Category Archives: Homeschooling

Classical Homeschooling: A definition

Aristotle“The failure of our educational system goes beyond what they fail to teach. It includes what they do teach, or rather indoctrinate, and the graduates they send out into the world, incapable of seriously weighing alternatives for themselves or for American society.” Thomas Sowell, columnist

My visit to a recent homeschool convention showed me not only that some of the curriculum “out there” is inadequate to teach students thoroughly and well, but also that Classical Schooling must be the newest fad to follow.

This both encouraged and disheartened me. As a teacher in Classical methods I was encouraged because Classical Schooling is gaining in popularity among homeschooling families. Discouraged because, from my experience as a teacher, curriculum writer, and attendee at many homeschool conventions over the years, I know that many of the offerings I saw at tables were not high enough quality to meet the stringent demands that some classicists have.

What is Classical Schooling?

The writer Dorothy Sayers sparked a flame that began to grow when she wrote an essay titled “The Lost Tools of Learning” in 1947. In that essay she expounded on the way a child learns best, and that is according to the model of classical learning from times past. She mourned the loss of such educational methods, as she was very much a classicist herself. “Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.”

Sayers posits that a child learns best if his learning methods are addressed according to his age group. When in the Grammar level (up through 6th grade or so)–Sayers calls it “Poll-Parrot”–the student learns the components of his language and of the other subjects in school. The “grammar” of math, then, are the math facts every child can learn to parrot back to his parent. The grammar of history would be those history facts that every child learns: the presidents, the continents, the states, the names, places, and dates. And so forth. Children learn in a sing-song manner the parts of language, almost as much as you can cram into their darling little heads. They don’t need the whys; they just stuff their heads full of facts and parrot them back.

As a high school English teacher I was in tears when I first watched third graders diagram sentences. The year before, when we had not yet transitioned to Classical, those same children hardly knew the parts of grammar. Here they were a year later diagramming sentences, having fun showing off their knowledge.

Once they have their facts, and they reach  the age of argumentation (those little eyeballs start to roll around in their heads about 6th or 7th grade), they have transitioned to what Sayers calls “Pert” or Dialectical. This is when their teachers need to incorporate Logic into their thinking. This is when we take the facts they have been learning and make connections for them–or better put, we allow them to make the connections. Their writing becomes more sophisticated. Their history, math, and science understanding grows because they can begin to form hypotheses and test them out based on what they already know.

This is the time that they want to challenge authority, whom they suspect doesn’t know what they’re talking about. So they learn Logic, a new way of thinking, almost the equivalent of learning a new language. They see how arguments can be analyzed by their component parts, what makes fallacies, and why. They pick up on the fallacies of other people’s ideas–then they realize that they themselves make fallacies too.

By the time they reach 9th or 10th grade, they are ready for what Sayers calls the “Poetic” or Rhetoric stage. Here they can put all their past learning together and figure out how to make connections across the broad scope of their learning. They can look into the ideas and philosophies of the past and see how mistakes of the present day are a direct result. They can put into writing those thoughts and ideas that come flowing out, beautifully expressing themselves.

Nuts and Bolts: What gets done?

One of the hallmarks of Classical education is the integration of learning. The classical approach is known for moving through the periods of history and learning everything there is to learn at each level. So what you read in literature you are also learning in history and geography, and you’re doing art projects connected to the history and country that you’ve been studying. Science gets involved, as you can study the inventions of the ages you visit. As students get older the studying goes deeper. Delve into the religion of the age, read the philosophers, study their style of writing and their art, their music and theater. At the Rhetoric level, examine the ideas of the authors and philosophers. See how they lived out their own ideas and how well that worked. Imitate the writing of the great authors to see how their words flowed. Make your own writing soar beautifully like that. Examine your own philosophies and worldviews based on what you learn in the worldviews of others whom you study. For example, in history they may be learning about the French Revolution, while in literature they read Tale of Two Cities, and in philosophy they study the ideas of the Social Contract and  the writings of Rousseau and other Enlightenment philosophers, while in Rhetoric they study and analyze the speeches of Robespierre and Desmoulins. These students can reach across the disciplines of study to make connections and conclusions, and they can amaze their teacher by what comes out of this kind of thinking.

What material works best?

I am not going to recommend particular curriculum. That’s the job for other people. But I will give you criteria to use when examining curriculum.

For the grammar level, find curriculum that will teach grammar facts in a sing-song manner, just the same way you might teach them Bible verses through song. But don’t just go for the singing; aim for the breadth of what is covered. Are all the grammar facts–are all the math facts–covered in an age-appropriate manner, and is it achievable in a span of 9 months (the length of a school year)? Make sure to expose your children to lots of age-appropriate literature. Give them plenty to read. Choose their history, literature, geography, and science in a complementary fashion that goes along with their literature. Start simply and add more complicated information as they get older. Give them great books to read, not just simple junk you pick up at the Christian book store.

Some parents think that makes their job easier, to know they will be studying all one age in history and focusing everything around it. Some science curricula break up a year of science into four sections: earth, biology, physical, and chemical. Those sciences get more and more complex until the student can take a full year of general and then a full year of physical science in the dialectical stage, then moving up to Biology in 9th.

Should they take Latin? Most classical schooling does include Latin. Some have done that so by a certain point the child would be ready to read some of the philosophers and poets in the original language. The rote method helps a student to organize his thoughts, to learn English grammar, and to expand his English vocabulary. At the grammar stage Latin is simply just rote learning: repeating sounds back to the teacher. Look for early Latin grammar that focuses on rote (sing-song) learning. Those mechanical memories get attached to meaning once they move along into vocabulary-building. The acquirement of this second language will help aid in the learning of yet another language–Spanish or French–when they get older as well. You’ll be amazed, when you learn with them, how similar much of the vocabulary is.

At the high school level there is much to be had for the teaching at the Classical level. Some of it is good. In another blog I will provide some more thoughts on what to look for. Just be careful to find high school curriculum that doesn’t simplify but includes readings from primary sources all through history. Read the great thinkers (authors and philosophers) in their own words, and connect that with what’s going on in their time of history.

Can Classical Schooling be done at home? For years it was thought that no, this was too difficult, too wide and too deep. However, as they sometimes prove to be pioneers, homeschoolers met that challenge and decided to climb Mount Olympus.

