"My wife and I are seeking some counsel about home education. We have three children. Our eldest child is 5 years old. We request as much info as possible concerning the in's and out's of home education: are structured programs available? should we "join" a network of homeschoolers? when should we begin? what materials are best? what about financial costs? Can you help us answer these questions? Thank you." ----
There are lots of options for families beginning to homeschool. You can purchase and/or join very structured programs or spend little to nothing and have more flexibility. You can join umbrella schools, networks, support groups, etc. or go completely on your own. You can "begin" any time (or assume you've already begun from your child's birth). While it would be impossible to cover all the possibilities, I'll mention several of these options, but make it clear which ones I think are best. You'll need to take all this before the Lord, yourself, however.
One of the first things I recommend is taking the time to think through, and actually write out, what you believe God has called you to regarding the teaching & training of your children. Such a written document is often referred to as an Educational Philosophy Statement. Don't be overwhelmed by the sound of this--it need be nothing more than a review of relevant scriptures regarding the instruction of children.
If you do write such a statement out, it will not only help you to think more clearly about what you're about, but it will arm you in defending your actions when you are questioned (you almost certainly will be) by friends, relatives, neighbors, folks in your congregation, etc. Having this statement actually printed out and duplicated in a format that is readily presentable is often a wise practice as well.
I recommend at least touching base with several experienced, local homeschoolers to find out what the legal parameters in your state & locality are. Each state in the U.S. has its own education laws, and in some cases the legal climate can even vary within a state from community to community. Although some other countries forbid homeschooling altogether, everywhere in the U.S. it is legal to homeschool. But there are often regulations that you may, or may not, find in conflict with what God is showing you.
I believe we, as Christ's ambassadors, should "submit [ourselves] to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (1 Pet. 2:13) as long as we can do so without violating God's revealed will. I should caution you, however: many well-meaning homeschoolers unknowingly go far beyond what the actual laws require, and thus make their activities much more burdensome than necessary. (For example: I encourage you to avoid using standardized tests--comparisons of your child with norm groups/peer groups--unless your state's laws actually mandate it.)
In most states a five-year-old is not required to be in "school." In our situation here in California the compulsory schooling law requires children to be in school beginning at six years of age. I encourage families not to bother doing anything official regarding homeschooling until immediately before it is required. This keeps you from burdening yourself unnecessarily.
However, that doesn't mean you wait until they are "school age" to begin teaching them. You've been teaching your child since he was born. How much has he already learned? How have you taught him up to now? Do you feel his training so far has been relatively effective? If so, perhaps you're already using the ideal methodology and curriculum for homeschooling.
At first glance, what I just said may not make any sense if you're already thinking in terms of programs, structure, and other artificial educational strategies. Over the last century and a half, we've increasingly applied industrial revolution concepts to education, becoming brainwashed into seeing it as something unnatural and complex, that must be done in a well-programmed setting, preferably by specially trained professional educators.
I believe scripture, on the other hand, portrays education as a natural fruit of well-disciplined family life. Godly parents seeking to follow the Lord can be confident that He has already "given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet 1:3), including the grace to train our children. I am convinced that if we "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33) then "all these things shall be added," including necessary academic preparation of our children.
In my estimation, the proliferation of curriculum material available to homeschoolers has had questionable benefit. Those promoting their own materials find it necessary to persuade potential customers of how necessary their particular approach is, implying that your children will have some lack without it.
You can spend lots of money on a broad range of resources without really helping your children to "Seek first the kingdom of God," which is the real key to their success. Conversely, you can saturate their minds in God's word and little else, along with a loving, disciplined family lifestyle including productive work and lots of personal interaction with you, and they will be well-prepared to face whatever God has in store for them.
What am I recommending, then? Please be patient with my argument for the next few paragraphs.
Many ask what curriculum our family uses. I've answered this many ways over the years, but basically we don't use curriculum (not if curriculum means sequentially planned resources intended to teach some content). Our curriculum is Proverbs 23:26, in which Solomon said, "My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways."
