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The COVID-19 pandemic has produced many first-time homeschool parents, and some feel trepidation at the thought of being responsible for their child’s education. This edited Q&A is the third in a series in which we pose questions about home education to several experts. In this installment, John Kwasny, Sue Jakes, Cathy Duffy, and Kristyn Getty describe how best to help and encourage homeschoolers. (Click here for a short biography of each.)
John, you and your wife have homeschooled eight children for more than 20 years. How do you help?
John: Well, I’m the morning guy. I make sure they’re up in the morning. Traditionally with our kids, after morning devotional time, we do math. Then after dinner at night, I look over what they’ve done, and they can ask questions. I don’t work on Fridays, so I usually teach the kids that day and give my wife the day off.
How can other dads get involved?
John: The easiest role is homeschool principal. Be the enforcer: “Hey kids, do your work. Pay attention to your mother.” The primary teacher has somebody behind them encouraging, reinforcing, checking on the kids. Then I ask a dad, What’s your favorite subject? If he says math, I encourage him to help with that. Or if he loves history, read aloud one of the history books each week. Some dads are strongly convicted about family worship. If that’s you, then teach Bible class. Just helping with one subject is a big relief.
Sue, you homeschooled as a single mom for many years. What kind of support helped you the most?
Sue: All I had was Jesus and the church. After my husband left, this deacon came to my house. He said, “You may only be 46 years old, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re a widow. So you tell me what you need.” Everything from grass cutting to building a fence. He was really a true deacon. Also, an older woman in the church kept calling me, asking me, “Are you doing OK?” My kids came to appreciate her counseling in my life. When she called, my son would run around the house yelling, “Leave mom alone. It’s Ms. Carolyn.” Encouragement in the Spirit is a really wonderful thing.
So, they gave you practical help and encouragement?
Sue: Yes. All of life is spiritual warfare, and the church is your military unit. We need to be the shepherds. Shepherds lay down their lives for the sheep. Shepherds get nasty and dirty. Sometimes they carry the sheep a long way. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s sacrificial.
Maybe find a homeschool family and ask, “Can I teach your kids something?”
Sue: Can I teach your kids? Can I make dinner at your house? It always has been about incarnation. Jesus gave up His comfort and He came down. Coming down is the method of the message. One 80-year-old man in our church told a new family, “I hear you are homeschooling down the street from us.” The mom said, “Yes.” He said, “Every week, one morning a week, bring your kids down. Leave them. You go run some errands, and I’m going to teach them the Bible.” So, it can be a cross-generational thing.
Cathy, what about grandparents? Do you help your grandkids who homeschool?
Cathy: With distance learning and busy schedules, I have a flexible role. One thing I do—when the kids come over, we often play educational games.
What do you play?
Cathy: I like some of the SimplyFun language games: Clover Leap has been huge for language arts. Fourmation is another SimplyFun one that works on mental math skills. We also play games like Tripoley where you have to use lots of logic processing.
So you build skills and relationships together?
Cathy: Right. We did it with our kids, and now I’m doing it with my grandkids. For instance, one son really loved the four-part stories we did when my parents visited. Grandparents, all ages, working together. Everybody gets a sheet of paper and starts writing a story. Then you pass it to the next person. Take five minutes and add another part. Then pass it again. The stories get silly, and kids love doing it. And it’s something you can do, COVID or not. In a recent Zoom call with my granddaughter, my sister in Australia jumped in and her cousin in Tennessee jumped in, and we all did a four-part story online. She loved it.
What about church leaders? How can they help?
John: First, be proactive and recognize that homeschoolers have unique needs. If you don’t know what those are, ask. Commit to pray for homeschoolers and encourage them. I’m always encouraged when our elders purposely pray for parents. Sometimes our church offers space for homeschool support groups and gatherings. Another possibility—do a seminar or Sunday school class on homeschool options. It’s a way to say, We support you.
One panelist said recently that homeschooling is normal parenting intensified.
John: Exactly. Like on steroids. If your family struggles with discipline normally, homeschooling will be a challenge. So, that’s a role pastors can play. Be ready to counsel homeschool families who struggle with that. I start them on the basics like Ted Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart. But there are many good discipline resources out there.
Sue: And you could make resources available digitally. Some publishers, such as CDM, will allow you to email books like our Advent curriculum to your entire congregation. Also, think about opportunities for homeschool children to serve, to teach. I’ve discipled third, fourth, and fifth grade girls for the last decade. I train them to come alongside me in children’s ministry. I tell them my story. We pray for each other. I help grow them into people who really believe God’s Word, and they work beside me as they get older. We tend to think that friends are peer level. But the best thing you can do is make a child your friend.
Kristyn, we’ll talk more next time about kids’ spiritual needs, including singing. For now, how can churches support homeschool families using good hymns?
Kristyn: One simple thing is to let families know what songs will be sung next Sunday. Parents with younger children can play those songs in their homes throughout the week. And that can prepare kids to sing during worship. It helps create community and connects the days together. It’s a great opportunity to encourage the voice of the church while many are still apart. Just be mindful that many kids won’t go to Sunday school or kids’ church. If you have an online service, maybe record and share some children’s voices. Finding ways to connect kids with the service—that’s helpful.
—Read the previous installment in this Q&A series on homeschooling: “How to meet kids’ social needs while homeschooling”
John Kwasny serves as director of Christian education and children’s ministries at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, Miss. He is also the director of One Story Ministries, authoring curriculum for children and youth such as Investigating God’s Word ... at Home. In addition to his five years as a Biblical counselor in private practice, John and his wife have homeschooled eight children over the last 23 years.
Sue Jakes is the children’s ministry coordinator for the PCA Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM). She oversees the effort of CDM to connect and equip children’s ministries, develops and reviews resources for children and youth (including an online bookstore), and trains church leaders, staff, and volunteers. Sue homeschooled three children and lives in Georgia.
Cathy Duffy began reviewing curriculum for her own kids. Her research led to several popular books including 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. See Cathy’s latest top picks as well as thousands of curriculum reviews at her website, Cathy Duffy Reviews. Cathy homeschooled three boys and now resides in California.
Kristyn Getty is a Christian songwriter, recording artist, and worship leader. She and her husband, Keith, have written many hymns and perform at venues around the world, including their annual Sing! conference in Nashville. They occasionally homeschool several of their four young children in Nashville and Northern Ireland. Find out more about their music at Gettymusic.com.