However, don’t be drawn in by all the flashy offerings that call themselves “classical” just because it carries the name. It needs to have certain criteria to be considered good enough for your classically-schooled child. Look for more helpful information on classical schooling in the Dialectical and Rhetoric level in my next blog.


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Homeschooling with a Biblical Worldview: How?

If you are like me, you grew up in public schooling, because “back then” Christian or home schools were not very popular or widespread. There, we learned to separate out our course work. This is math, and this is science, and so forth. Nothing had anything to do with the other.

Schooling with a secular mindset is just like that. I don’t mean to criticize; it just is that way. Subjects are subjects, and their relation to the world at large might be addressed in some fashion, but there is something distinctly missing: how it all connects.

When we look at the world through biblical glasses, we see a universe that is governed and held together by one Creator God through his Son, Jesus Christ. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17, emphasis mine). When we see the universe in that light, we begin to have a different perspective on all sorts of areas.

Education, for example, is one institution that can never be the same again–at least for me–when seeing with those biblical worldview glasses. Our children need to know that all things came about by God’s hand. When we say “all things,” we can no longer wonder what that means. “All,” we teach our children, “means all.” No single thing has come about without the hand of God overseeing, maintaining, and holding it together.

stars and planetsThat makes us look at science differently, doesn’t it? Certainly a God who governs all things also governs science, because He is the author of it all. So since science belongs to Him, how can we teach it with a biblical worldview? We study the elements, the basic units of life, the way they react and interact, with a sense of wonder about the One who made it all.

Science is not anti-God, nor is God anti-science. There are scientists who have pitted themselves against the biblical worldview, so we allow them to speak, we examine their worldviews, and we arrive at our conclusions based on the fulness of what we study. If God is the author of all things, we should not fear man’s schemes to eliminate God from the practice of science. Rather, we should hold up what they say, balance it against a biblical worldview, and make reasoned hypotheses, testing them out. What cannot be tested remains an item of faith on both sides.

On to mathematics. Did you know that there is a biblical worldview to math? Again, if God is the center of all things, and all things come together in Him, it stands to reason that He created the elements of math. Numbers have patterns; they fall together according to those patterns. “Why can a few basic equations predict the motions of planets, the paths of projectiles, and so on? If mathematics is man-made, merely a product of human thought, why does it reflect the way the universe works?” (James Nance, Repairing the Ruins 62). The work of God’s hands is evident everywhere in the study of mathematics. James Nance states it well:

Applied mathematics is the process of discovering and using the laws by which God governs (rules and sustains) His creation. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. In Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). The mathematical laws which describe how things are held together are consistent laws because Christ Himself is consistent and unchanging (Heb. 13:8). When we discover laws in astronomy, we are discovering the laws which describe how God sustains the heavens (Ps. 33:6-9). When we discover the laws of atomic physics, we discover how God sustains matter, “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). (66)

Biblical worldview instruction in math should teach that it recognizes the invisible attributes of God. It should “show students how mathematics relates to physical reality because God is the Creator both of the workings of men’s minds and the workings of the universe” (Nance 70).

History is sometimes easy to see and study from a biblical worldview. But are we handling it well? Students come into my class saying something their parents probably told them: “History is His-story.” That’s cute, and it comes close to what we really mean. But do they know why we study history? Do they realize that God commanded the preservation of the stories of what He had done in the past (Deut. 6:20-25; Josh. 4:5-7; 1 Ch. 16:7; Luke 17:32, and more)? Do they know that the term history came to be understood during Greek times as “a systematic inquiry into past events and their relations to one another” (Chris Schlect, Repairing the Ruins 148)?

Why do we study history? Teaching it from a biblical worldview provides the framework for students, and for ourselves as we read. God instructed men to record histories so that people could learn from the experiences of those who have gone before. If the only way to learn something is by your own experience, then you have no need of history. But if we intend to teach the errors and majesties of history, we need to be ready to learn from them. We need to use as our foundation the fact that we as Christians believe in the history of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lived and walked among men at one point in history, a history that was recorded by other people. Our faith is not nebulous or manufactured; it is based on events that truly happened and were witnessed by others. This fact alone serves as foundation to our faith.

Somewhere at the turn of the 20th Century some people began to conjecture that Christianity was not based on some historical person but on some subjective idea of Jesus based on the experience of the Christian himself. If we cannot point to the historical fact of our faith, then it is nothing more than a collection of morals and fables, like many other religions. So we study history to know the truth about our faith, but also about mankind.

As with the study of history, we learn about man and his yearnings, his ambitions, his errors and failings, when we study literature. We can see the sweeping beauty of a mind that can create such classics as Les Miserables or Macbeth. We can see the depths of horrors to which man can stoop as well. We study literature to study the nature of man.

And we cannot easily study man, through literature, if we only choose Christian novels. I can say with assurance that, short of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, there are not many pieces of excellent Christian literature out there. You can try to name some, but I will argue that they are not classical literature, not able to stand the test of time, not able to even depart far from the stagnant formula of most secular romance or historical romance novels. See my blog on the value of those Christian novels as compared to great classical literature, as well as my blog on reading literature with a biblical worldview.

bonnetsIf we only teach our children from Christian “literature,” they only get exposed to those super-sweet, falsely presented dilemmas with formulaic endings. They will not experience great writing, only so-so handling of the pen. With formulaic stories, we don’t see the pain and anxiety of a dark, fallen, and sinful world. I am always disappointed when a Christian homeschooled teen tells me her favorite novel is one of those horribly written Christian romances with bonnets and farms on the cover. It shows the shallowness of what her family considers good literature.

But I digress. Teaching literature with a biblical worldview allows discussions of the depravity of man, about his yearning to find a savior, about the way he sets up idols that will always disappoint. Have you ever discussed Frankenstein with a teenager? That novel tells the story of a man who made himself a god, created a human creature, abandoned it, and lived the rest of his life pursuing the creature’s death. It is also the story of the author, Mary Shelley, who never felt the real love of another person, who probably felt like God had created and then abandoned her. What a horrible way to live–and then we see her pain poured out on the pages of her novel.

