Monday, July 1, 2019

Homeschooling For Structure

Let all things be done decently and in order.
I Corinthians 14:40

Summer is here, and as I look back and reflect upon the past year of homeschooling my children, one theme (most prominently ) comes to mind--structure in our homeschooling. 

Structure. It's been the word niggling on my thoughts lately, brought consistently to my mind through the daily events that occur in my life and in the lives of my children. Structure-- and its close relatives--discipline, order, and peace. 

Without structure, things fall apart. We need it in every area of life. An undisciplined pianist who never practices or does so on the whim or infrequently will never become a master of their craft. The student who never studies will accrue a mediocre education, though they may attend the best schools and be a highly intelligent person. When we play a simple game of croquet, or baseball, or soccer, we need rules--we need structure. Otherwise the game falls apart and as I was explaining to my kids the other day--is no fun! Everyone just runs around in a nonsensical sort of chaos like the famed caucus race in Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

The word "structure" has become an almost frowned on idea in the society in which we live, and yet it is the framework of any successful society! Especially in the area of raising children, I see this to be true. We have slowly drifted away from the very structured forms of education that we used to embrace, and which used to produce disciplined, work-ready adults. 

I'm not advocating that the education systems of earlier times were wholly without fault. Nothing on this side of eternity is flawless; we live in a fallen world and are fallen human beings. There is a strictness that is uglified by harshness. There is structure that is so stiff that it stifles creativity. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater--because structure, and yes, strictness in a loving fashion can produce children who are highly creative, intelligent, and useful (trained) for the Lord's work and who do not carry the burdens of laziness, disrespect for authority, and inability to listen to anyone but themselves that are traits so characteristic of this society.  We should embrace godly, biblical structure which lines up with the teaching of Scripture, and trust that the Lord will work through it to His glory. 

I want to add a note here. When I am talking about structure, I am not suggesting that there is only one way to implement structure in the home.  The Lord creates different people with individual characteristics. Kids are different. Family structures vary from each other--for example, a military home may have a father who is absent for months out of the year; other families live on the mission field or travel for months out of the year to the mission field. There are single mothers who are trying to raise their children alone, without any help from a father.  Obviously, not every family must structure their homes or their homeschooling in exactly the same way or order their day minute by minute, necessarily.  My point here is not that all structure must be uniform; my point is that the Word of God exhorts us to implement structure in our homes--whatever that may look like for individual families as they bow before the Word of God--without any structure, there is chaos and unrest--even if the outward appearance may look calm and peaceful. 

We have come away so strongly from this idea of structure in our "modern" times. We are technologically advanced, but undisciplined. We think that we "know it all," that we have arrived, have figured it all out, that those who have gone before us were ignorant of the great knowledge that we now possess.  

The Word of God consistently admonishes us to consider the ancient paths (Jeremiah 6:16), to look to those older than we are for advice (Job 12:12, I Kings 12:8) , to remember history and the lessons that were learned so that we do not repeat the mistakes of those men and women who have gone before us (Deuteronomy 8:2, I Corinthians 11:2). 

And yet, we think that we don't need any advice; we live right now in a society where many of its younger members are actually considering socialism--a fallen, broken system that has never worked. A system that has only produced chaos, poverty, and despair. And yet many, many young people are embracing it head on--running into the arms of a treacherous beast. Because they don't understand history. Because they think that they "know it all" --and have been encouraged to think that way. Because we live in a society that thinks it has "arrived," "figured it out," that we are smarter than our forefathers. We have become a foolish, unstructured society of chaos in many, many ways. 

We need to fight chaos. We need rules. We need structure. We need order; we need discipline. 

These words sound restricting and confining, but they actually (when used correctly) are the means to order and peace and grace. 

This is what I am fighting for in my home and in my homeschooling. And what every parent may fight for and strive for whether they home school their children or not. 

We have an incredible opportunity by the grace of God to teach our children in a structured, disciplined way. This mirrors the truth of God's Word and will set our children up to embrace whatever calling the Lord has for their life--and most importantly, teach them the fear of the Lord--the beginning of all true knowledge. 

In every missionary and Christian biography I have read, structure has been a huge part of those men and women's lives who were greatly used by God. Structure that we would now call strictness and *gasp!* harshness and the stifling of creativity. Read any missionary biography--Amy Carmichael, David Livingstone, James O. Fraser, Elisabeth Elliot, John Wesley, Hudson Taylor, John G. Paton--the list goes on and on and on-- all of their lives were characterized by structure and discipline from the time that they were children --in those whose lives were not, structure and discipline were embraced in their lives tremendously after they became believers.  We have come so far from the discipline of those times. And I believe that it has harmed the church as a whole rather than helped it. 

