Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash
It’s been said before, but in our homeschooling efforts we just can’t be reminded of it enough… Some children are naturally more inclined toward academics than others, but God made each of our children perfectly, with different strengths and weaknesses! It’s easy to lose sight of our children’s non-academic strengths when we’re in the homeschooling “trenches”, because the focus of homeschooling, to a very real extent, is academics.
But this past week, a beautiful example of one of my children’s other-than-academic strengths occurred, and I have to share it with you.
First, let me begin with a personal confession. It’s so horrible, but God protected everyone involved, and I learned a very good lesson from it… Still, I’m completely mortified to tell you about it. But putting the flesh to death (mortified) is good…
When I was a new mother, we had some awkward steps on the front walk to our home, and I was carrying the baby―maybe she was 4 months?―as I walked down the walk to our car on the street; and I tripped, and I fell… And I dropped the baby to brace myself for the fall.
Again, by the grace of God, the baby was fine… But what I did was really bad. I was falling, and I just let her go to protect myself. The poor little thing fell to the grass and rolled down the little rise in the yard… It was awful! I was absolutely shocked and horrified that, in a moment of panic, without having time to think about it at all, I had instantly chosen my own welfare over that of my own precious, tiny, helpless, delicate baby.
Oh, friends, so now you’re starting to get a better picture of my true nature! And why I am so deeply in need of God’s grace!
Well, anyway, so here we are now, thirteen years later, and I have nine children and a tenth on the way. And I homeschool! Yay!
I love academics. If it weren’t for all of the children I’m supposed to take care of, I would be delighted to read and study for hours every day. One of the reasons why I love homeschooling so much is because of all of the things I’m getting to learn myself, that I was never taught in school. It’s almost like a guilty pleasure… but really it’s just a delightful little bonus blessing from the Lord!
I also love teaching. I thrill to explain a new concept to one of the children, and to see his eyes light up with the wonder of new understanding. On the other hand, I do not enjoy teaching the children when they are not focused, not paying attention, not having a good attitude, and just wasting their (and my) time. So you’re getting two confessions for one in this article. I’ve prayed for decades for the Lord to help me be more patient, and to this day when He gives me a surprise patience stress test to help me grow stronger in that area, instead of thanking Him for answering my prayers and rising to the challenge, I get cranky and irritated. (That would be impatient.)
(Do you think, maybe, that ten children is an answer to prayer for more patience?! At least our faithful Lord hasn’t given up on sanctifying me yet!)
All that to say, some of my children are academically inclined, like I am. And some of them are not! For one of my daughters, especially, academics is not an area of natural strength.
But she has other natural giftings that do not come as easily to the others. We’ve adjusted the curriculum to suit God’s perfect plan for her development, and we try to appreciate and credit her for the other things she does well. Such as being very relationally-oriented. For example, when she is given a special treat―whether a reward for doing especially well, or even a birthday surprise―she will share it with another sibling rather than keep it for herself. (It’s absolutely baffling to me, with my selfish nature.) She can play with younger siblings for an hour without complaining, and enjoy every minute of it. She’s a great little cook-in-the-making. It can be hard sometimes to remember to praise these strengths as well as I would a difficult arithmetic assignment well done, since it’s not one of the checkboxes in her curriculum! But these lessons are just as important to teach our children as English grammar.
So a few days ago, we were coming to the dinner table, and I had sent this daughter to fetch the baby, and she changed the diaper, and we were all waiting for them, when she rounded the corner and was tripped by some construction truck or other toy that had been left in the doorway. With sharp furniture corners threatening danger on either side, down she went. But as she fell, she kept her grip firm on the baby, even protecting him with her body in that moment. She narrowly kept the baby from even the slightest bump. My husband and I were both left in absolute amazement at what we had just witnessed.
Without a moment to think, this little girl instinctively protected the baby entrusted to her better than I had as a twenty-nine-year-old mother!
Yes, when we speak of children having “other strengths” than academics, we are speaking of real strengths, God-honoring strengths, and even God-given, amazing strengths that others do not naturally have.
A Word of Warning
The worldly school system and our culture at large today love to twist this idea into a false one, so be careful. When our culture speaks of every person having different strengths, the culture does not actually highlight these other strengths and hold them up as excellent. Rather, our post-Christian culture will usually put forth someone who does not do well in a certain area, such as academics, and use words like, different children have different strengths, but truly all they are doing is highlighting the lack of excellence in that particular area, without pointing out an actual example of excellence from this student. The culture, in reality, is holding up a lack of excellence as something praiseworthy.
When our children do not excel in obvious ways, let us search out what it is that God has specially gifted them for. Let us spend time considering our child, praying for God to help us see that one as He sees him. Let us find actual areas of excellence and praise our children for things that they, in fact, do very well. That will encourage a love of excellence in your home. (Phil. 4:8) It will encourage your other children to do better in those areas, and it’ll help a bit with the temptations they face toward pride about their strengths. But above all, if you seek out the less-obvious strengths in your child and give him sincere praise for things he truly does well, it will deeply encourage that child who struggles with academics or other attention-getting areas.
When the world tells children who are lousy at school that they are “special”, but doesn’t tell them anything really meaningful that they are genuinely great at, those children end up becoming more discouraged than they would have been without the obviously false praise. There is something special about each child. Many things, actually! Let us love our children enough to help them discover what those strengths are, and praise their Maker for them.
Not an Excuse
Our duty is to challenge our children more in the areas in which they are naturally stronger, and to help them to become stronger in the areas where they are, by nature, weak.
