A Growth-Focused Approach to Homeschooling |

A Growth-Focused Approach to Homeschooling

admin August 2, 2011


Image by Avolore

By Jennifer Matlock, Contributing Writer

BACK TO SCHOOL!!!  It’s that time of year again.  School supplies are on sale, the kids are whining and the parents – apparently – are rejoicing.


That commercial annoys me, because it reminds me of all the people I know in my life who actually feel that way.  They’re excited, happy, and can’t wait for the kids to be gone to school all day.   How sad!

Don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of times when I wish I had the house to myself for a few hours.  I realized just the other day that while I can clean the house when the kids are around, I don’t like to because they begin dirtying up the newly cleaned areas before I can get the whole place done.  Just once, I’d like to walk around and admire an entirely-clean house for 5 minutes before the work begins again. 

I love being with my children, though.  I’m so blessed to be able to not only stay home with them when they’re young, but stay with them as they grow, teaching them and guiding them through every stage of life. 

Image by EvelynGigglesBACK TO SCHOOL means something very different to me.  Similar to the parent in the above commercial, I get excited about shopping for school supplies, although for a very different reason.  Walking out of Office Depot with bags of folders, pens, pencils, tape, glue, markers, crayons and paper puts a smile on my face; doing so when I’ve spent very little money on it puts an even bigger smile there – I love getting incredible bargains at this time of year!!! 

When I walk in the door at my house, my kids actually DO react like the ones in that video.  And no, I don’t pay them to do so.  They are just as excited about new school supplies as I am.  They are just as excited about our school year beginning as I am.

I’m heading into my 9th year of homeschooling this year.  Up through our 4th year, there was always the initial excitement about getting back to school, but after the newness of the fresh supplies and books wore off, we ran into an almost-daily problem: children who asked me “Do we have to do school today?”

That can lead to burn-out faster than you can say math drills.  Burn-out for the kids, burn-out for the mom.  Hey – we live less than 50 yards from the local elementary school.  Believe me, there were plenty of days when the school bus (which stops in front of our house) never looked more inviting.

After enduring this for years, I finally began to ask myself some hard questions about homeschooling.  I knew in my heart that we had good reasons to be homeschooling, and even through chronic illness and financial hardship it’s been very clear that we have been called by God to homeschool our kids.  It just didn’t seem as though I was following the right prescription for homeschooling if I could only squeeze in 10-15 days of “school” before the complaining commenced for the year. 

Thankfully, God knew that I was ready for what He had to show me, and that year he placed an abundance of resources in my path.  Books, conference speakers, blog posts, websites, audio lectures…  It seemed that everywhere I turned that year, I was finding more of the same ideas from new corners.  My eyes were opened to a whole new way of homeschooling; a whole new approach with a very different outcome in mind.

This may not be new to some of you.  Once I followed this rabbit trail and realized where it led, I had almost a “Well, DUH!” moment.  It was so obvious, and yet for years, it wasn’t.

So, what is “it?”

“It” is a growth-focused approach to homeschooling.  “It” says there’s more to education than simply academic achievement.  “It” looks different for every family, because every family is different.

Here are just a few of the ideas I found that have taken “schooling at home” out of our homeschool:

My highest priority is to raise men and women who love God and follow Him.  We may not get anything academic done during the day, but we spend time every single day reading, studying, and discussing the Bible, followed by time in prayer as a family.

To that same end, a good portion of our school day is spent on Worldview training (this year we’re using the curriculum from Summit Ministries – “Who is God?” for the elementary kids and “Lightbearers” for the middle/high school kids).  When it comes to “schooling,” my main concern is not for my kids to make straight A’s or be able to recite all of Shakespeare’s sonnets in order from memory.  It is for my children to have a real, deep and abiding relationship with their Creator and be able to not just keep their faith when they leave our home, but go out into the world and share it with passion and enthusiasm every day of their lives!

Relationships matter.  I funnel much more time and energy into training my children to love each other, serve each other and be kind to each other than most academic subjects.

Speaking of academic subjects, I require my children to master only two: Math and English (reading, writing, spelling, grammar).   In keeping our “core curriculum” to those two subjects, we have lots of time to branch out into a variety of general knowledge, which we do during the 3-4 hours a day I read aloud to them.

Their interests matter.   Part of the reason I read aloud for so long every day is to expose them to a variety of subjects, and a world of possibilities.  I would much rather my kids spend 2 hours digging into a subject or working on a project that they are interested in than spend 5 hours every day doing busy work for subjects they’ll never retain.  Many homeschooler would consider this “unschooling” and I find it quite funny that very few unschoolers would.  In general though, it makes sense to give children a broad, general knowledge base of most subjects, and allow them to explore in-depth the ones that interest them. 

