Raising Our Children to be Like Jesus

    by Renee Miller

Image by Stephen C. Weber.

Image by Stephen C. Weber.

One aspect I love most about Classical and Christian Education is introducing our children to the greatest minds of history and the heroes of the faith. Jesus says in Luke 6:40: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

I believe this scripture is saying that no one is above Jesus, the ultimate teacher. It is my job as a parent and homeschooler to lead my children to be like Jesus.

The Bible instructs us to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord as we stand up, sit down, and live our lives. This gives me great motivation to continue to grow and learn myself. But it also worries me that I might be limiting my children. So as a humble mother who lives in a small rural town, I try to connect my children with both mentors as well as men and women throughout history who have walked with God and, “it was counted unto them as righteousness.” I’m constantly on the lookout for other mentors who can help my children be more like Jesus.

I find it interesting that who is teaching our children is given so little thought in our current culture. In a study done by the Barna Group Research Institute, upwards of 75% of children will leave the faith of their parents as adults. Is there a connection between who mentors/teaches them throughout their childhood and whether or not they stay faithful? I think so.

I’ve known a number of parents who haven’t left their children with even a babysitter until they turn five. Then they leave their vulnerable child with an adult they don’t even know for 40 hours, five days a week for the next 13 years. Somehow our culture has convinced us this is normal–even desirable–and to question this puts you out of the norm. And, honestly, most kindergarten teachers I know are lovely people, so it seems so reasonable at first.

This leads me to reflecting on comments I heard recently in a lecture by Voddie Baucham. He recounts how people always ask the same questions when they realize he homeschools his children. First, there is always the socialization question. (My answer: “I’m not sending them to school to become a socialist.”) The next question: Is it legal or approved by the government? (“Of course it’s legal and who made it the government’s job to teach my children?”) What struck him was the sameness of the objections. I’ve experienced these questions, too.

When the majority have been schooled by the government, we really do think more the same than we realize. This is in stark contrast to my experience working with our children. They rarely ask the same questions about anything. In contrast to the 75% of children raised in Christian homes but who attend government schools, 95% of homeschooled children will remain in the faith. These are the children who have grown up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, steeped in Biblical wisdom, and nourished by the great men and women of history.

It’s worth noting that the verse before Luke 6:40 reads, “[Jesus] told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Great mentors and teachers are to be found everywhere: in Scripture, in classic literature, in your community, in your home. These teachers will encourage our children to not only “keep the faith,” but to lead our children to be like Jesus.

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    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

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On Being in Community

Diversity

“Diversity”

    By Renee Miller

Over the years many unique and interesting families have been a part of our community: Christian, non-Christian, gifted children, special needs children, above average children, below average children, families with means, families who sacrifice to pay tuition–the list goes on. With so much diversity, how do we handle so many people as they come into our communities? How do we even create community? For those of us who feel passionately called to Christian education–both at home and in the private school setting–one of the most difficult areas in which to find balance is between family and community.

Where is the healthy balance? After many years of homeschooling and private schooling, I can assure you that I do not have the answer. However, I think a continuing dialogue is important.

As we cast about for a vision of Christian community and Christian education, it will likely emphasize rebuilding paradigms around healthy families, raising abysmally low educational standards, and promoting Christian ideals in dress, courtship, and basic civility. Creating this kind of culture is a full-scale battle. So how are families approaching this community-building?

On one extreme, I’ve observed families who focus entirely on their own children’s gifts and talents, and see the community as a threat to raising Godly progeny. These families can be quite critical of the areas where community falls short. Somehow, the community never measures up theologically, behaviorally, socially or otherwise. They tend to have unreachable and naïve expectations of what can be accomplished with a group of sinful, fallen people awash in the sewage of our generation. Jesus can transform us all in amazing ways, but it is hard work on everyone’s part.

In the other extreme, parents rely on and continually seek other people to do the job for them. These families hope that the parenting thing will not be too costly or time-consuming. They are often more consumer-oriented, on board as long as it is working well for their children. Their commitment can be short and fun, and like our general consumer culture they move quickly on to the next bigger or better thing. They’re glad to benefit from other people’s hard work and investment yet very reluctant to sacrifice for someone else.

All families need people who will come alongside them and help create safe havens of community where they can be challenged and nurtured. Families need for us to not simply say we don’t have the expertise, money, or experience to deal with their difficult situations. We are keenly aware of the millstone around the neck story and the incredible challenge to bless children and not irrevocably harm them. So we need to be careful to not whisk by in our minivans with fish on the back and leave families lying bruised by the roadside.

