At the recent Global Home Education Conference in Brazil, I met Debra Bell again. She is one of my homeschool heroes. She was an educator who taught her own kids so she understands the differences between homeschooling and conventional schooling better than most people do. Her book, Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, has helped countless families navigate the challenges of homeschooling. Furthermore, she has gotten her PhD on learning psychology and done extensive research on how children learn. In her workshop, she explained 8 reasons why children learn best at home.
I want to add just two other points that I covered in the talk I gave in Cebu. Firstly, learning happens best at home because parents are able to focus on the heart of their child.
The amount of time I have with my kids allows me to study them thoroughly and prepare their hearts to receive instruction. A few days ago, I found out that Edan was tempted to run away sevearal times. Edan? My sweet son? Run away?!!! I started to cry. But instead of panicking, Edric and I decided to take him out to lunch for fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and ice cream (some of his favorite things, especially the latter.)
During this lunch we asked him to explain what was going on in his heart and he told us that he gets very angry inside. Sometimes, he gets angry with Elijah, Edric or me. Oh dear. When he does, he thinks, Maybe I will just run away. This was shocking to me because I think our home is a pretty loving, stress-free home environment. But apparently, Edan doesn’t always see it this way.
For one thing, he doesn’t handle conflict with his brother, Elijah, well. (We are working on this.) He likes to avoid getting into discussions when he is frustrated. Furthermore, he gets hurt when Edric or I correct him with a negative tone. He actually used the phrase, “When you get mad at me.” His love language is words so he is very sensitive to what people say.
We both encouraged Edan by saying, “Edan, you can talk to us about anything. Anytime you are going through something, you can come to us. We want to listen to you, to help you. We love you and you are important to us.”
I also told him a story about a boy who grew up in a wonderful Christian home where he was deeply loved. “However,” I continued, “this boy grew up and chose the wrong friends who invited him to do drugs. So he got addicted and fell away from the Lord. When I interviewed the parents to find out what happened to this son of theirs, they revealed that he hid things in his heart. He didn’t share what was going on inside. As a result, he listened to the lies of the evil one. It’s the same way with any of us, Edan. Imagine a sheep on a field by itself. To a wolf, it will seem like vulnerable and easy prey. But if that sheep was beside the shepherd and with the other sheep, the wolf would think twice. It will be harder for him to attack the sheep. As a Christian, it’s difficult to follow Christ alone, just like that sheep. We need others.”
Edan smiled at Edric and me. He knew what we were getting at. He came away from our lunch feeling like he was treasured and special, that we love him no matter what.
Does this mean that he will never feel like running away again? The temptation may still come. In fact, he recently said, “Mom, I am getting that feeling again,” when Edric and I were about to go out on a date! Hmm…was this manipulation?! I talked to him about his feelings and the next day, we took all the kids out for a movie and dinner date.
Why is the heart so important when it comes to homeschooling? If my kids don’t trust me or don’t feel secure in their love for me (or Edric’s), they will not listen to my (our) instruction. Furthermore, if their hearts aren’t spiritually okay, their minds won’t be okay either. Homeschooling gives us a lot of time to get to know our children and to invest in their hearts.
Three years ago, I attended Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s seminar in Berlin on Why Home Education Works. He presented an interesting conclusion from the view point of a developmental psychologist. I wrote about his theory a few years ago, which I found to be very insightful. (He isn’t even an advocate of homeschooling. He is an advocate of child development.) According to Neufeld, homeschooling provides the optimum environment for a child to mature in to a healthy and whole person who can achieve his fullest potential. Years of research and study show that a child was designed to be raised and educated at home because the most important element in a child’s development towards maturity is his attachment to those who are responsible for him (aka parents).
There’s another aspect to focusing on a child’s heart, which is to help them internalise obedience and respect. This is a prerequisite to effective learning. Imagine trying to get five children to sit down and do their work if they don’t obey? Nightmare. My focus will be diverted to behavioural management instead of valuable hours spent acquiring knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
It’s challenging for Catalina right now because she is in obedience-training mode. But I’m amazed at how big the change has been since we became intentional about disciplining her. I can tell her, “Catalina, sit down.” Or, “Catalina, don’t be fussy.” Or, “Catalina, wait, because mommy is still talking to your brother.” She will listen. Not perfectly. But she’s improved significantly. Therefore, it is now plausible to teach her. Her heart is ready. Some months ago, it would have been crazy to attempt this.
Yet another critical aspect of focusing on the heart is imparting convictions to our children. When they understand that they are accountable to God to live for His purposes and glory, they will make wise choices about the use of their time, the thoughts they entertain, the habits they develop, and the friends they hang out with. When it comes to education and responsibilities, they will try their best even if no one is watching them.
Another reason why learning happens best at home is more practical in nature. The skills needed for the 21st century are not achieved through the conventional methods of schooling. I’ve been reading Tony Wagner’s book, The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It. He describes 7 Survival Skills for the 21st Century for Work, Learning, and Citizenship. Academics are great but they don’t rank as high with CEOs and owners of some of the largest and most profitable businesses in the world. Tony Wagner interviewed top CEOs and business owners and they revealed certain abilities that they look for, which I’ve posted below:
Interestingly, all these skills can be honed in the context of the home and through parental instruction! When I read Wagner’s book, I got so excited! It made me realise that homeschooling is not just about creating an optimum environment for learning, focusing on their hearts, and providing the foundation of character and conviction in our kids. Homeschooling can prepare our kids for the REAL world.
