Balancing Character Education with Academics

Written by Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom

After two months of a blissful summer vacation, our little school started back into full swing last week. Thanks to several weeks of planning and more than a few book deliveries, I was excited to dive into new subjects and continue this formal exploration of the world with my children.

We were going to expand our horizons, jump into foreign language study, and engage in animated discussions of history, literature, and science. Our homeschool was going to be characterized by a love of learning and the hum of studious industry. My children and I were going to achieve academic greatness this year. My enthusiasm for learning was infectious!

Or so I thought.

By the time lunch break rolled around on that first day, I had been keenly reminded that academics, while important, were not the sole purpose of teaching my children at home.

Motivation? Attitude? Living peacefully with one’s fellow man? I had forgotten to add those subjects to the syllabus.

Character education counts.

As homeschool teachers we have unique challenges that public school teachers don’t often feel, at least not on such a personal level. We have the privilege and responsibility to help our children grow into responsible, diligent, persevering, kind adults. We are not just shaping their minds, we are guiding their characters into adulthood.

Yet, with that added responsibility comes the advantage that we get to see our children’s personalities — warts and all. And all that came flooding back to me on our reentry into formal lessons.

Don’t get me wrong, that first day of school was not bad. In fact, it was probably one of our better days. The boys were extremely excited about their new Spanish and Latin studies.

But, I had mistakenly slid onto one side of the homeschooling continuum, fixating on academics and the content we were going to cover during the year. I left character education woefully unbalanced on the other end.

I had forgotten to think about and plan for those other elements that effect the school day: the child who drags his feet over breakfast, the one who bickers with his brother over whose turn it is to use the computer for math, the student who puffs up his face when Mom says he needs to go do his science and make sure he writes out the entire lab report.

The sighs, the whines, the fussing? Oh yeah.

It’s not all about academics.

Thankfully, I’m not teaching robots. That would be quite boring, and I would miss out on the unique, fun, and amazing quirks that make each of my kids who he is. You’ve heard it before, good teaching isn’t filling a bottle, it’s lighting a fire.

Thankfully, it’s not all about academics. Man cannot live on books alone. We need to develop quality relationships, enjoy one another’s company, and learn to get along with one another. Better that my sons be godly garbage collectors than arrogant men with initials at the end of their names.

Thankfully, I can see where my children struggle. This used to bother me a lot. Then a wise mom pointed out, “Be thankful that you can see it.” Hmmm…. how many troubled kids hide their inter- and intra- personal struggles, jumping hoops for the teacher? Instead, my kids “let it all hang out” and show me where I need to help them, guide them, pray for them.

Climbing the Long Hill

When I was first homeschooling, I had even more academic fervor than I do now. Older moms would caution me, “Discipleship is more important. Character education matters more.”

Honestly, I didn’t get it at the time. It was really important to me that my children learn well and be academically strong. I wanted them to have the skills they needed to do well in the world. I wanted them to have any door open for them in their choice of future career.

I still want these things.

But, I’ve also realized that a stubborn child isn’t going to learn as much as he could if he wasn’t balking at math. Negative attitudes, faltering motivation, and good old fashioned grumpiness look no better in a courtroom or a board room than they do in my own school room. They get in the way of learning today as well as stumble success tomorrow.

Some days I’m overwhelmed by “behavior issues.” Back in my public teaching days, I could write a detention or fill out a referral slip. Today “classroom discipline” is a little more to mess with. It’s a high hill to climb and at times, it can be daunting.

Yet, I know that a high mountain offers a better view than a small one. At the end of the day, at the end of the year, at the end of the journey, I’ll get to see how far me and my boys have come.

And, Lord willing, the view will be breathtaking.

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. Can you talk more about the how to’s of character education?
    Jo’s latest post: Hello there!

    • Well, that’s what I’m still learning. I’m sure we could talk a lifetime about it. Truly, it’s just good parenting.

