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Character Building: A Homeschool Mom’s Journey

By Rhonda Barfield
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #96, 2010.

How Rhonda Barfield made character training part of her homeschooling curriculum
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Rhonda Barfield

Through 20 years of homeschooling, I often felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t the housework that wore me down, or the cooking, errand-running, or curriculum planning. Instead, I found that parenting, especially character-building, challenged me most of all.

Maybe it’s because, like most moms, initially I had a hard time admitting my children could be at fault. “Lisa didn’t really mean to smack her sister,” I’d tell myself. “The nasty neighbor kids must have provoked Christian to scream at them,” I’d rationalize.

It was also easy to let the small, yet crucial, moments for moral training go by the wayside in favor of pushing ahead with school assignments. Whenever I did this, I ended up regretting it. In fact, because of a few neglected opportunities and their consequences, I learned to place a high priority on teaching character development.

Through months of trial and error, I set up a schedule that reflected this priority. For many years I rose early to pray and read the Bible while munching on granola. That quiet time helped center me for the rest of the day. Then, when the kids breakfasted around 8 AM, I read aloud a chapter of Scripture, reviewed memorized verses, and discussed catechism questions with them. Throughout the day we applied our study to practical lessons. “Eric, remember how we learned to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself?’” I’d ask. “How can you show love to Lisa right now, even though you’re angry with her?” The earlier study helped me to remember the importance of addressing these issues quickly.

I also found it easier to guide the children when I made the effort to know and understand them better. My friend Mary found this true when dealing with her young daughter’s inability to sit still while completing school work. Mary talked it over with a local homeschool support group leader, who told her, “This child has serious issues with obedience. You need to discipline her firmly to get her back in line.” But Mary understood her daughter’s temperament and disagreed. Instead of following the advice, she found the source of her daughter’s restlessness after researching ADHD. This helped her implement new curriculum and teaching methods so her energetic little girl could more easily learn patience and perseverance.

Often I’ve felt my own patience lagging, and that’s when my husband came to the rescue. In late elementary school, my youngest, Mary, used to pout about math homework. She didn’t realize Michael had walked into the room one day, watching her, until he asked in a calm, low voice, “Does someone need to work on her attitude today?” Mary changed it immediately, because like all our kids she hated the alternative: announcement of a father/child conference, child sent to her room to “think about it” for an agonizing 10 minutes, direct confrontation, and punishment assigned to fit the crime. As we used to say, “Mom’s the teacher and Dad’s the principal” in both academics and character building.

In fact, our family’s principal taught me a vital secret: the importance of rewards. I once asked Michael why our kids seemed to want to be with him more than with me. He answered that I tended to give them only assignments and chores, while he sandwiched pleasant experiences around the responsibilities. Over Burger King drinks and a single order of fries, he taught our children to draw. He devised geography games. He asked what the kids had learned in school that week. He made it fun. The outings were so pleasant that they motivated obedience and other positive traits.

Our homeschool centered on academics, but just as importantly, on character development. We taught and implemented spiritual principles, which helped our children know what God expected of them. Michael and I tried to know our kids well enough to discern their motives and help direct them. We worked together as a team to encourage them to do the right thing. It wasn’t easy, but all the hard work yielded a rich harvest: four young adults who are people of character.

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