? What is right and wrong? What happens after we die? The answers to these questions are the foundation for how we understand the world. Everything we learn and receive as true has worldview implications. Our system of values and the decisions we make through life are based on our worldview. Therefore, we must recognize that children are not just receiving information at school but an entire perspective and philosophy of life. Many parents choose to homeschool today because it has become evident that the worldview being taught in public school directly undermines their family’s faith and values. Some areas of study that are most heavily impacted by worldview include science, history, social studies, and sex education. Homeschooling provides the opportunity for parents to teach every subject from a perspective that supports their faith and values.
Discipleship is built on time and relationship.
Discipleship is helping others to follow Jesus Christ. The goal is not to brainwash our children but to guide them to make their own personal choice to believe and follow Christ. Discipleship doesn’t come from discipline or primarily from giving information; it comes from living real life with our children. A parent who wants to help their children follow Christ will spend time with them and develop strong relationships with them. Effective discipleship takes place in the context of open, trusting relationships. Home education provides a wonderful context in which to develop those relationships as families eat together, play together, learn together, and explore and discuss life together.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to pass on faith and values to our children through homeschooling. If this is your goal, please take advantage of these resources that will equip you to do so.
by Diane Helfrich, August 2021
Once a child enters our lives, we start thinking about the years to come—their first words and steps turn into school, graduation, and college, and then, we hope, a successful launch to adulthood. Part of how well our child negotiates these steps has to do with who they spend the most time with, what they read, take in through media and games, and, most importantly, what they are taught., One of my favorite Christian leadership authors, John Maxwell, says, “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.” Let’s look at the difference between a traditional school and a homeschool in its effect on character development.
Who does your child have the most association with beginning at age five or six? In a traditional school, they are placed in a room with twenty or thirty students of the same age and one or two adults for roughly seven to eight hours a day. They will likely interact with other adults throughout the week as they go to art, music, PE, or the library, but most of their time is in the classroom with same-aged kids who have the same-aged social skills. This situation will likely be the norm for the next thirteen years. Think of the behaviors learned there. Sure, there are many well-behaved kids, and the teacher is doing her best, but there are also mean kids, bored kids, kids from families with very different social expectations than yours, kids that hate school, and kids that say things you really don’t want to hear. The majority of behaviors our children absorb come from people in their environment—social learning.
According to Frontiers for Young Minds, there are a couple of types of social learning. One stems from watching others, observing their choices and actions and the ensuing repercussions of those actions, be they good or bad. A second type of social learning focuses on how people behave. It’s where we begin to understand the concepts of trustworthiness and believability. Who backs us up? Who comes to our aid? Who betrays us? Between these types of learning, we decide how to act and how to interpret our world. Now, let’s think back to the classroom where our kids learn these critical concepts primarily from other kids at roughly the same maturity level.
It’s also not just who we hang with, but the amount of negative behavior around us that forms our attitudes. According to Very Well Mind, “Because negative information causes a surge in activity in a critical information processing area of the brain, our behaviors and attitudes tend to be shaped more powerfully by bad news, experiences, and information.” That doesn’t bode well if you are around negative behaviors! We are, unfortunately, drawn to bad behavior. If we are drawn to it and around it, there is a strong likelihood that we will absorb it.
Now, let’s look at homeschooling. Who is the primary association with? It’s probably Mom or Dad and some siblings. Then, hopefully, there is a homeschool group or co-op where we meet with others maybe once a week or so and may even have a more traditional classroom environment. There is also our church, the library, the homeschool chess group, the soccer team, etc. There are significantly more adults in all of these not-at-home activities because pretty much every child has a parent there. There are preschoolers mixed with elementary, blended with middle schoolers, even combined with high schoolers. So, in the week of a homeschooled student, most of the time will be with family, and group time will be with a range of ages and other adults instead of mostly same-aged kids. Social learning occurs at a more advanced level because of the rich mix of people—which influences the ability to relate to people of various ages. In comparison, would you prefer your child learn social behavior from kids the same age over whom you have no control, or would you rather they learn social behavior from you and adults you choose and trust? With traditional schooling, it’s not that parents don’t have influence, but the waking hours at home are significantly less than the hours they spend with peers at school.