1. Critical thinking and problem solving — We can teach our kids to ask questions, to be resourceful, and to find sensible solutions to learning challenges they face. It’s not about memorizing facts or content mindlessly. It’s about making logical and intelligent choices.
2. Collaboration and leading by influence — We can teach our kids to work together, love and forgive one another unconditionally. We can also teach them to deal with personalities and engage people they may not naturally gravitate to. More importantly, we ought to remind them to pursue Christ-likeness and encourage others by their example. Good leaders inspire followers. They don’t lord it over others.
3. Agility and adaptation — We need to train our children to be flexible. Learning doesn’t always happen in a predictable fashion. Everything doesn’t always go as planned in life either. Sometimes we need to pursue the same goal but change our methods in the process and our kids have to learn to adjust. For example, we need to learn about math concepts but if the book doesn’t cut it, what other sources can we use?
How about when a child doesn’t get his or her way? We can teach them to respond with the right attitude. And when a child fails at a task, we can gently push them to keep going.
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism — Many homeschooling families do home-based businesses. Our kids have tried doing this several times. But we need to give them even more opportunities to practice creating a business idea and executing it, and how to earn money even while they are young.
With older children, we can apply initiative by making them responsible for their learning. Don’t hover over them all the time. They have to take ownership of their learning goals and proactively improve themselves.
5. Effective written and oral communication – This is self-explanatory but apparently, many students today have problems articulating themselves well when they write or speak. Our own kids can be prone to the same problem if we are not intentional about building these skills. At the same time homeschoolers can have an edge because they have access to experiences that conventional schooled children may not.
A few weeks ago, my friend’s 10 year old, homeschooling daughter stood along side her dad to give a short testimony about how her father is loving to her mom. She helped give examples to the audience about how a husband should cherish his wife. She was articulate, poised and she memorized her entire talk. She did an amazing job!
I have used Institute for Excellence in Writing to help my eldest son develop his creative writing skills. He used to abhor writing. But after using this material he wrote a 52 paragraph narrative about his Mt. Apo climb. He did a great job, too. When I met author, Andrew Pudewa, in Brazil I thanked him for the blessing he has been to us all the way in the Philippines. If Elijah displayed a negative attitude toward writing in school, I don’t think a teacher would spend hours searching for a better way for him to learn to write. But mothers will do this kind of thing for their kids.
6. Assessing and analysing information — With the overwhelming amounts of information accessible to children today through the Internet, we need to teach them to evaluate and process content. Will they take everything at face value or will they think twice about making decisions based on what they read and see online?
Elijah makes stock reports and submits them to his dad. He reads through articles and updates about the businesses he invests in and gives recommendations based on his research. But he must do so thoroughly because his investments are at stake. As a result, he trains himself to sort through the information before coming to conclusions. By God’s grace his portfolio is doing pretty well, too.
7. Curiosity and imagination – Everyday our kids have time to play, explore, discover, invent and create. We don’t cannibalise the hours of their day with school work. To my horror I was told that some conventionally schooled students in highly competitive institutions have to study into the late evenings during the week then wake up ridiculously early to avoid the traffic to school. This makes me want to cry. These kids are missing out on the wonders of childhood which should include day dreaming, exploring, inventing, creating, and mastering their areas of giftedness.
Finland is at the forefront of revolutionary educational methods and their methods have been proven successful. In an article written by an 7th grade math teacher in the U.S. who completed his Fulbright research assignment in Finland he explained, “We (in Anerica) can’t even stick to ONE philosophy of education long enough to see if it actually works. We are constantly trying new methods, ideas and initiatives. We keep adding more and more to our plates without removing any of the past ideas. Currently we believe “more” is the answer to all of our education problems— everything can be solved with MORE classes, longer days, MORE homework, MORE assignments, MORE pressure, MORE content, MORE meetings, MORE after school tutoring, and of course MORE testing! All this is doing is creating MORE burnt out teachers, MORE stressed out students and MORE frustration. Finland on the other hand believes less is more.” Source: 11 Ways Finland’s Education System Shows Us Less Is More
I also believe in less is more to give way to pursuits and activities that do more for kids. Over the weekend, I spoke to parents from Cebu who encouraged their 12 year old daughter to study fashion design while she was homeschooling. She competed with students much older than she was. But she turned out to be the most imaginative of them all, according to her teacher. She presented her first project in an unconventional way, displaying a 1920’s outfit to explain the uniqueness of that era in fashion design. At 14, she continues to study design and is excelling at it! If she is amazing now, how much more when she actually studies it in college?!
What’s her big advantage? Her parents didn’t choke the creativity out of her by cramming her mind full of academics. She spent many hours sketching and drawing before she ever took up fashion design. And she did this during her childhood years.
Knowing that learning happens best at home brings me great comfort as a homeschooling mom. It also affirms our family’s decision to choose this lifestyle. Furthermore it is starting to look like the future of education is headed in the direction of home education. Or, at the very least, something very similar to the way learning transpires at home and customizes learning for a child.
The world is changing fast and educational models are becoming outdated more quickly than institutions and governments are able to adjust to these changes. Homeschooling parents may seem crazy to those who anchor their sense of security on school systems and on reputable school brands. This article is not about criticizing those parents. I believe parents who homeschool and parents who send their kids to school are well-meaning and love their kids just the same. But maybe one day soon, people will applaud the brave parents who had the foresight to recognize that their children could learn more, be more and accomplish more in their home instead of in a traditional classroom.