May 18, 2007

Fostering a love of learning...

I recently spent several months revising our curriculum, rethinking
our goals, and looking over oodles of other programs to try and find
the "right" mix to educate/entertain/engage my gifted 13 year old son. We have
only been hsing since 2004 and we only have used Ambleside Online (well,
textbooks for math and science). Since we pulled our son from public
school, I have had to learn how to home school (in general), how to
teach him (with his giftedness in mind), and how to choose materials
that will work along side his unique bent (his special gifts and

Additionally, I have struggled with planning and implementing
curriculum (scheduling). I have doubted myself, my plans, my
programs, and mostly my son's desire to be home schooled (Does he
REALLY like it? Would he rather be with his friends at ps? How well
is he doing grade-wise?). I also have done quite a bit of research
into learning styles (VAK) and read up on psychology (learning
behaviors/traits) in an attempt to better understand how my son
learns and then how to moderate our program to suit his needs. I
have learned so much, much more than I ever though necessary, and at
times it has been overwhelming to me. Often, I sit down and just cry
over it. I don't know if what we are doing is "best" or "right" for
him. I don't know if I am forcing my desires upon him or if I am
giving in to his childish desires (not wanting to do something). Am
I being diligent? Am I doing the right thing? These are questions I
have taken to the Lord repeatedly and sat over, cried over, anguished
over time and time again.

This past year has been what I call my "year of angst." We finished
AO Y8 in January, and to put it bluntly, it was our worst year
hsing. I was so distressed over our year that I considered giving up
home schooling (we believe God has called us to hs but I was at my
lowest point and questioned Him -- if so, they why am I so
frustrated?); switching to a traditional textbook curriculum
(convenient and easy to plan); using a Unit Study approach (Moore
Formula); going with a pre-packaged curriculum (Sonlight - too
expensive); or creating my own curriculum using my ideals, beliefs,
and philosophy of education (a amalgalm of CM, classical, TJE -- my
preference). Then after a final breakdown before the Lord, when I
was really at the brink of giving up, I found some clarity and
peace. I made the decision this March to get up off the floor and
stop bellowing to the Lord about all my worries, my fears, and my
disallusionment over hsing. I decided to take everything I had read
and digested and then put it to good use (using my good judgment -
the one the Lord gave to me when He called me to home school my
son). For me, I feel as though I have finally come through a very
long and dark tunnel. I feel as though I am actually walking in the
sunshine and can see a clear path and now have a direction to
follow. I didn't have this before; I was lost in a perpetual fog of
disallusionment and was consumed by a fear of failure (failure to
educate my gifted child -- what a mess I was making of things -- he
would be better off in someone else's care -- at least the basics
would be covered and he would be on the same path as other kids his

I don't know about others, but I think we all have years where we
question what we are doing, how we are doing it, and if our
methodology is effective. Maybe other people don't grieve as deeply
over these things as I do (it is my melancholy/VSL personality-nature
to do this), but I think every serious home schooler goes through it
at least once in their home school life. You see, we all want the
best for our children, we all want to meet their needs, and we all
want to encourage a "love of learning" in them. I mean, if we
didn't, they why wouldn't we just put them in PS/CS and give them a
cookie-cutter education? The thing is (and this came through my
moment of clarity) that there is nothing wrong with the education
that millions of children in the US and abroad are getting each year
(groans and sighs abound -- yes, I know -- but in truth there are
many good kids graduating from ho-hum schools and going on to college
and life and they are doing just fine!) Sure we all agree that
government schools are not great. There are many reasons why we
choose to home school and why we do not like government schools:
religious, academic, literary, pyschological, etc., to name a few.
There are issues and concerns about the quality and effectiveness of
government schools, but generally speaking, millions of children are
being educated by the world's system AND they are graduating and
going on to college and are doing OK. Many are not, of course, but
that is true with home schooling, true with parochial schooling, and
true with any system of education.

For some reason (some of us receive God's calling, some use our own
intuition/gut-feeling, some just want to do things their own way), we
desire something more, something better, something "real" for our
children when it comes to education. We want them to have a better
education than we had (if ours was bad, then we don't want them to
suffer in the same way; if ours was good, then we want them to
experience all the joys we had and more!) The problem is how to go
about giving them this "excellent" education and then how to
implement it into our thoroughly modern and hectic lives.

