If you’ve reached a place where the benefits of learning seasons have become obvious, then it’s probably time to consider your homeschool approach. With so many variables involved, I can’t recommend a single education philosophy that everyone should use…except for one: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33).
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and disagree with one of the most common bits of advice given to new homeschoolers—that we should choose the approach that best fits our family and go with it.
Let me explain…
To begin with, no formula can accurately tell us what, when, and how to work with God’s uniquely made children. This can only come from the Lord who wrote our stories; that’s why it’s important to let Him establish our path. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
Deep down, I believe most experienced homeschoolers have picked up on the disharmony that exists between “schooling” and the human spirit. We’ve at least sensed it even if we’re unable to put a finger on the source. The truth is, standardized approaches don’t mesh with learning seasons and they can only accommodate individual needs up to a point. Yet, we spend entire school years trying to make them work for our children—or, more accurately, trying to make our children conform and work for them.
People can debate whether an approach is too structured or not structured enough (and we do ad nauseam). But, that’s not really the issue, here. It is simply this:
Different seasons call for different responses.
Imagine what would happen if a farmer ignored the seasons or just chose the responsibilities that seemed to suit him the best. If he’s forever planting seeds, overcrowding would cause many of the seedlings to die. If all he does is water, then by his own hand he destroys them. And, if the fruit is never harvested, it rots on the vine and serves no one.
This growth process is a cycle that’s repeated in many ways throughout creation.
A “seed” gets planted in prepared soil and we are charged with caring for while it grows. Eventually, with God’s will, it will become part of a bountiful harvest. And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Matthew 4:26-29). We are planting seeds in young minds and diligently feeding them, but God is the one who turns thoughts and experiences into knowledge and understanding. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:7).
At the end of the day, it makes no sense to approach changeable learning needs in a single uniform way. For example, the development of academic skills might call for instruction and some degree of repetition. But then, the soul benefits greatly from relaxed or unschooling strategies. What good is it to throw seeds at something that needs water?
Of course, frequent change is horrifying to the present-day homeschooler. Books, websites, and support groups tell us to decide on a single approach and curriculum. We have to buy something, right? They say we can always switch if it doesn’t work out, but let’s be honest—how many of us are keen on scrapping plans after hundreds or thousands of dollars have been spent and long hours have been invested?
But economics aside, every education philosophy has its principles (written or unwritten) that provide a convenient framework for us to follow. I think of these as fenced-in areas that we’ve constructed within God’s wide-open pasture. The problem, however, is not that we’ve built these fences and compartmentalized the space. The problem is that we choose just one place in which to plant our flag, setting up camp for the long-haul (forever—we hope). There is nothing keeping us from moving in and out to take advantage of what other spaces have to offer, and yet we work so hard to stay right where we are.
We are the farmers who ignore the changing seasons—we resist what God has established.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A modern notion of schooling has misdirected our attention away from God and His ways in favor of man and his. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3). The reality is, neither God nor His creation will ever be corralled by the flimsy fences we build. In our shortsightedness, we make our task that much more difficult and wind up shortchanging our children.
To add insult to injury, we’ve settled for Christianized versions of educational philosophies—Christian unschooling, Classical Christian, and so on. But it’s the philosophical doctrines and methods that overshadow God and even replace Him. Just talk to a devotee of Charlotte Mason or proponent of the trivium and note how often any of it is tied back to scripture (In my 17 years of discussing such things, God has rarely rarely up as a significant topic in these conversations).
Now, I’m not saying there’s nothing of value in these standard approaches because there is!
In fact, that’s precisely the point—that is, for every job there’s an appropriate tool.
That’s why we shouldn’t be searching for wisdom and knowledge among worldly philosophies but, instead, we should seek the Lord who will generously give it! If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5). God will let us know which tool to use, when to use it, and to what extent. Then again, He might just tell us to get out of the way and let Him do His work.
Our fenced-in spaces can be a “home base,” a comfortable place we return to after an adventure. But nothing good will come from shutting the gate and locking ourselves inside; there’s no way to stop the seasons from changing. “…While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22). Jesus has opened the gate and set us free. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:9).
So, what’s stopping us from walking with the Holy Spirit and making the absolute most of the experience?
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. (Colossians 2:8)