By Patricia Engler, Crosswalk.com
Never in my life had I felt like such an imposter.
Act natural, I told myself, as if you’ve been doing this all your life—like everyone else here probably has.
I glanced around the room, surveying the faces, tables, and whiteboard. So, this is what sitting in an actual classroom feels like.
Never mind the usual tough transition from high school to college. Never mind the fact that I’d just wedged a time zone-sized gap between me and my entire comfort zone, leaving my family, friends, and homeschool identity behind. Those challenges were foreboding enough, looming like mountains I’d have to cross in a grueling four-year expedition to reach my degree. But now, here I was, corralled together with same-age strangers about to start the climb, and only I knew the truth: I’ve never been to “school” before.
Had my homeschool years equipped me with the skills, tools and savviness to survive? Or would I freefall to rock bottom before even reaching the first milestone?
As the semesters ticked by, I discovered that God had used homeschooling to supply me with just the “climbing equipment” I needed to tackle my degree. Here’s how home education lent me five pieces of that equipment—and how you, as a homeschool parent or student, can access the equipment too.Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/nd3000
1. A biblical work ethic
“You’re not in high school any more,” the professor stated during my first college class. “You have to be self-motivated now. Nobody is going to tell you to go to class, do your assignments, or read your textbooks. You are responsible for your own learning.”
Great! I realized. That’s what I’ve already been doing for years, as a homeschooler!
Before each high school year at home, my mom would outline my grade-level goals, hand me a stack of textbooks, and basically say, “Have fun!” She’d mark my assignments, but the rest was up to me. I simply knew that if I wanted to go to college, I’d have to finish those books—not because my mom had told me to, but because God had called me to higher education.
This mindset not only helped prepare me for a college-sized workload, but also transformed school into worship. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23-25: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
How to equip yourself:
As a homeschooling parent, you can ground your students in the truth of these verses and encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning—for instance, by teaching them to set their own goals and deadlines rather than simply telling them what to do. Or, as a homeschooling student, ask yourself why you want to gain an education. To be rich someday? To keep your mom happy? Or, to arm yourself with tools for fulfilling your God-given purposes? With Him as your focus, you can take responsibility for pursuing the education He sets before you—not as an obligation, but as a missions trip.
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2. A drive to learn
While this “missions trip mentality” motivated my education on a big-picture scale, homeschool cultivated my love for learning on other levels too. Foundationally, I didn’t grow up to view learning as something that mainly happens inside classrooms. It happens on road trips, in forests, at science museums, along bike trails, at zoos, in basements, and under the stars.
By allowing me flexibility to pursue my curiosities, interests and passions, our homeschool lifestyle taught me to explore God’s world for the fun of it—not just because a teacher made me.
Elements like curiosity, interest and passion are intrinsic motivators, factors which drive our actions from the inside out. Extrinsic motivators, conversely, are external factors like report cards, bills and “because I said so” orders that influence our behaviour. All too often, education systems leverage primarily external forces (especially grades) to promote learning.
If you’ve ever crammed for a class you didn’t enjoy, shoving information into your brain only to gladly forget everything after the test, you know how well this kind of “learning” works. But have you experienced the gritty thrill of learning something because you loved it? Homeschooling supports students to ride the wave of that thrill as far as it will take them.
How to equip yourself:
As a homeschool parent, look for opportunities to harness your kids’ intrinsic motivators. What activities or educational approaches would let your family learn for the love of it, rather than for mainly external incentives? As a student, remind yourself of the internal reasons why you want to learn—like your interests, dreams or desires to serve God and impact others. Brainstorm ways to excite yourself about tackling your less-favourite subjects and give yourself permission to learn even more about your favorite subjects than you technically “have to.”
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3. An academic edge
By combining a biblical work ethic with an intrinsic drive to learn, homeschooling provided me the perfect recipe to excel in college. The work ethic took over where my intrinsic motivation thinned (case in point, calculus), while my love for courses like biology drove me to soak up that information in a hundred little homeschool-esque ways.
I set study notes to music, read textbooks in trees, summarized processes in limerick form, and wrote a presentation that entirely rhymed. Call me a nerd, but I had fun—and my grades reflected that. Plus, I still remember the material I memorized those ways, long after the exams.
