for Early Childhood
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by Doreen Claggett
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
and great shall be the peace of your children,” said the Word.
“By the year 2000 we will, I hope, raise our children
to believe in human potential, not God,”1 said the world.
And the latter has already become the prevailing spirit in our culture. The battle for our children’s souls is very real!
More than ever, parents need a continuing plan for rearing God’s heritage (Psalm 1278:3) to hold the biblical world view, godly character, and academic skills necessary to fulfill God’s calling and live for His glory. Otherwise, children are merely being raised (like cattle), not educated for God. As a result, they are likely to follow the prevailing spirit of the world.
An architect must have a plan to build a solid structure. A surgeon must have a plan for successful surgery. A lawyer must have a plan to win a battle in court. And parents must have a plan to win their children for Christ in the battle for their souls.
To be successful, an architect takes into account the stress factors of building materials. A surgeon must consider the stress factors of his patient. A lawyer has to be aware of the stress factors of his client. To be successful in training children for Christ, parents have to be alert to stress factors that could harm their children rather than help them reach the goals God intends for them.
Stress, according to Webster’s 1828 edition, means “force, violence, strain.” As an educational example of stress, Webster listed John Locke’s view that “though the faculties of the mind are improved by exercise, yet they must not be put to a stress beyond their strength.”
Forcing (“pushing”) children’s minds to strain beyond their abilities is an example of what constitutes an ungodly stress because it can provoke them to exasperation (Eph. 6:4). This not only violates good pedagogy, but also God’s law of love. However, improving the faculties of the mind by exercise, in accordance with God-given capabilities, is good for children, even though it involves applying pressure in their best interest.
What is pressure? Webster defines “pressure” as “a constraining force or impulse; that which urges or compels the intellectual or moral faculties; as the pressure of motives on the mind or the fear on the conscience.” That definition well fits the purpose of control, which is so necessary during the child stage of biblical child training.2 During this stage, parents have the responsibility and legitimate right to control a child by exerting pressure which results from the restricting rules (or standards) given to him for which he is held accountable.
Such a responsibility also applies to the academic realm. Genuine love will pay whatever price is necessary to exercise the parental right to require children to develop their God-given abilities to their greatest potential for the Lord. Applying pressure “which urges or compels the intellectual or moral faculties” is thus godly when the primary motive is to produce endurance, proven character, and unshakable confidence in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:3-5).
To accomplish such a goal, every child should be held accountable for what he or she is capable of doing---and not for what another child can do. In other words, it’s unwise to compare one child’s accomplishments (or failures) with another. Rather, we should gently challenge each child to do his or her best for God. The Lord asks no more than that; neither should we.
Now then, how does all that apply to how we can develop our children’s godly character through seatwork activities?
In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “seatwork” can be likened to “that which is performed by mental labor.” Training students to mentally labor with a right attitude on written assignments (phonics, spelling, penmanship, math, etc.) is all part of God’s lesson plan for their growth toward Christian maturity. By the manner in which children perform their seatwork tasks, they are forming habits as patterns for other areas of life.
To help children form godly habits, the Christ-Centered Math Lessons A-C contain many character training tips that show students how to apply the qualities of the 1-10 Math families to their lives.3 (There is also a set of tips for parents.) At the end of this article is a list of those qualities, definitions, and the verses upon which they were based. I will now use those same qualities (highlighted) to give you some examples of how to apply them to building godly character through seatwork activities.
First of all, by God’s grace home school families should strive to show orderliness by doing all things “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Children are best “taught of the Lord” in an orderly environment that is filled with joyfulness. Once biblical standards for conduct are established, God expects those standards to be lovingly enforced.
Jesus set the biblical standard for godly conduct when He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience gives proof of our love for Christ. Therefore, when we train young children to show loyalty by following instructions exactly as asked, whether they feel like doing so or not, we are also training them to someday loyally follow Christ. (By the way, children will never learn to obey One they can’t see, until they first learn to obey those they can see.)
The quality of decisiveness can be developed by training children to choose to do things God’s way by working as quickly and as well as they are able. In this manner, they will also be learning to “redeem the time” by using it wisely (Eph. 5:15-16). Even habitually “poky” students can be helped to improve in this respect, and that can be a huge blessing to them later on in life.
As children are trained to realize the importance of any task assigned to them, and to follow through with it, they will develop the character quality of responsibility. The principle: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). If a child bulks at a task that seems too difficult, applying godly pressure to help him avoid being a quitter will produce endurance. Gradually, even a fainthearted child can learn to maintain commitment to a goal during times of pressure. And, in due course, he will discover that perseverance is its own reward.