      Some things that we do: read the Bible and talk about Scripture in light of what’s going on with us, discuss the issue at hand and problem solve solutions, have high enough expectations of our kids that they know what is appropriate and inappropriate.

      Does that make sense?
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    • Jo-
      One thing that works well for my 8 yr old daughter is turning the perspective around on her. I ask her how she would fill if every time she asked me to do something I whined & complained. Or when grumbling with siblings, I ask how she would want someone to talk to her. I even have her give me examples of how that would sound. Being self aware of how your actions are affecting others can really be an eye opener. -Reinforces the “treat others how you want to be treated.”

  2. “Thankfully I can see where my children struggle.” just the perspective I needed to hear today, as we work through our second week of school.

    “my kids “let it all hang out” and show me where I need to help them, guide them, pray for them.” I don’t think I have ever thought about it like this before, but yes, here is a great parenting opportunity and it is a privilege that we can see this and not always the “best behavior” or “company face” as my Grandma used to say. We get to know (and love and pray for and be thankful for) them as WHOLE persons.

    Here’s to high mountains and their views! 🙂
    Kara Fleck’s latest post: Practical Life Skills- Letting Your Young Children Help With Household Tasks

  3. “my kids “let it all hang out” and show me where I need to help them, guide them, pray for them.” – this is such a good point and I’d never thought of it that way. The whole gist of your post is exactly where I am and exactly what I needed to hear – thank you for helping me to see it in a new way. I have been praying for patience and guidance in disciplining my kids and balancing academics with character development. We are still unpacking from a move and are easing back into school rather than diving in – but still I can see vividly that there are issues far outside of academics that need addressing.

    Like Jo, I find myself wishing you would talk further about the “how”s. That’s actually why I came out of Google Reader to check out the comments – hoping to hear if any of your readers were discussing that further. I’ve been sort of myopically focused on the unique discipline challenges of acting as mother and teacher at the same time, all the time, and I am always interested to hear how other homeschooling moms approach it. But still I appreciate the new angle of recognizing the other side of that coin: the unique opportunity of seeing my children’s character issues more clearly played out since I am working through the challenges of academics with them.

  4. So what would you suggest for my nearly 6yo dau who doesn’t like to do independent work eg worksheets and household chores? I have been down the path of really hands-on stuff interacting with me and using manipulatives etc which she loved but I found exhausting. She loves to work in a team and as the eldest child of 2 struggles to focus herself and get on with big girl work for a while when little brother plays and I move around doing tidying up, dishes etc. I think in a classroom setting she would easily follow along with the crowd doing a little bit of work here and there and get by quite well as she is quick to pick up things and would be easily enthused by others. I woudl be interested to hear your suggestions thank you. 🙂

    • Ah yes, a complete inability to work independently. I have one of those, too. I’d love to hear tips from other moms on this as well.

      My son can distract himself with ANYTHING. A song, sound effects, pretending his pencil is a rocket ship, poking his sister… essentially ANYTHING that’s NOT working on his assignments. I can’t literally hover over his shoulder every minute to keep him on task, and they certainly wouldn’t do that with him if he were in public school, so what should I do??

    • I have thoroughly enjoyed their emails that tackle these issues. I also did their parenting study in a small group at church & loved all of their wisdom. You can sign up to receive emails from them on their home page. Great resources from a Godly perception- I do not work for them or sell any of their products.

  5. I am new to homeschooling, and I am doing a preschool curriculum with my 4 year old to get our feet wet instead of just jumping in at Kindergarten. What are some practical things I can do with my kids/for myself as the teacher when the behaviour issues get in the way of learning that day?

    • Preschool is just a little early to expect much focus. They are learning all the time. I wouldn’t really push the issue. If the child doesn’t want to do whatever activity you have planned, just don’t do it. Many people don’t start formal schooling until age 7 (as per many state regulations.)
      Jo’s latest post: Hello there!

    • As Jo says, it may be too early.