Consider: Why is there a game show called “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”  It’s not because anyone believes that a 5th grader possesses a higher caliber of knowledge than most adults.  It’s because there are things you learn in 5th grade that you only retain long enough to get through 5th grade, then you forget them because they’re neither useful or relevant to your life. 

What ARE the things you remember?  The things that ARE useful and relevant to your life.  Releasing a child from a structured curriculum that requires them to learn/write/draw/illustrate The Water Cycle or explain the War of 1812 gives them the freedom to learn to think (instead of being told what to think) and learn to educate themselves in the subjects that are pertinent to their own lives.

I could probably write another 5,000 words on how and why to do this.  But instead, I’m going to challenge you to research it yourself, if it interests you.

I will say this: Since we moved to this method of homeschooling, the complaining has stopped.  “Do we have to do school today?” has changed to “DO WE GET TO DO SCHOOL TODAY???”    

Our summers are no longer filled with “I’m bored!” because they’re busy working on and thinking about the next project, the next idea, and digging deeper into the subjects they’re already interested in.

Goals are being set and pursued, projects are started, and children are thinking.  Best of all, around here, no one can wait to get BACK TO SCHOOL!!!

What about you?  What would it take to shift your homeschool to a Growth-Focused approach?  Or are you already there?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, so please share in the comments what you think!


Jennifer Matlock started writing before she actually knew how, pestering friends and family members to write down the stories she wanted to tell and ideas she wanted to document.  She’s been doing it on her own for over 30 years now, and currently writes about life, marriage, parenting, Christianity, homeschooling, Real Food, politics, having a temper tantrum in Target and more at Love Will Be Our Home.  Jennifer married Andrew in 1995, and is a full-time stay-at-home(schooling)-mom to Ryan (14), Aaron (11), Kaitlyn (7) and Megan (5).

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  1. Yup, the second comercial is much more like my life than the first one! My kids love school, new books, new markers, crayons and pencils. They even love math. I enjoy having them home and really can't imagine it any other way. Technically I don't "homeschool" since we use cyber school, but the result is the same, the curriculum goes through me, the teaching is done by me. I am ultimately in control of what the information is that they are getting and I decide how it should be presented.


  2. I love this article! I have a 3 1/2 year-old and a baby due in November, but I've been learning all about the different approaches to homeschooling for several years. My primary goal will be to raise children who love and follow God. My second goal will be to teach them to love to learn, and the third will be to teach them how to think. Yes, we will learn plenty of facts, but many of them will be forgotten, and that's okay. 🙂 The value of a love of learning will far surpass memorization drills in the long run! Thanks, Jennifer!


  3. This was a very interesting post that brought a new perspective to HS for me. We've considered HS for different reasons, and your approach takes a little bit of the anxiety out of it for me. Thanks for your thoughts!


  4. I liked this article a lot. (You may remember I didn't like the last one.) We're not a religious family, but I admire that your not-overtly-academic goals still feed into an academic year. A question: what made you decide that math and English are more important to master than other subjects? Will you always require those two, even if your children start to show no interest/underperform in those and want to focus on, say, music, instead? Just wondering, since your argument about explaining the War of 1812 is similar to my argument about Advanced Calculus. 🙂

    I still hope you'll do a car seat safety article some day.


  5. Thanks for the feedback Chan. 🙂 I believe Kate needs some extra posts this month anyway – I'll try to slip the car seat one in there for you!

    The reason I chose math and English as the only skills my children must master because I truly believe that if they have a solid grasp of those two, they truly can do just about anything. I suppose, if I could "teach" it, I would add in there a third subject: A solid work ethic. I hope that between my husband's example and the life lessons I'm using to train them, they will develop that as they grow.

    But in general, no matter what your interest is, you can pursue it if you have the ability to read. That should be enough to get you started in any subject and your own effort and determination can take you the rest of the way. Add to that the ability to easily write something that's easy to read and comprehend, and correctly spelled and they're already heads and shoulders above a huge percentage of their generation [U no wat i meen rt?] Part of English is also learning to speak well, so they, like, you know, don't, like, um, sound, um, like, you know, an idiot – again, another skill that puts them in a better life position than many of their contemporaries. With math skills, in life, understanding basic math and money skills can be the difference between poverty and financial security; knowing how to bisect the plane and which proofs are necessary to do so isn't going to get you anywhere unless it's directly related to your field of work, and you only go into that field if you truly "get" that math anyway!

    Anything beyond those two subjects is not going to make or break them in the real world. As an example of this: I actually am a 2nd generation homeschooler and in high school my mom had me doing a history course that was so biased that when I encountered others discussing a certain period in history that I'd studied in this course, I didn't even realize it was the same thing! What they knew and what I knew were two entirely different things, and yet I'm not a better or worse person for the version I studied. If I want to get the whole story of any event in history, I'm going to have to study more than one text to get it. Even now, students studying early American history in our local public school are getting an entirely different history lesson than anyone in our generation got and they're still only getting one biased account of it. The only person who studies any history from all the angles is someone who is interested in it and pursues it on his own accord.

