Hello from the Gowans’ family! – Dad Bob, Mom Andrea, son Hugh (age 9), daughter Lauren and twin brother Leo (age 7), and beloved cats Mr. Kitty and Stella. We live on a 300 acre ranch with a vineyard, fruit orchard, pecan trees, chickens, fishing pond, a John Deere tractor, four wheelers, and all the accoutrements that come with living out in the country. Our town’s public schools are rated among the best in the area. Families from neighboring towns vie to have their children transferred into our public schools. There is a Catholic elementary school in the next city, and there are a number of excellent private schools. Our family chooses a different path. We choose to homeschool.
Are you going where God wants you to go, or where you are expected to go?
Up until a month before we started homeschooling, neither my husband nor I had ever heard of this thing called “homeschooling.” Concerned for the spiritual welfare of our children, our pastor was the one who introduced us to the idea. At the same time, my husband and I already knew that we had to reconsider the option of public schooling for our children. Intrigued by this alternative of conducting “school at home,” my husband researched the academic aspects, while I read a number of books (including Dr. Clark’s homeschooling manual), and we were introduced to a number of families in the parish who were actively homeschooling. One homeschool mom prophetically said, “Once you start [homeschooling], you will never go back!” She was right.
As we took the plunge into homeschooling, our pastor recommended Seton Home Study for its academic excellence and solid Catholic catechesis. We have been using Seton Home Study since day one, and have been extremely pleased. Following the Seton program, my husband and I are reassured that our children are covering all grade-appropriate material and that they are receiving a quality education – with no additional effort (or guesswork) required on our part!
Initially we started homeschooling for academic reasons. Now, 4 years later, we homeschool for a myriad of reasons, including family benefits, spiritual benefits, and simple obedience to God’s Will. I have felt very much like Abraham, being called out of the “comfortable” life of typical schooling and into the unknown of homeschooling, but I know God has a plan far beyond what I can comprehend.
Following God in the Day-to-Day
Structure has been a key element in our homeschooling. School days begin at 8:30 a.m., when the children and I gather in the “classroom” (a spare room originally planned and designed to be my husband’s home office). Thanks to Seton’s clear and consistent workbook format, each of the children knows what assignment pages need to be completed that day, and can immediately get to work.
I juggle my time between Hugh, Lauren, and Leo, actively working with whoever needs my attention and assistance at the moment. If I’m busy with one child, the others work on an independent subject like Handwriting or Spelling until I can work with them. We also follow a “two subjects, then break” rule. After completing two subjects, each child gets about ten minutes to go outside, play in his or her room, get a snack from the kitchen, etc. As the children finish their work, they know to pile it on my desk – an old laminated folding table – so I can review and correct.
Classroom and textbook work takes until lunchtime, when we all gather to eat and then take a nice hour-long break (by that point, my brain needs it as much as the kids need it). We do Science and/or Writing after lunch, as well as correcting.
Each of the children has a different learning style and pace. Although Lauren and Leo are twins, and each in 2nd Grade, they are as different as can be! Their learning styles and the speed at which they grasp concepts is wildly different. What works with Lauren is a total bust with Leo, and vice versa. In fact, Lauren often acts as surrogate teacher to Leo when I’m not available. Other people might find this strange – a peer teaching a peer – but I find it one of the many blessings that homeschooling allows — a demonstration of love, patience, and joy in helping a sibling. It is also a good reinforcement of the concepts Lauren has already learned! If you can teach it, then you know it.
In general, we are done with school work around 3:00 p.m., which allows for ample outdoor playtime before ballet, Cub Scouts, sports, or other activities. On weekends, our two sons assist at Mass as altar servers, and our daughter serves as “bulletin girl,” distributing bulletins after Mass at our parish, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Denison, Texas. We are careful, however, to limit the number of activities our children pursue. Busy-ness does not equal holiness. There is no joy in running and driving from activity to activity to the point of exhaustion and frustration.
One of the activities our family does cherish is inviting our current pastor over for dinner. He is a frequent guest, and we love him like a favorite uncle. I especially appreciate the opportunity our children have to spend so much relaxed time with Father. It is important for our children to soak up and grow in the Faith. Some of their faith- building is accomplished academically, but a lot is accomplished in what I call “sitting at his feet”—simply sitting with Father at dinner, playing a game of checkers or chess with him, and getting to know him personally outside of church.
Taking up the Cross
Schooling your children is a very intense devotion. It is often a daily challenge for me as the mom-teacher to maintain my patience and energy level (which is why daily prayer and reliance on the Lord are a must!). It is also a challenge to ignore feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, and concerns that maybe I am not doing “as good a job” as someone else would do at another school. Maybe my kids are not learning “enough” from me, and could learn more or do better somewhere else. When I struggle with these thoughts, I lean on my husband, who lifts me up spiritually and reassures me that we are on the right path with homeschooling.
Another source of inspiration from which I draw is our local Christian homeschool co-op that meets regularly for enrichment classes. The kids enjoy being with other kids; I enjoy being with other homeschool moms, and our closest friends have come from the co-op. I couldn’t travel this homeschool journey alone. The apostles had each other for strength and support—I need other homeschool moms! I am grateful for the blessing these families are in our life.
Yet another small pick-me-up is when the kids and I change our routine by doing our homeschool work at the local community college. Every two weeks or so, we pack up the school books and head to the college library, where we grab a study room for the morning, complete with a massive whiteboard, and rolling chairs! It’s a great change of pace and scenery. The college students and staff get a kick out of seeing the pint-sized students, while my kids get a kick out of being around the college-age kids, and we get to top off the day by enjoying lunch in the college cafeteria. Ah! College-days are always fun and surprisingly productive days!
Are you going where God wants you to go, or where you are expected to go?
God has a plan for our family, and for each of our children. I know with certainty in my heart that homeschooling is part of God’s plan for us, but time alone will tell where God’s plan ultimately will lead us. As a homeschooling family, we are certainly not going where society expects us to go! Instead, we choose to go where God wants us to go.
By Andrea Gowans, homeschooling mom of three on the Gowans Ranch in God’s country, Texas.