Education is not a god: part 2

Last week I wrote about how education is not the ultimate goal of childhood. All this was not to say that education is irrelevant. But we need to remember that education is there to serve us, not be served by us.

So what is education really, then? Here are some thoughts.

Education is a tool

Getting a good quality education is one of the tools which helps to shape our children’s future. The foundation of knowledge they build up though childhood is a platform they can bounce off to reach the heights of God’s plan for their lives. Equipping our kids with wisdom and understanding in academic, spiritual and practical arenas prepares them to use their God-given gifts to their fullest potential. A good education will open doors of ministry and enable our kids to take hold of any opportunities which come their way.

Education should teach children to approach work with an attitude of diligence. If we nurture their natural love of learning, if we show them how to solve problems effectively, and if we teach them to self-discipline and allow them to self-direct their studies, then their education will serve them well when they go out into the world. And the best education will teach our children good stewardship of their talents – helping to grow them, not bury them.

Education gives our wings to soar into all God has prepared for them!

Education gives children our wings to soar into all God has prepared for them!

Education is a gift

I love to learn, and I want my kids to know the joy of learning too. Knowledge is a blessing! As children learn about the world, their minds begin to open up. They make connections between topics, and they start to grasp concepts which open up further new thoughts. With knowledge, kids are able to take part in meaningful discussions and feel that their contributions are valuable. They are learning not just to be part of society, but to be a useful part of society – contributing their gifts and understanding to help better the world around them.

One of education’s greatest blessings is the way it helps our children to connect with people of diverse opinions, beliefs, and cultures. As they learn about the world they begin to appreciate the common value of people as well as appreciate their diversity. Education breaks down barriers and misconceptions and stereotypes. Jesus reminds us that unconditional love for others is one of the most important things we need to grasp as Christians. Quality education helps our children to do this with ease and joy.

I pray that as we seek God’s will for the education of our children we will not lose sight of what is truly important. May our children be blessed with an education which encourages them to live a life of love, not gain.

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Education is not a god: part 1

I want to give my kids an excellent education.

In fact, one of the reasons we home educate is because we believe that the smaller ratios, focused learning, and personally tailored curriculum that can be provided at home have the potential to produce a better quality education than that which can be achieved in an over-crowded, peer-dominated, test-orientated school setting.

But I want to be very clear about something which I think has become very unclear in our society: Education is not a god.

Our children need to know that while they should always strive to work to their personal best, grades do not define who they – or we – are. There is only one God, and our children have immeasurable worth in His eyes, and in our eyes, which is not defined by their academic or sporting ability, the career they obtain, or the number of extra curricular activities they attend.

Education is good, but it is not a god.

Education is good, but it is not a god.

It is easy to ‘know’ this. But do we live it out?

Before I go on, I want to make clear that I don’t think any of the things below make us ‘worthy’. God alone provides our worth, and it is not dependent on works or behaviour. I also think all of the activities below have a value, a place and a time. However – the fruit of our lives reveal the secrets of our hearts. It is worth examining our priorities honestly.

I believe that education is often worshiped as the ultimate goal of childhood. It is evident in a culture which prioritises academic achievement over character development. It is evident in the efforts to make sure our kids understand geometry, and yet neglect discussions on evidences and controversies of faith. It is evident when parents fear lack of education for their four-year-old, more than lack of compassion. It is evident in the way parents work longer hours to pay for a extracurricular activities, but leave no time for quality, relationship building.

I want to repeat – all of these things have good and right places in our children’s lives. Geometry, sports and academics are good things.  But the question is – do we let ‘good things’ take a higher place than the ‘best thing’?

There is only one thing of first importance, and we only get one shot at parenthood. Let’s make sure we don’t get our priorities confused.

In part two I will be looking at some of the things which education is, and how it can be used to help our children, not hinder them.

The window to your heart

“And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire.”
James 3:4-6

Words. Many lessons have been written on the power of words. The tongue has been called the strongest muscle in the body, and the Bible speaks of its power in the book of James, likening it to a rudder which can steer the whole course of a ship, or a fire which can cause devastation.

wordsAs a homeschooling Mama my kids hear a lot of my words! We talk about everything from history, to meals, to Lego, to toilet habits… I’ll stop there 😉  Being with my kids more than your average UK parent has made me think carefully about how I speak to them. I have noticed that it is easy to slip into the ‘I’m busy but I’ll nod and say “uh-huh” even though I have no idea what you said’ mode of conversation.  There are plenty of comic strips and Facebook images which joke about this. It seems to be a universal Mom thing. But it’s not funny. Now I know that you and I are busy people. But what do our conversations tell our children about our hearts… and their value?

