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Five Questions for Clay Clarkson, Author of Educating the WholeHearted Child

Clay Clarkson will always have a place in Rabbit Room lore. ‘Twas he who provided the world with that puzzling, but perfect name for the Rabbit Room’s annual conference/gathering: Hutchmoot. He is more than just a namer of things, he is a shaper of lives and a wise guide for the path of whole-hearted parenting.

Clay’s book (written with his wife, Sally), Educating the WholeHearted Child, is truly wonderful. Reading it was a joy and a relief. Finally, a book on home-education I can…wait for it…whole-heartedly recommend. Seriously, this book means a lot to me, because it hits just about every button. It is enjoyable and well written. It is graceful in tone and message (and this is fundamental to its charm and power). It is not only full of grace, but is also truth-saturated. It’s faithful to Scripture. It is well layed-out and profoundly helpful. It is simply a brilliantly constructed book, a treasure for parents of any variety, most especially those who are considering, or are engaged in, home education.

Clay was kind enough to answer a few questions and reveal at least one more of his famously coined words. –Sam

1. You have spent many years working to serve families. What is the core of the message you love to share with families? What would you say, “Miss everything else, but don’t miss this!” about?

When Sarah was about four years old, I was a singles pastor at a large SoCal church. Most of our singles ministry leaders were from broken families, and one day out of the blue Sarah blurted out to Sally and me, “When I get my divorce, I want to come and live with you.” She didn’t know it then, but that innocent blurt planted a seed in our hearts that we wanted to strengthen families. After a couple of moves, we landed in rural Texas in 1993 and that seed grew into Whole Heart Ministries, a ministry to “encourage and equip Christian parents to raise wholehearted Christian children.” Our ministry slogan, “Keeping Faith in the Family,” summarizes what still drives us nearly twenty years later. We believe in God’s biblical design for the Christian home and family, and we are committed to putting tools into parents’ hearts and hands to help them build the faith of their children. Our heart is to set parents free from burdensome and extra-biblical parenting formulas and methods, and give them confidence to parent by faith and grace in the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. What do you consider healthy ambition for parents in regards to their kids? Is there danger in our aspirations?

Aspirations are fine, as long as they are not projected personal aspirations. My secret personal aspiration was to raise a child who would be a web-tech and graphic design wizard. It didn’t happen. Frankly, it would have created great stress and unhappiness if I had tried to press that aspiration onto one of my children. Our aspirations for our children were rarely about what they would do, but more about who they would be. We were very verbal in our expectations that each of our children would have an impact for Christ and the Gospel and very intentional about training them to be gracious and effective communicators and people. We took seriously the idea of “making disciples” of our children, believing that if we got their hearts right, then we could trust God to direct them as they approached adulthood. There is a danger in projecting your personal aspirations onto your child and especially in trying to fulfill unrealized hopes from your own life. However, you won’t ever go wrong if you are aspiring for your children to become godly, mature, kingdom-driven men and women. Aspire away!

3. What role do you believe imagination and the arts play in raising children?

Early in our parenting journey, we heard the statistic that children enter school with very high measurable creativity, but by third grade it is very low. Why? Because children in classrooms quickly learn to conform. It becomes all about right answers. Obviously, every child needs to learn the Three Rs in order to gain knowledge, but that is not enough. In addition to learning skills, we chose to build our children’s mental muscles, the ones that would enable them to be strong and independent learners. We identified seven muscles—language, appetites, habits, creativity, curiosity, reason, and wisdom. Taken together, I believe they are the building blocks of a strong imagination, or what might be called an “imaginal intellect,” that is able to conceive new ideas and think outside of the box. We intentionally emphasized creating a verbally rich environment and an arts-enriched atmosphere in our home, filling it daily with literature, visual arts, music, storytelling, poetry, Scripture, acting, creative play, nature, and much more. It was an imagination laboratory.

4. You are, quite famously, the inventor of the title, “Hutchmoot,” for the Rabbit Room’s annual conference/gathering. Other than signing autographs, what do you most enjoy about Hutchmoot and what are you looking forward to this year?

As a writer and an amateur neologizer, I am delighted to have created such a useful new word (I’m checking OED regularly). Just for historical provenance, it was Saturday, April 24, 2010 around 11:00 AM in the back room at the Panera Bread on Old Hickory in Nashville. Andrew and Pete were meeting with Sarah—the young and newly-minted Rabbit Room author—and her aged father (me). Conversation turned to what to call this new event, I tossed out “Hutchmoot” as an idea, Andrew looked at me funny, and the rest is history. Not being able to attend the first Hutchmoot with Sarah was torture, but I was in line online the next year to secure my spot for Hutchmoot 2011. It was everything Sarah said it would be—good people, great music, delicious eats, amazing guests, stimulating workshops, laid-back goofiness, heady discussions, constant fellowship, and more. Hutchmoot was different from any music and arts conference I had ever attended. I met you, Sam, and ended up writing on this imaginative blog called Story Warren. I met Eric Peters, and will host a concert with him in Colorado. Now I am champing at the bit (note: not chomping, which I will do at Evie’s table) to get to Hutchmoot 2012. I’m ready to moot at the hutch.

5. I’ve known you as a man of vision and imagination. What’s out there that you haven’t yet done, but are itching to do?

I always have more creative itches than I can scratch. On the ministry side, there are some nonfiction books and parenting resources in process, and a library of Christian books from 1860-1920 to get back in print. On the equally itchy personal side of my creative life, there’s an illustrated children’s book allegory, and a preschool children’s book and app. As a musician, I’m working on an Advent song cycle of my own songs with an monologue by a 70 year-old Mary. Since Andrew permanently removed the self-referential term “creative” from all Hutchmooters’ vocabularies this past year, I now think of myself as a “creativator.” For me, it just means a person driven to be creative. I often feel like Job, relentlessly scratching at all these itchy ideas and concepts breaking out in my brain, digging at them with the broken potsherd of my limited creative skills and abilities. Being a creativator can be frustrating that way, but also a blessing when one of those ideas actually makes it out of my brain and into someone else’s hands. It’s a rare delight to know you helped light up the imago dei in someone else’s spirit. It doesn’t happen often, but I keep pressing on because it’s just what I do. Thanks for asking.

[Clay Clarkson’s book, Educating the WholeHearted Child, is available in the Rabbit Room store.]


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