For most of us, we are on the road to doing that and have found peace
or at least comfort in using Charlotte Mason's methods. We have
experienced some success (some of us great success; some of us little
success). We all recognize the benefits of a classical or CM
education and we "see" that it is good. It has the logical markings
of an excellent method of learning and we can see "results" from
following this path. Good books, good subjects, natural processes,
gentle methods, art, music, poetry, Shakespeare, is a
complete package, thorough, well-covered, and very, very liberal in
it's approach. It is a true feast, a delightful banquet, and for
many of us, the very thing we wished we had but were not lucky enough
to experience. It is a link for us to a by-gone era when there was
time to read, time to study, time to observe. Life appeared more
calm, more serene, more blissful (in truth, it was nothing of the
sort, but our romantic self still likes to see it this way.) People
were well-educated, well-read and they did seem to "enjoy" these
pursuits -- they actually chose to do these things. This is what we
want for our children and we want them to love it as much as we do.

But, the real grit of the matter seems to be that we give this lovely
education to our children and they simply don't "receive it" with joy
and expectation! They are not delighted with our choice nor do they
run to us and clamor for more, more, more! No, they prefer visual
stimulus, instant gratification, and quick results. They lack
patience, lack endurance, and for many, lack that quiet and calm
submissiveness that lends itself to this kind of education. They are
active, rambunctious, and instead of asking for "good food" (books),
they are asking for "dessert" (games, play, or to be left alone).
Why do they not recognize the "love" we have prepared for them? Why
do they not "see" the feast and rush to join in?

I think the answer lies in the fact that we are all individuals and
God has created us to be unique in our desires and in our interests.
He has flavored us to make His kingdom a rainbow of delights, not all
one color nor one taste. We are all different and we all find
different things to enjoy, to desire, to long for, to want to
embrace, and to need. Our primary need, however, is to be satisfied
and there is only One who can satisfy us completely, and that is God,
Himself. He is to be our "satisfaction" but because of our fallen-
nature, our desires no longer run to Him, but run to self and to
dainties and delights that make us happy, that make us satisfied,
that make us comfortable. We no longer look to the One who created
us, the One who made us to be whole individuals. No, we look instead
to things, to methods, to approaches, to ways, that satisfy us and
our children. Yes, we teach about God and we teach and train our
children in Biblical principals, but we do not teach them to know
Him. We hope that this will happen at some point along the path,
that they will, by osmosis mostly, know Him through their studies and
their observations of nature, of creation, of ourselves (we are great
creatures, made in His image). We do not put the knowledge of Him
first on our plate, first on our approach, first on our method, first
on our day. We look to the writings of man (many of them very good)
and we hope that our children will find satisfaction in a "good
education" or in reading "good books." But when they don't, we
wonder what we have done wrong. Why do they not like or not enjoy
reading books? Something must be wrong with them? Something must be
wrong with the system, the method, or the approach. We forget why
we were created and what our goal should be as parents. We elevate
education or the method of education to a place where it does not
belong. We put it up on a Asherah pole and we bow down and worship
it. Education will make him or her knowledgeable. Education will
give him/her opportunities for success. Education will save my child
from all the bad things out there and open doors to the good things.

I know that we do not purposely pursue idol worship of education. I
don't think anyone said today "I am going to go out and worship my
curriculum today." No, we do it without really thinking that we are
doing it. We do it under the guise of self-education -- we must
learn more so we can be a better teacher, a better mom, a better
parent. We must get this right or else our children will suffer and
will turn out wrong. We do it unintentionally and we do it with very
good reasons. The problem is that we do it. We allow it to become
more than it should and we change from serving the Creator to serving
the creature.

I know that I was doing this and maybe you are too (maybe not, but
maybe someone else on this loop is and needs a reminder). I think we
all do it to some extent because the questions always seem to pop up
again and again and again. I do believe there is valid reason to
research methods and I do believe we should study to learn how to be
better parents and teachers. However, I do think we need to be
careful not to allow anything to consume us or become so burdensome
that we lose our focus and we begin to self-evaluate and spin around
and feel out of control or lost/disallusioned. I think this is how
Satan hurts us most of the time. He cannot pull us away from God but
he can pull our focus away from Him.

The other thing that I have discovered is that "delight-directed"
studies or anything geared towards making the child interested or
entertained (they would say "ignited") can be a swinging door that
will wrap around and hit you when you least expect it. It can sting
you and can trap you into believing that unless your children are
excited and interested in what they are doing, your program is not
working. This seems to be a big trap for many hsing parents because
we naturally desire for our children to like what they are learning
each day. Again, if we didn't care, we would give them a cookie-
cutter education. Since we do care, we want to see that "delight" in
their eyes and that smile that tells us they are enjoying their
studies. When we don't, we worry and fret and begin to shift our
path and think "oh no, we are failing them!"