I struggle for structure; daily. As a mother of two home schooled children, I have found it challenging to embrace structure in our home schooled life. Simply because in a formal school, a child has to sit still. They have scheduled times for recess, rules on the playground, set times in which they must fulfill tasks, homework to complete, and so on. 

I was talking to my sister, who works in a Christian school and she mentioned that the games on the playground always go better when a teacher is there to direct them. There is less fighting, less disorganization, less chaos--more fun and true play for the kids! Why? Because direction and structure--leaving room for creativity-- work! Rules (not excessive, but practical ones) work! Less people get hurt; there is less whining and crying and pouting. Everyone knows what to do and that there will be consequences for the breaking of rules--we see this concept illustrated simply in operating a vehicle on the road. If one runs a stoplight, they get a ticket--less people get hurt that way!

Home schooling presents the "opportunity" for less structure--the reason that many people actually have for homeschooling their children--but this is not my objective--

I want more structure. I want my children to learn to sit still for extended periods of time (they really are capable of it!). I want them to learn to study, to memorize, to keep rules, to have a schedule. This will help them to become capable adults and productive members of society! They will also, more importantly, learn to be disciplined in their life with the Lord. 

I believe that the "structure" that school provided for me was helpful--and I would have felt very frustrated without any structure, or less of it. My personality and especially my upbringing drove me toward a very disciplined approach to studying and pursuing my education--I never felt "stifled" by discipline and structure--rather freed by it! Structure is important. It doesn't stifle a child; rather, it gives them the tools to embrace all the opportunities there are in life with open hands and with an open heart to what the Lord's will is for their individual life. 

This is what I strive for in our daily lives--structure and order and peace. Rules that help, rather than hinder and stifle creativity--teaching my children self-control. Teaching my children that they need to sit still while we do our schooling. Teaching my children that there is a proper time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:11); there is a time for schoolwork, for physical work, for play. That there should be a balance. I am trying, by the grace of God, and as I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading me, to create structure in my children's lives. 

Obviously, as I mentioned, this order in the home will manifest itself differently for different families, for individual needs of individual children, according to the particular pathway that the Lord has led a family on. There is no one "cookie cutter" rule of structure for every child and for every family. It varies based on the family's and the individual children's personality and needs. But there must be some standard by which we all can follow--and that is the Word of God. 

One of the best examples that I am surrounded by here in the Midwest of order and structure is the Amish families who live nearby us and who I have come into contact with. My brother-in-law who is a Pastor also works part-time for an Amish construction company; my sister at times, drives a group of Amish children to their one-room school in the winter.  And so through their connections and because of the proximity of many Amish to us, I have had the blessing of observing and hearing about some of the Amish habits and practices with their children. 

99%, if not 100% are well-behaved, well-adjusted children who speak respectfully to authority, who are incredibly hard working from an early age, who love their families deeply and preserve the "honor" of their family name, who are very "happy" and well rounded, who have (in their own way) a deep fear of God. I admire that. I don't think that the Amish are perfect; I can't judge whether they have a true, saving knowledge of the Gospel--but admire the way that they simply implement the godly principles laid out in Scripture to raise their (many!) children. I've often wondered; how do they maintain order and discipline in the home when the families have so many children! And yet, they do. They adhere to the basic instructions for order and discipline in the Word of God, teach their children from an early age a healthy fear of authority and a fear of God, work incredibly hard, and produce some of the most respectful, kind, hard-working children that I have ever encountered. One of them, a 13 year old boy, helped my husband with some heavy work in our home--demolishing a room and tearing out walls. He did it cheerfully, he worked steadily, he looked at you in the eye when he spoke; he removed his hat, washed his hands, and combed his hair before we ate lunch! What a joy to interact with children like that, who have been taught from an early age the basic principles of order and discipline. 

So as I witness examples like that, I fight for order and structure in our home and I prize it as something worth having. I don't want to "settle" for less than that--And as I fight for order and structure--I also find grace. I realize how many times I fail as a parent, how many times I "let things go" that I should be concerned about or on top of. I realize how many teachable moments are wasted; how I have often failed in lovingly disciplining my children. This is where the grace of God comes in. He shows us how far we fall short and then gives us the grace to pick up our mat and walk--as Elisabeth Elliot says, to do the next thing--to take the next opportunity that He gives us to clean up the mess of our lives. Because even though our lives are "messy," who wants to stay in the mess? For me, I would rather clean it up--allowing God to shape and mold and forgive and humble and teach me. He is the God of order and peace--how I desire that my life should mirror that! 

Structure, order, and discipline are not confining, as it is often thought--rather, they are liberating! They open opportunities to us that we would not have had without them. They free our spirits to be able to listen to advice, to be able to learn from other's past mistakes, to become men and women of God who can concentrate, focus, sit still during a sermon without our minds wandering off, to endure hardship for the sake of Christ because we have been disciplined (Hebrews 12:11). 

