Unschooling Faith: A Candid Conversation

This discussion was sourced from the Christian Unschooling Facebook Group. This topic recurs perennially in new threads, which have been condensed and merged into Part 2 (relationship with God) and Part 3 (more about unschooling except for Bible/faith, and addressing “train up a child in the way he should go” -Prov. 22:6).

RACHEL: I’ve seen quite a few responses lately that seem to say, “Well, we’re unschoolers except when it comes to God/Bible/Faith.” However, this group was founded by people who believe that unschooling is compatible with their relationship with God, how they are passing their faith on to their children, and how they study Scripture.

I was hoping that some of you are fully unschooling could share how you unschool your relationship with God and your study of Scripture. Please. ♥

"The Prayer" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, image in the public domain.NICOLE: I guess that’s what we do. I have wanted to get into a routine of spending time in the word with my son, but we just haven’t. We do have conversations about spiritual matters when things come up, though. Like forgiveness or the similarities in the Thor movie to what Christ did. The very end of the movie was a great allegory of Christ finished work and sacrifice.

STEPHANIE: We let God lead us and He gives us what we need rather than feeling like we “have to go to church” to be fed. Just like with learning and life too! (We are radical unschoolers.) My mom is in a very legalistic church and the girls see it. Also we do go to AWANAs and they see things there that is not how we do things parenting-style-wise. We have always read the Bible to them since the girls were in the NICU! We love going to church and miss our church in Texas. But we know that just going to church is not a relationship with Jesus. Now when the girls hear something that they aren’t sure about they come and ask me and I try to help them understand it. This includes theology and their understanding of the grace and mercy of God blows my mind!

NICOLE: Ya know, Stephanie, I have been trying to figure out how to handle my 8yo son saying that church is boring and not wanting to go. I can see his point, to some degree, but your saying “But we know that just going to church is not a relationship with Jesus” really nails it. My son also says that he doesn’t hear God, which I know isn’t completely true, because he has acted on a couple of promptings from Holy Spirit that have really blessed people, including me.

JESSIE: My primary way of sharing Christ with my kids is by example – they desire to read their bibles because they see me and my husband reading ours, they want to go to church (sometimes more than my husband and I want to go!) we pray as a family and they have seen firsthand answers to BIG prayers as well as not so big ones.

ELIZABETH: In reality, faith can’t be ‘taught’… You can teach the stories, the doctrine, the creeds… but they are just words without faith. And faith comes from hearing the Word (scriptures – not commentary) and through the sacraments (baptism, communion).

STEPHANIE: My girls beg and love to go to church! But they can already tell when we visit a church whether they like it or not just by walking in the front door! I’m so thankful they know that they don’t “have to do” certain things to be loved by God and have a relationship with Him. I would love to be in a church family again. It bothers my mom more than us that we don’t go to church! We don’t need a church to be a Christian! But sadly it seems so many people need the church to be one – but it’s just for Sunday morning/night and Wednesday night! The rest of the week they are worse than the non-Christians and my girls see that!

SAMANTHA: I struggle with this, because I pretty much DO unschool faith, but since the Bible says we are to diligently teach the things of God to our children, I think I actually should be more proactive.

RACHEL: Samantha ~ would you mind expanding on that more? When I hear the “diligently teach,” I’m thinking Deuteronomy. Is that what you’re referring to? Or another place in the Bible?

NICOLE: Yeah, I would like some more of that too, Rachel and Samantha.

ELIZABETH: Even as we are teachers (to our children), we are also still STUDENTS, so it’s a different kind of relationship. Jesus is the teacher, we’re just sort of the teacher’s assistant, sitting around helping answer questions and do homework.

NICOLE: I have found that when I am supposed to ‘teach’ something and have to prepare for it is when I actually learn the most. I’m talking about to an adult audience by the way.

SIAN: If unschooling is learning from life (which is my rudimentary understanding of what it is, but I could well be wrong), and we are living our lives following Christ, then to be honest I’m having difficulty seeing how our children could *not* learn about Him. Whenever, wherever and however we study the Bible, our children see us doing so and are involved. Our faith dictates our responses to personal life or world events. Our worldview affects our decisions. We pray – whether as we go about our daily lives or schedule a special time for it – and our children hear and again are involved. There is so much potential for naturally bringing Christ and Biblical principles into discussion, and I think we can be very diligent about teaching the things of God to our children without sitting down and having planned lessons if we don’t want to.

