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.]


  1. Brenda@Coffeeteabooksandme

    How wonderful to see a post about Clay! When I met him, I remember coming away from that weekend wishing we heard more from him (not that hearing from Sally and the kids is ever a bad thing… no, never!). 🙂

    While my daughter was the normal (?) creative type we often think of as a lover of literature, Interior Design major, homeschool mother… I also have been amazed by the creativity my son shows in the field of Computer Science/Software Engineering.

    Last year in college, he had a chat with the University’s physician he had to visit to get a special ADD certification to help him get through his Latin Class. As it turned out, it was the same doctor who diagnosed him in first grade!

    Anyway, they talked about going on a drug to help him get through the language class but the doctor warned him it would also take away his ability to “think out of the box” and the creativity that helped him succeed as a Computer Scientist and app designer. He obviously declined and did pass two semesters of Latin (so he could graduate) with the help of his professor.

    SO glad I “discovered” Clay and Sally long ago because their wisdom made it possible to homeschool the ADHD child through those early years.

  2. Andrew Peterson


    Thanks for this, Clay and Sam. I’m grateful to have you creative dudes hanging around these parts. I’d just like to say that “creative” is a fantastic adjective and I employ it often. (Har!)

  3. Clay

    Thanks, Andrew. Love the Rabbit Room and all the creativationalism you bring to our lives out here in the burrows. Hanging around you guys keeps the neural synapses firing.

    Note to editorial: After “creative” add “(e.g., “What do I do?! I’m a creative.”).”

  4. Judy

    ” you won’t ever go wrong if you are aspiring for your children to become godly, mature, kingdom-driven men and women” – just yes and amen.

    I didn’t know about you, Clay (and Sally), when my children (now in their late teens) were young and I was seeking to bring up imaginative children who would also learn to love and trust the Lord Jesus, but was very grateful to have in my possession a book by Australian author, Angela Rossmanith, titled “When Will the Children Play?” Though not a Christian author, she understood something of the ways that play, and exploration, and unstructured time provided space for the development of imagination, creativity, curiosity. Together with Edith Schaeffer books, and Gladys Hunt’s “Honey for a Child’s Heart,” a way of parenting was born. In God’s goodness, it has born fruit in the lives of my children.

    It is wonderful to know you are bringing this perspective to young families still.


  5. aimee

    I didn’t know that Clay Clarkson created the name Hutchmoot, I always assumed it was our Proprietor, so thanks for the back story.

    I’ve read Sally’s books for years and I’m reading both Educating the Whole-hearted Child and Season’s of Mother’s heart again this week to focus my own heart as we head into our 7th year of homeschooling.

    I love the wit in this piece and the wisdom, it’s going to be quite a privilege to share a hutch with all of these great rabbits, including today’s announcement of the guest speaker.

  6. Brian

    I’ve ordered “Educating the Whole-hearted Child,” so maybe I’ll get the answer to this question by reading that. But how do the Clarksons define “each of our children would have an impact for Christ and the Gospel”? Depending on how that’s defined, I’m not sure I have that aspiration or conscious intention about myself, let alone my kids. But I think the definition would be really important in really understanding that sentence.

  7. Clay

    Thanks to all for the comments. Hope to see some of you at Hutchmoot.

    Brian: Thanks for the question, although I’m a little uncertain of why you are uncertain about my statement. For me, it’s just a reflection of Psalm 78:1-8, which is a reflection on Deuteronomy 6:4-9. My aspiration is that I would follow the pattern of the Israelites to “teach my children diligently” the truths of God (Deut.) so that “they would teach them to their children” (Ps.). It’s not about indoctrination (if that is what you are concerned about) but about spiritual influence. When Paul commands fathers (or, parents) in Ephesians 6:4 to “bring them up [your children] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” all the terms he uses are very relational words. “Bring up” is the Greek word ektrepho which means “to feed from” or “to nurture” (used only here and in 5:29 about wives). In other words, we are to nurture the life of God in our children, feeding them from the life of “the Lord” that is already in us. It is really about incarnating the living Christ at home. It is His life, not all the things that we do or buy, that makes our house a Christian home. My aspiration for my children is really no different than Paul’s was for Timothy–that they would follow the Christ in me, and would grow up to live for His kingdom and cause (the gospel), because that’s what I aspire to do. There is much more I could say, but it’s all in the book. Please feel free to contact me if this, or the book, doesn’t answer your questions.

  8. Brian

    Clay: Thanks for your response. I don’t think I was concerned that the phrase “have an impact for Christ and the gospel” had a negative implication (like indoctrination), but instead that it was describing something so grand, or else a calling so very specific, that I would have a hard time directing my children in its pursuit.

    I’m afraid that while I care about the people around me generally, as persons, I wouldn’t give much conscious thought to where they are in their relationship with Christ. If they bring up the subject I’m happy to talk about spiritual matters, but apart from general decency, treating people with dignity and care (which I know can be lacking in many situations that seem so polarized), I don’t know if I am living up to the challenge of “hav[ing] an impact for Christ.”

    If your use of that phrase meant that we all are called to the public, explicit work of preaching evangelism, then I might think that was too much, imposing on all people a calling that only really belongs to a few. But there are other ways to define the phrase that are less stadium-focused, more modest, more generally applicable. My real fear when I read that phrase in the interview was that I’m not focused enough on making an “impact” (to which, it occurs to me now, I added the idea of “on our culture” or “on the world around us” to your phrase, when that may not be what you meant) for Christ. I don’t evangelize strangers or co-workers, or strategize how my songwriting will result in more souls saved, let alone know how to teach my children to do the same. I kind of hoped that maybe your use of that little phrase was going to somehow call us to something bolder and truer to the gospel than being quiet, pious little churchmice, while also avoiding the other extreme of demanding that we all be Billy Graham. In any case, I’ll look forward to reading your book.

  9. Clay Clarkson

    Brian: Thanks for the clarification. I understand, and probably share, your concerns. However, I feel like you’re hearing my words through the filter of some strongly held and felt personal values or beliefs about American evangelical Christianity that would need some deconstruction and explanation before I could respond meaningfully. When I say “impact for Christ,” that’s really all I mean–that we would send our children into adulthood as “ambassadors for Christ” (2Cor 5:16-21). None of my progeny is what you (or Scripture) would strictly call an “evangelist,” but they are all faithful witnesses of the Christ who lives in them. When they write books and songs, compose and orchestrate music, perform and act (I have artsy kids), work, study, or whatever they do, they do it knowing it is at some level a stewardship and a spiritual expression (Col 3:17,23). Their witness may or may not include propositional elements, but will always be a truthful and beautiful expression of what is good, because they desire to live out in their worlds (to “incarnate”) the true, beautiful, and good God who lives in them. We always told our children, from young ages, that we believed God had given them certain gifts and skills, and that He would use each of them for His kingdom. We never said how, but we always affirmed a spiritual vision for their lives. Now they are on their own journey with Him to find out what their story will be, and our aspirations have been fulfilled because our children are “walking in truth” (3Jn 4). I hope that helps a little, but I think my book will give you the bigger picture.

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