Last month I drafted an article about how modern families would benefit from bringing more of our education and work back into the home. It went something like this:
Over the course of a few generations, modern life has become increasingly fractured: the various aspects of our lives have become disintegrated and we feel pulled in different directions. Modern families scatter during the day to their different places of work and education and come together at night for sleep and entertainment. In our modern life, home is simply where we recover from all of the working and learning done elsewhere.
This leaves us feeling like our time is not our own—our days are mostly scheduled by our employers and our schools; family time is simply what’s left over. Our fractured modern life weakens the bonds between husbands and wives, parents and children, because we don’t ‘do’ anything productive at home that binds us together.
In previous generations, the place of home held everything together: home was where children were raised, educated and trained, where the elderly were cared for, where food was grown, harvested and cooked; home was where business was done and money was made. The realms of home and work, the domestic and the economic, were much more integrated. Most of life was done at home and done more or less together.
Over the course of just a few weeks, my words have become outdated. Families across the world have brought their children’s education and their own work back into the home, not through their own choice, but because of the threat of COVID-19.
My words have become outdated. Families across the world have brought their children’s education and their own work back into the home
It’s tempting to see this situation purely negatively—as a terrible inconvenience to our daily lives. We have become accustomed to our homes, schools and workplaces staying in their separate spheres. But what if we take this opportunity to see things from a different angle? How could this moment in history help us to re-evaluate the way we live, work and raise our children? What could be the benefits to our families of learning and working at home together?
I strongly believe that bringing education and work back into the home can help us to live out our God-given calling as families. This series of articles will begin by focusing on two parts of this calling: parents as teachers and children as apprentices.
Parents as Teachers
In our modern world, we have largely outsourced our children’s education to schools and private tutors. A doctor friend expressed the modern expectation this way: “If your child is sick, you bring them to a doctor; if your child needs to learn something, you take them to a teacher!”
Over time, the remit of schools has grown bigger—they have gradually assumed more and more influence over our home lives. Having already spent six hours at school, an older child’s afternoon is still governed by their school, thanks to homework. Weekends are also fair game, with some schools requiring participation in sport and other activities. Schools have also taken over the teaching of values and the celebration of family events, such as Mothers’ Day.
It’s a vicious cycle: where parents don’t teach, schools step in; but the more schools take over, the less parents are inclined to teach.
But according to the Bible it is parents, not schools, who bear the primary responsibility for their children’s education. Parents are their children’s first and most significant teachers. The entire book of Proverbs takes the form of parental instruction:
Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
‘Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.’ (Proverbs 4:1-5)
As parents, we want our children to “graduate” from their childhood with the knowledge, skills and wisdom they will need for life as an adult. But on top of that, we want to equip our children with the knowledge of God, and their place within his world. The curriculum we teach covers theology, life skills and ethics.
Partnering with Schools from Home
While parents are ultimately responsible for our children’s education, we can choose to involve other people in their learning. Under normal circumstances, we partner with our children’s schools; with music teachers or sports coaches; with grandparents, aunts and uncles; and with the children’s ministry leaders at church. We are our children’s primary teachers, but we don’t have to teach them alone.
But now that many of these external providers are out of reach, it’s time for parents to step up. Thanks to the internet, we still have access to plenty of educational resources for subjects that fall outside our area of expertise. Our children’s schools may also provide us with material to use at home (in our case, almost too much!). But no matter how much “homeschooling” we outsource to others, let’s see this time as an opportunity to teach our children the things that we think they need to know for life.
We can engage with our kids’ school work: find out what they are studying and talk to them about it.
We can teach life skills like meal-planning and cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, house and car maintenance, caring for pets, budgeting, and stocktaking household supplies.
We can also take the opportunity to learn new things together. We can have a family discussion about what skills we’d like to learn or what we want to know about the world and make a plan to learn together. Asking questions like “I wonder why … ” or “I wonder how … ” is a good way to encourage a family culture of curiosity.
This could be the perfect time to fill in the gaps of our own education. Are there some “must-read” classic books you’ve never read? Are there some basic life skills you never mastered? Have you been hoping to learn or practise a foreign language? Why not start now, and bring your kids with you on the journey!
This could be the perfect time to fill in the gaps of our own education. Are there some “must-read” classic books you’ve never read? Are there some basic life skills you never mastered? Why not start now, and bring your kids with you on the journey!
For example, I recently told our children that I wanted to learn to learn some gardening skills. So we researched which seeds we could plant for the season, bought the seeds and planted them according the instructions on the packet.
In recent months our older sons wanted to learn how to solve the Rubik’s cube puzzle they had been given. So together we found a solution guide online and learnt how to solve it step-by-step.
Finally, we can use this time to share our favourite things. We can show our children the books, music, TV shows and movies that have shaped the way we see the world. We can think of the things we played, read and watched during our own childhood and pass them on to the next generation. I can remember being stuck at home during the school holidays in late 1990 when the Gulf War was happening. Nothing else was being broadcast on T.V. so we learnt how to play the old-fashioned game of knucklebone jacks!
In “normal” time, before COVID-19, my constant refrain seemed to be “Sorry, kids. We don’t have time for that.” When our sons wanted to play games before school or go to a park after school, I simply felt we couldn’t fit everything in. Almost every hour of the day seemed to be scheduled, either by school itself or by school-related tasks that crept into our home life. But now, we have plenty of time! So let’s use it to reclaim our role as our children’s primary teachers. And you never know—we might even have some fun and learn something new along the way.