In April of my senior year of college, my high school sweetheart proposed. We decided to get married in August. Four months should be enough time to plan a wedding, but there was one little hitch. Before we decided to get married, I had committed to a six-week backpacking trip through Europe with my brother and cousin. We pressed forward. In the midst of college graduation celebrations and shopping for the trip, my mom and I picked out invitations and booked the church. We also went fabric shopping. Ever since my birth, my mom had wanted to make my wedding dress.
After we picked a gorgeous lace, we selected a beautiful pattern. My mom took careful measurements, took a deep breath, and cut the fabric. By this time, I was on a plane bound for Europe. When I returned six weeks later, she had created a masterpiece. There was just one tiny hitch. I had gained a few pounds while eating my way through Europe. So, she took measurements again and began to alter the dress. While she was working on that, I began to sew beads onto the lace to adorn the bodice and hem.
When we both had finished, and I tried the dress on, we both took a deep breath. It was a masterpiece, tailor-made just for me.
Why did we spend so much time and lavish so much care on this project? Love. Love of a mother for her child. Love of a young woman for her betrothed. Love of God’s mercies on a young couple.
I would submit that we should take the same loving care with the education of our children. Every child is uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose in God’s kingdom. Every child’s education is a special occasion to fit them for their calling. Just as we would carefully tailor a wedding dress, so we must thoughtfully craft an education.
At Classical Conversations, we say that parents are the best teachers for their uniquely made children. What we mean is that each family is best equipped to make decisions for their child’s education. You are the one who loves your child enough to give your time and talents to educating them. You are the one who knows them best.
My oldest child is in Challenge IV this year. We have been home-educating him and our other three children since birth. Over the years, we have had to carefully consider when we needed to excuse them from an assignment based on family circumstances. We have had to evaluate when it was time to start a particular math book over or to drop one curriculum altogether in favor of a different approach. We have had to decide when my husband should instruct them for a while, when we should get help from an older sibling, and when we should employ an outside tutor.
Recently, several of us hosted a webinar for homeschooling parents to discuss tailoring a child’s education (see “Tailoring the Challenge Program for your Uniquely-Made Child” in the Cultivating Classical Parents playlist on CC Connected®). As we compared the tailoring of an education to the tailoring of a garment, we came to realize that tailoring is the rule rather than the exception. Many of us had assumed that tailoring happens only occasionally—when a child has a learning difficulty or when the family has a crisis. Yet through our conversation it became clear that tailoring is the rule as each year we consider the child’s growing gifts and changing needs.
In addition to shattering the myth that tailoring is the exception, we also revised our faulty thinking on several other fronts. One is the idea that we only use tailoring to scale the material back. Instead, we found that, in many cases, we may need to scale the material up for a child who is particularly interested in a topic.
Finally, we busted the myth that, when we tailor a particular assignment, it can be disruptive to the Challenge class. For example, we might feel that a child who does not read a particular novel or write an essay on that novel will not be able to contribute to or benefit from the Challenge seminar that week. In reality, many things can be happening in the heart and mind of that student. He may be so excited by the conversation that he will go straight home and start reading that evening; at the very least, he is gaining a basic familiarity with that book’s characters, plot, and theme. As other students discuss the characters, the student who did not read the book may recognize a situation in his own life or in other books he has read that will contribute greatly to the conversation. He is also blessed by his tutor and classmates graciously honoring his family’s decision not to require that assignment.
We may all easily recognize that tailoring a child’s schoolwork is necessary and desirable, but knowing how best to do so can be daunting. Many families have shared that they are afraid to tailor their children’s work because they fear that they will not give them a solid foundation for college or other post-high school plans. Rather than walking in this fear and clothing our children in ill-fitting garments, we must equip ourselves to exercise wisdom and judgment in this area.
Like most decisions that we must make as parents, when tailoring an education, we must carefully consider our objective, our child’s nature, and the circumstances. Since education is about forming habits, we do not want to tailor in such a way that we encourage laziness. Nor do we want our education to frustrate ourselves or our students. Therefore, what we are seeking is a balance between sloth and stress. Here are some questions to help us get started:
- What are my family’s circumstances this year? How much help am I able to give my student?
- What are my child’s gifts? In what areas do they struggle?
- What are our educational and spiritual goals this year? How can we set our academic assignments so that they serve these goals?
In order to make the best decisions, we should also solicit wise counsel:
- What does my child have to say about the plans for this year?
- What does my spouse have to say?
- What does an experienced parent in my community have to say?
- What advice can my child’s tutor offer?
After we have carefully considered the circumstances and gotten some advice from wise authorities, we can craft an educational plan that is tailor-made to our unique child. And then, just as my mother had to adjust my wedding dress mid-stream, we should be prepared to assess how things are going and make adjustments along the way.
Throughout the ongoing process of learning to love and educate our children well, we can rest in the knowledge that God sees and loves each one of us as individuals. He knows the plans he has for us. We should be continually conforming ourselves to that plan and training our children to seek His plan for them. At all times and at all costs, we must resist the urge to compare ourselves to other families or to try to make our children into people that God never intended them to be.
C.S. Lewis illustrates this well in Mere Christianity: “when you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things” (183). Let us strive to see each of our children as uniquely and wonderfully made. Let us commit to pray, to seek God’s wisdom, to seek good counsel, and to tailor each education so that it is the best possible fit.
C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. New York, Harper One, 1952.