Working with people and being in community is hard but rewarding. It is the very practical side of learning to work with people we can’t stand, who are merely reflections back to us of all the miserable things we don’t like about ourselves. It is about modeling for our children how to resolve conflict and develop the discernment to know what is of eternal significance.

Fortunately, we are mercifully in possession of God’s Word, which has the wisdom to help us navigate the rocky roads of relationships creatively–and sometimes miraculously! It’s in the Word that we can find solutions to the problems that come to us.

Our triune God exists in community. He calls us into community. He calls us into families. When we get it right, however fleeting the moment, it reflects the character of God to the world in a way that few other things can.

You are Invited to Respond: What’s a situation you’ve been in where you’ve seen a true community at work?

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    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

Cultivating Confidence

    By Renee Miller

self-confidence[1]A while back, a teacher at a local dance studio commented that our Garden School students show a lot of self-confidence. She said they’re always “game” and willing to try new things. I’ve noticed this, too, and was reflecting on what helps to instill this quality in our children.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

We try to keep a lid on kids ridiculing each other. This is often their first response when they feel nervous or afraid themselves. It is also common in most of our own school experiences. So it takes a concerted, conscious effort to develop a school culture where the students respect each other and support one another’s efforts. We give our students lots of opportunities to succeed in a supportive environment, and that builds their confidence.

This is not to be confused with the “Oh, Johnny, you’re so amazing” nonsense when, in fact, he’s not, and we both know it. Truth must always under gird any culture where we expect respect. Boys especially can’t stand empty falseness. This means there is a time when a student’s effort is questioned and he or she is encouraged to do better.

Also, we are of the opinion that every child is uniquely gifted for a purpose in this world. This powerful idea intrigues children. We aren’t expecting them to excel at everything. Instead we ask them, “What has God given you a passion for?” and, further, “How can you encourage another student to discover his or her areas of giftedness?” This is quite different from the notion that you can be anything you want to be.

Another thing we do is to foster an environment that has rich, multi-age interactions. A group of thirty 13-year-old girls just don’t behave as well as a group of thirty girls from the ages of 2 to 80. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time with groups of junior high girls. It tends to bring the best out in people to be aware that they are setting an example for someone else or being admired by a younger person.

This brings us to keeping them from being raised in an environment where they learn to be peer dependent, or where they would only do something because it was “approved” by their group. I’ve found the best way to move children from this mindset is through significant time with family and the community at large. What makes a student successful in the local high school does not make him or her successful in life. Bill Gates is credited with saying, “Be nice to nerds. You will probably work for one.” This will become obviously apparent to our students as they spend time with other adults who are worthy of imitation.

While it’s difficult to put my finger on just what exactly fosters confidence in students, I hope the above thoughts will spur our readers to explore this topic further and leave comments below.

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    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

A Return to Chivalry

    By Renee Miller

Many of us are lamenting our culture’s quick descent into coarseness and vulgarity. How do we even begin to slow this free fall so we can inject some civility? One area we’ve given some thought to as a school are rites of passage for our teens.

One rite of passage most of us are familiar with is High School Prom. I’ve begun to wonder: when did reasonable parents decide it was okay for their daughters to dress like street-walkers, spend all night in the company of a boy of questionable morals (or even a boy with impeccable morals), and have the school hire cops to police the craziness? Having worked with teens for years, I can assure you most of the fun has gone out of the event. I think it’s time to take another look at what these events could be like for our children who are coming of age.

Here are a few examples of how we’ve tried to do this in the Garden School community:

First, we teach the teens how to dance. We have some people in our community who have been willing to teach them how to swing, waltz, folk, and contra dance, all while interacting with several different age groups. This has the added bonus of teaching lifelong skills that will give them confidence at things like weddings and other social and cross-cultural events.

Next, we encourage them to learn manners. Yes, the young men open the doors for the young women, pull out their chairs for them, learn how to ask someone to dance, and even how to hold their forks. The girls learn to be gracious and how to dress so as not to scandalize everyone present and even be comfortable when dancing. Indeed, it is the ancient beauty of chivalry that has currently been thrown aside-and for a poor substitute.

And then we take them out to a classy community event. Our local symphony has a yearly fundraiser where they play big band music. The dinner is first-rate. Once our students experience dancing to a live orchestra, dressed to the nines, it is pretty hard to beat. We call it promenade. And not just the students attend, but their parents, too. We all look forward to this yearly event.

