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The Harmful Side-Effects of Structure and Routine in Learning

 

Around this time of year, there’s no shortage of advice being offered on how to schedule our homeschool days and year. I, too, have shared my own weekly outline although I base mine on the Mark 12 verses and not time. I even have bullet-point recommendations at the end of this post, but I don’t feel I can share them without first bringing the issue back to God.

 

I’ve heard it said again and again that “kids need structure” and they “thrive in routine.” It’s how we establish order in the midst of chaos, so how could it be anything but good?

 

Well …

 

To begin with, year after year we map out several months worth of schooling in our holiest of homeschool resources—the planner. Some like to pre-plan an entire year while others will tackle only half at a time. Either way, we typically try to cover Bible, reading, writing, math, history, and science on a daily basis. On top of that we add in sports, art or music, a foreign language, and any other topic that will contribute to the success of our children in the future. Of course, we can’t possibly know what that future will be, so we pile on everything just to be safe. We do this for multiple kids!

 

All of these required courses and enrichment classes are sliced, diced, arranged and rearranged to make the best possible use of our time.

 

But, is this really the best use of our time?
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17; emphasis added).

 

Are we devoting as much attention to the heart, soul, body, and service as we are to the mind? Are we reducing time with God to a Bible study when we ought to be walking with the Spirit throughout the day?

 

Now, I know when I talk of letting the Spirit lead, people assume I’m promoting the use of no structure at all. However, a “free-for-all” is not the only alternative we have, and disorder is not an aspect of God’s character. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33a). There will be order in what the Lord gives us, but it’s an order that originates with God and will be particular to our future needs—a future He actually knows.

 

Some may fear that whatever God arranges for us will be overly difficult or will go against our wishes. Of course, this too is contrary to the character of God; although He stretches our faith at times, He is not a drill sergeant or a God of malice and spite. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4). We were designed for a purpose, so whatever He gives us will move us toward that purpose. And, more often than not, He builds upon our strengths, interests, and God-given gifts—that’s why we have them.

 

Now, I’m not saying that structure and routine have no value at all. Certainly, when everyone knows what to do and does it when it’s supposed to be done, there’s a potential for great progress (and who doesn’t want that?). These are, in fact, useful management tools for maintaining order and efficiency, especially with larger groups. However, they are tools intended to establish uniformity—a predictable sameness—and if an unpredictable God is to lead, this creates a conflict. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8). After all, as Matthew 6:24 states, no one can serve two masters.

 

So, which master are we going to follow?
Are we taking quality time from God and giving it to a quantity of academic lessons (that may, or may not, be necessary)?
Or, are we trusting God and seeking His will?

 

As I see it, routine is a wonderful thing when it comes to tooth brushing, meals, bedtimes, and other tasks that we want to become habit. It’s perfect for activities meant to be done automatically, and moreover, done without question. But, does that really describe an inspired learning environment?

 

Do we seriously want to create a space so repetitious and predictable that students can operate on auto-pilot?

 

Really, some degree of wonder and change (not to be equated with difficulty and rigor) will only keep us alert and thinking. In fact, the element of surprise done right makes learning much more active and fun!

 

I’ve come to recognize that structure and routine are greatly overused in education to the point that we rely on them more than we do God. So, what should we do when it comes to organizing our time and activities in our homeschools? But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33). Always.

 

And then:

 

  • Trust God and consult Him daily. Include your children in this prayer time and incorporate what they are telling you sooner rather than later.

 

  • Be ready and willing to set aside your own plans in favor of God’s.

 

  • Don’t engrave your structure and routine in stone—consider them moveable and necessary only for the current set of goals (a season determined by God’s timing and not the school calendar).

 

  • By all means, establish schedules and routines for things like start times, chores, TV viewing times, bedtimes, etc. However, when it comes to learning times, leave plenty of open space for exploration, discussion, trial and error attempts, going off on tangents, etc. In other words, take advantage of the opportunities God presents.

 

  • Restore balance by limiting the number of “mind” subjects that require focused instruction on a given day. Then, let the Spirit and/or your children fill in the rest of the educational space with heart, soul, body, and service (you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many “mind” skills are actually used and further developed in these contexts).

 

  • Don’t shackle yourself or your kids to resources, study guides, and programs that dictate your schedule for every day of the week throughout the entire school year.

 

  • Prevent the “auto-pilot” condition by having options available for each subject. For example, if spelling lists are becoming tedious, mix things up by playing Scrabble, Boggle, or another game instead. Are your children’s eyes glazing over from too much reading and seatwork? Plan some crafts or science experiments (chances are they’ll have to read some directions and write their conclusions).

 

  • Balance the time of being engaged with time for the mind and body to rest (and by rest I don’t mean napping but disengaging through free play or independent time for you and your kids).

 

  • Talk to your kids, listen to them, and ask God to help you find solutions—What would they like to study? What skill would they like to improve? What is it about reading that’s so “boring” to them? What would they rather do?

 

When structure and routine are overused, efficiency and progress become the driving force behind schooling—not learning. We over-saturate our children and micromanage their time so that learning turns into box-checking and clock-watching. That’s when the learning environment becomes a dull, oppressive place where God’s presence is largely ignored.

 

In the end, our schedule should never be so crowded that it leaves little room for God nor should it be so demanding that we feel constrained by it. God is indeed a God of order, but He is also a God of wonders beyond anything we can imagine. The most amazing thing is He wants to share it all with us. The question is:  Will we let Him?

 

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (Jeremiah 33:3).

 

 

 

 

 

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