Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

When you think of the word education, what image pops into your mind? Do you see a desk, a stack of books, a chalkboard, a report card, recess? Perhaps your memories run more along the lines of a stern and forbidding teacher or the camaraderie of your school’s football games or the anguish of going blank during a test. Maybe you envision a library, a university campus, or a research lab. Whatever image your mind sees, if you never step back to consider the bigger question of what an education really is, you will probably create for your children a mini-version of your own school experience. I know I did. At least, that was the path I walked for the first three years of homeschooling. I was hoping it was better smells and bells, friendlier teachers and classmates, but in essence, it was simply a school at home. 

Sooner or later, a good homeschooler will hear in her mind, “Is that all there is????” Is following a school’s approach the best possible way to learn? Does it create a hunger in the student for diving into more difficult books and more challenging subject matter? Does it encourage self-motivation or provide experience in independent study and pursuing topics of interest? Truthfully, the answer is, probably not. For many of us, education equals school, but as homeschoolers, we know there must be something better.

What, then, will make the difference? Where do we start in providing an excellent education for our homeschooled children, if we are not going to follow the model we know best—the most common approach, even among homeschoolers? I’m glad you asked!

Years ago, I heard a speaker say something important to this conversation, something so absolutely profound that it jolted me. Terry Small, a brilliant educator and lecturer, known warmly as the “Brain Guy,” presents seminars to governments, corporations, and educators around the world on the way the brain works and how this affects learning. What he shared that day, based on his observations and studies over the years, was that one of the best predictors of educational success was in having a positive relationship between student and teacher.

That knowledge could change our lives! We homeschoolers can potentially do this—have a great relationship with our students—much better than anyone else. If you could translate your love for your kids into educational success, wouldn’t that make it worthwhile to tweak—or even dramatically change—your approach?

Let me ask you about another memory. When you think back to your childhood, who was the adult with whom you had the closest relationship? Who was the person who made you feel loved and appreciated and secure and safe? Do you remember ever following that person around, asking him or her questions, listening to that individual, learning from him or her? And how much do you remember today about what he or she taught you? Probably a lot more than from the person who shamed or frightened you.

For me, I remember my grandmother. She taught me that feeding ducks was fun, roses were beautiful, and that the piano was precious. All of those little memories are tinged with a warmth in my heart, even fifty years later. If my loving grandmother had been the one to guide my day-to-day education, learning would have been far more meaningful, memorable, interesting, and relevant than the “twelve years without parole” that school felt like for me.