New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School

Decisions about a child’s education loom large in the mind of every thinking (a.k.a. intentional) parent. I’ve known many parents who lost sleep, wept tears, and passionately prayed about where and/or how to educate their children. While a child’s education path is a big decision, it’s not like you’re giving your child a tattoo. You can change educational formats whenever you need to.

In eight years of formally educating my children, we have experienced every format available except for boarding school: private school, Christian school, homeschool, and public school.  Sometimes the change was the result of a move or shift in circumstances, sometimes it was simply God-directed. Through these many experiences, God has taught me to release the idol of education and place it among my parenting goals, not at the top of my family’s priorities. If my child doesn’t learn to read this year, he will learn next year, and that’s okay. By the time he gets to middle school, it won’t matter. And I’ve never heard anyone say, “If only I had gotten into AP Calculus in high school, my whole life would have turned out differently!” Let’s face it:

  • There is no One Best Way to educate children.
  • That a child learns is far more important than when she learns.
  • Every school environment teaches more than what is gleaned from books.
  • Aside from the fundamentals (reading, writing, basic math), learning how to learn is often more important than what one learns.

In 2014, God very clearly and specifically led us to place our children in public school—one in middle school and one in elementary. Sure, some days are more difficult than they would be if we homeschooled or if they were surrounded by children who shared their Christian worldview. The benefits, however, have been exceptional. While we might see some portion of these benefits in other educational contexts, public school has provided them all…with little added effort on my part. Consider these nine things my kids are learning in public school.

  1. How to interact with different social, economic, ethnic, and religious groups. They constantly rub shoulders with poverty and wealth, agnostics and fundamentalists, recent immigrants and DAR descendants. They are learning to live harmoniously in our multi-ethnic American culture.
  2. How to wait. When they finish their work before others, they must wait quietly. Patience: what a real-life skill to have under their belts!
  3. How to help others through explanation. When they understand something, the teacher will occasionally ask them to help a student who is struggling. This exercises patience, compassion and generosity…not to mention verbal skills in re-explaining.
  4. How to speak up for themselves. In the classroom setting they learn to answer questions with confidence. They learn to express their needs (younger years) and their opinions (older years). Sometimes those opinions don’t correlate with others in the class, so they learn how to defend their position with poise and respect.
  5. How to win and lose graciously. Sometimes their team wins, sometimes it loses. They must “be okay” with either. Sometimes they answer an oral question incorrectly, and they learn to manage the embarrassment. Sometimes they score 100% on every spelling test, and they learn to manage that success without hurting their friends’ feelings.
  6. How to apply Biblical wisdom without adult guidance. In social situations at school, their obedience and faith are tested. The school context provides a safe environment where they can fail without huge consequences—great practice for college and adult life.
  7. How to speak respectfully about their faith. Again, they can succeed and fail in small steps so they gradually learn what Peter meant in 1 Peter 3:15b-16a, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.
  8. How to learn things they don’t really want to learn in ways that aren’t their preferred learning style. Not everything in school is interesting. Not every activity fits my child’s best learning style. He has to learn it anyway, so he learns how to learn even when he isn’t motivated. This is an essential life skill.
  9. How to summarize their experiences and reflect on their days. When the children come home from school, we talk about the good and bad things that happened that day. I don’t need a moment-by-moment account. I need a summary that includes highlights, emotions, and an evaluation of experiences. They are learning to glean wisdom from their own lives.

Every child is unique and every family is different. In the spring, we begin to pray about where/how to educate our children in the next school year. As you pray and plan for the coming year (It’s not too early!), don’t ignore the public school option. It might just be God’s will for your child and family. Then, whatever method of education to which God calls you, embrace it! I support you.

9 Good Things My Kids Learn in Public School: an #IntentionalParenting reflection on God’s intentions for my kids via @Carole_Sparks. #education (click to tweet)

How do/did you make education decision for your child/children? Every family is different–and every child within that family. Let us know in the comments below.