Educational Choices Part 2: Away Schooling

In my last post I discussed homeschooling and why I enjoy homeschooling my children.  However, I recognize that homeschooling isn’t always an option for all families.  In fact, for some families, homeschooling may be the wrong choice.  These families seek out the best placement for their children in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, whether at a Catholic school, public school, or non-sectarian private school.

Of course, ideally families will find the perfect (and affordable) Catholic school in their area, where Catholic values and ideals are taught and encouraged.  At a good Catholic school, our children can learn about the central importance of the Eucharist, about Catholic doctrine, and the joys of Catholic culture.  We have to be discerning though.  Some parochial schools have watered down our faith in order to be more acceptable to a wider range of parents.  So make sure you visit classrooms and ask teachers questions about the school’s fidelity to the Magisterium.

Some families will need to look into their local public schools or non-Catholic private schools.   The quality of such programs varies drastically, as we all know.  If our only option is a program that isn’t ideal, we can always supplement our children’s education.  These parents will benefit from many of the same resources as homeschooling families.  We call this “after-schooling”.

I’ve known many parents who have put together an extraordinary learning life for their children by combining what’s available to them at their free public school with after schooling experiences that they’ve created themselves.  This afterschooling isn’t about “after school enrichment programs” where Mom drives the child from school to another building where the child participates in some other adult-led program with yet another group of kids.  It involves the parents and the children discovering something together.  It perhaps involves Mom and the kids gardening together and charting their progress, making their way through a lavishly illustrated children’s version of the Aeneid, or Dad encouraging a young artist who is creating his own comic book series.  The possibilities are endless!

GUARDING THEIR HEARTS

The Church encourages us to have an ongoing relationship with our children’s teachers and the school administration:

But corresponding to their right, parents have a serious duty to commit themselves totally to a cordial and active relationship with the teachers and the school authorities.  Familiaris Consortio, 40

This is wise advice!  The teachers I know tell me how much they appreciate parents who go the extra step to get to know school personnel.  Volunteer in your child’s classroom and volunteer for committees.  If appropriate, invite you child’s teacher over for dinner!  Such involvement also creates a connection with your child while she’s at school.

A parent’s active participation in her child’s school life will also help the parent gain awareness of what’s being taught at the school.  This is so important nowadays.  If a school attempts or begins to teach ideas or to expect things from our children that conflict with our Faith, we really have to speak up no matter how unpopular our views might be.  I know it’s hard.  I don’t personally like complaining or confrontation, but it’s worth it in this case.  We are talking about our the souls of our children!  If our complaints fall on deaf ears, we can join with other like-minded families with the support of the Church in communicating our protest:

If ideologies opposed to the Christian faith are taught in the schools, the family must join with other families, if possible through family associations, and with all its strength and with wisdom help the young not to depart from the faith. In this case the family needs special assistance from pastors of souls, who must never forget that parents have the inviolable right to entrust their children to the ecclesial community.  Familiaris Consortio

GUARDING OUR CONNECTION

A few tips for protecting the parent-child connection when our kids attend an away-school:

Avoid overscheduling: One of the best things we can do to maintain family connection is to avoid overscheduling outside of school.  Make certain family times together are sacrosanct, especially dinners and any special family nights. As the kids get into the teen years, these lines become more difficult to maintain, but when the children are young it’s really better for them and for the whole family that we avoid running in 50 different directions after school.  Parents are feeling increasingly pressured to turn their children into super-achievers to the point that kids have little free time outside of school hours.  You can set rules about outside activities – one or two activities per child.

Play together: Play with the kids after school and on the weekends!!  This can be planned play, like game nights or a trip to a reserve to stargaze, or it might be completely spontaneous, like finding bugs and watching them until it’s time for dessert, making up jokes, wrestling, or acting plain goofy.

Lawrence Cohen, in his book Playful Parenting, discusses the amazing benefits for children when their parents are playful with them.  By “playful” Cohen isn’t just talking about the act of playing; he’s also talking about having a playful, light demeanor.  Your state of being is as important as your acts of doing.  A playful demeanor is especially important if a child has had a hard day at school (which they often won’t communicate!); playful parents tend to draw their children out of emotional isolation.

Nurture your family cultureWhat does your family enjoy doing together? What values do you share?  Recognizing that they are part of a shared family mission grounds children and helps them to feel secure.  Our Catholic faith is the foundation of any family cultural identity.  Attending Mass together, setting aside Sunday as a day of rest, exploring Saints days and devotionals, and praying together every day are just some of the steps we can take to becoming a community of love.

In my next post, I’ll lay out some of the most popular learning approaches.  This topic is relevant to all parents who have kids approaching school age.  Whether you homeschool or choose an away school placement, knowing the theories underlying popular methods can help your family get off to a smooth start in schooling.

Photo credits: Getting on Bus (Comstock); Boy & Parents (Hemera Technologies)

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