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Homeschooling Ideas from The Brainy Bunch: College Ready by Age Twelve

The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding

You probably read that title and scratched your head. Really? College ready by age twelve? That must be only for geniuses. Besides, who would want that for their kids anyhow?

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding, parents of ten of whom the seven oldest entered college by age twelve, answer these questions and more in their upbeat book The Brainy Bunch.

They and their kids share their story, from their marriage at age 18 to their current life with ten kids. They discuss issues like: How does something like this actually happen in a family that insists they are not geniuses? What are their days like and what do they do? Isn’t it bad for 12 year olds to be in college?


The Hardings write about practical steps that worked for them, with details on what the children learn at age 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. After breakfast and chores, the primary focus is on the Bible, and this is, obviously, fundamental. Next is math—the Hardings mention their curricula and online resources. The children write every single day (letters, journals, whatever) and they learn grammar as their parents proofread these things. Most of their other learning (English, History, Science) comes from reading, reading, reading. Foreign languages can be introduced but real competence comes from a kid’s interest and dedication.

The Hardings encourage their children to challenge contemporary ideas, to ask questions rather than just to memorize material, and to mix and merge subjects because that is how life works. “More than being able to memorize random facts, we want them to become critical thinkers and know how to ask the right questions.”

Kip and Mona Lisa are convinced that academics are not everything. Emotional maturity and social awareness are just as important. They ensure that their children know home is a safe place for laughing and crying. They also teach them to identify, assess and control their emotions while in the university classroom, keeping themselves together emotionally until they get home. (Such emotional maturity is something many university students have a hard time with these days; all parents should be teaching their kids these ‘emotional intelligence’ skills.) They also teach them social awareness, knowing how to dress, when to speak up, when to be quiet, how to seek out the person who is being left out in a group, how to show empathy.

In her chapter on tough times, Mona Lisa points to God over and over. She also points to Kip who pointed her to God during financial stresses, marriage stresses, moves, night school, and children’s illnesses. Elsewhere, she explains, “Even when things are really bad, he shows the kids and me how to be thankful for our salvation and to count our blessings.”

Mona Lisa’s attitude is amazing: “It was so much fun trying to keep one step ahead of him,” she says of one of her children. Note that this is a mom who had a houseful of other children to care for, tiny university students to chaperone, and often a part time job as well. Obviously she has good health but her positive, godly approach to life is an inspiration.

The Harding kids write that they learned how to learn, how to find their own answers, how to research, how to deal with getting the wrong answer and to keep searching for the right one, how to accept responsibility for the mistakes they had made, and how to fix them.

The Brainy Bunch contains an annotated homeschool and family resource list that would work for all families, homeschooling or not. They recommend and discuss supplies, books, people, movies, music, ideas on education, and websites. They also share a transcript form and a schedule.

Helpful Homeschooling Ideas

The Brainy Bunch is full of effective approaches to the homeschooling life. As I ponder Kip and Mona Lisa’s story, it seems to me that the following aspects are part of their success as a family and as homeschoolers:

  • Remember, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
  • The parents’ attitude is upbeat, down to earth, common sense, and full of scripture, and they work together.
  • Kip is intimately involved with the children. To keep their oldest, Hannah, occupied while he was studying calculus, he taught her some practical aspects of the subject at age four! This set her on a road to accelerated learning.
  • Kip’s pep talks continue to encourage all the kids. The Hardings talk about ‘positive ambition’ and nurture their kids’ motivation.
  • The family works together—everyone has chores—and they eat together. They recognize that mealtimes can be a golden opportunity to help boost the emotional intelligence of children and teens, and they capitalize on that. They also discuss ideas, share thoughts, ask questions, and so stimulate critical thinking.
  • They help their kids make well-informed choices, passing vision on to their kids and realizing that confidence can be contagious.
  • They encourage kids to work hard at their interests, and their young teens often became leaders at college despite the age gap.
  • They believe strongly in dual enrollment and in applying to university at as early an age as possible, but they are also fine with poorer grades at university—these are not molly-coddled kids who cannot handle a ‘C’ grade.
  • Whenever an opportunity or challenge comes up, the family asks, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” If it is not the end of the world, then they pray and often go for it.
  • They play outside and enjoy walking as a family. This and the lack of ‘twaddle’ in such accelerated schooling reminds me of some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas.
  • Because learning works best if it is interesting to the learner, Mona Lisa shows how to build learning onto video games, how to set learning goals with your child, how to deal with internet temptation (‘the real secret to success in life is to overcome temptation’).

Some Comments

Having homeschooled for decades, I have a few comments:

Often nowadays, screens detract from education itself as well as from the constant reading and active living that lead to the greatest learning, but of course it is also possible to use screens positively in education. That requires parents who enforce careful rules and kids who listen to them. It also requires parents who let their kids explore once their kids have learned that ‘entertainment-oriented fun’ is not as much fun as learning.

Even though I would not want a 17 year old to attend university, a 12 year old faces an entirely different situation with less peer pressure and is therefore probably safer than the older teens. Also note that the Hardings were careful to chaperone their young university students.

The Harding’s way of learning reminds me of the old, very successful Robinson method, with bits of delight-directed learning added in.


Throughout this book, I see two God-fearing parents who understand and apply biblical wisdom in their own lives, and I think that is, ultimately, the basis for their children’s success. What is startling is that both Kip and Mona Lisa had difficult childhoods due to either divorce and death, both became Christians at a young age, and both were only 18 when they got married. “Looking back, I remember how we had such a childlike faith…we trusted that God would take care of us. He always has.”

The other thing I notice is that they actively grew in their faith through their challenging lives, not settling for the status quo but encouraging each other to serve the Lord. Despite listing one amazing academic achievement after another, The Brainy Bunch nonetheless shows a happy, cohesive, well-adjusted family; the main reason for this seems to be that the parents love the Lord, obey his Word, and love each other.

In fact, this book was terribly inspiring to me, not because of the idea of getting our kids into university at 12 (our kids are past that age anyhow) but because of the parents themselves.

The Brainy Bunch is practical, detailed, and upbeat, and the family’s example of a godly attitude, marriage, and family can inspire all. If you need a bit of encouragement and refreshment in your homeschooling journey, this book will deliver both.

For more information or for a consultation with the Hardings see the The Brainy Bunch website.

If you enjoyed discussion, you might want to connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read or friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up

Disclosure: I borrowed The Brainy Bunch from our library and am not compensated for this discussion.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Christian Homemakers, Friendship Friday.


  1. Thanks for a wonderful review! I downloaded book & read it on your recommendation – lots of great food for thought in there, and a very encouraging story. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      You are welcome, Anna. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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