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Tips of the Trade: Practical Secrets of Success for the Parent-directed Model of Education

By Dr. Lisa Dunne The time you spend with your children over the next few weeks will play a powerful role in their overall development. In fact, the more time you spend being involved in your child’s education, the better his or her chance of success will actually be in the end! Harvard University’s former FINE program (Family Involved Network of Educators) has shown that the number one predictor of a child’s socio-academic success K to college is an involved parent. So, you are actually increasing your child’s chances of success just by investing this time, energy, and focus into your child!

If your spouse or parent can share the load with you, don’t feel like you have to do it all alone. For most of our homeschool journey, my husband and have I shared responsibilities, with him teaching classes like music, arts, and math, and me covering classes like literature, history, and the sciences. Not only did this distribute the load more evenly, but it also gave us individual time with our kids to nurture their own gifts and talents. and we were both still able to have our own careers. If it’s just you, or even if it’s just you while you’re also trying to juggle a new working-from-home schedule, you can do this.

The flexibility of the homeschool model is one of its great rewards. As we reclaim education for the kingdom across the county, let's make sure that we aren’t just recreating mini public schools in our homes. Remember, it’s not just the content of traditional education that's toxic; it’s also the methodology.

As a lifelong homeschooler, I'll share here a few helpful tips to get you started (or keep you going) on the journey. KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE: First, don’t panic. This is an incredible opportunity to spend time with your children and to discover and sharpen their gifts and talents. You will be amazed at how smart your children are and how much they already know! Focus on the benefits of being able to educate your children at home. Get a vision for the character growth and development you want to see in them. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS: Recognize that you know a lot more than you think. Moms tell me all the time that they don’t feel qualified to teach their kids anything. When I remind them that they’ve already taught their children to clap, to speak, to walk, to read, to write, to color, to use table manners, to play nicely with other children, and to interact appropriately with other human beings in general, they remember that they are indeed teachers by nature! (And if you haven’t yet taught them those last two skills, that’s a great starting point that will help you get through your week much more effectively and efficiently). PLAN AHEAD: Set a schedule the night before, recognizing that school won’t take 7 hours at home. In the traditional sector, 65% of the school day is spent on what we call classroom management (sit down/get out your books/stop throwing spitballs, etc.). Plan for 2-3 hours in elementary and no more than 3-4 for junior high to high school. And I would also recommend NOT starting before 9am. The 7:30am start times at traditional schools were not established for the emotional or physical health of children. Numerous studies show that kids do better in school when they start later rather than earlier. So, let them sleep in a little! Don’t worry. They will still get their work done--and they will be less moody and more focused during the day. Sleep deprivation is a very real concern for children, and you have the privilege of being the solution to that problem right now!

BEGIN WELL: Start your homeschool day with a time of conversation and devotion. Before you begin your homeschool journey, take some time to talk with your children about the adventure, what they can expect, and what you are excited about. Read a chapter of the Bible to your kids, discuss what it means and how it applies, and pray together as a family. Even very small children can understand the Bible and learn how to pray. Again, you’ll be amazed at how much your children know and how much they remember! As you move through the day, work in short bursts of time, depending on your student’s attention span. For little children, this may only be 20 minutes per subject area at a time, but even for high schoolers, avoid planning lengthy, non-interactive blocks for each subject. Discuss the learning together. Ask them questions. Have conversations. REMEMBER THE ARTS: We talk frequently on my radio show about the pressure today's parents feel to focus everything on academia. When we first started building homeschool academies 20 years ago, fun elective courses were very popular. Today, parents struggle with feeling like they're wasting time on classes if the focus isn't calculus or reading. Children of all ages need play-based learning and the creativity inspired by the arts. Children need a place to express and explore their creativity, even if it’s as simple as handing them a mini canvas and turning on a Bob Ross video for art class. You might even discover you have a budding artist on your hands! KEEP IT REAL: Have realistic expectations. It’s okay if you don’t get through everything you planned today. That doesn’t mean deep learning didn’t take place. And be realistic about academic expectations too. Your seven-year-old will not perform at peak efficiency if you require him or her (but especially him!) to sit quietly for two hours without a physical break. Kids (and adults) need outdoor time, mental rest time (especially boys, whose brains experience regularly occurring patterns of what neuroscience calls a “neural rest state”), and physical activity. Make rests and PE part of your day. Take a walk together. Go outside and watch the rain, the snow, the ocean, the sunset, the sunrise, collect leaves, listen to birds, enjoy the beauty of the natural world around you. Human beings need times of reflection and connection to grow and develop in a healthy manner. Build in both. FOCUS ON WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT: Focus on relationships and enjoying your time together. Children of every age need guidance and direction--what we call “scaffolding” in human development. They need to be socialized by trusted adults (way more than they need to be socialized by their peers). Integrate your kids into the real world instead of doing everything for them. Help them see (and learn) how you cook, clean, plan, run a household. When she was in fifth grade, our youngest child felt so empowered when we let her take over her own laundry duties that it literally became her favorite chore. You may even find your own “chores” growing a little lighter as you integrate your children into the household as participants rather than just spectators. We do a disservice to our kids when we cater to them and don’t expect anything of them. I know--for 20 years, I taught college students who are totally stressed out because they never learned to cook, clean, do laundry, create a budget, or care for themselves. Raising successful citizens of tomorrow means teaching them how to be adults today. AVOID PERFECTIONISM: You don’t have to know all the answers. Even as a college professor, I know that I can’t teach my students everything they need to know. Instead, I’m teaching my students how to learn – developing patterns of life-long learning that will help them succeed in the world and in the world of work. The same is true for homeschooling. We are teaching children how to learn, how to interact with others, how to develop social and emotional intelligence, how to find information, and how to process information. This last one is a vital skill in the “information” age. Our students need to know how to filter through what is real and what is false at every level of culture.

