Biblical Homeschooling Methods

homeschooling boy

On our homeschooling blog, we examine what Deuteronomy 6 has to say about a biblical homeschooling philosophy. The book of Deuteronomy seems to suggest specific methods for not only what and why we should teach our children, but how we should teach them.

I’ve been mulling over the book of Deuteronomy for a few months now, and I’ve noticed that each chapter or group of chapters seems to follow a specific theme. I wondered if it was just my imagination or not, because I didn’t have time to really study it out. I also wondered if the “themes” might have anything to do with teaching children.

This week, I took the time to study it out officially. It was wonderful! I’m sure official Bible scholars over the centuries have many more profound things to say about the purpose of the book of Deuteronomy, but for me, I’m now absolutely convinced that one of the primary reasons God gave us this book was to give us a guide for how to teach our children.

Note: You can download my full-length study of the book of Deuteronomy here, to be used as a guide to your own thorough reading of the entire book.

Therefore, it is with complete confidence in the Word of God that I call this post “Biblical Homeschooling Methods.” The Bible probably has much more to say about parenting and homeschooling outside the book of Deuteronomy, but for now, I am confident that the following homeschooling methods are biblical and pleasing to God. (Isn’t the Word of God such a comfort when we’re uncertain, filling us with confidence that “we can do this”!?)

Biblical Homeschooling Methods (in order as they appear in Deuteronomy):

1. Teach by a Variety of Methods.

Since the book of Deuteronomy is arranged by topic and it was given by God to Moses as an instructional book for the children of Israel, I see that God uses the topical method when teaching mankind. Of course, we also know He teaches by chronological history (a.k.a. stories), as well as by poetry, lists, and logical arguments in His Word. This tells me that many different teaching methods are used by God, and all have their purpose and use. Variety is good. Repetition is essential. The “spice of life” originated with our Creator, and it certainly adds good taste to homeschooling.

The “topical” method used in Deuteronomy means that there is a good deal of repetition in the book. It seems God avoids “gaps in education” by saying the same thing over and over again, in a variety of ways. It’s the original “unit study,” but rather than going broad with too much information, God keeps it trimmed down and narrow, preferring repetition for solid learning.

2. Start with a Good Story.

The first three chapters of Deuteronomy start with a story, hooking the reader with a thorough review of the history behind the subject of obeying God. The key verse to this first section (3:21-22) says, “You have seen with your own eyes all the LORD your God has done.”

The key to telling a good story is to help the listener “see it with his own eyes.” Stories are a great way to picque interest in a topic and to remind the listener why you’re studying this topic.

The “story” in chapters 1-3 ends with, “Hear now… what I am about to teach you. Follow them…” (4:1). Our stories should also end with, “This is why you’ve heard the story. Now get ready for what I’m going to teach you. Today we’re going to learn… then you’ll have a homework assignment so you can ‘practice’ what we’ve learned.”

3. Carefully Review So It Isn’t Forgotten.

The theme of Deuteronomy 4 is to not “add to what I command you and do not subtract from it.” God warned that the children of Israel would immediately begin making idols in the shape of created things, being enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping them (4:16, 19, 23, 25, 28).

Rather, God warned them to “be careful” and “watch closely” so that they would not “forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart.” Moses was told to assemble the people, so they could hear God’s words and then teach them to their children (4:9-10).

I see that we should begin with stories, but without careful repetition and review, we will forget! Children don’t outgrow this. The oldest senior citizen needs the same review. It’s a lifelong process.

Repetition needs to be intentional. It needs to happen often. Your homeschooling method must include repetition and review, or it simply won’t be effective.

4. Teach with the “Hear, Learn, Follow” Method.

The theme of Deuteronomy 5 is “hear, learn, and follow” the commands of God. In this chapter, God gave a specific body of information to be taught (known to us as the “Ten Commandments”), but He used three ways to ensure that this information would be mastered.

To teach a body of facts, first help your child “hear.” This word means to “hear intelligently,” meaning that the first step is to teach the information in a way that the child can understand what it means.

Secondly, help your child “learn” the information well. The Hebrew word for learn is similar to our word, “to goad or prod.” You keep poking at your child, day after day, until the information is mastered extremely well.

Thirdly, help your child “follow,” which is the Hebrew word for “guard.” You want the child to protect or “attend to” the information you’ve taught, which again means plenty of review, maybe writing it down in a form that can be well preserved.

5. Teach All the Time, at Every Opportunity. Use Visual Aids and Discussion.

The classic parenting verses of Deuteronomy 6 now appear:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

First, the teacher has a firm grasp of the information herself. Then, discussion occurs all day long, at every possible opportunity, while going about normal daily activities. Visual aids are used liberally, on every possible surface.

This is classic stuff!

God also says, “In the future, when your son asks you… tell him…” (6:20-21). Visual aids are useful because they are discussion starters. Again, we forget easily, even as parents! The visual aids will help both you and your children remember the topics being learned.

