Dana R Alsbrook Tuesday September 11 2007

I have a sweet friend who is beginning the journey of home education this year. Her sweet boy Johnny is 5 and very bright and inquisitive. When I emailed her and asked about their first full week of school, she responded, was mostly up with a little down. The little person isn't used to this much structure and I could feel him straining against the leash at times. I did my best not to tie him to a chair, but tried to incorporate activity into each lesson. But, he has a tendency to want to clown around and, to be very honest, he does this to challenge my authority.

I'm really focusing mostly on reading and trying to bring the alphabet into everything we do. Craft projects were about the alphabet or about creation, the two things we've worked on.

My only concern is something I'm sure every homeschooling parent has I doing this right? Then all sorts of questions begin pouring in, such as, "What if he doesn't learn to read? What if I am not able to teach him? What if we do this for 3 years and he doesn't learn and I fail?"

I think the hard thing is expectations. How do I know if my expectations are realistic? At what age should he be reading, etc. etc.?

Know what I mean?

Boy! Do I! Anyone who has home schooled for more than a week can identify with my friend. She found some encouragement in my response, so I've decided to post it here in case one of you could use a little lift. Here goes.

"Home education is about growing the whole child: his mind, yes, but also and primarily (first, foremost, above all else) his heart, soul and character - these are his real most fundamental (foundational, elementary) educational needs." - Marilyn Howshall

You have a framework you use to understand what you're trying to accomplish. The countdown to "school age" began in your mind at birth, if not at conception. I can guarantee if school has been on his radar at all, it is a relatively recent blip. Johnny has 5+ years in a loving, relaxed environment with a gentle, fun mom. It is possible (and necessary) to fuse those frameworks. It is foolish to try to do it in the course of a week, just because it happens to be September, 2007. This is as meaningless to him as if I were to begin to insist that you and I spend 1/4 of our time together in Judo.

"Judo? Really? Hmm, I don't recall our relationship having been based in any way on the martial arts," you might say.

Now, as analogies do, this one breaks down because I'm not your God-given authority, and therefore have no basis from which to insist that our friendship be anything other than what you and I BOTH agree to have it be. The idea that I might begin to have different, foreign expectations of our time together without any kind of preparatory work would surely test your affection for me, and cause you to question mine for you. See this whole thing through his bright, inquisitive eyes, and keep his heart engaged.

It may be that his first lesson is learning to submit to your authority willingly and cheerfully, and realizing the consequences of not doing so. Ordering your day around understanding concepts like submission, obedience, authority, order and so on will be a very useful foundation to your home education journey. He can learn letters any time. If he learns submission first, you'll have an easier time with academics. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of his capricious inclinations. "Maybe I'll sit still and write today. Maybe I'll talk funny and make a booger sculpture. Should be fun either way, right?" Not necessarily.

You asked if you were "doing it right." You're doing it right, because you're obediently following the leading of the Lord Who made Johnny and entrusted him to you. Be patient, be flexible and keep your boy's heart. Here's a little twist on a well-known Scripture:

If I speak Latin and German, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of phonics and can fathom homophones and gerunds, and if I can factor quadratic equations, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all the right answers and surrender my mind to the standardized tests, but have not love, I gain nothing.

What does the Lord require of Johnny? Let's ask Him. According to Micah 6:8, "To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with his God."

Johnny will learn to read, and it may be because you teach him. It may be because at some point the light "comes on" and written language makes sense. It will most likely be a combination of these two. Humans were created to relate to each other and to God. He chose to reveal Himself to humankind through the written word. Johnny will learn to read because he was DESIGNED to read. Maybe this year. Maybe when he's 10. Doesn't matter. Let me say that again: IT DOESN'T MATTER. If you strain his trust in your love and affection over the 9 English pronunciations of the alphabet symbol "a", THAT will matter.

"Will he learn?" you ask. However long you teach him at home, he WILL learn. He will learn that he is loved, accepted, accountable for his actions, able to fathom the mysteries of God's creation and to contribute to your family and to society in a meaningful way. Or, he will learn that school is hard, Mama is stressed, and when he falls short in some unexpected way, he loses value. Read to him. Count with him. Delight with him in the wonder of the world God has made. Be content with your planting and watering role, and rest in God's promise to provide the increase. I read once that "If you succumb to the temptation to worry, what you're really doing is borrowing tomorrow's troubles without access to tomorrow's grace."

May the grace sufficient for today and the peace that goes beyond human understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.