Archive for Educational Choices

There Goes My Baby Part 2: How to Cope When Your Child Leaves for School

first day of school fancy

It’s inevitable. Our children are going to grow up. In a previous post, I shared my own mixed (okay, pretty sad) feelings about my oldest son starting kindergarten in just a few weeks. And, although he’s ready for it, I’m not so sure I am.

Perhaps you’re going through something similar. Maybe your youngest is ready to start kindergarten in homeschooling and you’ve just realized you have no more babies coming up after this one. Maybe you have a child starting middle school, high school, or – gasp! – college. How did we get here? More important, how do we make it through these exciting, bewildering, and, yes, heartbreaking transitions?

Here are some ideas to help us – and our kids -to make it through:

Share our children’s excitement. No child wants to (or should be made to) feel guilty for looking forward to the next chapter of her life. Sure, our inclination might be to freeze time and keep our kids right where they are. But, since we can’t really do that, our next best bet is to have fun with our children as they get ready to turn the next page in the book that is their life. So, have fun together shopping for a new backpack and lunch bag, or decorating school folders. Kids heading off to high school might more so enjoy shopping for new clothes. And any child leaving for college would be happy to stock up on everything essential for dorm living.

Stay rooted in old rituals. As I think ahead to the long days my son will be spending at school (and away from home), I quickly calm my sorrow with reminders that we’ll still enjoy nightly family dinners, weekend outings, and long holidays and summers uninterrupted by strict school schedules. When I think back to my own transition of leaving for college, I still remember that the knowledge that I could return home on weekends or that I’d be home for a long winter break before I knew it helped ease my homesickness. If your child’s only mildly excited about her upcoming milestone, try reminding her of all that’s going to stay the same in her life so she realizes her whole world isn’t being turned upside down.

Enjoy new ways to bond with your child. As parents, we’ve been doing this one from the start. With every new development in our children’s lives, we’ve had to rediscover our relationship with each other. This new milestone asks the same of us. I look forward to the new conversations my son and I will have as he begins the school year. Already, we’ve played on his school playground and chatted about my own school experiences. If you homeschool a new kindergartener, look forward to this new dynamic of your relationship with your child. If your kid’s off to college, send him care packages, cards or letters just to let him know you’re thinking of him (what college kid doesn’t love getting mail?)

Enjoy what this milestone means for you. With every transition our children face, we, parents, experience a transition ourselves. Though you may be saddened by your child starting kindergarten, middle or high school, or college, don’t feel guilty for appreciating the increased one-on-one time you might get with a child who’s still home, or for feeling mild excitement at the thought of taking up that hobby you always wanted to master, or for looking forward to more quality time with your spouse.

When life isn’t constant, remember that God is. Times like these, when it feels like our children are slipping from our grasp, it’s easy to feel uneasy. But, recall that even when we’re shaken, God isn’t. We may be tempted to worry or fear, but the Bible reminds us not to give into it but instead to trust in God, “with whom there is no alteration” (James 1:17). And nothing should bring us more peace in these quickly changing days than our Father who, thankfully, never changes.

There Goes My Baby Part 1: Sending My Son to School

 

first day of school fancy

I always knew there’d come a day when my son would be ready for something that I am not.

Like all parents and their children, he and I have been through a lot of firsts together. I’ve witnessed and guided his transition from infant to toddler to preschooler, from a nursing baby to a boy who devours everything in the fridge, from a Sesame Street fan to a Star Wars buff, but none of it has affected me like the transition we’re about to encounter: the move to kindergarten.

The funny thing is that I used to hear other moms dread the start of kindergarten, and, to be honest, I used to consider them, well, a tad melodramatic. After all, it’s only kindergarten, not college. There are still so many years ahead; they’re still so young.

But that’s what causes the sadness in me. The panic that maybe he’s not ready. Or, more likely, that I’m not ready.

Because he is so young. Just six years old and in two weeks he’ll spend the bulk of every Monday through Friday somewhere else, outside this home. He and I won’t be able to lazily make our way to the breakfast table each morning, to slowly make our way through French toast or chocolate-chip pancakes. We won’t be able to take mid-morning jaunts to the park or take all day to make a plaster-cast volcano and finally, after the paint’s dry, watch its food-colored baking soda erupt all over his tiny dinosaurs waiting at the bottom. I won’t have his eager help washing windows or changing laundry or baking cookies.