However, visual aids alone serve no purpose if the discussion doesn’t happen, all day long, every day, throughout all your activities. “When your son asks you” assumes that your son would even feel free to ask you a question! Are you available for discussion, or is each member of your home preoccupied with his or her own activities and interests, uninterested or involved with each other? Obviously, the Bible assumes that members of a family are actually spending almost all their time together.

Author John A. Stormer notes that it takes time to effectively teach children:

  • Time to talk (Note: Only humans can carry on two-way communication, so children can ask why or get further clarification if they don’t understand. Television cannot fill this need!)
  • Time to read
  • Time to teach new information
  • Time to train and apply information to life
  • Time to play
  • Time to care (Note: This kind of intense interaction shows a child that his parent cares enough to consider his lifelong needs over personal interests.)

6. Ruthlessly Rid the House of False Information.

The theme of Deuteronomy 7 is sobering, as God tells the children of Israel to destroy the wicked nations around them totally (7:2). They were to make no treaty with them, show them no mercy, not intermarry with them, break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn their idols in the fire. Total destruction.

I think this is a weak area for most of us homeschoolers, myself included. Yet it cannot be! God devotes an entire chapter to this topic! He minces no words, even as He explains why.

Carefully check your home for false information (and even evil, from God’s perspective). What good does it do to teach your children carefully, with the best methods, then allow false information an equal footing? Why allow truth and lies to co-exist? You are only dooming your children to failure, possibly even eternal destruction.

“…Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers” (James 1:14-16).

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Evil and false information have a tendency of creeping into our homes, sneaking in when we’re not aware. I strongly suggest that you do “spring cleaning” of all your homeschooling supplies, books, and even companions every few months. Again, be ruthless in this area! Do a total destruction of all evil.

7. Test for Understanding.

The theme of Deuteronomy 8 is that God “disciplines you, as a man disciplines his son” (8:3 and 5). God states that His specific method of “discipline” is as follows:

  1. He humbles you.
  2. He tests you.
  3. He teaches you.

Yes, you have to take your children down a notch or two, and often! They get “wise in their own eyes.” You need to teach them to be humble, and the way God did this with the children of Israel was to “test” them. As you check for total mastery of what you’ve taught them, obviously they will occasionally fail your tests. You finish the testing sessions by re-teaching the information, again checking that they can apply what you’re teaching to real-life situations (see 8:3).

Testing should be fair. As God says in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13,

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation [testing] has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Testing is not a popular homeschooling concept, but it is biblical.

8. Teach Them to Think of Others — and Why!

Pride can creep into a Christian home very easily, can’t it? We start to think, maybe just because we’re homeschooling, that we’re “all that and a bag of chips.” Yet God quickly reminds the children of Israel,

“It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations… It is not because of your righteousness…, for you are a stiff-necked people” (9:5-6).

Yes, as I’ve written elsewhere, our hearts are naturally wicked and self-seeking. We provoke the LORD, and our children provoke their parents and siblings. We are “stiff-necked.” (Just watch a two-year-old!)

How does God fix this situation? He “shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” ( 10:19). In addition, and this is beautiful, He teaches them to love those who are foreigners to Israel.

We are not “special” because of any inherent goodness. Just the opposite! We are sinners!

We are not “better” than anyone else, of any nation, creed, race, gender, or status. Just the opposite! We are poor and needy!

We need to love others, showing it in tangible ways. (See Isaiah 58 for a list of biblical ideas.) Doing acts of service, mercy, and goodness to those who cannot repay us teaches us to be humble and take our eyes off ourselves. These “acts of service” can start at home, with menial chores and sometimes-distasteful tasks performed out of love rather than payment, extending later to those in our communities and world.

9. Fill “Blank Slates” with Life Experiences.

When I use the term “blank slates” in this educational context, I do not mean the same thing that St. Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, or Sigmund Freud meant, that children are born basically good and need to simply be nurtured with an excellent environment. Rather, I mean it in the original sense of tabula rasa, that “individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception” (source).

This is exactly how God words it:

“Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm… It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert until you arrived at this place… But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done” (11:2, 5, 7).

Your children were born without the “mental content” that you now have. They can only learn when you tell them what “your own eyes” have seen. They need to experience it, preferably not by the “school of hard knocks” but rather by hearing about your experiences.

One of the reasons that you teach your children to honor you is because you do know things they don’t! You’ve lived life, and you have experience to back your knowledge. They haven’t! They need to listen to you.

I find it very instructive that it is within this context that God repeats almost word-for-word His teaching method:

“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. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates…” (11:18-20).

One of the main topics of discussion in your home should be the free sharing of your own life experiences and stories, so that your children will learn and not repeat your mistakes.

10. Teach Them “Cultural Literacy” with Discernment. Teach Them How to Purge the Bad.

Chapter 13 of Deuteronomy shares three scenarios of interacting with the culture around us.

  • If a prophet appears and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder… (13:1-5)
  • If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you… (13:6-11)
  • If you hear it said… that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray… (13:12-18)

In each of these scenarios, God’s advice is the same.

