If I were to ask about your memories of being in school, what images pop into your mind? Do you see a desk, a stack of books, a chalkboard, a report card, recess? Perhaps your impressions run more along the lines of a stern and forbidding teacher or the camaraderie of your school's football games or the anguish of going blank during a test. Maybe you envision a library, a university campus, or a research lab. Whatever images your mind sees, if you never step back to consider the bigger question of how education actually works, you will probably create for your children a mini-version of your own school experience. I know I did. At least, that was the path I walked for the first three years of homeschooling. I was hoping we had better smells and bells, friendlier teachers (!) and classmates, but in essence, it was simply a school at home.
Questioning the Model of Our Own Experience
Sooner or later, though, a good homeschooler will hear in her mind, "Is that all there is????" Is following a school's approach the best possible way to learn? Does it create a hunger in the student for diving into more difficult books and more challenging subject matter? Does it encourage self-motivation or provide experience in independent study and pursuing topics of interest? Truthfully, the answer is, probably not. For many of us, education equals school, but as homeschoolers, we hope there might be something better.
What, then, will make the difference? Where do we start in providing an excellent education for our homeschooled children, if we are not going to follow the model we know best—the most common approach, even among homeschoolers? I'm glad you asked!
The Power of a Positive Relationship
Years ago, I heard a speaker say something important to this conversation, something so absolutely profound that it jolted me. Terry Small, a brilliant educator and lecturer, known warmly as the "Brain Guy," presents seminars to governments, corporations, and educators around the world on the way the brain works and how this affects learning. What he shared that day, based on his observations and studies over the years, was that one of the best predictors of educational success was in having a positive relationship between student and teacher.
That knowledge could change our lives! With all the time we spend and the way we know our kids, homeschoolers have the potential to do this—have a great relationship with our students—much more easily than anyone else.
Question: If you could translate your love for your kids into educational success, wouldn't that make it worthwhile to tweak—or even dramatically change—your approach?
Who Modeled Love for You?
Now, let's take a second walk down memory lane. When you think back to your childhood, who was the adult with whom you had the closest relationship? Who was the person who made you feel loved and appreciated and secure and safe? Do you remember ever following that person around, asking him or her questions, listening to that individual, learning from him or her? And how much do you remember today about what he or she taught you?
For me, I remember my grandmother. She taught me that feeding ducks was fun, roses were beautiful, and that the piano was precious. All of those little memories are tinged with a warmth in my heart, even more than fifty years later. If my loving grandmother had been the one to guide my day-to-day education, learning would have been far more meaningful, memorable, interesting, and relevant than the "twelve years without parole" that school had felt like for me.
Applying Relationship to Today's Situations
Now, compare those warm, relational childhood memories with your current experience in homeschooling. If you are anything like me, you have probably been struggling to keep a smile on your face and anger out of your voice when you notice your 10-year-old decorating his math paper with peanut butter, your 15-year-old rolling her eyes at the literature book that came so highly recommended, or your 6-year-old doodling instead of decoding. Being relational does not mean becoming falsely angelic or faking a smile, but it does mean extending your emotions to your child instead of to the assignment. In real life, that would mean dialogue and interaction, like asking with real interest—not cynicism—whether his math paper is improved now; whether she sees any hope for the lit book; or whether the reading lesson would be easier after lunch.
How this desire to have warm relationships translates into educational reality with our flesh-and-blood kids is one of the most profound lessons a homeschool parent will ever learn. Children—unlike fairy tale fiction or high-tech robots—are unique individuals. They have strengths and weaknesses, quirks and talents, and they are constantly changing and growing toward maturity. With the immense challenges this provides, we need to recognize that it takes time and experience to sort out how each of our children is wired to learn and how to best provide the environment for each one's success. For both parents and students, it must include grace, laughter, honesty, and a willingness to be teachable.
Creating Healthy Relationships
In my twenty years of homeschooling, and the many years since, I have discovered that there are insightful Scriptures that apply and real-life experiences to share that will help. In my blog posts and this website, we will continue to explore these insights and experiences—with the goal of creating healthy relationships—where we honor, respect, trust, love, and enjoy one another. In that remarkable place of safety, freedom, and love, our beloved children will be set free to flourish in learning . . . and in life.