About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Sunday 29 July 2012

Discipline: Biblical Guidance

‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Proverbs 22:6

Yesterday was just one of those days. I think we all must have them. There were some lovely moments, and even today looking back, it is those I remember. But at the time, I felt like I was continually having to correct, discipline, explain, rebuke and so on, round and round. Even during the ‘fun’ things, like baking a special cake for daddy - which was the boys’ idea having seen a picture of one in a book - there was so much need for discipline that I found myself wondering whether it was all worth the effort! 

That huge area... Discipline. I have been reluctant to post about discipline so far, as it is such a controversial issue and so much has already been written on the topic. For those who are interested (and I would suggest that this should be every parent, and that there are good reasons why pregnancy gives parents time to prepare for the arrival of their child!) there are whole books written on the matter. But it can be difficult to be discerning about what to read. But it seems so controversial, that even within the church I encounter a reluctance to really get down to the nitty gritty behind how we actually discipline our children. What is a true discussion of Biblical principles, and what is the ‘wisdom of this world’ which is ‘foolishness with God’ (1 Corinthians 3:19)? I have been astonished how, given the postmodern culture in which we live (ie anything is fine as long as it works for you, and does not impose itself upon me), many people have strong views on this area of discipline. I remember being at dinner on a (secular) management course I was attending, and we were all discussing the challenges of parenting, particularly issues relating to boundaries and discipline. It seemed relevant, so I asked, ‘OK, so who around this table spanks their children?’ and you would have thought I had uttered something absolutely disgraceful! 

Is a post on discipline relevant to a blog on home education? Absolutely! Indeed many people cite discipline and the need to maintain consistent standards as a major reason they choose home education. This would apply to both those who seek to apply Biblical principles and those who feel that ‘children should be free’ and have no boundaries whatsoever. The issue of discipline permeates every aspect of our parenting, and of our child’s education.

So, what does the Bible say? Does it give me specific instructions for what to do when my toddlers are fighting over a toy? Or where one of them has deliberately done something that they know to be wrong (often something small, such as tipping their milk into their dinner, or throwing toys into the washing up water)? Does it provide me with a list of punishments appropriate for every nature and degree of offence? No. As with many other areas of Christian living, the Bible gives us some clear guiding principles. And we are encouraged, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives liberally to all and without reproach, and it will be given to him.’ (James 1:5) This is where carefully chosen resources such as books, sermons and conversations with friends whose opinion you can trust is of immense benefit. And I shall continue to use this blog to provide links to resources which I find helpful as I seek wisdom in this area of our family life.

The book of Proverbs overflows with timeless nuggets of wisdom for Christian families. Several well known examples include:

‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.’ Proverbs 22:15

This explains clearly that all children will naturally make unwise choices, and need firm correction and discipline to help them understand what is right and what is wrong. Another huge debate among some circles is whether wrong behaviour is learnt or from within the child. It is easy to dismiss something as a ‘lbit naughty’, or ‘silly’, or ‘typical two year old behaviour’, but that is not what the Bible teaches us; in the words of David the Psalmist, ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity’ (Psalm 51:5), and Paul, writing to the Romans, reminds us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). No, even the cutest newborn baby is born with a sinful nature that has a natural tendency to selfishness, disobedience and sin.

‘Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.’ Proverbs 23:12

The converse of this statement implies that if you do not adequately discipline (and by using the word ‘rod’, a mandate for physical punishment is given) then you will actually harm your child. Physical discipline with the desire to bring a child to correction and an understanding of where they stand before God may actually prevent them from spiritual death. Whereas indulging the whims and selfish desires of a child, in the name of ‘love’ may actually cause eternal harm.

‘The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.’ Proverbs 29:15

Modern parenting does indeed seem to leave children to themselves. They find their own way. We are told to ignore bad behaviour, and try to reward the good. We are told that nothing is really wrong, it is merely the child trying to find their way in life. No, no, no! A combination of the ‘rod’ – where necessary, a spank – and ‘rebuke’ – words of discipline which may include an explanation of why the behaviour was wrong – enable a child to become wise. 

The letter to the Hebrews expands upon this, drawing the parallel between the discipline we experience from our children, and the discipline that Christians receive from God as we grow and seek to live lives that honour Him in this world. I will quote from this at length, as I find it extremely helpful in my considerations of discipline and in particular what my ultimate aims for my children are.