This is reading literature from a biblical worldview. This is teaching with a biblical worldview. Not simply plopping a Bible verse down at the beginning of a lesson and calling it good (while that can be quite good, because God’s word will never return void). Instead, it is taking the view that if God is the center of all things, so must be what we study. All of it. Because all means all.

(Some of this article was inspired by essays within the book Repairing the Ruins, edited by Douglas Wilson. Canon Press, Moscow, ID, 1996.)

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Biblical Worldview Apologetics for Teens

argumentTeens like to argue. Have you noticed? Some find it invigorating to argue with people who don’t have the same beliefs. Some will try to argue the superiority of their own belief systems. Some will argue just to argue.

When it comes to apologetics, though, you want your teen to have a solid grounding in biblical worldview before he ventures out ready to argue. For some teens, having just a little information is like putting a gun in their hands before they know how to aim it.

The Apologist’s Mind

I like knowing that teens have a foundation in the Word of God. Since His Word never fails, and since it will never come back void (Isa. 55:11), we know that a teen who knows his Bible is well-armed against his opponents.

I also love to teach teenagers Logic. That course teaches students how to think and how to order their thoughts. It helps them organize information that is coming at them and helps them to see arguments from a different perspective–not totally emotionally. Douglas Wilson and James Nance wrote Introductory Logic and Intermediate Logic, which I have used for many years.

Teach Doctrine to your student. How will he know what he is defending if he doesn’t know doctrine? Teach from Luther’s Small Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I also love the Heidelburg Catechism. Teach from Paul Little’s Know What You Believe and open up Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Grudem also wrote Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know, which might be instructive for doctrine.

Learn together the different belief systems of other worldviews. You need to understand their beliefs and backgrounds in order to counter their arguments. Together you and your teen can pray for the people who fall into those beliefs, knowing that there is only one true Creator God, and His Word is the only measurement of absolute truth. The world is starving for truth and searching for it in unlikely places. God’s Word has the answers. Josh McDowell has written several books on other religions and worldviews, such as A Ready Defense and The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. David Noebel wrote Understanding the Times and its smaller companion, Battle for the Truth. These are all good resources.

Study the works of apologists. McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Little’s Know Why You Believe are all solid foundation-builders. Lee Strobel wrote his powerful book The Case for Christ, followed up by The Case for Faith and The Case for a Creator, all great resources by a former atheist who set out to prove Christianity wrong. Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready was my constant companion when I taught high school apologetics. I’m sure my readers will write in with many more great resources.

The Attitude and Lifestyle of an Apologist

Being grounded in God’s Word and then armed with all the resources named above, you would think that the teenager will be more than ready for the confrontation when it comes. However, he’s only part way there.

All that learning can make a person proud, can puff up, as 1 Corinthians 8:1 says (out of context). As you are building up your store of knowledge, remember that Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (ESV). When learning is dedicated to God, when you take the time to ask for His wisdom in the midst of what you learn, your pride and boasting takes a different direction. Rather than boasting in yourself or in your vast treasury of knowledge, you will boast in Jesus Christ, your Savior, who enables all of this learning. With this perspective in  mind, what will follow?

Avoid arrogance. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4, emphasis mine). Apologetics is not a rivalry, not an opportunity to come out on top. This is a battle of light against darkness, and only the Lord will secure the outcome. When you have the best interest of your “opponent” in mind, you will not consider this a debate contest in which to earn points.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:22-26, emphasis mine)

Bahnsen used the term “humble boldness,” which I love to use. Teens can see what that is supposed to mean. The boldness entails assurance of what you know, while humbleness speaks of someone who considers others before himself.  Boldness also speaks of fearlessness in the face of opposition, and the following passage in Philippians addresses that beautifully.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Phil. 1:27-28, emphasis mine)

Realize from whom all your words come. Paul reminded the Corinthians that when he came to them, he “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Paul makes it clear it is not his great mind that did the work of saving the people of Corinth, but God himself through the power of His Spirit. Keep in mind that you can draw attention to yourself or to your great God with the apologetics you use.

Finally, be prepared (1 Pet. 3:13-17). You may not know the next time you are called upon to defend your faith. This is one reason that the Bible urges us to wear our armor (Eph. 6:10-20), so that we can always be in a defensive position. This same passage in Ephesians reminds us to pray always, too, for the right words, to declare them boldly.

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Biblical Worldview for Teens: Watching, Reading, Listening

“That’s my online stuff. It has nothing to do with school or with church.”

So goes the teenage (and the adult) mind. A wide gulf separates churchy stuff from school stuff and from media. Never they will meet, in the teenage mind. In other words, the teen things, what I do in school has nothing to do with the movies I watch. What I say and do in Youth Group has nothing to do with my online activities or the songs I choose to listen to.

Unfortunately, God does not see it that way. If all things belong to God–and they do–then everything under the sun is His. All my time, all my thoughts, all my goals, and all my media belong to Him.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.  (ESV Ps 139:1-6)

We think about God in the appropriate places: in class if we are in Christian or home school. In church and Youth Group. With our Bible study friends. But walk out the door and that gets left behind.

Teach  your teenager to think biblically about all things, whether school or church or home. Teach him that whatever goes into his mind is subject to worldly thoughts or biblical thoughts. Teach him to filter all things through his biblical worldview. And that includes media. Teach him that to love God is to love Him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Do not allow him to separate the secular from the sacred. If media is out there, it is being watched, read, listened to, and discussed. Talk with your teen about the media he uses. Don’t be afraid of it!

kid on computerBe purposeful with your teenager about media. Talk about his social media: what he does online. Who does he follow on Twitter? What does he say on Twitter? Follow him to find out! If it looks sketchy, like he is taking risks talking to people who have uncertain reputations or followings, then take action to block your internet service on all of his devices. Ask your phone provider how to block his internet use on his phone. Talk to your service provider about parental controls. Load Covenant Eyes onto your computers. It is impossible to disable and sends a report to you about his internet activity. We have used it for years. Your job is to guard their hearts, and to teach them how to guard their own hearts, by guarding their media. See Ps. 139:23-24 and Prov. 4:23.

And honestly, what might you lose by taking away an electronic device or two while you wait for his behavior to improve? Does he really need it all? Don’t be afraid to be a parent to your teen.

