One of the things I love most about my job at Seton is the ability it affords me to interact with families. They are all curious, excited and maybe a little nervous. I am often asked: How do I know I can do this? What about my housework? How will I juggle the children I have? How will I divide the day? How long will it take? What about socialization?
First of all, it’s okay to be a little nervous.
Homeschooling is a big step and you want to make sure it’s the right one. Our oldest daughter was already in the public school system, having attended pre-school and ½ a year of Kindergarten, when I first heard about homeschooling from a friend who had converted to the Catholic Faith.
Strange and a Little Dangerous
Her excitement intrigued me, but I was skeptical and a little fearful of the idea. I had never heard of such a thing, and it seemed strange and maybe a little dangerous. Was it even legal? After all, children went to school once they reached 4 or 5 years of age. They didn’t stay home.
Oddly enough, my husband liked the idea. We discussed it over the course of about a year, though he failed to persuade me to do more than homeschool our younger daughter using a Catholic pre-K program when our oldest entered first grade.
I really enjoyed teaching our youngest at home, but I wasn’t ready to pull our older daughter out. Many things caused me to drag my feet. It was one thing to teach a young child at home, but older children? What would the state say? How would our children learn to function in society if they didn’t attend school?
Even if I did agree to teach our children at home, could I really teach our special needs eldest at home? Should I even try? I have a special education degree, but I still wasn’t sure I could meet that child’s needs at home.
Several things happened at the school that brought the matter to a head.
- A teacher found a syringe and needle on the playground, I believe by stepping on it.
- Our 1st grade, special needs daughter walked out of her classroom without anyone noticing.
- Our daughter received high grades, but I never saw any of her papers when I helped to grade work.
- Our daughter began to withdraw from her parents… we couldn’t get out of her what was happening during the school day.
- Our impending move to England meant a change of circumstances.
We looked more closely into our options and settled on Seton for a variety of reasons: customer service, academic excellence, faithfulness to the Magisterium, accreditation and academic assistance.
Down to Tacks
Once we decided on our course of action, I had to get busy. Structuring the day was my first priority. How long would the day last? Although much depends on the individual student, Seton’s lesson plans were a God-send for this. I bought a simple kitchen timer for each girl and, armed with the suggested time for each class, used them to measure the passage of that time.
Our decision to have the girls dress for school, first in uniforms and later in skirts or dresses, and to have a special place and time of day during which to school helped immensely in focusing both students and teacher on the task at hand.
When we first began, we had to take breaks within the allotted class time, especially for our oldest who hadn’t been expected to complete more than one paper in any given day in the past. We started our day with prayers, including a decade of the rosary, and religion class. Then we moved on to the other classes, from the most challenging downward.
Mass was scheduled into the day, as a class, as often as we could make it, along with a short Adoration Visit if possible. The girls soon learned that they would have more free time if they buckled down and finished their work before the timer went off for each class.
If they didn’t, it became ‘home-homework’ and they moved on to the next course of study. This worked well for our family and they usually had very little, if any, ‘home-homework’, especially in the lower and middle grades.
Focusing on Attention
I have often been asked how to focus a student’s attention on the task at hand. What worked for our family was a two-fold approach. When we first started schooling at home, we worked at the dining room table. I sat one student at each end of the table and placed two three-ring binders, standing on end, in front of them to make a study carrel of sorts. Later we were blessed enough to have individual desks and a dedicated classroom which was very helpful. I also played Gregorian chant, the Daughters of St. Paul, or instrumental music softly in the background.
Occasionally we would have to deal with a meltdown of one kind or another. Often a short walk, a break, or a temporary change in subject, along with recourse to a favorite prayer, would mitigate or even alleviate the difficulty.
Looking back, one of the most important things to remember is to exercise a little patience with your children and yourself. There will be good days and there will be challenging days. That’s all right. It happens to everyone, even to teachers in the school system, with one important difference. We, as parents, know our children better, and have more invested in them and their success on all levels, than anyone else. God gives us the graces through the sacrament of our marriage to teach our children and to teach them well.
What about Socialization?
That’s all well and good, but what about socialization, I am often asked.
This always makes me smile because I can remember being concerned about the same thing. The best and most natural socialization does not occur in a brick and mortar school setting. It occurs in the home with brothers and sisters and other family members of all ages. It occurs at the church and through various activities, homeschool related or otherwise, and in neighborhoods.
At no other time, with perhaps one or two exceptions, will an individual socialize with only his or her age group and an authority figure for the majority of the day. Homeschooling presents the best possible opportunities to socialize our children.
Juggling Multiple Ages?
“I have several children including babies and/or toddlers. How do I juggle them all?”
There are as many answers to this question as there are homeschooling families. If possible, teach older children while babies and young toddlers are napping. Older toddlers can ‘homeschool’ alongside their older siblings. Give them crayons and paper to ‘write’ or draw with. Let them build with blocks or play with clay in full view of their brothers and sisters. Include them in art, music, physical education classes and in simple science projects.
Older children can help the younger with school work or read to them as part of their own assignments. If a child finishes an assignment and they can’t move forward without help, they can always unload/load the dishwasher or do some other chore until someone is able to assist them.
Keep the Family Involved
Another common question is “What about my housework and other duties?”
Homeschooling is a family undertaking. Everyone has to pitch in and help from the smallest on up. Prioritize and divide household duties. Assign them according to levels of difficulty and ability. Make a chore chart or “Family Do” list so that everyone knows exactly what is expected.
Don’t worry if some things slide now and then. They can be caught up with later.
Homeschooling is a wonderful adventure full of challenges and joys, so say a little prayer, open up those books, and enjoy the journey in all is aspects.
A Home School Prayer
© Marlicia Fernandez 3-10-14
Lord Jesus, please bless our family this day.
Strengthen our faith and improve our minds
During the course of our studies and activities
That we may better know, love and serve you
And all those we may meet.
Grant wisdom and knowledge to the one who teaches,
As well as the ability to impart these things
To those being taught through word and example.
Guide us through whatever challenges we may face
And help us to be grateful for every opportunity we have
To learn and to grow,
Even if those opportunities aren’t always pleasant.
Please grant us patience and perseverance
To bear with one another’s weaknesses,
As we hope others will bear with our own.
In the course of the day, Lord,
We may also find we need to be patient with ourselves.
Please grant us this grace
That we may continue to glorify your name
And fulfill Your Most Holy Will.
May Your Most Holy Mother, Mary,
Stay with us throughout the day,
And intercede on our behalf.
And when the day is done,
Don’t let us forget to thank You, and her,
For all we have learned and accomplished,
Because without You, nothing is possible. Amen