He’s still so young and there are so many years ahead of us before college or career or life takes him away from me for more days than I care to think about. So many years, and how many days of those years will he spend the majority of his waking hours away from me? Still so young, and I still have so much that I haven’t taught him yet. So much more shaping and molding of character to do. Can it all be done in a few hours each evening and on weekends?

Thoughts like these take me back to my desire to homeschool (if only my husband would get on board; but, we’ve debated it and, for now, that topic’s a sleeping dog). But, even homeschooling would leave me with a pang in my gut. Because, as a homeschooling friend shared with me, there would come a day when my youngest would be starting kindergarten and I’d realize that all my babies were quickly growing up. That there are no more diapers to change or bottles to feed. That there’s no one else to teach to use a fork or spoon, or to teach the movements of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to. The teaching now would be all reading, writing and arithmetic, and I’d miss those baby days.

But, for all my sadness as these final weeks of summer vacation wind down, the Lord is good. Because these transitions don’t completely take away the normal we know. Slowly, life ends one routine at a time so that we almost don’t notice the change. Nursing days end, then rocking to sleep, and without realizing it, we suddenly have a child who puts on his own pajamas and reads us to sleep.

Sometimes, though, the ended routine is a big one, and even then, even when it’s noticeable, God ‘s goodness helps us through. For me, it’s in the eagerness of my son to start kindergarten. His excitement – for new friends and playgrounds and a sense of independence – simmers down my sorrow and helps me to wear a smile for him.

Because though I’m sad for me, I’m happy for him, too.

And it helps to know that even in this big transition, we will have some semblance of our old life together. We’ll still have lazy mornings every weekend, and long days of “Well, what should we do now?” to fill each holiday vacation. We’ll still have family dinners around the table and cuddling with each other and books before bed. We’ll still have time for crafts (though likely more guided by school assignments). We’ll still have time to learn from each other as we pore over homework, and just when we’re tired of all the rigidity of tight school schedules, we’ll still, thank God, have summers.

Until the next one arrives, then, we need to get by. We need to find ways, when the going gets tough, of learning to enjoy this new normal. For our children who may not be excited about the change. For our kids who are excited but still harbor some hesitation. And, certainly, for ourselves. I’ll offer suggestions to help us through in the next post.

Image credit: vitalinko for dreamtime.com

Educational Options: How Your Catholic Faith Can Help You Discern the Right Choice for Your Child

 

Editor’s note:  In case you are staring at the start of the school year and feeling anxious about it, here is a re-print of Michaelyn’s wonderful article on school options which she wrote for the spring 2014 issue of Tender Tidings magazine.

educational options

My mother always said I wanted to be in two places at once. Every time I had to choose between two (or, God forbid, more) options, I’d be stumped. “I want this, but I also want that,” I’d complain. And then I’d proceed to hem and haw until I pretty much drove everyone around me crazy.

I learned early on in life that choices cause me a lot of stress. When my son was born, I found that decisions only cause more tension when they affect the life of your child. Now that he’s beginning his school-age years, the stress and choices, I realize, only grow more serious.

Once upon a time, children reached the age of five and, as long as they made the cutoff, they were enrolled in their local public school. When I had my son, I envisioned the same simple experience. But, now that he’s about to turn five, I have discovered that the next big choice my husband and I will have to make in his life is a big one: how to approach his academic education.

I didn’t expect to have to make this decision. It wasn’t until I discovered that our local public school only offers full-day kindergarten that I realized I would have some pondering to do. See, I’m not eager to send my son to school for full days yet. He only started preschool this year, and that’s just three brief mornings a week. So, it seemed like quite a jump to throw him into a large public school for six full hours each weekday.

And I had another concern: how would the choice we make influence the Catholic faith we are trying to instill in him? Would a particular academic option pull him from everything we’re teaching him? Could we make a “wrong” choice and end up with a grown son who spurns his faith because of what he learned at school?

I turned to family and friends, who have chosen different paths for their children’s education, to settle my nerves. I talked with them about their feelings about their own choices, hoping that hearing them out would help my husband and me make a decision we could feel comfortable, even happy, with.

My husband and I aren’t alone in this struggle. Across the nation, more and more parents are facing the same decision: how to give their children the best education possible. And for strong Catholic families beset by increasingly secular public school systems and decreasingly Christian local communities, the choice is all the more weighty. For such families, our question isn’t just how to provide our children a solid education, but how to do so while still encouraging and supporting the Catholic values we foster at home.