If your child doesn’t want to be your FaceBook friend, then he is not old enough or mature enough to have an account. Your child–this may seem shocking to you–does not have a right to privacy in your home since you are his parent and he is a minor. If he is secretive about his social media, there is probably a reason.

Watch TV and movies together with your teen, if you allow television. Even if you do not watch regular TV, you should be getting together to watch movies and discuss them, just like it is part of a class activity. Get out a sheet of paper and write down the following questions about the movie. Take notes during the movie. As a family, discuss everyone’s notes. Ask these questions about what is contained/portrayed in any piece of media you read or watch together.

The Seven Worldview Questions (thanks to David Quine, Cornerstone Curriculum):

  1. What is the nature of God as displayed in this (movie, book, TV show)?
  2. What is the nature of man?
  3. What is the nature of the universe?
  4. What is basis of morality and ethics?
  5. What is the cause of evil and suffering?
  6. What happens to man at death?
  7. What is the meaning of history?

Do the same thing with books that your teenager reads, either for class or for leisure. Choose classics, and choose contemporary books that other kids are reading. Don’t be afraid of them. Kids are reading them, and you bet they are talking about them, so you might want to examine, from a biblical worldview, what they are talking about so that your teen has an answer for the faith that lies within him. So that he is not taken captive by empty philosophy because no one talked with him about it.

True story: I was afraid of the Harry Potter books and forbade my children to read them. They argued with me. “Mom,” they reasoned, “how do you know they’re bad if you haven’t read them?” I just asked them to trust me. And then a few years later a student’s mother told me that she wouldn’t let her son read a horror novel like Frankenstein for my class. We read that book from a biblical worldview, and it produces some great a-ha moments for my teenage students. I argued with the mom. “How do you know it’s a horrible book if you haven’t opened it to read it?” I went home fuming to my family. My oldest son just looked at me, and I read his mind. I had given my son the same answer to the Harry Potter series without even having cracked them open.

Once I read the books, I could see the beautiful worldview depicted in JK Rowling’s world, and I highly recommend it to every parent. The sacrificial love, forgiveness, redemption, and friendship in that book are incredibly poignant. I apologized to my son.

Fearlessly view and review your teen’s media together. Talk about it from a biblical worldview. You will learn something as well as he does. And neither of you will be able to view media the same way again. I called that “spoiled for good.”

watching moviesMovies to ponder from a biblical worldview.

(Remember, I am not limiting this list to Christian media, or to “safe” movies. We live in the world and are not of the world. We view media and discuss it biblically. Examine it for truths and for lies. Spot them and discuss them. With the above discussion guide, it should get easier to discuss.)

  • Pocahontas
  • The Island
  • The Village
  • Star Wars
  • The Hunger Games
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Mulan
  • The Truman Show
  • Brave
  • The Lion King
  • Avatar
  • The Dark Knight
  • Signs
  • Life of Pi
  • I, Robot
  • Surrogates
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
  • Les Miserables

Books to discuss from a biblical worldview.

You can do the same with books, using the seven worldview questions.

  • Frankenstein
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Heart of Darkness
  • Macbeth
  • Hamlet
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • Hunger Games
  • Harry Potter series
  • Lord of the Rings series
  • Narnia series
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Animal Farm
  • 1984
  • Anthem
  • Ender’s Game
  • Last of the Mohicans
  • Les Miserables
  • Moby Dick
  • Count of Monte Cristo
  • Brothers Karamazov
  • The Iliad
  • To Kill a Mockingbird

Be wise, and don’t fear. Together you and your teen will survive these years, and with prayer and wisdom, he will come out the other side holding onto his faith more strongly than before. And he will be armed with information and ideas to take out into the world to his friends as an apologetic tool (1 Pet. 3:13-17). See my next blog on apologetics for teenagers.

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Biblical Worldview Homeschooling for Teens

I don’t know what I believe.

Six in ten young people will leave the church for an extended period of time, according to a Barna study from 2012. Kids who grew up in the church, spent time in Sunday school and Youth Group, many of them, will leave when they get to college.

Lots of people are studying why this happens, and many of the answers are instructive. I’d like to suggest that if you have children, and you homeschool (or plan to), you should put a plan in place for instructing your child in biblical worldview. See my earlier blog on biblical worldview and the young child. In fact (and I really don’t need to say this), anyone who parents a teen should  find this instructive, homeschooling or not. 🙂

Biblical worldview instruction begins with the very youngest and doesn’t end until the child has moved out. It doesn’t need to be all classroom instruction, but the aim of biblical worldview education for the teen is so that he can assuredly, eloquently, passionately give a reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet. 3:15).

An interview with some of my teenage students showed me some of the things they think about and showed me the importance of biblical worldview teaching for teens.

Key Reasons Teens Need Biblical Worldview Teaching

1. Helps to give me an identity. Teens struggle with who they are. When they are comfortable with who they are–and I mean who they are in Christ–they can wade through the identity struggles of their teenage years. (Eph. 2:1-10)

2. Helps me navigate the dangers of adolescence. anchorThe teen years are more dangerous than when you and I were young. They receive endless messages from media, from peers, from teachers, about who they are and about what is true. They must battle their way through temptations we never imagined. Rebellion, sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, self-abuse–and that doesn’t even begin to touch on the dangers Christian kids face from unbelievers who will try to pull them away from their faith. They get hardened. They begin to pull away. With a solid foundation of faith–with a solid biblical worldview–their feet are firmly planted in soil that will never give way. They will not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (NASV Eph. 4:11-16, esp. v 14).

3. Helps me to combat other worldviews and ideas that come at me. My students were adamant about this one. They know that “out there” they will meet much smarter people whose ideas will be strong and who will argue forcefully. When a teenager knows what he believes–and believes in it with his whole heart and mind and soul–he will not be so anxious when someone is forcefully arguing. He may also be able to counter an argument with one of his own. Biblical worldview teaching means not just learning about your own faith. It means learning about other worldviews so you are not knocked off your feet by every stray idea that comes along.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (ESV Col. 2:6-10, emphasis mine)

4. Helps me to remember that there is an absolute truth. Children and teens receive guidance from older Christians, but teens are busy challenging authority, ideas, peers. Teens are pressured by situational ethics that challenge their understanding of the truth. Homosexuality, alternative lifestyles, sex outside of marriage, friends who are pregnant from date rape and don’t want to keep their babies–these all challenge absolute truth. Where do I stand on these? The answers are hard, but the truth is still the truth.

