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The Circus and Homeschooling – The Greatest Shows on Earth!

The Circus and Homeschooling – The Greatest Shows on Earth!


Catholic homeschooling is like running a circus! Mary Lou Warren explores 7 things the circus experience shares in common with running a homeschool.

What adult or child is ever bored with Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey or any other circus performances? Isn’t it fun as an adult to become a child again?

Like the circus experience, Catholic homeschooling affords us the opportunity to delight in our children, their education, and our family’s Faith experience. How fortunate we are in this day and age to be able to share these experiences with our children!

Have you ever thought how much homeschooling can be a similar experience to a circus show? Harvard Business ReviewOnline recently ran an article on how the circus is similar to business, and I thought it might be fun to explore how homeschooling can be similar to the circus experience.

Here are some of the numerous principles that both homeschooling and the circus might have in common:

1. Have an Awe-inspiring Vision and Motive

The Circus organizers and performers want to WOW and delight the audience. As homeschoolers we want to give our children every necessary tool and experience to WOW them with the realization of God’s love for each of them in particular.

He made them totally unique because they are so special to Him and He loves them so much more than even we can imagine. With His love comes responsibility to love Him back, bring others to Him and by our lives, contribute and be all that each of us can be.

That is the overall vision we have – to get our children to Heaven so they can experience supreme love with the Almighty for Eternity, and a child’s education, formation, and moral upbringing are important aspect of this vision because we need to provide them with all that is necessary to live in this world while journeying home in the next.

2. Develop a Foundational Plan and Strategy for Structure

The circus is designed around a tight plan. Someone researches which cities have the target market and population to support scheduled shows.

Are there enough children in the city to be considered, etc.?

  • What is the budget?
  • How will the money be raised?
  • What will the purchase ticket structure be?
  • How will the shows be promoted, in which media?
  • What about personnel?
  • Does the company need to hire additional performers, which ones?

Consider the logistics involved.

  • How will the circus be transported from city to city?
  • Will there be local parades from the trains to the town?
  • Where will the trucks be parked and the animals housed so they can get in and out of the building in a timely and safe manner?

There are so many pieces that create the hole.

Homeschooling parents, although on a much smaller scale than the circus, have to address concerns and issues to be successful also.

  • Which curriculum to use?
  • What space in the house will be used – a separate room, the kitchen table?
  • Will the older children work in their bedrooms?

Tests need to be taken, graded and passed. Homework and daily assignments need to be finished. Sequence of assignments is important, as well as organization for efficiency and ease of homeschooling.

You need to develop a road map to get from A to B

3. Implement a Schedule for Order and Organization

The circus season has a specific traveling schedule. Performers know in what cities they have performances and on which dates.

Since lots of money and promotion is involved, not to mention responsibilities to ticket holders, the circus has to stay on schedule with each show. Each show has order and routines. Animals are housed and cared for in certain ways. Performers need meals and a place to sleep. Animal cages have to be cleaned and maintained.

Each show follows a specific order; there is not a different show in each city. Yes, the show might get tweaked here and there as improvements are identified, but then the adjustments become included in the ensuing shows.

There is an overriding order to everything in the circus, to include following a specified program – each act has an order within, and also all the acts follow and match the program listing which is printed in advance. Intermissions are set at designated times, etc.

Costumes are made for each act and each performer and have to be arranged so numerous changes can be made for each performer within a very tight turnaround time frame. Thousands of costumes, with as many accessories, quickly available, arranged by sequence of acts for the quick change artists.

One important prop or costume not in place can create chaos in the wardrobe room. Sound familiar with regard to our homes? Each costume also has certain accessories to match. Wonder what great organization tips we can learn studying the organization of a circus wardrobe room!

  • How will the day be structured and who will help with which household chores and at what times?
  • When will breaks occur?
  • Where will extra pencils and pens be placed?
  • Does each child need his or her own shelf?

Having a plan in advance establishes the day’s expectation for each child.

Stability and routine are helpful structures to maintain so a child can understand in advance what will be expected of him or her, thus minimizing stress and anxiety for both parent and child.

