Friday, August 12, 2011

Learning Really is an Atmosphere. . .

Because I needed a photo, and I ran across this one
this morning, and I think Liya is so durn adorable.
(It has nothing whatsoever to do with the post.)

Before I describe how we homeschooled during high school, I thought it necessary to say that, really, high school was an extension of the atmosphere and learning lifestyle we had established in the early years. We just kept going in the same way we always had, with a little tweak or two that I'll explain more fully later. (You're thinking I'm never going to get to that high school post, aren't you? But, really, this is part of it.)

Without the atmosphere (or learning habitat) that we had in place, I'm not sure we could have done what we did for high school. So, I think it's only fair to set down a few items that guided us and helped to create the environment we had in our home.

Whenever I begin to talk about our homeschooling life, I get an inner cringe. This is just us. I'm not trying to set down a pattern for anyone (I think, I hope, you know that). We had a particular attitude toward learning and a particular philosophy that served as our foundation and vision, and it is one way to learn, for sure, but it is not (obviously) the only way.

Depending on your educational values and goals, you will create the kind of learning environment, philosophy, and methods in your own home to make that vision work.

My vision was guided by the idea that God has created us each unique, with specific abilities, talents, and interests. And if God made us a particular way, He has also inclined us toward that. This inclination, I believe, can lead to a good education--one that honors who God made us to be. Education, then, is a way to develop our God-given gifts and inclinations in order to serve Him in the specific way He has called us to serve.

A second part of my vision was to see my kids develop such a love for learning that it would become a lifestyle--what they did all the time. Love takes learning much farther than duty. Out of love comes wonder, curiosity, delight, passion, depth, seriousness, joy, discipline. And a child develops a unique and deep education.

The home environment we set up was very pointedly constructed to aid in the realization of those two goals. It was tweaked and altered over the years, and it was never followed perfectly. In fact, know that well: I preach consistency, but I was certainly not perfectly consistent. I preach gentleness, but I was never even close to perfectly that. Everything I value was never perfectly observed. But I persistently, consistently tried. When I'd fail, I'd apologize. When I fell, I'd get back up, dust myself off, and get going again. I would be blown off course occasionally (or would just wander away), but I kept moving, and I'd find my way back (thanks to a guiding vision). And I loved my kids with a burning heart. And I prayed. And God honored that.

So, let me set down 20 points to give a glimpse of what I thought (and still think) were important characteristics of a home environment that gives room for God-given individuality to grow and nurtures a lifelong love for learning. These were important for my home environment; if they are helpful to you, good. If not, that's good, too. We each need to walk with God on our own journey.

Also, I don't think it's ever too late to start (at least with some of this). John Senior and his friends who ran the classical studies program at Kansas realized that their students were missing the wonderful enculturation of books and nature and music and art that should take place during childhood, and without those "1000 good books" of childhood under their belt, the "100 great books" couldn't be read with the same depth of meaning and understanding. So, Senior and company, began to read childhood stories and sing childhood songs with their students. They took them to observe the wonders of nature. They attempted to give their students at least a glimpse of what should have been a part of their young lives and hoped to unearth some undeveloped childhood curiosity and wonder.

Clearly, the rich learning culture that should exist in the early years sets the foundation for gaining understanding, insight, and wisdom in more mature, serious study, but it's never too late to attempt to gain that enculturation--either for ourselves or for our children. We should do what we can do and not mourn over what is behind (because I could be dressed permanently in sack cloth and ashes if I wanted to focus on my regrets). And that is truly good enough.

Some of this you will recognize from my HDH blog, but here it is all together, and I think it bears repeating:

1. Help your children love books. Build a family library. Build individual libraries. Read aloud.

2. Get your kids outside to enjoy and observe nature. On their own terms. For fresh air, exercise, and intellectual/emotional/spiritual growth and development. And enjoy nature together, too.

3. Converse with your children all the time (listen at least as much as talking). Get the whole family conversing together--at meal time, at tea time, playing games together, working together, in the car, all day, every day.

4. Let the kids play in their own way for long hours at a time. (Media-free.) And if they want you to join them or see what they're doing--do.

