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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Your Questions… Answered

Why do you have specific books assigned for the first and second quarter book reports in the elementary grades?

Since our graders cannot be familiar with every book that might be chosen, we have assigned ones we consider very good for our Catholic students to read for their book reports or book analyses. By choosing the books, we can help the students better to understand the story or characters by providing chapter notes online. In the first two quarters, we even provide the topics or topic sentences to help the students focus on the theme of the books. We are hopeful that with this kind of help with the first two books, the students will be better able to write their reports on the third and fourth quarter books about the lives of the saints.

We still have not finished this year’s book reports. Can our children be excused from these assignments?

Education is really about thinking skills, not just memorizing facts. The book reports demand a greater level of thinking, choosing relevant facts from the book, putting facts together to prove a point, and writing a clear and logical presentation of examples or reasons for the thesis.

This kind of analytical writing and thinking has been an essential part of Catholic education and has resulted in some great Catholic American thinkers and writers. If we are to convert our country in these dire times, we need to raise well-educated Catholic thinkers. We pray our Seton students will be among them.

How can I combine my children in some courses?

It would be best to call an elementary or high school counselor to discuss what you would like to do since they are familiar with the demands of each course. Usually combining high school students in the same course is not a problem. Obviously, certain courses must be taken in order, such as foreign languages and math. Science and history courses often can be taken at different grade levels.

An 8th grade student can join a high school sibling in some courses, but the demands at the high school level will be greater. The 8th grader may struggle and perhaps not achieve the high grades to maintain the Grade Point Average (GPA) which you want for the high school transcript for the purpose of obtaining college scholarships.

Please contact an elementary or a high school counselor for advice for your students. Of course, you as a parent must make the final decision.

Is the CAT, or any standardized test, required by Seton?

Seton encourages, but does not require, a standardized test for entrance into the Seton program. We also provide, but do not require, a yearly standardized test. Many states require standardized tests for all the students in the state, but usually not every year. (To check the test requirements for your state, go to the Seton website and under the Home Menu click on Parent Resources, then click on State Laws.)

Even in states which do not require testing, many parents like to have their students take a standardized test every year, as a sort of progress report. Some parents like to have an objective standardized test as an answer for anyone who might question the effectiveness of their homeschooling.

Whether or not our high school students take the standardized test Seton offers, it is vital for high school students to take the ACT or the SAT. Many colleges base scholarships and even entrance requirements on standardized test scores. We recommend that high school students start taking the ACT or SAT tests as early as possible so they become accustomed to the test requirements as well as to the rules and the timing of the tests. (Students may also take the PSAT test, which is used to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.)

We encourage students either to attend classes for help in taking the SAT test, or to purchase practice books. Seton sells The Official SAT Study Guide, which shows students test questions from past tests, answer keys, and how to go about answering different kinds of questions. We recommend that students go online for SAT Essay Topics and other articles related to writing essays for the SAT test. You will find Essay Topics listed from past years. Here is an essay assignment from the 2010 SAT Essay:

Many powerful leaders throughout history have considered themselves above the law and acted in ways that violated the laws or guidelines of their own country or group. People are quick to condemn these leaders, but shouldn’t leaders be held to different standards? If what a leader is doing benefits the majority of the people in a country or group, does it matter if a law or guideline is violated? Should leaders of a country or group be judged by different standards? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

What should we expect in the progress of our children’s reading at the kindergarten, first grade, or second grade levels?

There is a big push for young children to start reading at earlier ages. The problem is that children’s reading skills at these young developing ages can be very different due to their differences in physical and mental development. There should be no rush, nor serious concern for a child who is not reading until even second grade.

Reading is a skill that sometimes lags behind what parents think it should be, but once something “clicks” in the student’s mind, rapid progress can be made. Just like a child might struggle terribly on Monday to ride a bike but by Tuesday is riding perfectly, so a very poor reader can quickly become a very good reader.

If a child is in second grade, however, and does not understand the concept of the sounds of letters, there may be some learning issue. In that case, you may want to contact our Special Services department.

In most cases, young children need to play outside and develop physically and mentally by interaction with family members and playmates. Parents, older siblings, or grandparents should be telling stories and reading stories to the young children. Most young children learn early about stories in books, and words in books. At some point, children start asking questions about letters and words. Many educational games, some sold by Seton, featuring sounds of letters, are available for pre-school children. Parents can usually determine when a child is ready for particular concepts.

