Four years of living in Germany made me very aware of the German roots in words we use daily. Take “kindergarten”, for example. “Kinder” = children, and “garten” = garden, so a “kindergarten” is a garden of children. What a lovely image! Each bright face blooming in the warm sunshine of educational activities! ūüôā

Children really are like a garden. I learned this when we planted a fruit tree in the backyard of our former home.

When the nurseryman arrived to plant our¬†tree, he dug a hole much larger than the young tree’s current roots.¬†I asked him why. He said, “The roots need room to grow. I’m preparing an environment to make that easy for them.”

When the tree was planted, the nurseryman took out his pocketknife and began to trim the branches. He trimmed a LOT! Somewhat alarmed, I asked if that was really necessary. He said, “Yes. We want this little tree to focus its energy on developing strong roots. It’s way too soon for it to stretch out its limbs and try to grow fruit. If it grows a strong root system, it will produce better fruit on stronger branches a few years from now.”

Finally the nurseryman pegged out three stakes around the little tree and tied the trunk of the young sapling with ropes, tucking soft rags between¬†the ropes and¬†the bark. “These ropes will keep the trunk growing straight,” he said. “Be careful that they don’t scar the bark. Loosen them a little each year, and after three years take them off entirely. If you don’t, the trunk won’t develop any strength in its own core.”

So many lessons for homeschool parents!

Prepare an environment that’s easy to grow in.

When he found out that we planned to homeschool, one critic remarked, “What are you going to do? Raise little hothouse plants?”

I would submit that a hothouse is exactly where tender plants belong in the chill winds of January! Like little sprouts in a plant nursery, young children need a protected environment to set down roots. We wanted to give our children the best possible environment to grow. When they grew stronger, we chose the best spot for their next stage of growth. Preparing and choosing nurturing environments takes forethought and advanced planning. Part of our job as parents is to check things out and prepare as best we can to help our children transition smoothly through all their phases of growth. We had every intention of setting our little sprouts out when they were strong and the season was right.

Compulsory attendance laws used to require that children start school by their seventh birthday. Then by six. Then there was optional half-day kindergarten for five-year-old. Then it became full-day. Then mandatory. Now many schools take children as young as three for readiness programs.

Readiness is a fine thing, but programs like The Homegrown Preschooler can help you accomplish that beautifully at home. Do very young children really need to be separated, sorted, schooled, and socialized? Can that wait until they are firmly rooted in the confidence and moral teaching of home?

Don’t try to force fruit before the roots are well-developed.

Not only are three-year-olds packed off to school, but they are also enrolled in tumbling, music lessons, dancing lessons, soccer teams, and a host of other extra-curricular activities. I suppose with more moms working outside the home and more dangers lurking even in our own neighborhoods, these planned gatherings fill a perceived need for socialized play with a purpose. Please consider, though, what the stress of performance and competition do to a young child. While a few prodigies may be ready and eager, far more are in danger of burn-out at a very early age.

It won’t hurt a thing to let your children be children–to let them play with their siblings, neighbors and friends in old-fashioned ways and develop the family and community bonds that grow naturally over time. There will be time to develop their true gifts and talents a little later.

Don’t scar the bark.

Discipline and punishment are very different things.

Discipline keeps us growing in good directions. Children need lots of discipline. Sometime discipline can be as simple as encouragement or firm insistence. Sometimes it may need to involve denial, restraint, and even some lost privileges or painful consequences. Discipline is about loving a child too much to allow them to cause themselves long-term harm.

Punishment, by contrast, is too often simply an outlet for parental frustration. Punishment is about inflicting retaliatory pain in order to gain power over the one punished. See the difference?

Whichever forms of discipline work for your family, be careful not to scar any child’s mind, body, heart, or spirit. Such scars take years to heal.

Loosen the ropes to encourage core strength.

We’ve all known parents, I’m sure, who were so enamored with their darling toddlers that they could not bear to deny them any pleasure. These indulged children are often difficult to be around for any length of time. Often these same children grow up to be spoiled, shallow, entitled teens. Then the formerly-indulgent parents panic and yank back on the reigns, applying strict discipline in a frantic effort to halt blatant willfulness.

That doesn’t usually work out very well. It’s more likely to cause resentment and runaway rebellion.

Far better to gently apply firm and consistent discipline early to keep your little sprouts headed in godly¬†directions. The goal is not to raise children, but to raise adults. With that in mind, each year you should be able to loosen the restraints as your children become more mature and trustworthy. They need the opportunity to do what is right when they are not under compulsion–when they do it because¬†their own hearts answer to God.

The goal is not to raise children, but to raise adults. Click To Tweet

Yep, I sure learned a lot from that old nurseryman! Using his techniques our fruit tree grew strong and produced good fruit, and our children grew like Psalm 1 says: their delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His cousel they meditate day and night. They are be like trees firmly planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in the proper season. Their leaves have not withered under the stress of peer pressure and adversity, and in all they do, they prosper.