Implementing Discipleship Homeschool
with a Large Family

How do you switch to a discipleship homeschool way of life? Theresa, mother of ten asked me such a question – here is her letter and my reply. Theresa has given permission for this to be shared in the hope that other families will be encouraged too.

Go straight to my answer

From Theresa
First of all I have to say that I just love your website. You have articulated what I have felt in my heart for some time but have not known how to act upon.

Having said that, I would like a bit of practical advice if possible. I have 10 children (15yo down to 1yo) and have always homeschooled. I find that I am struggling as to how to implement such "discipleship homeschooling" because first, it is so foreign to how I was taught and second, I fear getting more "behind" than I already am (life with many little blessings and only so much time.)

My heart yearns to have the freedom and relationship with my children that you speak of. Honestly though, sometimes I don't know if I have it in me anymore to do anything that requires a lot of me in terms of planning.

I hope I'm making a little sense. I just wondered what you would do in my situation with so many children with various needs because of age. What would that look like?

Thank you for your time and wisdom!

Answer from Belinda
10 children certainly does paint a different picture than in my house but I believe that principles should be applicable regardless of our circumstances. If I am reading your email correctly you are asking “How do I change from a traditional education to a discipleship education, even with 10 kids?” So thinking through some of the principles that I have found helpful hopefully I will say something that will be of help to you.

Change needs courage:

It does take courage to make changes from what we have experienced to something new stirring in our heart. We need to know (deep in our hearts)
  • That God is in control and if we are keeping up with Him we can’t be behind!
  • That relationship and moral character are the foundations to learning
  • That we need to be prepared for God’s purposes not for a career plan made by man.

These things cut to the heart of the realisations we need to come to before we can confidently walk away from the institutionalised methods of education.

Implementing Discipleship Homeschool

I am a firm believer in making small changes, though some people like to jump in boots and all. There are things that you can do, little at a time and start to see changes happening. We need to remember that discipleship homeschooling is more about our heart towards our children, rather than what curriculum we do or don’t use.
  • Look at how much time you spend as a family, building relationships – both family relationships with one another as well as your relationship (and your children’s personal relationship) with Jesus. If this gets pushed aside by the busyness of your studies this needs to change. I have often been frustrated that we don’t get the same amount of studies done as other people – but then I realise that we spend a large amount of time in our day in the Bible. We have personal devotions, family devotions and Bible study. I cannot achieve the same amount of science or history each day as a family who does not spend that amount of time in the Bible. But it is a family priority so the other stuff has to be shuffled down to allow the priority to fit. And ultimately I have to be happy/content with that.
  • Look to see if your children are helping with the family responsibilities – cooking, cleaning, shopping, maintenance etc. One key I have found is that we need to train our older children to the skills and then let them do it while we move onto training the next age. Take a season – possibly up to 3 months – to get this in order in your home. Make sure the children are always occupied during ‘chore’ time. Mother’s role simply becomes one of trainer / facilitator. Once these habits are established ensure that there is sufficient time in everyone’s daily routine to achieve the things that need to be done around the home. These skills are a part of our children’s education.
  • Look to see that each child is doing something that reflect their uniqueness – In our family Joshua studies history and politics, Jessica plays music and works on the computer, Nomi does art, Daniel builds stuff and takes photographs. Now these are not the only interests our children have, neither do these interests totally define our children but for this season in their lives I make sure that these things are happening regularly, regardless of how busy we are.

I am convinced that if we have a season where these three aspects are the only things that happen in our family as far as intentional learning goes we will be still teaching our children many things. The truth is though that these seasons of training, or finding our feet, or dealing with interruptions, are short lived (relatively speaking) – you will soon be able to move into consistent study (though it maybe less than you were previously thinking) Once a student gains some independent study skills they can pick up other more traditional subjects and pursue them independently while younger members are still focusing on the above aspects. So another question to ask yourself is which of my students are able to study independently for which subjects. This will lighten your load considerably and give them the challenges that they need on their way to becoming responsible adults.

Sometimes people get the idea that discipleship homeschooling doesn’t include much study – I don’t think that is responsible. We are educating the whole child which includes the mind. Though I have never counted specifically I would guess that we study 4-6 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, for about 30 weeks a year. The other weeks would be taken up with family projects (which we need to remember are equally valuable in educational terms). Study is important - it just has its place.

Preparation time for Discipleship Homeschooling

The more I focus on discipleship homeschooling the less lesson prep I do. I think this is because
  1. I prepare lessons for the students who are dependent, more than the students who are independent.
  2. I prepare lessons for the discipleship aspects, not necessarily the academic subjects. Eg. I spend more time preparing Bible study and character studies but limited time preparing Math, Reading, Science and History (not because we don’t do those subjects but because I chose curriculum and resources that match our learning methods though require little prep.)
  3. I do spend time ensuring that we have balance in our daily routines. That we have time to build relationships, work on talents and interests and study. And that we have time to breathe!

Further Reading

I encourage you to read these few online articles I have written:
10 Relationship Based activities – One idea is to have one day a week where you focus on these activities. This may help you make a transition to more relational focus as you live your life.

Development of an Independent Learner – this chart helps you find a discipleship focus on the things that you plan for and expect from each of your children. You can also group different children together for various activities and instruction based on which focus you want to have – relationship/character, love of learning, study skills, or independence.

Choosing Curriculum and Resources – Choosing homeschooling curriculum and resources that enable you to keep a discipleship focus.

blending life and lessons Blending Life and Lessons is a short e-book (based on a workshop I held at a conference here in Australia.) It is my journey as I made the switch from traditional education to lifestyle discipleship. My hope is that anyone who reads this will find the inspiration to make the changes that their heart wants to.

Response from Theresa: Thank you so much for your quick reply and also for your e-book. I quickly read through it and I think it is very helpful. I plan to go through it again with my husband along with the information on your website again. It is a lot for me to soak in even though I totally agree with your view. It will take some time to un-do all that is programmed into my "educated" head. … Theresa

Live life with your kids!

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