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Like every homeschool parent I’ve ever met, I’ve invested hours and hours in cultivating my educational philosophy. Though I was drawn to literature-based learning from the very beginning of our homeschooling journey, I still vetted it thoroughly, weighing the pros and cons against all the other methods out there. After a pretty exhaustive survey of everything from textbook-based school-at-home programs to the Thomas Jefferson Education model, I landed here, in a comfortable (for us) zone of relying on a rich selection of living books to form the foundation of our homeschool.
But you know what I’ve learned? It’s not just the books that make the homeschool. It’s the conversations those books bring to life.
Our school days are rich in discussion; my children are not receptacles receiving information but rather active participants in their learning. A topic is introduced— say the opening movements of missions in Southern Asia, which Jack recently tackled in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. His Sonlight Student Guide lists questions and gives helps that could essentially render this a self-guided tour of Church History. (The first two times I taught from the Sonlight 200 level course, I was so grateful to have the Parent Guide, which I turned to extensively to make navigating the material easier and to give me some questions at the ready for our discussion time.) Since we like to be a more active part of the digestion of information, our days include meeting times for talking over what’s being read at any given time. That means that those handful of pages outlining the who, what, and when of western missionaries bringing the Gospel to parts of Asia becomes a meandering chat about the legacy of the Judsons, the endurance of certain people groups, the accuracy of early translations of Christian literature and even the Bible, and the unintended effects of the introduction of denominational worship in different cultures.
All that from a book! That’s why I say that the number one tool in my homeschooling toolbox is CONVERSATION.
I recently finished The Sign of the Beaver with my younger children. It’s a great read-aloud, a wonderful story… and also, in the truest sense, a rich living book that immersed us in the times and place where Matt and Attean lived. While deep in its pages, we talked about orphaned children, the roles of brothers and sisters, animal behavior, God’s provision, and missed opportunities to share the Gospel in addition to the history and relationships central to the book. The story itself was a jumping off place for a rich learning experience that unfolded organically, and planted seeds in all of our hearts.
There’s literally no subject that can’t benefit from discussion. Read a poem, yes. But then, talk about it. Explain a math concept, then talk about the discoveries that it led to, or give it real-world application. Link science to God’s Word, innovators in the field, current events. Start with excellent materials and then… just talk. Allow time in your schedule for deep conversations, and make yourself available in times when your kids want to bounce thoughts and questions off of you. Talk one on one, with the whole family, as you’re sitting at the dinner table, while you’re peeling potatoes. (I highly recommend Bethany’s Random Conversation Starter ebook for some great springboard questions that will go places you never imagined!) Keep an ongoing dialogue and watch how topics melt into one another, or give one another perspective.
Simply talking with your child is the most powerful tool in homeschooling. It costs nothing but your time, but elevates a great education to excellence. It’s often the first thing to go in our harried days, when we want to resort to checking boxes and getting on with the next thing. And yet, conversation is the tool that will help your child learn to think logically, to gain perspective, to synthesize information, to link ideas, and to express opinions. The fruit of wielding discussion is well worth the investment in your child’s education, spiritual growth, and future!