When we speak to our children, we are showing them a little of our heart. Our words are a window. Not just our words, in fact, but our tone of voice, eye-contact, expression, and all those other non-verbal communication attributes. If I am staring at my computer and say the glazed “uh-huh” when Prince comes to tell me about how the latest GUP is the coolest thing, what are my words and actions telling him?Here’s a list off the top of my head:

  • I am selfish
  • I value other interests above him
  • I have no self-control
  • His effort is unimportant
  • He is not interesting to me
  • He is not high on my priority list
  • Computers are a god
  • It’s okay to ignore people

These are pretty shocking messages. Even more scary is the fact that even if I was doing something REALLY important, he is still getting these messages. As I see it, if I don’t want him to get these messages I have two options: 1) Put him first whenever possible: Stop, look at him, smile, appreciate, ask more questions (rather than hoping he hurries up and finishes talking), hug him, praise him. OR 2) if what I am doing is pressing and important: Stop, look at him, explain “I’d love to hear what you’re saying, but I’m just in the middle of something urgent. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, and you can tell me all about it, OK?” Now he knows that he is valued highly, but sometimes other issues need to take priority for a time. (Side note: we should balance this advice with make sure our children learn the importance of not interrupting, that they are not the only thing in the world which matters, etc. But in my experience this is a far less common problem, and what most of us really need to work on is giving the message of love and value.)

The busy mom syndrome is just one example of the way we talk to our children, but here are some other messages that our words & non-verbal signals may be telling our children:

  • I don’t like you
  • I’m impatient
  • I value obedience more than a right heart
  • I am inconsistent
  • You are stupid
  • You are insignificant
  • You should be perfect
  • My desires are more important that yours
  • You don’t deserve love
  • Anger can be expressed without love
  • What you do is not important
  • It’s okay to be rude
  • Self should be valued above others
I want to be my kids' best friend!

I want to be my kids’ best friend!

Again, a shocking list. And again, it’s even more scary when you stop to think that it’s not just the ‘bad’ parents out there giving these kind of messages. It’s us. We need to stop and take a good look at what we say and how we say it when we talk to anyone – but especially our children. We must not assume “they know that I love them”, but rather SHOW this in the way we talk. We must let our kids know that we respect, like, love, and appreciate them. How many kids would choose to be friends with someone who preferred the company of Facebook over them, who lost their temper with them on a daily basis, who expected them to be perfect and never thanked them for a job well done? I sure want to be my children’s best friend. And one step to this I believe is learning to speak to them in love all day long, as a friend, mentor and mother.

Our words are a window into our hearts that our children look through each day. Sometimes this window may not reflect accurately what is inside, but it is still what our children see. And sometimes this window is more accurate than we like to admit.

Guest Post: Laying Strong Foundations

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Matthew 7:24-25

Hi! In this family I am known variously as Sinead, Sineadanne, Tobe (pronounced ‘Toby’) and Aunty Tobe – I think that covers it! We have been so blessed by God to have one foster son (adult) and four precious princesses (ranging in age from 7 to 12). We love God, family, music, nature, being creative, food & laughing together!

I was thinking the other day about some basic concepts it is helpful for children to know. It was a useful process for me: taking a step back to survey our parenting focus from a ‘big picture’ viewing point. Below is what I came up with, vaguely grouped but in no particular order of importance.

I thought I would share these ideas in the hope that God may be able to use something to help someone somehow 🙂

RELATING TO GOD

Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

Laying strong foundations is important in parenting.

– God loves them and desires that they love Him
– Our value comes from the unchangeable fact that God made us and loves us; we & God belong together
– Jesus is a friend like no other they will ever know – even us, their parents – and He demonstrated this on the cross
– When we do wrong things, we deserve to be punished by God. God keeps a record of every wrong thing every person does – but Jesus’ sacrifice means that a Christian does not have to take their punishment as Jesus has already taken it for the
– Following Jesus includes:

  • Putting God first
  • Putting other people before ourselves
  • Showing grace (a simple definition = undeserved favour)
  • Being humble
  • They can talk to God about anything

– Sometimes things are hard/bad things happen – this is actually good in the end as God uses these situations to train and strengthen us

