The longer I homeschool, the more I realize that establishing a proper foundation for education is critical. While teaching knowledge is important, we are told in Proverbs that, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” It is critical that we teach character and worldview, but we know that if character and worldview aren’t based on truth of God’s Word they are worthless.
Hannah Leary is a 2015 homeschool graduate and serves as the cohost of the National Bible Bee competition. As the winner of the inaugural National Bible Bee Game Show and a competitor in the National Bible Bee competition for six years, through it she’s been encouraged to study scripture on her own and has memorized 12 books of the Bible. I had the chance to talk with Hannah about her experiences with the Bible Bee, Bible study, scripture memorization, her homeschool education, and more for the Schoolhouse Rocked Podcast. (4/29/2019 episode)
Yvette Hampton: Hannah, I am so excited to talk with you. I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation. I heard you several months ago when you did an interview with Dr. James Dobson. You were talking about the National Bible Bee and I actually looked you up because I was like, “who is this girl?” Such an amazing testimony and you are one of those girls, I’ve met you personally briefly, but just reading through your bio and just doing some research on you, you’re one of those girls that I look at, and I just think, “Oh, if my girls could strive to learn to love God’s Word the way that you love God’s Word…” That is our whole purpose in homeschooling them. So I would love for you to tell your story. I know you have a pretty neat personal testimony, just about how God has used your time and his Word during your middle school years and high school years specifically to prepare you and equip you for your adult life. Tell us your testimony. Tell us about what you’ve done.
Hannah Leary: Thank you for your kind words. Praise the Lord for what he’s done. I guess just to start off, I’ve grown up Christian home my whole life. My dad’s a pastor. I was homeschooled all the way through, and so the Bible and the gospel were nothing new to me growing up. I’m very thankful to have known the gospel and the Word of the Lord at such a young age and to come to know him personally as my savior at the young age of four. Often times people are like, oh, when you’re saved at a young age you don’t have this exciting testimony, but I’m very thankful that, and I’m very excited that the Lord gave me the opportunity to know him while I was young and that he even spared me from a life of hardship and figuring it out later and just giving me that amazing privilege to know him in the days of my youth.
Hannah: That started at the age of four personally for me and really as I was getting into my middle school and high school years, specifically around the age of 11 and 12 is when I really started to understand that I needed to make my relationship with the Lord something that affected all of my life and to surrender the entirety of my life to him. It was around that time when I heard of the National Bible Bee. We just saw an ad a paper and I had done spelling bees and geography bees in the past and I saw this and I was like, “Oh Mom and Dad, I would love to, could we do this, is this something you think our family could do?” And so we signed up, but we didn’t know anything about it or what we were getting ourselves into, but we jumped in. I had just turned 12 and that summer we received all these verses to memorize and these books to study. That was the first year the National Bible Bee was even in existence.
It’s changed a lot since then, but that first year for me, as a 12-year-old young person, I memorized probably 1800 verses in preparation for the competition. It was just amazing to me to realize, and I’m a competitive person so I maybe didn’t have all the right motives at the time, but it was really amazing to me to see through that study how much, how exciting God’s Word can be and how immersing myself into it for such long periods of time the benefits of that could reap. Once the competition finished that fall, I was looking at some of what I had studied and realized, oh, I had a little bit of Ephesians 1 memorized and a bit of Ephesians 2 and some Ephesians 4 et cetera, I was like, oh, I might as well memorize the whole book.
Yvette: You might as well.
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Hannah: Yeah, exactly. I went ahead, in the off seasons of Bible Bee, went ahead and memorized books of the Bible on my own. It just became, it became a passion of mine and the competition and the program of the National Bible Bee as it developed, it was just a really fun, motivating way to get into the Word of God and to develop friendships around it and to study alongside my family and my siblings. It was something that was definitely a huge part of my life for most of my middle school and high school years. Throughout the competition, my junior year of high school I was competing and I advanced to the semi-final round of the National competition and at that time I was really, very motivated by the competition, really wanted to do well, didn’t make it past there and was kind of like, oh, like, I don’t know if I should do this anymore, I’m almost a senior, there’s a lot of other things starting to vie for my time.
During that off-season, I started studying the book of Ecclesiastes and digging into that book and really struggling as a junior in high school with, “okay, what is my purpose in life. What am I here for? What’s this all about? Is the Word of God, is studying his Word worth it? What am I doing with my life?” And Ecclesiastes just has such an interesting answer to that is, Solomon goes through and says everything is vanity and knowledge and wisdom are vanity and riches and wealth and work and all those things, are all vanity and so as I’m studying this, I’m realizing, okay, what am I supposed to do, how is this supposed to affect me in my life and that summer I started working and I was getting close to graduating high school and trying to think, “okay, what should I go into when I’m done” and just had a lot of different questions in my mind and I was kind of getting distracted from the possibility of doing Bible Bee and when that season rolled around again, I was like, I don’t know if this is something I want to do, especially in my senior year. And my dad’s like, “Hannah, you should do it, you should do it one more time.”