Of course, it goes far beyond just social learning. In your homeschool, you have the opportunity to mold character in the framework of your beliefs. You choose curricula that support your belief system. If you are a Christian, you can weave those values into your daily work with your children—you teach values and set the expectations. You can raise your children knowing the importance of sharing and providing service to others. You have time that the school system doesn’t have to talk about the value of good character and what it means in relationships with others. In your homeschool, you may have more ability to build strong relationships with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and close family friends and reinforce the values of respect and caring through time spent together. In your homeschool, you, as the parent, decide and teach what constitutes good character.
In my article about academic success earlier in this blog series, I fronted research showing adults who have been homeschooled are statistically more successful, participate in more community service, participate in civic responsibilities such as elections, and tend to be more likely to have strong family values and beliefs of their parents (nheri). Why? Because social learning is taking place in the realm where the values you express through daily living are most prevalent—your home! They are modeling you. In hindsight, I feel like my children’s success is far more about who we were as parents than about what we asked them to learn. We value hard work, honesty, integrity, responsible financial management, respect for others, family mealtime… as do they! Even if we didn’t intentionally teach that, they observed it and modeled it, as did most of the people we surrounded ourselves with outside of our home.
Yes, what surrounds us affects our character. We must take care in our decisions about what our children are exposed to in life. Finally, Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”
by Jessica Frierson, August 2021
If I were to sum up the essence of homeschooling in one word, it would be flexibility. Every aspect of the homeschool can benefit from the flexibility it offers. The scheduling of both your school year and school day, the selection of materials used, the subjects taught, and the teaching method vary as greatly from one family to another as the dynamics of each family vary from the other.
As I have written about previously, you can adjust your school calendar to suit your family’s preferences. Some options are a year-round schedule, a program that follows a more traditional timetable, or a customized plan. In addition, you can tailor the structure of the homeschool day to fit the needs of each child. Over the years, we have planned our school week in various ways. When I only had small children, we did school Monday through Thursday. I used Friday for catching up on housework and washing diapers. Later, when I had both teens and babies (and everything in between!), Fridays were for sports and outside activities, while Mondays became the day for self-directed studies. My older ones took turns playing with a toddler, and I paid bills, checked schoolwork from the previous week, and planned the menu for the week.
For one family I know, the father works night shifts. The mother schedules park-time, 4-H club, library trips, and music lessons for the hours when Dad is trying to sleep in the mornings. Afternoons are family-time and the beginning of their school day. The flexibility of homeschool allows their family to spend more time together by planning their school day around their specific needs.
A great deal of time is occupied in a conventional classroom on such activities as lining up, getting everyone’s attention, or walking to the lunchroom. The teacher must accommodate the needs of all of her students. When the superfluous fillers are stripped away as they are in the homeschool, most families find that far less time is needed for school. Depending on the child’s age, my children are finished with their textbook learning within two hours for the younger ones and up to five hours for my high-schoolers. The remainder of their day can be spent on creative play, the pursuit of hobbies, or reading for pleasure.
Without the constraints of teaching to an end-of-grade test, we can move along in each of my children’s subjects at a pace that is best suited for them. They may be in a seventh grade math book, an eighth grade reader, and a science class with mixed ages. They can take the necessary time to work on a concept to fully comprehend it and skip ahead when the material is redundant. The need for sticking with grade levels is eliminated. As the administrator of my homeschool, I can customize the courses my children take in whatever manner I believe is best for them. I also determine what the standards will be for each child to graduate. In short, a homeschool education is a completely personalized educational program.
There is a seemingly endless supply of homeschool resources and curricula available, including many that are free. Depending on the needs and desires of the teaching parent, you can purchase a full curriculum from one publisher that includes everything from student textbooks to lesson plans, or you can pick and choose individual books for each subject from different publishers. Many families choose to not use any curriculum at all, utilizing online resources or the public library. In addition, if you try one way and change your mind, you have the flexibility to ditch it and go in another direction. I have not made it through very many school years without making at least one curriculum change somewhere along the way. My children gain confidence by knowing that if one approach we’ve taken to a subject isn’t working well for them, we will find another one that does. This ability to adjust has helped them acquire skills they may have otherwise been intimidated or too discouraged to pursue.
