When it comes to preparing for the new school year it is easy to be absorbed in curriculum reviews, book lists and planning our routines, but these things are just the tools we use to disciple our children. The first considerations we need to have when preparing for the new year are in the areas of relationships, personal development, responsibilities and interest in life.
Whether you are a veteran or a newbie at homeschooling, I would encourage each family to take time to establish habits that support growth and maturity in these areas as a priority before looking at academic pursuits such as Math, Writing, or Science! This may mean working on these foundational things during the ‘summer’ or it may mean delaying ‘school’ till you are in a good place with these important skills.
There are two types of relationships that we focus on in our home: Vertical, that is between man and God, between each individual and God, and secondly, horizontal, the relationships between man and man, between each of us in the family and others outside of family.
When considering your children’s relationship with God, it is hard not to just tick the boxes – it isn’t just about having a quiet time, or praying out loud, it is more about us teaching and encouraging our children to walk with Jesus. It does mean we need to spend time in instruction, it means we need to create time in our day where our children can both ponder God’s word for themselves, as well as ask you any questions they may have. It means that we need to refer to God throughout the day so that the children learn to recognise that God is a day-in-day-out part of our life.
When considering your children’s relationship with yourselves, and/or other siblings and other people we need to look at how they relate to others and to see if there are any concerns. Do they always want to be with other people, never content to be with family? Are they talking about their life with you – their thoughts, questions, beliefs, struggles, victories? Do they listen to and consider other people’s feelings and desires? Are they helpful, not just at chore time but at other times as well (this helps us see that they are thinking of the other person, not just themselves). Do they bring joy into your family or is it a struggle? If it is a struggle, then that is okay, that is where they are at, but this certainly then qualifies as an area to work on before you add studies to your day.
Each child needs to grow in their own ‘self’, be it in the areas of moral, emotional, or physical development. This is a broad category and is hard to summarise – but what is it that your child needs to grow in to do well in life? Is there a character based response that constantly lets them down? Do they need to learn to speak up when they have an opinion? To know how to look after their own health or hygiene? In a sense this aspect overlaps with the other key areas I’m talking about but it is worth mentioning as it helps us focus on the individual child and see what skills and understandings they need to mature.
One issue that I’d like to highlight – especially if you have younger children is the issue of obedience. If your young children are not following your instructions as you teach them life skills and as you do family activities together, then you will struggle when you have to teach them something academic, or rather, they will struggle to learn from you. Obedience is one of the foundational character responses our children need to develop. If your children are older (pre-teen etc), then it may not be obedience that you need to deal with but rather respect towards you and a desire to learn. I have found that respect, obedience, self-control and gratefulness are pivotal character responses for each person in our family to develop.
This is another word for ‘lifeskills’. We want our children to be competent adults, able to look after themselves and others. Responsibilities cover issues such as: time management, money stewardship, looking after possessions and being able to work.
There are two aspects to teaching our kids responsibilities. First we need to teach them the skills. This often happens as we share the work load of the housework – chores. It takes time to teach our children how to do housework, but it is certainly worth it. We need to remember four steps in any instruction we undertake: we model, we teach/instruct, then we practice together, then we expect them to be able to do it. This last step reflects the second stage: we must give our kids the responsibility to do the things they know how to do.
Every family will teach their kids how and when to do chores differently than the next family. What is important though is that we teach our kids to do chores, and then give them the responsibility.
Interest in Life
My ultimate goal in homeschooling is not to cover all the lessons in a curriculum but rather to create a desire to learn and then to give my kids the skills to be able to learn. A season of family time (summer, vacations, holidays, term break) is a perfect time to let our kids explore, play, discover, try new things. It is as they have this freedom to pursue things that interest them that they start to see that learning is a desirable thing – until then it is just something that mum and dad want them to do.
One of the things that has helped my kids find interests has been the way we structured our day. When they were younger I found that when they had an open ended day with no requirements on them, they enjoyed the first few and then they started to get snarky with each other and bored within themselves. So I would set out a few boundaries – they needed to spend some time each day reading, playing with each other, playing outside and doing something with their brain and hands. There was no screen time (digital technology) until they had spent time doing these particular activities. We need to see that play isn’t just a waste of time, but rather it teaches our kids how to think, create and be with other people.
The Biggest Challenge…
The biggest challenge we will face after we have identified some key areas to work on in our family is Time; time to do new things, time to address hearts, time to be together. We need to be confident in the importance of these things for our family, so much so that we can step aside from the busyness and opportunities that the outside work present, and create opportunity in our family life to deal with the things that are important to us. You may be overwhelmed with the list that you’ve created, you may think you’ll never be in a place where you can add studies to your day, but remember that we are not aiming to be perfect in relationships, personal development, responsibilities and interests, but rather be at a place of appropriate and growing maturity. You don’t want your children pulling against you in these areas – if they are, then there is a big chance they’ll pull against you in Math, Writing, Science, History as well.