Ideally, as students mature and get older, they can create their own schedule, set their own goals to accomplish within pre-set parental goals.

4. Be Flexible and Adaptable to Allow for the Unexpected

In both the circus and at home, you can count on some things happening that are unplanned; actions that will result in obstructing the process and the show.

In the circus, what happens when a performer gets sick or injured during his act? What if there is a fire or an uncontrollable heckler in the crowd which disrupts the audience. Some unusual occurrences can be anticipated and planned for but others can’t. Regardless, as they say “The Show Must Go On!”

Likewise, homeschooling to be efficient and effective should involve order to include flexibility when required. If unusual situations present themselves, parents need to respond creatively by filling in and adapting to the situation, as might a tumbler who didn’t land as expected.

If a child is proceeding too slowly, sometimes a parent needs to make adjustments to move the child along, such as telling the child not to do every single Math problem in the book, but every nth one if the child has mastered the concept.

What about accommodating a child’s illness, or a pregnancy which requires Mom to be bedridden for months, or the birth of a baby, or the death of an elderly grandparent, or a special needs child?

Things will happen, but God will give us every grace we need and what a wonderful learning opportunity these challenges present to the family allowing Mom and Dad to illustrate to their children how to respond maturely, and for them to learn that God is in charge despite the potential turmoil, sorrow, or unhappiness.

5. Nurture Teamwork, Gratitude and a Positive Attitude, and Motivate

In the circus, individuals assume various roles and perform the necessary tasks that produce the “show”. A clown, or an extra, may have several other roles to perform within the show is format, since the circus travels with as few people as possible for budgetary and logistical concerns. (It can be a fun exercise to find the multiple roles an individual plays throughout the performance.)

All circus performers are usually in the opening parade, but then reappear for a large act and/or several smaller ones as extras, etc.

In a similar manner, homeschooling children and parents need to do whatever it takes to get the job done. All assume multiple roles within the home and family to make homeschooling a successful endeavor. Children help out with household chores, and perhaps the older children teach the younger ones, thus enabling Mom to help a child struggling with a particular subject or some other need.

Our joy should be a beacon to attract others to the Catholic Faith and Christ. We in America have received so many blessings and how aware and grateful are we truly? The glass is either half-empty or half-full.

Life can be so much more joyous if we teach our children how to live in a world where the glass is half-full to overflowing! God specially designs all of our life’s happenings with our salvation in mind; so we can either use if for such or waste the graces that comes with it.

6. Instruct and Guide with Personalized Child-specific Communications

Throughout the circus experience, the ring leader tells the audience what is coming next, what to watch out for, calls our attention to something interesting in the next act, cautions us as to the special daring or danger that could be right around the corner in the next performance.

We parents, like a circus ringleader, communicate with our children as to what is coming next in their academics. At the beginning of the school year, we might go over and explain what the year will cover and then break down smaller components throughout the year giving instructions and explaining the expected results to each child. It is our responsibility to try to keep our child on course, so he/she stays within the provided structure to achieve the desired end-of-year outcomes.

We explain the daily assignments and give special instructions as needed, or point out possible pitfalls before the child embarks on his daily assignments. We explain special problems and highlight important things to focus on. We are in a sense the child’s ringleader, producer and director of our own “three ring circus!”

Like every circus performer, each of our children is unique. We try to reach and teach each child based on that child’s distinct characteristics, interests, learning styles, etc. Remember, using the child’s name when giving instructions or critiques is found to increase performance and attention. – (Reference to my article on Tips for Motivating Your Child’s Academics).

7. Experience the Many Magic Moments while Getting Outstanding Results

When putting on a large production, there are always unsung heroes who sacrificially give of themselves for the greater good. Each job is important within the whole scheme, and the ideal situation is for the show to appear to unfold and flow seamlessly to delight and entertain the audience.