The pressure to rebel is huge, but if a firm foundation has been built in them–knowing that there is an absolute truth, and it is found in scripture, and it never changes–they can fall back on that guideline when all else fails them. “The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps 119:160).

5. Helps me to own my own faith. Children follow along their parents’ leading, and that lasts for several years. But somewhere along about the early teens, the questions begin to form. The challenges increase. Children begin to grow into thoughtful adolescents who need to understand for themselves what is right and true. If you teach them early, that foundation will have begun to take root. Make sure not to stop when they hit their teenage years. Make sure that during their teens they are surrounded by adults who will teach, exhort, and challenge them to grow and to grasp the faith to make it their own. When Christ prayed for his disciples, he prayed knowing that his disciples needed truth to hang onto when they lived in this world. He prayed,

But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John 17:13-18)

6. It keeps me disciplined. “We have more freedom as teens. We are making more decisions for ourselves. So we need to have a firm foundation to use when we are deciding what to do.” I liked that idea, and I think that even we adults can learn a thing or two from these wise teenagers. As long as I learn that I am not my own, that I belong to a sovereign God, then my decisions should be based on that knowledge, and that should free me (1 Cor. 6:12-20, esp 19-20; Rom. 14:8; Rom. 12:1-2).

7. It helps me to keep things in proper perspective. Some of my students told me they were bothered by how easy it is for teens to separate themselves from their Sunday School or Youth Group personae. (It is something that bothers me about adults too!)  A solid biblical worldview will show a teen that all of life is God’s. There is nothing–not one thing–that is hidden from Him. If there is not a thing that He does not see, then how can we go about our daily lives acting like the unsaved (Ps. 139:7-12)? Well, I can tell you it is because we all sin and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Keeping in mind that every single thing belongs to Him, and that I am at the mercy of my sinful self, makes me want to press in to Him even more so that I do not separate my Sunday self from my weekly self.

Finally, my students wanted to give advice to parents and to teens: Stay in the Word. Their prayer for teens and their parents:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 4:14-21)



Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

The Why of Biblical Worldview Homeschooling

“Why” for the younger child

When the Pilgrims migrated to the New World, they did so because of their faith. They were persecuted in Europe for their stance on the truth of scripture, and they wanted to find a place where they could practice it.

Within one or two generations, though, these Pilgrims had begun to drift toward the despotism that they had tried to escape. They imposed strict religious principles on their communities and placed their definition of Christianity inside a tightly controlled box. Any deviation from their idea–man’s idea–of the way a Christian should act was fiercely punished. This led to, among other things, the terrible time of paranoia, hysteria, and idiocy called the Salem Witch Trials. Why? One contributing factor was the early Pilgrims failed to pass their faith onto the next generation. They failed to pass on that fervor, that great faith it took to leave one country, cross a terrible ocean and start life in a strange land.

Psalm 78:1-8 instructs us in our faith: pass on the faith to the next generation: “We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done” (v 4). In all, this passage refers to at least four generations of descendants, directing the faithful in careful teaching of their descendants. Faith was meant to be carried forward through the generations. Parents and grandparents are urged not to forget nor to neglect the teaching of the faith.

mom and child with BibleMany parents homeschool in order to teach their children their faith, train them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6). Establishing a strong biblical worldview foundation is the vital stage in homeschool parenting for younger children. (In another blog I will address the absolute necessity of biblical worldview for teens.)

Very young children can enjoy the songs and stories from the Bible that teach lessons and show the majesty of our great God. Even very young, children can be taught a high view of God and of scripture. This is where biblical worldview begins. We follow the instruction of the Bible, which tells us in a beautiful manner about how to train a child:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ASV, Deut. 6:4-9)

When my children were little we took time to wonder at the beauty of nature and of the God who so meticulously created it. We talked about each season in turn, and took special care during Christmas to talk about the symbolism of every decoration we hung with intention around our house: the lights, the stars, the angels, the nativity scene–all of it. We purposefully talked about it as we walked, as we lay down, as we drove, as we worked.

While we drove in the car we sang along with Bible verses put to music, sometimes stopping the tape (yes, cassette tapes and CDs–it was the 80s and 90s) to talk about it.

When I asked some of my current teenage students what helped them to develop their biblical worldview as children, they gave me a variety of replies. Some of them said Sunday School and Veggie Tales were instrumental. Another student chimed in: “Don’t worry about Sunday School–have them listen to the sermons each week!” Some mentioned that time in the Word as a family was key for them.

One student mentioned something I emphasize to families all the time: the integration of media into your family life. No matter what you watch on TV with your child, stop and talk about it with them. Everything has a worldview–even (and especially) children’s programming. Disney has a definite worldview that could keep you talking for hours. I remember taking my children to see Pocahontas in the theater, and we talked all the way home about its deceptive worldview. (Today I still use that movie with my students as a great worldview discussion.) There is value in even those things that mistakenly get shown to your children–for instance, if they are at someone else’s house and see something of which you might not approve. There is a great opportunity not to freak out, but to talk.

While your child is young, make sure of your purpose for homeschooling: not to isolate your child from the world, but to insulate him. There is a huge difference, and it has to do with biblical worldview.

Some parents will homeschool out of fear, and this will drive them to isolate their children from the world. They don’t completely withdraw; they have their church friends and other homeschoolers to play with. But they unplug from the rest of the world and create their own little community, separate and apart from everything else. This is not completely wise, in my humble opinion.

Raised in relative isolation, these children will not know about the world in which they live. They will not know about how other people think and act, and why. They will know nothing of the depravity of the world in which they live, and this will also produce another effect of having no idea of the depth of the sin from which they are saved. When the song says “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” I wonder if our children know what wretches we really are, and how deep grace really is–that sweet and severe balance of Law and Grace in our lives.

