Whenever I tell someone new that we homeschool, I take a deep breath and wait for the inquisition. Inevitably, they ask, “How do you do it?”
Be it the curious customer standing behind us in the mega-store line or that distant cousin at the family reunion, enquirers have probed my mental stability to be making such a choice by asking me for an explanation. Should one of my students happen to be in close proximity, the investigator often feels compelled to quiz little Jude or Malachi on their ABC capabilities and grasp of the American system of democracy. I’ve learned to be ready.
Having homeschooled my children for fourteen years now (including two Seton graduates), the query has been invoked countless times. And when our oldest was finishing his 8th grade year, the question shifted to the subject of high school because even though we’d managed to that point to raise and educate a small clan, for some reason, high school had the stigma of being a whole new world in the learning department.
I remember my high school career. It was a whole new world, but not necessarily for the reasons the detectives think. There was that Spanish teacher we could distract into forgetting he was supposed to administer a test and that environmental science teacher who insisted on knowing how many children I planned to have since each little bundle would bring us one step closer to planetary destruction (guess, I’d deserve an F today).
Then again, I suppose that I owe each one of those enquirers a debt of gratitude because they taught me early on to reflect on the how’s and why’s of this homeschooling vocation. Like all things in life, it is easy to fall into a rhythm or stay stuck in a groove, repeating the same old patterns without discerning whether we are or are not making progress or where that progress is leading to.
Preparing to answer the question keeps me on my toes and forces me to reevaluate from time to time.
The Natural Choice
For me it seems that homeschooling is the natural choice. I tell people that God never really gave me an alternative because we have never been able to afford private schools and instruction without God at the center fails to meet our eternal teaching goals. I see homeschooling as part of my marriage vocation.
My marriage led me to parenthood and my parental duty is to be the primary teacher. Since we haven’t been blessed with a better educational option, then I am called to homeschool. Framed in that aspect, I am better able to endure the long, hard days when I doubt my abilities to produce reasonably intelligent, hard-working citizens.
Then again, if my heavenly Father has called me to educate my children, then He will pour out the grace needed to sit through one more math lesson, teach another balking new reader or press on when my high schooler falls behind on his foreign language studies (although it would be perfectly okay if God instilled me with a bit more patience in those moments).
Admittedly, though, when high school was on the immediate horizon, I got a bit weak in the knees. With a full house of various ages, I didn’t feel up to the task of creating transcripts and monitoring credits. For the elementary grades, we’d invested in assorted curriculum primarily from one provider, but I was the only grader and lesson plan organizer.
For high school, I wanted to enroll my older children in a thoroughly Catholic program that could offer them superior educational opportunities and reinforce their faith while relieving me of some of the more mundane tasks like grade calculating and assignment scheduling. Seton Home Study fit that bill for us.
Experiencing Life Together
Homeschooling has been a tremendous blessing in our family life. It has allowed us the time to experience life together and it keeps our hearts and minds centered on the domestic church. Like many homeschool families, my children don’t segregate themselves by ages inside of our home or out. It is a joy to watch the toddler in the arms of his teenaged brothers when they are chatting with friends or to spy my younger boys playing games with their older sisters.
We choose to school year-round, taking a two week break after every nine week semester. This schedule helps us avoid long, unproductive stretches (think 6 boys in a household with no schedule to follow = chaos) and it also helps to halt burnout because nine week chunks pass by quickly, especially when you know a break is coming between them.
Since we don’t take an extended summer break, I don’t feel guilty about participating in co-ops, factoring in some travel time (or occasional mental health days). Flexibility works well for us because I tend to get overwhelmed and frustrated by rigid calendars.
Depression and Delight
Additionally, this kind of schedule has allowed for life and all of its unexpected events to happen without throwing us into a tail-spin. A few years ago we suffered repeated losses (from babies to a job) and I had to wade through the pit of depression.
There were days when I wanted to hide under the covers, but knowing that my children needed me was the catalyst that got me up and kept me moving forward. Having the wiggle room to start late on hard days or stretch out a week’s worth of lessons over two weeks saved me from feeling like we were falling behind in our studies.
Having my children present throughout that difficult time was a lesson in and of itself. They witnessed first-hand the struggle of carrying our crosses and saw the merit of staying the course.
Now that I have succeeded in graduating two of my students, I have the added benefit of seeing the full fruits of my years of labor at the school table.
Watching our two eldest navigate the world of young adulthood, apply for secondary education, continue their altar server commitments, and maintain employment has validated all those answers I’ve given throughout the years.
Could God call me to follow another course next year? Perhaps. But for now I will continue to school my children in my home knowing that He has called me to this task and His plans are trustworthy.