5. Develop discipline through chores and other responsibilities. Give kids enough to do so that they're working hard (and long enough). Don't give them so much to do that it is overwhelming and they can't do it well or develop mastery and excellence at each chore. Work together (it's fun!) and work alone. Getting daily chores done every day is more important than getting school assignments done, in my opinion.

6. Create unique family rituals, traditions, and routines--daily, weekly, birthday, holidays, vacations. Routines and rhythms develop responsibility and provide a sense of security. Celebrations bring delight and joy and openness. (This is a V. Big Deal.)

7. Develop hobbies and interests. Parents and children alike. Now. Invest in resources to grow in knowledge and skill. This is fun and lays the foundation for deep learning.

8. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. We don't need to do everything, you know. In this world, we've got to learn to say no to an awful lot of good things. Becoming really smart and creating some impressive-looking products can happen quickly--if that's all you're going for--but passion and uniqueness require extended, uninterrupted hours.

9. Children should learn to be alone and never bored. Boredom is a bad word. Boredom is a bad attitude. The words "I'm bored" should translate to "give me a chore." Eventually the affliction will pass. And curiosity and enthusiasm will rule the day.

10. Children should also have plenty of friends, family, and interesting people in their lives. (Because we need both solitude and community.) They need to know the world doesn't revolve around them. They should learn to love and serve others (starting with their siblings).

11. Be the change. Be the kind of learner and person you want your children to become. They will do what you do. Really.

12. Sit round the table together every day for at least one lingering meal. And make sure you're eating good food. Put love into it.

13. Find quiet ways to routinely serve others together. And don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.

14. Pray with your children. Pray for them. Just pray. A lot. (This should be #1.)

15. Tell stories (without a book in your hand). Lots and lots of family stories. Fairy tales. Bible stories. Stories of history. Made-up stories. Children love listening and will beg for the same stories to be told again and again. (They really like hearing about when they were a baby or just younger than they are now.)

16. Minimize use of media and technology. I know using electronics for everything is the way of the world, but children should be given the privilege and pleasure of growing up naturally, without the distraction and intrusion of ever-present, always-on electronics. Once children know how to live real life and have developed interests, parents can decide how much electronic use they think is healthy. But I think that this is the biggest impediment to the old-fashioned curiosity-driven, passion-based kind of learning that takes people beyond savviness and smartness to depth and wisdom.

17. Have special, interesting, fun places you visit together routinely (and do the same things there every time). Explore! Get to know that place. A particular spot on a particular beach. A picnic area in a favorite park. A special trail you like to hike. Grandma's house every single Sunday afternoon. A favorite museum. Camping in a new national park every summer. Make it your place, your thing. It does not have to be grand, exotic, far away, or expensive.

18. Apologize. We are far, far, far from perfect, and our kids know it well. When we have behaved unlovingly, we should apologize humbly and ask for forgiveness. Just feeling sorry and carrying on leaves business unfinished. (It is Biblical to confess and make amends.) Kids respond lovingly to our apologies, and they learn to accept responsibility for their own actions and apologize, too.

19. Be gentle. "Pleasant words promote instruction" and "A gentle word can break a bone." (Proverbs) It's true. Gentleness is much harder to manage and maintain than sheer force, but the attempt to do so is revealing (!) and can change both us and our children.

20. Be firm. We are the parents. We set limits. We lay down expectations. And we should enforce them consistently. Firmness is not meanness. We will sometimes end up in a clash--our rules against a child's will--but a loving parent firmly outlasts the child. These clashes are part of training children. They aren't pretty, but they happen, and it is unloving not to maintain the boundary lines.

Chesterton: "The chief aim of the Christian order is to give room for all good things to run wild." Yes.

Be consistent. It is the key to good parenting.


  1. This may be my most favorite post of yours every. A manifesto for learning and life together...thank you Susan, thank you!

  2. I meant *ever*...not can tell I was just so excited about this post I typed too quickly :) :)

  3. Aimee, thanks for sharing this post on FB. Susan, this is great and is so helpful to me. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  4. Susan, Liya is a little dollie!!! :D And now, about the post. Your summary is deeply appreciated and will be printed out and added to the others I've copied from HDH and keep for reference in a special notebook. I'm also glad that this isn't the last post, but more are coming on this topic. I'm so curious to know how you fleshed all this out, what a "typical" day might have looked like. Did you ever give your children achievement tests, or not? (I'm guessing not.) And what sort of changes occurred as they grew and matured? Well, I'm sure you'll answer many questions as you continue with your story. Your children were very blessed with the mother that GOD gave them! You are a wise and Godly woman. I am so thankful that you are willing to teach us who are now where you once were.

