Pros and Cons to Homeschooling: Why We Do It

** UPDATE: Links work!

Seven Quick Takes: “Education Options for Christians” Edition

A reader sent a series of questions to the inbox asking how a Christian family makes educational choices for their family… So I tentatively attempt to meander through some of these things….

I don’t write specifically about homeschooling often, as I’m oft times concerned that the topic can be divisive (and too, we are still deeply in process … by His grace, still growing, changing). So to say from the outset, that I do not think in any way that homeschooling makes a family virtuous. Homeschooling is not a formula for perfection, nor is homeschooling a panacea for all the sin in this world. We’re all messy and fallen and sin-scraped. We and our children are born sinners. Homeschooling will not fix any of that. Only Jesus and His grace can.

Three of my closest personal friends and our respected pastor, all ardent Christ-followers, have each chosen the public school route; please know that I answer these questions only because of reader queries, not to persuade one way or the other. I humbly and fully believe that Father Himself leads each family…With that preface, seven quick questions… with some not so quick answers ~warm smile~

1. When and why did you initially decide to home school?

I was a third year university student, taking a concurrent degree in Education and Child Psychology, when I began to consider the possibility of home education for our future family. Sitting in child development classes, studying how a child needs a close attachment with his or her parents, especially before the age of ten, if they are to emotionally thrive through adolescence, I began to question whether it was best to be separated from young children for the majority of their waking hours.

I came to agree with Dr. Neufeld who writes that the problem today is that ‘parenthood is no longer lasting as long as childhood‘ — that our children need parents to be intimately involved, moment-by-moment, not till they are only four years old and leave home for school and possible peer dependency, but they need us to be parents until they are fourteen years old and older…. “We need to hold on to our children and help them hold on to us. We need to hold on to them until our work is done,” writes Dr. Neufeld “We need to hold on, not to hold them back but so that they can venture forth.”

For us, forging a deep attachment to parents was a key factor in our decision, so that children had a strong foundation for their own sense of self, saw parents as more important than peers, and as we modeled the preeminence of God in our lives, our children could see too how to live out that faith model.

Too, some teachers who I taught with during my teaching-training were gems in the truest sense — radiating and attracting children to the a curious wonder in the world. Sadly, there were others teachers who were burnt-out, harsh, and deadening to the spirit. It’s a capricious schooling system with the very hearts and minds of children at stake.

All these factors combined, and seeing how political agendas often trumped what teachers knew to be best for children and their families, we began to explore different options. Was there a way to home educate that could nurture whole, innovative, creative, well-read, skilled young persons who were passionate Kingdom builders and people lovers? That was the environment we sought to foster.

Where two or three are gathered, there He is also. What I love most about the homeschooling lifestyle is that we are all together, in all our glorious mess, day in and day out. We are not time-torn or fragmented. We are gathered. There is no dichotomy between God and secular: we are making a one-piece life. We are real, transparent, and growing –sometimes painfully– with each other, season upon season, and God is in the center, bathing us sin-scraped ones with His Grace. That’s rich.

2. What does a typical school day look like for you?

While we generally don’t have schedules, per se, we prefer to do engage in a daily rhythm, an expected routine, an everyday liturgy that is fluidOur quotidian harmony (that, now and then, shrieks off tune).

So times stated are general (in my attempt to tend to this flock instead of being driven by the clock), while the length of time for each string of notes is consistent:

5:30 am: 4 oldest children rise and chore in the barn

8:30 am: Eat breakfast as a family
9:00 am: Collective Bible reading, hymn sing, memorization, prayer … then clean-up

9:30 — 12:30 am:
Two Middle children do mental gymnastics: Latin, Math, Grammar, Spelling, Music practice

Two Youngest Children: We work together on Phonics, handwriting, Spelling, Story Circle, Art

Two Oldest Children: Independently and daily Math and Latin, then work on their classes with Veritas Press Scholars Academy, checking in with their real-time, live classes, interacting with their teachers and fellow classmates via computer microphones and doing their homework in Logic, Literature, Theology, Physical Science, English Composition, History

12:30 — 1:30 pm: Family Noon Meal — close again with Bible readings and prayer

2:00 pm — 3:30 pm: Exploring Time with 4 youngest:

Tea and literature read alouds including poetry reading, and art appreciation. Then reading a wide spectrum of books that lead us deeper into Geography, Nature Study, History, Theology.