We use the curriculum methodology we call "Discipleship." In "discipleship" the emphasis is not on content, but rather on relationship. If we have scriptural content, but unscriptural methodology, we will find ourselves continually struggling and defeated. If we embrace the curriculum revealed in God's word, we walk in fulfillment, peace, and joy. And the result (fruit) of faithfully following the Lord's design is pleasing (and glorifying to God).
This is the same curriculum Paul proposed when he said (1 Cor. 11:1), "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." He also described it this way (Phil. 4:9; 1 Thes. 3:7): "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do," and "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us."
One of the most frequently asked questions when homeschoolers get together is "What curriculum do you use?" How would Jesus have answered this question? He was the best teacher who ever lived! What was Jesus' curriculum?
Our initial response might be that He used the scriptures, but we don't have a single instance of Jesus leading the apostles in a Bible study. What was Jesus' curriculum? Jesus told His students, "Follow Me."
In the gospels this is the dominant command. When He called Peter and Andrew (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17), Matthew (Levi: Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), and Philip (John 1:43), He told each of them "Follow Me." He told the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22), the procrastinating disciple (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:59), and all the disciples (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23), "Follow Me." Jesus said His sheep know His voice and "Follow Me" (John 10:27). After His resurrection His exhortation (twice) to Peter was "Follow Me" (John 21:19, 22). His call to anyone wanting to serve Him is to "Follow Me" (John 12:26). He wanted (wants) His FOLLOWERS to be "with" Him (John 17:24).
And what is the outcome? We become LIKE whoever we spend our time WITH. Proverbs 13:20 states, "He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed." This works both negatively and positively. On the negative side, Proverbs 12:26 exhorts, "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray." Similarly, Paul warned (1 Cor. 15:33), "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'"
But this also works positively. Jesus said (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17), "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we become like Him.
So how do we apply this to our homeschooling? The "discipleship" methodology of homeschooling involves parents directing their children's lives (and therefor, training) by welcoming their observation and help in whatever tasks they themselves are involved in. Rather than "assigning" MEANINGLESS learning activities, the family works together on MEANINGFUL tasks that are productive for their family life. In the process, the children's hearts are knit to the parents, and they acquire the skills and knowledge that are being used.
As parents welcome their children's intimate involvement in their work, study, recreation, etc., the children learn to become more LIKE their parents. This is discipleship. The focus isn't primarily on contrived experiences that provide learning opportunities, but more on moment-by-moment faithfulness in the tasks we are called to. Learning is the unsought result, rather than being the goal. When what is sought is the "kingdom of God" the by-product is "all these other things" (Matt. 6:33).
Interestingly, research bears out the effectiveness of this approach. For example, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the best predictor of excellent reading skills is how much a person is read to during childhood. If you want good readers, read to your children. We work together, play together, read together, sing together, eat together, pray together... The key to discipleship is being (and doing) together.
Yes, I could get a lot more done without having my children distracting me. But if I want them to learn to be like me, I welcome them into my life. My call is to constantly call their hearts and their eyes (their attention). "My son, give me your heart, And let your eyes observe my ways" (Prov. 23:26). This is the curriculum we see mandated in Deuteronomy 6:6-9: "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
We are all already experienced at this methodology of instruction. I've never yet met anyone who used "curriculum" to teach their children to talk, or to walk. How did we teach these skills? We simply lived them before our babies, and as they observed us and tried to mimic us, in time they learned the skills quite well. We teach reading, writing, math, History, Geography, Science, Health, Physical Education, etc. the same way (although we don't think in such segmented terms--it's all life together before the Lord).
Raise and answer questions in conversation together. Teach Reading by reading aloud together (then stopping at exciting places where the children will try to read further on their own). Teach Writing through meaningful pre-writing and correspondence experiences. Teach math by handling money (a small family business?), construction, sewing, and cooking projects together. Teach History and Geography by reading adventurous missionary biographies together. Teach Science by having a garden, raising animals, and exploring & discussing God's creation together. Teach Health by discussing and modeling good hygiene. Teach Physical Education by hiking, biking, and playing together. A child with that much "together" interaction ("following") with his parents is going to be well educated.
