I was recently going through Proverbs in my daily devotions and I read Proverbs 14:4, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” This proverb is very relevant to homeschooling. Now you may be wondering, how that can be. Even those of you with little family farms probably don’t have any oxen. Well, let’s look at the ramifications of this Proverb.
I have never had to clean a barn where there were oxen, but growing up I had to do plenty of barn cleanup from dairy cattle. I am going to make an assumption that an ox and a dairy cow do about the same thing to a barn. And trust me, it is dirty and smelly. Cleaning that barn was not a pleasant task, but it was a necessary task. Cleaning the barn was important for health and safety. It wasn’t just a case of we wanted a pretty barn so we could get our picture on the cover of Better Barns and Pastures magazine. It was an important element of ensuring healthy animals and healthy milk. But even when you cleaned the barn, you knew that tomorrow you would need to do the same thing.
Now if there were no cows, that barn would stay clean. Just like in the Proverb, where there are no oxen, the manger is clean. But what good is a barn without the livestock. This was a working farm. The cattle were in the barn so that they could be milked, twice a day. This was the source of family income. No cattle, no milk, no money. The Proverb tells us that abundant crops come the strength of the ox. Those animals were the source of strength for the farm. Yes, they required regular cleaning, but that was part of the process that led cows producing lots of safe and healthy milk.
So now let’s translate this to homeschooling. Do you want your homeschool to be perfect in every way? Is your home immaculately clean and pristine? Are all lesson plans prepared and your children completing them right on schedule? Do your children studying with an eager spirt, being kind to each other, and always making their bed with your reminding them? Do you hope to be on the cover of a magazine? Then you need to get rid of the kids, because kids are messy. Kids can be unpredictable. Just when you think everything is going smoothly, they get the flu and you are now behind schedule. Your son goes through a growing spurt and while that is happening, he is awkward, clumsy and forgetful. Your daughter just discovered a new author and she is so absorbed in reading all the books that author wrote that she neglects her other subjects and doesn’t make her bed. Maybe you have had frustrating day as you deal with taking the car to the shop, the dog to the vet, and scheduling the plumber to come look at that leak under the kitchen sink. To put things in the terms of the Proverb – your manger is messy.
But a messy manger is just an indication that you have a family that is working – in this case working at raising your children. Remember the Proverb also tells us that the abundant crops come from the strength of the oxen. We want to teach our children in a way that engages their interests and their needs while ensuring that they are learning the academic, moral, spiritual and physical principles and disciplines for life. To get those abundant crops we need to work. And that work will sometime create messes that we need to clean up.
So don’t be discouraged if things in your homeschool are a little bit messy. Just clean them up and keep on discipling and teaching your children. That is part of the homeschool process. Each child and family is unique, so we need to adapt. Sometimes the adaptation works well and sometimes it creates a mess. Just clean it up and continue. Don’t compare yourself to those perfect homeschool families featured in books and magazines, if you ask them, they will tell you that the manger might be clean for the picture, but there was a lot of work needed to clean it up and by tomorrow it will probably need to be clean again.