    The same thing goes for much of science. For both of those subjects, I'd much rather my kids get a broad overview from a variety of viewpoints than sit down and be indoctrinated from one particular perspective. That's part of teaching them to think for themselves. I could read them three entirely different accounts of the same event and ask them to do some research on their own to figure out which account is the most accurate and why, and they've learned a whole lot more than just how to fill in the blank on some test.

    As for math: I do not intend to force my children to learn the "higher" maths (including geometry, trigonometry or Calculus); they are welcome to learn them if they are interested (though at some point, my math-inclined in-laws will be needed for tutoring, as they're much better than I at teaching and understanding the higher maths). After basic math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, percentages, money, calendar skills, etc) I think it's important to understand things like the difference between simple and compounding interest, budgeting, loans, investments and how to balance a checkbook; skills that most people who graduate from college don't even get. How many people do you know who have money in a savings account or CD earning maybe 3-4% at best, but they're paying the minimum balance on a credit card with 18% interest (netting the bank a solid 15% interest on your money!)? I want my kids to have a good understanding of the math skills needed to manage money well (as well as the money management skills that come from handling and investing your own money) so we will move in that direction once the basic math skills are mastered.

    Generally, they do learn other life skills just as a part of our home life. I suppose you could call it "Home Economics" that they are all learning to cook, clean, do laundry and care for their younger siblings. I don't really consider it a part of our homeschool so much as a part of our life, so I don't include it on the list of homeschool subjects.


  6. That sounds very much like what I want to do. I have a few basics I want my kid(s) to master, and for the rest I'd like them to be more self-directed and mess around with projects and things. It isn't because I think the academic stuff is less important, but because I honestly believe they will learn better if they are choosing their own direction.

    My only fear is that it will be more difficult. It's fairly simple to hand a kid a workbook and explain the instructions. Is it hard to come up with projects? Do the kids figure that out themselves more often, or do you plan everything? I'm not all that creative, as I found when I taught first grade — I just can't think of a fun projects every day.


  7. Sheila,

    You asked if it's hard to come up with projects. Not so far. Mostly because I've had the kids come up with their own ideas for projects. Granted, some kids are easier than others. My oldest son is VERY self-directed (he's my kid that not only does math without any complaining, but actually ASKS to take math on vacation and enjoys finishing his math books early so he can start the next one). He comes up with his projects and can lay out for me what he needs, where he needs to get it, what he's going to do with it, etc. He taught himself to play piano and guitar (well!) and just dives in head-first no matter what he's interested in, with no thought that he might be pursuing something hard or over his head. And it teaches me, because what I sometimes consider to be too much or too difficult for someone his age he just tackles and does, no problem.

    My next two (son, then daughter) are much less self-directed. If given free reign, they'd choose to sit and play computer or video games all day, with a movie thrown in there every once in a while for variety. With them, I generally have to pay attention enough to notice when they are showing some interest in one direction or another, and then gently push them that way. "You seem to be asking quite a few questions about electricity. Why don't get get out the snap circuits and do some experimenting?" It helps that we have a HUGE home library with a large variety of topics (it doesn't help that much of that library is currently in boxes awaiting bookshelves my husband has been promising to build for over a year). If they have any interest at all from something I'm reading, I can usually pull out a book or two on the subject right away, to get them started.

    We also have access to a bunch of libraries (we can essentially visit and borrow from ANY library in the entire state for $50/year) and arguably the best Children's Museum in the country (Indianapolis) that we have a family membership to. We check out lots of books on subjects that strike their imaginations, and often it's the books that give us ideas for projects, experiments and research. The other thing we have access to is the internet (THANK YOU!!!! whoever actually invented the internet!). I have to be honest – I am NOT a creative person, at least when it comes to making up projects or coming up with on-the-spot "curriculum". But a quick google search for "how electricity works experiments" yields a treasure-trove.

    As they get older, some of their interests are taking them beyond what we have the ability to provide within the home (easily, financially, etc.). That's where we move into an apprentice/internship-type opportunity. This can mean stepping outside your comfort zone (it did for me – I'm incredibly shy, hate talking on the phone, and don't make friends easily). It might be as easy as the kid going to work with dad for a few weeks or months, or working as an unpaid intern for a family member's business. It might mean asking around church to find someone who works in construction or as a pharmacist and discussing the possibility of the child (teenager) shadowing them at their job for a while. If the interest is in an academic area that can't be easily taught by mom, it might mean enrolling them for dual-credit (high school and college) courses at a nearby university or community college.

