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Elijah CO. Article on Developing an IEP for your Child

DETERMINING OUR CHILDREN'S REAL NEEDS

by Chris Davis

      It is disheartening and somewhat overwhelming to consider the problems confronting us as Christian home edcators. We risk misunderstanding from family, friends, and public officials. We assume the cost as well as the responsibility for making sure our children become educated. But far worse, although we long to give our children the kind of upbringing that would bring them close to the Lord, our own educations have steeped us in a man-centered agenda and equipped us with information and skills that are not necessarily in the best interests of the Kingdom of God. As Marilyn Howshall says in A Lifestyle of Learning:

"Our generation was not taught how to learn and was never given a love of learning. Yet our children are trained with the same methods that failed to teach us to learn or to love learning.

With only the raw material of our fragmented lives to work with, we attempt to integrate our new vision, godly desires, and goals into our old lifestyles and systems. We use the world's methods to try and produce something they were never designed to produce."

In our own lives, as we began understanding the different influences in education, God challenged us with a host of questions: What if we look at education a different way? What if we start viewing if, not as a commodity, but as an outworking of the convictions and priorities of our family? What if we see it as part of the 'equipping the saints...for the work of service?' What if we operate under a different set of assumptions than institutional education? Assumptions like 1) God has created our particular family unit and given us our particular children because our family has a unique, God-ordained meaning and purpose; 2) God has put (and is putting) in our hearts the convictions and values that make up our family's unique meaning and purpose; 3) These convictions and values make up the core of the kind of people we want our children to become; 4) Our education of our children reflects these convictions and values; and 5) God will stay actively involved in the process for our children's sakes.

Recognizing Who Each Child Was Created to Be

Every culture has a certain ideal of what man should be like and it is this ideal that determines how youth are trained. America's ideal man is a self-actualized wage earner who contributes to the betterment of society, and out educational systems are set up to try and create this ideal. As Neil Postman says in The End of Education "...public education does not serve a public." It creates a 'public' that wants to ' earn more, buy more, worship technology, and cling to their ethnic differences." But what is our ideal man or woman? What kind of people do we want our children to become? More to the point, what kind of people does God want our children to become?

We suggest you imagine each child's graduation from high school (or leaving home). What do you want that child to know? What skills do you want him/her to have learned? What kind of a relationship do you want to have with that child? What kind of relationship do you want that child to have with God? What attitudes? What would it take for you to be able to say " We're done!" What would it take to look back with few regrets about how you spent the years that child was in your care? What would it take for the Lord to say, "Well done. good and faithful parents!"

God made each of our sons and daughters and created them with a life purpose. Our job as parents is to uncover this purpose and to equip each child with the skills, tools, and information to fulfill it. If we start with the end and work backwards, we have a better idea of the path to follow. If children are , as the Bible says, "arrows in the had of a warrior", then what is the target at which we are aiming? What is the battle for which we are preparing?

Recognizing who each child was created to be is an ongoing process, but there are certain attitudes and skills that are essential to succeeding in a changing world. think about what really determines success in life. We live in a world where we can no longer count on job security, a support network of family and friends, strong spiritual ties, or education guaranteeing prosperity (or even guaranteeing a job). What are the qualities of strong, capable, productive adults? What gives meaning and purpose to liffe? What are the attitudes, character qualities, and knowledge the Bible says are important to have? Each family's answer to these questions will be different, based on the family's values and convictions. We believe that God placed our children in our family (and not in yours) because our family has a unique reflection of the Kingdom of God and we are the only ones who can impart that reflection to our children. Your family's reflection will be different from ours, your picture of your chidlren's future will be different, and therefore the way you educate your children will be different.

When we begin thinking of home education as an extension of God's purpose for our family, we realize that before we can determine our 'educational philosophy' , we need to get in touch with our family's unique vision and purpose. This is not something that can be done overnight, but we can begin asking ourselves questions like, " What is the purpose of our family?" "What kind of family do we want?" "What unique interests , concerns,talents, or abilities has the Lord given us?" "What guiding principles do we find ourselves living our lives by?"

Developing an IEP

IEP is educational jargon for Individualized Educational Plan. What this means is that a specific educational plan is developed for each child. In an institutionalized school setting , IEP's are often reserved for children with learning difficulties so that their progress can be chartedd in areas such as reading or math. This is not the kind of IEP we think home schoolers need. The kind of IEP we recommend is one that helps you assess your children's strengths and weaknesses in the areas of competence your family believes are important.

What areas should we use to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our chidlren? Over the years we have concuded that there are three areas of competence that are vital to becoming strong, capable, effective, and productive adults, and that are essential to effectively fulfilling any future role our children may have. These three areas of competence are relationships, skills, and information. These competencies are in this order of importance: relationships first, skills second, and information last.

*Relationships First. We believe that there are four relationships in life, and our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being depends on how balanced we are to these four areas of relationships.

Our first and primary relationship is with God. Everyone relates to God in some form of acknowledgement or denial. Our relationship with God is crucial because it affects how we relate to everything else. How we view God and how we think He views us will be reflected in everything we do and in how we treat the other three relationships of life. Our relationship with God gives us our internal sense of what matters in life, of right and wrong, and of who we are.

