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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Why Margin Space Can Be Your Key to Great Homeschooling


Mary Ellen Barrett shares five tried and true benefits of homeschooling and why including margin space gives children the room to just be themselves.

In general, I try to spend an hour or so on Sunday with my teacher planner, personal planner, and work planner so I can get a handle on my upcoming week.

This hour spent quietly reviewing the upcoming assignments, activities, and obligations and connecting the dots in our lives so that nothing is overlooked, brings me peace and a certain amount of contentment.

Not peace in the sense that my life is peaceful — it isn’t, it’s chaotic — but rather an inner peace that comes from knowing what is coming and what resources will be needed to cope with it all.

One of the best benefits of being a Seton homeschooling family is that I am in complete control of the schedule for my family, and having been at this a while, I have learned that margins are important. That white space that never gets filled in around the edges of our days and leaves space for interests, passions, catch up, silly time, and wonder.

Margins in the day are so important to children who need space to just be themselves and to cultivate relationships with their siblings and parents. To find their way and God’s way for them. Those margins are so important. I guard the white space in our days assiduously.

For us, this margin space has become one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling, but there are many others.

1. Give an integrated and consistent education

As Catholics, it is imperative that everything we teach stems from our faith in God, is informed by the teachings of Holy Mother Church, and is consistent with our pro-life ethos.

As homeschooling parents, we can use the sources that are consistent with these beliefs and spend twelve years connecting the dots throughout our children’s education so that the foundation of faith is solid and rooted throughout their learning.

Seton makes this very easy since I can trust that all of the materials lead my children to God. This becomes very important when they leave the nest and go off to make their own way in college or employment.

2. History is taught correctly

There has been so much damage done to young people by the modern method of teaching history. History, rather than being taught from primary sources, and in a narrative style, is taught from text books that are “commissioned” by school districts or publishers. They are written not be historians but by hired textbook writers who then pass them off for a cursory review by someone in the field. They are often slanted, plagiarized, ungrammatical and just plain wrong.

Homeschool parents can pursue history the way it was meant to be taught, narratively, with context, and with an eye toward orienting mankind to the goal, which is heaven. History is important because God has chosen to work in time, to reveal Himself, who is infinite, to the finite within time. The study of that revelation is the study of our ultimate salvation. It’s important to do it well, and homeschooling affords that opportunity.

3. Work at your child’s pace

One of my children is a year behind in math. This would be cause for great concern and specialists in a school setting because he would need to “catch up”. I’m not worried or upset because he learns slowly; rather, I am grateful to be able to go along at his pace so that he fully understands each concept before moving on to the next one. There is no rush, no expiration date on his progress.

If you have a child who struggles in a subject, you have the freedom to take your time and figure out how best to help them learn without the added pressure of so-called experts telling you he’s behind. We have made use of Seton’s special services as well as just the “keep at it” method to help our children who struggle.

4. Family is first

When children are away from their family for six to eight hours a day, it stands to reason that those relationships will suffer. When they are together learning, working, and relaxing it binds them in a way that is practically unheard of today.

While having the children underfoot all the time may be frustrating when you are trying to accomplish non-child related things, that effort pays off as they grow more mature and your relationship with them deepens. Children who are accustomed to seeking the advice and counsel of their parents and siblings are less likely to seek it from fellow thirteen-year-olds who are just as clueless as they are.

5. Enjoy yourself

Your children are wonderful. They are quirky, funny, and talented. They are lovable, smart, playful, and curious. Are they maddening? Yes, of course, they are children, but they are also everything that is bright and promising about life. They are a gift from God, and He chose them specifically for you to raise and love and enjoy.

Homeschooling gives you the time to do just that. Play games, go outside, get dirty, sing songs, tell silly jokes, and generally be the mom whose house everyone wants to visit. That joy is contagious, and it lasts right through their childhood and comes back to you every time they bring friends home from college because yours is the fun house. Be that house.

One hundred and eighty days of school can seem like an eternity when all you see are the lists of things to be done and goals to be met. So take my advice: guard the margins and take time to enjoy the beautiful benefits of homeschooling.

That white space is what will build your family culture and the kingdom of God.

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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