RELATING TO US (PARENTS)

– They can talk to us about anything
– We love them and like them  (Note: these are connected but different things and they need to know BOTH)
– God has given them us, their parents, to look after them and teach them about His love & His ways – THAT is why it is wise & beneficial for them to listen to us
– Our love is unconditional and we will support & encourage them through the ups and downs of their lives
– Unlike God and just like them, we make mistakes (this gives us an opportunity to role model humility, repentance & the joy of God’s grace)

PURPOSE

– Our purpose on earth includes:

  • to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul
  • to love others as we love ourselves
  • to fear God
  • to serve God
  • to praise God
  • to honour God

– Our lives (time, words, actions) are created by and for God, not ourselves

Take joy in everything!

Take joy in everything!

JOY

– God will take care of problems and help us cope in hard times, which means there is nothing we can’t get through in life with Him = JOY!!
– Christians go to heaven = JOY!!
– All good gifts come from God and He gives us many every day = JOY!!
– God wants us to look out for these good gifts all the time and be thankful to Him and others for them = JOY!!
– CHOOSE joy – in the end it is always better to look on the bright side

RELATING TO OTHERS

– God will meter out justice (so they don’t have to!)
– Do good to others as much as you can, especially if they are unloving to you
– Imagining what others might be thinking/feeling is useful in knowing how to bless them
– Show grace & forgiveness as you have been shown grace & forgiveness
– Wisdom is seeing things as God sees them & it is something good to desire
– Think BEFORE you speak or act
– It is great to be an encourager/helper

  • Everybody needs one
  • It is good for everyone involved e.g. helper & ‘helpee’.

– People make mistakes – including us and them – it doesn’t make the people less lovable: God forgives them (and us) so we should forgive them (and ourselves) too

Wow – that ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be! This may seem overwhelming to some of you but let me encourage you; when I start to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the responsibility of parenting, I have learnt to remind myself that there are THREE parents: God is working tirelessly to lay strong foundations in our children’s lives – we are just His helpers! Furthermore, we have surprisingly many opportunities in the day to gently teach & reinforce these foundational concepts.

I am sure there are others, too – probably some obvious & important ones – this was just a mind dump with a little revision. Can you add any ideas on foundational concepts children should know? I’d love to hear them 🙂

Brick image courtesy of Kai4107  www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Dear God

As each day of my motherhood journey passes, I am more and more convicted of the need for prayer, in two key ways.

1)  Fervent, deep prayer.  Daily – or at least, regularly – we need to set aside time to go into our room, close the door, and pray to our Father who is unseen. There is no way that any of us are capable enough to raise, teach and fulfill children on our own. We may have gifts, talents, commitment and love, but we are still not enough. I don’t say this to tear us down; I don’t want to submit to false humility or self-deprecation. I just want us to be honest – and the honest truth is no matter how good we are, we are not perfect. We will fail as a parent – and often! The truth is, we need to appeal to a power greater than ourselves to raise our children up in faith. We need to beg God to fill them up with His Spirit, to strengthen their souls, to draw them to Himself, to lead them in His paths, to teach them His truths and to instill in them a life-long love and passion for Him, and an unconditional love for all others.

Not only is this deep prayer an intercession to God on behalf of our children, but it is also rejuvenating and nourishing for our own souls. Spending time with God is like drinking a fantastically healthy fruit and veg smoothie – only better! It builds us up and strengthens us to resist Satan’s attempts to bring us down. Spending time in deep prayer is the best motivation I have found for helping me put into practice the ideals and ideas I have for my children.

The prayer jar, and a faithfully answered prayer 🙂

2)  Sprinkling prayers throughout the day.  It is important to include prayer throughout the day for both our own and our children’s sake. In our house, we try to pray in lots of different ways: together at our Bible snuggle time, stop what we are doing to pray if we hear of a specific need, pray at meal time, and pray at bedtime. Paul, in the book of 1 Thessalonians, says we should pray ‘continually’. I think what he means is that we should have a prayerful mindset. Prayer should be a first reaction to both good and bad situations. Thanking God and asking for His help should be second nature as we go about our daily activities.

There are also many creative ways of adding prayer into your daily life. I particularly like this idea as a way to help our children remember to pray for others. Another idea that we use is the ‘prayer jar’. Anyone can write a prayer or ‘letter’ to God, and put it into the jar. It is fun to look at them again later and see how faithfully God has answered the prayers we have prayed.

