by Christina Patterson
I think some people have always known that they will homeschool their children. I was not one of those people.
As a public school teacher, I had every intention of my children attending the same school in which I taught–what a perfect solution, right? But sometime between the beginning of my career and the beginning of motherhood, I began to look at the education of my own child a bit differently. You might say that my husband and I were led to the decision to homeschool by simply asking questions.
Here is the story of that questioning journey.
I was in public schools every weekday of my life from kindergarten through high school graduation, each day for a minimum of six hours. That’s a long amount of time to be in the public school environment.
In comparison, I attended Mass on Sundays and CCD one hour a week. While my parents did a wonderful job of raising me in a moral and God-fearing home, as you can see, the balance was heavily skewed towards that of the education I received at public schools. That was my culture.
Those teachers and my peers were my influences, six or more hours a day, five days a week. That influence was decidedly devoid of any reference to Christ.
Though I learned bits of my faith in little life lessons from year to year, there was no framework, no understanding that all the pieces fit together like a beautiful stained glass window within the sacramental life of our Catholic faith.
I entered college, then teacher credentialing, and then finally, the teaching profession as a brand new fourth grade teacher at age 22. Having realized my passion was for reading instruction, however, I went back to school and earned my Master’s in Reading Education and became a literacy coach at a new school.
God blessed me with meeting my wonderful husband, and, soon after our marriage, we learned that God was going to bless us with a baby, as well. I continued teaching through my pregnancy, certain of two things:
- I would resume teaching after maternity leave, and, when our daughter was old enough, she would go to my school as well (in fact, I entertained the idea of teaching a new grade each year so that I could move up with her and teach her myself).
- I would never homeschool. It wasn’t even a blip on the radar for me.
And then, our daughter was born and everything changed. Though I went back to teaching after maternity leave as planned, I was uncomfortable with missing so much of my daughter’s life.
Thankfully, I was able to leave her with family rather than at a daycare center. Towards the end of that school year, however, we were faced with the knowledge that, due to an impending move, we would no longer be close enough to family members for them to watch our daughter during the day. If I wanted to continue teaching, she would need to be placed in daycare.
Daycare costs were exorbitant. But, more than that, I pictured the situation, one in which I dropped off my one-year old every day with a non-family member, around a group of children I didn’t know. This scenario shouldn’t have bothered me in the least.
After all, as a teacher for the last seven years, hadn’t I expected parents to do the same with their children? Yet, in the same situation, with my own child, suddenly, I wasn’t ready to hand over even part of her daily care to someone else. So I went home.
Although I can state with certainty that when I first began to stay home with our daughter, neither my husband nor I had any intentions of homeschooling her, slowly that began to change. As our daughter turned two, a growing awareness began to develop that we were making different choices than our friends who had similarly-aged children.
I still hesitated to place her in a day care. Yet, my friends were placing my daughter’s peers in daycare, either from necessity due to work schedules, or by choice, seen as a natural progression for social interaction.
And suddenly, from out of nowhere, my husband began telling people that we were going to homeschool our daughter.
“You’re a teacher,” my husband insisted. “You can stay home with Ava, and teach her.”
Teachers work extremely hard. They are often selfless, putting in long hours each day, only to be followed by more hours of work in the form of papers or planning brought home. I know because I worked with teachers like this time and again.
At the end of the day, however, the one thing they can’t do is incorporate faith into their instruction. That was really beginning to bother me because I knew that the most important thing for Ava to learn is her faith.
When I again revisited my idea to teach a different grade each year so that she could be in my classroom, I realized it was problematic, too. The idea now met with several realistic questions of its own:
- What school would allow that?
- What happens when she gets into junior high and having mom as teacher is too embarrassing?
- What happens in high school, when she is outside the realm of my credential?
I conceded that my husband was right: homeschooling was an option.
It’s amazing how God places certain people in your life at certain times. It was exactly at this time in my life that we moved into a house next door to a homeschooling family of two boys. This also coincided with me meeting many other homeschooling families in the area.
From these wonderful people and families, I learned that homeschooling did not equate to socially isolating your child. “There is so much to do,” my neighbor related to me, “that if I wanted to, my children could be involved in a different activity or group every day.” The fear of Ava not having any friends or being able to interact with positive peer influences began to diminish.
Then I thought back to my teaching years.
What would I have done with an Ava in my room?
I would have expected her to sit still and learn according to our daily schedule and transitions. Now, as her parent, I questioned whether that long chunk of learning time was the best structure for her.
How would she best learn?
I considered that she might learn best in short, effective lessons interspersed throughout the day: no lost time, simply learning.
But more importantly, how would she grow in her faith and love of the Church?
I looked online at local parish preschool costs. Again, I wondered if I was up to the challenge of teaching Ava myself. At this point, my concerns about my career were no longer center stage. I was beginning to see motherhood as my vocation, and to realize that homeschooling could easily become a part of that.
And, finally, while on a Catholic blog, I came across my first reference to Seton Home Study School. Dr. Mary Kay Clark’s book was recommended. Immediately, I ordered the book, and ordered a pre-k curriculum, all in the same day.
So there Ava and I were, sitting at the kitchen table, a few weeks later. She was not quite three and a half, but already spoke in full sentences with lots of adjectives. Just a few minutes later, one of our literacy lessons, short, focused and very explanatory, was complete.
Ava was back to playing. But she had learned something: later that day, I heard her say aloud, “down and across, down and across”. She showed me that she could trace the letter “T” on paper with a crayon. I couldn’t believe that learning had already occurred even after a relatively short amount of time.
I then realized that part of the beauty of homeschool is that time is not wasted; Ava didn’t have time to become bored. Now, at least once a day Ava asks, “Mommy, is it time to do class? Can we do class?”
Ava also spontaneously bursts into prayer throughout the day, with either “Hail Mary” or “Our Father”, and I join in. This is truly wonderful because I’ve always wanted her to see the beauty of a prayer life that is continual each day, interspersed among daily tasks.
The Seton materials help me to be mindful about encouraging this, and as we complete the lessons in religion, I am learning my own faith as well.
Would Ava have this same learning experience in a public school, especially in regards to prayer throughout the day?
Absolutely not; we all know that!
Would she have the same learning experience, even in a Catholic school?
Quite honestly, remembering my own CCD experience, I don’t know. And, I can’t base my child’s education, religious and otherwise, on an “I don’t know.”
But the prize-winning question, really, is the following:
Can I now picture being comfortable with any educational option for Ava other than homeschooling?
After much prayer, we’ve realized that the answer is “No.”
And that, ultimately, is how we arrived at the answer of homeschooling.
Perhaps some detail from my experience will resonate with other readers, but most of all, I hope that you are left with the sense that asking questions is so important. Whatever a family’s situations or needs regarding schooling, prayerfully asking questions throughout that journey can help the family discern the right choice.
What I’ve learned is to not be afraid of your own questions, and ultimately, to be ready to embrace what you believe may be God’s answers.