Pooper scoopers perform their important task so all is clean and not a distraction to the beauty, glamor and pageantry of the show. Back-stage hands modify sets and are dressed in black so as not to be too noticeable. These missions, although not as glamorous as the top billing acts, are also critical.

Parents and usually the older children “melt” into the background with their numerous daily tasks and sacrifices. Without their selfless contributions barely noticeable at times, the success of the whole family homeschooling effort would suffer.

During the homeschooling journey, many families also develop an increased closeness with each other, with brothers and sisters becoming lifetime best friends. How many of us have experienced how the family grows closer with the homeschooling experience?

In addition to close relationship bonds developing, aren’t there great opportunities to teach children family values and the Faith?

  • Isn’t there adequate time to prepare them for adulthood?
  • Don’t they benefit by spending time with persons of different ages and not just their peers as in a classroom situation?
  • Don’t they learn about being parents through the process of watching and observing their own parents in action?
  • Don’t they become more adept dealing with their siblings, and learning how to take care of themselves and a household?

Compare the number of times an older sibling would have holding or feeding the baby if he/she were in school and played a sport afterwards compared to a homeschooled child. Isn’t it a privilege to have these opportunities with our children in this day and age?

Often, greater peace and understanding reign in a home during and after homeschooling.

Like the circus, learning can be emotionally rewarding. How exciting it can be for both parents and child to hear a child master and read his first sentence, and for all when a child writes his name for the first time? That’s emotional and exciting!

Sometimes a child gets frustrated and needs some gentle parental coaching to get through a particular assignment, but the thrill of accomplishing a challenging problem can be so rewarding. Or how about the family’s exhilaration, not to mention the child’s or Mom’s, when the child finally finishes up a book report? What a time for a family celebration!

Parents often express the delight they personally experience when teaching their own children, the Catholic Faith that was passed onto them by their parents.

Children and parents alike relish discovering and sharing in the never-ending fountain of spiritual knowledge, in addition to learning so much more in other subject areas. When our Catholic Faith and Truth are interwoven within each subject, don’t all the other subjects become so much more alive when our Creator and His creation are contained within?

Who is not awed by the talent, the colors, and the fun of the whole circus experience? Same with homeschooling. Who is not awed by the growth and maturation of each child over a period of time? (We all know that some children require more time than others and for some of us, at times that time seems endless, but we know all things are possible with God and prayer.)

How wonderful it is to hear the types of questions a child asks as he/she becomes enthralled with a particular favorite subject or assignment!

Within homeschooling, there can be so many magic moments!

Isn’t it fun to really get to know and appreciate the uniqueness of each child? To discover what makes each of your children different? To learn how each one learns? To discover each child’s specific interests and talents that were given uniquely to them by the Father?

Let us not lose that sense of wonder and the excitement of sharing and learning with our children that the circus held for us as children. Although some homeschooling days are challenging, as St. Peter said to Christ, “Lord, to whom would we go?”

Consider from time-to-time, what the alternative to homeschooling would be for you and your children, and what effect that might have on your children, especially on their innocence and moral life. We are so blessed.

Concerning wonder, let us never forget how contagious our excitement and enthusiasm are to our children. They learn so much from us without us even being aware that we are being studied and are their formidable role models.

A parent teaches at all times, even when not saying a word, just like St. Francis of Assisi says about each person. Homeschooling allows us so much more time to teach and love our children. Enjoy this world of wonder both for you and your child. It is an incredible Faith journey which prepares the whole family for the next life!

Miracles happen all around us all the time, and grace abounds, but do we take the time to notice and be grateful? So perhaps a different way to look at homeschooling, like the circus experience, is that it can be the greatest show on earth and the most wonderful way to prepare our children for something even more spectacular – the Wedding Feast in Heaven!

So with daily gratitude, enjoy the ride, as they say, and the daily miracles!

About Mary Lou Warren

For 17 years, Mary Lou has been Director of Conferences for Seton and IHM Conferences. A single mom and former homeschooler. In 2013, she was interviewed on EWTN about Catholic Home Schooling, and Radio Maria has interviewed her several times. Meet Mary Lou
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