October is here and most of us have settled into our home schooling year. Let’s face it, more than a few are already feeling overwhelmed, and even veteran moms see the holidays looming and are wondering if all the shopping, cleaning and baking will tip the family into chaos. This newsletter will continue to give you tips to keep your home schools running like clockwork, and a call to a Seton counselor is always in order. Both newsletter articles and Seton counselors often advise parents to prioritize, accomplishing the essentials first, doing the best one can with non-essentials, and steering clear of distractions all together. Parents tell me that they run into trouble deciding just exactly what is essential and important, what can sit on the back burner for a while, and just what should be avoided, so here are some thoughts about what your home school really needs to accomplish.
First, if you have not already done so, put together a simple schedule with set times to get up, eat, do schoolwork and household chores, and enjoy some free time. Including simple prayers helps to define the time slots and give them a supernatural value. Start the day with the Morning Offering, start class time with a Hail Mary and Guardian Angel Prayer, and start meals with Grace. End the day with an examination of conscience and an Act of Contrition. Instilling order and including prayer in our days will help us with the most essential element of our job as parent educators: to inspire virtue and character in our children.
Allow ample time for schoolwork; I always counsel parents to start no later than 8 a.m. Have the children do the most important subjects in the morning when they are fresh. For elementary grades that includes religion, phonics, reading, English and math. Science, spelling, vocabulary, and history may wait until after lunch, or perhaps until the evening with Dad when the younger children are in bed. Many children are natural spellers and can “test out” of some lessons, and vocabulary is really an enrichment course as children learn new words mainly from conversation and reading. Although history and science gain importance in the middle school and junior high school years, they do not “build” the same way as language, math and religion do, and chapters are more self-contained units, allowing children to catch up as time allows.
High school students should devote no less than one hour per day to each subject. One common pitfall at this level is to spend time on subjects that are easier or more enjoyable, leaving the rest for “later.” Too often “later” means over the summer break or even into the next school year and it is not at all unusual for high schoolers to fall behind. Unlike elementary levels, all the required assignments for each high school course must be completed to accrue credits towards a diploma, but short cuts are still fine. History, literature and science chapters can be highlighted for later study in place of writing answers out. Be creative, but still insist on one hour per day per subject.
Assigning children regular household jobs is another essential element of their development and is a huge help for Mom. Even the littlest family members can fetch needed items, put dirty laundry in the hamper, stow their toys, and put trash in receptacles. More demanding cleaning jobs can be added later, but often children will excel at the fun tasks. My children may have balked at cleaning the kitchen, but they loved preparing food, especially baked goodies. The older girls loved to fuss over their younger siblings, dressing and grooming them with far more care than I ever had time for. Besides giving Mom and Dad a break, helping around the house encourages industriousness, allows the children to gain practical life skills, and gives them the confidence that comes from being a contributing member of the family.
In addition to a predictable schedule which includes regular prayer time and their fair share of household chores, children need to have regular interaction with close and extended family members. In most homes, that means sitting down for meals together as often as possible, but there are other ways to foster family relationships. Perhaps the most significant change you can make is to shut off the TVs, the video games and the computers. Checkers, chess, and Scrabble are games that have been popular for generations and kids still enjoy them.
Young people need lots of physical exercise, in the fresh air and sunshine, if weather allows. Organized sports can be a good resource here, but the expense and the time in the car are often a burden to home schooling families. Do not listen to the socialization baloney that scares parents into feeling that children will not be “normal” if they are not at a different organized activity every day of the week. Building forts in the backyard, playing tag and hide ‘n seek, or dodge ball with siblings and neighbors is convenient, free-of-charge, and develops social skills under Mom or Dad’s watchful eye.
Finally, I consider literature to be an essential element of both family life and child development. If your children are too young to read themselves, read to them. Even twenty minutes before night prayers will make all the difference in the world. Once they can read, just shut off the tube, and provide them with books according to their interests. Using the public library serves the dual purpose of getting the books for free and not having collections fill every corner of the house. Next month’s column will discuss some great reading choices for all ages.
Looking back over this column, readers may notice just a few ideas. First, none of my suggestions require any real financial commitment. Second, the best resources are not found on class trips or in organized activities, but right in your own home, your family’s backyard, or in your neighborhood. Everything your children really need, to grow up to be healthy, vigorous, hard-working serious learners is close to home and easily gained. Parents do not need drive themselves to distraction while driving children to classes, sports, or organized activities, all the essentials are right at hand. Never forget that “home” is at the heart of home schooling.