By Lindy Abbott, Crosswalk.com
Learning should be exciting, but few students are enthusiastic about school. Many adults, recalling their school experience, realize they learned more after they were out of school. As homeschoolers we can do things differently by providing more opportunities for real learning. Elementary years should be adventure years instead of drudgery. I consistently reminded my children, “Be your utmost for God’s highest.” I have tried to provide the richest environments, opportunities, and resources within our means, but I foolishly adhered to graded-schooling methods. While my underlying goal was to equip my children to become the person God created each one to be, my daily lesson plans did not support this goal.
Every now and then a nonconformist soul dared to ask: “Why must we do school? What is the purpose or goal? Can we try something different?” Thankfully, I began to question my method of teaching my children.
Traditional elementary schools condition children to succumb to group culture by coloring within the lines, thinking inside the box, responding to bells, and copying a teacher’s model. Parents desiring to help their child become who God created them to be should not try to emulate conventional schooling, because it reduces a child’s natural passion, innovation, and industry. Let me explain.
The concept of dividing schooling into grade levels became necessary with compulsory school attendance. Categorization of the mass population of children by age and grade level was beneficial to the organization of school systems. Think about it: Does it really matter what you call the grade level as long as your child is learning?
With the creation of grade levels, book publishers developed graded textbooks specifically produced for the “typical” age of development and interest. One problem with this system is that God does not form “typical” infants within a mother’s womb. In a homeschool, grade-level materials are unnecessary and frequently are developmentally inappropriate. Undoubtedly, early elementary years are the time to teach a sound foundation in reading, writing, and math. Once these basic building blocks of learning are established, children should explore what they enjoy through self-motivated study.
Consider this question: Does God create a typical snowflake, fingerprint, or DNA? Every parent knows that no two children are alike; moreover, they have wide ranges of development, ability, interest, and personality. Jeremiah 29:11 proclaims, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ saith the LORD, ‘thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” This commonly quoted verse that God spoke to the Israelites when they were in exile reveals His character and encourages believers to look with hope toward our God-designed purpose. Parents should apply this Biblical teaching to their children’s homeschooling and try to create wonderful adventure years of learning by not focusing on “grade level”!
If a child is going to discover what he loves, he must have (1) numerous real-life experiences to identify his niche and (2) time to thoroughly delve into any subject. Most states have legally required credits and specific coursework that must be taken during high school, but few states have strict requirements for the elementary years. While for state records we must follow the charade of saying our child is in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, parents should—with gusto—use the freedom allowed in elementary years to liberate their children from grade levels created by and for educational systems. We all know from personal experience how dull and repetitive grade-level schooling can be. Subjects are covered in broad topics and separated into daily lessons for a scheduled amount of time. Diligent students develop short-term memory skills to recall facts (year after year) for testing, not for learning. Similarly, a child memorizing random individual Bible verses to be checked off for a program does not produce long-term results. A child may have “memorized” hundreds of verses but years later can recall only a handful. Parents need to encourage their child to enjoy the experience of studying in-depth, an essential life skill for both inductive Bible study and specializing in a career.
Neurological scientists have discovered that a child’s brain continually develops neurological pathways during the tween to early teen years. Consequently, the brain is best suited for development prior to the pruning stage of development, which begins during upper teenage years. Think about pruning a tree of dead overgrowth and stems that stop growing. The brain, likewise, prunes areas of the brain that are not being used. Neurologically, the elementary student is prime for exploring endless activities, unlimited topics, and an assortment of learning styles. I am learning to trust both God and our children in tailoring their education plan.
Fortunately, as homeschool parents, we can break the traditional schooling mold by offering our child time to become a self-taught person—the key to lifelong learning. By reducing or eliminating the need for most textbooks, workbooks, and made-for-school assignments, homeschooling parents can give their children large spans of time for pursuing interests and growing in their God-given abilities. A child can cover science, math, and language arts through an assortment of interests. For example, a science course can be any combination of astronomy, chemistry, botany, animals, electricity, geology, or computer science. Thereby, we can reinforce our child’s natural inquisitiveness and encourage his dreams.
My daughter loves to read and write. She is only 14, but for the past two years she has been writing several fiction novels. This year, I have her working with a college student who is earning her master’s degree in English. The two of them meet bi-weekly to discuss characterization, plot development, and writing skills. Since my daughter’s novel is about a girl with a rare illness, she is going to meet with our family doctor and a counselor to research patient care, in order to make the story realistic. This is not a carefully crafted school assignment. It is so much better; it is a real-life experience of mutually working with another writer!
When students discover knowledge for themselves, what they learn lasts a lifetime. Through the development of genuine self-esteem, children pursue interests that delight and intrigue them, as they become who God created them to be.
We need to help our children identify their God-given passions. To stimulate their inner drive to learn, try some of the following ideas.
The Great Outdoors—The majority of us spend way too much time inside, using electronic devices. Every child needs a few hours daily to explore God’s marvelous world, regardless of the weather. Nature is a place for children to take leaps between what they know and what could be. Learning through exploration of nature is conducive to testing hypotheses. Encourage your children to self-direct their time outdoors.
Nature Journaling—Nature journaling is a worthwhile experience that heightens perception and awareness. Your child will naturally gain insights and skills related to science, drawing, creative writing, natural history, and journaling, and his observations will teach him more about God and His creations as well. I keep this book handy: Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. I purchased an art paper-quality sketchpad, colored pencils, drawing pencils, and an art eraser for my children’s use. (Hint: Use of watercolor pencils provides the option of a painted effect.)
Entrepreneur—Learning about creative ways to earn money can be fun and can provide good training for the future. One of the serious problems facing the U.S. today is that we have too many takers and too few makers. Parents can have fun teaching children to produce needed products and how to market them. I learn a lot from Entrepreneur magazine, which showcases successful business owners and provides many ideas about selling products online. Many gift shops at tourist sites sell homemade products, and so do most town square shops in smaller cities.
Handyman/Woodworking—Many books and magazines provide ideas for simple projects. I have enjoyed The Family Handyman, a do-it-yourself home improvement magazine (www.familyhandyman.com). The benefits of learning, at a young age, to be self-sufficient make the investment of purchasing these tools and materials worthwhile. Work alongside your child in the beginning, and in the end you will be glad you took the time, because your skilled children can use that knowledge and experience to serve your household. Currently, my son is building bookcases for our family.
Computer Skills/Programs/Web Design—In the twenty-first century, you can find almost any kind of information on your computer; computer skills are both essential and profitable. Help your children master frequently used computer programs for photo editing, writing, data organizing, publishing, and design. Look at “how to use” books that teach step by step in easy to follow instructions.
Lindy Abbott is a passionate follower of Jesus with a strong understanding of the Biblical, Christian worldview. She is a certified teacher and a homeschool moms of three teens. From childhood, she discovered writing as her way to express what she felt and learned. Lindy is a published author, freelance writer, editor of a homeschool newsletter, and avid blogger. Read her regular post at www.lindylou-abbott.blogspot.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Sharon McCutcheon