  • You must not listen (13:3).
  • You must purge the evil from among you (13:5).

First, God told them not to listen, and He says that this is a “test.” Maybe your “test” could be a newspaper current-events article, in which your children are told to evaluate what they read and compare it to God’s Word, telling if the reaction of the people in the story is biblical or not. Essay writing, logical arguments, position papers, and speeches are all excellent opportunities of learning to “not listen” to the sinful advice so rampant in our culture. Quietly, you can even include discussions of the actions of acquaintances and other Christians you know, evaluating whether people’s actions match the Scripture’s words.

Home is the place to practice for life. Teach your children how to live observe culture and differentiate between right and wrong. Most importantly, train them how to “purge” evil from their own lives. Be especially vigilant with the close friendships your children form and the opportunities for peer pressure that they face.

11. Master God’s Curriculum.

Chapters 14-26 give an extensive overview of God’s curriculum, his commands and laws. These laws are specific, extensive, and occasionally arbitrary (in our view). We don’t always know why God wants us to do something, but we know we are to obey anyway. Often, He does tell us why, however. Either way, there is a specific “curriculum,” and we are expected to know and do it.

School feels like this to our children, too. They don’t always understand why they must learn so much, but as their parents, we do know why. They have to learn to trust us, by obeying us and learning it. Their job is to hunker down and get it learned.

I note one passage in this large section that gives an excellent method for mastering a large body of seemingly unrelated facts:

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this lawIt is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn… and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (17:18-20).

“Copywork,” as it is popularly called in homeschooling circles today, is a biblical method of homeschooling, as well as profoundly effective when carried with the student and reviewed every day.

Don’t be shy about requiring your children to memorize huge amounts of information, reviewing it constantly, writing and copying it. Your children will most likely fuss, but it’s your job to teach!

12. Prepare to Teach, Write Down Your Plans, and Communicate Your Plans to Your Children.

In Deuteronomy 27, Moses was told to write the entire “curriculum” (God’s laws, as reiterated in chapters 5 and 14-26) on “large stones” (27:2, 4, 8). He was then to “recite” the curriculum (in a “loud voice,” no less) to all the people.

Children and kings aren’t the only ones who should write and recite. The teacher also needs to do a fair bit of writing, and that means she needs to completely understand the curriculum, going over it thoroughly and writing out what is to be taught. The curriculum needs to be written in a way that can be then easily communicated daily to the students.

I don’t see that “flying by the seat of our pants” is bibilical, do you? “Natural” methods that let life happen as it comes don’t appear in Deuteronomy. Yes, the discussions “just happen.” But the visual aids and most especially, the specific body of information to be learned, are “set down in stone” ahead of time. Are we better than Moses, not needing to write it all out and to communicate it to our students? Do we think we can be effective without a plan?

13. Give Rewards and Consequences.

Chapter 28 is a long chapter, with much proof that God uses both rewards and consequences in His teaching methods. It is biblical for us to give both rewards and consequences to our students as well. (I especially love the ideas produced by Doorposts.net, such as the If-Then Chart, the Blessing Chart, and the book For Instruction in Righteousness.)

I also note that God gives four times as many consequences for wrong behavior in this chapter as he does for good behavior! Mom, don’t feel badly if some days go like that for you, too. Are you above God? If that’s how much He has to discipline His children, you’ll probably have to apply a lot of consequences in your home, too. It’s normal — and bibilical.

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Proverbs 19:18, KJV).

14. Hold Yourself Accountable to Your Children and to Others.

In chapters 29-30, the children of Israel enter into a covenant with the LORD their God, sealed with an oath (29:12-14). Their children were witnesses to this covenant, as well as the nations around them (29:22, 24).

Accountability is a bad word in many homeschooling circles. We want the right to homeschool, without any responsibility to prove that we are being effective, in the eyes of our children or the society that is watching us.

I propose that, without giving up our homeschooling freedoms, we should embrace our local homeschooling laws, carefully abiding by them and being accountable to those whom God has set over us.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:1-7).

15. End Your Teaching with Read-Alouds and Singing.

The book of Deuteronomy closes (chapters 31-34) with the theme of “Do not be afraid.” Don’t be overwhelmed by everything that is required of a teacher. Even God says,

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (31:8).

You have an excellent plan. You are to:

  • “Read this law before them in their hearing”
  • So they can “listen”
  • So they will “learn”
  • So they will “follow carefully.” (31:10-12)

God reminds us that our children “do not know this law,” so that’s why we carefully teach it.

Finally, He tells us that we’ll have days that we fail, and our children will, too. I love that He concludes by asking Moses to write down a song. Music is a useful and highly effective learning tool, to say nothing of fun! Isn’t God great?

Reading, listening, learning, and singing. These are biblical homeschooling methods, given to us by our Creator God. Now don’t you have a lot to feel confident about as you plan your next homeschooling steps?

~Anne

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