Homeschool Wisdom Homeschooling

Filling a Pail or Lighting a Fire?

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
– Plutarch

Many years ago I heard Chris Davis, homeschool dad and nationally known speaker at state-wide homeschool conferences, give a talk based on this quote and I have loved it ever since. For 23 years I have attempted to “light a fire” in my children, to foster a life-long love for learning, to prod them toward an independent mode of learning not dependent upon a textbook or instructor. I believe that education is something that we pursue, not something that is “done to us”. I can’t “educate” my children, but I can provide them with materials and information and experiences to help them acquire knowledge and wisdom in their life journey!

Education that “lights a fire” is a lifestyle. Our homeschool curriculum included biographies, historical fiction, living books, games, videos, some textbooks and workbooks, as well as occasional outside classes and instructors. We participated in small co-ops and support group enrichment activities. We volunteered at a food pantry and participated in community sports, Scouting, and church activities. This type of education doesn’t fit neatly into a box that looks like traditional school. Every hour of every day is an “educational” experience. We are always learning something, aren’t we? We might be learning about life in ancient Egypt, how to play a musical instrument, how to clean a bathroom, how to treat another person with compassion, how to grocery shop and prepare a nutritious meal, or how to give up something we want for the benefit of the whole family. I so appreciate the flexibility I had as a homeschooler to let our daily schedule, our curriculum and our activities fit us as a family

Education that “lights a fire” addresses the whole person. During our children’s “school years”, we wanted to help them acquire certain skills and knowledge in order to be prepared not only for the adult world of work, but also for marriage and parenthood and service to their church and community.

As parents, we had the opportunity and responsibility to determine what we wanted our children to know and experience before leaving home. Some of those things were determined by their goal of college, since they had to meet entrance requirements for the institutions they wished to attend. Other things that were important to us included developing a biblical worldview, learning certain life skills, exposure to the arts, and participating in community service and missions. 

Education that “lights a fire” is personalized. Each of my children has unique abilities and talents given by God, and I wanted to help them discover those gifts and develop them as best we could. One child’s gifts were artistic and organizational, another’s were relational and athletic. This is one reason why, to my husband’s chagrin, I couldn’t just buy one set of curriculum for 12 years and expect each of my five children to plow through it. Because of their individual gifts and interests, one child had lots of art and music, another had lots of computer and P.E. I had introverts and extroverts; visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. I had one with an eye muscle convergence issue that went unnoticed until he was almost 13, and which required some adjustment to the way we approached schooling, and was eventually corrected through vision therapy. Children are unique – they have different learning styles and different needs, so an approach that is ideal for one might not be best for the next child. 

My education style was eclectic, which means I drew from a variety of styles, such as Charlotte Mason, Classical, relaxed schooling, and traditional. We also unschooled occasionally. We used a mish mash of curriculums over the years that were all effective tools in helping us learn the things we wanted to learn –  Five in a Row,  Beautiful Feet, Prairie Primer, KONOS, Tapestry of Grace, LLATL, Apologia, Horizons, Saxon, Teaching Textbooks, BJU Press, Notgrass. I also sometimes made my own.

I enjoyed learning right alongside my children.

A bucket sits passively and waits to be filled. Once filled, no more can be added. A fire, once kindled, burns for as long as there is fuel. Hopefully that will be for as long as we live! 

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