When it comes to education in our culture, there is a deep trench between the unpleasant, dentist-filling-cavity experience of school, which one endures by necessity, and the passion-driven endeavor of hobbies, which one anticipates with delight. For many of us who began homeschooling in the 1980s, this was a chasm we sought to cross. Our learners, no longer dreading school, could actually thrive in their studies since they were in the nurturing environment of our homes.

Rather than conformity to the standard model of education—a lecturing teacher, subservient students and rigid class periods—we tried new approaches: a tuned-in observer, interactive students, and freedom to conduct experiments or write stories or fashion clay figures, heedless of the clock. In this laboratory of learning, many of us discovered that our unique children could each find something that motivated them deeply. Amazingly, we saw that when our children are motivated they have a self-imposed zest for ferreting out information, a zest that extends beyond Legos and bikes to academic subjects such as science, history, and literature.

This discovery of the power of self-motivation, or “hunger to learn,” was like a new invention or a magic wand. Eventually, we discovered that as homeschoolers we were actually on the cutting edge of education—traveling a path of learning that educational researchers and scientists were also studying. What we had stumbled upon in searching for the best approaches for our children was being legitimized through academic studies on how the brain works and how people learn best.

Here are six general points from the researchers on increasing learning through environment and relationship. Read the list and consider how your home is the best place for this to happen:

  • Create an environment where it is safe to explore and make mistakes, with a positive expectation of success (as opposed to an anticipation of failure).
     
  • Emphasize the relevance of what is being studied, answering, “How is this important to my life?”
     
  • Provide an emotionally positive experience for students by being with others, utilizing laughter, taking regular breaks, and giving wholehearted encouragement.
     
  • Involve the five senses—touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell—as often as possible in what is being studied; consider the “big picture,” asking, “What does this really mean?” and “How does it affect the world?” (as opposed to mere memorization).
     
  • Teach it to someone else, since this requires real understanding rather than a mere acquaintance with a subject.1

Any teacher who implements these six principles will immediately open the door for students to actively involve themselves in the process of learning—a key to self-motivation. And, significantly, students will have the opportunity to actually enjoy the experience.

If you plodded uninterestedly through school, perhaps this is an unsettling thought. You may be asking at this point, “Is it appropriate, necessary, or Godly for students to actually enjoy learning, or is this just a new fad in educational psychology?” I understand the question! To answer it, let us look to the Scriptures.

Psalms 111:2 gives us a profound glimpse into God’s heart, His wise and loving ways in education: “The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them” (NKJV). Wow! The implication here is that God intends for us to have pleasure in studying His works! So what exactly is included in “the works of the Lord”? Is it knowledge of theology, doctrine, evangelism, and eschatology alone? I don’t believe so. If we read our Bibles from the beginning of Genesis, we’ll discover that everything academic—from biology and botany to linguistics and artistry—comes rightly under the category of “the works of the Lord.” Being made in the image of our Creator places our creative efforts particularly under this category as well.