How much do you think about the quality of your homeschooling?
If you are like many of the homeschoolers I know, you probably spend a great deal of time thinking about that. In one way, this is good; we are responsible for the education of our children and we should feel our accountability acutely. In another way, however, this intense examination may lead us to feel anxious, burdened, and discouraged.
It seems a homeschooling truism that a significant part of our lives involves a balancing act: setting desirable goals while experiencing the occasional feelings that we are not doing enough or not doing the right things…or even, it is likely, feeling that we are doing neither. In order to get a sense of how deeply we feel the weight of our task, you only have to survey the number of articles written encouraging homeschoolers to persevere despite their experiences of being overwhelmed. Don’t we spend endless hours looking over curriculum catalogs? Performing internet searches to locate the best resources and advice? Attending conferences? Talking with our fellow homeschoolers to discover what has worked for them? This endless scrutiny can be, in itself, exhausting.
Is it possible, however, that despite this preoccupation, we may often be overlooking the most basic components of successful homeschooling? In our eagerness to educate our children, we may be missing some of the simplest things we can do to encourage a love of learning…things that do not really have much to do with the nitty gritty details of schedules or curriculum choices. I think these basic components can be summed up in one word: environmentalism.
Although I have been homeschooling about two decades now, it was only recently that I realized that this “environmentalism” can be described by a twist on one of our favorite modern educational concepts, and one which has in many ways adversely affected the educational methods of modernity: IQ. I am sure we all recognize, from the agonizing years of testing we went through as children, that this means “Intelligence Quotient.” My twist on it is the abbreviation “IQ’S” and it describes what I believe are three fundamental elements of the home educating environment that produce success. As a classical, Christian homeschooler slash one-time mental health professional who has studied IQ a little bit, I think it is fitting that the basic crux of successful education ultimately rests, not in the “intelligence quotients” of the children or the parents but in certain foundational elements of the teaching environment.
“I” is for Interact
Make your home a place in which you sustain interaction with your children. Be a living, breathing example for them. Model life and learning for them by doing the things you hope they will aspire to do. If you want them to be scheduled, schedule yourself. If you want them to be disciplined, be disciplined in your work and responsibilities. If you want them to love learning, lead the way.
What the Bluedorn’s ask in Teaching the Trivium about writing sets the tone for how homeschooling parents can proceed in all areas of educating their children: “Do you like to write? Do your children ever see you writing anything besides what is absolutely necessary?” (p. 403). Of course the point here is that if your children never see you writing for anything other than pragmatic purposes, they will not write for any other reasons either. In short, if you want your children to enjoy reading and writing, then show them how you value literacy by reading and writing yourself.
In a similar vein, whatever “it” might be, if you want your children to learn it, do it, and enjoy it, then you must begin to do it first. It does not have to be complex or high level and you certainly have permission to make lots of mistakes…but you need to model it. The idea that a thing can only be done if it is done “perfectly” is anathema to education—none of us are born doing anything that well; we must all take our first, stumbling steps in any endeavor, and for the vast majority of us it is only through practice that proficiency comes.
Remember that your children will value what they see you value, and you communicate your values by living them out. So, throughout it all, invite your children to join you as co-learners. Study together, build together, and understand together that one of the most profound and rewarding results of an education is not a paycheck, but the riches of an abundant, joy-filled, participatory life: A life of interaction with the world, with others, and ultimately, with God.
“Q” is for Question
One of the hallmarks of our postmodern age is an apathy about the world, and a general acquiescence to the idea that the “experts”’ are the only ones who “know” anything—so why should we even be bothered to try to learn anything for ourselves? Realize this is nonsense; no one person, society, or age can claim a monopoly on all that can possibly be discovered or expressed.
Let your curiosity loose. Practice asking questions and model the process of asking questions for your children. Show an interest in finding out about the world around you, and make sure to show an intentional interest in your children and in their thoughts, experiences, and questions too. Help them to see that asking questions is a healthy, productive process, and that it can be fun…just like connecting the pieces of a puzzle. Remember that questioning is not, in and of itself, rebellious. Questioning is part of who we are as human beings made imago Dei: curious, creative, and yearning for truth, goodness, and beauty. Learning how to ask questions appropriately is important in our lives—from discovering the wonders of creation, to self-assessment and self-governance, to coming into greater knowledge and harmony with God.
Above all, make sure you allow your children to question with you, converse with you, and seek truth with you. Teach them to do all this respectfully, but see to it that they never fear approaching you with a question.
In addition, help your students ask questions that have personal meaning for them, and that are important to them. In his book What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain writes that “Questions help us construct knowledge…Some cognitive scientists think that questions are so important that we cannot learn until the right one has been asked” (p. 31).
We live in a culture that is so dependent upon the “right” answers given to us by “experts” that we are almost afraid to ask and answer any questions of our own. But homeschooling parents need to model fearless questioning and answering. They need to help children identify the questions that matter the most; their children will spend the rest of their lives searching for the answers that are true. As Bain writes, “People learn best when they ask an important question that they care about answering, or adopt a goal that they want to reach. If they don’t care, they will not try to reconcile, explain, modify, or integrate new knowledge with old” (p. 31).
“S” is for Surround
As you model, explore, create, and question, surround your children with the resources for learning. Leigh Bortins tells us in her book The Core that “According to the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2007 reportTo Read or Not to Read, the common factor shared by all proficient readers is that they live in households that contain over a hundred books” (p. 89). So fill your home with books! And realize that the same basic principle applies to other areas of learning as well. Fill your home with music, art, games, toys, and any elements that allow your children to explore projects—either with your help or independently—whether those include the study of an author, examination of a historical event, dissection of a perch, growing of a garden, raising of chickens, sewing of a garment, painting of a canvas, or creation of a special meal…the possibilities are endless. Keep clay, crayons, paints, and paper within reach. Store an abundant supply of glue, scissors, and tape. Fill your cabinets with the basic ingredients for homemade concoctions. Make sure you have hammers and nails, screws and boards. Do not hesitate to let the kids paint walls, and refinish and rearrange furniture. Fill their closets with clothes they can pretend in as they imagine they are the characters in the stories they are reading, from pioneers to princesses and dragon slayers. Give them animals to care for and plants to nurture. Listen to a variety of good music with your kids, and, most importantly, make sure to take the moments to sing and dance to it with them.
What will happen if you apply these “IQ’S”? Yes, you will have to contend with a bit of mess. In the extreme cases, the walls may just get painted a different color while you were not looking and the chair you were about to sit in may have mysteriously been misplaced. As you ask and answer questions—many of which, especially if they are really good questions, may not have any easy answers—you may not finish your laundry. There may be dishes in the sink while you read, paint, sculpt, or go for a walk. Dust, the ever pervasive bane of housework, will collect on your many bookshelves and in between the bins of Legos, blocks, and plastic ponies. Yes, you may actually dance away an entire afternoon…maybe even two…
I am quite sure, however, that if you establish the “IQ’S” of environmentalism in your home school, you will educate your children in life, liberty, and love.
Bain, Ken. What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press, 2004.
Bluedorn, Harvey and Laurie. Teaching the Trivium. Trivium Pursuit, 2001.
Bortins, Leigh. The Core. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2010.