Going to School - T.M.P. Vanderven

Taken with permission from Clarion Vol. 46, No. 18 (1997)

Though we don't go to school with our children, our concerns do. While some children love school and breeze through, others have a more difficult time. For a small minority, school is one of the most exquisite forms of punishment the world has ever invented (Mike Yorkey in THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY ANSWER BOOK, Victor Books).

What will the new school year bring for children and parents?

How can we make school profitable and enjoyable for our children?

Schooling takes up a large chunk of our lives as children and adults. Children spend more than twelve years in school in one way or another. As innocent grade one students, they hopscotch to their classroom, perhaps annoyed that they cannot read yet after their first day in school. As time goes by, the influence of the world becomes stronger; peers exert their presence; the home has to step back. Teenagers worry about school and its related social issues, especially personal acceptance. Possibilities for the future often seem to depend on how well we do in school a diploma can open doors. Young adults experience a range of emotions and worries about themselves as persons, and about their future careers.

Parents also live with the fact that school demands much parental attention. There is potential conflict between the family and the world. It is not an easy matter for mom when her little darling hops enthusiastically out of the car, and, seeing her classmates, runs off without a goodbye. Later, the influences from outside begin to creep into the family: Oh, mum, please no; nobody else wears those! And those teachers ... why don't they spend more time with my son? If they would, he would not fall behind.

In addition, Christian parents are also continually confronted with requests for support of our Christian schools. We might find ourselves involved as a school board member or a committee member. These are challenging and time-consuming tasks, often met with more criticism than praise. And even when we are not directly involved, there is the heavy financial burden of the weekly school contribution (in addition to so many other financial obligations). It is an expensive business to send your children to a Christian school, and it is not always easy to remain enthusiastic about school.


Going to school for the first time is a major event in the lives of our children. It is for them an indication that they are now 'big', but it is also a threat to their peaceful and protected life. Mom is not there with them in the classroom.

These brief flurries sketch some of the thoughts that may well have crossed your mind while thinking about the new school year. As we ponder the how to deal with these things question, it is good to remind ourselves of the purpose of our schools, and the relation between home and school. Our Christian schools are community schools; a reformed school is a school established, governed, and financed by parents who belong to the same church community. Why? Because as members of the communion of saints we wish to educate our children in the fear of the Lord. That means, we want to tell the coming generation of the mighty deeds of our God as we read of them in Scripture, as we notice them in nature and the world around us. Home, church, and school belong together because they have the same goal: to (learn to) live a Christian life as demanded by God in his Word. Some have called that covenantal education, a beautiful description that points to the relationship we have with our God and with our fellow brothers and sisters, old and young. And since this is so, we must endeavour to support each other, providing assistance where needed. In order to do this, we must come to know each other. Therefore, do not send your children to school without knowing where they go and who their teacher is. Take the time to discuss with their teachers the concerns and questions you may have about the schooling of your children. Why not take your (Grade 6+) son along on a parent - teacher visit? Let your children gradually take ownership of their own learning - that's part of the goal of education, and it will diminish the chance that the school becomes that exquisite punishment. Be part of the school community in as many positive ways as possible. Your attitude will rub off on your children (be aware that a negative attitude rubs of so much more easily than a positive one!). Looking for ways to help (at) your school? Phone your local principal, and s/he will direct you to the right person.

I would really want my daughter to be successful this year.
Last year I did not always make time for her, but in the coming year I will make sure that she will do her best. Any advice?

I cannot imagine that there are parents who would not want their children to be successful in school. Seeking the best for your children is a most natural parental desire. Equally natural is the fact that often the best intentions seem to run foul in the daily hustle and bustle of life. Plans are readily made, but not so easily executed. As I pondered the above question, two thoughts came to mind. First, parents often act out of a feeling of guilt for not giving their children the attention they need. Second, what parents consider best for their children is not necessarily the best. Let me try to explain.

As parents we often find ourselves with guilt feelings of some sort or another. We know ourselves fairly well, and in our more honest moments we will have to admit that we are far from perfect in our efforts to help our children grow up. All too easily we react in a knee-jerk manner, swinging from not enough to way too much attention. We do well to check our own motivation: do we really want to help our children, or do we want to get rid of that guilt feeling?

The second thought relates to this. Helping often means: Listen to me, I'm your father, your mother. I'll tell you what to do, because I know best. Unfortunately, that's generally not such a good approach with children, especially the older ones. Education means, among other things, leading to independence. You do not become independent when you are told all the time what to do and what not to do. There must be space and opportunity to make up your own mind, rather than follow the mind of others. For those 'others', especially for the parents, this means allowing your children their own space and thoughts. And that makes helping difficult. In fact, parents (and other educators) should acknowledge the danger of over-helping. Overly helpful parents and teachers can cause children to feel imprisoned; overhelping can suffocate.

How might you help your daughter? Be part of her life and let her be part of yours; master the art of permitting each other to live your own life. Temper expectations that are unreasonably high, and help them overcome those depressing feelings of inability. Do not let your daughter feel that you do not really trust her and that it is necessary to check everything she does. Of course, that will differ depending on age, but it is never too early to teach children that they, too, have responsibilities, and that they, too, can make independent decisions.