MAKE IT FUN! Harvard professor Dr. Shawn Achor has shown that learning is more actively retained when teachers or parents (or employers!) are positive communicators. As Proverbs 16:21 puts it, “Pleasant words promote instruction.” Our students actually learn more effectively when we are positive and encouraging in our feedback. Find small things to praise throughout the day instead of focusing only on weaknesses or mistakes. And have some fun! Incorporate games or puzzles throughout the day. Pick up some inspiring historical biographies on Amazon and read them aloud together. When kids are young, they typically love being read to. But somewhere along the way, we often stop that habit, and they (and we) forget how special it is. Keep those reading skills alive – reading strengthens the creative imagination and helps children learn to quiet themselves and practice self-discipline. This will be a powerful tool that will serve them well in adulthood too! BE ENCOURAGED: Know that you don't have to reinvent the wheel! There are numerous online and on-ground resources for making home education successful. Some of these include math games, puzzles, and simple support books for reading and language skills as well as online support centers. And many people have gone before you on this journey! In fact, prior to the Industrial Era, most children were educated at home. Family life was built around the context of transmitting the values and the craft of the family name to the next generation. In the Industrial Era, however, we developed a “factory model” of education. This one-size-fits-all modality of academic instruction became the norm, and this trend has continued to the present day. Right now, though, you have the opportunity to offer an individualized learning approach to your child! Be encouraged at the potential fruit you will see! As Denise Mira says, this is no ordinary child! Our kids were born for such a time as this! DON'T DO LIFE ALONE: Remember that there are supports all around you, so don’t do life alone. CVCU has launched 24 homeschool academies across the nation, and we are here to help you find your tribe, wherever you live! If you're local to San Diego, join us at our Chula Vista location for classes two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, join any of our partner academies across the US, or let us help you start your own church-based academy with our plug-and-play model. Find a tribe that will support and encourage you to be the best version of yourself. Or visit our Start an Academy tab to be the leader who brings together support in your community. For our family, homeschooling was one of the most incredibly rewarding journeys of our parenting lives. Your relationship with your children will be strengthened and deepened as a result of your time together. And one day, you will reap the harvest from your investment, as we are doing in our home now.

Home education builds stronger, more resilient homes and provides a “secure base” for attachment and confidence. And stronger homes strengthen the fabric of our society, so that’s a win-win for everyone! Most importantly, though, homeschooling is a purposeful and powerful methodology for ensuring the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next. As Psalm 102:18 says, “Let this be written for the next generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Your willingness to train up your child in the academic arena during this season will have a positive, lasting impact on your relationship and on your child’s sense of self. You can do this! As parents, we bear the mantle, the responsibility for training and discipling our kids to be self-governing, productive, followers of Jesus. It’s going to take intentionality and time. Remember that old saying, “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” And if you're a pastor in San Diego County, click our contact tab at for help on getting your church active in the homeschool support realm. It’s our responsibility as believers to make the needed sacrifices right now to steward and guide the next generation of champions for the kingdom of God.

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