God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn {A Book Review}

I wasn’t going to read this book, but something someone said (and I can’t remember what or whom) piqued my interest. The book is God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn by Julie Polanco.

I’m not going to give you a formal book report on this natural learning book, because somehow that seems wrong. Instead, I have invited my smarmy, non-existent interviewer, whom you have met in the past, to ask a few questions which I will answer by making sense of the numerous notes and underlines I made in the book. If that’s the review you want, you’re in the right place. If you want “normal,” check out some of these reviews instead.

Hello, smarmy, non-existent interviewer! Great-ish to have you back.

Of course. Let’s get on with it. First question: Why are you writing about this here? What on earth does “God Schooling” have to do with roadschooling anyway?

Excellent question, smarmy non-existent interviewer!

If you’re a roadschooler you know (and if you’re becoming one, you will learn) that efforts you may (or may not, in my case) have made to follow a curriculum, maintain a school-ish schedule, and otherwise keep a consistent order to your school days and year go right out the window five minutes down Highway 57. It’s the truth.

Why? Because there’s so much life learning that takes place on the open road, that sometimes it’s just plain st*pid to “uneducate” your kids by making them sit and do math problems when the real world where they use real math is beckoning right outside your van door!

Now, Mrs. Polanco doesn’t actually use the word st*pid (that’s a bad word in our travel trailer, and my six-year-old would give me the shame fingers if I typed the whole word out). Rather, she shares a wealth of valuable resources about the benefits of not being a slave to the textbook and letting your child’s interests, God-given talents, and development determine what and when to learn.

That has everything to do with roadschooling, because, honestly, who’s going to learn about the Civil War from a book when you’ve got Gettysburg staring at you from the window? Not my kids. We’re getting outside and getting us some edumacation first-hand!

“If we put all the separate areas of study back together again and live with our eyes and ears fully open to life, there are so many opportunities to learn” (p.89)

God Schooling book

What’s this God Schooling thing all about? It sounds…different.

Another excellent question, delivered with smarm. Love it.

First, a quote:

Curriculum can be a great tool as long as it doesn’t become our religion. (p. 6)

There is a natural learning process which is unique to each child, but on many levels is similar across the board. What Julie Polanco suggests is following a natural approach to learning, listening to what God reveals about each of the children He has given you, not what the public school system, relatives, or curriculum say. In other words, obey His calling by looking to Him and avoiding the distractions of this world.

Julie Polanco defines this obedience to God in her family as unschooling. If that strikes fear in your hearts, you’re in good company. Listen to this quote, though:

If God has prepared…works for your child to do, then won’t He make sure s/he is adequately prepared for them? (p. 11)

Hmmm…that sounds like a cop-out. Like, oh, let’s let the kids rule the day and blame God if they don’t turn out.

Yes. Yes, it does…if you don’t read the book.

Mrs. Polanco emphasizes character training, parental involvement, discipline, chores, and structure, but not the strict school structure many homeschoolers adopt in their homes. It’s more of a flexible structure where children have blocks of time to pursue interests and learning in a rich, learning environment.

The one thing we can do and are admonished to do is to…train our children in righteousness. (p. 13)

That hardly sounds like letting the kids rule the roost, does it? The author frequently emphasizes the importance of training and life skills, as well as  a rich learning environment.

Also, the examples she shares of her own children, her involvement with her kids, and the journal entries she adds near the end of the book all point to surprisingly more structure than I would have expected.

Take that, my smarmy friend.

So, is this one of those “better late than early” books?

Yes. Yes, it is. And I wish I could share with you all the reasons against sending your kids to preschool at three and four, forcing phonics and math on them at five and six, and rushing them all the way up to algebra before they’re twelve, but I can’t, because that would essentially be re-typing massive amounts of research. I ain’t got that sort of time on my hands. So just read this quote:

Anxiety and stress disorders are rising among children under the age of six because of the stress of trying to please parents and teachers who demand they do things that their young brains were never intended to do.  (p. 17)

Kinda reminds me of when I was a kid and my poor mother was trying to explain to me the difference between a letter and a word. She deserves a special place in heaven for surviving that conversation. No concept. None.

