I tried home schooling my eight children. Three times. Each effort brought abundant joy and humor, increased my appreciation for ‘real’ teachers, made me painfully aware of my limitations, and fostered a lifelong joy for learning among my children.

The time came when it was clear I needed to cease home schooling. I had to recall why I was drawn to this in the first place. What was I hoping to accomplish? What is education anyway? In the early 20th century, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Education is simply the soul of society passed from one generation to another.” The connection is obvious – education isn’t confined to information or indoctrination, but nurtures the intellect and trains the will that creates a path for happiness. Chesterton adds that the purpose of knowing anything is to lead us to an ultimate truth.

Home schooling or cooperatives with other families is an effective solution for today’s young parents facing educational disappointments, but if home schooling is simply not an option, don’t despair. Don’t flog yourself for weakness, failure or inadequacy. There are many ways to form the hearts and minds of your children. You need not home school for your home to be a school.

Here are ten ideas gleaned from many families on how to foster lifelong learning and education in truth, beauty, and goodness within your home.

  1. Reading. Instill in your children a love for reading. First by modeling it yourself. Second, by visiting the local library weekly or building a family library. Read aloud to your children at bedtime. Read to the older kids while they are doing the dishes. Older children can read to younger siblings.

“Books tell children what to expect, what life is, what culture is, how we are expected to behave…Books don’t just cater to tastes. They form tastes. They create norms…” (Meghan Gurdon)

Foster ‘accidental’ reading by limiting internet searches. Leafing through a dictionary or an encyclopedia while looking up one topic often leads to stumbling upon an interesting page that has nothing to do with the original topic. Accidental reading is a fun way to ‘waste time’ and get lost in reading.

  1. Everyday living provides plenty of opportunities to develop life skills. Grocery shopping is a great way to teach math– cents off, percentage off, buy-one-get-one. Teach more math while cooking – fractions, liquid and dry measurements, cooking time, elapsed time. Here’s a list of other life skills that educate and encourage confidence: sewing, knitting, carpentry, hanging wallpaper, planning a garden, building a campfire. Saturday morning chores should be a part of daily living: cleaning, emptying trash, vacuuming and dusting, cleaning out the fireplace, chopping wood, mowing the lawn, washing windows. All of these teach skills, responsibility, resiliency, perseverance, patience, and creates a vibrant can-do spirit of teamwork within the heart of each child.
  2. Extra-curricular activities. Look for team sports that children can take into their adult life – basketball, volleyball, swimming. In fact, re-think organized sports altogether. Allow children to develop their own initiative. Individual sports/activities help children grow in confidence. Consider horseback riding, fencing, ballroom dance, archery, target practice, hunting, skiing, swimming, photography, canoeing, kayaking, theatre, music lessons, fishing, skating.
  3. Family dinners. Lots of good things happen around the dinner table! Among these are good table manners, conversation skills (no phones at the table!) and human connections. Have a world map in the kitchen. Refer to it when discussing current events. Post a ‘word of the week’ near the table and use it in the dinner conversation. Encourage even the youngest child to pronounce it and understand it. Allow everyone at the table to speak.
  4. Writing skills. Insist that children send hand-written thank you notes to friends and relatives—not texts or emails. Encourage children to keep a journal. Ask a little one to write your grocery list or write a letter to a sibling who is away at college or camp. Copying excerpts from a good book is a classical way of increasing vocabulary, improving penmanship, and grammar.
  5. Technology and keyboarding skills. Ask a child to help plan a family vacation by creating a power point about places of interest they’ve researched. Document a family vacation with digital photos.
  6. Family Vacations/Outings. As your budget allows, visit local historical and art museums, botanical gardens, the symphony, live theatre, factory tours, fairs and festivals. Listen to audio books and good music while driving. If you have a TV in your car, turn it off! Encourage children to notice the landscape or see how many different state license plates they can find. Play license bingo. Bring their attention to the different names of highways and cities that reflect the history of the region. While traveling over a holiday, read something aloud or discuss the history and meaning of that holiday. Example, in the U.S. on July 4 read the Declaration of Independence. At Thanksgiving read the Mayflower Compact. During Christmas read the story of the birth of Christ from the Holy Bible. On Memorial Day read President Ronald Regan’s D-Day Address, his Address to Moscow University Students, or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
  7. Music. Cutting through the raucous noise of life, good music like good books reaches into the soul with profound truths. Expose your children to a variety of genres: Gregorian chant, ragtime, blue grass, blues, country, classical, (good) rock, jazz, patriotic music, religious hymns and gospel songs, marching band music and live concerts in the park.
  8. Teach your children to pray. This is for believers. If we fail to teach our children to pray, we have wasted our time, for nothing else is more important than their eternal soul and their relationship with God. Everything we do (#1-8) helps us discover God’s love through His creation, but that is knowing about God. Through prayer we come to know God. Acts of piety like morning and night prayers, family prayers and reading from Scripture, when woven into the fabric of daily family life provide a security in God’s fatherly love and a unity of life whereby prayer is united to daily work and that work becomes prayer all for the glory of God.
  9. Service. What are all these skills, knowledge, and achievements good for unless put to use in the service of others? The professional work parents do is ultimately a work of service to their employer, customers, and their family. All lines of work carry a moral dimension because work is a participation in God’s creation. Yes, we educate our children’s intellect and will for professional achievement, but mostly for their spiritual ‘success’ by living virtuous lives and for the happiness it brings to themselves and others.

Enjoy the adventure of building a family culture. Never underestimate the role of your own family in creating an environment of lifelong learning and self-giving love. What happens within the four walls of your home far exceeds the outside influences on your children. You may not be able to change what’s happening in schools, but you do have control over what happens in your own home!

Diane Thunder Schlosser has been married for 39 years and the mother of eight children. She writes from Wisconsin.