And so I decided to sign up and that year, one of the passages we had to memorize was Ecclesiastes 12. Long story short, I ended up in the final round of the National Bible Bee Game Show and I knew it was last time going to be competing and that fall I really had been struggling a lot with like I said, my purpose and what I was here for what the purpose of studying God’s Word was. Like, was it worth it to spend so much time in God’s Word, to know so much of God’s Word if I’m not going to win a competition, or you know, all these different things. My heart was really struggling and I was just asking God, “God please show me what’s the purpose in all this. Why do I need to know your word and what do you have for me next?”
It was in the final round of the game show that year and I knew it was my last passage I was going to be reciting and they asked me to recite Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 and even though I had studied it in the past and of course I had memorized it for the competition, as I started to recite it there in that round, the words just, the full impact of them hit me and the words spoke to me through them. It starts off by saying, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Before the difficult days come and the years draw near where you say, I have no pleasure in them”, and then it goes on to describe some of the hardships that you’re going to face in life and how eventually we’re all just going to die and a lot of this life is vanity, but then it concludes by saying, “This is the conclusion of the whole matter, fear God and keep his commandments for this is mans all. For God will bring every work into judgment including every secret thing whether good or evil.” And as I was reciting those words, the conclusion of my Bible Bee competition, just realizing that that was what it was all about.
I was supposed to remember my Creator in the days of my youth so that I could fear him and keep his commandments, and besides that, that is a very simple answer to a lot of our complicated answers and the weight of those words just hit me and I was in tears just thanking the Lord for the opportunity he had given me. Even though I didn’t always appreciate it in the moments of those six years studying God’s Word, but the grace he had given me and the opportunity he had given me to lay such a foundation in his Word throughout those six years, I was just incredibly overwhelmed with thankfulness. I still don’t know all the answers, I still am asking what’s next and all those different questions that any young person may struggle with, but even though I don’t know my future, I know the one who holds it. I’m just so thankful that I have that foundation and even though I’m not perfect, I feel confident in looking ahead because I know the truth and the Creator, the one who created this life and has my purpose planned out and planned for my life.
Yvette: Wow. That is seriously the most amazing testimony I think I’ve ever heard. That is so incredible. I love what God has done with you and I love your just transparency in that even though in the beginning maybe you didn’t feel like you were in it for all the right reasons, even if you didn’t win, it was okay. It’s one thing my husband, I have an amazing godly husband who leads our family in family devotions every day and I have a 13 year old and an 8 year old, and they’re both girls, and so both of them we really are working to help them to understand that they need to own their faith and their relationship with the Lord. It doesn’t what we tell them, it doesn’t matter what believe, it matters what they believe cause when they come face to face with Christ, he’s not going to ask them what did your mom and dad believe about me, and what did your mom and dad do to serve me, he’s going to say, what did you believe about me and how did you serve me?
We really are working especially with our 13 year old and it’s so funny, I think I’ve told this story on the podcast before, but when she turned 13 she really wanted to start wearing a little bit of makeup. We felt very convicted, not about her wearing makeup, I mean, obviously, just a small ounce like mascara, but we felt like she needed to become beautiful inside before she became beautiful outside. And the way to do that was to be immersed in God’s Word every day and so my husband said, “I’ll make you a deal,” he said, “You read your whole Bible cover to cover and you can start wearing makeup.” And so we let her wear it on occasion if there’s something special coming up or something like that we’ll let her wear a little bit, but before she puts one bit of makeup on, she has to spend time in God’s Word that day. That’s our deal with her. You spend time with the Lord first, become beautiful inside and then you can become beautiful outside.
So even though, there are times I’m certain where she’s not doing it so much to learn about God’s Word, she’s doing it because she wants to wear makeup, that’s okay because God’s Word does not return void. And we know that her being in God’s Word is going to transform her life more than anything else will. More than my husband reading the scriptures with us, more than her hearing about it in church or at youth group or anywhere like that, her being in it personally, is going to be what is going to impact her life the most.
It’s so exciting to hear your story about being involved in the Bible Bee and about what the Lord has done through that and I want to talk definitely more about that and I actually in a little bit want to talk with you about how you have dug into God’s Word. But first, for those who are not familiar with the National Bible Bee, can you kind of walk us through that? What did that look like for you? How do you get involved? What does that whole process look like?