    Judi (again!)

  5. Wow, Aimee, I take that as a huge compliment (knowing you as I do). Thank you. I'm *really* glad you liked it. :-)

    Michelle, thank you for commenting. I'm *so* glad this was helpful for you.

    And Judi, what a nice comment! (And, yes, Liya *is* a little dolly!) :-) I actually have a day in our life post from way back in the 90s when my oldest was 15. I've thought of posting it, but it's pretty long. . . I'll definitely try to address the questions you bring up, though. Thank you for your kind words about me, but I sure did a lot of bumbling along! God is good, isn't He?! :-)

  6. Oh thank you for this. Wonderful encouragement for us fellow homeschoolers here at the start of a new year of learning.

  7. What a beautifully written post and such wisdom!! I am in the midst of homeschooling our 4 ages 13-4 years and this is such a great reminder of how to be a better parent and teacher! Thank you!


  8. Oh, this is very helpful. What a great list. You know what we parents need. I'll refer back to it often. Thanks!!

  9. Thank you for this. Thank you. I love the humility of your "voice," the fact that you are not preachy. All of this resonates deeply with my soul but I'm so far from the mark. Yes, we keep dusting ourselves and trying again. Such good and wise words and we begin our new homeschool year next week.

  10. Susan, I'm new to your blog and would like to contact you by email. Would you mind either posting your email address here, or going to my blog at and clicking on my email link and emailing me? Thanks so much!

    And this post is just scrumptious...I'd like to link to it tomorrow :-)

  11. I have two homeschool graduates and five who are not yet high school age. I found this post very encouraging because resonates completely with our own homeschool philosophy and how we have done things for the past 10-11 years. It's so nice to know there are kindred spirits out there and that we are not alone on this path. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an edifying post.

  12. This is so practical and exactly what I am needing! I am printing this off right now- thank-you! (Hear from Ann V.)

  13. I've been reading High Desert Home for sometime now. You've been my inspiration. You have no idea. :-) Thank You!

  14. Susan,

    I was so excited to see you are blogging again (found this post via Holy Experience - Ann's link)!

    I used to follow HDH and gained SO much wisdom and encouragement from your homeschooling blogs there (and wisdom from your other topics as well). I can't wait to read more.

  15. This was such an inspiring post. I am getting so much from your learning posts. Please keep them coming.I read this post and felt rujevenated just like I did after reading Suzie Andres' book on Unschooling.

  16. Thanks, Susan, There is a lot to ponder here. I cannot tell you how many times I have revisited your HDH posts on learning- searching for a formula. As you mention, there is no one formula for success and I appreciate that reminder. The guiding principles you spell out are very helpful. I am looking forward to the High School posts to follow. That has been one of the greatest impediments to our sustaining this type of learning- will it be enough? Now that my boys are 9 and 10 do we need to "do school" to properly prepare them? And how do I give them all they need without burning out or ignoring my toddler? Thoughts I have time and again. Yet, I always return to this lifestyle you describe. It is where I am most comfortable and I agree wholeheartedly with the "why" of it all. Each child is an individual created by God with gifts and passions all their own.

  17. Wow--what a great post to read just before I kick off my homeschool year with my FOUR boys (well, the youngest is only one…) I am truly encouraged. I'm actually already doing a couple things on your list--haha! Yay!
    Glad I found you here (from A Holy Experience Link.)
    Bless you, and I'll be back!

  18. Phew, thank-you. As I gear up for another year all I've been thinking of are the things tat didn't get done last year. There are sewing projects still incomplete, many not core subjects we barely grazed the surface of and I have been gearing up to berate myself for failing.

    But we did eat together, we did pray together almost every day. We did go outside, a lot. And we have read so many books. They do play for hours and hours at a time their own way and they do do their chores everyday. There are many other things on your list that I can check off and remind myself that we did get a lot of important things done, nonetheless, and many more that I feel able to attempt. Bless you. I needed this as I prepare for the coming year.