We wonder, we question, we worry. But, at some point we have to take a leap of faith. At some point we have to think and pray more deeply on each choice, and then we have to make one.

The Catholic School Option

For a Catholic family concerned about the direction our world is taking our children, Catholic school seems the go-to path.

Jill, a mother of three, explains her and her husband’s own experiences in Catholic education. In college, she says, “I loved that religion was part of my everyday life both in and outside of class.” Her husband enjoyed more years of formal Catholic education when he attended a Jesuit high school and college. “He felt that his faith was strengthened” in these schools and “wanted the same for our kids.”

Though Jill spent years as a public school teacher prior to being a stay-at-home mom, when it came to her children’s education, Catholic school was a natural fit. Now, she and her husband see the rewards of the choice they made.

“I love that our boys go to Mass every week as a school community, that they begin and end their school days in prayer, and that our values are reinforced at school and at home. I enjoy going to church on the weekends where the boys see their classmates doing with their families what we do with our family.”

Families’ motives for choosing a Catholic education vary widely, however, and some of those motives offer some insight into why some children leave Catholic education less grounded in their faith than when they began. Indeed, Jill states she was surprised that some families chose this path so that their religion would be “taken care of at school.”

It’s a point to consider. While Catholic education offers us the opportunity to interweave our faith in all aspects of our children’s lives, it also offers us a temptation to let ourselves slip at home. While it might inspire us as parents to grow stronger in our faith, it also gives us excuses to pray less, or to miss an obligatory Mass now and then. After all, it’s easy to think, my child already went to Mass at school today, so do we really need to go again as a family?

Choosing Catholic school, then, can present an unrealized challenge to us parents to stay strong in our faith; however, it is a challenge that we should recognize and rise to, and one that we could look forward to benefiting from in our own faith journey. The example we set for our children in doing so might be the spark that ignites a religious flame in them.

The Public School Option

For many families, Catholic education, while appealing, just isn’t feasible. Indeed many families express a desire to send their children to Catholic school, but admit that the financial burden would be too great.

Shannon, a mother of three, is one such mom. She admits that while it was important to her and her husband to have their children in a school setting outside the home, they were torn between Catholic and public education.

When it came time to enroll their eldest, she says, “my husband and I wanted her in a place that would complement the religious foundations and principals we are trying to instill in her at home.” But the cost of putting three children through school was a concern that ultimately led them to choose public school.

Their worries about whether the school environment would support their religious values, however, were lessened thanks to their community. “We are in a rural, mostly Christian area. So while our children may not be getting a Catholic education, they are getting exposure to Christian values,” Shannon says.

Despite this, she recognizes it is still a public school that follows a secular curriculum. As such, she realizes the need to remain vigilant. “A Catholic family that chooses public school,” she says,” must continuously monitor what is being taught.” When something is presented that goes against Church teaching, she explains, she is fully prepared to take action by pulling her children out for such lessons, addressing her concerns with the teacher, or going to the school board, if necessary.

And if she doesn’t catch such lessons ahead of time in order to properly protect her children? Well, such experiences offer teachable moments. Our children, she says, must learn to live in the world, but not be of it. A public school education offers our children the chance to learn how to do that while still nestled securely under the wing of a strong Catholic family for guidance.

Additionally, Shannon finds that because she knows her children aren’t having their faith routinely reinforced in school, it has caused her and her husband to live their faith more actively in other ways. Her children attend CCD regularly and participate in their parish Bible school every summer. She also recently involved her daughters in Little Flowers, a Catholic girls’ club.

Public school doesn’t mean parents must compromise their values; rather, it invites us to work a little harder as a family at making sure our faith is a very vivid, daily part of our children’s lives.

The Homeschooling Option

An increasingly popular educational option is one that doesn’t involve an outside school setting at all. In a world that tries daily to steal our children’s minds, bodies, and souls at shockingly young ages, the choice to educate our children at home is ever more appealing. Of course, for many, this is not an option. Parents’ work requirements and schedules might not allow for a parent to be at home to school the children. But, when homeschooling is an option, it is an appealing one.

For my husband and me, however, homeschooling was a last resort for a different reason: we have an only child. As a teacher turned stay-at-home mom, I understand that children learn valuable lessons from both teachers and peers, and that sometimes they might actually learn better from other kids. I felt it important that my son not only learn the three R’s, but that he also learn how to navigate various relationships. I wanted him to learn lessons he couldn’t learn as a single student educated in our home: how to work as a team, how to share, how to wait his turn. Lessons, in other words, that would help him to realize that it’s a big world and he’s not the only one in it.