What ideas to you have to keep prayer a central part of your and your children’s lives?

Courage and resolve

Last night I finally got to watch a movie I have been looking forward to for many months – Courageous. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it! I won’t give the story away, but the general theme is that families need fathers who are committed to being strong, courageous, spiritual leaders in their homes – a principle that I couldn’t agree with more! Although Courageous is specifically aimed at inspiring fathers to live out their best potential, I found this film encouraged me in this way as a mother, too.

Never underestimate the influence fathers have on their children.

Raising children is one of the greatest and most daunting tasks I have ever undertaken. When I stop to think about the influence I have on my children it can be scary – especially when I think about all the time I have failed as a mother. As parents we need to take our role seriously – more seriously than we take our jobs, our hobbies and our friends. Specifically, we need to take the spiritual guidance of our children with the utmost commitment and care.

It is not always easy to follow through on a commitment to being the best parent we can for our kids. There is a spiritual war, and we are in it. Satan knows that if he gets our kids, he will have a good chance of getting many more souls in the future too. There is no doubt that as a Christian parent we will face opposition and attacks in all kinds of forms. It may be obvious, such as physical persecution, but it is probably more likely we will be attacked in more subtle ways. Maybe you find your time being filled with things of lesser importance so that you forget to make regular opportunities to read the Bible with your kids. Maybe you are affected with excessive tiredness, causing you to snap too easily when you should be responding with grace. Maybe you struggle with your marriage, and the effects filter down to your children. There are endless ways you might be attacked, and that is why we need to have courage and resolve. We must take on the fight with the power of God, and determine to overcome all obstacles through ‘Him who strengthens us’ – for this sake of our children’s souls.

A Godly heritage is a blessing we strive to pass on to our children.

The line that stood out to me more than any other in the movie last night was, “I don’t want to be a ‘good-enough’ father.” When we don’t take parenting seriously, we are in danger of thinking that good-enough is good enough. But I think if we settle for good-enough, we are taking a risky road. Instead of nonchalantly accepting that ‘we will never be perfect, so we should be happy with good enough’, let us renew our courage every day and resolve to stand up and give our children the best that we’ve got. After all, God gave us our children. How can we offer Him any less than our very best efforts to raise them in His good and perfect ways?

Why we homeschool

Our family has made the choice to home education our children, rather than put them in the school system. Below is an outline of the ‘why’ behind our decision. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of our reasons for choosing to homeschool our kids. It is also not intended in any way to make others feel guilty for sending their kids to school. It’s simply an overview of some of the most important and outstanding reasons we believe that – for us – homeschooling is the option we must (and desire to) choose.

Spiritual Training.  Just as a solider training for war should go where he can be BEST trained, so we – training our kids for the spiritual war they will engage in as they grow – want to train them in the BEST possible place. In our opinion, this is not a school setting.  Why?  Because:

  1. We want to create an atmosphere where prayer, Bible study and unconditional love are a central part of their learning process, as we believe this creates a solid foundation for a life of love. (Deut 6:6-8)
  2. We want to be able to frequently and consistently show them how the Biblical principals of love, kindness and responsibility should influence thoughts and behaviour, and train them to make this a personal habit for life.  (Proverbs 22:6)
  3. We want them to be totally immersed in an atmosphere of love, acceptance, affirmation of who they are, and be the ones to provide consistent and loving discipline. At school we perceive that they will be too exposed to anger, bullying, discouragement and lack of discipline which can negatively impact character development.
  4. We want them to regularly observe adults and children who model love, integrity and diligence – characteristics we feel they should be aspiring too. Kids imitate what (and who) they see the most.
  5. We want them to be comparatively free from the long and daily peer pressure to conform to worldy standards. We want to control such exposure so they learn to love those they disagree with, rather than imitate them.

Academic excellence.  With ratio at almost always close to 1:1, we believe that education at home is far more likely to be of good quality than education at school. Even without formal teacher training we believe this is achievable. How?  Because:

  1. We can work hard at developing and maintaining a love for learning in our children. This (which is so easily and quickly lost in school settings) will help them to be life-long learners, and people who are diligent to search out whatever they need to know in the future.
  2. We are able to be very in tune with what subjects and topics each child enjoys, finds easy, or struggles with in some way. We can tailor their education to these strengths and weaknesses, moving ahead quickly when they excel, and taking the time needed when they would otherwise have struggled.
  3. We can focus on true understanding rather than test scores. Learning can be put into context and become meaningful, rather than abstract.  Long term learning is the goal.
  4. With the responsibility on our shoulders of educating our children, we tend to learn alongside them. This means that we are able to weave threads of learning easily through-out life as whole.  Learning becomes a natural part of life, not a 9am-3pm chore.  It also becomes a shared process of enjoyment and mutual encouragement.

