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In early Colonial days there were no public schools. Children learned from their parents at home.

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Fanning the Sparks

As teaching parents, we are faced with a huge array of educationally important items to serve our children. Many are considered essential, such as phonics and math. Many are deemed very important, such as writing and science. Our study of the Bible is the central diet. As we consider the many things our children simply must have, we tend to eliminate those that are cumbersome or difficult to schedule, getting right to the meat on our children's schooling plate.

Regrettably, what is often laid aside is what I call "fanning the sparks." You have seen those sparks. They are looks of excitement or understanding that appear on your child's face quite unexpectedly. A spark is usually followed by a rush of excited conversation from your child, almost invariably leading to more questions. How you respond may depend a great deal on what you perceive to be your job as a homeschooler.

Your attention is the gentle breath that makes the spark glow. Finding a reference book, map or other aide associated with your child's interest might fan the spark into a small flame. Sharing the revelation with the family may add life-giving fuel. And encouraging your child to do more in this area of sparked interest (and then allowing time to do it) might create an energy­producing fire.

As homeschoolers, we fear wildfires. The thought of allowing the sparks to be fanned at all can conjure up images of an out-of-control blaze ruining everything in your child's academic path. So we throw water on the sparks. "Not now, honey," is the message we send. 'That's nice, dear, but let's get back to work." We fear that if we allow these little interruptions, we'll lose some of the momentum to complete all that we know is really important that day.

Why should we fan these sparks? Because they represent teachable moments. These are moments when your child's heart and mind are open receptacles, hungering after truth and understanding. It may not be the truth you planned for your child to learn at that moment, but it is a valuable and educational experience nonetheless. Can we be free to let go of our plan in order to pursue a new thought? I think we should be, and I trust the Lord to give us wisdom in this area. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. " (Proverbs 16:9.)

An academic example of this occurred in my house during a unit study about the ocean. We had done a variety of activities, including watching the old black and white version of the movie "Captains Courageous." My son was fascinated with the ships called "dori schooners" and asked many questions after the movie. I, of course, considered the lesson over with the conclusion of the movie and felt a little inconvenienced by the questions. I sensed a window of opportunity, though, and resisted my urge to keep to the schedule. We got out the encyclopedia and read about dori schooners, leading us to learning about the Grand Banks. We located the Grand Banks on a map and discussed their location and features. Our discussion concluded with my son's amazement at the way God had made the Grand Banks as the perfect natural fishery.

God took this opportunity to lead us down a path which resulted in learning, and in glorifying Him for His wondrous creation. We all felt a deep sense of satisfaction when the lesson ended. How gracious of the Lord to give us this custom-designed lesson, and how glad I was that I hadn't resisted His lead.

Clearly, it's beneficial to have a plan. The order and peace that result from planning and routine are much needed by homeschoolers. Our diligence and pursuit of God's plan for our homeschooling provide the "fireplace," a safe environment for sparks to ignite, be satisfied and naturally diminish. In this environment, we as teachers lay seasoned wood in just the right amount to nourish the sparks provided by the Lord. In a classroom setting there is rarely the time or sensitivity to fan sparks, so children often stop expressing their spontaneous thoughts. As we follow lesson plans and curriculum, we can expect sparks and make room for them in our schedule. Often, they will amazingly tie a lesson together perfectly. As parents, we are given sensitivity and discernment regarding our children, and we must trust the Lord to show us when to fan a spark and how far to follow it, whether that be 20 minutes or several days. Remember, our families have been uniquely designed as the perfect safe environment for our children to take risks and share their innermost thoughts. We need to be sensitive to the point the Lord wants to make with our children, not just the ones we have planned.

After returning from church one Sunday, my young son sat on the couch and began looking at a library book about dinosaurs. Finding a hairy ape-man with knuckles dragging, he asked what it was. I told him that's what the author thought the first man looked like. Confusion was evident on his face, so I asked him if that was what he thought the first man looked like. He said he didn't think so, but it was in the book, so it must be true. Included in our lesson plans for the previous week, we had memorized Genesis 1:27 (which tells about man being made in the image of God). I asked him what our scripture was and he recited it. We could feel the revelation dawning inside him and after looking at the picture a second more he looked up wide-eyed and said "Mommy, this picture isn't true!" The wood had been laid in the fireplace by our lessons, but the spark came from the Lord. As the wood burned, deep convictions and understanding were developed in him.

We can't be bound by our plans and unable to respond when an unexpected opportunity arrives. If we consider all such opportunities as intrusions, we might turn the Lord away without even knowing it. We want our children to know that we diligently provide opportunities for learning in their homeschool, but that the giver of true knowledge and understanding is the Lord.

This article is reprinted with permission of the author, Debbie Strayer. Visit to find out more about other available materials by Debbie Strayer.

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