If I had a buck for every surprised reaction I receive when I tell an out-of-stater that I live in rural North Dakota, I’d have enough money to buy all of the homeschool materials I could ever want.
My favorite one is probably, “North Dakota? Brrr. Really? I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone from there. Is that still…”
Still what? I wonder. Still around? Still a state?
Still cold this time of year?
Living in an Old Rectory
That being said, my wonderful husband Michael and I live in a rectory in rural North Dakota, next to St. Clement’s Oratory (once a parish) founded over 120 years ago.
When we first bought the rectory, it hadn’t been lived in for about 30 years, so my husband gutted the entire house and remodeled it by himself. (Michael was homeschooled on a farm, and the incredible work he did on the house reflects the skills that a good ol’ homeschooled country boy can acquire!)
To the left of our home is a gorgeous Shrine of the Good Shepherd that Michael built, complete with stamped concrete. Alongside the Oratory and Shrine is a school that has remained unused for decades. Although the religious sisters and students who once boarded it do not fill its rooms anymore, its profound “voice” still speaks.
As it stands, it continues to remind all of the gorgeous authenticity and die-hard fidelity that our Catholic parochial schools originally boasted of. Not only did its students attend daily Mass (in our basement!) very early on North Dakota mornings that were easily negative 20 degrees, but they were also taught by nuns in habits who were entirely dedicated to God’s service.
Their textbooks were as thoroughly Catholic as possible, and all was clearly directed to the glory of God and the propagation of our sacred Faith. In short, there was a “no-nonsense” attitude when it came to their education. The school was there to prep hands to work on earth and souls to get to Heaven, and there was no beating around the bush.
Our Little House on the Prairie
I love living the rural life, and making our “little Catholic house on the prairie” a school for my children.
Not only do we enjoy reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching old shows from its television series, but we also have the blessing of living a part of the beautiful story ourselves. Sure, we have some of the techy gadgets that make life in society liveable, but we try not to let them rule over us.
Learning in union with Christ is what we strive to do all day, whether it means: taking advantage of the amazing curriculum Seton offers, reading loads of wholesome literature, praying at St. Clement’s Oratory or Shrine, watching horses pull junky wagons, making sauerkraut from our garden cabbages, sewing a First Communion dress, or making jerky from the deer my husband shot or a buffalo from the family farm.
You can only imagine the expressions on my four-year-old son’s face when monstrous combines and seeders come cruising past our house! There is never a dull moment when you mix homeschooling with the intelligence of rural life, sprinkled with the breathtaking beauty of rural scenery.
Although homeschooling children in the city has unique advantages, I have witnessed that homeschooling children in the country can offer quite the recipe for homeschooling success!
Inspired by Local History
Looking back into history, I continue to be inspired by the courageous, large Catholic families that homesteaded the farms around us. I am touched by their openness to life amidst the many hardships of their day.
Remembering their accomplishments and following somewhat in their footsteps is all part of our homeschool education. Recently, I shyly explained to an elderly neighbor that we would be homeschooling our children.
To my surprise, she was supportive. She said that she had been raised in rural North Dakota, and back in her day, the local Catholic school only offered classes through the eighth grade. She said that if they wanted to go further, they had to do their work at home and mail it to a school in Montana.
Her response reminded me that homeschooling is not some risky, counter-cultural activity.
It is a tried-and-true means to form the minds, hearts and souls of children.
Keeping Faith Close to Home
Also next to our home is St. Clement’s Graveyard, which reminds us all of the mercy that God has extended over his people throughout many generations. It is filled with the graves of dear little babies who died during harsh winters, or in childbirth situations before medical interventions were made so available.
There, Michael and I have also buried our infant conjoined twin girls who died after birth. We frequently visit the graveyard and ask for the prayers of our baby saints, as well as pray for the souls of the faithful departed, especially during the month of November. Our children understand that when we remember those who went before us, we are honoring the omnipresent God.
By embracing the rural life, we have found that we are embracing realistic philosophy in all of its splendor. True country living requires concrete interaction with materials, cooperative teamwork and a camaraderie with Nature. All of these things are powerful means of grace for our children.
When we integrate hands-on tasks like gardening, making instruments or furniture, baking bread, cultivating fruit trees, or making outdoor shrines to various Saints, we are making education come alive for our children.
We are showing them that what they learn in their textbooks can be put into practice and bear marvelous results.
We are giving them skills that keep reality in their minds and communication with the Creator in their hearts.