Along this same line, the quality of determination can be developed by teaching children to do a job well in spite of present struggles---because those struggles will help them grow in the Lord. The principle is this: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Apostle Paul chose to forget the tough things in his past; instead, he purposed to keep his eye on the wonderful goal ahead. Because our great God is the God of New Beginnings, no matter how many times a child has tried to do something, and failed, the next time is always a “new beginning.” Even young students can be taught to claim, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). And God always answers scriptural prayers (1 John 5:14-15)!
To me, the topic of penmanship is an interesting one. Because God’s attention to detail and its perfection can be seen in all of creation (Luke 12:7), I am persuaded that He gloriously cares about the little things in our lives---even the manner in which characters such as letters and numbers are printed. You see, the word “character” has both an external and internal meaning. Externally, the word “character” refers to “letters,” “the manner of writing,” or “distinctive quality of any kind strongly marked.” Internally, “character” refers to “distinctive aspects of character or reputation.” Therefore, as young children are trained to attentively learn the identification and reproduction of individual letters and numbers, in the process they are also imprinting the mark of Christian character on their lives.
Building Christian character includes training children early on to accept the stewardship responsibility of taking good care of the school supplies God has provided, and this includes doing the best job possible when using a pencil (crayon, marker, etc.). An example of how to develop orderliness in penmanship is seen in a common saying used in the Rocky Bayou Christian School (RBCS) kindergarten during seatwork sessions: “Messy doesn’t count.” If an “eager beaver” student rushed to finish quickly, or to be “first done,” but his work wasn’t neat, it didn’t “count” and he was asked to do it over. (It never took long for students to “get the picture” that quality counts.) For, without quality, the time, resources, and talents God has given are being wasted.
A general guideline for discerning whether a child is purposefully being messy, or simply working at a limited skill level, is to daily evaluate the child’s printing practices. After a level of quality has been maintained consistently, it is reasonable to expect him to maintain that standard. When a child veers from it, and sloppy work is turned in, this could be due to either laziness or willfulness. (Coming down with an illness or being overly tired can also affect a child’s performance.) As for willfulness, this represents a lack of flexibility---“sensing and adapting to the wishes of those we serve.” Just as we show Christ love by adapting our wishes to His, children should be trained to do the same toward their God-given authorities. Unless the child is getting sick or is fatigued, the remedy should be the same: ask the student to do the work over, as neatly as able. When in doubt; make sure to ask the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5).
Another aspect of developing orderliness is to help a child who habitually finishes early to practice God’s “law of love” by not disturbing someone who may still be working. A good technique is to provide a quiet activity (interesting reading book, simple art project, math manipulatives, etc.) to occupy this “eager beaver.” This principle applies: “aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands . . .” (1 Thess. 4:1).
Working “with your own hands” also relates to training children to develop decisiveness by devoting all their energy to a course they know is right. For example, rather than give in to cheating by stealing someone’s answers or letting someone still theirs, they need to determine to do things God’ way: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands that which is good . . .” (Eph. 4:28). Letting someone cheat is unloving because it robs him of an opportunity to learn. Stealing someone else’s answers is also deceitful because it is lying by making the teacher think the child did the work himself.
The spiritual illustration on the back of the 9 Squirrel flashcard points out that the squirrel family typically lacks the quality of endurance. So when you hear a student cry out, “I can’t do it!”---think of that family. Because the nature of children is to do whatever bad (or even good) it takes to get their own way, ask the Lord for discernment to know whether a student genuinely needs help, or godly pressure to help him maintain commitment to a goal during times of pressure. In either case, encourage the child to memorize and pray Philippians 4:13 regularly: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
As children become more and more proficient in their knowledge and skills, they may become “puffed up” (1 Cor. 8:1b) and brag about their accomplishments---especially if they hear parents doing so. But God’s way is to “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth” (Prov. 27:2). A multi-talented student who excels should be given no more praise than the one with lesser abilities who is also doing his best. Furthermore, children with exceptional abilities often need reminding to resist feeling impatient or critical toward someone with lesser gifts. Rather, God expects children and parents alike to “Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering …” (Col. 3:12). For the Lord hates a proud heart (Prov. 6:16, 16:18).
Verbal encouragement plus an occasional sticker, star, or “happy face” can be a good motivator if used sparingly, and with sensitivity to any negative character traits that could develop as a result. A child who constantly gets rewards is at risk for becoming prideful. And, too much of a good thing can inadvertently train him to expect something for everything he does. The bottom line is that children need to be trained to show decisiveness by choosing to do what is right because it is right---and not for what they may get out of it. The principle is this: God wants His children to work “as to the Lord and not to men” (Eph. 6:6-7).
Pride, because it competes with God for control and glory, is the root of all evil. In contrast, genuine humility is the root of all virtues. Hence, we should teach our children early in life (by word and example) that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6b). In other words, since natural abilities are gifts from our Creator for His glory (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 10:17), using those gifts well for the Lord is simply His “just due.” The principle is this: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10).