The alternative is to impose the regimented "school" agenda on our homes. Most of us were educated in institutional settings, and that's really all we know. If that's where you are, start there. But gradually allow the Lord to move you toward a less artificial lifestyle of constantly meaningful interaction as you live together according to God's direction.
Some people feel lost without precise curriculum materials. Needing and using a crutch is no sin. You can spend a lot of money on these and find help through them. There are some wonderful, scripturally-based materials available. I appeal to you not to allow them to dominate your interaction with your children, though.
When to begin
If you follow the more scriptural (and less artificial) discipleship approach, the question of when to begin typically answers itself. There is seldom a danger of imposing pressure to learn skills above the maturity level of a child in real-life learning situations. However, if a family is using a more structured, regimented approach, there is a definite need to make certain you are not pressing a young child beyond his capabilities.
There is much disagreement among Christians about the question of readiness. I tend to lean toward delaying formal academics until later. But godly people see the issue from rather varied angles. However, God's word does seem to provide some light on the issue at a couple of points.
Paul noted (1 Cor. 13:11), "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Children aren't little adults. They don't speak, understand, or think like adults. To press a child to understand & manipulate complex, abstract ideas is not only futile, but frustrating.
Similarly, it is potentially harmful to insist that a child master skills for which he is not developmentally ready. Just as to pressure a child to speak in complete sentences when he's just learning to talk is irresponsible, in my estimation, forcing a young child whose nervous system is still immature to focus on a page and master letters and phonics rules is likely to create unintentional mental blocks (or worse) that hinder his later learning. When he's ready, he'll be much more motivated and will pick up the skills much more easily.
There's really no rush. Focus on godly disciplines and cultivating a heart for the Lord early on.
There are numerous groups you can join to help in your homeschooling. You can enroll your children in an "umbrella school" either locally or at some distance from you. I administer one such "Independent Study Program" (Pilgrims School--only open to homeschoolers who can physically attend our monthly meetings here in Central California).
I must caution you about joining such an umbrella school, however. The school will need to require some form of accountability (which isn't necessarily unhealthy). You want to be sure that what they are asking you to do isn't unnecessarily burdensome. My experience is that most umbrella schools go far beyond what is required by law, and put unnecessary (and counter-productive) pressures on families to look as "schoolish" as possible.
You can also join a homeschool support group. In most communities (at least in the U.S.) there are now support groups where you can interact with other homeschoolers. I recommend finding an explicitly Christian support group. In my estimation, the scripture directs God's people to avoid "joining" with non-believers. We are to interact with them, do business with them, etc., but not have "fellowship" with them. But Paul warned (2 Cor. 6:14), "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?"
Let me, as graciously as possible, share another concern about support groups. It is beneficial, and pleasing to the Lord, for Christian parents to meet with one another and learn from one another. Such fellowship, in my estimation is exactly what the writer of Hebrews 10:24-25 intended when he said, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (I don't believe He was talking about attending "church meetings" but rather gathering in situations where there is mutual exhortation & interaction.)
However, many support groups focus on gathering their children together. It seems to me that this is exactly what God is calling us away from. If all I was trying to do is provide a Christian alternative to the ungodly peer groups and teachers in the public schools, I would enroll my children in an institutional Christian School. But God has called me to eliminate peer groups from my children altogether. The "socializing" environment God intended for my children is the family.
I'm very concerned about the increasing trends of gathering homeschool students together for field trips, special classes, park days, youth groups, homeschool sports teams, and homeschool proms. Forgive me for sounding harsh, but I fear the homeschool movement is going the wrong direction.
Still, homeschool families (as families) or parents gathering together to fellowship and encouragement (support) is healthy. Even if you don't perceive the need for yourself, others likely need you.
(For more discussion of the Discipleship approach I recommend my Tape #501 "Homeschooling vs. Discipleship." To consider concerns about trends in support groups, listen to Tape #125 "Support Groups: Support Who?" and Tape #305 "Equipping or Enabling.")