Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.
--William Butler Yeats
Over the past decade of homeschooling my tribe, this Yeats quote has become a source of comfort and inspiration for me when the going gets tough. If you’re like me, you have more than enough buckets to fill! Buckets come in all manner of shapes, sizes and disguises—menu planning and grocery shopping, vacuuming the carpet…again, walking the dog, weeding the garden, scrubbing the bathroom—you get the idea. Any number of things that need done on a regular basis in order for life to run more smoothly is like filling a bucket.
The problem comes in when I view my homeschool as just another bucket needing filled. There have been dry seasons when I have looked at my children ( and my husband) as buckets—diligently doing my best to fill each one with good things—biblical truth, knowledge, healthy food, whatever their particular love language might happen to be. Honestly? It’s an uninspiring and exhausting effort. Human buckets are filled with holes and it seems that no matter how effectively I try to keep them filled, everything just leaks back out again.
When I look back at these frustrating seasons, I can see a pattern that unfailingly repeats itself. It is the pattern of focusing on accomplishment and checking things off of my list. Math facts, book reports, measurable progress, tangible goals, portfolio fodder and standardized test scores are all drops of water aimed for my half-full bucket. It is during these times, when I’m trying to replicate public school in my dining room instead of resting in the knowledge that homeschool doesn’t have to look like school at home, that I question my reasons and effectiveness as a parent and a teacher.
That is when God graciously reminds me that He is not in the bucket-filling business and being a full bucket is not what I am created for or who I am called to be. Filling buckets quenches fire, it’s frustrating, tedious work that generally leaves us feeling tired and frustrated. The alternative to filling buckets looks a little different. It’s messy, sometimes even chaotic. It involves inspiring my kids to want to learn for themselves and creating an environment in my home that prioritizes people and relationships over things….even clean laundry sometimes. It involves creating a hunger in my children for understanding God, the world He created, and the purpose He has for them. It means teaching them to ask all kinds of questions, even difficult ones, and then helping them find the answers—persisting until they do ,even when the answers aren’t neat, tidy or in the back of the book. It involves teaching them to ask “Why?” and being willing to say “Why not?”. It creates messes, but it also lays the foundation for memories and relationships.
As a homeschool mom, I believe I’m called to be a fire-starter instead of a bucket-filler. It’s my God-given role to facilitate something in each one of my children’s lives that isn’t meant to be held in a bucket ( or hidden under a bushel). It’s my role to encourage, support and inspire them to step into the roles that God created for them. They were designed to have lives that impact the Kingdom, lives that spread truth, passion, mercy and the love of Jesus like wildfire—lives that aren’t complete just because the bucket is full.
Don’t get me wrong. Math facts and spelling rules are necessary, just like table manners and tying your shoes and two years of a foreign language if you want to get into most colleges. I am pro-academic excellence and higher education and mastering skill sets in all required subjects. I’m just saying that if I spend my life ladeling facts and information into my kids’ heads like an old-fashioned bucket brigade, then I’m missing the point.
A bucket can be filled…and sit…full… until it stagnates. A fire starts with a tiny spark and then grows until it is a force to be reckoned with. Yes, it has the potential to be dangerous and destructive if it isn’t controlled, just like our sweet children. But fire, when it is well tended, has the capacity to bring energy, heat and light into a dying, cold, dark world.
I don’t know about you, but in my homeschool I am ready to strike the match.