Thomas and Julia Church
We “officially” homeschooled our seven children, from pre-K through twelfth grade. Although they were homeschooled in name, we had lots of help along the way. During the grammar years, we relied heavily on Calvert School Home Instruction Courses, at times even using their teacher advisory service. As we had preschoolers and various grade levels, an organized course of enriched instruction was invaluable.
Beginning in sixth grade, the day-by-day teacher’s manual was written to the student himself, encouraging our children to be more self-directed in their formal education. Since Calvert is not a “Christian” curriculum, it was necessary for us to apply biblical truth to what we were learning, which proved to be excellent preparation for when all seven of our children went to secular universities.
For one particularly challenging grammar school year, we were able to hire a recent college graduate from our congregation to work with two of our young students. This proved pivotal for us all: the teacher discovered her teaching gifts (she went on to teach at a Christian school and is now homeschooling her own children) and our family was able to continue its homeschooling path.
As our children began to move into the middle school and high school years, we collaborated with other families and began a “Thursday School” in which we employed teachers (local pastors, parents, and recent college grads) who were qualified in various subjects and who were able to bring a Reformed perspective to their material. The students met in classes on Thursdays and worked at home on the course material on the other four and sometimes even five days. Classroom space was graciously donated by our home congregation, Immanuel OPC in Bellmawr, New Jersey. These were rigorous courses, taught at a college-prep level. They taught not only the subject material, but also Christian worldview, college study techniques, and academic discipline. Some students were even prepared to take the AP exams in specific subjects.
There was one unanticipated benefit of this “school”: families from various denominations were exposed to Reformed theology. Two of these families eventually joined our congregation and even supplied both our church and our daughter church with elders!
If that was not resource enough, we also had the encouragement of a local Christian school. At our first meeting, the principal told us that “God gave families the responsibility of teaching their children, and we are here to help.” As homeschoolers, our children could choose from the school’s course offerings, attending part-time. They were considered part of the student body and were permitted to participate in almost all activities the school had to offer. When our youngest completed his high school education, his father was even asked to be the graduation speaker. This cooperative education proved to be beneficial to both the school and the students.
This all sounds like our schooling was structured and organized. Not so in the daily running. I would say that our homeschooling day, on the whole, was somewhat amorphous and chaotic. It was a true picture of life on this side of the fall. What an opportunity it was to turn from subsequent frustration to faith! And that is where the true benefit was: spiritual growth.
Homeschooling is both emotionally taxing and labor intensive, so we entered into it with much prayer, thought, and commitment. As our first child approached the kindergarten sign-up deadline, we discerned that he was not quite ready for structured learning away from home. Paradoxically, we were encouraged to take up the task of teaching him because of instruction that Julia received from a local public school’s early childhood education training group for moms of preschoolers. We were also told by a school teacher that it was critical for students in the early years to get help at home. The first-year progress of our son was so good that we were motivated to continue. Each year we reassessed both our family’s needs and our resources, always remaining open to beneficial changes. Homeschooling enabled us to play to our individual children’s strengths, while addressing weaknesses. Before too long, we were seeing so much benefit—not only academically, but especially spiritually—that homeschooling became our great joy.
All seven of our children, now grown and walking with the Lord, went on to successful undergraduate studies, where they were leaders in their campus Christian group, local church, pro-life group, residence, and even a fraternity. We are blessed with a family musician, a pediatric nurse, a theologian, a historian, a nutritionist, a lawyer, and even a neurosurgeon. Now they are becoming wonderful parents of the next generation!
And what of that next generation? Of course, we are home school advocates for our grandchildren. We are encouraging their parents to consider homeschooling, and some are being homeschooled right now. Nevertheless, we know that a good school that helps parents with their responsibility to teach their children is a wonderful asset. So we are pleased that two of our grandchildren are now attending Tall Oaks Classical Christian School in New Castle, Delaware.
The classical school definitely provides a contrast with homeschooling. While our children at times were homeschooled in their pajamas, the classical school requires a full uniform. The whole family of our two grandchildren in the classical school is loaded into a car for the morning drive across the bridge from New Jersey to Delaware. Once at school, the students join for prayer and the singing of a hymn (sometimes a psalm sung a cappella) before going to their classrooms. There are no Bible classes at the school, because all studies are infused with the Bible and the Christian worldview. The classical method of instruction recognizes three levels of learning and thinking, together known as the Trivium. These three are the Grammar, the Dialectic, and the Rhetoric stages, corresponding to the biblical terms knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The Grammar stage, K through sixth grade, is when the students learn the facts of their subjects through lots of memorization, often in song and hands-on learning. The Dialectic, grades 7–9, is when the facts learned are now used in logical thinking and analytical reasoning. During the Rhetoric stage, grades 10-12, the students conduct research, form their own conclusions, and effectively communicate their understanding. Students graduate from high school having written and defended a thesis. Along with lots of courses in music, art, and science, unique courses such as rhetoric, logic, Latin, Greek, and even etiquette are studied. Days, of course, are long and demanding for students, and travel time and tuition payments are involved for committed parents.
With this wealth of educational background, what do we recommend to young parents? Parenting is a full-time job—not just until kindergarten begins, but until high school graduation. Don’t give your responsibility over to others, but wisely use the wealth of resources available. Be realistic, knowing that we live this side of the Fall and that whatever course we take is never going to be perfect. Assess your gifts and resources and your children’s needs. Keep the goal of maturity in Christ before you, that your children “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9–10).
Thomas Church is the pastor of Immanuel OPC in Bellmawr, New Jersey. Julia is his wife. New Horizons, February 2016.