I am not advocating the soaking up of every bit of news and immersing your children into the depths of darkness. However, talking frankly about some of the bad things that go on in the world will help them to see our world’s need for a savior. About the sad lack of truth in this world. We shared some news stories with our children and talked about them openly, answering their questions as best we could. Because we had a fearful child, we didn’t go into detail, but we prayed together about the bad things and the need for our presidents’ wisdom over the years. (On a side note, as I grew up my parents sheltered me completely from the Vietnam War that was raging. I saw and heard the hippie protest songs, but I had no idea what they were for. I was in junior high before I had any clue there had been a war, and in high school before I was taught what it was about. I felt pretty stupid!)

This is reality parenting from a biblical worldview. Letting them know that “out there” is a world full of pain and ugliness, but that God has a plan through it all. Let them know that people do not have any idea what truth is, but that the Bible is the measuring stick for absolute truth, and truth can be found within its pages.

armorofgod350We talked a lot about character, about the fruits of the spirit, about the armor of God. We read plenty of good literature that posed moral problems the characters had to work through. We talked a lot about that literature, fostering in them the love of reading. We helped them choose good books rather than trash at the library. But we talked to them about why that novel was trash and not edifying to read.

Have a high view of scripture and of God in your home. Teach them those central passages of scripture that show the vitality and truth of the Bible and its importance in their daily walk. Show them that Christ is the center of all things (Col. 1:16-20), and all things hold together in Him. When examining a flower or a butterfly, talk about the care God took to make even these small, beautiful items, and how much more He cares for His people.


Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

Homeschooling is not unschooling

unschooled“Just let your child follow his interests!” say unschooling advocates to unsuspecting young parents. As free spirits, not wanting traditional schooling, some naive individuals will unplug from the grid and unschool.

Unschooling gets a bad rap. And deservedly so. Its principles–if you can find them–are to let your child learn what he is interested in. Let him go with the flow. If he shows that he likes sciencey things, then let him do some science. If he likes to take apart the toaster, give him the space heater too.

I’m simplifying, but not too much. For some in the post-hippie world, it sounds, like, great to let your child raise himself and teach himself whatever he wants. For those of us who teach–even those of us who have homeschooled for many years–unschooling is a disaster waiting to happen.

I am certain that young men and women who come out of unschooling are nice, respectful, kind, and love their parents. No doubt they were raised by parents who loved them. I will ask, though, if it is loving to pull them so far out of academia that they cannot function to meet the goals they might have liked for themselves farther down the road?

For instance–and I can give you MANY very similar instances–a mom of a 17-year-old told me her child wanted to go to college, and she proceeded to ask me about what classes he needed for his final year of high school. We began with math. “He is just now finishing Algebra 1,” she said. She explained that he really wasn’t interested in math as a younger child, so they didn’t do it. A college bound teen needs four years of high school math in his tool belt. Algebra 1 does not even qualify as high school math, since it is normally taken in 8th grade. So he is already three years behind. After a long pause, the mom admitted that she had probably done her son a disservice.

“My friends just told me to let him do whatever he wanted!” she protested.

Did that mom love her child? Undoubtedly–most definitely. So remember, I am not equating unschooling with unloving. I just want to remind parents that loving your child means doing hard things once in a while. Sometimes it means saying no. Sometimes it means insisting on doing hard work.

Yes, math is hard. My children often reminded me that it was painful. Yet because we loved them, we insisted that the hard work needed to be done, and done well. They learned from the DOING as well as from the subject itself. Doing the hard work built their little characters. It showed them how to apply their hard work to other areas. It showed them how to be disciplined, how to manage time and frustration. It instilled a work ethic and taught them the VALUE of hard work done well. It taught them how to think.

Just as I would not let my toddler run out into a busy parking lot without holding my hand, I also would not let my child decide his own path of schooling. Some unschooling, I propose, happens because parents don’t want to hear the whining of little voices lifted in protest. It is easier to take them to the children’s museum than to plan a four-week science curriculum. Go to the museum, call it science. If he liked it, get him a couple of books at the museum gift store. Done. science kid

One mom told me her daughter was a “real science kid.” In fact, she wanted to focus on science when she got to college. But heading into 9th grade, the child had never done any science before. Fortunately she will have time to get some training from some science teachers so that she will be able to pursue what she says is her real love–science.

My daughter and I had a conversation recently about schooling. She graduated from home school, graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree, and is moving to graduate school in just a few weeks. I reminded her how much she hated doing school work when she was younger. She got tears in her eyes. “But I am so thankful that you made us do that hard work,” she said. “I don’t know anyone I went to school with who regretted doing hard work in school. They complained, but they appreciated having done the work.” We insisted she do hard things so that she could be ready for whatever. Her “whatever” begins at grad school in not too many weeks.

Let me be honest: we have tried all sorts of schooling: public, private, and home. Never “un.” One child graduated from a public high school and a public university before getting his masters degree at a private university. We didn’t always do it right. We were, however, quick to make changes if what we tried wasn’t working. We admitted our mistakes and moved on. But we never once regretted having our children learn to do the hard work of their academic classes.

“Why do math, if you can’t find math in the real world?” I found this question on an unschooling web site. Really? There is no math to be found in the real world? On what planet? Math is not just about numbers or finding the value of x, which I always found just a bit confounding myself (and thus the reason I majored in English…). Math is about thinking well, logically applying knowledge learned in one area into another. Math is about cars and cell phones, travel and technology, recipes and retirement accounts, measurements and medicine. Math is about statistics and economics and politics. Lack of understanding in math may really get you into trouble with  your bank or your boss. Think you can just hire someone to do it for you? Then you need to be smart enough to earn enough for that.

(I thought, with an English degree, that I could just escape math altogether. God has a sense of humor, though, because my first job out of college was as a communications consultant in an actuarial firm. Translating math-speak into English.)

Look, there are lots of kids out there who will never go to college because they don’t want to. Because they have figured out their own path to life. Because they have already been hired somewhere and earning enough. That’s fine. But what about those kids who unschooled all the way through, like our unfortunate 17-year-old at the beginning of this article, who has doors closed to them because they were unprepared for what they really wanted to do later on? How did unschooling work for him?

