Teach Them to Learn

In the middle of a phone conversation with my oldest son the other day, he said, “Oh, Mom, I’ve been wanting to remember to tell you something. I want to thank you for teaching us how to learn.”

What? Huh? I’m choking up already.

Young people these days (he’s 33 and already complaining about the younger generation) have all the information in the world on their phones and don’t know what to do with it. Thank you for teaching us to keep learning all our lives.”

It’s not every day that a mother gets this kind of validation of a lifetime of effort from a child. I had never come out and told him that this had been my primary goal while homeschooling. It was simply a way of life in our household.

I try not to look back with regret, because I can’t change a thing about the past, but sometimes . . .

Circumstances beyond my control, but known beforehand by God, kept us from homeschooling until my oldest was in 6th grade. The next year I was able to attend our state homeschool convention where I first heard people talking about a classical education. I wanted to jump up in the middle of sessions and holler, “Yes, this is it! This is what I wish I had had for myself. And what I want for my children!” But I was starting from scratch and was already behind. My son was halfway “done.” I knew that I would never be able to catch up, so I made it my goal to teach my children how to keep educating themselves, just as I was, and am continuing to educate myself.

Homeschooling or not, we had made learning a natural activity from the very beginning. A few days after I brought my first child home from the hospital, he was crying and crying, and I had done everything I knew to do. So I read him “The Three Bears” with all the voices; great big Papa Bear, middle sized Mama Bear, and wee little Baby Bear.


Before he was 6 months old, he would sit on my lap and look at pictures while I read. Particularly the “Lucky” book.


My children grew up seeing me reading every day.

We were living on the economy in Germany when my oldest started kindergarten. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment available for us, so many evenings we all sat around the dining room table, each reading a separate volume of our World Book Encyclopedias, periodically sharing interesting facts.
Years later, my father-in-law told me that when he was in school he had heard a girl whispering to her friend one day, “There’s Curt Pendergraft. He reads the encyclopedia.” So it was in our genes.

We never purchased much homeschool curricula, but we wore a trail from our house to the public library. The only limit was: Whatever you check out, you have to be able to carry by yourself. Because I have too many of my own to be able to help you.

Whenever someone said, “I wonder how . . .” we said, “Let’s find out,” and went to the books.

My kids drew, colored, and painted while I read aloud. This kept their hands busy while listening and let me know if they were comprehending what I was reading.  

My husband traded labor for piano lessons for all three kids for several years. Until they were old enough to decide if they wanted to pursue music.

In the middle of a city, one son wanted a job working with horses. I drove him around looking for riding stables or someplace that might need help. He ended up with a job at a saddle shop.

All three kids helped Dad in his cabinet shop at various times. Each one decided that would not be their profession.

Every family can find ways to develop the natural curiosity in their children and turn them in the direction of their God-given talents. Most of us homeschoolers start with the handicap of not having been educated in the way we wish to educate our children. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if we had been? We can’t change a thing about the past. We can, however, say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”