BRITTNEY: I live by example and encourage them to think and believe in their own way and talk about it. I don’t want them to wonder if they are Christian or not, and I don’t want them to say they are to please me. Of course I desire them to have a relationship with Jesus because he is awesome, but not in a scared “or you’re going to hell” way. I don’t think that is the right motivation for anybody to have faith, and I don’t desire to scare my kids into any decision. I love faith conversations and being able to share cool things with my kids, but we don’t go to church, and we don’t preach at them or read the Bible with them often. I point out ways in which I think God may be talking to them and I think that’s a great place to start. After all when Jesus left he said he was leaving the Spirit, not the Bible, and what better way to be led than Spirit-led?

KAREN: Hmm…not sure if you can “unschool” faith. I see faith as something you either have, or you don’t. Yes, children can learn the scripture, the meaning of sacraments, but that isn’t a guarantee they will have strong “faith.” And everyone’s faith experience is different. My faith will not be my children’s. My husband and I show our relationship with God by setting an example, being a contributing member of the church body, (may or may not include church attendance), and regular family prayer and Bible reading. I already see my 15yo forming her own opinions and ideas about God. I actually love this. It provides for many interesting debates and discussions. One thing I wish for my children is to question EVERYTHING about what they hear. Turn it over, read, talk, debate, and form their own relationship with God.

KAREN: Brittney, good point about being Spirit-led.

AMANDA: When I think about those scriptures in Deuteronomy I am also reminded about how we are supposed to lead by example. The best way I can “teach” my kids is to show them by example. It says we are to “pray without ceasing,” “love one another,” “answer softly” … am I showing the fruit of the Spirit? Am I being an example in the gifts of the Spirit? Am I speaking the Word over my life and theirs? Am I diligent in my own studies? Am I speaking the Word when I lie down, when I rise up, when I go to the store, when I go to the park? I find that when I’m doing these things it provides an atmosphere of learning for my children … they are more apt to mimic me, ask dozens of questions, talk about what they think … it provides room for discussions… and from these things they learn! I don’t have to create a Bible curriculum for them to learn the Bible. You know what I mean?

JEN: This is what led me to unschooling. I didn’t want to “force my kids to love Jesus.” I didn’t want Bible to be compulsory! I wanted them to love studying scripture. I spent some time at a Christian school and lots of time in Sunday school growing up. I memorized lots of scriptures and learned lots of stories. What I desire for my kids is to have something so much deeper. My job in all of their “subjects” is to give them tools and model learning in life. We have lots of materials: math, history, Bible, etc around the house. I believe the command in Deuteronomy means that my children should see God in my everyday life. His words should be constantly on my lips. There should never be a question of who I love! That is a much bigger responsibility and calling than “let’s do our 15 minute Bible time.” My 8yo son asked for me to get a new devotional book for us to do at night last night. I have a new one that I had tucked away and was going to strew next week. I guess we start it together at bedtime tonight. I want them to leave my home loving God and their Bible! I think I unschool Bible more than anything else because I want them to love it!

RACHEL: A lot of what is described above. Modeling the best we can. Apologizing when we screw up. Reading Scripture on our own. The kids ask to have Bible stories read to them (our daughter is OBSESSED with Jericho!). We just finished over a year supporting a mom who had lost her son to CPS. The kids went with me to court & on many of their “supervised visits.” It brought a lot of TOUGH discussions about grace, forgiveness, love, parenting, etc. I think, really, we don’t keep much secret from our kids. We discuss a lot in front of them and they see/hear us pray over situations.

VANESSA: For us, faith is something my husband and I have, that we can try to explain to our children, but we leave their relationship with God up to them and God (which is basically all you can do anyway). We do go to church, and the kids go to Sunday school. If my kids didn’t want to go, we would discuss that with them and I would not want to force my kids into something “faith related” that they didn’t want to be a part of. Like other said, you can’t force faith. We try to model our faith inside and outside of church to our kids, because both Adam and I grew up where faith was only something you “did” in church. If we mess up, we try to apologize. Basically, we are models of our faith, just as we are models of how to behave, think, act, learn, and live.