    Really, when they're young, interests tend to change quite a bit and going "in-depth" isn't going to be much more than reading a few books and doing a few activities related to the subject. If they continue to be interested, following that for a child is no different than you'd do if *you* were interested in something. Find local sources, find classes, Google activities, ask around for projects, join a club or group, etc.

    As they get older, more of that can become their own responsibility. My oldest son is convinced that one day he wants to work for Focus on the Family or write the Adventures in Odyssey. He is taking on the project to get in touch with people who do both, and pick their brains about what they do and how. He's writing a script and has found someone who is willing to read it when he's done and give him constructive criticism. He has mapped out a list of activities he wants to do the next time we're in Colorado Springs, and as soon as I give him firm dates he'll be getting in touch with a few people to ask when a good time to take them to lunch and ask them some questions about their job would be (he's paying, and promising to take no more than an hour of their time).

    It does seem overwhelming, when you first consider it. I did have a very hard time making that transition from a well-scheduled day with plenty of workbooks and already-planned activities to this less-structured way of teaching. But taking it one child, and one day at a time, it really is a very freeing, and AMAZING way to homeschool. My kids never cease to amaze me with their creativity and determination to figure things out.


  8. Are there non-religious approaches to homeschooling? You said: "My highest priority is to raise men and women who love God and follow Him." and I see that line of thinking a lot with the homeschooling blogs I read and the people in my community who homeschool.


  9. Rebecca,

    There are plenty of non-religious approaches to homeschooling. In fact, very many of the "styles" of homeschooling do not have any religious requirements, nor are they based on any religion. For instance, the book The Well-Trained Mind is considered the "bible" for the Classical education style of homeschooling, and it only contains two brief mentions of the actual Bible – the first in a long list of suggestions for reading resources for elementary students, the second in a list of resources for history studies for children in the logic stage – much less any specific religion in the entire book. Likewise, the "atmosphere" portion of the Charlotte Mason style is approached by some homeschoolers as "the great outdoors" and by religious homeschoolers as "all of God's creation". Even some homeschool styles/curriculums that claim to be specifically religious (for instance, Sonlight, which uses "great books" to teach most of the academic subjects) are based on a general philosophy that can be used without the religious component.

    More and more secular homeschool groups are popping up around the country, as well as online communities. For instance, the online homeschooling community at mothering.com is intentionally secular – while you are "allowed" to express or post religious beliefs and questions in the forums, those who do generally hear the chirp of crickets after doing so.

    In general, the current (1970's – now) homeschooling movement was BEGUN by Christian families that did not want their children exposed to the increasingly God-less indoctrination of the public school system. Much of the homeschooling freedoms we enjoy today are there because Christian lawyers banded together and began fighting the states for the right to homeschool and for limited interference from the state. Even now, a large majority of homeschoolers are Christian, whether or not they are homeschooling for religious reasons or other reasons.

    This is more than you asked for, but I wanted to make it clear that I don't consider myself as homeschooling for religious reasons, actually. I do, however, know that my children's path in life will largely be determined by the way they see the world (worldview). Even if they were in public school, my 1st goal would be to help them understand the different worldviews that are currently held today, how to determine which worldview is at play in different situations, and where each of those worldviews lead. Quite frankly, I would much rather introduce them to the world that way and allow them to understand and think through things themselves and come to their own conclusions than simply go through childhood believing what I believe because *I* believe it. I want their faith to be their own. So when I say my highest priority is to raise men and women who love God and follow them, I want it to be because they've gotten to that through reason, logic, understanding and a thorough understanding of the alternatives.


  10. With the public school system gearing up for another year, we get a lot of "What grade are you going to be in?" questions when we're out. My son will be 6 in less than two months. Even when I answer, "Whatever grade we choose." and my son answers. "homeschool" people still need to quantify it with, "Well you'd be going into____". I find it kinda funny.

    We're mostly unschooling too. He's not about to sit at the table and do worksheets even for 5 minutes, so learning around here is creative. I'm currently reading 3 books about the Charlotte Mason approach and I think we'll be leaning that direction. My only objection to her approach so far is that children don't need to be shaped or molded. Yes, kids are already people with their own minds and preferences, etc, but they still need direction and training. Maybe it's just semantics.

    Thanks for a good story from what works with your family!


  11. I have a question for experienced homeschoolers. My 7 yr old and I have been homeschooling using a cyberschool since kindergarten. She's set to start 2nd grade but still cannot read past a K level. I've decided to pull her out of the cyber school and take this upcoming year to focus on her reading and math skills. My question: Does anyone have any recommendations for teaching a reluctant reader? She absolutely hates to sit with me and sound out her words. She'd much rather I just read to her, which I do. The problem with that is that she doesn't follow along with me while I read. She just closes her eyes and imagines the story I'm reading. Her comprehension and vocabulary are wonderful. She just refuses to read. Please help!!


  12. […] I don’t regret my decision for a moment. There are so many benefits to homeschooling.  […]


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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