By Karen D. Koch

As a small side job when I’m not busy homeschooling, I occasionally write Facebook posts for a local tree service company. In researching interesting “tree content,” to keep the arborists’ followers engaged, I keep finding things that relate to homeschooling. (Disclaimer: I think about homeschooling a lot)


girdling roots

The company does the usual things tree services manage: stump and damaged tree removal, risk assessment of trees, cleaning up storm damage, and pruning fruit and other trees. I’m amazed at the fascinating tree information I’ve found that can be applied to homeschool. Of course the Bible has been telling us some of these things for quite awhile, like the following:

Blessed is the one
 who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers
” Psalm 1:3 (NIV).

or as some philosopher stated:

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Anonymous

With four children from 8 to 20 in my house, with the oldest two mostly launched, I’m in various stages of “tree care.” Of course children are not trees, but bear with me.

1. Planting Correctly is Critical
Planting a tree correctly is a lot more than digging a hole in the ground. While researching, I located numerous photos of trees that had been hastily or incorrectly planted–too deep, too shallow, in the wrong kind of soil, too close to a home’s foundation or water pipes. Foundation is everything, and we homeschoolers generally know that. With the Bible as the foundation and family, church, and like-minded friends as the support, you can help your child to have a solid beginning.

2. Stake Young Trees
Many times when a new subdivision is built, you’ll see new trees, strapped and supported to help them grow straight. These straps must be removed after the tree is securely rooted, or will cause permanent disfiguring and scarring of the tree. One arborist website even said that trees too tightly strapped may never develop correctly as part of their growth is in managing wind and weather, as God made them. Trees permanently staked may be badly scarred.

We saw some scarred trees where my kids took swimming lessons this summer. In a row of trees along a fence line by the pool, we saw at least three of these cables, literally strangling the now-grown trees, above the fence line. The cables were embedded in and scarring the trunks. The trees are straight and tall, but badly damaged. The straps should have been removed years ago. Their original purpose is no longer needed for those trees.

I think of this as early protection and training of children who are too young to be “sent out” into the Big Bad World just yet. Children should be loved, nurtured, and taught to give them the best start. They may need help to “stay upright” and grow upward like strong trees, but those guides are removed as the child increasingly stands on his/her own.

3. Water Well
Trees, particularly young or newly planted ones, need lots of water as they establish their root systems (see verse above). The older they get, the more they can “reach water on their own” and don’t need as much care. But when young, Mom and Dad in particular, and extended family and friends should be the primary waterers.

4. Prune for Best Results
Fruit trees in particular, need regular and correct pruning. Rather than harming the tree, if done properly, the trees will produce even more the next year. Jesus told us about that as well. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:12. Pruning is uncomfortable. We adults don’t enjoy it either, but it’s our responsibility as parents to help our children with this task. Training in righteousness is hard work. Controlling our tongues and tempers. Fighting laziness or apaapplesthy. Growing in compassion and humility. None of these come easily, but require parents’ modeling and lots of practice and reminders when they are young.

5. Don’t Keep Trees Root-Bound Too Long
Ugly things happen when a tree has been in the container or root ball too long. If you don’t remove the synthetic root ball covering, you’ll end up with what they call “girdling roots,” literally roots growing in a circle because they can’t get through the root ball bag or have been growing in a circle inside the pot instead of down and out. Of course a tree in that condition can’t put roots far and wide into the soil, and will likely suffer instability or demise.

Of course this last one is often the hardest one. Children are not trees, of course, but the analogy is interesting. The older they get, the more their faith needs to be their own. There’s a time to remove the straps, help them do their own pruning, and to release them. We need to give children opportunities to fail and succeed on their own. This may be going to camp, driving alone, community college or other classes away from you, or getting a job.

6. Let Them Grow
This letting go and letting grow has been hard for me but also amazing to watch. God has things for my children to do apart from me. My oldest went on a missionary trip to Germany this past summer. Two terrorist attacks occurred in Europe while he was there. In my heart I just wanted him “home safe right now,” but I knew God had things in mind for him, and it was a life-changing trip for him. Child #2 moved out to attend college just five weeks ago, but I know his foundation is solid. He’s been watered and pruned a lot, and released. I know he will bear much fruit and prosper. I pray he grows and blesses others around him in the new home where he’s been planted.

We must remember that if the children were “planted” right, encouraged to grow straight and tall, watered and pruned as necessary, covered in lots of prayer, then set free to grow on their own, that they will likely bear fruit and prosper. Homeschooling or living in a Christian household is no guarantee that all will be well with our children, but I do believe it provides the proper foundation, gentle staking, pruning, and watering for a great start.

Karen Koch is in her 16th year of homeschooling. Her “trees” are 8, 13, 18, and 20. Two have grown particularly tall (6’2″). Karen has served as CHEA’s part-time Communications Assistant. for the past six years. [email protected].