I am very thankful that so far, our children have, as far as we can tell, developed their own unique faith and relationship with Christ.

BETH: We just live. That’s it… in all areas of our life.

VANESSA: I have also been known to “strew” bible learning, etc. My kids pick up a lot, and they really love Sunday school. It’s the only “school” we do and I wish regular school was more like Sunday school! LOL

JESSIE: When I was a kid my punishments often involved writing scripture – I know my mom did the best she knew and hoped the outcome would be that I understood the word of God and applied it to my life. However, it took me until just a few years ago to really begin to enjoy my Bible time, because I viewed reading or studying Bible with punishment – at least subconsciously. My goal with my kiddos is to share the joy and love and grace of Jesus. So far, they all love the Lord, though my oldest is struggling with life in general (most of that is figuring out how to grow up and be an adult)

JOAN: We all worked together to find a church home – it wasn’t “here’s where we’re going and you (12-year-old daughter) have to come.” In fact, our daughter basically picked our church, but we couldn’t be happier – it was a family decision as everything is for us. Much like we don’t force rote memorization, rote writing, anything else done-for-the-doing, we don’t force rote prayer, rote Bible reading, rote memorization of Scripture, etc. That doesn’t mean we don’t read the Bible or pray, but we do it in what I believe to be an incredibly meaningful and personal way that looks different to each family member, not something that is forced upon us in the form of “here’s morning required devotional time.” (That’d turn ME off right away – nights are my time with the Lord, it’s all I can do to get myself upright in the mornings!)

JENNIFER: I think unschooling does lend itself to the verses in Deuteronomy…when you walk, lie down, etc… My husband and I show our children what faith looks like for us. We go to church and Sunday school, the kids go AWANA, we read the Bible together, and this is the foundation that is being laid for when that faith question will have to be answered for themselves. I do not use a curriculum or any sort of thing like that at home. My own way of living out my faith is not really methodical. It’s more taking each day and knowing Who the giver of life is and Who is the author and finisher of my faith. My parents modeled that and I caught it. My husband and I live our faith out and we model it to our children. I pray they are able to catch it and decide for themselves what their faith will look like. If unschooling is learning by living, then I don’t see how this aspect of life and learning cannot be equal to others.

CYNDEL: This is the only area I have diligently unschooled from oldest a birth. We read the Jesus Story Book Bible often. My son loves it. Whenever appropriate I talk about Jesus, I pray aloud my own prayers, I read around them. We go to church when we can but when we can’t I don’t worry about it.

LYDIA: See from this perspective, I would consider us total unschoolers. We just live our life. We walk and talk with our children. From the day they were born, we marveled at how God designed them and have watched as their personalities have unfolded. We try to live our lives knowing that they are watching us, and in turn when they ask questions we answer them. Just tonight my daughter asked me what the meaning of the statement “Fate be changed. Mend the bond torn by pride” meant after watching Brave.

I’m not perfect. I know that. And when I mess up I apologize, ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation with my children. But I also believe that God has given me wisdom and discernment in areas that my children are still developing. So sometimes, it’s my job to guide them away from things that are harmful or walk them through tough decisions. Not because I do not respect who they are (who God has designed them to be), but because I have lived longer than they have. I don’t expect them to fit a man-made mold.

But I am still researching unschooling – figuring out what it looks like in our home, for our family. I’m not trying to sound like I have it together, but I do believe from day one we have unschooled our children in many ways specifically in our walk with Christ (much like my parents unschooled me). But don’t you think that a Christian unschooler will in some ways be different than a secular unschooler? Shouldn’t they be? This is I guess what I very poorly tried to verbalize, when I responded to that post.

