Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Trunk of the Learning Tree

  • David and Laurie Callihan
  • 2003 12 Dec
Trunk of the Learning Tree

Psalm One Learning – Part 5

Over the past several articles we have been developing a philosophy of education for homeschoolers that we think helps to explain the success of the movement over the past twenty years.  We explained how elementary students gain knowledge through laying of the proper foundations. Let us now go on to show how this leads to superior education during the secondary school years in the homeschool.

The Trunk
In the Learning Tree, secondary education builds on the mastery of the root skills and takes the student on to the level of integration of those skills with information in all subject areas (science, history, Bible, technology, community, etc.). The purpose is not just familiarization of the subject matter, but learning to reason and use learned information in a way that will be meaningful and productive in the student's life.

This second level of learning – or secondary education – is akin to the trunk of the tree. This is the time to solidify and integrate the knowledge your child has learned into real life situations. This stage of development of the student is a time of growing in understanding. The secondary, or understanding level, generally corresponds to when your child is going through puberty, probably from the time he or she is around 10 or 12 until adulthood.

Academically, secondary students are gaining understanding about various aspects of history, science, Bible, math, etc. and integrating them with the original four "r's." They will also mix basic skills with each other. For instance, they might use both math and writing skills to explain a scientific principle they have researched. This is the time to train the student in critical thinking skills and logic, a time for them to develop their discernment skills, and so on.

Spiritually, this is when the basic knowledge of God, the Scripture, and creation gained in the elementary years begins to take on new meaning as the young person uncovers and applies principles deduced from attained knowledge. Application of principles of Scripture to life circumstances is the characteristic of the understanding level. It is critical that you as the parents are intimately involved in your child's education on a relationship level during these years!

The secondary years are a time of transition we often call "pre-adulthood." It is crucial at this point that students be less and less sheltered from the outside world. They need to learn to consider and discern any philosophy or argument they may eventually be apt to encounter when they move away from the sanctity of your home. While you still have them within your sphere of parental influence, allow them to be exposed to their surrounding culture – as the trunk of the tree is exposed to the elements of nature – so that they will become sturdy enough in their understanding to support the branches that will bear fruit in their adult years. Allow them to ask difficult questions and don't shrink back from allowing them to develop their own faith. You are still there to guide and direct their growth at this time, so make good use of it. You should be like the guide wires that anchor a young tree to the ground and help it to grow straight and strong. (Do you like our analogy? If you have teens you might relate to that "wired" analogy too well.)

If you shelter your child during the secondary years, the trunk will be weak. It needs adversity to help it to develop. When it comes time for them to be bear fruit in their young adulthood you may find that instead they are spending time trying to "find themselves" or questioning the things you have taught them. Don't let this happen when you are no longer able to be the prime influence of their development. It is a wise parent who gently exposes their child to the influences of the world before the child leaves home. Tragic results can be avoided if you expose them carefully to outside influences while they are within your control.

It is most important during these years to keep this one goal in mind—to lay the groundwork for the student to become a productive adult. While we strongly suggest giving a diploma in recognition of work accomplished, it is merely a symbol; it is not the primary goal. That higher goal is the development of character and maturity—the achievement of understanding. Use this time to help your student develop every possible angle of their personality, talents, and spiritual gifts with the integration of skills and knowledge for the purpose of becoming a fruit-bearing adult.

In our sixth and final article, we will elaborate on where this is all leading in our educational philosophy. There is an end in sight. It is an attainment that clearly differentiates what proper education is all about. So stay tuned!

This topic and much more is covered in David and Laurie Callihan's recently completed, brand new, downloadable Parent's Guide to the Christian Homeschool Daily Planner (with their Grand Plan built right in) and also in The Guidance Manual for the Christian Homeschool: A Parent's Guide for Preparing Homeschool Students for College or Career.  Learn more at They are regular columnists on Crosswalk's High School and general Homeschool pages.