Have you experienced frustration when trying to teach your own children? I can remember sitting at the table with one of my daughters, going over a simple sequence of events in American history, and she just couldn’t get it straight. The thought of “why can’t she learn this simple idea?” quickly led to “I’m such a failure as a homeschooler.” As a homeschool grad and a homeschool dad, I’ve had experience on both sides of this disheartening scenario. Often our frustration grows from our expectations about teaching. If we have a better understanding of teaching as a creative practice, we can also have better expectations for our children.
Have you seen that brief animation of the learning process at a government school? I mean the one where a student, who’s sitting upright in a small, traditional desk, moves along a conveyor belt. At the student’s first stop, a robotic arms saws off the top of his cranium, revealing a light bulb. At the next stop, a robotic arm wielding a hammer smashes the lightbulb. And at the final stop, a robotic arm bestows a graduation cap. The process continues on and on with child after child moving through the “educational” process at government schools. This system was not designed for teaching children to take joy in learning.
This animation illustrates a critical fact: educational approaches have impacts on educational outcomes. So what outcome do we want for our children? We want them to think biblically about all of life. We also want them to receive the joy they can expect from their calling. In past blog posts, we’ve explored the scriptural reasons for expecting that our children can have this kind of joy. We’ve also examined reasons why our children’s experiences may be anything but joyful. While some of those reasons relate to factors inside our children, today we want to focus on the factors that we as parents and the educators of our children are responsible for. We need to create educational experiences for our children that most closely conform to how children learn.
When it comes to encouraging learning, I don’t have a comprehensive list of best teaching practices or foolproof methods. I hope to keep learning as my wife and I continue on our homeschool journey. But here are some effective approaches for teaching a joy of learning I’ve learned so far.
1. Teaching Joy with Understanding-Based Learning
Learning that focuses on understanding instead of performance cultivates joy in learning. It can be incredibly satisfying to have a child who performs off the charts on a standardized test or who can recite the Roman emperors’ names from memory. Your child might perform well on paper, but what about his or her understanding? If performance is what we’re aiming for, then we’re not concerned about children’s understanding, just their ability to memorize and regurgitate information. And what we get is children who do well on tests but can’t apply what they’ve learned. Unless they’re also focused on performance, then children who just learn for the grade get bored or frustrated.
Instead, we should be interested in comprehension. When a child understands math, it’s not only easier to learn, but the child has the tools to use math effectively. That’s why breaking out math manipulatives or engaging in other hands-on activities is so powerful. Understanding-based learning is the bridge to higher levels of learning. And Scripture reminds us that “knowledge is easy to him who understandeth” (Proverbs 14:6).
2. Sequenced Learning
Putting learning in the proper order, or sequence, prepares your child for the next step. When children have all the pieces they need for understanding at the time they need them, they’re equipped to find joy in learning. Has someone ever explained something to you, assuming that you already knew something that you didn’t know? Maybe there was important information that you’d never learned. When that happens to me, I get confused and frustrated. I want to stop.
In the kitchen, we wouldn’t ask our children to add three eggs to a mixture until we had taught them how to crack an egg. It’s often easy to approach learning by jumping around from topic to topic without a plan in mind.
With sequenced learning, our goal is to challenge our children without frustrating them. We plan each step carefully so that they have prior experiences and the knowledge they need so that they can take the next step in learning. I love it when my daughter encounters a familiar concept that has added depth and complexity to it. She’s seen it before, but it looks new to her. The new information is more challenging than what she learned before, but it is simple because of her prior experience with the topic.
3. Authentic Learning
Another way of teaching a joy in learning by focusing on the purpose for learning instead of the test. Has your child ever asked, “Will that be on the test?” It’s often an expression of frustration. Instead of taking joy in the experience of learning new things, he or she just wants to know how to pass the class. At that point, your child is probably just overwhelmed by all the extra, seemingly unnecessary information. Children also express this frustration when they ask, “When will I ever use this?”
When we teach our children, we need to regularly show them the real world application of what they’re learning. When learning is relevant to their lives, it becomes real and authentic. They can use math at the grocery story. Or they can apply what they studied in science to make a ramp to move a heavy object. Or take spelling, for example. If we give our children a list of random spelling words to recite back on their test, they’re likely going to get bored or frustrated, and they won’t remember it beyond the test. But when part of their spelling assignment is to proofread someone else’s writing, it’s authentic. They see how spelling is relevant and useful.
When children start to use their learning, they’re exercising good and wise dominion in this world. That is one of the purposes that God has given mankind. And it is the reason we educate our children.