PAM: Jennifer, I so agree that in order for our kids to “see” our faith, our beliefs… we have to live them … when we walk, lie down. All the preaching and teaching can return void, especially if the parents and significant others in a person’s life do not live out what they say they believe. Of my 5 kids (who were all raised with the same teaching, preaching, studies…) one does not “believe” at this point in his life. He did in earnest when he was younger, but some events in his preteen and teen years (death of his dad and grandparents – all within a year, a youth leader who was very hurtful, the ambivalence and the hypocrisy in many Christians/church leaders) put him in a place that he lost his faith in Christ and in much of humanity. I believe one day he will return to what he used to “know” to be true, but until then, we keep living out our faith, allowing him to express his frustrations, anger, concerns, beliefs, loving him unconditionally so that he might one day feel that unconditional love from his heavenly Father and Savior. He has told us how much he respects what we believe and how we live it, and perhaps one day that will over ride all else.

MELISSA: Lydia often times Christian unschoolers can be less willing than secular unschoolers to embrace the gentle parenting, or the radical in radical unschooling. Sometimes they have a lot of their own baggage to overcome, like in regards to what they have been taught of biblical parenting. They have rules that are harder to let go of. Christians have been some of the most aggressive critiques of radical unschooling that I have encountered.

In regard to the initial question. Our life screams relationship with God in the way my husband and I live it. That’s what I hope my kids will thirst for. Relationship. Not rules or steps to heaven. My kids are welcome to come to church with us or stay home. They are welcome to read the Bible or not. They are welcome to partake in our prayers or not. My husband and I pray several times a day. We are both in prayer groups. We both adore our church. We take communion at home. I read the Bible or listen to an audio. My kids all have picked out their own bibles. Choose to read or listen to them. Want to pray and take part in communion. And like to brainstorm ways to help others.

BRITTNEY: “That’s what I hope my kids will thirst for. Relationship. Not rules or steps to heaven.” Melissa – that’s golden.

CARMA: I think we SHOULD be diligent in teaching this, because it’s the one thing the Bible tells us we should make sure our kids know. BUT – does that mean we can’t unschool it? I don’t think so. Because this sure sounds like unschooling to me: “Talk about [the precepts of God] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” It’s just about making sure it is a part of your everyday life … not workbooks and memorization charts and sticker rewards … unschooling! Make sure you know it, and make sure you talk about it. Here’s one possible modernizing interpretation: “Talk about them when you’re at home and when you’re hanging out at the park, at bedtime and at breakfast. Make sure your phone has the Bible app available, and listen to the Bible on CD in your car.”

JENNIFER: Carma EXACTLY!!!!! It is being diligent. However I think the word diligent may be confused with the schooly academic ideas of a schedule and even curriculum.

CARMA: Yes – diligent could easily be applied to a curriculum, but in the context of the verse I think it’s clear that it’s not meant that way at all.

JENNIFER: I agree Carma. I think that many in the homeschool community hear the word diligent and think bookwork and schedules and scopes and sequence yada yada yada… In the scripture we are discussing such ideas were nonexistent. Children learned with their families, living life together. That sounds a lot like unschooling to me.

HEATHER: I think you all have talked it out pretty well and from my point of view over here you all look to be actually on the same page, just arguing semantics.

As far as our family? Let me start with a story: Driving to pick my husband up at work listening to the radio with my oldest, at age 2, sitting in the back seat. I don’t even remember what I was listening to though obviously the Christian station. Anyway, I hear the lady on the radio say something about “do you want Jesus in your heart” then my little 2yo pipe up from the backseat, “I want Jesus in MY heart!” I was so surprised I nearly pulled over (I was a brand new Christian myself– had only been reading the Bible with understanding for maybe 3 years but was still very much baby Christian). When we got to Shamus’ work I talked to my little 2yo about what she said. She had complete comprehension (well as much as possible for a 2yo. She told me in 2yo language about how she was a sinner and needed Jesus who died and rose again to fix it and so on. From a 2yo, and not just mimicking.) It was at that point that I realized that God worked out the spiritual life way different than the physical– that having the Holy Spirit meant that you could understand things that didn’t seem possible from a maturity perspective. Things continued with her– often God would use my little ones’ words to help ME figure something out spiritually. This same child witnessed at 4 to her 2yo sister and then at 6 to her baby brother. And we saw actual change in behavior in each of them as they grew to love Him.