      I think you have to assess whether or not it’s truly a behavior issue (like the kid refusing to pick up his toys after playtime despite the fact that you gave adequate warning) or are you asking them to do something that truly is beyond their stage of development.
      FishMama’s latest post: URS- Lunchbox Ideas and Inspiration

      • Actually, my 4 year old is really enjoying school. And when I see that he’s loosing interest, I usually stop because it’s not worth getting frustrated over. I guess I’m asking IF any “behavior issues” arise in the FUTURE, what are some practical actions you have taken to deal with them?

  6. Well, I clicked over from Google Reader to leave a comment, not knowing I would be echoing sentiments already expressed. I LOVED this post, but it definitely left me going, “Soooooo YES, but HOW!?”

    We struggle with feet dragging, bickering, and huffing at mom pretty much every day. I’d love to know how you, Jessica, and how other moms deal with these issues in the moment. I’m sure they never go away, but with one of my children in particular, I could definitely use the help. What specifically has helped your children improve /understand?

  7. Love this post! It is so speaking to me today. We are on Day 3 and I just thought “our” excitement was going to carry us through until at least September. But it just did not happen. This reminder of character building beyond just the academics is wonderful. Thank you!

  8. Even though I am not a homeschooler, I came over here from “Life as Mom” to check out this article. As a mom, I struggle with this quite a bit. I realize the importance of character development, especially since my daughter is doing academics at public school. That point really hit home for me this summer since I am “homeschooling” her in 3rd grade math so she can be ready for an accelerated math program in the fall. It has been a struggle for me – not so much the teaching of the academics – but dealing with the negative attitude that she has about having to learn math during the summer, the lack of motivation on her part, and the lack of adequacy on my part getting across to her the importance of learning what I am teaching. I want her to be on fire to learn but she just isn’t. Bless all of you homeschooling moms – it is hard work!

    • I am not a homeschooling mom except during the summers. My son is also entering 3rd grade, which is typically a difficult year in our school district. I think that lack of motivation is more a self-confidence issue than a laziness issue. I struggled every day with motivating my son as we reviewed 2nd grade math and while he learned his multiplication and division tables. (My 5-year old daughter was much easier to motivate and, by the end of summer, had learned to read). I think that the more you stay positive and make it fun, the more motivated a child becomes. We took lots of breaks from homeschooling to go to parks, libraries and museums. As a culmination of all the hard work they put in this summer, I am having a graduation ceremony tomorrow for both of my learners. I made diplomas for both of them (from “Mommy Summer School”). I’m also going to take them out to dinner. I hope that this will start them off confident and motivated to learn when they head back to school on Monday.

  9. I am trying to soak this up to teach my son when he is older. I have found that I recognize my own faults in this area that need to be corrected in order to teach him!
    I don’t homeschool (I have a 6 month old), so I don’t have experience in this topic. But it did make me recall that while reading the Duggars book (The Duggars: 20 and counting) they stress character building with their children. They use the Institute in Basic Life Principles as their resource: . Just throwing that out there!

  10. This is a really interesting blog. As a person who was put straight through the state school system I can see how I may have benefitted from home schooling. My Mom did try and ‘top up’ our education at home with workbooks but it was all very academic and I wish she’d done some of the stuff you’ve done with your kids, it sounds like great fun!
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  11. WOW! You all ask some fabulous questions! Questions I’m asking myself most days.

    My short answer to “HOW?” is be patient, pray, and try different things until you find methods that work. In the immortal words of Mr. Incredible, “We’ll get there when we get there!” Motherhood and teaching and learning are a journey. And there are no short cuts.

    My long answer? Next month here at Simple Homeschool. 😉
    FishMama’s latest post: URS- Lunchbox Ideas and Inspiration

  12. This is a fabulous post, and so inspiring in terms of helping us remember that character building is a “lifetime” goal, and we should expect to be working on it for a lifetime. As you so wisely mention, there are no shortcuts.

