The best things in life are often also the hardest things in life, and classical Christian education is no exception to this truism. To help Trinitas parents and students achieve enduring success at Trinitas and experience the wonderful fruit of classical Christian education, we've assembled these ten practical tips for success at Trinitas taken directly from our teachers. Simple, practical, but sometimes a bit pointed, we hope these steps are received in the spirit they are offered and are helpful to you.
1. Require first-time obedience. It will make your kid's life so much easier at school if you do that. It’s what her teacher requires, and it’s what God requires. We have chants about obedience, we sing songs about it, we memorize Scriptures about it, and we encourage them to “obey right away, all the way, with a good attitude, every day.” It’s what keeps your child’s foot on the path of righteousness. Every child can list all the bad things that can happen to them if they wander off while hiking through the woods: a snake could bite them, someone could kidnap them, a wild animal could kill them, they could fall off a cliff, they could get lost, poison ivy, falling rocks, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Well, there is a greater danger than all of those: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” I Peter 5:8. Disobedience is what got Adam and Eve - - and thus you and your child - - in trouble. So teach your child to love authority and to obey the first time they are told. You would be wise to make this a top priority.
2. Begin as you mean to go on. Are you going to be carrying your son’s books for him in college? Making his bed for him when he moves out? Of course not. Then don’t carry his little backpack for him in first grade, and don’t make that math correction for him in third grade, or do that research for him in sixth grade. Trust us, he’ll have harder things to do in life than look up a word in the dictionary. If you don’t require him to do it to the best of his ability, you are teaching him to be lazy, incompetent, timid, and apathetic. If you desire your child to grow up to be a man or a woman, start now. The foundation will be poured, and all you need to do from this point on is to build upon it.
3. Related to that is knowing where the bullseye is and hitting it straight on. What do you want your child to look like ten years from now? twenty years? fifty years? What kind of college student do you want him to be? employer or employee? husband or wife? grandpa? Shoot for those things and you’ll hit the immediate problem in the process. Why didn’t he make his math corrections? The answer is not “I dunno.” Address the sin of slothfulness and disobedience. Your ultimate goal is not the math paper; it’s forming the virtues of fortitude, faithfulness, and self-control. Is his cubby hole a mess? His teacher is not going to just have him tidy it; she’s going to address the sin of laziness. So look deeper than the obvious.
4. Stop making excuses for your child. Just stop it. You’re not fooling any teacher. Scripture doesn’t say, “Be kind one to another, unless you didn’t get a nap or a good night’s sleep, or you didn’t get to go shopping at the mall like your mom promised.” And it certainly does not say, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, unless you got a little booboo two weeks ago or you had a bad morning.” Teach your child to buck up and do the best he can with God’s help and according to the abilities God has given him, not according to the excuses you can make for him.
5. Make forming habits a priority. . . Not just for your children, but for yourself as well. Children operate best when they know what to do well, and they know what to do by doing it over and over. And sometimes that takes you doing the same thing over and over too. They won’t get tired of the same thing. You might, but you can take one for the team. Here are just a few examples:
- Have a designated place for papers, backpacks, Red Home Binders, etc. so that the first thing your children do when they get home is put them there. That way when you check and sign, you don’t have to hunt for them.
- Have everything for the next day ready before going to bed the night before. Your child should have his completed homework, checked and signed RHB, PE shirt, violin, etc. all ready to go before bedtime. You should have breakfast and lunch either in the works or at least planned.
- Have the same routines in the morning for you and your children: Get up at the same time every day, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, pack lunches, help clean up breakfast, be ready at the door or by the car, etc. Encourage the older or more efficient children to help with the younger ones or the slow-pokes.
- Redeem the time in the car every day. Practice the monthly Scripture passage, poem, or Latin recitation. Review vocabulary words. Pray for their teachers, the person who just went by in the ambulance, and the sick neighbor. Express gratitude for the goodness of God as seen in His provision of the sunrise and the rain. Correct “car sin,” but never, ever allow fussing, arguing, unkindness, rudeness, disrespect, etc. to continue just because you can’t get to them. You can always pull the car over.
