Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Short Essay on Home Schooling

One of my sisters, mother to four children, was talking with me last week about how it is for me home schooling my boys. Her school-age children are in school in a year-round schedule, which essentially means that they get approximately one month off four times each year… so the kids are in school about 8 months of the year. Well… her kids were out of school the entire month of December, so she has had a recent taste of having the kids home and with her constantly for those weeks.

While she certainly enjoyed having the time to spend with her children, and they enjoyed their break from school… she commented to me that she had gotten just a bit weary of the ever-present fact of the children simply being with her continually. I think she was thinking of how it would be if they were there (at home) all the time and that she had the work of not only her part-time job as a nurse, shopping, cooking, cleaning, meal-planning, social event coordinator, taxi-driver for kids’ activities, laundress, nursemaid… (the list could go on), but also the responsibility for the kids’ education. Granted, her children have the expectation of fun, relaxation – a vacation when they are out of school… which could tend to make it less of a routine around her house. My boys don’t have that expectation when they are home…

But I agreed with her that a fact of home schooling is that you don’t get a break from each other the way families with the kids in schools do. My boys are with me all-day, every day. But what I think maybe people don’t realize is that, when you are accustomed to it, it becomes a normal way of life that doesn’t seem that much harder than another. We have our little routines… As my boys have gotten older, they are more self-sufficient in their schoolwork. I have gotten more adept at planning and doing my part of the schooling. If you think about it, over the course of human history, home-schooling was the norm except for just the past century or more (if the children were schooled at all, that is). This idea of a public, state-run education for every child is fairly novel in course of history. In many ways, we have gotten used to the expectation of having more ‘personal time’ than previous generations of mothers have had.

On the other hand, I must admit that I was not a natural at this. I never intended to be a home educator. I like mental stimulation… I’m not nearly as playful with my kids as some mothers are. My major in college was NOT early childhood education. I loved working at my various jobs prior to being a stay-at-home mom. When I left work to stay home with our first baby (and the second on the way), it was a huge adjustment for me that first year. But, as many others in the same situation have survived and thrived… we are now doing just fine and wouldn’t trade it. I love the Catholic curriculum I use for their schoolwork and wish I had received the thorough grounding in catechism that my children are receiving.

Our secret ingredient is my husband who is my greatest supporter. He actually was more in favor of home schooling the children than I was initially. I could envision the additional work and stress involved and didn’t relish the thought; he was thinking of the benefits to the kids. My dear husband is so generous with his time to the boys… and is always willing to let me go off to a workshop, conference or girls’ weekend with my sisters and mother to let me get some time away. He is uncomplaining about my weekly choir practices and attendance at multiple Masses each weekend. If the house is a bit more messy than usual, he usually just gets in and starts helping out. On days when he is home and we are having school, he often takes over the teaching for that day.

While we don’t really feel a need to be critical of those who choose to send their children to school, we are glad on so many levels that we’ve chosen a different path. Being a bit counter-cultural, we have expected and received more than a bit of criticism and wariness from people. We are quite tired of hearing the questions (by those who think we must be raising socially inept nerds): “What about socialization? Aren’t you concerned about not socializing your children with other children in the schools?” We try not to be negative and tell them that we are sincerely glad they aren’t being socialized in the way many children are in the school system. Rather, we explain to them that we do provide socialization opportunities with other children by involving them in extracurricular activities and social outings with other home-schooling families. And, we hope and pray we are doing the right thing… only time will tell.

Sometimes when I am struggling to get the boys to complete an assignment or just to do those tedious math drills, I try to remind myself of something a more experienced home schooling mom in Albuquerque told me:

“We aren’t home schooling our children to get them into Harvard; we are doing this to get them into heaven!”

We like it when our children are doing well in their schoolwork… we are proud of their reading ability and quickness in learning new things. But, when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is the souls of these dear children and them spending eternity in heaven, praising God. Life here on earth is fleeting… not inconsequential, but so short in the grand scheme of eternity. When we think of that, and how quickly the time is passing, it doesn’t seem that hard to us.

So… day by day, we slog through the Religion, Math, English, Vocabulary, Reading, Physical Education, History, Science, Reading, Phonics, Spelling, Music (and instrument practicing)… and we are very thankful for those pioneering families who (only about 20+ years ago) began to re-introduce the concept of teaching children at home and earned the legal right for those of us who came after.


Madd Chatter said...

It is dangerous to focus too much on the phrase: “We aren’t home schooling our children to get them into Harvard; we are doing this to get them into heaven!”

I have met homeschool families who worked on teaching their kids plenty about being holy, but their children knew little more than reading and writing. They didn't go to college, they knew nothing of history, geography, current events, philosophy, etc. It was difficult to hold a conversation.

Part of our duty on earth is to work to the best of our abilities so we may be used as instruments for God's work. We must teach our children to be holy men and women living in the world, not of the world, who will teach others to do the same.

lvschant said...

Indeed, you are most correct! In my case, I think the comment was intended to temper my concern about the academics at the risk of neglecting the religious education... When I first started out, my main concern was being assured that what I was teaching was equal to (or better than)the academics in the school system...
I am pretty sure that my academic curriculum (combined with the one-on-one attention my kids get) has the public and most private school systems beat!

But focusing on the spiritual and neglecting the academic side of the curriculum is not the best for our children either. We need balance!