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Upgrade Your Kids' Education

Upgrade Your Kids' Education

As a parent, you naturally want to give your children the best possible education. But, in the face of so many different schooling choices and learning philosophies, you may wonder what an excellent education really is – and how to make sure your kids receive it.

Here’s how you can upgrade your children’s education:

Understand that an excellent education can happen anywhere. Don’t assume that simply choosing to homeschool your kids or sending them to private or public school will automatically give them a high quality education. Realize that the best education is built on key principles that parents, teachers, and other mentors incorporate into their relationships with children.

Know the goal of a successful education. Understand that education is the preparation of a child intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically for life and for eternity. The best education should touch on all these aspects of a child during every class, despite the subject. Realize that children achieve a successful education when they’re prepared to make maximal use of their God-given talents and abilities in the accomplishment of their life callings.

Focus on character. Make sure your children are learning about the importance of building strong character traits that the Bible mentions. Have them learn the value of hard work and self-discipline. Teach them to be patient, honest, and respectful of authority. Know that character training should be integrated into all learning and consistently reinforced. Set reasonable expectations based on your children’s ages and abilities, and communicate them clearly. Whenever your children violate rules, address the situation right away. Always tie good character into faith so your children understand the realities of sin and Christ’s forgiveness and grace to grow. Make sure your children are rewarded for their good behavior as much as they’re corrected for bad behavior.

Make one-on-one instruction a priority. Whether your children learn in your home or in a large classroom setting, do all you can to spend time with each of them one-on-one regularly to tutor them in their work. Understand that one-on-one time is particularly crucial when your children are encountering new material, when they’re struggling, and when they’re learning major life lessons. Expect that younger children will require more one-on-one time than older kids, who should be trying to solve problems independently.

When tutoring your children, ask questions about the material to discern how well they currently understand it. Explain concepts in words and illustrations that are familiar to them. Plan well so you can explain a new concept carefully and correctly the first time. If your kids are struggling to understand a difficult concept, try several different methods of explanation until you find one that works best. Engage them by making eye contact with them, touching them, calling them by name, and motivating their emotions and will. Rather than giving away answers, try to lead your children to the answers by asking a series of questions to point them in the right direction. If you don’t understand a particular concept well or have trouble communicating it to your kids, bring in someone else who can do a better job with that particular subject (such as your spouse).

Protect your kids. Realize the importance of protecting your kids from whatever will hinder them in their quest for wisdom. Understand the goals of your protection – that your children develop strong convictions about truth and be able to defend them against opposition, that they become aware of their personal areas of weakness and able to protect themselves, and that they pass tests that require them to distinguish right from wrong and truth from falsehood.

Monitor what media your kids watch and listen to. Know their friends well. Set limits on passive entertainment (such as television viewing) and encourage active learning (such as reading or creative play time). Think and pray carefully when choosing a church, neighborhood, school, youth group, or club for your children. Before joining, study the children you see there, and ask yourself, "Do I want my children to look like these children in their character and conduct?"

Whenever you deny your kids access to a form of entertainment or an association, provide something else in its place. Teach your children to respect your wisdom and that of their other teachers or mentors, and help them learn the value of contentment and gratitude. Be careful not to let protection become an end in itself, however. Remember that it’s designed to help kids prepare to engage wisely in the world.

Understand the importance of individuality. Realize that education can’t be effective if it’s organized under one-size-fits-all standards. Know that your kids need an approach to education that works with their unique learning styles, thinking methods, intellectual abilities, growth patterns, backgrounds, interests, talents, absorption rates, and emotional concerns. Tune into each of your children to learn how he or she learns best. Then be flexible and tailor his or her learning experiences to meet those needs. If you homeschool, change the curriculum you use. If you send your kids to private or public school, meet with staff there to work on changes that will benefit your children in the classroom, and change your approach when you help them with their homework.

Make sure your kids build strong relationships with you and other mentors. Recognize that your children will learn best from teachers who know them well and have meaningful relationships with them. Make the time to become deeply and personally involved in their learning process – whether you teach them at home; or communicate regularly with their teachers, volunteer at their school, and help them with homework. Discuss what they’re learning as you go about your daily activities together. Confess your mistakes when you haven’t been doing something correctly for your children, and ask for their forgiveness. Establish a regular time to read the Bible together, and point out how it applies to your lives whenever you encounter a teachable moment. Do your best to put your love for your kids into action by sacrificing your time, effort, and emotions for their benefit.

Teach the basics. Don’t cram so many activities into your children’s education that there’s not adequate time for them to learn the basics: how to read, write, speak and think well. Encourage them to read the Bible and classic literature. Read aloud as much as possible. Help them memorize portions of Scripture and high quality literature. Teach your children to express their thoughts and feelings clearly through writing. Use math, logic, and science to teach your kids critical thinking skills and how to reason well. Teach speaking skills so your children can communicate clearly and persuasively. Help your kids develop an appreciation for music – particularly singing.

Integrate what your kids learn into their lives. Realize that simply acquiring knowledge – memorizing facts – is useless unless that knowledge develops into wisdom. Encourage your children to become wise by applying what they learn to their lives. Constantly be alert to situations in real life that illustrate concepts your kids are learning. Point out how the concepts relate, and discuss the issues and situations with your children regularly. Limit the amount of time your kids spend just listening to lectures. Give them as much hands-on training as possible. Take them with you on your activities as often as you can so they can watch how you make decisions. Encourage thoughtful discussion at meals (particularly dinner).

Train your kids to be able to interact well with people who don’t think and act like them. Seek out apprenticeships that tie into their callings, or encourage them to start their own businesses. Teach them how their relationships significantly impact the quality of their lives, and encourage them to love and serve others.

Maintain the honor and mystique of learning. Show your children that learning is an exciting adventure. Model a love for learning by constantly seeking to discover something new. Urge your kids to be self-motivated students by encouraging them to chase down answers to their questions. Before they’re introduced to a new concept, let them know why it’s important. Explain the purpose behind studying it and how learning it will benefit them, both now and later in life. Show them how the parts of what they’re learning in various subjects connect with each other to create the whole. Never discourage your children’s inquisitiveness; make time to answer their questions and help them do research soon. Commend them for their achievements in learning.

Build on the right foundation. Make sure you know what worldview undergirds the curriculum your kids are being taught. Do all you can to make sure your children are learning a biblical worldview. Help your kids understand God’s Word and how its principles relate to everything in life. Show them that God is the source of all wisdom and encourage them to learn and apply His truths.

Help your kids learn in the right stages. Remember that children must begin with simple material before progressing to more complex material. When teaching or tutoring your kids on a specific concept, first teach them principles through stories or other means. Then connect the principles by relating them to the facts. Finally, help them learn to apply the principles to their lives – especially as they seek to fulfill their calling. Determine whether your kids are developing into the later two stages by asking them to describe a concept in their own words and explain how it differs from another concept.

Develop an educational vision and goals for your family. Think and pray about what each of your kids should be like once they turn 18 years old and become adults. Ask God to give you a vision of that to work toward. Write down a vision statement in a single sentence, then list five to 10 goals of specific ways you hope to make that vision a reality. Convey your expectations to your children. Then plan your choices for your family’s next year – including your kids’ education – around your vision and goals.

Adapted from Upgrade: 10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child, copyright 2006 by Kevin Swanson. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn.,

Kevin Swanson serves 15,000 families in the Rocky Mountain region as the executive director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado. He has degrees in mechanical engineering and ministry, and serves as pastor of Reformation Church in Castle Rock, Co. Kevin and his wife homeschool their five children.