Personal development.  There is no need to fear a lack of socialisation in homeschooled children – in fact the opposite may be true. Homeschooled kids are constantly around a variety of ages, and learn how to interact in everyday life, rather than the artificial situation which a class, year or grade makes up at school. With homeschool co-ops, clubs, music, art, swimming, church, camps, etc, there are no shortages of opportunities to socialise. But apart from this, there are other personal developmental benefits to homeschoolng:

  1. Self-discipline.  Opportunities to learn by one’s own initiative come up frequently in home education, and this promotes self-discipline, a huge benefit for life in the adult world.
  2. Problem solving.  While this can certainly be learnt at school, it may not be taught as specifically as we would like. We want to be around to teach loving and peaceful ways to solve both interpersonal and situational problems.
  3. Acceptance of others. Unlike the cliques which develop so easily in school settings, we can encourage children to play with, help and engage with people of all ages and abilities.
  4. Personal conviction.  Children should be free to question and challenge ideas and beliefs in an atmosphere of open-mindedness and honesty. We will not teach them just one view as right, to be taken as fact without question, but rather encourage them to examine and search out the evidence for themselves.  We will explain what we believe and why, and actively help our children to make their own decisions based on accurate interpretation of the available evidence.

Ultimately, we feel that God has given us (not teachers, day-care providers, babysitters or anyone else) the responsibility to bring our children up “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4), and feel that we will best carry out that responsibility by educating our kids at home.  We believe that education at home can be first-class, and that the personal skills instilled will best prepare them to go into the world as loving, useful members of society.

The beauty of homemaking

I always knew that becoming a mother was a career choice for me. To my mind, it can’t be anything else. Raising children is not something to be done on the side, in our spare time, but something which calls for the highest standards of commitment, sacrifice, dedication and effort. I’d like to share some of the common reasons I hear against mothers choosing to stay home with their children, and my responses to these reasons.

1) Some people seem to think that women who choose to stay at home full time are unambitious. Firstly, ambition is not what life is about. Secondly, I think being a stay-at-home Mom is probably the most ambitious career out there! A housewife and mother has to master so many different facets of life. She is a cook, a cleaner, an arbitrator, a psychologist, a day-care provider, a mentor, a friend, a nurse, a teacher, a personal shopper, a playmate, and a care assistant. On top of these she may well specialise in a few other areas, such as baking, craft making, research, nutrition, health, sports, music, or just about any other subject or vocation you can think of. Being a full time homemaker is anything but boring!

There are joys in motherhood that can never be found in another career.

2) The other objection I frequently hear against being a stay-at-home Mom is that of financial strain. I admit that sometimes this is an issue. However, I think it is much less of an issue than most people perceive it to be. If you are thinking, “We can’t manage without two incomes.” I would encourage you to think again. Our lives are usually full of unnecessary stuff, which could be cut out to reduce our monthly expenditure. And if you really do need more money, then there are ways to work around this and still stay at home. Right now, for example, I am bringing in some extra money for my family by joining Usborne and selling children’s books. This allows me flexibility to work around my kids, rather than mothering around my work. It’s important to really evaluate our priorities, and make sure we are backing what we believe by the way we live. It’s no good wishing we had the resources to stay at home, but in reality placing a higher value on home decoration.

3) The last reason I commonly hear for women not staying at home is, “It’s just not for me.” This may be true. But what about your kids? To simply say “it’s not for me” seems a rather selfish reason. If you have carefully weighed all the pros and cons, if you have decided that you need to prioritize something else, or if you have prayed and prayed and prayed and still believe it is ‘not for you’, then I respect that. God has certainly called each of us to our own ministries, and we must act accordingly. But if you simply have a fear that you won’t like being a homemaker, then I truly hope you will stop and think again. There are such joys, such excitements, such challenges, blessings, and wonderful experiences to be had when you make your kids your career.

In closing, take time to read one of my favourite passages of Scripture, encouraging young mothers to keep her priorities right in the sight of God.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”  Titus 2:3-5 (NASB)

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