I fell into this trap last year. As I mentioned, our Y8 was a bust
for the most part. We started off good and strong and somewhere
around T2 we hit rough seas. The books were hard and DS didn't like
them. We muddled through the stormy seas and when we had the chance
to jump ship, we did it. We justified our reasons as the experience
was unpleasant, uncomfortable, generally un-satisfying to us. I set
off in a search for something better, some more interesting,
something more enjoyable and ended up creating my own Unit Study on
WWII (my son's favorite time period). We did this program for 9
weeks and it was OK. DS read his books, he narrated, he did what he
normally did. The initial spark wore off shortly after the first
couple weeks and it become his daily "get it done so I can do what I
want" list. You see, it didn't matter that the books were all of his
choosing this time. It didn't matter that he really wanted to study
this period. He did the exact same thing that he had done previously
with Ambleside. He started off strong and then once the road got a
bit rocky, he tried to take the easy path (the path of least

It was at 9 weeks or so when I finally went before the Lord to ask
again for His help. I was ready to let go and to stop trying to make
everything be pleasant and wonderful at home. During this time, the
Lord had been working on my heart through a variety of other methods
to get me to see that hardship and discipline have value. The Lord
gives us difficulty to toughen us up, to make us sharp, to make us
useful. He doesn't give us the easy path or make our lives
pleasant. He doesn't want us to look to anything other than Him for
our satisfaction and to get us to pay attention, He uses things,
circumstances, trials, to jolt our eyes off of ourselves.

I realized that my son was doing exactly what I was doing -- not
wanting to do the hard work but choosing the easy way. He actually
told me that he would "prefer to do an easier program so he didn't
have to work so hard." I laughed and then it dawned on me. My son
is this brilliant young man, gifted in many ways, and the Lord
obviously has plans for him. But my boy wants to take the "easy"
way, the road heavily travelled where he can just skip by and not
really try very hard. I thought "what a waste of a brilliant mind"
especially since he is so very capable of doing more than other kids
his age. No, I knew then that God had called me to hs this
exceptional child and that no matter what curriculum or method I
used, my job was to do it to the best of my ability. I was called to
use my good judgment and to teach him using the best materials, the
best method, the best way possible and to not let him have it easy.

I want God's best for my life and I now understand that it is not
going to be a walk in the park. His love is sufficient. His grace
is sufficient. His mercy is everlasting. He has a plan for my life
and it is a good one. But it only works when I am looking at Him and
set my priorities correct. God first, marriage second, family third,
jobs, home schooling, friends, interests all come in down the line.

I have gotten off point, as I usually do, but to sum up quickly. I
think God has created us with a love of learning. It is not
something we must go and look for because it is part of who we are.
We are spiritual beings and have the capacity to learn in many
modes. We can think, we can observe, we can feel, and we can grow.
We are natural born learners. Not all of us are book worms who love
to read. Some of us like to explore and some of us like to think.
We all desire challenge and stimulation and we all want knowledge
(thanks to dear Adam and Eve for that wonderful gift). Our goal is
to make sure that we seek the One who gives the true knowledge first
and then to order our lives aright so that we are not seeking
fulfillment in anyone or anything besides Him.

How does this play out with your children? I would simply say that
you are doing well to give them a generous curriculum. What they do
with that will be up to them. If you spend all your time trying to
satisfy their tastes and desires, you are simply creating very needy
children who will place their own interests above anything else.
They will not learn what it means to suffer and take the hard road.
It is best to help them learn that in life we have to do things we do
not like to do and to give them hope that their life will be easy or
peaceful, is really doing them a grave injustice. Life is hard -- I
don't know anyone who can say that they have had an easy life, one
filled with delights and pleasures and that they are now living in
peace and harmony (I am not talking about spiritual harmony). Every
person I meet, whether young or old, will tell of some struggle or
trial in their life. How they navigate the rough waters will
determine their character and will develop strong, capable people,
people whom the Lord can use for His work. We can either remain weak
and helpless or we can choose to be strong and disciplined.

Please know that I am not saying that you should make your children
do hard and unpleasant work in home school. No, on the contrary. We
are blessed with opportunities galore and curriculum by the
bushelful. Never before have there been more opportunties to engage
and stimulate the mind of a child and Christian parents have more
choices in how to teach their children at home. The key here and
then I will close is simply to remember that hsing must take it's
proper place among all things we do. Use whatever program works for
you and your children. Be diligent and faithful to it and then let
the rest go. Stop worrying about things that are not important and
keep it compartmentalized so it doesn't take over your entire life.
I take home schooling out of my pocket M-F and then it gets put
away. I am determined to have a life outside of schooling. God
desires me, not my hsing. He desires my time, not my planning and
perfect schedule. He longs to speak with me, not hear me ramble on
and on about books and choices. Keep Him first and as scripture
says "the rest will be added unto you."

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