‘In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ Hebrews 12:4-11

The passage above makes clear that discipline comes from love, and has the best interests of the recipient at heart. Contrary to the wisdom of the world, it is not kind nor loving to allow your children to pursue their own way. As a child, I was given few boundaries. As a teenager, I really was allowed to do what I wanted (I could romanticise this using cliches such as 'sex, drugs and rock and roll', but in fact it caused much harm, and I still face consequences at times). It seemed that as long as I continued to get straight A grades at school, then other aspects of life did not matter. And even at the time, I was aware I craved discipline and craved boundaries. I was almost envious of friends whose parents ‘grounded’ them or used another form of discipline as it showed me that these parents cared about their children. At times I did things in attempt to elicit a response, and felt that even outrageous acts of rebellion (as they seemed to me at the time) were not noticed. I can fully understand that discipline, in the manner that God intends, arises from love.

And at what age should we start to discipline our young children? I have often heard people comment to me, ‘Oh, he’s only two...’ or similar, to excuse the disobedience of one of my sons. OK, but at what age does it become right to challenge? Three? Five? Older than that? ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’ is a well known Jesuit motto, often attributed to Francis Xavier. Yes, worldly wisdom perhaps, but I find myself in agreement. Again, it may simply be my personal reflection, but looking back to my village primary school, we all knew who the ‘naughty boys’ were from the very first lessons at age five; and I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear that some of them are now in prison. 

Those who speak out against discipline often have a well-meaning agenda. They are wary of abusive situations, and see a fine line between punishment and abuse. I think this does not follow logic. Every day on the bus, or in the park, or in a shop, I will hear a parent yelling at a young child in a manner that I consider to be abusive. Yet I have yet to see such a parent quietly take the child aside to spank them and correct their behaviour. However, if I were to spank one of my boys on the bus, it is possible that somebody would report me for alleged abuse. I would contend that it takes a lot of time and effort – physical, emotional and spiritual – to be continually engaged with your children so that you can identify and correct behaviours time after time. Hence the very reason for this post; by the end of yesterday I felt somewhat exhausted! It would have been far easier in some respects to have just let the boys run wild and do as they pleased whilst I sat and had a cup of tea. But I love them too much for that...

So are there any times when discipline becomes misplaced or abused? Yes, of course there will be. We are sinful human beings too. When we discipline our children, as the passage to the Hebrews makes clear, we should be doing it to further their own interests. This could be a whole separate topic, but I think in a post endorsing the appropriate use of physical discipline, I should conclude by giving several safeguards I try to put in place:

  • Why am I disciplining at this point? Is it for the best interests of the child, or my own interests?
  • Do I discipline differently (either more or less) when around certain people? Why is that? Is it because I am ashamed of something I am doing? (OK, so there are times when it is appropriate to wait until you are alone with a child, perhaps back home, but for younger children things need to be dealt with pretty much as they arise.
  • Am I reacting out of anger? It is never a good idea to discipline a child either verbally or physically when you feel your own emotions getting out of control.
  • Do I punish offences more when they have an irritating consequence? For example, am I more likely to spank if the milk is tipped onto the carpet than I am if it is tipped onto the laminate floor? What is the reason for that inconsistency? (Usually my own irritation and the consequence, as the incorrect action is the same in both situations).
  • Am I too quick to jump to conclusions? Without tolerating excuses, sometimes a child simply does not know that something is wrong. Or, they might do something they consider to be kind. For example, ‘Mummy I picked you some delicious strawberries from the garden’ (yes, but they are completely green and now are wasted). Or, ‘We’ve made a volcano! Come and see!’ (we have made a muddy mess in the garden). Or other such things. I am aware I can be quick to respond, and it does help me to take a few minutes to consider the context, and whether there was truly an act of disobedience or wrongdoing, or whether it truly was childlike exploring!
  • If I do think I have overstepped the mark and responded emotionally, I should show my child an example by apologising to them. 
  • My husband and I often talk things through in the evenings, with conversations like, ‘What would you have done about this?’ or, ‘Was I too harsh or too soft at that point?’ Of course it helps greatly if you have a spouse who shares your values and principles!

