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Epistula | 6 Minutes

Learning to Say “No”

Written by Sabrina Etienne
Learning to Say “No”

As a mother of seven, beginning my 14th year homeschooling, I reflect on my notes from the previous years. What went well? What did not? I’ve realized that the most important decisions I’ve made over the years and the ones that were most fruitful happened when I decided to say “no”. When I used “no” to protect my priorities for that year, I saw the most spiritual, academic, and personal growth in our family.  

During my bedrest pregnancy one year, we decided to keep most of our activities at home. We invited people to our house for art playdates, a science club, and a 4-H sewing club in our kitchen. My children and I focused on spiritual gifts and domestic skills. The outcome was both altruistic and entrepreneurial. We found ourselves baking bread for our community and starting kid-businesses like lawn mowing and lemonade stands.  

This was a full and prosperous year of learning to serve others in our home, in our homeschooling community, and in our own backyard. We rarely left the house, but had such a rich year. And at the end of that school year we were blessed with a very healthy baby girl. 

Saying “no” to outside activities was what we needed in this season of our life. It was a hard choice to make. Many thought that I was disadvantaging my children; that they would be "bored, cooped up, and resentful. But isn’t that one of the crowns of home education?  The gift of choice. Choosing wisely how each year will work and doing it all for His glory. Despite our immobility that year, my kids finished their homework, bonded with friends, and prayed more often with family. 

How do you decide when to say “no”?  1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “Let all things be done decently and in order”. Set your goals with this verse in mind. Ask yourself questions: Why are you homeschooling? What are your family's priorities? Which hours each day are you dedicating to all of these important things? Where do your priorities lie as a believer?

To help you answer these questions, I would like to share how I answered mine, starting with my spiritual life. 

Many years ago, Matthew 6:33 became a life verse for our family. We started each day with His words: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” We homeschooled for many reasons, but primarily to teach my children the Holy Scriptures so that when they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). If we did not put Bible as our first subject of the day, then it was too easily forgotten. This discipline gave our children the heart and habit of spending time with the Lord in His Word. It became important in both our spiritual lives and a focal point in our academia. 

To help my family and I stay on track, I made a 24-hour schedule for each child and one for myself.  A few additional items I added to every schedule were:

  • Bible and breakfast 
  • Meal times
  • Online classes/ One-on-one homeschooling 
  • Read aloud time
  • Music lessons and band
  • Physical activities or sports
  • Sabbath rest
  • Bible study
  • Volunteer work/outreach 

After those were set, I evaluated time for clubs, field trips, playdates for the littles, youth group activities, etc. The other category is set up with possibilities for a “no”, depending on what we committed to for the month or week. It is wise not to have your family locked into too many weekly commitments to allow for family time, fellowship, and community outreach. There is value in teaching our children to serve, and it is a vital part of our lives as believers in the Gospel of Christ. My children have and are learning to serve others, see others needs, and most of all, enrich their passion to learn.  Many of their outreach experiences have spurred their passions to pursue career goals, which in turn made them more committed to their education. As a result, there is less time enforcing rules to encourage excellent work. Intrinsically, children find their future goals as motivation enough to be diligent. 

When I thought about I Corinthians, it helped me to prioritize what kind of school year I would like to see.  Was I putting God first? Was education a priority? Did I have more time for activities to “enhance” my homeschooling? Did I actually homeschool my children and allow enough time for it? While extracurricular activities add much to our children’s lives and development, it should not overshadow their time for getting the basics.  

After considering a child's needs, it is important for us as parents to plug in time for personal relationships outside of homeschooling. To be the best teacher for your students, you want to be balanced yourself. Take breaks during the day for quiet reading, workouts, or just to breath. A joyful teacher can make any lesson more palatable for his or her students, especially when they are his or her children.  

To plan your personal life and plan your year with Veritas better, when possible choose to teach the subjects you are most passionate about yourself. Your enthusiasm will ooze into your students. If there is a subject you are not confident in or don’t typically enjoy, then you can decide to have them learn it from another teacher. A few other ways to make teaching more enjoyable are by (a) researching ways to make it fun, or (b) taking advantage of the three ways to learn with Veritas Scholars Academy. You have options. 

Year by year, I pray through this process with my husband about what classes to teach and what classes to get help in. I am encouraged that I can say “no.” I can be honest with myself and my precious children that I do not have to be a fantastic teacher in every subject each year. There are many ways to learn, and it does not all have to be under my instruction.

I evaluate each year as it comes. I discover areas that not only my children can grow in their skills, but also areas where I can grow in mine. This year I chose to grow both my children and myself in the love of mathematics. As support, I purchased math games, math projects, hands-on activities for my grammar level student. I pray that I will bring a positive light to this subject for my children that will illuminate the scriptures in math and how math shines in our everyday lives. 

What will you illuminate this year? What will you say “no” to now that will allow you to say “yes” to something else?  There is such a sweetness in “no” when it allows for “yes” to in other areas of your life. I pray that your year goes well and you feel free to say the sweet word “no” so you can say “yes” to the things that will enrich your homeschooling journey.


Sabrina Etienne lives in Virginia with her husband and 7 children, where she enjoys nature walks, classical music, foreign languages, barre class, and community service.