But when I found out this past fall that my husband and I are finally expecting a second child, my mind about homeschooling changed. Those worries, I found, wouldn’t be such concerns anymore. And so I turned to Jamie, a stay-at-home mother of four who homeschools her children.

While Jamie and her husband knew they didn’t want their children in public school, they attempted an outside academic setting first by sending their eldest son to Catholic school. However, the stress added up quickly.

“We had struggles with our son leaving for school, dealing with the work that was required of him, and handling the strict policies of the school,” she explains. In the afternoons, “he came home tired, worn out, and with a backpack full of homework. Toss in siblings waiting to see him, and it was a recipe for disaster.”

She and her husband decided the stress was too much. After a good deal of prayer and discernment, they turned to homeschooling. Now, she says, “I don’t have any stress in the mornings. When there is a math problem that needs more attention, I can focus on helping right away to work it out and listen to my son’s cues if he needs a break. We can also spend hours on experiments in science. We’ve been able to move over material that the boys grasp quickly to keep school interesting.”

That’s not to say homeschooling is without its stresses. “My kids are always home,” Jamie reminds me. “If I’m feeling under the weather,” or other emergencies occur, “school isn’t productive.” She cites her recent bout with morning sickness during her current pregnancy as one such example.

And what about juggling a toddler, a preschooler, and two school-aged boys? It’s a challenge, she admits, but one that can be overcome. Jamie explains the importance of being able to keep to a basic daily schedule but also being comfortable with changing it up should things go awry.

As with Catholic and public school, homeschooling parents who hope to raise children to be strong in the Catholic faith are equally challenged. Even if a Catholic curriculum is chosen, parents need to take extra steps to ensure that the Catholic lessons being taught are also being lived on a daily basis.

And what of my worries about homeschooling an only child? Jamie put those to rest, too, explaining it’s possible to over-socialize your homeschooled child. “Between co-ops, sports, and other community activities,” she explains, you might find you actually need to rein your children in a bit. Though perhaps it requires more active searching of your local community for such resources (or starting some yourself), homeschooling an only child can be just as successful as homeschooling half a dozen.

What to Do?

Though all three options have their distinct differences, every mother I interviewed offers a common thread of advice. Each child is unique; what is best for one might not be best for another. As such, they stress the importance in considering each child’s individual personality, needs and desires, and being willing to tailor their education accordingly, even if that means that each child follows a different educational path.

From my end, I noticed another common thread. No matter which option a parent chooses, the decision need not be set in stone. Each mother I interviewed was willing at any point to alter her child’s educational path if needed. They take their children’s education year by year. It’s a way, really, to remain closely attuned to our children, especially at ages when their increasing independence makes it easy for them to slip away, however slightly.

In the end, I’m not sure my interviews helped me move closer to a decision just yet, but they did something better. They helped me reach an encouraging realization: our educational choices are not going to make or break our children’s steadfastness in their religion. What’s more important in keeping our children steeped in their Catholic faith is a strong Catholic family. And that is knowledge that in the midst of this decision-making storm offers great peace.

Kindergarten Blues

“Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them.”

I’ll never forget how it felt to become a mother for the first time: joy, elation, amazement at the strength of my own body, and complete awe for the vulnerable, adorable, and demanding little person that I cradled in my arms. It was exciting to embark on a new chapter in my life, to grow up a little (or a lot), and to stretch my mind and emotions in ways they had never been stretched before.

But, two or three weeks into motherhood, it hit me. I had left my old life behind. My world would never be the same. I was still happy to be a mother and loved my baby dearly, but there were times I found myself mourning my old, carefree self. The days of pacing the floor with a fussy baby, trying to figure out how to take a shower, and sleepless nights seemed to stretch endlessly before me. I had more responsibility now, and could no longer think only of myself and my husband.

Charisse's daughter ready for school!

Charisse’s daughter ready for school!

Things had changed, and change is rarely simple.

My five-year-old daughter could tell you. She could tell you what it’s like to love a change while at the same time mourning your previous existence. She could tell you that growing up and accepting new responsibilities is sometimes painful, although exciting at the same time.