This may be my first post on discipline, but it will certainly not be my last! Some of the questions, dilemmas, principles and outworkings are best illustrated with specific examples. And so, I will try and post as things arise in our family. I get very frustrated when sermons or Christian books rely heavily on illustrations which relate to the lives of people we do not know, who may have lived in another time or culture, and where the illustration itself may not even be correct. Titus Chapter 2 encourages ‘older women likewise, that they be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – that they may admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.’ (Titus 2:3-5). This is a passage which I believe to be oft misquoted and misapplied, but the clear principal here is that we should be teaching and encouraging one another from our own experiences as we all seek to grow as Christians and so honour God in our lives. And that is my intent with this blog.

Monday 23 July 2012

Cultivate a 'gratitude attitude'

I know the title of this post sounds like a cliché. But it is something I have been reflecting on a fair amount recently. What kind of values do we seek to instil in our children? What kind of attitudes? We might be able to answer that question to an extent. But how do our own attitudes influence our children? Jesus taught that ‘a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’ (Luke 6:45) And clearly, the transformation of our hearts is a work of God as we trust in Him daily to renew us, to forgive our sin, and to help us be more like Him. So first of all, we should pray that God allows good things to overflow out of our hearts, through our mouths, to influence our children in a way that is good.

But it can be easy to shirk our own responsibility. The balance between how much is God’s work and how much requires our human effort can be summarised in Philippians 4 verses 12 and 13: ‘...work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure’. It is primarily a supernatural work of God that brings about good fruit in our lives, but we also have choices to make daily.

Further on in Philippians, we are encouraged to choose: ‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy –meditate on these things’ (Philippians 4:8). It might just be me, but it seems that people are generally quick to be negative, quick to be critical, quick to find fault, but much slower to give praise and celebrate the good things in life. I am not suggesting that we should sugar-coat everything, and of course it is important that we teach our children to be discerning. (Jesus Himself counselled His disciples to ‘be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). But the church doesn’t seem all that different to the world. We are warned in 1 Corinthians 15:33, not to ‘be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character”’. Some people I am thinking of would be shocked if they knew I felt that way about their company! But you must know people who inspire you, whose presence just makes you lift your eyes up to God and worship; whereas others almost induce in you the same negativity, the same despondency, the same lack of faith. When I had my youngest son, whenever I commented that the older boys seemed to adore him, and were not at all jealous, the almost invariable response was, ‘Ah yes, but just you wait’. Or, if I choose to speak positively about my children, I receive comments like, ‘Ah yes, but you have such easy children that’s why’. Or sometimes it is a more subtle sense that somebody just thinks I am naive and will wake up to the ‘real world’ sooner or later! But along the same line, and perhaps even more so, we must take care that we as parents are not ‘bad company’ corrupting the developing character of our children through careless speech betraying negative and godless attitudes.

I think this is an issue that we should pro-actively consider. I started to think about it more after reading ‘Loving the Little Years’ by Rachel Jankovic (http://www.lovingthelittleyears.com/the-book/). One simple thing that stuck with me was how people would often say to her, ‘You’ve got your hands full, haven’t you?’ or words to that effect, and how she used to feel this was negative so chose to flip it on its head by saying, ‘Yes, with lots of good things!’ I think I must receive similar comments almost daily as I walk around or catch the bus with a toddler in each hand and a baby across my chest, and I’ve prepared some similar phrases to use (yes, I admit, there are days when it’s pouring with rain, the boys are tired and hungry and things have not gone to plan, when it is tempting to roll my eyes and murmur agreement; it actually helps to have a few rehearsed replies!) It’s astonishing how being positive really turns people around and changes the whole dynamic of the conversation. Also, it seems to be presumed that my children won’t hear and won’t notice the implication that having lots of young children is somehow irresponsible or burdensome!

Most parents spend a fair bit of time trying to teach children to say, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank-you’. But how often do we praise others in earshot of our children? For example, do I make it clear that I am grateful when my husband has done something very helpful around the house? (He is extremely helpful and practical, but can I take this for granted? Can I forget to thank him? Do my children know that what he had done is not an obligation but a kind act? Do they hear me thanking him? When I notice something that he has done, do I draw it to the attention of the children, saying, ‘Hasn’t daddy made a delicious dinner?’ or ‘I’m so glad daddy brought the milk home last night.’) When somebody has been to visit, do we talk about things positively after they have departed? For example, ‘I love the way grandpa tells stories’, or, ‘I love the way Susan has such a confidence in God despite her circumstances’ (rather than, perhaps, dwelling on those circumstances and the questionable choices which may have contributed to them)? What do we discuss as a family on the walk home from church? 