Our second relationship is with self. This not only has to do with personal care of our spirit, soul, and body, but how we view ourselves, what kind of people we are, what motivates and drives us, our values and belief systems, our sense of meaning and purpose. Who we are inside is manifested in how we treat our minds, bodies, and emotions, and is a direct refelction of our relationship with God.

Our third relationship is with others. Our culture encourages us to consider people disposable, as commodities, and makes possessions and personal pleasure more important than people. But Jesus said that loving others as yourself is the second great commandment, second only to loving God.

Our fourth relationship is with created things: how we relate to time, to money, to work, to our possessions, to animals, to the earth, and so on..

The actual meaning of the word righteousness is "right relationship" and refers to being "rightly related" to God. We want our children to be righteous in their relationship with God, but also "rightly related" in each of the other areas of relationships.

*Skills Second. When we think of all the possible skills a person could develop, the list is endless. However, if we ask ourselces,"What are the bottom line skills of life?" the list shrinks considerably. Each family's bottom line life skills will be different, but these are the skills we feel every adult should have: Relational Skills, Thinking Skills, Gender Skills, Aptitude/Interest/Gifting Skills, and Academic Skills.

= Relational Skills. These are skills that enhance our relationship with God: skills like a familiarity with the Bible, the ability to use Bible study materials, a basic understanding of church history and different church doctrines, perhaps even the ability to translate the Bible from the oridinal Greek or Hebrew. There are other spiritual skills such as an active prayer life, praise and worship, and so forth. None of these skills is essential for salvation, bt each gives greater depth to our relationship with God.

There are certain skills that smooth the way for relationships with others. For example, Communication skills such as reading, writing, speaking, good body language, listening, and observing help build relationships. Good manners are also important relational skills. Character is another relational skill. Character qualities are those attitudes and actions that pave the way for better relationships with God, ourselves, others, and created things such as time, money, possessions, and work.

In addition to communication skills and character, social skills are very important. Social skills include such things as: ways of interacting with others, the ability to put other people at ease and engage them in converstation, proper ways of persuading and influencing others, knowing how to act in different social situations, strategies for resolving conflict, and so forth.

Because we expect our children to have to enter the work force at some time in their lives, we include business skills under relational skills. Why? Because much of what makes an employee valuable to a company or to a boss is not technical expertise, but character qualities such as punctuality, dependability, initiative, and honesty, as well as relational skills such as working well with others, submitting to authority, and so on.

 

=Thinking Skills. In the 1940's, British author Dorothy Sayers warned that schools were teaching children everything except how to think, and non-thinking children become adults who are easily swayed by the opinions of others. Sayers said, " the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to lean for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

In the book Endangered Minds, author Jane Healy explains that children (and adults) today have shorter attention spans, are less able to concentrate, and are less aable to absorb and analyze information than any previous generation. In short, people today do not know how to think. We believe that thinking skills are crucial life skills that prepare children to become adults who can solve whatever problems the future brings their way. Thinking skills include such skills as knowing how to learn (self-learners can pick up whatever information they need when they need it); research skills (knowing how to find what you need to know); logic (recognizing truth and fallacy); and organizational skills (being able to prioritize, to manage time, money, and surroundings, getting the important things done, etc.) . Thinking skills also include understanding world views and having doctrinal training to be able to give "a reason for the hope that is within you."

=Gender Skills. As we prepare our sons for adulthood, we have tried to determine which skills will make them better men, husbands, and fathers. There are many traditionally masculine skills that are very helpful for husbands to know such as basic auto mechanics, how to repair simple machines, building and woodworking skills, home maintenance, perhaps land management and how to raise food or livestock. These skills will not only come in handy when our boys are adults, but they also give a sense of manliness which is a component of true masculinity. There are other skills that may seem superficial , but can have a real bearing on manliness in our culture: skills like the ability to play a sport well enough to take part in a pick-up game of basketball or football, or to play golf, or at least the ability to discuss a sport intelligently. These are the things men in our culture do when they get together, so it may be wise for our sons to have some understanding of them.

In the same way, there are certain skills that make being a woman, wife, and mother more satisfying such as preparing nourishing meals, home management, interior decorating, child care, sewing, and so forth.

=Aptitude/Interest/Gender Skills. God has made each of our children with unique aptitudes, interests, and gifts. We have to assume that these innate abilities are part of God's plan for each child and somehow fit into the life purpose God has for him or her. For example, our son Blake has an artistic bent. He has noticed colors and textures and tried to draw things since he was very young. Our son James is gifted with an understanding of people and also has a desire to sing and act. Seth is totally different from James and Blake. He understands machines and how they work. As we have recognized these aptitudes, interests, and giftings, we have encouraged them by providing opportunities to develop them. In every way we can, we "feed" the interests, develop the aptitudes, and encourage the giftings.

=Academic Skills. Reading, writing and math are crucial life skills. All of the other subjects fall under the category of Information.