There are many aspects of homeschooling that make it both successful and enjoyable. The flexibility it gives sold me on the idea of it when I was a high school junior. Years later, it was a summation of the reasons I gave my husband for homeschooling our children. After twenty-one years of teaching my children, it remains the spark that fires me up at the approach of each new school season.
by Jessica Frierson, August 2021
Of the many reasons our family chose to homeschool, creativity is my favorite. Unlike traditional classrooms, the homeschool environment is particularly conducive to encouraging and inspiring creativity. Just as in a greenhouse where tender plants are coaxed and nourished with the goal of bearing luscious fruit or beautiful flowers, our children’s education is nurtured to bring out the hidden talents and skills within them.
Many people limit the concept of creativity to areas of the arts. Others might define it as imagination. Richard Foster, Yale lecturer and emeritus director of McKinsey & Company, has made a study of creativity, concluding that it is about making something new. “When you find one creative idea,” he says, “more often than not it triggers other ideas in the same fashion.” Homeschool parents commonly see this domino effect when their children are permitted to explore their interests and encouraged to follow the ideas they devise in the free environment homeschooling provides.
Foster continues, “A key to being creative is the ability to find associations between different fields of knowledge, especially ones that appear radically different at first.” This thought is a wonderful description of the popular homeschool method of unit studies. Unit studies are available on a myriad of subjects, but our personal family favorites have begun with my children asking questions about one topic that led to another. Trips to the library, streaming videos, and stacks of books later, we often complete our spontaneous investigation with a family presentation. The creative juices stirred up may result in art projects, LEGO constructions, a re-enactment with Playmobil, or a PowerPoint slideshow. The current theme of our school week is often evidenced by the apparel my younger children devise for themselves. It is not unusual to see a tribe of Indians, a group of Pilgrims, a company of soldiers, or a menagerie of “animals” running through our yard. My thoughts of “What will the neighbors think?” were dispelled when one confided in me that they were quite envious of the adventurous schooling my children experienced and the joy it brought as they observed it.
David Elkind, a renowned psychologist, emphasizes the value of creative play. “Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.”
The biological explanation for creativity is shared by Dr. Jonathan Fineberg of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia: “Humans take in so much information from the world around us—sights, smells, sounds, and more. Creativity is about being able to put those pieces together in a new way.” Free from classroom restrictions—sit still, line up, don’t talk without raising your hand, keep your thoughts to yourself—the homeschool student can freely process information and give impetus to inspiration as it hits. As they turn from studies to play, the knowledge learned is reorganized in their minds and spurs them on to create new ideas using that knowledge.
Research backs this up, and studies done to compare the levels of creativity of homeschoolers to their public school counterparts showed superiority on all three kinds of creativity measured in the homeschooled students. In fact, the creativity displayed in math concepts increased in relation to the number of years the children were homeschooled. Researchers believe the reason for that lies in that the teaching methods employed by the homeschool parent “promote math creativity by encouraging independence and a game-like approach to problem-solving.”
When presenting new math concepts with my children, I often turn them into a game; it makes it more enjoyable and creates a sense of intrigue in their minds as they are working on the problems. As they look beyond the numbers on the page, their interest is aroused, and they are motivated to investigate for themselves how math works in the world around them. In today’s technology-centered world, creativity in math and science is a more valuable commodity than rote memorization of facts.
Another advantage of the home classroom is the freedom to move around frequently. What would be disruptive in a conventional classroom is normal activity in a home. Not only is this much more enjoyable for children, but it also has a correlation with their academic achievement. Math and reading are affected by physical activity because they depend on efficient, effective executive function, which is enhanced with physical activity, as noted by the National Institute of Health.
A common critique of homeschooling is that the child will miss out on so many opportunities. Ironically, with cuts that schools have made in things like recess, music, art, and physical education, many homeschooled students have an abundance of creative outlets unavailable to them in a conventional school. Freedom from the constraints necessary in an institutional setting opens the doors wide for creative expression. The fruit of this may be revealed in a beautiful work of art, a tasty culinary concoction, the development of a computer app—or maybe even a future medical breakthrough! There is no limit to the depth of creative potential residing in our children’s minds so let us not limit their pathways to discovery.