We explore intriguing side trails as we read — googling what we’ve read to understand more, you-tubing for a relevant video to get an on-the-ground sense of something, grabbing another book off the shelf that fleshes something else out a bit more.

As a mama-teacher, I approach all the readings as a co-discoverer with an insatiable appetite to learn more. I’m exploring with the kids and I’m excited every day about we’re finding out together! That’s contagious!

3:30 pm — 4:00 pm: We mix things up: work on history timelines, sketch in nature journals, go for a walk, cook something in the kitchen, work on a family project.

Learning just pervades all time, continuing throughout the evening — kids reading, composing music, working with Farmer Husband in the shed, exploring in the woods, playing games, making dinner in the kitchen. We don’t have a television so children engage their worlds more fully. Right now our oldest is making his own incubator in the evenings.

3. How do you ensure that your children get the same, if not better quality education as those in public school?

We once had a couple staying with us from Germany. Homeschooling is not an option in Germany, so they were intrigued by our choice of education for our children: the stacks and stacks of books, nearly 100 books out of the library at a time, the daily reading of Shakespeare, children narrating poetry, singing hymns together at the table, the spontaneous creativity that was happening — and the noise levels and the happy spin to our days, the way life and learning and laundry just fold into each other.

And at the end of the week, they wanted to know: would children in the school system be learning to this extent too? It’s a good question.

In a home we have the advantage of getting the best books out of the library and piling close on the couch together to read those books. In a classroom with 25 students, the logistics of great books for each student get trickier. I really believe that a curious mother and a library card can offer a stellar education.

Ultimately, for us, a quality education focuses on commitment, of both the learner and the teacher. A commitment by both parties to authenticity, joy, curiosity, and consistency. These elements of an education then translate into necessary, future life-skills

For us that means living:

Live your life. Invite your children to join you! Read together. Pray together. Sing together. Work, bake, garden, chore, clean, sew, fix, build together. Don’t fabricate artificial demarcation lines between schooling and living. Live a one-piece life. Live holistically.

Explore! Be awed by His World! Restore Wonder! Be a creative, thinking, exuberant person who spills with the joy of learning. Your zest for learning and life will be contagious–the children will catch it!

Read, read, read. Fill the house with library books. Play classical music. Post the art of the masters about the house. Go for walks in the woods. Learn a new language, a new culture, a new poem. Everyday set out to discover again, and again, and again. The whole earth is full of His glory! Go seek His face…

Consistently pray. Consistently read. Consistently keep the routine. Consistently live an everyday liturgy.

Children thrive in routine. So do households. Have hardstops: times that you fully stop to pray, to read, to write. Regardless of what isn’t done, what isn’t finished. Make a full stop, do the needful thing, then return to meals, laundry, household management.
Consistently be consistent.

That’s all. The curriculum doesn’t really matter, so much. Use what works for you, how He leads you.

Just make it part of your real life, make it a joy, make it a discovery, and prayerfully make it consistent.

4. What are some downfalls of home schooling, in your opinion, and what are some ways of making up for them?

So true: whichever choice we make, there are advantages and disadvantages. Whichever educational choice we make, we choose a whole lifestyle.

No doubt, homeschooling comes with pitfalls, ones we’ve intimately wrestled with….

There needs to consistency, consistency, consistency. We are responsible for creating the scaffolding for children to climb. That takes daily intentionality and self-discipline. Our commitment needs to be intrinsic and for some, that can be a challenge — but a mama who is struggling in that area can set up accountability with her husband, a friend, another teaching-mama. Homeschooled children need to learn about deadlines and goals and time management…. And again, formulating together some agreed upon standards with built-in accountability is paramount.

But much more critically, I believe, is the potential for home-educating families to create hothouses of weak plants that can’t withstand the winds of this world. When our home environment is Christian and our social circles are primarily (or exclusively) Christian, what makes our children vigilant in their faith? What makes them put down deep, deep roots?

We personally don’t believe that children are called to be kingdom warriors in the public school system because, to our minds, that doesn’t seem a level playing field. There are agendas operating there that may leave a child at a disadvantage. But do we need to walk with our children in the world with a vibrant, fearless faith that has full confidence in an all-powerful God? Yes!