=Information Last. Information is our lowest priority, ranking below relationships and skills, even though diplomas, degrees, and SAT scores hinge on the accumulation of vast amounts of information. There is no question that the 3-Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are foundational to all further learning , so they must be mastered. However, we believe that once our children are rightly related to God, self, others, and created things and once they acquire the life skills mentioned above then they can pick up any other information they need when it becomes useful or when it is required (such as for admission to a certain college program).

Future Responsibilities

So far, we have encouraged you to give thought to your family's unique vision and purpose and to try and determine the individual interests, concerns, talents, or abilities the Lord has given to your children. The next step is to consider the responsibilities each child is likely to have as an adult.

Adult life consists of three basic arenas: 1) Public (situations, relationships, and interactions outside of our immediate family), 2) Family (interactions with those related to us), and 3) Private (our inner spiritual, emotional, and mental life). Each of these arenas has its own set of demands and responsibilities.

We can think of these adult arenas in terms of 'roles'. Once we know each child's probable future roles, we can concentrate on the relationships, skills and information that would be most helpful in assuming the responsibilities required by each role. Here are adult roles your children are likely to have"

~ Child of God role (includes life purpose, calling, ministry)

~ Member of the Body of Christ role (includes spiritual giftings)

~ Family member role (as daughter, son, cousin, uncle, aunt, grandchild, etc)

~ Spouse role (as husband or wife)

~ Parent role ( as father or mother)

~ Friend role

~ Worker role (as employer or employee)

~ Community Member role (member of organizations, sports team,etc)

When we look at our children's futures in terms of the roles they may play, it helps us focus on the relationships, skills, and information they should acquire. For example, if we believe our sons will become fathers one day, it would be to their advantage to learn about fatherhood and child rearing. If we believe our daughters will someday be employed, we can help them learn skills consistent with their God-given abilities that will be useful to them as adults. The more specific we can be about our children's future roles, the easier it becomes to identify what we want to impart to them.

Authors Linda and Richard Eyre in Teaching Your Children Responsibility explain that responsibility means " to become mature in the sense of being responsible to family, to self, to society. It means being responsible for all aspects of our lives and our situations; for our talents, for our potential, for our feelings, for our thoughts, for our actions, for our freedom. Responsibility is not the result of maturity, but the cause of it--and a major responsibility of parents is to teach responsibility".

Robert Barnes, in Ready for Responsibility, says :

"If there is no plan, no philosophy of life, there can be nothing but conflict between the three primary arenas of life. It is the parents job to raise an employable child. It's the parents job to raise a marriageable child. And most important, it's the parent's job to raise children who are able to be used by God to fulfill God's purpose for each child when that child reaches adulthood. It's the parent's job to establish a plan that will train a child in the skills he or she will need to be a responsible adult."

Back to the IEP

Once you have given some thought to you family's mission and purpose, to each child's future public, personal, and family life , and to the individual interests ,concerns, talents, or abilities the Lord has given your children, you are in a position to think about the relationships, life skills, and academics you feel are appropriate for each child. This doesn't have to be intense or complicated, just begin by jotting down the areas that are important to your family. In the chart below we have listed the areas that are important to us, but that doesn't mean what we consider important needs to show up on your list. You want to develop a list that is specific to your family's mission and purpose.

As you can see, the three areas on your list are interrelated. For example, under Relationships we have "WIth Others", under Life Skills we have "Social Skills" , and under Information Skills, we have "Reading , Writing, and Speaking" . The Relationships column would mainly deal with developing biblical perspectives and attitudes toward relationships with others. The "Social Skills" in the Life Skills column would have more to do with specific ways of relating to others such as developing conversational skills, being sensitive to the moods of others, learning proper ways to persuade and influence, demonstrating poise and tasteful fashion sense, etc. However, many of these soical skills are dependent on mastering the Information involved in using proper grammar when speaking and writing, having the foundational knowledge to have something worth sharing with someone else, and so forth.

When you know the categories of Relationships, Skills, and Information that are important to you, then you can begin choosing specific activities or programs to develop them in each child, according to the child's natural abilities and level of maturity. The only pitfalls to looking at the 'big picture' is that we often want to accomplish too mauch too fast, so we need a sense of what is developmentally appropriate for our children as well as a sense of how each child learns best.

As a general rule, you would focus on relationships, discipline, good work habits, basic skills, and foundational academics (reading, writing, and arithmetic) with younger children.

When the children reach upper elementary ages their interests, talents , or giftings will become more pronounced and can be pursued more earnestly; they will be capable of more responsibility for learning the skills on your Life Skills list; and their academic studies can be more in depth. They also will have developed problem-solving skills that allow them to expand their courses of study into areas that are more self-directed.

By the high school level, parents usually have a feel for whether their children should go to college, attend a trade school, or simply enter the job market; so the high school years can be a time of mastering independent living skills and pursuing academics to the intensity required by their future plans. At this stage, children who have had a broad academic foundation and who have been allowed to pursue their interests in-depth shoudl be able to teach themselves with a minimum of oversight from you.