But I guess that’s what it means to die to self. It’s hard. It’s painful. But it’s also deeply satisfying to reach a new level of self-control. It feels good and natural to sacrifice for those we love. And a spring of joy bubbles up within us when we consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we will be worthy to see the face of God in heaven one day.

My daughter struggled with the first few weeks of her first time at school, but I knew her struggle wasn’t with the school work, the structure of the day, or her teachers and classmates. Her struggle was with the sadness that pervades a soul before joy has time to mature. Her struggle was with the mourning that accompanies a drastic life change. This mourning was good. It meant that my daughter has had a wonderful childhood, and that she has a healthy attachment to her family and home.

But then I had to ask myself, “Is she ready to learn how to let go a little? Is she ready to die to self and grow in virtue? Is this sadness conveying a real need or just a strong want?”

I know my stubborn, strong-willed, spirited daughter well, and I knew she was ready. And so I met her need of mourning her old life with her while conveying my confidence that she was ready for this next step.

I didn’t become a joyful mother overnight, and I couldn’t expect my daughter to instantly become a joyful kindergartner. But she is making progress. She talks about how much she likes school, even though I know a part of her still yearns to stay with me each morning.

Sometimes attachment parenting means being willing to mourn with our children while gently nudging them along the path God has laid for them. Sometimes attachment parenting means being the one they can cry with, pout with, and complain with when life seems to get just a little too hard. But then they realize that we’ve taught them the joy of the triumph of the Cross–the dying to self that reveals to them the strength of God that is always ready to help a selfless heart.

Why I Let My Son Drop Out of Preschool

michaelynPlease welcome our new staff writer, Michaelyn Hein!  Michaelyn lives in New Jersey with her husband of 8 ½ years, and is a stay-at-home mom to their 4 year-old son. After earning a B.A. in English, and M.A.T. in Secondary Education, she taught high school English for seven years. She left her career when her son was born in order to raise her family. She blogs at Thoughts from the Pew in the Back.  In her inaugural essay, Michaelyn takes on a tough issue:  whether to place small children in preschool.

I have a confession to make: I am the mother of a preschool dropout.

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to the idea. For months, I’d anticipated the start of his education, evidently with more excitement than him. But, a year ago, things didn’t go as planned. In my four years of mothering, I’m finding most things never do.

That’s how I became an “accidental” attachment parent. When our son was born, my husband and I planned to have him sleep in his beautiful, brand new crib my mother gifted us. But, our son, even in infancy, had different plans. I soon found the only way any of us could get any sleep was if he was in our bed. So, we began co-sleeping, and we were all much happier (though maybe not my mother – it was an expensive crib). The same thing happened with nursing. I planned to try to squeeze six months out of it, but a year later, my son and I still had a happy nursing relationship. I figured why ruin a good thing?

See, I had these plans for how it would all go, because I listened to the suggestions coming from the world around me. But, when I actually became a mother I found that listening to my own intuitions (and my son’s own voice) made my home a much happier place for everyone.

So, why I threw that intuition out the window when our son turned three, I’m not sure.

I could say it was because I felt left out of the conversation when all my friends discussed the preschools they were sending their kids to. I could guess it was because I thought the backpacks lining the shelves of every store we entered were just so cute. But, whatever the reasons, and despite a voice deep down inside whispering not to do it, I did. I enrolled our son in preschool.

As my mother always said, man plans and God laughs, right? And I’m beginning to think that God tells us His better plans through the laughter – or cries – of our children.

Because our son wasn’t ready for school.  At all.  The first two days, he muddled through, and I lied to myself that only ten minutes of crying was an indication of success. But, I guess our son wasn’t happy that his mother suddenly seemed not to be listening to his needs. I imagine in his innocent mind, he didn’t get why his mommy, who’d spent every day at home with him since his birth nurturing, guiding and teaching him, was suddenly abandoning him, even if it was only for a few hours two days a week.

Still, I tried to convince myself that all was well with him entering preschool. However, our son, who suddenly felt silenced by my ignoring his looks of dread when I left him in the classroom, found a way to make his voice heard. On the third day, he cried.

Well, sobbed, really, and he’d done so for an hour straight, the teacher said. I shudder to think that on the fourth day, I brought him back. What was I thinking? I, the mother who’d been horrified by even the idea of making my son cry it out in his crib as an infant, took my preschooler back to the place where he’d just “cried it out” in the classroom.

