Saturday, May 03, 2008

Making Disciples of Our Kids

Among the reasons many parents choose homeschooling is the desire to transmit their values to their children. Today, in an editorial on OneNewsNow entitled "Fix My Kid," veteran youth worker Al Menconi has an excellent article on why many Christian parents are having difficulty raising their children to follow their own beliefs.

Mr. Menconi highlights the teaching of Deuteronomy 6:7, pointing out how badly we often fail at precisely what this verse tells us to do. Talking about the teachings of the Bible, the verse says, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." He goes on to discuss how, at each of these times, many of us are doing exactly the opposite.

He has a point. But I think what he misses in the article is the whole issue of schooling. It seems quite clear from this verse that children are expected to accompany their parents in their daily lives. But most modern kids spend many of their waking hours in school. After subtracting 9 hours a day for sleeping (scientists say kids need 10-12), kids are left with 104 hours each week. For the kids in our neighborhood, almost half of those are used just getting to school, being in school, and getting home again. And that doesn't count an another 7-10 hours (sometimes more) in homework. That means kids who go to school (public or private), are investing about half their waking hours in school-related activities, away from their parents. Then many church kids spend another six hours or more in church activities - church, Sunday School, youth group, Bible study, etc. - where they are mostly separated from their parents.

When we "sit at home" - when would that be, for many children today? If my kids were in school, they'd have to catch the bus at 7:45 am (6:45 for my 11yo). They'd get home at 4 pm (3 for my 11yo - but she'd have a lot more homework). Three days a week there'd be just time for a bit of homework and a snack before they have to be at swimming at 5:30 (Wednesdays we go to dinner at the church and then to Bible study - that day we'd also have to leave at 5:15 but we wouldn't get home until 9:00). They'd get home from swimming at 7:30, eat a quick dinner, take a quick shower, and be off to bed so they could get up and repeat the process the next day. And based on my experience, my kids are not that unusual - it's pretty typical for kids to have some sort of sports activity that takes up a couple of hours several days a week. Most kids today don't have a lot of time to "sit at home."

When we "walk along the road" - well, OK, we spend a lot of time driving around, don't we? But how much of that time is spent with our kids in the car with us, if they are in school? And driving with the radio on doesn't provide our kids with the kind of conversation Deut. 6:7 requires. How much time would Biblical people have spent "walking along the road" with their kids?

"When you lie down" and "when you get up" - for families with kids in school, these are often hectic, rushed times, as we try to get everything ready and collected, from homework to lunches to everything in between. It's even worse if both parents work, because they're also trying to get themselves out the door.

It seems to me that parents who really want to make disciples of their kids have GOT to find ways to spend real, concrete blocks of time with them. I'll be the first to say I don't think homeschooling is for everybody. But seriously, if we want to follow the teaching of Deut. 6:7, homeschooling makes it much simpler. It gives us another 40-50 hours a week with our kids - time we can spend actually "sitting at home" and "walking along the way." It gives us time "when we lie down" and "when we get up" to sit quietly and talk - about life, about Scripture, about friendships, about whatever we find important.

When I was in high school (lo these many years ago!), I was homeschooled. Every day after breakfast, my mom and I would sit around the table after breakfast and just talk for an hour. I cannot tell you how significant this time was to the person I have become. As a teenager, I felt I understood why my parents believed and acted as they did. I internalized their values much more deeply than many of my peers. I also learned to think logically and rationally, to relate to others as adults, to apply what I believe to my everyday life, to balance arguments rather than take a one-sided position - so many critically important things.

If Christian parents really are serious about raising their kids to follow Jesus, about making disciples of them, we need to find ways of spending significant time with them. Obviously there's still no guarantee. But if we don't ever do the things described in Deut. 6:7 with our kids, we're almost guaranteed to fail.


Shawna said...

Very interesting points!

I was never a big fan of sports activities for the kids unless they requested them, same with other kinds of activities. I always felt the kids needed time to just "be," to play after school and homework. Three of our boys did play Little League for a few years: one was very good and pursued it of his own will, the other two tried it out since their brother and friends enjoyed and after a couple of seasons decided it was not for them. Saturday's at game time was great family fun--we supported each boy and his team and coaches, we watched together or helped at home while the youngest was still small. It did provide a lot of together time and talking time--maybe not about scripture, but definitely about issues that incorporated our values and beliefs.

And we always eat dinner as a family--stats show that kids who eat dinner as a family have less academic issues and behavioral issues. I beg to differ.

The one point I really agree with is the rushing in the morning time. As a working mother with children in school, I was always in a rush in the morning. Getting a breakfast in the kids was a huge triumph! One of the reasons I was so glad to finally leave the work place was for this reason--the rushed, impersonal morning routine. Bedtime wasn't so bad for us since dinner was always about the same time and there weren't any after school activities beyond the few years of Little League practice and Catechism (which is conducted rather early so as not to interfere w/family meals.) But homework always caused conflict for us!

Driving times were great together times when it was just me and my boys. When I became a step parent and had more children to tend, who were not used to these kinds of conversations, it became strained. Some of my best memories as a child were the conversations I had with my dad on long car trips. And I try to still keep this going with my boys... sometimes it is great and works, other times because of moods or what-have-you it's futile.

I think these tasks can be carried out by public schooled children and working class parents if desired, but yes, home education can provide a greater opportunity, environment and time for such...IF parents are so inclined.

Very thought provoking post!

Marcy Muser said...


I'm glad you liked it. We always try to do dinner together as a family too - it's hard with swimming when it is, but we usually manage it.

The biggest reason my kids swim is that as homeschoolers they don't do much other exercise. They don't get "P.E." or "recess." So they swim regularly instead. They both love it and do fairly well at it, so we pay the price. :)