    In our home we don’t have forced academics because our style of homeschooling is almost all based on interest-led learning and exposure. We still have PLENTY of character/discipline issues to address every day–because the kids have chores to do, they’re learning kindness, self-control, and so on. We’ve just chosen to not add academics to the list of “have-to’s” and for now, that works for us. That could also be an option for those who find themselves frustrated by this issue when it comes to their homeschool.
    Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Balancing Character Education with Academics

  13. I really love this post! Thank you for writing this and for the promise of a follow up 🙂 We are venturing into our first year of homeschool here and I know from my 5 yo’s (and 3 yo’s and 15 month old’s) personality, character education will be a large focus of our time.
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  14. Julie Craig says:

    Ahem, where you IN my house today? It was all going fine on our first week back to public school. My diva of a 6 yr old had preselected her outfits on Sunday as directed and they were labeled in baggies in her drawer. (Yay me!) Then she decided to “change her mind” The ensuing battle that took place over a blouse was truly pathetic and lasted for nearly 30 minutes. I was determined for her to recognize the need to stick to the plan ( barring a snow storm in August) and she was determined for me to understand her need to look just right. Reluctantl, after the toys had been thrown, the bedclothes dismantled she agreed to follow through. Did I mention the consequence of missing a party on Saturday (Am I a bad mom?)
    It all came back to me when my 4 yr old prayed in the car for a do-over and for a change in attitude so “we could be right in our hearts with Jesus” I melted and then remembered our family verses that we are trying to memorize.. Love.. is not easily angered. We both have much to learn. I am glad to say that later today, after we both prayed, it only took a few bounces on the trampoline together and all was right in the world. Parenting….good parenting….. exhausting but oh so worth the effort. Thanks for the post!!

  15. I haven’t officially started homeschooling but have been doing lots of research and planning. My daughter is 3 so really we’re doing very casual tot/preschool type activities based on her interest. It’ll be an opportunity for both her and I to get our feet wet. Character education is not something I had even thought about when I first fell in love with homeschooling but this post at Playful Learning

    made me realize how important it is to me and how much it is at the heart of my love for homeschooling. So while I’m not even a novice yet (I believe I’d actually have to have done some homeschooling to use the term) I’m putting in my two cents from the research and reading I’ve been doing.

    -Again, the post at Playful Learning was interesting and sparked lots of ideas – role playing, reading books with a moral lesson, etc.
    -I make it a point to lead by example. I know we all try to do this but it can be easy to forget. Sometimes the simplest gesture – holding the door open, making a big deal of a thank you, etc. then discussing the importance of such behavior can really make an impact.
    -For the mom who was wondering about how to get her child to work more independently, I’ve seen lots of blogs where the lessons for the days are organized in workboxes the children work through at their own pace. Along with the workboxes, the children are given a set number of “help” cards (some moms I’ve seen print a pic of themselves with their child and laminate it). Their child can use the card to ask for assistance but knows they only have a set number to use. This might be worth trying.

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder of the importance of character education!
    Carla’s latest post: Playground Amigos

  16. I realized this very thing about 3 years ago myself. I had 4 little ones at the time and I was in our 3rd? year of homeschooling. I found myself always telling the kids things like “stop playing with your sister and finish your workbook!” or other such things. I remeber that the reason we decided to homeschool was to unite our family and raise Godly adults! And while that was our #1 reason for homeschooling and not education, my actions were NOT displaying that at all! So after much praying and reaserching different ways of homeschooling, I discover ed (or rediscovered) Delight-directed learning also termed “unschooling” (check out this book “Christian Unschooling, Growing your children in the freedom of christ” ) It opened my eyes and our life hasnt been the same since! Every day I spend time in prayer asking God to direct our day. Reminding myself of our goals and reviewing what I wanted to do to make sure that my plan keeps our priorities where they need to be. Its not alwyas easy or perfect, but I can say that these last 3 years have been overwhelmingly brilliant! And I have managed to not ruin my childrens brains or anything!! A success all around!
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  17. I am planning to spend my holiday vacation by attending to online schools. Anyway, you have such a wonderful post here which made me enjoy reading.
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