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Principle-Centered Home Education

This is the third in a three-part homeschooling series. It was first published in 1996 in Super Learning Tools. Although my theories have morphed somewhat over the years, this series represents the beginning process of forming and implementing our homeschool and educational philosophies.

Principle-Centered Home EducationIn the March/April issue, you learned that we are not unschoolers and why. In the May/June issue, we discussed why we have not adopted the school-at-home model, either.

The two strongest factors in both of the popular methods (according to the practitioners I probed) are the degree of structure that exists in the education environment and who is leading the educational endeavors. Focussing mainly on either of these issues does nor form a sound, nor a complete, educational philosophy.

Our educational philosophy centers not on structure or lack of it, not on parent- or child-led models. Rather, it centers on principles. Principles are self-evident, self-validating natural laws. They are unchanging. They cross boundaries of time, culture, and religion. They apply whether we believe in them, like them, and even whether we are aware of their existence.

The Character Ethic is based on the fundamental idea that these unchanging principles govern human effectiveness, just as scientific principles govern physical behavior in our universe.

The ideas set forth in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are based on these principles. Not surprisingly, the habits, as outlined in his book, apply equally well to home education as they do to businesses, families, and other organizations. I now share with you my version of:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The essence of Habit 1 is to take responsibility. Don’t abdicate your parental responsibilities to an umbrella school, a school board, a support group, a vendor, or even to your child.

Teach your children that they are not driven by impulses, feelings, moods, or circumstances. Rather, they can choose their response in any situation, educational or otherwise. They can become responsible even before adulthood.

While learning and growing they can choose to focus on those areas where they have influence and control, rather than those they don’t.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Often I have been angrily accused of “forcing” my “agenda” on my children. Apparently this is tantamount to child abuse in some circles.

Do I have an agenda? You bet I do! Why? Because “going with the flow” and “living life as it happens” are not growth-oriented, they are habit-oriented. They are the path of least resistance and often the path of least personal development as well.

Unless you are a much better person than I (and most people I have ever met), your natural tendencies aren’t often something to brag about!

To begin with the end in mind requires deep introspection, discussion, study, and thought. For home educators it is the mental or intellectual creation of the ideal outcomes and results of an ideal education. It requires all members of a family to share a common educational vision and purpose. It assumes a value system, as does all decision making.

To be effective this ideal, goal, plan, or “educational mission statement” must be long-term, general, and flexible — not short-term, specific, and rigid. It should encourage each child’s gifts and talents and work to strengthen significant weaknesses. It should allow for significant accommodation of life’s serendipitous educational moments and joys.

Let me warn you, this is tough mental work. It takes time and patience, and can’t effectively be rushed. It is difficult to sort out and even tougher to put on paper. But taking the time and effort to clarify your thinking and plan for your future together will be well worth the trouble.

I have equally been “accused” of attempting to influence my children. Another terrible abuse of my position of parental authority in the eyes of some. But the truth is, we all influence our children! And because we do, it serves our children much better to consciously choose how we influence (and how we don’t) than just influencing by default, or by permitting the environment or the pervasive culture to be the only influencers.

In a fabulous article titled “The Insufficiency of Honesty” (Atlantic Monthly, February 1996), Stephen L. Carter defines integrity as requiring three steps: “discerning what is right and what is wrong; acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.”

Beginning with the end in mind is doing the difficult work of discerning whether what we most deeply believe is really right and making conscious choices in our areas of influence. It is setting a course of growth for the future and allowing our children the same privilege and benefits.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Once we have done the work of discernment, integrity requires that we act on those decisions. It requires that we use our limited resources (time, money, energy, etc.) to focus on those things which are truly important to our family.

For many of us, the natural tendency is to focus on the urgent — pressing problems or the school’s timetable. The beauty of home education is that we can focus on the truly important thing — our child. We can allow each one to learn in the way that is best for them, at a pace that is in sync with their inner timetable and needs. We can be effective rather than trying to be efficient!