How to equip yourself:
Whether you’re a parent or student, let your creativity put your biblical work ethic in motion by pursuing innovative, individualized ways to teach or learn. Homeschooling gives you the freedom to do that! You’ll find that intrinsic motivation will only go up—and so will the grades.
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4. Real-world Socialization
Wait—homeschooling and socialization go together? YEAH, they do! Along with offering flexible ways to equip students academically, homeschooling is also an open opportunity to equip students interpersonally. Why? Because rather than conditioning kids to interact mainly with same-age peers, homeschool lifestyles definitively integrate interactions across multiple age levels. There’s still plenty of room for peers, but within a wider social landscape.
For example, along with peer-based activities like homeschool gym class, field trips, play days and art club, my own homeschool experience also included regularly volunteering with seniors, visiting hospital patients, teaching art to younger kids, or connecting with a godly older mentor from the field I wanted to study.
By the time I reached college, homeschooling had well conditioned me to benefit from non-peer interactions, whether with professors, mentors, pastors, landlords, or adult church members.
This kind of multigenerational socialization is especially essential for two reasons. First, building relationships with non-peers gives students a valuable foundation for interactions in the “real world,” where workplaces, churches and communities probably aren’t—or arguably, shouldn’t be—composed of entirely same-age peers. Second, cross-generational relationship is foundational to cross-generational mentorship.
And after graduation, as I travelled interviewing Christians students in 17 countries about what helped them keep their faith at university, I discovered just how critical cross-generational mentorship is. In fact, across all the cultures I visited, godly older mentors turned out to be among the most important assets a Christian young person can have.
How to equip yourself:
Actively cultivate cross-generational relationships throughout your homeschool lifestyle! If you’re a parent, you can develop a family culture that loves meeting, serving, befriending and learning from younger kids or older adults. If you’re a student, look for ways to interact with people outside your own age group. Find godly older adults and ask them what they’ve learned about walking with God. Bring them your tough questions. Let them pray with you. Ally yourself with the multigenerational Body of Christ!
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5. Unparalleled opportunities for discipleship
Recently, in my time traveling to interview Christian students, I frequently heard comments about how church kids often lead a double life—a “Christian life” around their families, and a “public life” around everyone else. Then again, many students grow up with disintegrated influences, encountering Christian input from church on Sunday and secular humanist input from culture the rest of the week. A weekly shovelful of Churchianity just isn’t enough to build the spiritual foundations youth need to sustain their faith into adulthood. That’s why the bulk of discipleship must happen daily, within families. God Himself ordained it so, commanding the Israelites,
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19).
Homeschooling provides an unparalleled opportunity for such discipleship. My own homeschool days, for example, often included morning worship and Bible studies with my mom, missionary biography readings over lunch, and evening prayer and devotions with my dad. Scripture memorization became ingrained in our “family curriculum” from the time my mom taught me to recite the nativity account at age 4, to the years when I’d learn New Testament books alongside other teens in a Bible Quizzing program. Those years also found me passionately consuming apologetics resources as part of my flexible study schedule. Together, all these inputs helped lay the foundations I needed to maintain a close walk with God throughout secular college.
How to equip yourself:
From household devotions, to community Bible studies, to apologetics camps, today’s families can access a wealth of Biblical resources (and especially, the Bible itself!) to disciple their students every day. So—go nuts! Dive into those resources under the leading of the Holy Spirit and embrace homeschooling as the amazing opportunity for spiritual growth that it is.
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Putting the equipment in motion
Now, here’s the twist. As you might have noticed, all this equipment that a homeschooling lifestyle can offer is available to public, private and charter schoolers as well. A biblical work ethic, drive to learn, academic edge, multigenerational socialization, and emphasis on discipleship can be focuses in any Christian home.
Homeschooling’s flexibility and family orientation, however, provides the most open opportunities for parents and students to take full advantage of this equipping potential. But in every case, in every kind of home, seizing those opportunities is up to the individual families. The result will be students who are well equipped to tackle the mountains of higher education—and to reach the summit stronger.
Patricia Engler is an adventurous writer who explores how Christians can navigate secular cultures and classrooms, with Christ. After 12 years of homeschool and a B.Sc. degree, she backpacked 360°around the world documenting how Christian students keep their faith at university. You can follow her stories and get connected at www.patriciaengler.com.
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