by Mary Cudal

– My philosophy of homeschooling began to develop when I had a small family daycare in our home before we started our own family. When I observed how small children learned, I noticed two main aspects. As creatures fashioned in the image of God, they showed curiosity, wonder, energy, and joy in living and learning. Free time enhanced their imaginations. But I noticed that these natural traits were warped and twisted by their sin natures, leading to discontent, anger and selfishness. I felt that videos and computer games, even those considered educational, fostered boredom and discontent in the children they entertained. I did not allow television in my home, and still feel it robs children of valuable time of learning.

After eight years of day care, by which time I had a four-year-old daughter and twin baby sons, I had learned to teach by using daily life as school. Each moment of the day was part of the learning experience. My children naturally wanted to learn new things every day. They learned how to walk and talk (no class needed), simply through regular interaction. They mastered many other skills simply because they were in a family. They learned how to function together. Again, they received no specific instruction. We directed and guided them in the ways we felt best, relying on teaching from the Word of God.

We wanted to develop many areas of their lives: love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, love of others, respect for parents, and happy obedience. I am delighted that the one mandate God gave children to learn (and parents to teach) is to obey. Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”  One command is all. So in our children’s formative years, that was our main focus. Obedience is foundational to all learning.

All the learning in our children had happened as they wanted to expand their own thoughts and abilities. The main reason they wanted to learn is because they had free time. If their studies had been spoon-fed to them, whether through DVDs, text books, tests, etc., their desire to learn would have been stunted. For example, if they were expected to learn only enough US History to pass a test which their educator deemed important, they would have neither the motivation nor time to learn anything else. Their learning would be reduced to short bursts of interest in the subject, with little overall comprehension or recollection in the end. However, say that during normal daily activity we happened across some interesting historical event, and sought out a book written by someone who was there, I believe far more learning would take place. Biographies, autobiographies, first-hand accounts, technical papers – all these stimulate lasting impressions. My personal belief is that textbooks, workbooks, and tests stymie the natural desire of children to learn. Direct instruction is only beneficial when the subject matter is already a point of interest. Then it can be very good. Such interaction fosters a child’s respect for the teacher and subject. Other skills are also developed: how to take notes, study, pay attention, and listen.

Every person has different skills, abilities, and gifts. I believe parents are the best educators for their individual children. When my daughter started reading at age three, I helped develop her love of reading by answering her many questions about words, and I helped her read throughout the day. When our twin sons were five, I introduced them to letters, words, and books. They only wanted to continue playing, and struggled. I could see they were not ready or interested. I put the books away.  However, I did read stories to them many hours each day.  As they grew, I saw they had a keen interest in mechanics and electronics. Later, when they were ten years old, they started reading how-to books that had to do with their areas of interest. I merely answered their questions about grammar, word usage, word rules, and I enjoyed watching them read. Now they choose and read books on their own many hours each day.

My youngest son has just started reading at age eight. He started by reading and memorizing Psalm 23, and now works hard at reading chapter books. He has plenty of time each day to cater to his curiosities, especially by picking up a book.

God has given each person a task in life: to honor Him with everything done each day.  We want to teach our children in the “way [they] should go.” During the years they are under our care, we help them find out what they are interested in and then let them develop. Teaching them a little math and a little science will show whether the child is inclined to those areas. Are they mechanically inclined; do they love to take things apart and “see how things are made”? Or are they very artistic and musical? We are constantly amazed at what our children pick up. We may not have spent much time in math or science, but will hear them discussing these very topics with great interest on their own.

We introduce many skills and educational opportunities for discovery. However, we don’t overload our children. When the whole day is filled with a multitude of subjects, when does a child have time to get excited about any specific area of study? Many homeschooling parents decide to follow the wisdom of the world educators and force their children to study six or seven subjects a day. How can a young person be expected to do well in all these areas? Do adults think about more than one or two subjects a day or a week or a year?  Mothers are congratulated because they can juggle cooking, cleaning, scheduling, loving and nurturing each day. Fathers think about business, the work that needs to be done in the home, finances, and still spend time with the family. Children are expected to think about helping in the home (hopefully), all their school subjects, homework for a multitude of teachers (even homeschoolers who use DVDs), and extracurricular activities. Multitudes of outside activities, along with too many school subjects, rob children of their natural desire to learn. I want to give my children plenty of time to learn on their own. I want them to see that they can learn and explore any subject they desire, and give them enough time and opportunity to do so. Sometimes hours of instruction and hard studying are needed for these subjects, but if the child is interested, these are hours well spent.

I have heard homeschooling parents who say their children will not choose to learn anything. On the contrary, they are learning many things each day – though perhaps not what their parents think of as “learning.” Are they learning that it is important to be entertained? Do they see the necessity of having the latest video game, toy or gadget? They are indeed learning. Are they learning that all they need to know is how to take a test, fill in spaces with word answers, or finish certain paragraphs of facts in a text book?  Are they learning that they are unable to study on their own at their own initiative? My desire for my children is that their lives will be so filled with good learning that they will not have time to waste on this world’s idea of needful things.

Hopefully, prayerfully, our children are cultivating work ethics and discipline by working with their father on hard things. We clean, maintain, and run vacation homes. We mow lawns, clean pools in the hot sun, fix leaks, replace sewer pipes, dig trenches, plant mature trees, and weed. They are learning that spending time with family is very important. They are learning the Word of God, prayer, Bible study, obedience to parents, kindness to others, respect of adults, love of learning, moral purity, helpfulness, perseverance, godly character, are all part of life now and in the future.

Cultivating appreciation for the arts is another key area. With careful guidance, the ability to recognize, appreciate and perform good music, recognize and enjoy good art, and even appreciate the culinary arts, all contribute to the overall development of our children. To be able to appreciate, experience, and marvel at the breadth, depth, and fullness of God’s creation is the greatest gift we can impart to our children.

I look forward to seeing what the Lord Jesus has planned for my children’s lives. I praise the Lord that they love Him and want to serve Him with their lives.