Here’s another good one:

We should be more concerned with character development than with early academic achievement. This is absolutely vital. The basic character of a child is set by age seven, but academics can be learned at nearly any age. (p. 50)

And for those of you who think this is slackenting (slack-parenting), there is a wealth of evidence about the vital importance of free time for kids and child-driven play.

The important points to remember about this age group are that you are not doing them a disservice by allowing them extra time to play and create rather than do worksheets. You are giving them a gift. (p.68)

Particularly interesting to me is the difficulty children under age eight have with inactive learning and (are you listening?) separation from their mothers! They weren’t designed for either of those unnatural traits yet. Yes, I said under eight, and for some, the age spans to ten–that’s fourth grade. And yet, we’re yanking them from their mamas and telling them to sit on their butts all day to learn in ways their brains are not sufficiently matured to manage.

Children in preschool settings lose the initiative to create their own little worlds around them. As they remain in the system, they learn to seek approval over achievement, and peers become instructors. They also begin to lose an interest in learning, because in order to truly instill something into their heads, it must be repeated time after time, year after year, ugh after ugh after is this boring or what? The kids that don’t understand get frustrated, and the kids that do understand get bored. Why not teach it once when their brains are ready? That’s my approach. That’s Polanco’s approach, too. Or let them teach themselves.

Okay, so maybe I’m a leeeeeetle bit interested because I don’t want to pay psych bills or bail for my kids because of schoolwork. Tell me a little more about what’s in the book.

Gladly. There are many topics.

The books address motivation. Essentially, the child that will truly learn must want to learn for the sake of mastering the material and for the joy of accomplishment. That beats a gold star any day.

The author encourages active learning with a purpose, so the child can see that this will really benefit them in the real world. Ask me how my older kids got super good at fractions at a super young age. Cookies, people! Baking cookies.

She does an age breakdown of what kids are capable of and need at various stages of growth, including teens. Instead of being the teacher, the parent is the guide and facilitator.

Let’s see what our kids can do when they believe they can fly with their own wings, not ours. (p. 38)

The book also addresses the importance of nature and exercise in a a person’s life (anyone, not just children), and explains the affect it has on our brains and learning and retention abilities.

There’s a section on record-keeping and transcripts for unschooled high schoolers. There’s also a part on affordable college, which includes our approach.

Does the book point out problems and then offer solutions that are going to make you sell your hair, dog, and bedroom set to afford?

Yes and no. In her examples, Ms. Polanco mentions many approaches she took with her kids. While I’m reading those, I’m thinking, “Uuuuhhhhhhh…,” which is code for “I ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no time, and I ain’t got no foundation (roadschoolers), so that ain’t gonna work.” In other words, the numerous examples are, for us, pretty irrelevant for both our lifestyles and our personalities. But then she turns around and gives real-world alternatives, like get your kids butts outside and let them play! I don’t believe she used the word “butts” in the entire book, though.

So if you have the option of pursuing something more expensive and time-consuming, that’s fine, and if you don’t, that’s also fine…and quite possibly finer, depending on your individual situation.

The list of discussion or thought questions at the end of each chapter help you plot out your own thoughts and views on what she has said and how or if to apply that to your family.

Who should read this book?

If you feel that you are a slave to the curriculum, the schoolroom, the desk, or the public school schedule, this book is for you. If you feel your children are only learning when they have pencil in hand and workbook in face, this book is for you. If you fear that your children aren’t “keeping up with the Joneses” in the schooling realm, this book is for you. If you and/or your children have lost the joy of learning, this book is most definitely for you. If you’re battling with your three-year-old or eight-year-old to “sit and do school for crying out Pete’s sake,” please, please, please read this book.

Here are a few more people who should read this book, summarized from pages 7 and 9. Good candidates are anyone who is afraid of the following:

  • your kids won’t measure up,
  • relatives are breathing down your neck and not out of curiosity,
  • gaps. Oh no! Gaps! (Like every human being has.),
  • not doing enough or keeping your child stimulated,
  • learning difficulties,
  • doing everything wrong
  • the school environment harming your babies,
  • the school’s are challenging your kids, or
  • the school’s can’t properly teach your child.