Is it okay for me to go over the tests my children take and tell them they should correct some answers?

We recommend that you look over your children’s tests before they take them to make sure they have studied properly. We also recommend that you look over your children’s tests after they have taken them and before sending them to Seton. Sometimes children may have accidentally skipped some questions, or misunderstood a question. If you see an obvious problem, you should tell them to redo a test question without being specific about what the answer should be; simply tell your child to rethink and rewrite the answer.

If your child does not do well on a test, you may need to tell your child to go back and restudy or relearn the chapter and learn the concepts well enough to obtain a better score. You do not want your child to think that careless or poor work is acceptable.

Unless a student has received a failing grade, we do not encourage retaking tests graded by Seton. We sometimes receive tests or assignments for regrading where a student has received a grade in the mid-nineties, or an A-. Retaking a test should be an extraordinary circumstance, not simply an ordinary action for every test that is not perfect. It is not good for students to grow up thinking that they can have a second chance to take a test. Life is not like that, and college is certainly not like that. Students need to do their best work the first time, because they usually will not get a second chance.

Why allow alternate books in math and not in other areas?

As an accredited school, we want to be sure that we are doing what we say we are doing: providing a Catholic curriculum. We have made exceptions in the area of math and foreign languages mainly because we have not produced Catholic books in these subjects where we can include Catholic ideas, viewpoints, or stories. However, in math, we do have Catholic books in grades K through 4, but obviously, the Catholic presentation is minimal. We have allowed alternate science books in some grade levels when the alternate book is Christian.

It is important to note that the Seton curriculum—like most curricula—builds upon itself from year to year. Fifth grade students need to know what they learned in fourth grade, and so on. By using the Seton books and lesson plans, you know that you are using a planned curriculum that covers all the necessary subjects in a systematic way. Using alternate textbooks does take away from the overall cogency of the curriculum.

When we allow alternate books, we ask the parents to submit graded tests so we have the documentation to show that the student has been learning appropriate grade-level material, that the test itself is on the appropriate grade level, and that the student has been successful on the parent-given tests.

I had a baby this year and am having trouble with my fourth and sixth grade children finishing up for the summer.

Regarding children in the elementary grades, you could probably go more quickly with the subjects which each one is best at doing. For instance, you may have a young girl who knows many of her spelling words before she even begins. Have her study the words one day and give her only one of the workbook assignments, and then give her the chapter test. You should be able to have her do a chapter every two days until she finishes. This may be true of Vocabulary as well.

Think about each child and think about what subject or subjects each one could move on more quickly, perhaps giving them only two days for studying and taking a chapter test. Some students may move ahead more quickly in Religion or History, some in Science.

However, don’t neglect basic subjects they need to know well to advance in the next grade level, such as Reading, Math, and English, especially paragraph writing. It is better to take the time the student needs, even to go into the summer for subjects that the student must “conquer” to be successful in the next grade level.

You might want to contact our counselors for more specific suggestions.

How can I help my high school boy finish up his courses?

You might consider having your high school student finish up one or two courses at a time. Instead of doing five or six courses a day, have him do only one or two courses a day until those two are finished. Then have him move on to two more courses, until those two courses are finished. Concentrating and focusing on only one or two courses a day will give him an incentive to finish up and earn a grade in a short time, maybe only a few weeks or a month.

Be sure to have him start with the easiest course for him, or with the course most nearly complete. Your son needs to feel success quickly to be encouraged to continue at this quick pace.

Give your son the opportunity to do some of his studies at the local college library. Some high school students do well in a quiet environment, in a study carrel, for instance, in a college library. The college library is quieter than the local public library. There are great opportunities for looking for more information on his study topics.

A study carrel may be a good investment for some students in a busy home situation. Take a look at what is offered online.

If you have any questions, or need help, or if your son needs encouragement from us, please call or have him call one of our high school counselors. Gene McGuirk is the head of our high school counseling department, and can be reached at our regular phone number, at Extension 117. Each counselor has his or her own extension. You can look up their extension numbers on our staff page.

About Dr. Mary Kay Clark

Director of Seton for more than 25 years. Dr. Clark left Mater Dei Academy and began teaching her children at home at seeing firsthand the opportunities and the pitfalls of private schooling. Meet Dr. Clark | See her book
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