57280720It took him clinging to me that morning – literally latched onto my leg so that I’d have to pry him off like a leech – for me to realize that he still needed me more than he needed any school. In their book, Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D., explain that “the more children are pushed, the tighter they cling” (188). By how tightly my son gripped me that morning, he was obviously being pushed too hard.

And, I finally got the message. We pulled him out of school, but friends were concerned. Weren’t we worried our son would be a social outcast? Well, though he was an only child despite our hopes to give him a sibling, not really; more time at home with us would make him more secure in relationships. Didn’t we fear he’d be academically behind his peers? It couldn’t be that hard to teach basic counting, or number and letter recognition. Weren’t we worried we taught him to be too dependent on us by giving into his tears? I couldn’t fathom that at three he was too old to have his tears acknowledged. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that any of us is ever too old to benefit from having our fears validated. It was pondering this last question that, in the end, convinced me we’d done the right thing.

Well, that, and the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus asks, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” Our Lord then goes on to acknowledge that we know how to give good gifts to our children (Mt. 7: 9, 11, NABRE). I was reminded that as parents, we do know how to give our kids what they need, and that we don’t need society to guide us. We have God to do that.

It’s been a year since we allowed our son to drop out of preschool, and in that year he’s learned valuable lessons. We played together, and he learned to expand his imagination. We made crafts together, and he learned to create. We read books together, and he learned his letters. He helped with the cooking, and he learned how to measure. And by having his needs responded to when he was most vulnerable, he learned that he is respected, that he is heard and that he can depend on the people he loves.

But, really, I think the greatest lesson has been mine: that if we want our children to honor us, then we first need to honor them.

Educational Choices Part 3: Educational Methods & Approaches

I’ve been happily busy searching for resources for our new newsletter forthcoming in June.  I’m very excited!  It’ll be great fun.  I’ve also been trying to make a new header for the website using Photoshop Elements 10, which I just purchased.  Using Photoshop makes me want to poke my eyes out, but hopefully I’ll get the hang of it soon. 

At last the final part in this series on educational choices!  I happened to put together a chart on the most common educational approaches last year when a friend and I (stupidly) tried to create a public homeschool charter program.   The charter school went down in flames, but HAH! I’ve got that chart to share! 

I’ve revised it for our purposes.   For families interested in traditional school placements, these categories are most relevant to private school options, though there are public schools built upon some of these approaches, usually as public charter schools. 

Link to Kim’s chart:  Educational Methods and Teaching Styles

Whether you decide to homeschool or place your child in a traditional school setting, having some general idea what most characterizes these approaches is very useful.  Underlying any approach are assumptions about the nature of the learner and the appropriate goals for that learner. 

Does all this information make you anxious?  The good news is that no matter the choice you make, it need not be permanent.  Make decisions as you go along, step by step, and rest in the arms of your loving Father who will never lead you astray.  Enjoy sharing this next stage with your growing child!

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)

Educational Choices Part 1: Homeschooling

As our children approach school age we begin to think about schooling for them, frequently not without some anxiety.  It’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly.  Part of what gives children dignity is their vast potential for growth and learning.  In giving life, we as parents have a duty to ensure our children are prepared to live a “fully human life”.  Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Article 36.  We must investigate our choices and pray for discernment, taking into account our child’s personality and our own goals for education.

In the U.S., we have two basic options for schooling our children: homeschooling and traditional on-site classroom placement (both public and private).  Whatever we decide, we can never forget that we are our children’s first educator.  That doesn’t mean we’re their only educator, but we’re the “first and foremost educators” of our children. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, 16.  Thus, the state cannot prevent us from directing our children’s education if we choose to homeschool and it cannot exclude us from the education of our children if we send them to school in an institutional setting.  As parents, we have the right and duty to be interested participants in our children’s education at every level no matter the placement we choose.

This is the first in a three-part series on educational options for families.  In this post I’ll share why I have chosen to homeschool my children; in my next post we’ll explore traditional school placements and how to maintain and strengthen family bonds during the school year; in my last post I will lay out the most popular learning methods and approaches, a topic applicable to both homeschooling and away-schooling families.

What I Love About Homeschooling:

I’m a homeschooling mom.  I believe passionately in the benefits of home-based education not only for the student, but for the entire family — including Mom and Dad.

