The Payne Family Homeschooling Story
How quickly ten years have gone! My first thought of teaching our children at home was in March 2003. At that time, what military circles call the “tip of the spear” was moving through Iraq, and it was led by many of our Fort Stewart, Georgia soldiers.
My own husband had been in Kuwait for nearly six months and while I was alone at home with our ‘two under two,’ I had a rare opportunity to observe the other military families. Watching them, I learned how to build resiliency in our children–a character trait I knew they would need in the years to come, regardless of Our Lord’s plan for their lives.
In preparation for their soldiers’ deployment, the homeschooling families I knew stopped schooling, adjusting their schedules to accommodate the two weeks of pre-deployment leave every soldier was given.
They visited relatives, enjoyed time together, and then went back to schooling after their soldiers’ departures. Families sending their children to school lacked the homeschoolers’ flexibility and missed this precious opportunity for family time.
In the following weeks, I noticed more, unexpected benefits to homeschooling. Having made the most of their pre-deployment leave, homeschooled children were able to handle the ups and downs of deployment with much more emotional stability. The flexibility and family-centered lifestyle of homeschooling families drew my attention more than anything else. So, right from the start, we were homeschoolers!
Five children, four deployments, and four moves later, our family is stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the midst of our tenth year homeschooling. Each year has had its challenges, but we do our best to plan and then trust Our Lord to lead the way.
We allow a full calendar year to complete each grade level, giving us time to celebrate the birth of a new blessing, accommodate Army life, enjoy a family visit, pitch in when a need arises or just take time to move slowly through some tough lessons.
Most days begin with breakfast, chores and a short ride to a local parish for the daily Mass. Upon our return home, we begin our schoolwork, following a schedule designed to allow me time with each of the kids in areas where they need help while others play with the little ones or work independently.
About midday, we break for rosary and lunch, then read aloud for 30 minutes. This gives the kids time for rest or handwork. The little ones enjoy lace-and-trace projects and coloring while some of the older children knit or cross-stitch.
We especially enjoy funny books for our read aloud time. We also like to read classics and lives of the Saints. Who knew St. Margaret Mary didn’t like cheese?! After read aloud time, schoolwork is finished and we end the formal portion of our school day with tea time around 4pm, a wonderful tradition learned from our international military friends.
Throughout our school day, Seton is by our side, providing easily implemented lesson plans and counselors at the ready with advice and encouragement. With the ability to choose courses that fit each child, even blending grade levels if necessary, and downloading lesson plans weekly, we know we have the tools to succeed in educating our children.
Like many families, staying on track is a challenge for us. We start each new school year with priority given to daily Mass, family prayer, and shared mealtimes. We strive to progress at a reasonable pace through our academic work and look for service-focused activities to balance our schoolwork. Once a week we gather with other Catholic homeschoolers for daily Mass, Adoration, a picnic lunch and playtime.
Regardless of where we are stationed, Catholic friendships like these are especially important as we seek to respond in charity to a world that feels so free to comment on our family size, beliefs or educational preferences. Together, we Catholic homeschooling families celebrate feast days and work to support one another as well as our local Catholic community.
Last year, our homeschool group presented a living Stations of the Cross on one of the Fridays of Lent. This summer, we had a manna bag-packing party and potluck following daily Mass. Each family brought an item to include in the ‘manna bags’ that were then handed out to the people at our local homeless shelter that day.
Our family is also involved in the 4H program. With only one meeting a month, all the children can be involved in the same club while also exploring individual interests, many of which help to develop skills used throughout life. Cooking, small engine work, sewing, crafts, and reading are just a few of the projects our kids have enjoyed. Alongside their project work, our club has sponsored many events benefiting the community.
Last winter, we hosted a Good Neighbor Tea at a local nursing home with home-baked treats and 50s and 60s music. I sewed simple circle skirts for the girls to wear while the boys became pros at the CD player and managing the stage props. We all had fun seeing the light of youth in the residents’ eyes as they enjoyed their refreshments and sang along to “Lollipop” and “Mr. Sandman.”
This spring, some of the older youth in our 4H club managed a food drive at the local schools. In conjunction with this effort, our kids joined other club members in planting a garden to add fresh vegetables to the collected dry goods. Our 4H activities provide opportunities for developing life skills and continuing to tune our children’s hearts to the needs of others.
The flexibility and family-centered nature of homeschooling has given us the ability to accommodate our military lifestyle, keep Christ at the center of our family, and joyfully serve others. We are truly blessed!