Our local Family Christian bookstore is closing next month, and everything is 50% off, so I took the kids there last week in search of a couple of children’s bibles. That search proved fruitless, but I did stumble upon a fascinating book that I was so tempted to buy, called The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family’s Method to College Ready by Age Twelve by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding.
I reluctantly left it on the shelf, with hopes that our library system might have it somewhere on the shelves. They did not disappoint. (Can I just say how amazed I am at all the wonderful books available through our library, both old and nearly forgotten and hot off the presses? I am so very thankful for this wonderful community resource!)
Two days later, I had my borrowed copy in hand. It stayed there until 10:15pm, when I turned the last page. My first thought: Why are Judah and Phinehas not at home with me? Why in the world did I send them away to school? They are already in their first week of school, and each day I wish I had them home learning with me.
This isn’t to say that I have been the most excellent instructor or that they are the easiest kids to have around all day. (I have a moody pre-adolescent who shared last night that when he grows up, he wants to live in an underground home in the wilderness, away from everyone, and design “things” that will make him rich in the populated world; should I be concerned? Then, there’s my 10-year old, who I “affectionately” refer to as the “third parent” in our house; need I say more?) Still, it seems like a disservice to them to make them sit amongst their prepubescent peers, memorizing their facts and figures to get good grades, all the while never truly loving the learning experience.
Meanwhile, I have three still at home who are imagining, creating, exploring, and learning about whatever interests them. My eight-year old is free to use his creative gifts to draw and build and write and read voraciously about the rain forest or medieval knights or Greek mythology. What are my older boys really passionate about? What could they be spending their time delving into with gusto? What does the Lord have in store for them? Wouldn’t it be great to get started earlier than later, after all the marrow of life is sucked out of them from years of school?
Back to the book- sorry:) This family does just that with their 10 kids (6 of which have already gone to college by or before age 12): first, they teach their children to read, then they move on to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. The children read the Bible, copy verses from Proverbs, write letters, essays, or creative works (which are corrected for spelling and grammar), work through math books (umm, yeah, they are doing algebra at age 8), and read widely from real books about science and history.
There are field trips and chores and family time. and along the way, these children discover their God given gifts and callings and are able to pursue them with a college degree by as young as 15 years old. Once they are 10 years old, they begin studying for the ACT/SAT, which they take maybe once or twice before entering college. There was no gifted and talented gene that ensured this outcome, just a family’s love, instruction in God’s Word, and the enthusiastic encouragement and support needed to achieve their dreams. Isn’t that what we want for our children: to love God and family, and to pursue His calling for their lives?
In their book, the Hardings share many anecdotes from their experience. They are honest and joyful in their writing, and their love and appreciation for each child is evident. They share the obstacles they faced and the creative ways they worked through or around them. They explain a little of their methodology and their daily routine, as well as how to fill out transcripts. Nothing seems extraordinarily out of the ordinary or extreme in their measures.
I found myself greatly encouraged to pursue the instruction of the ones I do have at home with more intentionality and joy. I hope to free myself from the bindings of curriculum-driven instruction to a more purposeful yet free form of learning. I feel like anything is possible for my children, and I am the guide to help them get there.
Of course, we have not even begun school yet here at home. Monday is the BIG DAY, and their textbooks and workbooks sit neatly on the shelves, waiting to be read and filled in neatly and routinely. I look at them, and my heart sinks a bit, knowing the fight I will have to get my 1st and 3rd grader to finish their work in a timely manner. I feel beholden to the curriculum I have used for seven years now, but I am longing for something more for my children at the same time.
It’s not that the curriculum is bad; I love and respect it and have shared it with others (we use Rod & Staff in the primary grades). It’s not that my sons’ school is bad either; the teachers are excellent, and they instruct my boys with great faith, love, wisdom, and experience. I am so thankful that we have a quality Christian school right in our neighborhood.
No, it’s the system that is flawed: the inefficiency of herding children from one class to another and cumulative waiting times throughout the day, the lack of one-to-one instruction, and the inability to pursue one’s passions or to dig deep into an area of individual interest. After eight hours of corporate instruction, can I really expect my child to pursue personal learning any further than the homework he is given? There are only so many productive hours in a day.
After reading The Brainy Bunch, I have determined to do what I can to improve the climate of learning within my home, both with my boys in school and my children at home. I will enjoy them, encourage their curiosity, assist them in finding the answers and the resources for their questions, allow them to explore areas of interest, and ensure that they are indeed learning each day. I will love them, just as they are, while exhorting them to grow into the men and women God has designed them to be mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and vocationally. (I am still working out the details on how I will accomplish all of this:)).
Whether we are homeschooling or “after-schooling” as they call it, we have countless opportunities to learn with, from, and about our children. Have you read this book or seen the family on TV? What have you taken away from hearing their story?