I say again, it is our duty as parents not to leave our children in their natural state, but to correct them and help them to be better, especially in areas in which they are by nature weak.
For our children who do well academically, let us not pat ourselves on the back too quickly. Is this child patient with others? Helpful around the house? Kind and loving? Thoughtful? Obedient and submissive to authority? While these “subjects” are not found in the homeschool curriculum (unless you’re using the Bible as one of your primary textbooks―that is very helpful!), God commands us to teach these subjects to our children. (Deut. 6: 5-7, Matt. 22:37-40)
For our children who struggle with academics, let us trust God that His calling for those children is to labor to overcome more difficulties than others to obtain the goal of biblical literacy. Let us help our children through these difficulties.
And consider: Sometimes, children who had to fight the hardest to obtain what came easily to others enjoy the greatest reward once they do achieve their goal.
I remember this old quote from my schooldays, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly…” Think of all that the Lord made His faithful ones pass through before He gave them their rewards: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel, Mordecai… Let us remember that in our wonderful God’s sovereignty, we can often look back on the struggle itself and thank God for it; the same will be true for our children!
This struggle is not an excuse to exempt certain children from any academic challenge at all, but simply a part of God’s unique plan for our child (and for us as the homeschooling parents!). May we lean on Him when it is hard, trust His goodness when it doesn’t make sense to us, and seek wisdom from Him to know exactly how best to help our precious charges.
What Is a Basic Education?
A false idea I hear constantly is that, Because my child is not naturally very academically inclined, I should not focus on teaching him much more than basic reading, writing, and math, and instead focus on teaching him a trade. “He doesn’t need to be able to read a lot of books to be a plumber, and plumbers make great money!”
First, we must define our terms. What, exactly, is your definition of a “basic” education? Most people consider a “basic” education to be what the public schools have set as the baseline. But early Americans would define a basic education as being able to read and understand the entire Bible!
There is an important lesson from history about this. For centuries leading up to the Reformation, average people in “Christian” Europe were denied educations, and only received the training particular to the sort of work they would perform for their livelihoods. (Sound familiar?!) This was a great system for the wealthy folks at the top of society―they had plenty of worker bees who were willing to work in conditions not unlike slavery because average people did not understand that God’s preferred plan for Christian men is to work to enrich their own family economies, not those of their overlords. (1 Cor. 7:21-22)
But there was a far worse evil going on under this plan: The Gospel was lost, and countless thousands of people who were told they were Christians and assured of eternal salvation died and entered eternity apart from Christ, destined to an eternity in Hell.
In the providence of God, a few men in those days actually read the Bible and alerted others to this danger. John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, indeed, led many souls out of darkness. Then Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the front door of his church, inviting debate about the false teaching going on in Jesus’ name… and the rest is history.
God saved many, many souls out of that darkness, in the revolution we now call the Protestant Reformation.
In the aftermath that followed, those who were not slaughtered in the backlash of the dragon were filled with a firm determination for their offspring: That their children would know and understand the Bible for themselves, so such darkness would never overtake their descendants again (as far as they could prevent it).
The children of the Reformation taught their children to read, and to read well enough so that they could understand even the most difficult parts of the Bible. They taught their children to do arithmetic and to study God’s creation. They taught their children to be highly literate in their own language, and it was very common for them also to teach their children the other important languages of the time (particularly Latin) and even biblical Greek.
The United States of America was founded by children of the Reformation―from the Pilgrims all the way down to the adoption of the Constitution. As such, from about 1620 to 1880 in America, average farmers, merchants, blacksmiths, and pioneers were all highly literate. Was it necessary to be well-educated in order to be a good blacksmith? No. But just as Peter and John, once they became Christians, soon became scholars, the heirs of the Reformation considered it to be all but necessary to be well-educated to be a good Christian. (Acts 4:13)
The New Testament commands us over and over and over again to be on our guard against false teachers. (Matt. 7:15, for example) These are commands. The Lord warns us that we will encounter false teachers, and admonishes us to be prepared to evaluate every teacher before accepting their teachings. (Acts 17:11 is a great example of Christians faithfully obeying these commands.)
This was the failure of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They did not watch carefully for false shepherds, but simply accepted any teacher who claimed to speak in Jesus’ name. To be truthful, this was the failure of American Christianity, from 1880 to the present. I pray the Lord is bringing us out of this error today.
Not every child will master Greek and Hebrew. But every Christian child should master the Bible, or at least be well on his way of understanding it by the time he “graduates” from homeschool. This is why, in the 2,000-year history of Christian missions, once Christians bring the Gospel to an unreached people, after the regular worship of the True and Living God is established, the next order of business is usually teaching the people to read and write, and translating the Bible into their language.
So when we speak of giving our children who are not academically gifted only a basic education, I completely agree! But I define a basic education in a manner that is more consistent with historic Christian ideas about a basic education, not with the typical definition of today.
The bottom line is, it is our duty as parents to recognize that a child’s natural gifting and abilities are not limited to the things modern society praises. Let us look at our children the way God sees them, not the way our old public school would!
And it is also our duty to help our children with the areas in which they are naturally weak. Truly, it is hard for me to teach one of my daughters to be sincerely kind toward her sister. And it is hard for me to teach the other to think rationally. My duty is to do both. Let us, with God’s help, rise to the challenge! “Let us not therefore be weary of well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6:9)
Do you have great stories to share about strengths your children possess, outside of the usually attention-getting areas like being an academic, music, performance, or sports prodigy? Please share your stories in the comments!
Thanks for dropping by; please keep us in prayer!