Freedom in Learning: Part 2

I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the following story – it may vary on some details, but the message is the same.

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places some fist-sized rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they all agree that it is. He then pulls out a pile of small pebbles, and adds them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” The students agree that now the jar is definitely full.

The teacher then pours sand into the jar, shaking it so that it fills all the spaces between the rocks and pebbles. He asks the question again.  The students are less confident now in asserting that the jar is, indeed, full.

The teacher then grabs a jug of water, and is able to fill the jar even more, this time, up to the brim. “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” He asks.  A bold student replies, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it.”

“That is one view,” the teacher replies. “But the real truth of this illustration is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all! “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what is of most value to you. The pebbles are the other things in your life that bring enrichment, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time”.  Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?”

As Christian, home-educating parents, we have the important task of preparing our children for the lives they will lead.  If we don’t have some sort of plan, or direction, it is very likely that soon our lives will get filled up with lots of “small stuff”.  So, we have to decide: What are the “rocks” in our lives that we need to prioritise in raising our children? What are the big values, the non-negotiables?

For me, my “rocks” would be:

  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with family
  • Relationship with others
  • Godly character – caring and serving
  • Life Skills – being able to care for oneself, and ultimately manage a home

I believe that all of these things carry more weight than having a lot of book knowledge.  Academics can be taught at any stage in one’s life, but character-building begins in childhood, and can’t always be “fixed” later.

Next, my “pebbles” – slightly less important things that bring enrichment:

  • Learning – academics have a place within this, but the main focus should be cultivating a love of learning
  • Creativity
  • Physical exercise
  • Clubs
  • Music

The “sand and water” in this scenario might be, for me:

  • Television
  • Computers/Xbox/other devices
  • Anything which might be considered frivolous, and would detract from accomplishing the higher priorities.

As parents, using this model to help you define your priorities for raising your child equips you to have a clearer understanding of where you’re headed, which in turn enables you to resist becoming captive to the agendas of others. My order of priorities might differ from yours, and it’s up to you to decide your own order.  

Defining your priorities in this way means you are less likely to find your time whittled away by the “sand and water” activities in your lives. By stating your vision for your family, and for educating your children, you can move forward in confidence.

Practical Considerations for your academic approach

Besides sorting out the rocks, pebbles, sand and water in your lives, there are other factors to consider when seeking to frame some sort of educational philosophy for your family.

  • Know your child’s character/temperament/ability/gifting – We’ve established that every child is unique, and develops at their own pace.  So, how are they unique? What are they good at? What makes them stressed? Happy? Relaxed? Do they have specific talents and gifts you want to develop? What frustrates them? What do they respond to well? These are all factors to consider in order to save you and your children unnecessary grief, and design a curriculum tailored to their very specific personalities.
  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses – This is a little like point 1, but is about looking at yourself.  You could ask the same questions about yourself.  Know which times of the day you’re at your best, schedule in breaks that help you to cope better.  Knowing your weaknesses academically, means that you know when to ask for help for your child as well.  
  • In terms of subject matter, what are your own priorities? – Do you want to encourage your children to do a lot of reading? History? Music? What skills do you think are most important to teach? How do you want to develop those gifts and talents identified?
  • Understand what influences you and why – So, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed some of the things that can hold us captive.  Are any of our feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure or pressure to conform influencing how we approach raising our children? There might be some positive things influencing you, but it’s still helpful to understand them.
  • How do you understand learning to happen? We understand now that not everyone learns in the same way.  Do you understand how learning happens best for you? How do you think learning happens best for your child? It’s worth doing some research into different learning styles, and gaining some insight into how our children take in and process information.  This may help in the choice of curriculum, and educational approach.  


And as for all the rest, some ABC’s…

Allow your child to witness how God is part of your life by practicing your faith freely

Be ready to support and facilitate when needed

Create an environment that is supportive of learning, and stimulates it

Demonstrate you own love of learning as an example to your children, and release them to learn for themselves

Expose them to the world they live in through dialogue and communication, where they can engage in discussion in a safe environment.

Fearlessly tackle the hard questions, seeking to find answers together

Grow together in faith, learning and relationships

Proverbs 22v6 (AMP): “Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it.


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