Bottom line: figure out what’s not working and ask yourself what you want it to look like. Then, make a plan to get there.
6. Nip laziness in the bud. Make your child work hard. Laziness is your child’s and his teacher’s worst enemy in the classroom because it simply puts the square wheels on the learning process. And it’s just one of the hardest sins to overcome because the very thing you need to overcome is actually part and parcel of the sin itself. Teach him that anything worth doing is worth doing well. If he writes a sloppy math paper, have him rewrite it neatly. Teach him to make his bed right, and if he doesn’t do that, make him do it again. But don’t leave him out there to fail, especially when training; help him, come alongside him. Dad, if he struggles to pull up those pants and tuck that shirt in, keep him right next to you when you tuck your shirt in. Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings a profit.” If you allow him to be lazy, you and your child will have a hard row to hoe, not just at Trinitas, but for a long time.
7. Make the morning pleasant by getting up earlier than your children. Children are resilient, but they do not easily cast off a bad morning when their parents start the day in a bad mood and spend the morning fussing at everyone. Teachers can tell how your morning went by the cloud that hangs over your child for hours. Many times I’ve had to say, “Did you have a bad morning this morning? Well, that’s over, and we’re going to make the rest of the day wonderful.” Get yourself ready before your children get up. Shower, dress, read your Bible, pray for the day ahead, get breakfast ready, and pack lunches. Don’t wait till morning to put that load you ran last night in the dryer so they can grab a sour-smelling uniform shirt on their way out the door.
8. Be aware that the default is always what happens in the home, so make it beautiful and virtuous. Are you embarrassed at the way your child eats when you see him at lunch at school? Where did he learn to eat like that? Was he raised in a barn? If you allow it in your home, then expect it outside the home. I’ve never said to one of my students, “You will respect me.” They respect me because I expect it and they know I want them to love authority. However, I have seen many of my students over the years speak disrespectfully to their moms when they come to pick them up. Why is that? It is because they default to what is expected or not expected at home. The teachers work hard to encourage the students to honor their parents in all they do. Young children feel safe doing what is done in the home, but as they get older, they will evaluate what they experienced in the home with clearer eyes.
Also, don’t abhor the fact that your child has to sit still sometimes and attend with interest in the classroom. Practice that at home when you’re having family devotions. Instead of entertaining your child in church with coloring pictures or sleeping, train him to participate and listen as much as he is able for his age. We don’t let our students doodle or sleep in class while we’re teaching. We know he’d grow up bored (i.e., self-centered) and inattentive if we did that. So help your child by practicing at home.
9. Review a little every day instead of a lot the night before a test. The best way to memorize anything (a Scripture passage, history chronological order, a piano piece, math facts, etc.) is to practice or review for a reasonable amount of time, then go do something else. Come back to it soon and you’ll see you’ve gone backwards a little, but with another practice, you find you’re farther ahead than you were. Gradually, you’ve conquered it. Young children complete that “two steps forward, one step back” process at a fast and easy pace, but they cannot make the learning stick if a review is visited only once or twice for long periods of time. So, a little every night is much more profitable than a cram session.
10. Make eating dinner together at the dinner table a priority. So much is learned at the table that is useful to your child at school. Expect him to sit properly, not on his feet, not laying his head on the table. Don’t allow playing with food, complaining about the food, or begging for something else. Model table conversation for your children. Engage your children in the conversation, not allowing them to dominate it or be loud and boisterous or unkind in their words. Discuss the history card or the Bible passage. Tell stories from your childhood. Make it the best hour or two in the day. Wonderful things happen at the dinner table that your children will take into their own families when they grow up.
Coming next week, "Ten MORE Practical Tips for Success at Trinitas."