If You Want to Fail at Home Schooling . . .
From the Sep/Oct 2011 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
(1) . . . don’t make time for God. You can’t take time for prayer or Mass if you want to do a good job home schooling.
When we focus on the Lord first, we have greater peace and more energy to do everything else. When we spend time in prayer and Mass, we regain perspective: We become heavenly minded enough that we are earthly good. We submit our schedule, goals, and commitments to the Lord, believing that we will receive all the grace we need to do His will that day.
Everyone in our family needs this grace. The years are few that we can make the decision for our children to participate in devotions or attend daily Mass with us. Let’s not miss the opportunity to strengthen the whole family!
(2) . . . disregard your spouse’s thoughts and feelings on the subject. Just plough ahead; he or she will catch up.
As parents, we are the primary educators of our children and together we are responsible for our children’s formal education. We discern the best plan through prayer and information about home schooling. It’s a team effort, needing full support of both parents.
(3) . . . make your children a priority ahead of your spouse. There’ll be years to spend with your spouse later.
Marriage is our vocation. Though teaching and caring for children may take the lion’s share of our time right now, we can’t neglect the primary relationship in our family: our spouse. Our children thrive when they see how much we love our spouse. And if we don’t nurture our marriage, we won’t be prepared to enjoy our time together when our children are no longer at home.
(4) . . . remember: It’s Harvard or bust! Academics, not well-rounded Catholics, is the goal.
Actually, statistics prove the academic superiority of home schooling—tutoring is always the most efficient form of education. But what is our goal for our child?
St. Paul says, “‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). There are brilliant atheists who don’t give glory to God. Our first priority is children who have a heart for God. Secondarily, we will provide the best academic formation we can. We don’t excuse poor quality education under the guise that training in the faith is much more important than book learning. However, we’re in the unique position to train their hearts as well as their minds.
(5) . . . reproduce a typical classroom in your home.
Educating our children at home is so much more than a replicating a schoolroom. Whatever strengths a typical classroom may have—order, color, good light, child-height desks and table—copy. Schedules are important for staying on task and curricula add structure, but keep the focus on the children. More than academics, the goal of home schooling is to assist our child to be a good steward of his heart, mind, and strength in service of the Lord. We offer integrated education in four main areas: spiritual growth, character development, life skill training, and academic excellence.
Spiritual growth involves prayer (individually and as a family), the Scriptures, regular use of the sacraments, and living the liturgical year at home. Character development is a daily process of helping our children form good habits, develop virtues, and refine manners. Life skill training refers to learning practical skills for life as they become good stewards of our home and possessions, thus contributing to the family’s well-being. Academic excellence involves training their minds in intellectual work with due consideration for their readiness and physiological development.
(6) . . . lead with criticism. You see the children’s faults better than any other teacher would.
We are mothers and fathers first, teachers second. Our instruction flows from our unique relationship with each child. Our intimate knowledge of each child reveals his shortcomings, but we must use great care to direct the child toward maturity with compassion, respect, and charity, rather than submit him to constant criticism. St. Paul says, “Make love your aim” (1 Cor. 14:1).
(7) . . . never vary your curriculum or method. Children learn the same things at the same rate. It’s too much work to allow for individuality.
Some curricula or methods that work well for one child will work well for others. Your focus, however, is teaching each child effectively rather than using the same materials over and over. Flexibility—one of the greatest qualities we learn as parents—is key!
We assess the effectiveness of our method by how well the child learns. Since our children vary in physical development, learning styles, and temperament, we may need to select other materials or adjust our teaching method, rather than blame our child for not understanding. Since the goal is understanding—mastery of the subject—we adjust for individuality.
(8) . . . don’t ask for help or attend support group meetings. If God’s called you to home school, He can equip you to do it alone.
We do need inner strength and determination to home school, but we don’t want to foster an independent spirit in ourselves or our children that hinders a proper understanding of the Body of Christ.
A support group is made up of other parents who are daily discovering how to nurture their families through home schooling. There is collective wisdom—suggestions for improvement—that lighten our spirits, give us fresh ideas, encourage us in our struggles, and provide a forum for prayer and practical advice.
(9) . . . isolate your family. Socialization is not that important.
If our child has become overly dependent on peers, limiting their interaction may be helpful. However, we aren’t called to isolation to keep them pure.
Socialization is the process of learning how to function as a mature brother or sister in the Body of Christ. Some principles include responding to authority without a critical spirit, leading others into godly behavior, bearing one another’s burdens, and caring for widows, orphans, and the poor.
Home is the natural environment for learning how to be a brother or sister before applying principles of social interaction outside the home. Peer segregation is not a natural environment for socialization; rather, age integration is the norm for families, neighborhoods, work environments, and the Church.
(10). . . remember: Use whatever curriculum your friends use. If it works for them, then it will work for you.
A friend’s ideas, suggestions, and schoolroom set-up can help us, but we must resist peer pressure. Others’ suggestions are just that—we don’t have to justify teaching our children in a way different from someone else.
We must consider our child’s needs, talents, abilities, and education thus far, our financial situation, our discretionary time for organizing materials, our own gaps in education, and what other resources we have available. Once we discuss these decisions with our spouse, and pray, we will discern how to handle advice from others wisely.
(11) . . . don’t be flexible. Once you have set a plan in notion, don’t change.
We need a plan, but then we evaluate it. We may shift the schedule because of a baby’s nap, availability of a tutor, the timing of music lessons, or another commitment. We model for our children the whole learning process, including learning how to home school.
(12) . . . don’t plan your schedule. Education just happens, if you let it.
Learning is ongoing, but without goals, we can’t evaluate the education. Scheduling is an opportunity for our own character development in the area of time management. Whether or not we were born organized, we can gain the skills needed to set and evaluate goals for each child in each subject.
Schedules bring great peace as long as they aren’t followed slavishly. When goals are clear, home schooling doesn’t meander throughout the day. Children understand expectations and can work independently, depending on age. Conflicts are minimized since the children know what must be done before play resumes. Moms can cope better with morning sickness or fatigue when the schedule is set.
(13) . . . exclude your babies and toddlers. Only the older children get individualized attention.
Home schooling is a full-family venture, including babies and toddlers. When little ones feel excluded, they cause problems. We include them in activities or give them their own desk and materials. And they benefit from the one-room schoolhouse effect.
(14) . . . be critical of yourself. After all, you are the one that is on trial—everyone is looking at you to see if home schooling is a good idea.
None of us can take this kind of pressure. We begin this venture by the grace of God and the support of our spouse. Motivated by our unconditional love for each child and bolstered by the authority God has given us, we can craft a wonderful and challenging program for each child that addresses his or her specific needs, talents, abilities, interests, and learning styles. Unlike classroom teachers, we can select the curriculum we want, take the field trips we choose, instill our values, and tutor each child to mastery.
We are teachers because we are parents. We have done the hard work of teaching them to walk, to talk, and to go to the bathroom. Teaching them to read and write is every bit as exciting as those first few steps. Through home schooling we have the opportunity to prepare our children for their life’s work. What a privilege to spend a quantity of quality time together.
Home schooling is an amazing family adventure. I invite you to consider this educational option for your family.
Kimberly Hahn is the co-author of Catholic Education: Homeward Bound: A Useful Guide to Catholic Homeschooling.