You people need this book.

If you’re totally hip to natural learning, this book will still encourage you, but it isn’t going to be as life-altering as if you were stuck in that last paragraph. Still, if you’re tired of people saying, “Shouldn’t your kids be in school?” and you want to shut them down with some impressive research, read the book and memorize some quotes. BAM!

Also, perhaps you’re more like us–natural learners who also follow certain structural learning approaches when the student is ready. This book is beneficial in encouraging you along the path of waiting until the child is ready for formal learning, but not letting them run wild and not learn anything. Yes, nowhere does the author suggest that unschooling properly is akin to letting your kids play video games and torment Mr. Wilson all day. (Did I date myself with that Dennis the Menace reference? I’m 45. Now you can stop wondering.)

Do you just swallow everything this lady says?

Well of course! I mean, look at her gorgeous hair!

Julie Polanco Books

No, silly! Of course not! I received many wonderful take-aways from this book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any overwhelmed homeschool parent looking through hundreds of dollars of curriculum for their three-year-old or even eight-year-old. There are some things I thought came across as contradictory, and there were points where I kinda shrugged in a “works for your family, not for mine” sort of way, which is the exact same thing I do when talking to any homeschooling family or reading any homeschooling book.

That’s the beauty of homeschooling–it’s an individualized process for individuals. We glean from those who have gone before and have raised successful children (successful meaning Godly, capable, etc., not necessarily filthy stinkin’ rich). In this case, I have already graduated a child from college and two from high school (and have seven in the pipeline if my math serves me correctly). I can look back with experience and nod my head at many of Julie’s concepts and shed a tear at the poor three- and four- and seven-year-olds that are stuck at desks or artificially contrived work stations when they should be out moving their bodies and building the Tower of Pisa out of pizza and cheese curds because it’s a brilliant idea they came up with at lunch time. Brilliant idea!

Also, over the years I have read quite a few books and articles and and non-readable things like lectures about homeschooling methodology, education, child development, etc., and I’ve been in the field a while if you know what I mean. The research Julie Polanco has done blows me out of the water! She references many of the great leaders in education from back when education was educational–people whom I greatly respect. She’s pretty solid there. If you want to do your own research on any of the topics she brings up, there is an extensive bibliography in the back of the book, some of which shaped our homeschooling years. (Thanks for the books, Grandma!)

I certainly don’t agree that God has called every family to unschool or even homeschool their children. I’ve seen too much on our travels to believe the home is the best, safest environment for every child…sadly. But I do agree that we should seek God’s will for our individual children and follow it wholeheartedly.

So, no I don’t necessarily disagree with what she says, but for my family in our situation, I will not be applying everything I read. Mostly, I’ll just be chilling out about the natural approach we use in the early years and reinforcing my decision to let the high schoolers interests and gifts direct their learning instead of fear.

But she does have great hair, doesn’t she?

Are you done yet?

The word would be “finished,” and no I’m not.

I know some children who have gone through the system and do well. Some kids learn early and are fine! Every child is different. There are opportunities some children receive in school they will not have in the home. But I also know this:

The time a child spends in class or in formal learning at home is a part of their childhood they can never regain. So your child is a year or three ahead in reading or math. That’s fine. But while your child sits in a desk running ahead in math and calls it childhood, my child is building relationships, writing books for fun, creating recipes using fractions, and making a city out of mud and sticks. My child is also using his initiative to think up these activities and solve problems for himself. And when he’s old enough, he’ll catch up in math in record time, because he’s ready.

That’s my summary take-away from God Schooling. Valuable stuff.

If you’re interested in the book, and if you, like us, have no extra shelf space, the e-book is 50% off through August 22. Score! 

Again, for the normal reviews from people in houses who are not full-time RVers, or perhaps from people who have a more school-ish approach on life already, click on the banner below:

God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn {Julie Polanco Reviews}

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