See related blogs:

Homeschooling means seeing reality

Homeschooling means pursuing excellence well

Homeschooling well means writing well

Read good books

Rising above mediocrity


Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

Homeschooling with excellence means seeing reality

genius baby“My daughter is extremely gifted,” a mother informed me. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I hear that one!) I waited for her to go on. “No really. She tests as ‘profoundly gifted.'” That’s wonderful. What are your plans? “Well, she needs to be challenged, because every class she sits in, she is terribly bored. She is going to be 11 soon, and I want her to take an upper-level high school English class. I don’t think she is ready for Advanced Placement (AP) yet.”

Probably not. In fact, I urged the mom to think about the kind of advanced discussions, topics, and types of literature that are read at the upper high school level. Did she really want her daughter exposed to the level of maturity required of students in 11th and 12th grades? Mom hadn’t thought much about that. She just knew her little one needed challenging. Let’s go ahead and challenge your gifted child, but in a way that she can handle it at her age and maturity.

This is reality schooling. While your little sweet one may be extremely advanced, you need to think “big picture.” Is your child ready for the maturity of the other kids in the room? Is she able to hold her own in the discussions, manage the logical, higher-level-thinking going on around her? Maybe for a while. But can she maintain it, realistically?

A  well-designed humanities class develops more than just “objective” academic knowledge. A student assimilates a body of knowledge and learns to analyze, to form ideas, to articulate. There is more to “readiness” for a class than academic ability. It also includes emotional and spiritual readiness. Choosing one or two subjects in which to move ahead, at the expense of other academic areas, doesn’t provide a broad intellectual base. What you get in the end is an unprepared student who is frustrated.

If you are tempted to move your gifted child way ahead in an area, first make sure he has a strong foundation in all academics, appropriate for his age. Some families (ours included) move their incredibly gifted children faster than they should, which often results in a child who is challenged but frustrated. Frustrated  because a) he is not mature enough to handle the material, b) he is not mature enough to handle the ages of the children around him, c) he cannot manage the advanced workload because he has not built a base of necessary work ethics/habits from which he can draw, or d) he ends up feeling inferior in many other ways not pertaining to academics. Or all of the above.

Some parents tell me that their children have earned enough “credits” to graduate at 15. Then what?

Think about it for a bit. The “then-what” means either college, working in the family business or an apprenticeship with a family friend to develop skills, or some other time-filler. Yes, today’s idea of the age of maturity is not the same as it was in Puritan times. So why did he hurry up to graduate? To go to college early?

Let’s talk about going to college early. You homeschool your child so that he can grow up in a protected environment with loving family members, supervised by you and nurtured to maturity. So at 16 he is ready to go sit in class with a bunch of adults who think a rite of passage in college is sex, drugs, and alcohol? “No, you have it wrong. My son will live at home.” Yes, and during the day he makes friends with a bunch of adults who think a rite of passage in college is sex, drugs, and alcohol. You really want that for your young teen?

Remember, please, that high school is not all about credits. It’s about preparedness for life. It’s about discipleship. It’s about maturing. I’ve seen some parents hoard high school credits like money, eagerly aiming their child to graduation by pushing them forward and cutting corners willy-nilly. “I can give him two credits here because he read a history book and wrote essays!”

pushy parentRealism dictates that we take a hard look at ourselves and at our families. Look realistically at where your gifted little love-bug is academically. Feed his mind with books and curriculum that will challenge him at an age-appropriate level while at the same time developing him in all his other areas–physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Refuse the temptation to make your child grow up before he is ready just because he shows some giftedness. Certainly give him Calculus at age 12 if he can handle it, but oversee him with his tutor–don’t shove him into a room full of 17-year-olds and expect him to do well with it. And maybe you also cannot expect him to move at the same speed of those 17-year-olds. So teach him at his own skill level and pace.

Gifted–maybe. Well-rounded in all things–doubtful. I urge you to look at your whole child rather than at just his one area of giftedness.

See related blogs: Educating with excellence, reading well, writing well, rising above the mediocre.


Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

Home Schooling in High School means pursuing excellence well

“This is why we home school.”

a-messy-roomI hear that phrase a lot, and I’ve said it myself. We choose to home school for so many reasons. Some families are athletic or musical, and they need more flexible schedules. Some just believe that the alternatives out there–public or private schools–are not desirable for them. And others believe that God has called them to raise and educate their children themselves, combining their faith with their children’s education.

No matter the reason you elect to home school, I want to speak to you. Whatever you choose to do in educating your child, do it well. Choose carefully. Don’t over-commit, when over-commitment means you cannot do everything well.

Years ago I had a long talk with a mom whose daughter had spent much of her youth in violin lessons and violinperformances. The child was very talented, said the mother. They had focused on her violin lessons, rehearsals, travels, and performances, almost to the exclusion of anything else. I know it may be hard for some of you to believe this, but the mom told me that her daughter, at age 15, had not had more than elementary math, no science, and no writing or grammar. She was anxiously seeking my advice, and this turned into a very difficult meeting. I had to be brutally honest with her about the reality of her situation. Her daughter might earn music scholarships to college because of her talent, but she won’t get accepted to those colleges because she couldn’t handle the academics. Mom refused to hear what I had to say, and I have no idea what she did for her child afterward.

The lesson here is balance. Yes, those music lessons or those athletic abilities are really important. In balance, however, what takes priority? Is it your child’s figure-skating success, or is it her ability to perform academically, think well, write well? If, on average, your child is not holding her own on those yearly standardized tests, you need to examine why, short of any significant learning disability that may get in the way (and I am not talking about learning disabilities).

Another parent asked my advice on a schedule for her daughter’s first year of high school. She had signed up for all the basics: English, history, Bible, science, math, foreign language, at our online school. Then she added that a local co-op had a Shakespeare class they really wanted, plus she would be taking dance, drama, and piano, and then taking one day to babysit at the co-op while other moms taught. (And she would participate in two major dramas a year.) Given the number of hours in a day, and what it takes to succeed in each academic class (much less sit in each class each week), that child was starting out with a deficit of time, and the hole would just get deeper through the year. “Be ready to pitch those non-academic commitments overboard when it gets to be too much,” I told the mom. They never did, and their daughter was completely burned out halfway through the year.