Setting time aside to help your children with their homework is fine, but only if it is part of the larger family bond. When children get older you might help them best by leaving them alone so that they can, indeed, be responsible for their own actions. It is a wonderful thing that we are part of a protecting and comforting family, and yet, at the same time, are able to become independent, responsible persons. Within this family setting we learn values and norms; we learn what it means to do our best to develop our talents properly, to relate to others, to cope with disappointment, to be humble in success, etc. In this sense, the family is a mirror of the manner in which the Lord wants to live with us: within the covenant bond of His church family, and yet with our own individual responsibilities. Whenever we hear the Ten Words of the Covenant as the rules for our lives, the Lord puts us to work, first of all within our families. Let it be said of our families: what we learned from mum and dad enabled us to live and work as children of the Lord.

Enabling - a beautiful word that sums up the goal of home education in particular. It is what a strong family of parents and children who know that they belong to their faithful Saviour Jesus Christ does for each other. Hence such a family forms the best possible training ground for life. Pray to God to give us such families.

This fall my son will go to school for the first time. How might I prepare him for that?

Going to school for the first time is a major event in the lives of our children. It is for them an indication that they are now 'big', but it is also a threat to their peaceful and protected life mom is not there with them in the classroom. As in so many things in life, it's important to be well-prepared. Step by step the youngsters learn how to manipulate fork and spoon at the dinner table, how to keep the bedroom tidy, how to address guests etc. So also they need to learn how to increase the distance between home and the rest of the world. Going to school is probably the first major step into that world! I list some key elements to indicate the direction in which an answer to the question can be found.

Confidence without recklessness.

Going out into the world does not need to be a frightening experience. Give your daughter a sense of security which will help her move around with confidence. Much of this will come from your own example. Show that you value the school experience and that you trust the teachers. Do not hold your son back because you do not trust others! Some parents appear to be so possessive of their children that they give the impression that no one can really be trusted. At the same time, teach your children that there are limitations to trust, and that there are boundaries which ought not to be crossed. Perhaps it is sad to say this, but making our children streetwise is not a luxury. Similarly, help your children to become school-wise and social-group wise as well. Even at a young age, peer group pressures can wreak havoc.

Teach basic skills.

I think of three sets of basic skills that our youngsters need to acquire.

First, language and ideas. Language is our God-given tool to explore the world around us, and it is truly a miracle to see an infant master this tool. Since language is learned by interacting with others, speaking with and reading to your children are of crucial importance. In particular, the daily habit of reading from books your children love is an excellent and necessary preparation for later formal learning. If you have not done so already, adopt the practice of "lap reading" with your youngsters; you will create a powerful opportunity to help your children prepare themselves for future learning tasks!

Second, space and movement. Youngsters talk and explore; that's the natural way in which they begin to make sense of the world around them (that's what learning is all about!). They need many opportunities to explore the space around them as an important training ground for future learning. Select toys with care because most of the modern gadgets are just that, offering little opportunity for useful play. Take your youngster out of the house to explore its immediate environment. Expand the circle of exploration with walks in the park, swimming in the pool, shopping trips to the mall, etc. Let your son help with the preparation for such trips: shoes, raincoats, snacks.

Third, attention and concentration. Children have notoriously short attention spans. Often they flutter from one thing to another, and then readily moan: Mom, I'm bored. Such moans usually indicate lack of attention and inability to concentrate, and tend to become patterns and habits if ignored. Children must be trained in this, and consistently so. Paying attention and concentration are attributes that should come from within us (imagination plays quite a role here), and should not depend on a constant stream of changing images (as on TV). Your own example is important to your children: make sure that they see what it means to pay good attention to something, or to concentrate on a task at hand.

Check the expectations of the school. Schools will have a set of expectations for their incoming children. These might include knowing name, address, telephone number; being able to follow instructions and dress oneself; being able to sit in class for a protracted period of time, and play with others, etc. Discuss these expectations with the teacher, identifying any that might cause possible concern. Let the teacher know the strengths and weaknesses of your youngster, and together seek solutions to make the entrance into the school as smooth and as pleasant as possible. You may expect that the school will receive your son as he is, while the school may expect you to have fulfilled your parental responsibilities. And what if she does not know the alphabet, or confuses left and right? Well, do not label her a slow learner for not knowing these things at the age of five. Ask the teacher to teach what needs to be taught in such a manner that her teaching connects with your child. And be prepared to help when necessary.

I know that these pointers are far from complete, and I also know that every child is unique. There is not one ideal approach that fits all. Fortunately, parents do not need an advanced degree in order to educate their children. Be scripturally realistic in your own expectations. Not all children will love school, or breeze through it; learn to accept the limitations of your children. Love them for what they are, not for what you want them to be. Stimulate and encourage. Be willing to learn and take note of what others have to say about children and parents; be actively involved with your children first of all at home. Above all, pray constantly for the wisdom that the Lord has promised those who ask him.