So yes, we focus on talking about what God is doing in our lives, reading the Bible together. It is a just a family thing where we join together to spend time in prayer and to listen to the Word. We have never used a Bible curriculum and quit going to Sunday school when the kids expressed frustration at the lack of meat in the teaching– one can only listen to the same children’s Bible story so many times without finding it boring. We pray together and encourage one another and realize that as Christians we are all on a journey together, that the Holy Spirit gives each of us real understanding and growth that has nothing to do with age.

Basically, Jesus never had a curriculum– He talked, told stories, prayed, encouraged, and very seldom got really angry or raised His voice.

CYNDEL: I didn’t have a lot of time to answer last time, I wanted to come back with more. When I first heard of unschooling I thought of Christianity. Teaching Bible knowledge can be done via curriculum, in fact if well-written I enjoy a good Bible study curriculum. But how to live out the Bible knowledge, live in a Christ-like way, seek to see the fruits of the spirit in our life, recognizing a need for change them working hard on that change to become more Christlike…the only way to learn these is through unschooling.

Actively aware and waiting for appropriate times, taking advantage of opportunities as they come and that happen naturally in life to teach things like generosity, slow to anger, serving others, gentleness, long suffering, etc. these things are heart issues and can only be taught from the heart through modeling in daily living.

STEPHANIE: I knew my girls were saved just after they turned 3. And we hadn’t been going to church since they became wiggly babies! But yet somehow they were able to learn about Jesus and needing salvation and I don’t ever remember sitting down and “teaching” them. Their childlike faith is so much stronger than mine and others including me are amazed at their understanding of what a loving Christian is to be like. They never did like the little children stories so I have always read my Bible to them. Even things that was over their head I didn’t skip it. I didn’t want them to hear an “all roses” Bible and then when they got older all of a sudden realize the Bible is not always very nice and happy all the time. So I just read it knowing when they are ready to ask a question about something then they will and they do. I don’t sugarcoat the Bible stories because I don’t want the girls to have a sugarcoated relationship with Jesus like so many Christians seem to have these days. I want them to have the real deal!

ELIZABETH: Anyone remember the phrase “Faith is caught, not taught”?

TRACI: We would probably be one of those families that wouldn’t be called unschooling in the area of the Bible. In my mind bible isn’t about school. Sometimes I even forget that we “require it” so to speak when we talk about school because it’s not school. We read and talk about the Bible every day as a family. I will never tell my kids that they have to believe what we believe but I will not hide my faith from them and I don’t believe that Jesus would want me to not gather them with us. Let’s face it, He would probably scoff at the idea that Bible should be taught or not taught as if it were mathematics or language arts. So they are gathered with us, no exceptions although they’ve never asked to be excused from it either. They don’t have to believe but they read it with us and they talk about what it means. I don’t feel like it affects whether we call ourselves unschoolers (even though we aren’t) because I feel like it’s demeaning to even try to classify it as school of any sort. It’s worship, it’s the Word of God and as long as we’re here and accountable for our kids we’ll share it with them. When they are adults they shall step into their own accountability but I’ll never be able to stand before Jesus and have to say “I never told my children what you said.”

CARMA: Traci, while what you say is true, no one on this discussion has said anything about not teaching the kids about Jesus and the Bible. If I say I’m an unschooler and I’m going to let my kids learn to read at their own pace, and without a curriculum, there are certainly people who think it means I’m going to do nothing to nurture their ability to read and I don’t care if they ever learn it or not … but as unschoolers we know that the exact opposite is true. Reading is one of the most important things on this earth to me, personally, so I read to my children constantly … starting in the womb! I read to them, my husband read to them, I invited visitors to our home to read to them. I encouraged them to read along with me. We listened to stories in the car. Without ever formally teaching them a single thing about reading, each one of them learned to read over time; some gradually and some quickly … and one I honestly have NO idea when it happened. So when we say “do you unschool the Bible” it certainly doesn’t mean “do you ignore/neglect/withhold Bible teaching.” It means, do you use a curriculum, or do you weave it so inextricably into your daily lives that the kids don’t even realize there’s another way to live?

 Thanks for letting us share this conversation!

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