One morning on my daily walk, I was fretting and stewing over what I could possibly do with my one-year-old during school time. I was feeling some despair with a new baby on its way. I couldn’t see any end to the disruption of babies in my home school for many years to come. I was praying and scheming at the same time: I could wait until the baby’s nap to teach school, I could rotate the children with baby-sitting chore away from our schoolroom, I could get a playpen . . . all solutions that didn’t feel right—babies needs their moms!
As I walked and pondered, suddenly the Lord introduced one sentence to my mind and revolutionized my mindset entirely! “The baby IS the lesson!” I thought I was trying to teach Math, but in reality I had been teaching, day by day, how an adult values the precious gift of children. My children, by watching how I deal with the frustration of a crying baby or keep a toddler happy and busy with some of his “own” pieces while we play a math game, are soaking up “the lesson”. Unfortunately, I had occasionally been teaching that the baby interrupts our learning.
How to be a Christlike person is the most valuable lesson a child could ever learn! The lesson is learned moment by moment; watching a parent being patient, handling frustration with kindness, pressing on for the goal in spite of numerous interruptions, valuing each child’s needs regardless of inconvenience. That valuable insight–how Mother handles the baby is the real lesson–has dramatically changed how I view my home school. I am teaching foremost my values: godly character, kindness, respect for others, individuality, sacrifice and a host of other Christlike attributes. Teaching them reading, writing, math, etc. is very important to me but my perspective has been altered. “Mimic me, follow me and I will show you the way a Christlike person acts and what he values”. That is the message every parent relays to their children whether they are aware of it or not. Children try to copy everything anyway (our mannerisms, our daily activities, etc.). We must be certain that we are providing a correct pattern for them to copy, not only in our daily activities but in our attitude, our tone of voice, and our facial expression. We need to conduct our lives so that we can say “follow me”. If our children are to “buy” our values, what a tremendous responsibility we have to make sure we are living our best so the lesson is clear and well learned! What more could you ask for from your homeschool than to produce Christlike people?!
Teaching your children basically means getting your own personal life in order and striving daily to be the leader for them to follow. Of course, we fall short and they must look to Christ for the perfect being but they need to see daily how one acts, speaks, lives, solves problems. We are acting as a proxy, in a sense, for Christ. Since they can’t have his daily role model, then he has given his children parents to be an example, to point the way. Along with lesson preparations, we need to prepare ourselves by asking: is the pattern I live the way Christ would act? Can I say today that I have marked the path for my children to follow? Children learn from seeing their parent’s role model. Watching an adult make a simple mistake (such as being too punitive with a child) and go through the process of repenting is 100 times more effective than your devotional lesson on repentance. This means children must be intimately involved with you in your daily life. A few hours a day after school won’t do it.
Children should be involved in the adult’s life rather than daily life rotating around the children. Research has shown that children who have grown up to be productive well-adjusted adults are those who have been drawn into the parent’s world; their daily activities, work, and interests; rather than having parents who centered their world on the child. When I began home schooling, I never could find the time to do the things I felt were important for my life; such as writing in my journal, corresponding with relatives, studying my scriptures, and more. Somehow, in my busy-ness of trying to teach the kids how to write in their journals, I was neglecting my own journal writing. Thankfully, we now have journal writing time in school daily, and we write letters to relatives together as a family on Sunday. Homeschool life should help parents do the daily necessities, rather than usurp the time needed for them. Home maintenance, chores, food preparation, gardening, food preservation, budgeting, clothing care (mending and sewing), planning family social relationships, caring for small children, record keeping, quilting, wallpapering, etc. are all wonderful life skills that can be done together that enhance a child’s education!
The parent’s joyful task is to lead and guide the child into the real world–not set up a contrived pseudo-world to teach skills that the children would easily learn if they spent their time around adults who were striving to live good lives. What constitutes an adult trying to live a “good life”? Being a productive adult would constitute a full-time curriculum! Plant a garden, read good literature, serve the needy, be politically aware, keep a journal, vote for honest men, develop your talents, etc. The exciting part about leading a child into the real world is that they are self-motivated. The moment I sit down to play the piano, all my children want to play and want me to teach them to play something. No sooner than I begin typing on the computer, I have the whole family “needing” to type. My efforts at writing have, humorous to me, stimulated the production of “books” from my youngest children. Modeling is so much more effective than lecturing.
Studies show that the biggest determining factor for a child’s success in reading in school is if they have seen a parent reading in the home on a regular basis. This is especially true for boys if the parent who reads is their father, rather than their mother. Somehow, the example says far more about the value of reading than endless hours in school reading groups.
In every area, it takes instruction to teach skills to little people. Children need to master the basic academic skills (reading, writing, arithmetic), social manners, music competence, and a host of other abilities and that does take focused concentration and time from mother/teacher to accomplish. It isn’t realized just by living in a family. But shared family life practices and contributes to those skills. Having taught my little girl the numbers and the plus, minus and equal signs and how they worked, she jumped right into figuring out how many plates she needed to set the table using her new skills: (“We have 9 and the boys are gone to college so that is minus 3, so we need six”).
When we think of homeschool, sometimes we get tunnel vision, and think “academics”, “keeping up to speed” and other worrisome concerns that don’t really tell the whole story. Homeschool is the growing and nurturing of fine, upright people.
So, how we treat and value the baby really is the lesson.
Class never dismissed.
(Note: This article was originally written years ago, when my children were young. It is the most often requested thing I’ve ever written.)