The choices we make in teaching our children will have an incredible impact on how they view learning. If we don’t aim for comprehension, if we teach things out of order, or if we don’t give them a reason for learning, then we won’t be teaching them to have joy in learning. We’ll be crippling their joy of learning, instead. We need to choose teaching methods that support our children. Then we will be able to see the light of joy in our children’s eyes as they’re learning.
Have you ever had a frustrating experience when teaching your child? I know I have. I teach my children Grade 1–3 history. Last year was the first year I taught my second daughter history, and it was smooth sailing. But this year, it has been a challenge. The material is more advanced and abstract. Tears have come several times during our first three months. We’ve hit some hard barriers in both teaching and learning already.
In an earlier post, I mentioned some Scriptures that teach the importance of having joy in learning. We have a scriptural expectation for a joy in our work. Furthermore, there is a connection between our work and our learning. Naturally, there’s a parallel between joy in our work and joy in the work of learning. But if we have a scriptural expectation for joy in learning, why don’t our children always experience that? There are three things the fall has broken that can prevent that joy.
Barriers from a Broken Creation
When Adam sinned, the earth was cursed. And now all of creation groans under sin (Romans 8:22). Because of the curse, nothing is as easy as it was designed to be, including learning. Just like Adam, our child will learn “by the sweat of [his] face” (Genesis 3:19). Learning isn’t easy for kids, and teaching isn’t easy for moms and dads. We cannot reverse the fall. But like farmers who toil to extract food from the ground and yet still rejoice in their labor, we can toil at learning with the expectation that there will be joy in mastery.
Not only is learning harder, but our hearts can also come to detest things we should love. Romans 3:11 reveals that there’s no one who understands; we all wander out of the way; we are all unprofitable. The lazy man doesn’t want to work even though God calls it a blessing. Sad to say, our children’s hearts can hate the good that God gives us, including learning. As parents, we’ve been given the high calling of shepherding our children’s hearts. So when we see signs that their hearts are opposed to something good, we need to direct them wisely back toward it.
Barriers from Broken Pedagogy
Pedagogy is the method or practice of teaching. Regrettably, we sometimes unintentionally contribute to our children’s frustration with learning if we adopt poor methods of teaching.
Remember those farmers that Isaiah spoke to (Isaiah 28:24–28)? They learned to farm effectively by observing how God’s creation worked and adjusting their farming accordingly. That’s what good teachers do too. They observe the way children learn and adjust their methods accordingly.
For homeschool parents, it’s easier to “data dump” than it is to create an engaging learning experience. Our challenge is to create the learning experiences our children need for success. Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking:
- “Here is the information—now learn it.”
- “Read the book and answer the questions.”
- “Here’s a list of terms to know for the test.”
- “Memorize these facts.”
It’s so much easier than taking the time to craft a learning experience. But when we take the easy way, we’re not helping our children. We’re teaching in a way that’s expedient for us, and not in a way that fits how our children are made to learn. As homeschool parents, we need to be constantly working to discover the ways God intends children to learn, and then conform our teaching to that creational norm.
As a result of the fall, there are going to be real barriers to joy-filled learning. The material is often hard, and there’s a fleshly aversion to hard work. My children won’t want to do it all the time. There’s also a temptation for me to choose easy paths for teaching instead of creating learning experiences that enable them to learn. In a future post, I will share some of the strategies I’ve found to help create a joyful learning experience despite our fallen condition.
When I was six, my dad took our family on a homeschool field trip to Patriots Point Navel & Maritime Museum in Charleston, SC. I was awestruck from the moment we drove into view of the Yorktown aircraft carrier. After exploring old navy ships, I was hooked—history became my favorite subject and it was fodder for play. And I still love history.
Joy permeates my history learning. Even in times when it became tedious, the thrill of mastering the subject never left me. That experience with my dad set the tone for my learning.
As homeschool parents, we want our children to have joy in learning. I want my daughters to love history as much as I do.
Joy of Learning in the Bible
Do we have a scriptural expectation to find joy in learning? We should start by looking at our expectation to have joy in our work. Then we can examine the connection between learning and work.
Taking Joy at Work
Most Americans view work as a drudgery, a long slog until they get to what they really want: a weekend full of pleasure. One way to summarize the American Dream is “work hard so you can play harder.”
But that’s not a scriptural view of work. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us three times that “a man… should make his soul enjoy good in his labor” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, see also Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 and Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). And for good reason. The Lord intends that we “enjoy the good of all [our] labor” (Ecclesiastes 5:18). Even better, we should enjoy our labor because God gives us the power to work (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Best of all, the work itself is given by God. In the beginning, God gave mankind dominion over creation. Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve worked by dressing the garden and naming the creatures. So when we take up a lawful task to meet a legitimate need, we are fulfilling one of God’s original intents for us.
