Strengths and self-directed learning

In 2017, our home school, Bethel Hill Academy, is going through some exciting changes. Since Darah and I began homeschooling the boys in 2010, our goal for them has always been the same: Teach them to teach themselves. If the boys learn how to learn, they will be able to acquire any knowledge or skills they require to lead the lives God has created them for, no matter what those might end up being.

These last few years have been spent helping the boys acquire essential skills: reading efficiently and with good recall, basic math facts and operations, expressing one’s thoughts in writing clearly and concisely. They have each made good progress in all of these. And, as with all basics, continued practice at them will help them achieve and then maintain mastery.

Now it is time to raise the bar and take things to the next level. Both boys are ready for additional responsibility, and indeed need it in order to remain challenged and continue the journey of learning. How did I know it was time? Very simple: Both boys started asking me on a very regular basis, “Why do I have to do this? When will I ever use this in life?”

Let’s be honest: If an adult can read at an elementary school level, write with even passing coherency, and perform sums (with maybe a few fractions and percentages thrown in for good measure), that adult can navigate the vast majority of what they will encounter in life. Apart from work in specialized fields, these basic skills will suffice for attaining a “good” life. So, when they began asking the “why” question, I knew that this was a sign they had reached a level of achievement that, once upon a time (and in some places still to this day), would mark the end of formal education and the beginning of the assumption of adult roles and responsibilities.

Of course, in the contemporary era in the US, such is not the case. Darah and I do not need our children to go to work to support the family with an income. So, these questions from the boys do not mark the end of their education, but rather a pivot point. It is time for a change, as my students no longer do what I ask them to do simply because I am asking them to do it. They want and need a different motivation. That motivation must come from within.

This is a little scary. We have demonstrated and instilled in the boys a work ethic. We have communicated clearly that the more you know, the more options you have in life. We have encouraged each boy to work to his full potential in his unique areas of strength. Now it is time to give them a bit of rein and see what they do with it.

There have been many helpful resources along our home schooling journey. Two that have been especially valuable during this transition have been the Gallup/Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and, out of many similar, these two related articles on self-teaching.

I can highly recommend the StrengthsFinder assessment and the book at the link, Strengths Based Parenting. One of the great benefits of home school is that we can tailor what we do to the specific needs of our unique children. We do not need to follow a one-size-fits-all approach. (In fact, we do so at our peril, because one size ends up fitting exactly no one particularly well.) By focusing on the natural, in-born areas of strength our boys have, by helping them learn how God has created them and what they are naturally good at, we free them up to nurture these natural abilities. There is real joy in investing time and effort on moving from good to great in a handful of areas, rather than spending that same energy achieving mediocrity in a wider range.

So for the first time, the boys are crafting their own plans for the year and scheduling their work days for themselves. To make sure they continue to hone what they have achieved in basic areas (math, writing, reading/vocabulary, science, history/geography, Bible), I have provided each of them with a list of items that must be achieved this year. These items will be easily attainable if they work consistently and diligently, and they will be routinely encouraged to strive for more than just these minimums wherever and whenever they can.

Within that broad framework, the boys are creating quarterly plans and daily work schedules to hit these targets, as well as an extra-curricular goal they have set for themselves. Along the way, I’ll be holding weekly review sessions (for a while at least) to assess progress toward their quarterly and annual goals. The boys are also keeping a daily written log of their work so I can keep an eye on that.

It’s a great next step for our young scholars, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how they handle this new freedom and responsibility.

Nil desperandum!

Jeff Herron

Homeschooling dad of two boys. Husband of one terrific woman. Disciple of and disciple maker for Jesus. My cup runneth over!