Resources are limited whether we like it our not. Because of this there is a cost to all our decisions. When we choose to use our time, money, or energy on one thing, we are choosing not to use it on all the alternatives. Some things simply are more beneficial than others! And now we can choose to focus on those which will give us the best results.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Habit 4 incorporates the spirit of mutual benefit. Parents and kids can be happy, pleased, and fulfilled with both the process and results of home education. If the parties involved have strong character and relationships, stewardship or responsibility agreements foster self-discipline and encourage initiative.

Stewardship agreements require five key elements:

  • Results—explain the desired outcome
  • Guidelines—specific parameters, but not specific directions
  • Resources—support and help available to accomplish results
  • Accountability—standards of performance and time of evaluation
  • Consequences—what will happen as a result of evaluation

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to Be Understood

Empathic communication is the essential element of Habit 5. If we are open to our children, if we listen to them, if we are willing to be influenced by them, they will be much more likely to be open to, listen to, and be influenced by us as well.

This isn’t a language trick or a “personality ethic” method to “use” on your kids. You can’t act like you are listening and being influenced and have a lasting effect. You must truly learn to put yourself in their place, to understand their concerns from their point of view. They know the difference! It’s not a quick fix, but it’s the most effective way to communicate with lasting benefit.

Feeling truly understood improves trust and the quality of relationships considerably. And your children will be open to listening to your input as well.

Your children can now benefit from your experience and wisdom (assuming that you have some!) and can reach new heights. You can explicitly tell them what you think is important and why. You can explain when these elements have helped you and how your child can benefit. You don’t have to manipulate them, you can just be honest!

Because of a trusting relationship your children will know that you will always work with them to accommodate their desires to the best of your ability and judgment. And they won’t have to immediately see the benefit in everything you suggest to believe that there will be a benefit in the future.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It is not compromise, it is working together — parents and children — to find other, better solutions and ideas on primary issues than either of you could come up with alone.

Synergy values differences! It can make the best of the experience, expertise, and wisdom of parents and the enthusiasm, excitement, and curiosity of children.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Habit 7 is the process of self-renewal. Spending time to continually improve yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally contributes tremendously to your family life and to improvement in all the other habits.

Preserving balance in your life by taking time to: learn new subjects and skills; exercise and eat right; read scriptures or other inspiring literature; and serving and maintaining important relationships not only prepares you to deal with upcoming challenges, but is a fantastic example to your children as well.

Self-renewal shows our children that education and improvement are lifelong endeavors that are joyful and exciting. The perfect message for homeschoolers to leave with their children!

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • stephanie November 10, 2011, 3:36 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Such wisdom. Thank you.
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  • Alex November 10, 2011, 9:31 pm

    My nephew is a homeschooler in sixth grade almost seventh and he was looking for a website where he can pretty much take school online, any suggestions?

  • Alison Moore Smith November 11, 2011, 5:39 pm

    Alex, if he wants online resources that are accredited by the local, public schools, he’ll need to check with the school district in his area.

    The only online school we’ve used is Electronic High School . We have used it for Driver’s Ed and, in our experience it is horribly implemented.

    Also check out K12, Laurel Springs, Forest Trail Academy, Connections Academy, etc.

    I haven’t use these and don’t endorse them, they are just among the options. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of choices, some government sponsored.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 11, 2011, 5:41 pm

    Here’s a state-by-state list of free online public schools.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 11, 2011, 5:43 pm

    Thank you, stephanie. 🙂

  • Alex November 12, 2011, 6:38 pm

    oh, the list is just perfect and it was much more than i expected, this sure will help us very much, Alison, Thank you a bunch and keep up the good work!

  • Anna November 13, 2011, 1:51 am

    I agree with the points and I think that all the points come with some kind of experience when you have grown a child and you have passed through all the stages and years of their development and only then you get this wisdom.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Alex, thank you for the kind words. This list — over the years — has become one of my foundational conference speaker topics. The more refined version will be explained in my forthcoming book, The 7 Success Habits of Homeschoolers. 🙂

  • Alison Moore Smith November 13, 2011, 12:33 pm

    Aboslutley, Anna. When this was published, my oldest child was nine years old. Now my youngest (of six) is eight and my oldest is 24, married and in graduate school. That experience certainly does change your perspective.

    These seven items have been refined to more specifically address homeschooling, but I do think Covey’s ideas still work well in almost any venue. 🙂

    Thanks for your great comment, as always. 🙂

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