So, you’re a brand-new homeschooling parent. You’ve been at it now for a week or two (maybe a little longer). You went into this with enthusiasm in your heart, and beautiful visions in your head of happy, loving hours together with your children, all of you as ardent as could be about learning just scads of great stuff. Maybe you dreamed of creating art masterpieces and pint-size architectural wonders together. Perhaps you were going to jointly discover scientific breakthroughs in your very own lab in the basement, just like Thomas Edison. All was going to be laughter and good times together. Homeschooling is fun, right?
The problem is, Jimmy and Chrissy don’t want to reinvent the light bulb or paint a Renoir, and they certainly don’t want to learn arithmetic or write a book report. And besides it taking all your energy to get them to push a pencil through a couple of worksheets for twenty minutes, they … um … are sassy.
I don’t know why this is, but initially, homeschooling can bring out the worst in kids. Even if they’ve been pretty good about obeying and being respectful before you began the homeschooling adventure, you might find that there’s something about you taking on the role of schoolmarm that changes how they view and respond to you. If your children have already experienced a traditional school, they may even have been squeaky-clean models of comportment there — but it all changes when Mom is the teacher.
The theological reason for that has sometimes been called “the depraved nature” — that fallen, sinful soul we are all born with. Most children are not highly motivated to learn, unless the subject happens to be a particular passion for them. They don’t want to work; they want to do whatever they want to do. We grownups are the same way, only we’ve matured enough to discipline ourselves to do stuff we know is good for us to do, even if we don’t enjoy it.
In the long run, homeschooling your children will be far more successful if you make your main goal for the first year to lay the foundations of Christ-like character in your children — especially that they learn to relate to you, the parent, with respect and obedience. Outwardly right behavior is not enough: you will need to address and bring transformation to what is going on in their hearts. This means keeping a watchful eye for attitudes in your children which do not seem to be right, and then dealing with those immediately. It’s a lot of work. It is far easier to ignore little things, and just keep pushing to get the academic stuff done.
Yes, your children are still going to do their school assignments, and you will progress in that area, but you may not get as much done in that first year as you had hoped (or as you will in years to come), because you might have to interrupt your lesson times frequently to deal with needed attitude adjustments. But once you get the foundations in place, you will make up for lost time in the academic side of their education.
Am I saying you will be able to fix all the character issues in the first year, and it will be smooth sailing from thereon? No, just that it will get easier over time. Think about it: is God still working with you on your character? It’s the same with our children. Ongoing conforming to the character of Jesus is needed for all of us. But if you focus on the major points of dealing with budding rebellion at the heart level and teaching your children how to respond to you with obedience and honor, you will have accomplished a tremendous amount of “real” learning, which will aid them throughout their lifetimes.
Maybe you feel inadequate to the task, and don’t even know where to start. For an overview, you might enjoy reading J. C. Ryle’s classic article The Duties of Parents, available as a free, short e-book. And for more comprehensive help, you might want to take a look at our Character Building for Families manuals (see below). They will help you not only teach your children how to behave well, but they will also help you to get at the heart issues which motivate their behavior. Ultimately, it’s about bringing our children to know and love Jesus wholeheartedly.