  19. "When I'd fail, I'd apologize"--I am a firm believer in this! So many of these points are such great points that I believe in whole-heartedly! Thanks for putting them all in one place. I love #9!! Retweeting!

  20. L-O-V-E this post! Thank you. Tweeted and FB. This is what homeschooling is about.

  21. Thank you! This is a great "focusing" post to return to agagin and again, especially as we are just in the first months of raising our family. And I have to ask, because now I'm curious: as a mom of a 5-month-old that we're planning on home-schooling (and definitely teaching how to love books!) is there a listing of these 1000- and 100-great books you mentioned???

  22. LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!! i am not a homeschooling mom....i do have much respect for mom's that are able/have the desire to this. i considered/prayed about homeschooling but in the end it was just not God's will for us! BUT i feel that your "rules" can be applied to just raising/teaching kids in general & i will look back at this post often! thank you!!

  23. Great post. Do you mind me adding something? Keep involved with your child's learning. Ask them questions and be interested. Also, buy good character books without occultic things that displease God. Lamplighter has high vocabulary and excellent characters. Don't buy mindless games, or throw them out. Buy educational games to learn about Geography, History, or Math. Then when you spend time with your children, get excited with them with these games. Learning is more natural when mom wants to learn as well. Children enjoy what mom enjoys. We don't want to put learning in a box to be a certain time of the day. We want learning to be fun and natural, but if it is treated as something unwanted by mom, it will be treated that way by the child. God made children so that they follow whatever is modeled in front of them. They will copy those set before them.

  24. I was going to respond to everyone individually (as I prefer to do), but I don't have time right now (I might later), and since I'm not even sure anyone checks back to comments, I'll just go ahead and write a mass note.

    I was a little stunned to see such a massive flow of people hit my little, low-key blog this past weekend, and a few of you even took time to comment! Thank you. I really appreciate your notes, first, because it's nice to know the post encouraged you, and, second, it's nice to know who is actually reading the post (or posts)! :-) I always read the comments and click on your profiles and visit your links if you comment here, and I had a great time reading through your blogs. It's stunning how much wisdom, talent, and beauty is shared by so many of you out there. Your lives are lovely. And this always puts me in a state of wonder that anyone would want to read something I post here.

    Thank you, again, for the insights, wisdom, and encouragement that you shared with me through your comments. I hope to stop by your wonderful blogs often.

    Susan <3

  25. I'm going to have print this out so I can refer to it often. Thank you for so many wonderful reminders.

  26. Thank you so much for these words. They come at a much needed moment. My children are still "pre school", but since we intend to homeschool, I feel that this is such a critical time for setting up habits, routines, and rituals around learning that will carry us through whatever our homeschooling journey will turn out to be. Thanks so much for your encouragment and inspiration.

  27. Tamara and Aimee, I'm so glad that you (and others) could connect with, and relate to, these collected thoughts of mine. Thank you for your comments, and have a blessed day. :-)

  28. Susan, I do check back on comments, especially when they are additional valuable reading as they are here. And I think it is so sweet of you to comment back to everyone as you do. Really sweet. And appreciated. Thank you.

    Please do repost that long post from your archives on a day in the life of your family. I know that I would appreciate it, and many others here would also. :D I'm hoping you will.


  29. Judy, I'll look over that day in our life (it's actually in hand-written journal of mine) to see if it makes sense to post it. :-)

  30. Thank you, Susan. You really are a sweetheart! :D (I'm not feeling toooo guilty for asking, because I know that you'll have fun reading it again! :D )


  31. i'd love to hear more about #6 and what that looked like in your house.

    i also wonder about your thoughts on this post from Like Mother, Like Daughter about praying with children... it seems like there's quite a bit of overlap.

    peace keep you in these final days before school starts again.

  32. Oh thank you for this! I have three little boys and we are just starting our homeschool journey! Thank you so very much for this post!

  33. I also think Liya is so adorable! :)
    Now on to your post! I really enjoyed reading it! I am currently homeschooling my two children who are 5 & 10 yrs old, so I have a bit of time till I will be dealing with High school with them. However, I am going to be taking over my little sister home schooling, she is 14 yrs old. I just hope I can take what I am doing with my children and somehow merge it over. I recently found the community for parents and kids who homeschool high school. I am hoping that will help. Again, thank you for all of the suggestions!