Jane Kirkpatrick skillfully weaves the personal story of Ivy Cromartie Stranahan with the history of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This beautiful yet powerful historical fiction reminds its readers that history is made by individuals and defines individuals. Things that can be mentioned in passing, like illness, hurricanes or financial discrepancies can actually change the course of history. And the decisions one person makes for the sake of others can rescue an entire people group. The weaving of words in this book has inspired me to look differently at my life and to see Florida with new eyes.
From the moment they take their first breath, children have a desire to learn. It’s innate; an instinct over which they have no control. This is how they learn language, how to engage with the people around them and what their place is in society. They absorb, observe, imitate and master in a continuous cycle. This ability to learn is as much a gifting as it is a survival mechanism. It’s a resource that should be nurtured and guarded.
Children approach learning with enthusiasm. They see it as an adventure of discovery; to them new knowledge and skills open doors to wonderful new worlds and experiences. When I was a classroom teacher it broke my heart to see the apathy in some students and resentment in others towards education. They wanted the least amount of work possible and hated assignments that demanded anything more from them than the minimum. What happened over their dozen years of life to change their delight in learning to disdain?
I have pondered this question ever since, and even more intently as I begin educating my own children. I have come to the following three conclusions in how to cultivate the posture of the student’s mind towards learning:
- Make learning a way of life: Once a week I take our schooling to the park. It’s important for the children to see that learning isn’t limited to what happens at the dining room table; it happens continuously. We are always looking for new things to do and try and discuss and I emphasize that we are learning new things. What is learned in our school hour is referred to over and over again throughout the day and week to link school and life. And what we experience throughout the day is mentioned in school to illustrate the need for new tools.
- The teacher needs to love learning: My attitude is contagious. And as their learning guide I set the tone for our school experience. If I don’t like something, neither will they. If I love something, most likely they will too. But this doesn’t only apply to our school hour; it translates to my personal interests. I read on my own and talk about what I’m reading. I chat with other people and share what I have learned from them. I listen to sermons and podcasts around the kids. I attempt new recipes and practice new skills and tell the kids that I love learning new things. I want them to be excited that there is always more to learn.
- Beware of fast food learning tools: Just as microwave dinners, bags of chips, and drive-thru burgers taste so delicious and are easy ways to soothe hunger pains, so it is with many common learning tools today. Educational shows, electronic learning devices, and battery-operated toys mesmerize and entertain young minds while sprinkling in ABCs and 1-2-3. Parents breathe a sigh of relief for a moment’s reprieve while feeling satisfied that their kids are learning something. These things can be a fun treat in small doses but if they are the primary educators they will condition a child’s mind to being entertained rather than being challenged and stretched. Learning that lasts comes through tapping into the imagination, hands-on experience and stimulation of all of the senses, not just one or two.
As a teacher I have been given all the tools I need for a successful educational journey: my 5 students. They want to learn. My responsibility is not so much to teach them new things but to cultivate, guide and guard their ability to learn them. I want to fan the flame of their imaginations and ignite the spark of possibility within them: that they can be and do and love and experience all that God wants them to.
Last week I introduced the philosophy of education which is guiding me in the instruction of our children. I explained how this philosophy incorporates four heart postures that I wish to cultivate within our little students. The first one is the most critical as it has eternal impact, quickly followed by the second which involves the child’s influence on others.
From a very young age children must learn that they are not their own authority. God is; and their parents are His representatives. This truth is taught through intentional boundaries, consistent discipline and daily instruction in God’s word. Children have a way of testing boundaries and resisting authority and we explain to them that these tendencies reveal the condition of their hearts. They are sinners in need of a Savior. At first this may sound harsh but we do not tell them this to demean them; we explain this to them so that they will seek Jesus as their first love. Our little ones are being immersed in God’s Word. Our children are already learning the Shorter Catechism, the Ten Commandments, and the Fruit of the Spirit. We are reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation to help them grow in their familiarity of and love for the Bible. Music is another heartbeat of our home. Every night they listen to classical music or Scripture put to song. I hear them humming these songs to themselves throughout the day. Their commitment to Him will influence all of their future decisions and determine their view of themselves and others: as precious souls created in the image of God, designed to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
Their posture towards God: repentant before Him, surrendered to His service and confident of His presence in their lives, shapes their posture towards their fellow man. This is developed in their worldview, an understanding of the world in which they live, both the natural world and the social. Scripture is to be their first guide in helping them to process their convictions and opinions. This is supplemented with other rich literature and frequent family discussions at meals, on walks or before bed. We are also training them in social etiquette, responsibility for the natural world and their possessions, and respect for each other. We want them to see that even now, at the tender ages of 5, 3, and younger, they can bless others and care for the world around them. In order for virtue to be valuable to our children it must be instilled in them while their character is being formed. Norms are established in childhood which is why education is critical.
It’s easy to feel like I am occupying time as I wait for God to show me the great work He has planned for me to do for Him. But I’m beginning to understand that this is that great work. It doesn’t matter if they become doctors or lawyers; I don’t care if they save a million lives or just one. What matters most to me is that all five will love Jesus with their entirety and seek to point others to Him.
With the advent of our homeschool journey, it seems appropriate to develop and record the philosophy which guides my teaching. I am blessed with a wide range of exposure to academic institutions: home education, community college, private university, state university, public high school, public middle school and Christian middle school. These experiences have introduced me to diverse teaching styles, philosophies and learning strategies. Along the way I have incorporated some into my own philosophy and rejected others. My teaching style is organic, adapting as necessary to the tone of the day; my philosophy, the assembled convictions that guide what I teach, will be a constant as my students and I grow.
