While I continue to work on the rest of my post on Teaching kids about God I thought I’d share these thoughts on environment.
I’ve become convinced that one of the most powerful tools that a homeschool parent has is environment. It’s also one of the things that can quickly work against you and negate much of what you are doing. The environment we surround our children with from birth will be absorbed by them before they are old enough to question whether or not they ‘want’ to accept our values.
When we welcome a new member into our families we take on an incredible responsibility. Most new parents want their offspring to have all of the best. We are determined to make all the right choices so that our children will have the strongest foundation possible and will be ready to move out and take their place in the world. Even if you have never clarified or written them out you probably have certain goals for your children. Some parents go about reaching those goals by making sure their children attend the ‘right’ schools, have the ‘right’ friends, read the ‘right’ books, and participate in the ‘right’ activities. And while none of those things are necessarily good or bad…if we neglect the environment our children live in day by day we pass by the most powerful tool we have to reach our goals.
(This is my eldest, Tim welcoming our youngest, Joe into the family.)
We had many specific goals for our boys. We wanted them to love God, His people, and His church. We wanted them to be concerned for the people beyond the borders of America. We wanted them to love books and ideas. We wanted them to demonstrate integrity, kindness, and grace.
We set out to raise them so that they would embrace our goals for them and make them their own, or as Steve puts it, we brainwashed them from birth. Let’s just look at one goal. We wanted them to love books and ideas. To that end we took them to the library and we read to them. We encouraged them to read when they were old enough. We certainly expressed to them that we wanted them to be readers and to love books. But this is not enough….
My nearly 3 year old nephew recently walked into my house, looked around and said, “It’s like the library, can I look at the books?” It’s hard to miss that I love books once you are in the door. There are bookshelves in every room, and books laying on most flat surfaces. My kids have grown up surrounded by books and by watching their Dad and I enjoy books. They have grown up listening to and participating in discussions of the ideas we’ve found in books. It would have taken a great deal of effort on their part to avoid books and live in our house.
On the flip side I have a friend who also says they want their young daughter to learn to read and love books. However, they keep all of the books up high and out of reach so that they won’t be ‘messed up’. She can only look at them when one of her parents sits with her and turns the pages for her. Another friend has told me that while she wants her child to be a good reader so that they can go to college and get a good job, she personally doesn’t have the time or inclination to read. There is not one bookshelf in her house and aside from a few magazines, no reading material. She is surprised neither of her sons reads much and has expressed how ‘lucky’ I am that my sons are ‘natural’ students.
Can you see how environment can work for you, or against? I used to wish we had space for a schoolroom so that all of the kids books and projects could be organized and in one place. Now I’m grateful I never lived in a house large enough to make that possible. Instead our dining room is lined with bookshelves and school books are scattered around the house. There is no ‘school’ area. There is just living spaces where we do everything and it is all jumbled together. For my kids learning isn’t delegated to a certain space, place, or time. My kids absorbed the environment they were in before they were old enough to even think about rejecting it. On the other hand, my friend’s children have also absorbed the environment they are in and even though their parents ‘expressed’ to them their desire to have them like books their environment gave another message.
Now I am certainly not saying that a child can’t become a fan of books in spite of parents who are not. What I am saying is that as parents we need to make use of the atmosphere of our homes to foster the goals that we have for our children.
M.F. Jerrold, in an article in the Parents’ Review, said that “There are many important aspects of home-life from a child’s first training to his highest education, but there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting effect as the atmosphere of home.” Another educator, Charlotte Mason, believed that one-third of education is atmosphere.
What are your goals for your children? Does the atmosphere in your home reinforce the message you are giving with your words? You want your children to be kind…Is kindness a characteristic of your home? You want your children to love God…does your home life foster that? You want your children to value ideas…do you listen to them when they share their thoughts?
Our children, particularly the youngest of them, will absorb and learn without effort when we are intentional about the environment we put them in. Creating an inviting, open, and stimulating environment for children of any age will have positive results and that is what we should strive for.