"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7
If you understand the biblical need to nurture and disciple your children at home, to help them long for God and live for Him, then it is a very short step to educating them at home to help them learn for Him. If you have a biblical mandate to influence your child's spirit and heart, it would make no sense that God really meant that you should let someone else influence their mind. God didn't just forget to include school in His biblical family plan; it was not needed because He created the home. It follows that the logical next step is to educate your children at home.
But it is at this point that many families, wanting to do the right thing, choose the wrong way. Rather than trusting that God has designed the home to be a complete living and learning environment, they try to retrofit the institutional classroom model into it. But a home is not a school! God designed the home, man designed the school; they were never meant to fit together. Only in the home, just as God designed it, can you shepherd your children's spirits, shape their hearts, and strengthen their minds all at once. God did not leave anything out of the home that your children would need.
Solomon suggests that connection when he asserts that the "fear of the Lord" is the beginning of knowledge. True learning begins with the spirit and the heart, not just with the mind. A godly mind comes from a godly or God-directed spirit and heart. You cannot separate that relationship. It's clear that Solomon believed that parents were the ones charged with giving children the "wisdom and discipline" that will guide their search for "knowledge." Over and over in the first chapters of Proverbs, Solomon reinforces that relationship by admonishing his son to "treasure my commandments within you" and to "not forget my teaching."
The question, of course, is what should that home education look like. If God designed the home to meet all of a child's developmental needs up to the time when they leave to start a new home, then education should be the natural activity of the Christian home. For many homeschooling families, though, the tyranny of textbooks and the rigid rule of school have stolen the joy of homeschooling. Rather than finding freedom, they are held captive by the impersonal formality and constant demands of structured curricula, enslaved by methods designed for human institutions, not for the home. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In our book, Educating the WholeHearted Child, we share our own journey to making our home a warm, vibrant place where our children would love to learn as freely and as naturally as they love to play. We show you how to use real books and real life to stimulate real learning. Our WholeHearted Learning Model gives you a way to look at everything you do with your children at home. It is a biblical, discipleship-based, commonsense, relational approach to educating your children at home that works. But it's a different way of life.
Building Mental Muscles
It's always hard to switch paradigms, and when all we've known as a culture is the classroom model, switching to a relational, home-centered model of learning can test our confidence. The most common concern is usually whether average parents can do "enough" to really educate their child. "How will I know if my children know everything they need to know?" That concern does not originate from Scripture, but rather from a culture obsessed with measuring learning. But the truest measure of learning is not what a child knows at any one time relative to what other children know; it is whether or not that child is growing stronger in all of the most important learning skills. We like to call them "mental muscles."
Just as children have varying physical abilities, they also have varying mental abilities. Some children will be naturally stronger than others, but we do not insist on measuring and comparing all children's arm muscles. Neither should we compare and judge all children on the basis of one or two mental muscles. The goal should be to exercise all of a child's mental muscles so they will enter adulthood with a strong mind, with the desire (will) and the ability (skill) to learn whatever is necessary, whatever the situation. Performing well in comparison to other children in an artificial classroom setting is no indication that a child will perform well in real life in comparison to other adults.
The goal of education is not to raise a child who does well on the tests of secular educators, but to raise a child who does well on the tests of real life. When they need to research an issue, they will have the discipline and ability to find and analyze relevant information. When they need to present an argument, they will know how to use language persuasively. When mediating a problem at church, they will know how to apply wisdom and find a creative solution. Knowledge is the natural fruit of growing stronger mental muscles, not the other way around.
And what are the mental muscles? Certainly there are more than the ones we have identified in our book, but we have found seven that we think are critical to mental strength:
- Habits: The ability to instinctively act upon common duties or tasks without being told.
- Appetites: The ability to discern and desire what is excellent and worthy.
- Language: The ability to clearly articulate and communicate ideas and beliefs.
- Creativity: The ability to reflect the image and glory of God in all that one does.
- Curiosity: The ability to question, to seek out knowledge, and to keep learning.
- Reason: The ability to think clearly and logically about ideas, decisions and life.
- Wisdom: The ability to apply spiritual insight and discernment in any situation.
So, start with the spirit and the heart, and the mind will follow. And in the end, you will have not only a "well-educated" child, but even better, the confidence that you have raised a wholehearted child.