One of the best examples of structure and orderliness surrounds us on a daily basis here in the Midwest--growing corn. It is always done in basically the same way, producing (with the right conditions and by the grace of God) a beautiful crop of corn. Corn which feeds the many, many animals who live here and who we depend upon as a food and income source. Corn that grows in perfect, neat, orderly, rows. Corn that depends on sun and rain in the correct amounts. Corn that comes from God as the result of neatness and order and the discipline of the hardworking farmers who live here. They don't haphazardly throw it into the ground. They have a plan, a time-tested plan for planting and harvesting and distributing that has benefited millions of people and animals over the ages. Just in this simple illustration, the Lord gives us a picture of the importance of structure in our own daily lives--and of how we can implement structure and order in our lives with our children. 

Do children need to play; of course! But you will never convince me that bizarre, chaotic, unstructured, completely unsupervised playing is part of God's plan. 

Do children need to rest? Of course! But even rest can be orderly, balanced, and within a certain time frame. 

Do children need the opportunity to be creative? Of course! But creativity thrives in the framework of discipline. One only has to look at some of the beautiful masterpieces of art to see this and consider the hours of concentration and focus that it took to complete them. 

Children are starving for order, for directions, for an outlet to use all of the vast creativity that the Lord has given them; as parents we can channel all of their energy and creativity in the right directions. 

If there is anything that our generation is characterized by (to our shame) it is the absolute disregard for rules and disrespect for authority. Our children are growing up with no healthy fear of authority--and as a result--with no healthy fear of God. What a sad place to be! But as believers, we can fight against this norm and do things differently in the sphere of our home and wherever our influence reaches. 

Some examples are listed below of where structure and order are emphasized in the Word of God--

~In church services  (I Corinthians 12)
~During communion (I Corinthians 11:17-24)
~In the way that children relate to adults/their elders (Ephesians 6:1)
~How the church organized the deaconship and eldership (I Timothy 3:8-13, Acts 6:1-15)
~The way Noah's ark was built (Genesis 6:8-22)
~The way that the temple was built (I Chronicles 28)
~Speaking in tongues (I Corinthians 14:7-8)
~Adam naming and caring for the animals (Genesis 2:20)
~The way that the ark was to be carried (I Chronicles 15:15)
~Instructions for older and younger women and men in the church (Titus 2)

Areas (these are just a few!) where our children will benefit from learning structure and discipline: 

~In the workforce
~In their respect of law enforcement and authority figures (whether we agree completely with them or not)
~In being able to play and interact with other children
~In having respect for adults
~In being able to sit still in church services and hear the Word of God
~In being able to sit quietly for any set amount of time (it will vary according to the age of the child) and read books
~Sitting in the car for any amount of time during trips

I still remember when my children were younger and they were acting very silly in the backseat of my van. I was trying to talk to my Mom who was sitting in the passenger seat while I was driving. My kids had books that they could read; they could have been quieter, more self-controlled. My Mom looked at me and said--"Stop the car; and tell them that you are waiting for them to sit quietly before you go any further." It worked. 

With such examples in Scripture and from the evidence of daily life, we see that structure and order are important. They may look slightly different in different people's lives--but they will all--when genuine--mirror the order and grace of our Creator. 

Who cares (ultimately) if children are "smart" but they haven't learned to sit still and obey authority? Who cares (ultimately) if children are creative and yet they cannot submit to instruction or focus on a task? 

Creativity and intelligence are only useful when coupled with discipline and structure--one without the other is like a headless horse that cannot run and is therefore, not useful for anything. 

This is what I strive for in my homeschooling--this is what I pray for grace for for the coming year. I know that I'll fail--many, many times. There the grace is found. It is not perfection that God seeks, but a humble desire to be taught by the Word of God and to pursue what is good and pleasing to Him. 

May we pursue it; may I pursue it--to the glory of God and for the good of our souls and those of our children. 

Helpful Resources: 

~The Shaping of the Christian Family: Elisabeth Elliot (this is one of the best books that I've read on this subject)
~The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Edith Schaeffer

You might find me on these link-ups:

Inspire Me MondayLiteracy Musing MondaysThe Modest MomRaising Homemakers, Classical HomemakingA Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Woman to Woman Ministries,  Testimony TuesdayTell His Story,  Imparting Grace, Thought Provoking ThursdayGood Morning Mondays,  Counting My BlessingsThe HomeAcre Hop, Mommy Moments Link UpGrace and Truth LinkupFaith Filled FridayRaRaLinkupWord of God SpeakBooknificent ThursdayCoffee For Your Heart Weekly LinkUpYou're the Star Blog HopHomesteader HopFresh Market FridayHeart Encouragement Thursday Sitting Among Friends Blog PartyFabulous Warm Heart PartyOh My Heartsie Girls Wonderful Wednesday LinkupWriter WednesdayTea and Word