You know, we, as parents, experience this every year at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We invest long hours on our feet in the kitchen preparing a feast. Some parts are fun, like making pie filling. Others are tedious, like peeling ten pounds of potatoes. Then there’s the layer of dust to clean from the fine china. And, of course, we can’t use the dishwasher for that! But what a joy it is to cook with your family and see them delight in the meal! Even scrubbing the grease off the turkey roast pan can be satisfying.
Let’s not lose sight of the joy we can have in the work of homeschooling our children. Some parts may be fun, and others tedious, but the final result is priceless. It is God’s calling for us, and we can and should find joy and satisfaction in it.
Work and Learning
Since God intends for us to have joy in our work, can we apply that to our children’s learning? In Isaiah 28, the Lord makes an important connection between learning and working.
In this passage, the prophet confronts the proud farmers of his day. He asks them a series of questions about the fundamentals of farming. Do they plow? Are they planting seed? What about the careful arrangements they make in planting their seeds? “Of course!” the farmers are thinking. Then Isaiah asserts, “For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him” (Isaiah 28:26). You can imagine these arrogant men thinking: “No he didn’t; I figured that out on my own,” or, “My dad taught me that, not God.” But they’re missing the point. God created His world to work a certain way. When we adjust our lives through careful observation to the way He made the world, we are learning from Him. The learning is coming from His hand.
The learning and the work both come from God’s hand. For our kids, their primary calling—their work—is to learn. It enables them to exercise dominion over creation, just like the farmers from Isaiah’s time. And just as God gives joy to the laborer, we can expect God to give joy to our children while they work at their calling of learning.
I love teaching history to my daughters. My dad inspired a lifelong love of learning about the past, and now I get to share it with his grandchildren. Homeschooling is one of our most blessed callings. What a delight it is to be right there, when the light bulb goes off for our children and we see the joy! What we’re witnessing is our children receiving the gift of joy in learning from God’s own hands.
Our 2019 homeschool catalog is hot off the press and will show up soon in your mailbox! We brought back the Homeschool in Action Photo Challenge and had twice as many participants this year as last. The competition was close, with so many incredible pictures of your homeschool experiences. We included as many pictures as we could in the catalog, but here are the winners.
New Distance Learning Courses
As a homeschool dad, I’m thrilled to see how the self-paced video courses enable my daughters to take ownership of the learning. My wife and I still have final say over the activities and the grades, but with a flexible roadmap, our fourth grader and second grader can learn on their own and at their own pace. Plus, our four-year-old is enjoying the K4 videos with Mrs. Lawson, Mrs. Liston, and all their puppet friends. She gets exposed to important concepts in a fun way that will help her when my wife starts to teach her how to read in K5.
This year BJU Press is rolling out five new Distance Learning courses. You can see sample lessons for each course on YouTube.
Children learn about math through experience with Mrs. Rulapaugh. Through the farm family and their pet mouse, your child will see how math can be used to help in meaningful ways. This 180-day course introduces children to simple math concepts through hands-on activities and engaging on-screen demonstrations for visual learners.
This amusement park theme of the course keeps your children eagerly anticipating the next story. Mrs. Walker encourages children to think deeply by asking higher-order thinking questions. She also continues to build their phonics and vocabulary skills. They will love reading the lessons in this 180-day course.
Mrs. Jarrell invites children to learn grammar concepts and apply them to their writing. Children will love the special segments she uses to enhance learning. In the “Super Marks” segment, super punctuation marks will dispel confusing communication. This is a 180-day course.
Physics is only available through Distance Learning Online. Since physics can be an especially challenging course, Mr. Harmon offers optional tutorials on particularly difficult physics problems that students will encounter. Distance Learning Online is the best way to keep the optional format of these tutorials organized. This 180-day course will challenge your twelfth grader’s science and math skills and prepare him or her for college-level study.
In this capstone heritage studies course, Mrs. Bullock walks students through the fundamentals of economics. Mrs. Bullock suggests you do this 90-day course in the spring of the senior year as a follow-up to the American government 90-day course.
New Online Testing Option
Now you can take the Iowa Assessments™ Form E achievement test from the comfort of your own home! BJU Press Testing & Evaluation is offering faster results with fewer requirements for Grades 3–12. By testing online, you get
- testing results in ten days,
- no shipping costs,
- year-round testing,
- and an approved test administrator provided by Testing & Evaluation.