This is another post which underlines the fact that home education involves more than simply ‘school’ subjects, but our whole lives. Many people choose to home school because of issues relating to worldview and values, but do we soberly consider our own hearts and pray that we influence our children in a way that brings God glory? It is my prayer that as you read this, you know the transforming power of God in your life, and particularly in the area of your speech. I pray that as you reflect a ‘gratitude attitude’, your children grow with a propensity to praise and to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Embracing learning from daily life: A walk in the park

Where does education start and where does it stop? What happens to that amazing desire to learn that all toddlers seem to possess? I wonder whether some of the problem is that many people have a narrow concept of what learning is. The stereotype (and I held this for many years) was that teaching and learning involved sitting is a classroom, blackboards, jotters, tests, projects, and that anything outside the classroom was play. I have recently had a few people ask me what age they should start educating their children, perhaps with the fear that to admit educating them at a young age sounds pushy or overly ambitious. I would suggest that many of us are educating our children from their earliest weeks. 

This morning, we enjoyed a walk in our local park, which contains a duckpond, an area with swings and slides, and a beautiful ornamental garden. What ‘learning’ did the boys get out of this?

Ornithology: By the age of two and a half, they can name coots, moorhens, Canada geese, mallard ducks, swans, herons, doves, pigeons. They are fascinated by the rapid growth of the young birds which were all cute and fluffy a few weeks ago, and are now progressing through a slightly ugly stage!

Botany: They ask me what every type of tree or bush is, and only seem to need to be told once for the knowledge to stick. Often I am ashamed by my own areas of ignorance, and need to look things up when I get home!

Physics: Why does a stick float in water, whereas a conker sinks? What happens to the puddles when the sun comes out? What is evaporation? Why are there ripples in the water?

Geography: Why is it summer? Why has it stopped raining now? Is it summer in Africa? 

Safety: Why can’t I jump in the pond? Why do I need to stay on the path?

Sharing/ socialisation: Playing with other children in the swingpark, and learning to wait their turn for the swings. 

Physical education: They are rapidly progressing in agility and ability to master some of the more complicated climbing frames. I barely need to supervise my three year old any more on these. They burn off lots of extra energy and get quite short of breath with all that running around.

Imaginative play: We collected sticks and build an imaginary fire to cook imaginary fish on. We sat round the fire and told stories and sang some songs. Later, we made a pile of hay for an imaginary horse to come and eat later on.

Spiritual education: How awesome is God our Creator who cares about every detail of nature? Isn't it incredible that God even made these tiny little flowers? If he cares about two sparrows, how much more does he care about us? And many other questions and conversations that flow seamlessly from what we are doing at the time.

As with the previous post on cooking, I am sure there are more. But my purpose is simply to inspire you. Certainly at the start, home education does not need lots of formal training or curricula, but can simply embrace the learning opportunities which flow throughout daily life. Anybody can do it, and both you and your children will benefit. And it remains fun and exciting!

Saturday 21 July 2012

News article: Children benefit from paternal involvement

I keep an eye on news articles relating to family life and education, and this was one from the BBC several days ago, regarding the role of fathers:

The article reports a study showing that children whose father’s interact well with them at three months of age have better behaviour at 12 months. (It should be commented that this is based on a questionnaire regarding elements of behaviour such as sleep, feeding etc; it is susceptible to bias since what one parent considers a problem, another may view as completely normal. Also, I know I find the more challenging elements of parenting are greatly alleviated through having a supportive and involved husband; I often reflect on how a single parent must feel the task is relentless at times, and through exhaustion and isolation may cope less well with certain behaviours).

What astonishes me is firstly that such studies can attract research funding in the first place, and secondly, that the findings are considered newsworthy. Why is it surprising that children with fathers who interact with them and who take an interest in their development tend to do better? Why do we need to fund research to demonstrate that children need two parents who have complementary roles, in order to have the best chance of thriving? I find it sad that it is necessary.