And that brings me to a very important point. In spite of the fine results you hear about from schools like RBCS, the truth is that through the wisdom and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, you, mom, can do an even better job---“with thy might”---for the Lord!
Building godly character during seatwork sessions is like standing at the window of your children’s hearts. Academic assignments are such opportune teaching moments because this is when each child’s character flaws are likely to surface. And the flesh doesn’t like accountability. (Consider how Adam and Eve tried to sidestep that issue in the Garden of Eden.) But as you faithfully apply the godly pressure of accountability, God will enable you to “see” into each child’s carnal nature to deal with it biblically.
Standing at the window of children’s hearts in the home provides the highest degree of continuity to be teaching “Thus says the Lord . . .” It has also been proven that a tutorial situation is far more productive than a classroom environment. To be truly successful, however, you need to be aware ahead of time that although home schooling is a high calling and a marvelous privilege, it will not always be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is.
A friend of mine, Dr. James Truax, likens this to the tide rolling in and out. For example, when formal home schooling first begins, often everything appears beautiful, as when the tide is in at the beach and gentle waves are lapping the seashore. Later, as the tide goes out at that shore, the garbage that was hidden underneath those former gentle waves begins to surface (dead fish, broken shells, seaweed, trash dumped overboard from boats, and so on).
So it is in the tide of home schooling. Increasing expectations and godly pressures cause hidden garbage like laziness, pridefulness, rebellion, procrastination, lying, sloppiness, willfulness, foolishness, forgetfulness, carelessness, etc., to surface. The nature and amount of garbage will vary from child to child, but this is good, not bad. Because the Lord wants “godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15), the tide in/tide out process of home schooling is His way of purifying His children.
When character flaws begin to surface, remaining alert to Satan’s fiery darts is vital (Eph. 6:10-11; 1 Peter 5:8). Since children’s hearts usually mirror that of their primary teachers (Luke 6:40), window moments will also prompt a surfacing of our own character flaws. If not dealt with biblically, a negative cycle can be created which may lead to a wrongful conclusion that the problem is home schooling or “too early education.”
Bailing out or becoming discouraged is exactly what Satan aims to accomplish in home schools (John 10:10a). But choosing to rejoice in the privilege of cleaning up the garbage in our children’s lives as well as our own is God’s way (1 Thess. 5:16-18). As “self” rears its ugly head, by God’s grace and His empowerment, we can simply deck it!
In that sense, as Dr. Truax likes to say, “Home schooling is even more a parent-training rather than child-training movement!” With that in mind, we can also conclude that “building godly character through seatwork activities” is just as much a character-training time for parents as it is for the children. Hence, all such teaching moments represent great opportunities to further disciple---and be discipled---for Christ. Isn’t God worth it?
Note: This article has been comprised of direct quotes and adaptations from the eighth chapter of Doreen Claggett’s Never Too Early. (Click here.) If you would like to read more about how to grow in your walk with the Lord, your walk with your husband and children, and better understand the nature of genuine Christ-centered education, we recommend reading Doreen’s book.
Note: The following ten character quality descriptions and verses were adapted from the Institute in Basic Life Principle’s wonderful Character Sketches, and were used by permission in our Christ-Centered Math program. Each of these qualities is related to a particular 1-10 Christ-Centered Math Flashcard, starting with “Generosity” as the ONE Penguin and ending with “Determination” as the TEN Moth.
Generosity---Giving at the cost of personal sacrifice.
Biblical Principle: “Neither will I offer . . . unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (II Samuel 24:24).
Flexibility---Sensing and adapting to the wishes of the one I serve.
Biblical Principle: “By love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Loyalty---Knowing and following the wishes of those responsible for me. (Doing whatever I’m asked to do whenever I’m asked to do it.)
Biblical Principle: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17).
Orderliness---Not only maintaining personal cleanliness and neatness but also striving for orderly conduct in every area of life.
Biblical Principle: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
Courage---Facing any problem with confidence that I will ultimately succeed in the Lord’s strength.
Biblical Principle: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9).
Decisiveness---Devoting all my energy to a course of action I know is right. (Choosing to do things God’s way.)
Biblical Principle: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
Joyfulness---Providing brightness in the lives of others regardless of outward circumstances.
Biblical Principle: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Responsibility---Realizing the importance of any task assigned to me.
Biblical Principle: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).
Endurance---Maintaining commitment to a goal during times of pressure.
Biblical Principle: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation” (James 1:12).
Determination---Being firm in purpose to press on for God’s glory accepting present struggles as God’s tools for growth.
Biblical Principle: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
2 In his outstanding book, What the Bible Says . . . About Child Training, J. Richard Fugate discusses four stages of child development. The “child stage” applies to a little child in contrast to one in his teens.