A young mother approached Sally at the break during one of our conferences. She had a worried look in her eyes that said, "Help me, please!" For several minutes, she poured out her anxious concerns that she wasn't doing enough for her children, that they weren't progressing, and that she was failing as a homeschooling mother. "How old are your children?" Sally asked when the woman finally took a breath. With a note of seriousness, the woman replied, "Oh, they're three and five years old."
If that seems humorous to you, that's good. There's hope for you! After countless conversations just like that one, though, our stifled chuckles have turned to sighs. Too many parents see their homes only through the lenses of institutional education. Rather than finding joy and freedom in their homeschooling experience, they find themselves in bondage to cultural models of education defined by textbooks, workbooks, classrooms, age-grade norms, testing and grading.
Fortunately, we discovered early in our homeschool experience that textbooks and formal curricula are artificial means of education. Rather than unleashing learning potential, they hold it back. For us as parents, they created a false security that we were doing enough, and a false confidence that our children were really learning. For our children, they created a false dependency on formal methods of learning, and a false distinction between learning and living. Conventional classroom methods diluted the wonder and joy of real learning, turning it into a tedious and burdensome task unrelated to real life at home.
On the other hand, our children naturally loved reading and being read to, talking about their own insights and ideas, learning through real life, and having lots of time to explore and learn on their own. The more we studied Scripture and observed our children, the more confident we became that this was how God designed children to live and learn. It was the liberation of learning in our home!
As we lived out these principles, we found it helpful to express them in a model. Educational theoreticians would call it a paradigm, but we think of it as a corrective lens for seeing your home from God's perspective as a living and learning environment. It consists of five areas of focused studies.
- Discipleship Studies: We start with the study of God's word to gain wisdom. Our goal is to shape our children's hearts to love God and to study and know his word.
- Disciplined Studies: Then, we study the "basics," such as math and language arts, that require a more disciplined approach. Our goal is to develop our children's foundational learning skills and competencies.
- Discussion Studies: Then, we spend the bulk of our studies in the humanities, reading and reading aloud literature and history, and studying the fine arts. Our goal is to feed our children's minds on the best in living books and the fine arts.
- Discovery Studies: Next, we direct our children into the "study of learning" in areas such as nature, science, the creative arts, and all other interests. Our goal is to stimulate in our children a love for learning by creating opportunities for curiosity, creativity and discovery.
- Discretionary Studies: Finally, we turn to the "study of living," focusing on natural gifts and interests, community involvement, and life skills. Our goal is to direct our children in developing a range of skills and abilities according to their drives and gifts.
Your home can and should be a warm, vibrant place where your children love to learn as freely and as naturally as they love to play. In fact, education is the natural outgrowth of the discipleship relationship between parents and children, so it should be the natural activity of every Christian home. That is what this "home-centered learning" model tries to capture.
There is great freedom in knowing that what you are doing conforms to a pattern that is already built into the very fabric and rhythm of your lives by God - he has designed your children to learn, he has designed your home to be a learning environment, and he has designed you to be a learning guide. Joy and freedom naturally follow when we cooperate with God's design.
We have come to the place where we can honestly say that there is no distinction in our home school between home and school - we are living to learn and learning to live all at the same time. That is what should happen in a home.