On the other hand, perhaps I should not be surprised. How often is it assumed that things relating to raising children are the domain of the mother? Even within Christian circles where marriage is highly valued, it is frequently the mother who tends to assume responsibility for the children. One of the most frequently cited sections of the Bible relating to parenting, Ephesians 6 verse 4, is addressed to fathers, ‘And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord’. Elsewhere it is made clear that the God given order for family life is for the husband and father to have a position of headship in the home. ‘Feminists’ react strongly to this suggestion, and object to the verses such as Ephesians 5 verse 22: ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord’. But what they neglect is the parallel command to husbands, three verses later: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her...’? What does that second verse mean? How did Christ love the church? Christ loved the church sufficiently to face every manner of human abuse and ultimately die for people who at that time, rejected and hate Him. As Jesus Himself said, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’. (John 15:13). Given the choice – to submit to my husband’s God-given leadership, or to love another person to the degree that Christ loved the church – I know which seems humanly possible! What does submit mean anyway? I caused controversy among some family members at our wedding when I chose not to say ‘obey’ as is tradition in the Scottish wedding vows, but rather ‘submit’ as I felt this to be more biblically correct. Dictionary definitions of the two verbs are below, with the main difference to me being that submission is a willing surrender, and reflects an respectful attitude of heart, whereas obedience just refers to doing the will of another person.

Obey: 1. To carry out or fulfill the command, order, or instruction of. 2. To carry out or comply with (a command, for example).
Submit: 1. To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another. 2. To subject to a condition or process.

But perhaps I digress slightly into a discussion of Biblical marriage. Or is it really a digression? It seems clear that many problems arise in modern society as the family structure degenerates and many children are raised in broken homes, perhaps where a succession of other adults come for a time and then leave. Is it surprising that these children may struggle to feel secure, and may find ways (often interpreted as ‘rebellion’ or ‘behavioural problems’) to express their uncertainty?

Of course, practically, it often does make sense for one parent to have the greatest day to day involvement with the children, and the more typical or traditional situation is where the mother remains home, or works part time, whilst the husband works longer and more demanding hours. It is not a question of time spent with the child, but rather the degree of involvement and commitment, and the ultimate responsibility. And alternative approaches are possible; I would love to see more families seriously consider these. My husband and I both work part-time, allowing us each to spend quality time with the children and have an equal, although very different, input into their education. When I say ‘different’, I refer not to our motivations and principles, but rather to the different strengths and weaknesses we both have. We believe our children will benefit from the broader education that we can offer them as a team working in this way. We are considered a little unusual, both in the workplace, and also within the church. But we remember that ultimately we are the ones who will have to give an account before God of how we have raised the children He has given us.

Friday 20 July 2012

Discovering and embracing learning styles

I was reflecting on my last post, where I discussed the merits of understanding more about teaching and learning styles, and developing an individualised approach containing elements of active learning. However, I also wanted to make it clear that you don't need to have undertaken lots of qualifications or be working as an academic to be able to do this; rather my point was the irony that after apparent success in a mainstream, secular education system, it was only during my doctorate that I felt I learnt how to learn.

There are many resources available which help you determine the dominant learning style your child may have. I quickly browsed a few sites, and found this one, consisting of an overview, some sources to help you determine your child's individual strengths and then links to helpful homeschooling resources for all 'categories' to give a good introduction:


It is interesting to note that although some children clearly do thrive under the classical, sit at a desk and learn type model, there are others who risk being mislabelled as having special educational needs because this is not helpful for them. I note there is a comment on the 'fine line between kinaesthetic learners and ADHD'. Without being dismissive of children who truly struggle with behavioural and learning disorders, and without entering into a full discussion of these, I am concerned by the number of friends I have whose children (especially boys) are acquiring 'labels' which categorise them as having special educational needs. Some of them seem to be very healthy, very lively boys who need a good balance of physical activity interspersed with more focussed learning activities; ideally the two would be combined, through field trips (which could be as simple as a walk in the park or beside a river) and practical/ experimental work. This tendancy among boys might also underpin the evidence arising from Scandinavian countries that formal education has no particular benefit in children under the age of seven, and that boys in particular benefit from a much freer childhood (in direct contrast to the UK government agenda which seems to seek to formalise education from an ever younger age).

