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Homeschooling with the Principle Approach

By Dana Hanley

When we made the decision to homeschool, I immediately began researching all the different choices available. My husband wanted something classical; I was drawn to Charlotte Mason; we both wanted something biblical. I finally stumbled across the Principle Approach. It is not the most popular choice out there, mostly because it seems daunting as you first begin. The goal is to “renew your mind” and gain the mind of Christ in education. There are no textbooks, no packaged curriculum materials, and no people within 100 miles using this approach. Everything the average homeschooler looks for in a curriculum choice, I’m sure.

Education in our home begins with study. I consider the topic we will be covering. I define vocabulary words using Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, highlight key words, and determine the seeds of the definition. I then examine Scripture to determine how the subject may be seen as an expression of God and how knowledge of the subject can be used to glorify God and benefit man. I then teach from these basic principles in every subject area. The subject of art is one of my favorites to illustrate exactly how I prepare lessons and what the fruit of that study is. The seeds I gleaned from the definition of art are “human skill” and “purpose.” Study of Scripture reveals that the first mention of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit involves giving skill to craftsmen to construct beautiful artwork for the tabernacle. Their skill came from God, and the purpose was to glorify Him. As we study art, we look for elements of human skill, including color, composition, and brush strokes. We also examine the purpose of the artist and compare that to the highest purpose of art.

My children are still young. Dakota is 8, Steffen is 3, and Nisa is only 1. They are not involved in most of the study I use to prepare for our units. The main purpose in spending so much time and effort in developing these principles is to assist me in developing a Christian worldview of education and to teach from these principles. A student can be no greater than his teacher, so I must prepare myself to be proficient in all areas until my children are ready to accept Christ as their teacher and have developed the character and self-discipline to direct their own education. I desire to inspire—to breathe life into— my children through thoughtful conversation and study throughout the day.

What does this look like in practice? Our day begins with our more formal “school” time. We do not have a schoolroom. We don’t even have a kitchen table. What we have is a comfy couch good for snuggling on. Here I read to the children, listen to my daughter read, and go over new concepts, always starting with biblical principles, of course. My daughter learns to reason from her Bible, her reading material, and the definitions we look at. She is able to glean what the material says about God and what applications can be made to our own lives. Copy work, writing, and drawing are done at our coffee table.

Then it is time for real life. What I do in the morning varies, but it encompasses those things taught best through direct instruction. Afternoons are for discovery and application. My daughter helps a lot in the kitchen, and it is amazing the amount of math and science that can be incorporated into normal cooking tasks once you get into that frame of mind. Because of my study and familiarity with the principles I plan to focus on, I am always ready to take advantage of teachable moments when my children are actively engaged in a task and curious to know more. Relevant Scripture verses are ready in my mind or in my notebook so that I can truly take advantage of the biblical method of teaching “here a little, there a little” and teaching diligently in the home, by the way, as we lie down and as we rise up (Deuteronomy 6:8).

The focus on reasoning throughout the lessons builds a habit of thinking things through, determining their foundations, and comparing those to the foundations of the Word. I am guiding my children to construct their lives on firm biblical principles as they reason each principle through for themselves and as we struggle together to make personal applications. By connecting these principles to everyday life as much as possible, I hope to teach my children that these godly principles are applicable to all of life, not just the school room.

In the beginning, the amount of preparation can be a little overwhelming. It would be easier to refer to a teacher’s manual to determine what topic to cover next and what materials to gather. I had to continually remind myself that we are not expected to teach any more than we know and that not everything had to be perfect. In time, it becomes a habit and a natural way of viewing the world. It also is very liberating. I am not bound by schedules, the scope and sequence of a textbook manufacturer, or the next topic covered in the workbook. The more prepared I am, the more our education flows naturally from daily life. Whether we are working in the garden, measuring ingredients, or exploring our backyard, I am prepared to share verses, principles, and examples from the lives of men and women. These conversations serve as a “hook” and to set the stage and the boundaries for more rigorous study and application.

Dana Hanley is a homeschooling mother of three from Lincoln, Nebraska. She enjoys reading and writing most and is teaching herself to sew and knit. She does pretty well with Proverbs 31:18, but not so well with Proverbs 31:15. That’s all because of her blog, Principled Discovery, which can be found at www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/gottsegnet.

Copyright 2006.
Originally appeared in Fall 2006. Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.


 Foundations for American Christian Education (F.A.C.E.)

Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 Edition
Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 Edition

Teaching and Learning America's Christian History: The Principle Approach
Teaching and Learning America's Christian History: The Principle Approach


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