By guest author Lyndsay Lambert
A friend of mine once told me that if she was going to homeschool, she wanted to give her children things that they could not get anywhere else. I liked that, so I began to think about what that would be for my family. I decided it would be an education that incorporates Scripture and character into all aspects of the curricula.
We believed that if we could teach our children to work with numbers, to read, and to write and train them in character, they could educate themselves. How? They would have the tools and the desire, as well as the character needed to persevere. That does not mean we did not pursue academics; rather, we emphasized tools and character training as the most important part of schooling.
Character is moral or ethical quality. According to Character First, “Good character is the inward values that determine outward actions.” In practical terms, character is knowing what is expected and understanding why it is valuable to the extent that you are willing to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
Why is character training important? Honestly, it makes everyone’s life easier. Think about it. If a person knows how to exhibit, for example, self-control, honor, contentment, and truthfulness, he will get along better with peers, he will be a better employee, and his parents will have more joy in raising him.
Also, our hearts’ desire was that all of our children would come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior at an early age and learn to walk with Him. We all come to Jesus with “grave clothes,” so to speak—habits and qualities that need to be “taken off” in the new life. We regarded character training as a way to help our children develop qualities and habits that would ease the transition from unsaved to serving the Savior.
So what are the four tools?
We believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God—the final authority for all truth and practice. In other words, it is God’s handbook for life. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV) tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
One day while meditating on this passage, I noticed a progression. The Bible teaches us God’s way. Doctrine tells us what that way is, reproof tells us how we have gotten off the right path, correction leads us back to the path, and instruction in righteousness teaches us how to stay on the path.
Psalm 119:11 says that hiding Scripture in his heart helps a young man to not sin against God. Have your children memorize Scripture. I made it a school requirement and put their weekly memory verse on their assignment sheet. (Hey, it’s your school; you can require whatever you deem necessary!)
Also, using Scripture helps your children understand that they are accountable to God, not just to you. You are not always going to be with them when they come to important crossroads in their lives—when character makes a difference—but God will be.
Some of our most used verses were Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another,” Philippians 2:3–4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself,” and 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,” as well as many verses from Proverbs. It’s probably apparent why these verses were some of our most frequently used!
I found it helpful and less time-consuming to start with a curriculum. Some curricula focus on individual qualities, starting with a definition then providing examples from real life or nature. Some reference applicable Bible verses and stories, and some suggest ways to demonstrate the particular character quality.
Take, for example, the character quality of attentiveness. (I have heard that it should be the first quality you teach, because if a child is not attentive, you will not be able to teach him anything else. Good point.)
Definition of Attentiveness: Showing the worth of a person or task by giving my undivided concentration (Character First)
Opposite: Unconcern (Character Journal)
Verses: Deuteronomy 12:28, John 10:27, Hebrews 2:1
Bible stories: 1 Samuel 3—Samuel hears God calling, Matthew 13—Parable of the Sower
Nature stories: “The Wood Duck” (Character Journal)
Have you ever noticed how quiet it gets in church when the speaker illustrates a point by way of a story? It seems to grab everyone’s attention, including young children’s. Teaching character qualities using stories is no different.
Stories can be about, well, anything! They can be from books, Bible stories, real-life situations (their life, your life, or someone else they know), nature, world history, your own history, etc. They can even be made up!
For example, a story from Little House in the Big Woods came in handy once when I took one of my children to the doctor to learn the child was feigning sickness to get attention (I was pretty sure this was the motivation). A big storm was coming, and Laura Ingalls’ father and uncle were trying to bring in the harvest before it hit.
Laura’s cousin didn’t want to help. Several times he “cried wolf,” faking an injury, and distracting the men from their urgent task. Then when he actually jumped on a hornet’s nest and was being stung severely, they chose to ignore his cries.
I followed that with a story from my childhood about how I had told my parents I was sick when I actually wasn’t. Later when I did in fact feel bad, they didn’t believe me, and I threw up—in church! How embarrassing!
I had learned the hard way as a child, but my story helped my child get the point, and we made no more false runs to the doctor.
Leading by Example
The most important tool is the hardest to implement! And yet, the other tools may not work without this one.
Remember that oft-quoted and oft-hated saying of some parents, “Do as I say, not as I do”? Unfortunately, that rarely works, because children are little mirrors! W.E.B. DuBois rightly opined, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” Put another way, “Children catch more than they are taught!”
Does this mean that you should not require your children to work on a particular character quality until you consistently exhibit that quality? Not at all! One of the great things about homeschooling is how much we as parents get to learn alongside our children. Working on our own character is a part of that.
A friend of mine calls homeschooling “sanctification on steroids.” However, if you wait until you are perfect to require certain behaviors of your children—face it—it will never happen!
In summary, use a curriculum. It’s a good starting point. Teach your children that in all areas, including in our character development, Scripture has the final word. Help them understand that everyone will exhibit character. Theirs should please the Lord.
Then pray like crazy! Ask God to help you be a good example to your children. Ask Him to help you be aware of areas in your life and in the lives of your children that need work, and pray for wisdom on how to best proceed (James 1:5). Ask God to bring to mind and across your path stories you can use to help your children understand what good character is.
Never forget that you are dealing with human beings (translation: sinners). They are probably not going to learn to exhibit good character after the first lesson—it may not even happen in your lifetime. God has not promised us that we will be successful, but He has called us to be faithful!