It is ironic to observe the evolution of education in America across the centuries. There was a point where schooling was minimal (Abraham Lincoln was self-taught) to now feeling like children must be in preschool for 8 hours a day. The Greatest Generation learned the core subjects and defeated the Axis of Evil; today’s students are receiving sexual preference and tolerance education. Will they be equipped to defeat the next evil which threatens the world? The difference between the victories of then and the weakness of now is that we have gone from teaching how to think to teaching what to think.
My philosophy of education incorporates four postures a student should develop in order to know what he thinks so he can articulate it and act upon it:
- The posture of the soul towards God: education is meaningless without an assurance of eternity with God
- The posture of the heart towards man: education is empty unless it benefits mankind and teaches us to do good for our neighbor
- The posture of the mind towards learning: education has no ending and should be embraced with an eagerness to learn more
- The posture of the body towards living: education develops a healthy mind that needs a healthy body in which to reside
Over the next few weeks I will expound on these postures and share the vision I hold for my little students.
It seems appropriate that my blogging topic of the month is exploration since August is your month, my son. All month we have been excitedly planning your birthday and now it is only 3 days away. You have big plans for your fifth year and I have a feeling they will be achieved- because that’s the kind of person you are.
At the cusp of five-years old, your personality is quite defined. You’re a thinker, a planner, a leader, a storyteller, and an explorer. To me, you define boyhood. You are inquisitive in your thoughts; meticulous in your planning (even carrying a little notebook for your plans); enthusiastic in your leadership; detailed in the stories you create and relate to us; and bold in your explorations of the backyard or your own imagination. But something I admire the most about you is your steadiness.
Ever since you were a baby you embraced your own pace. You reached the developmental milestones but always later than the average. Initially I fretted but once I knew you were fine I sat back and enjoyed observing you. You steadily got to where you wanted to go or needed to be. This trait has become your trademark, whether it’s in walking, riding a bike, putting on your belt by yourself, or catching frogs and geckos. And once you achieve your goals, you have them mastered with confidence.
Explorers need that steadiness, Son. They need to be determined in pursuing their dream of discovering the unknown. While you may not discover an unmapped land or encounter a nameless people, there will always be something new to discover about our fathomless God. And as you discover more and more about Him, He will take you to incredible places that will require every ounce of courage you can muster.
We are swiftly entering an era where evil is being called good and good is being called evil. Your peers are going to want to remain in the darkness and will resent you for shining the light of Jesus into their lives. My prayer for you is that your boyhood ideals will mature into the character that will define you as a man: a man who will not minimize what matters nor treat the mysteries of God with indifference. Be bold, young explorer, and never forget to bring your shield.
“Who is man that Thou art mindful of him?” This question, penned thousands of years ago, is still relevant today. I think everyone wants to know who they are, what they are and why they are. I know I do.
I am always asking myself why I hold the aspirations I have; why I’m feeling the way I do; what motivates me and what discourages me; and how I can improve. And then I wonder why I strive so hard only to fail again and again. I know the odds are against me until I’m with Christ in person. It’s easy for me to only see where I fall short, how I’m a stumbling block for others and the long list of should’s scrolling through my head. But that’s where my explorations continue.
As much as I long for perfect contentment I realize it will never happen. I will have moments of perfection but they won’t last. I am an imperfect human who will never achieve the perfection I desire in heart, home or happiness and I can see that that is a good thing. The fruit of my faith is finding God glorified in the mess:
- feeling the pain of others’ because I’ve felt pain too
- Refusing a critical spirit because I’m not a perfect mom either
- Love welling up inside when I see my children in the midst of their fits
- Learning to slow down and to embrace the slower pace
- Accepting the shorter to-do list and recognizing that life has still been well lived today
- Remembering I’ve been here before and will make it through again.
As I question and explore I go deeper into my faith and my God. Who can fathom “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God? It’s in my shortcomings that I’m reminded of the length of His mercy; it’s the desires of my heart that give depth to my prayers; it’s the fears and unknowns that fill me with gratitude for the breadth of His outstretched arms; and when life feels bleak my gaze reaches heavenward.
Exploration means offering yourself opportunities to see things from a different perspective; it means admitting that you don’t know everything; it means being willing to learn something new. Explorers need to be humble because what you discover might shine light on what better ways to live or correct mistakes you didn’t even realize you were making.
Friendship is a fantastic way of encountering a variety of perspectives since every friend has a unique personality, passion and plan for life. I am blessed with friends all over the world and the United States who are seeking to live well. Through them I have learned that my way of living isn’t the only way to live.
Truthfully, I struggle with insecurity fed by pride. I feel like if someone else does something differently than I do it means I’m wrong and if I’m wrong I’m a failure. Jesus is working with me on this and one tool He is using is friendship. This summer He surprised me with an abundance of IN-PERSON visits with beloved friends. Oh! There’s nothing like being able to chat face-to-face! I have also been building brand new friendships and cultivating faithful friendships. In all of these I have discovered a wealth of wisdom for how to live victoriously.
It’s impossible to know all there is to know about teaching, parenting, marriage, loving Jesus, and living well. There simply aren’t enough hours in a lifetime! But you can certainly tag-team life together with quality friends. Here are some exploration tips to go deeper with your friends:
- Discuss your latest reads
- Share thoughts on news headlines
- Swap recipes
- Brainstorm parenting challenges
- Be honest about your mishaps
- Glean new ideas
- Pray together
- Provide fashion tips
- Inspire healthy living habits
- Build one another up in the faith
- Hold each other accountable
- Don’t hesitate to inquire
I am thankful that my friends aren’t just like me. We share similar desires, values and interests but our approaches to living are unique. This provides all of us with a sampling of life experiences that we would otherwise miss. And I’m discovering that doing things differently from others doesn’t mean I’m wrong or a failure. There’s freedom in that discovery.
How have you been enriched by your friendships?