Choose well, and choose wisely. Be selective about what your children do. Maybe you are like us, with kids who had no outstanding athletic or musical abilities, just wanting to have fun in band or soccer. Our rule for them during high school was “Youth Group Plus One.” In other words, they could do Youth Group and add one more activity beyond that each year. It could be fall sports and a spring job, or band all year, or drama. This kind of restriction was set so that they could learn the layer of priorities in their lives. For our children, work and worship needed to be learned and reinforced in proper balance as they developed into young men and women. They didn’t need more things piled on top of them just so they could stay busy. We didn’t always do a great job at that, but it was a principle we tried to stay with.

exhausted kidOvercommitment plagues most of us. We love lots of things, want to be involved in every great activity.  “This is why we homeschool” cannot–should not–be used as the reason for signing up for more than can humanly be done. If that debate tournament schedule means you will miss too many classes or too many homework deadlines, rethink your priorities. You could say no to the class, but do you need the class more than the debate club? Sometimes you just cannot manage both–one has to give way. Choose wisely and well.

Think about a manageable formula. For each academic high school course your child takes, he should study 1.5 to 2 hours per day, on average. Some courses will take more time, some less. What kind of time is left? (I know I have already stirred a hornet’s nest for some of you, who disagree that any child should spend that much time studying. So be it.)

Sometimes homeschool families overcommit more than “other” families do, just because they use that popular phrase “this is why…” Could it be you and your children BOTH need a little lesson in saying no? Balance work and activity, fun and worship. Say yes to a select few things, and then proceed to ENJOY your homeschool.

See related posts here, here, and here.


Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Parenting, Rhetoric

Slouching mediocrity: I already KNOW how to write…

broken pencilParental angst about writing instruction for their homeschooled children fills my email inbox. Somehow parents know that math and science and history are SO much easier to deal with: Answers are either right or wrong.

Children take personal offense, though, when mommy tells them that their paragraphs were wrong.

As a writing teacher, I totally get it. In order to maintain a good relationship with their children, some moms who are not as sure about teaching writing will hire someone else, go to some other source, for help. That’s wise, for parents who just are not comfortable. I maintain that there is a right attitude and a wrong attitude about teaching good writing skills. Let’s take a look at some who misunderstand.

Some parents exhibit a lack of understanding of just how important good writing can be. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent told me, “We believe a good reader will turn out to be a good writer, so we just expose our child to good books, and we know that when he is ready to write, he will be great.” This is like learning how to cook by eating at gourmet restaurants. Surely you know a lot about good food, right? So cooking like a chef will be a breeze.

Reading a lot of great books will help you in countless ways (see a previous blog about that). Exposure to the timeless classics expands the vocabulary, broadens the reader’s world, allows him to make connections to literary allusions in other works, enhances critical thinking skills, and more. It may also help improve one’s writing simply because his vocabulary is so greatly increased. The practice of imitation in Rhetoric uses pieces of great literature so that the student copies, by hand, the words and thoughts of great writers. Doing so will enhance a student’s grasp of the grammatical flow and thought process of the writer.

However, just absorbing the words in a great book will not translate to making a good writer. It’s not as if he will read and read and then suddenly *poof!* he is automatically a good writer. Not at all.

Similarly, other parents have told me that writing and writing week after week has improved their children’s writing skills. Does he get feedback on his writing, I ask? Well, no, but he is writing. But then how do you know he is improving if he has no guidance, no direction, no correction in his writing?

So there are two elements in growing a good writer: the practice of writing, and guidance in writing. If parents are not comfortable doing that at their own kitchen table, I advise them to find someone who is able to do that for them. Interview that person: what are his or her qualifications? What standards does he use? What experience does he have? I often suggest finding an English major currently in college who wants to earn some extra money, or an English teacher who is retired or a mom at home now.

There is a plethora of online writing classes these days; if you go that route make sure you are getting what you pay for. Will your child get regular, guided, personal feedback on every piece of writing, aiming him toward better writing on his next assignment? Some online organizations just don’t offer that kind of personal service. They are good at assigning but not so good at grading. Remember: no feedback = no growth. Since I teach at an online school I can recommend a very good one to you–just email me and we’ll chat. 🙂

I’ve encountered other kinds of misunderstanding about writing from homeschooling parents. One is that parent who had a bad experience back in third grade with a writing curriculum and was then afraid to try anything again. My advice: don’t give up. (See my post about schooling with excellence.) Keep trying to find that next writing curriculum. Find someone who can help you if you feel lost. Don’t just pass that off as something your child will never be able to do well. Short of a learning disability–and often even with one your child can do well–there is no reason he cannot learn to write at a college level while in high school.

Another comment comes from the parent who tells me that her high school child has joined a “write a novel in a year” club. Someone hands out information on how to write dialog and how to create a good couple of characters, and off the child goes to write a novel. The instruction is vague at best, and the product may be a sweet little story, but this child has not learned college-ready writing skills.

Or the parent who wants to make sure her child is doing “every kind of writing.” Somewhere someone told a parent that her child will be a good writer if she learns every kind of writing. By that I assume they mean journalism, poetry, compare/contrast, opinion, persuasive, short story, and whatever else I may have left out. Let me get you straight on this one: All that is great to know. However, the one basic skill a high school (and even a junior high) student needs in his tool box is Expository Writing: the essay that proves a thesis. College-level writing.

What are those college writing skills of which I speak? The expository essay presents an idea in a thesis and then proceeds to argue that thesis–prove it–with support through an essay. Call it a five-paragraph, ten-paragraph, or twelve-page paper, that is the writing skill your child will need to be ready for those college-assessment tests. Teach him how to incorporate and cite quotes, how to prove his thesis with argumentation, to introduce and conclude well. Teach him to do it in a paper or in an essay. Teach him to do it in a timed format (40 minutes and then 25 minutes, for example), because those college-assessment test writing portions are timed. If you can’t do it, then ask someone to do this for you.

Think of it this way: Your child wants to be a musician and picks up an instrument to play beautiful music. Instead, out come horrid sounds. Give that child lessons and theory; teach him how to play scales and chords; teach him the classics of the masters on that instrument. Then he can go and play all sorts of other types of music on that instrument to his heart’s content. Just as in writing. Teach that expository essay, and that child will be able to do all sorts of other kinds of writing as well, with practice.

See related blogs here and here.


Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Literature, Parenting, Rhetoric