I used to think ‘I know what education is’.

I mean, I studied educational psychology. ‘The child in context’ is my apparent field of expertise.
But then there was a recent day when I had to define education in my own words. And suddenly, all my years at university came together in muddled, yet disconnected ideas and thoughts.

Thankfully I know how a dictionary works.

As a homeschooling mother with the ‘education’ of my four sons at the forefront of my mind, I understood that it would help somewhat to have a working definition. Its absence may be one of the reasons for this vague feeling that can only be expressed as: I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. No matter my degree. No matter my experience. No matter my methodologies. No matter my curriculum.

Back to the dictionary. The definition that resonated with me was ‘the result produced by instruction, training, or study’ (dictionary.com). Now here was something I could work with. A famous quote by Einstein comes to mind (although he credited it to an unnamed ‘wit’): “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one has learned in school.” I don’t think it is possible to forget everything one has learned in school, but I agree with his sentiment. According to quoteinvestigator.com, the first published mention of such a notion was in 1899, in an education journal by a teacher named E. D. Battle. The term “formative education” was used to refer to the remnant that was retained after rote facts learnt in school were forgotten.

Whether you apply rigorous methods to education or unschool your students, each of us have an end result in our minds regarding this ‘education’. My question is this:

Is your end goal a worthy one?

If your goal is to have a qualified young adult with, say, a Matric certificate – may I be so bold to suggest that you have set your sights very low? If your desired result is for your children to live fulfilling, successful lives, a Matric certificate is nowhere near a guarantee. Putting forth years of effort, time, money and focus for a certificate may in the end be disappointing. I don’t have a guarantee for you either, but I can significantly up the odds in your favour to help you educate learners on living fulfilling, successful lives.


By helping you create a litmus test that determines everything related to your child’s education. From schedules to curriculum, from subjects to socials, from extra-curricular activities to holiday destinations, from how you keep records to which records you keep. Everything is measured against this test.

Sarah Mackenzie created a simple litmus test like this and explains it in her book Teaching from Rest. She asked herself the following question:

One day, when my children are adults and their friends ask them: ‘You were homeschooled – what was that like?’, what words would I want my children to use when describing their experience?

Her answer was simple, yet eloquent: “Warm, conversational, and infused with truth, goodness, and beauty.”

It doesn’t get any simpler than that. She goes on to explain that whatever she considers incorporating into her homeschool first has to be measured against these three criteria: does it foster warmth, inspire conversation, and is it infused with truth, goodness, and beauty? Whether she buys a new board game or whether she joins a certain science co-op group, all depends on how they measure up against her home school litmus test.

If you find it difficult to boil your home school down to three simple things, or maybe you just want to dive a bit deeper than that, here are a few concepts to explore and consider:

Defining family values is the precursor to all the activities and concepts to follow. Just remember that there is a difference between actual values and desired values. Actual values are what is, and desired values are what you want, but don’t yet have.

A vision statement is what you want to achieve or what you want your future to look like. A mission statement is how you plan on achieving or creating this future. Consider crafting one of each for your homeschool and family life. As you and your family grow and change, it is natural that these things will evolve as you develop.

A family manifesto is a declaration of intentions, opinions, principals, objectives, or motives issued by a family. Developing one will help you define who and what your family is. Because if you don’t know where you are, no map can help you get to your destination.

Another concept to delve deeper into is writing your own outcomes for your homeschool or child. It can be an extremely insightful exercise for you and your children. Outcomes usually start something like: by the end of the class/week/year the student will be able to… demonstrate understanding of seasons, basic geometry, etc. Others are more concrete like: by the end of the month/year the student will run a profitable business independently. Broader outcomes can also be crafted: at the completion of my child’s home education he/she will be… fill in the blank.

Wrestling with these types of concepts, by thinking about them, discussing them, and writing them down, will act as a guiding star on your family’s journey.