Thursday 19 July 2012

Reflection on teaching for active learning

What kind of learner are you? Have you ever thought about it? I grew up thinking that there was only one way to learn – and that was to memorise everything I possibly could, and then repeat it back appropriately for the purpose of exams. This served me well – straight As throughout school, distinctions and prizes for both my undergraduate degrees – but I often had a feeling that I was somehow cheating. I didn’t really know much, I certainly did not understand all of the information I ‘knew’, and I would often meet others who seemed much more conversant and familiar with those very facts, and who were able to translate them into real life. I was easily swayed by persuasive arguments, and could find myself agreeing with both sides during a debate. Had I really learnt? Does it really matter, given that my qualifications then opened the right doors for me to progress in the areas which interested me most?

During my PhD, I actually needed to think! Despite having worked in clinical medicine, with its daily uncertainties and grey areas, for more than a decade, somehow I had not fully appreciated that there is not always a right or wrong answer to a question. In fact, there might not be an answer at all! A recent fact that astonished me was that up to 50% of the material which we learnt at medical school will subsequently be shown to be incorrect in some way. Often all we have is the current best evidence, and in addition to an awareness of the current ‘facts’, we need the ability to appraise, consider, question, critique and re-evaluate in line with emerging data. I had not developed these abilities at all during my school and undergraduate education, and found the learning curve during a research doctorate very steep.

Currently, I am undertaking a teaching qualification in Higher Education, and reflecting upon what teaching actually is. What I grew up with might be described as a ‘transfer’ theory, where a section of knowledge is transferred from the teacher into the student. However, much more effective are the modalities which enable active learning. Learning and teaching are two extremely different processes, and even the best teacher in the world will not be effective if the learner is not actively engaged in the process. A student should have opportunity to explore, to question, to consolidate and to be given feedback and guidance as they develop in their understanding of an area. More than simply being able to list facts, such a student will develop the skills of lifelong learning, standing them in good stead for all walks of life. 

What about skills development? I always thought a ‘skill’ was somehow an alternative to the pinnacle of academia, that perhaps students who were less academically able could focus on the development of skills to enhance their future employability. But what about the skills of leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution, teaching, encouragement, appraisal and critique, debate, delivery of presentations, being an ambassador in one’s field? How should these skills be developed? You see it clearly in medicine. It is simply assumed that a doctor will be able to teach, and with increasing seniority (usually meaning advancing age), to be able to step into a management position. Some of this has changed in recent years, but the assumptions continue. 

Why is this relevant to a Home Education blog? For me it is highly relevant, as I consider both the styles and delivery of teaching and learning which take place in our home. When I first heard of home education, I had pictures of a group of obedient children sitting down with jotters and pencils around the kitchen table. How wrong could I be! Visit any website on home education (and I have links to several of these on this blog), and you will be astonished by the sheer diversity of teaching and learning methods that take place. Some of it will be intuitive – you and your children will have a unique style, and with a little trial and error, you will find what suits you best. But a basic understanding of some of the processes might help streamline this. What type of learner do you want your child to be? Do you want them to simply accept all things they are taught as the truth, or do you want them to question and explore? Are there any absolute truths? (My understanding of this issue should become clear, and I would refer to my posts on worldview and Biblical parenting for more detail). Similarly, a child may know accept something to be true, but can they put together a coherent argument as to their point of view? And how will they handle conflict and criticism, which are a sad part of ‘real life’, but from which the mainstream school system might shield them? The processes involved in active learning, together with timely, constructive feedback and the opportunities to explore, challenge, question and re-appraise would be very difficult to achieve in a classroom setting where there is a high student to teacher ratio, where the length of lessons is set and the curriculum is firmly established, and where there are diverse needs represented within the student group. You could argue that it verges on impossible.

What is the main goal of learning? Is it simply to be able to jump through the right hoops to get into the right form of higher education, leading on to a ‘good’ job? Of course, those hoops will continue to exist, and must indeed be navigated if a child is to acquire the best qualifications they can in their area of interest. But without detracting from this, can we embrace the development of learning skills? I believe that we can, and this is a great merit of home education. I believe that we can help our children to learn, to understand and to become lifelong learners.  These skills will be transferable between disciplines, and should enable a child to develop confidence and security in what they believe, even when faced with others who disagree or who hold an alternative view. I believe this to be a far better preparation for adult life than that which I received through a conventional education.