Hannah: Yes, definitely. The National Bible Bee, its mission is to get kids into the Word of God, to know God’s Word, and then to be able to make him known. It starts out with an eight week summer study. It’s a little different then the first year I did it, how it’s developed now, but it starts with an eight week summer study and it’s designed for families to be able to do together. The ages are for ages seven through 18. There’s also a beginner level for ages five and six. But it takes them through a specific passage or book of the Bible. So last years study was in the book of James. Eight weeks you’re diving in, you’re getting an inductive study, teaching you kind of how to study the book, giving them context, allowing them to answer questions on their own and to really think through what it means, how to get into God’s Word and be giving them those tools and then there’s also two memory passages every day, every week I’m sorry. So 14 passages throughout the entire summer that they’re memorizing along with the study that kind of correlates with the study.
The great thing about the summer study program is that families can do it together because there’s three different divisions or age levels of the discovery journal, but they’re all studying the exact same book at an age appropriate level. I know personally in our family, we still use it during the summers for our family devotions and it’s something that we all can do together and read through the book and compare notes about what we’re learning and memorizing the same passages together. If you’re located near a host group, there’s also host groups, hosted by churches or homeschool groups, or just a family who’s like, “hey, I want to do this with other families in my community.” There’s that opportunity for those who are interested in doing it in a group study.
At the end of the summer, for those who are interested, there’s a Proclaim Day where students can come and celebrate what they learned, share some verses that they’ve memorized with an audience, and that’s kind of the start of the competition aspect. They can go on to take an online test, which qualifies them for the national competition where the top 360 across the country come at a national event this year it’s going to be in Covington, Kentucky in November. That’s when the competition kind of kicks into gear a little higher, there’s quite a bit more memory passages given, and another book to study on their own without the guide and discovery journal aspect. At the end of the competition there’s over a $100,000 awarded in prize money.
Yvette: Wow. You basically don’t get the information until summertime? For the November competition? So you can’t spend a whole year studying for it, you have a fairly short amount of time, so like you said, you really have to be dedicated to doing this through the summertime.
Yvette: What better way to spend your summer though?
Hannah: And it works so well, because of course throughout the summer there’s a little bit less structure when it comes to school and so having that structure of a Bible study and memorization program, just a fun and engaging way to keep kids in some sort of structure in one of the best curriculum possible, the Word of God. It’s a wonderful way to spend your summer.
Yvette: So cool. There are 10 kids in your family right? Where are you in that lineup?
Hannah: I’m the oldest.
Yvette: So what a great precedent you’re setting for your younger siblings. That’s so cool. So there’s 10 of you, and you all study this together. How, have other of your siblings participated in the Bible Bee as well?
Hannah: Yes. All of my siblings who are within the age of being able to join the actual study, five through 18, are always in involved in the summer study and then I also have three of my sisters qualify for the National competition as well. I love being able, of course, I’m not competing any more, but I love being able to come alongside them and help them study, encourage them, and we’ve had opportunities to be able to just to recite God’s Word together and church settings and ministry settings and that’s probably the biggest blessing to me, is just the opportunity to take what we’ve been given, what God has entrusted to us and blessed up with and be able to bless and inspire others with it. It’s one of my greatest joys.
Yvette: That is so incredible. I have a friend, I don’t know if I’ve told this story, but I have friend who I grew up with and she really had a hard time after high school. Her mom was very insistent on her learning the Word of God and just memorizing scripture and after high school she kind of went off the rail for a little bit and just made some poor choices and got to the point in her life where she felt like she couldn’t even open up the Word of God. Like she knew that she was living in sin, she knew she was struggling, but because of that she could not physically open up God’s Word and she said she just prayed one day, she’s like, God, you’re going to have to help me through this cause I can’t even open up the Bible right now.
And at that moment, all the scripture she had memorized starting pouring back into her mind and she’s like, I didn’t even know that I still knew that scripture. She had genuinely and literally, hidden it in her heart and it’s so cool, I mean, that was a huge turning point for her and she loves the Lord now and is serving him and it’s just so neat to see how God used what her mom had required of her when she was younger that she probably complained and fussed over, later in her adult life to bring her back to the Lord. It’s just so important to know scripture. We’re a family who’s very, very big on scripture memorization and I think people think that it’s too hard, you know, they, your kids can only learn John 3:16 and you know, or they just have to learn one little piece of scripture at a time and it’s not that hard. How do you go about memorizing all of that stuff cause obviously everyone has different learning styles, so not everyone’s going to do it the way that you did it, but how have you gone about and maybe even some of your sisters, how have you guys gone about memorizing these things?