If we are going to home-educate, we are going to need to be proactive in engaging the world. As homeschoolers, we can’t create our own self-protective ghettos so our safe Christian children may just meet and marry another safe and good Christian to have their own safe and good Christian family. God didn’t call us to that! He called us to love a lost and hurting world.

We may be homeschoolers, but we can’t stay at home! If we’re going to home-educate, we need to find ways to be in the world, to serve the world, to live a BIG RADICAL FAITH in this world… But not be of the world. Daily we need to be intentionally asking and living: How can we reach out to our neighbors, the hurting kid around the corner, our non-believing uncle, our community at large?

(Related: Reb Bradley speaks profoundly to the pitfalls of homeschooling and how to advert them

Wise Katherine @ Raising Five who once homeschooled and now doesn’t wrote a deeply thoughtful post that I return to often: Sheltering is not a Place but a Relationship )

5. What are some downfalls of the public school system?

While I think the public school has some very real advantages over home education and it works very well for some families, for us, the downfalls are simply inherent to what public school is: an artificial fragmentation of life.

Segregating people on the basis of age is a false construct, seen nowhere else in society. Separating children from siblings, from family, their natural community, homes, faith and environment to instead be grouped in a rather institutionalized, sterile space with potent agendas that may be disconnected from community values, that marks time with bells… this disconnect from the real world may not be most conducive to fostering a whole-hearted person whose faith, family, work, and service is all woven into a cloth of one piece.

For us, the lack of a holistic, seamless framework is perhaps the most significant detriment to public schooling. For us, there is no secular and sacred. It is all one: holy.

6. What are your dreams for your children, scholastically?

Scholastically, our aim for our children asks the same question that esteemed educator Charlotte Mason asked: “The question is not, ‘how much does the youth know?’ when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set?”

We believe that whatever we do, we need to do it wholeheartedly as unto the Lord. Right now, learning about God and His world is our children’s full-time work. That means: education is a priority and it will be engaging work that requires real effort.

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into them aiming towards traditional careers. It means we simply pursue the beginning of knowledge which is the fear of the Lord.

Do they care about God?
Do they love people?
Are their feet set in the large, large world as salt and light?

It means that we pursue not a cultural definition of success but of true greatness for our kids: “having an unquenchable passion for God that manifests itself in an unwavering love and concern for others” (Ted Kimmel, Raising Kids for True Greatness)

7. How long do you plan to home school them for, and why?

In fear and trembling, we plan to homeschool, Lord willing, throughout highschool…. Yet we do that in a supportive, large homeschooling community that offers a myriad of resources that makes it possible to have top-notch online teachers in classes with students all over the globe.

And why would we continue?

Because homeschooling is this magnificent crucible, to reveal impurities and sinfulness and brokenness. It keeps us on our knees. Homeschooling often hurts and disappoints. You cry and wonder if you are insane to try to educate these children, to disciple these little hearts, while laundering, cooking, cleaning, managing a household, and still being a wife, a sister, a daughter, a missionary in your community, a servant to Christ and in your faith community. And He smiles and say that He walks with you, has grand and glorious purposes, and He understands radical and crazy!

Homeschooling is about going higher up and deeper in, for you learn to sacrificially love in ways you have never loved before. You come to know your own heart in ways you never imagined, the souls of your children in intimate, very real ways.

For you will be together, making memories together, laughing together, crying together, praying together, and asking forgiveness together. Throughout your day, you worship God, together. And you learn to die-to-self together. It’s about doing hard things… together. And there will be no fragmented scraps of learning, home-life, friends, work, God.

We keep homeschooling to weave a one-piece life – hallowed threads of parenting, love, pain, education, growing, stumbling, creativity, forgiveness, wonder, sacrifice, and God all woven together.

We wear it, and it fits: Grace, Joy, Gratitude.


Seven Things We do Everyday to Holistically Homeschool

If you are considering homeschooling

I will be speaking in greater detail on some of these thoughts in a workshop at the Kitchener-Waterloo Christian Home Educator’s Conference, April 4th. If you’re in the area, it be a delight to meet you!

Photos from our discovery days:
~little one curled on my lap for Exploring Time
~boys making two spinning, motorized planes from their mechano set
~ our middle four independently making a quadruple batch of cookies — I came upon their happy adventure and only had to snap the shutter
~Malakai drawing a love note for his little sister
~the boys running one of their motorized trolleys the length of the kitchen, right over the kitchen sink — I just had to make sure to duck while I washed dishes!