Creating a Lively Home
When my brother and I started school at home, we had already experienced both public and private schools. Perhaps because of this, I truly came to love the freedom afforded by homeschooling. There were no permission slips for field trips, I had time to read all I wanted, and there was the flexibility to engage in “extra” activities like theater, starting my own magazine, and going on hiking trips.
Later, I helped homeschool my little brother while learning about educational philosophies, particularly Charlotte Mason and classical methods, and I went on to study education in college. My husband and I taught at a classical charter school for two years. I am now a full-time mom, working part-time from home, while my hubby is a student in graduate school.
When I think about what I’ve learned about education—and about homeschooling, in particular—it all boils down to two things: 1) the end, or purpose, of education, and 2) the practice of home.
So what is the purpose of education? First of all, education consists of forming the whole person; academics are only a part of the big picture.
Your children’s education has many facets. It’s not just about what they learn during “school time,” but also what they absorb from your family’s rhythms and traditions, the people in your church and neighborhood, time they spend exploring creation outdoors, soccer and ballet classes, their chores and responsibilities, and time with their friends and extended family. All these things affect a child’s moral, intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual development.
For the Christian parent, education is also discipleship. Prioritize your goals for your children’s education by remembering what kind of person—a disciple of Christ—you are training your child to become.
In the classical world, the purpose of being educated was to become virtuous, intellectually and morally. The educated man knew how to speak well and act rightly. Later, in medieval times, the ideal of education centered upon love—love of wisdom and its source, God. The pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty was rooted in a love of Christ, who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
The goal of American schooling today may be variously expressed as “become financially successful” or “have better test scores than the next guy” or “get into a good college.” But for the Christian, the goal of education should be to know and love Christ and to love what He loves.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t teach our children civic literacy and life skills. I would argue that children need more practical training in traditional but waning skills: cooking, carpentry, crocheting, fishing, whittling, soap-making, sewing, gardening, and raising livestock. But whatever the ingredients for a “good education” (which will look different for each person and each family), the goal for the Christian family remains to shape your child’s love of that which is true, virtuous, right, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy.
This means that appreciating the beauty of the Sistine Chapel is more important than scoring better than public school students on standardized tests. It means that falling in love with the novels of Charles Dickens is more important than getting an A, and that a lifetime of reading is more important than going to graduate school.
Excellence, truth, and loveliness are all around us. Learning carpentry from Grandpa, practicing the piano, volunteering at church, reading books aloud as a family, going to the library, watching a live ballet—all these things shape your child’s soul.
That’s the purpose of education—raising disciples of Christ to love that which is true, virtuous, right, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy. This brings us to the practical outworking of education in the home.
First, it’s important, even essential, to be part of a community that reinforces your values. No family is an island. Surround your children with good influences—good books and music, wise mentors, the natural world—for the influence they are sure to be.
Don’t replace relationships with technology. There are online resources galore, but there is also the temptation to replace in-person, hands-on learning with a screen. Your child needs to interact with real people, real books, real backyards, and real streets. Online learning should be a supplement, never a replacement for the real thing.
When I first visited my husband’s family, I found a word that described their home: alive. There was space for everyone to gather together, and there was room for each person to work on their own projects. Herbs from the garden were rinsed and dried for tea. Multiple aprons were donned for adventures in the kitchen (the most “happening” room in any house). There were quiet nooks for reading or drawing, a wrap-around porch for al fresco suppers and rollerblade races, desks packed with notebooks and crafts, backyard trees for climbing, and wide tables for assembling projects and laying out maps.
The home, and its surrounding community, used to be the center of family life, a place pulsing with productivity and learning. Families worked and lived alongside each other, and children learned and matured through practice and example. Now many of the things that used to be grounded in home and community life—food preparation, the domestic arts, gardening, conversation, education, social gatherings, music performance, farming—are being more and more outsourced as we’ve lost many of the traditions of home.
Homeschooling provides a great opportunity to reclaim our homes. As a home educator, you can weave reading, writing, and arithmetic naturally into your children’s moral, spiritual, and physical formation. One child practices patience as she helps her younger brother sound out letters. While memorizing a poem, your children recite as they play cadenced catch in the backyard. Studying is easily paused to enjoy midday devotions with the family. Freed from the tyranny of the clock, your children can be more involved in the life of the church and community, spending time with people of different ages and different walks of life.
Homeschooling is no walk in the park, but it is a unique adventure that offers immense possibilities for all of your children to thrive. When the family lives and learns together, the rhythms of life soon become richly layered and varied.
May your home truly become alive.
Tessa Carman writes and teaches in Idaho, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and many books. She likes birch trees, slow meals, used bookstores, and Irish music.