Hannah: Yeah, that’s a great question. Honestly, for me personally, it’s just the discipline and the consistency of being in it every day. I will often say, your memory is a muscle, and so just like any other muscle in your body, it’s going to hurt when you exercise it the first few times and it’s hard to stretch it out and it’s going to be sore for those first few days or weeks, but then as you get into a consistent habit and pattern, it becomes more natural and it becomes something easy, easier to do as you go along. For me, I didn’t have any specific techniques that I used besides just being it on a consistent basis and reciting it over and over and over again.
Having my family involved was absolutely critical and huge to your point of just getting your family, just the Word of God that’s probably the biggest motivation I had and the support and encouragement that I received. Being able to memorize scripture as a family together, whether that was through family devotions or especially the competition aspect of my memorization, my dad would quiz me or my mom or siblings, but mainly my dad, and he would just listen to me recite. And so having someone there to recite back to, having that accountability, was a huge part of memorizing for me as well. Then I think a lot of those same things my sisters have used. My one sister, she really enjoys writing it out and so that’s one thing that she’s used. She’s a lot more artistic than me so she loves to see it.
My other siblings who, and especially my younger siblings I think, my youngest brother is almost two, there’s quite the range of kids, but I think even just having them hearing us older siblings reciting God’s Word, and so in family devotions, we might have a five verse or a 10 verse passage that we’re working through as a family, and the little ones might not be able to recite the whole 10 verses, but after hearing those first few verses, over and over, and over, and over, and over again, they can recite them just as well. So I think listening to God’s Word and especially for the younger ones, that, even without trying, you’re getting into their hearts and they’re picking up on it. They’re like little sponges.
Yvette: Yeah. You think about how easily kids can memorize songs or even books. You know, if you read them a book and you read the same book over and over and over again, they can read the book back to you without even reading it. They’ve just memorized it and they know every word that’s on every page and if you try to skip a page, you get in trouble cause they’re like, no wait, you forgot this part. But kids have an incredible ability to memorize and we’ve seen that with our girls. My oldest, Brooklyn when she was in fourth grade, I think, she did the AWANA a Bible quiz and it was really a neat thing. She was so excited about it and she and her friend placed second. The way that she ended up memorizing everything was she, she’s not a visual learner, she’s an auditory learner. She can hear a song one time and remember it seems like forever.
She knows songs. I’m like, how do you even know this song cause we don’t listen to this song and she’s like, I heard it in the restaurant. Okay. What I did was, I just recorded all of the things that she needed to memorize for Bible quiz on my phone and I just read through them and then she listened to them and she would be playing Legos or with her dolls, or drawing or coloring, or doing something with her hands and she would just listen to it over and over and over and over. So she didn’t even read it. I mean she could read it, but she didn’t. She didn’t enjoy learning it that way and so she would just continue to memorize it that way and she did great. I mean, it was a fantastic way for her to learn. Let’s talk about your homeschool journey. What was it like for you being homeschooled? Did you enjoy being homeschooled? Did you feel like it was a good thing for you or did you feel like you were missing out somehow on the amazing things that life has to offer to all kids? What was yours like?
Hannah: Honestly, it probably was one of the biggest benefits of my life and I can’t thank my parents enough for the time that they invested into my education through homeschooling and just taking that to a personal level and that they wanted to do that themselves and I am so thankful of, just as a general statement, I loved being homeschooled. Looking back, especially with my middle school years, I don’t know if I would have survived any other way of schooling, spiritually even. Just because being in a more sheltered environment really allowed my faith to flourish and I know God uses all environments and all stories, but I’m so thankful that he allowed my story to include that and being homeschooled. I really in just speaking to the missing out, you know the thing that people talk a lot, especially when it comes to socialization, people asking, “how are you being socialized?” I really appreciated it growing up. My dad’s a pastor and so we are very involved in our local church and community that way.
I’m very thankful for the opportunity that homeschooling gave me to interact with all generations and people and I definitely was blessed with some amazing peer friends, but also to be blessed with being friends people who are five years older than me, 10 years older than me, older people in our church who invested time and energy into informal mentoring and education that they gave me. At the same time, being able, as the oldest of 10, I was able to invest into those younger than me as well and so I’ve always grown up surrounded by kids and infants and babies, and those different things. I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to get a rounded zero socialization and to be surrounded by all sorts of people and given all sorts of opportunities to interact and to learn with so many different variety of opportunities.
Yvette: Yeah, that’s so cool and I love earlier you talked about in your off season from Bible Bee, you got to spend time memorizing God’s Word and if you think through that, you know, if you had been in traditional school and you had this very steady flow of homework that you had to and you were sitting in the classroom all day, you would not have had the time to press into God’s Word like you did and so what a blessing that was and what a gift that was for you to be able to spend that time just studying God’s Word cause that is absolutely amazing.