I began homeschooling my oldest son when he was about to enter kindergarten.  We thought we would try it for a year or two until we found an appropriate school for Aidan, but we loved it so much we’ve never looked back.  That was nearly 10 years ago.  I made the choice primarily for academic reasons – I had little faith in our local public school district and we couldn’t afford a good private school.  However, I soon discovered that the best thing about homeschooling had nothing to do with the quality of the education I was providing.  The greatest benefit is the quality of life we enjoy as a family.

There are so many things I appreciate about our homeschooling lifestyle it’s hard to narrow it down, but here are a few of them:

  • I love that my children are accustomed to and enjoy one another’s company.
  • I love that when my children disagree or argue, I have the time to guide them in how to handle these differences with equity and love.
  • I love the way our family has grown in faith together, exploring the Sacraments, popular devotionals, and liturgical traditions.
  • I love that my kids can be different and still feel successful.  My Dominic wouldn’t fare well in a traditional setting, yet he comes to his studies with enthusiasm and a sense of pride.
  • I love that my kids have lots of free time to slop around in the mud, read books, think big thoughts, stare at bugs, and live the kind of life all kids deserve.

Homeschooling is really a natural extension of our attached lifestyle.  We play together, work together, learn together, and those 3 activities aren’t always separated in our day.  I love that!

Can You Really Handle It?

Many parents wonder whether homeschooling is legal and whether they are qualified to instruct their children.  First, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.  How you go about doing it legally varies by state.  Compulsory education laws exist in all states, but exemptions exist that permit both private schooling and homeschooling.

Second, parents are quite capable of teaching their own children, and in fact home-based education was the norm in our own country until the early 20th century.  Many great historical figures were home educated, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.  Remember that you are not starting from scratch.  You have many resources available to you in teaching the children.  Just in the ten years I’ve homeschooled, the resources available to homeschooling parents has exploded.

The hardest thing is to decide what your educational philosophy is – what your goals are and what you believe about the learner.  Once you decide that, there’s a curriculum available to you.  Some of them are out of the box, ready to go.  Others provide reading lists.  There are even on-line schools that oversee the student’s studies.  I have personally come to relish my annual curriculum planning sessions.  It’s like play.  I enjoy visiting curriculum fairs at homeschooling conferences, swapping books with moms at my park day, exploring educational websites, and reading books on learning and teaching pedagogy.  With all my kids to think about, I’m like a great seamstress, stitching together a quilt of learning and love.

Remember that you don’t have to be a genius to teach your kids.  Many parents armed with only a high school diploma successfully homeschool their children.  You have the most important quality necessary to communicate a passion for ideas: love.  Sound corny?  Well, maybe, but it’s also so true.

You love that child of yours more than any classroom teacher ever can; you recognize his talents, his struggles, and his passions.  You are motivated to do what is best for your dear child.  Your love is powerful.  As you learn together cuddled on a couch or sitting next to one another at the kitchen table, you pass on your enthusiasm and commitment to your children.  Pope John Paul II emphasizes this qualification of love, unique to parents, in directing the education of their children:

In addition to these characteristics, it cannot be forgotten that the most basic element, so basic that it qualifies the educational role of parents, is parental love, which finds fulfillment in the task of education as it completes and perfects its service of life: as well as being a source, the parents’ love is also the animating principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruit of love.  Familiaris Consortio

Remember, too, that as children get older, they become increasingly independent.  As they approach 5th or 6th grade, homeschooled students begin to take ownership of their studies.  They are capable of longer periods of independent learning while Mom (or Dad) focuses on younger ones.  By high school, parents tend to coordinate and oversee the high schooler’s studies, but much of the actual teaching can be done by mentors, tutors, on-line teachers, or community college teachers.

Seeking Guidance

You don’t have to go it alone.  If you’re considering homeschooling, do your homework and pray for guidance.  Seek the advice of experienced homeschoolers and your priest or spiritual director.  Your state likely has an organized homeschooling support group in addition to more local groups, so check them out.  Here are just a few books to get you started if you’re considering home education:

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child  (Linda Dobson).  This book is a basic guide to getting started in homeschooling — the why and how of that first year.

Family Matters:  Why Homeschooling Makes Sense  (David Guterson).  Written by a homeschooling father and teacher (and celebrated author of Snow Falling on Cedars).  This book is quite powerful.  It was hard to find for a few years, so snap it up while you can!

Catholic Education: Homeward Bound  (Kimberly Hahn and Mary Hasson).

Photo credit: Chris Elwell (photos.com)