Garden School's promenade on March 19th, 2013. Image courtesy of Rachael Koschak.

Garden School’s promenade on March 19th, 2013. Image courtesy of Rachael Koschak.

What are your ideas for bringing civility back into our communities?

    __________________________
    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School.”) Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

On Excellence and Good Spelling

    By Renee Miller

Scrabble-words[1]Spelling does matter. It is a discipline our children should be expected to learn from a young age. Charlotte Mason says that if a young child spells a word incorrectly, cover it up. Learning something correctly the first time saves the student from the extra effort of breaking a bad habit later. This flies in the face of the current prevailing wisdom, “It doesn’t matter how or what they write, as long as they write.”

Much has been said about how overzealous correcting can ruin a child’s desire to write. While there is some truth to this, I have seen far more damage done by teaching filled with false praise and low expectations. Lack of fluency in writing is often owing to the lack of confidence in one’s ability to write or spell well. Actually knowing how to spell and write with assurance frees up a student from worrying about mechanics, and allows them to focus on his or her thoughts and convey them effectively.

Good spelling is not a sign of intelligence, but poor spelling does give the impression of a lack of education or attention to detail. While good spellers are typically detail-oriented people, those of us who don’t fit into that category can still learn and at the very least keep a dictionary on hand if we need to.

Although easiest when learned early and correctly, it is never too late to become a proficient speller. The factory system of government schools has given us the impression that learning happens in yearly increments, and if you miss the time when a particular skill is taught, you will always be behind or need years of remediation to catch up. This thinking is never helpful. A great number of things can be learned in a short time with attention, diligence, and a belief in the worthiness of the endeavor.

The old-fashioned spelling bee was beneficial with this in that it reinforced the sequential nature of spelling. Time in the car driving can be put to good use reviewing the Ayres 500 Most Frequently Used Words List, and the one-on-one nature of homeschooling allows for quick correction in context and individualization for each student. As the student progresses to learning inflected languages like Latin, spelling is imperative.

We need to expect excellence from our children and ourselves in every area of education, including spelling. As we raise up this next generation of leaders (our children), let’s equip them with the skills and tools they’ll need to communicate with clarity and power.

What has been helpful for you in teaching your children to become good spellers?

(As one final tip, check out the “Freebies” tab at the top of this page to find out the unique way Garden School/homeschooled student Elizabeth Veldboom learned to spell!)

Some outstanding resources:
The Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew Pudewa
The Writing Road to Reading, Romalda Spaulding

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    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

Beyond Socialization

    By Renee Miller

In the midst of a discussion about Garden Schooling/homeschooling the other day, I was asked, “What about socialization?” After traveling the non-public school road for over fifteen years, I’ve heard this so often my first instinct is to laugh. I’m not overly impressed with the social skills of students who spend the bulk of their childhood confined to interacting with masses of their peers.school_building[1]

Those of us who attended years of mass schooling know that not standing out kept you from ridicule. And who wants their child to be ridiculed? Yet, if we are going to raise strong leaders, they must expect and know not only how to stand apart, but also how to weather ridicule. And one thing I learned in government schools? Popular opinion shifts with the wind.

To take a different path than the crowd challenges the people around you – your family, your in-laws, your friends. It flies in the face of the billions of dollars of advertising that saturate our waking hours. Yet, that is precisely how God created us to be: different, no two alike.

Each of us with our own calling and gifts to bring to the world-that immeasurable something for which standardized tests cannot account.

The current hyper-socialization children have to endure is rarely questioned. Our society is working from the vantage point that the family and the church are not viable entities to raise children. Only the government is capable enough for the job. However, from our Christian viewpoint, one result of that is people with a thousand Facebook friends and no true community.

community-work-of-the-people[1]Being in genuine community-learning to truly be civil and social-is hard work. It doesn’t happen in an environment of bells and whistles with hundreds of same-aged peers.

People have a deep longing for family and community, and yet little to no idea of how to become a part of one.

So I encourage you in this new year to slow down the pace of our current culture. Step off the conveyor belt of mass education, and get to know a few people well.

To stay in community through thick and thin is rare. Yet the reward is a small glimpse into the richness of the heavenly family that God has in store for us. To provide this “taste of heaven” is what our community is all about.

It’s time we went beyond socialization and got back to community.

May our children venture out into the world with their cup full and their feet firmly on the ground.

Your Thoughts: What does being in community mean for you?

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    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.