That’s a question a friend asked me last spring. I think I gave her a most unsatisfactory answer, something along the lines of: Well, it depends on the day.
It seems to me that more and more parents feel as if they have no choice but to home school. Some parents feel compelled to homeschool in order to provide religious and moral instruction. Others are concerned about the safety of school environments or the quality of education their children would otherwise be receiving. In any case, the number of homeschooled children has been increasing. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education found that about 1, 096,000 children were homeschooled. By 2013, that number increased by over 60% to approximately 1,770,000, which is 3.4% of school-aged children. So we know that many parents feel obliged to homeschool, but do they love homeschooling?
We all know that homeschooling is not easy. Day-to-day, there are times when I don’t love homeschooling. Our home is a busy, noisy place full of active children, piles of work to grade, and stacks of lesson plans to get through. And then there are the chores! During most of the day, my house is a mess. Books and markers are scattered everywhere and the floor is littered with toys. The hardest part, though, is getting my kids, particularly the boys, to focus and do their work without bickering, distracting each other, or complaining. Stress!Embed from Getty Images
But as the years go by and I see the fruits of homeschooling, I am increasingly grateful that this is God’s will for us. Here’s why:
I love sharing the faith with our kids on a daily basis. I often don’t do this as well as I would like, but even having the freedom to choose their curriculum and imbue it with the faith is such a gift. Even better, though, is being able to help and watch them grow in love for God. It’s edifying to watch them make little sacrifices, struggle against a vice or weakness, or be inspired by the Gospel or by a saint. Just recently Feisty told me he wanted to go to confession because he hadn’t gone in a month. What a joy it is to witness the work of God’s grace in their lives, day by day, year by year.
I love the sibling bonding. We have a lot of yelling and squabbling at our house. Sometimes what starts off as a play-fight ends up as a full-blown brawl. Because boys will be boys, broomsticks become spears. It drives me crazy. And yet, despite the daily clashes, the time they spend learning, reading, eating, praying, and playing together forges a bond that grows ever stronger. Since my kids have no choice but to be together most of the day, out of necessity they learn to get along and enjoy each other’s company. A time will come when they will go their separate ways. Their time together now is truly a treasure.
I love when we read aloud together. Reading a story out loud to my kids means sharing experiences and adventures vicariously. It’s a wonderful way to bond. A great novel is something we can all be in suspense about together, something we can all talk about, and something to be edified by. Not that we always get to it every day… sometimes reading aloud has been a bust. But we always get back to it because reading books aloud together is one of the best parts of our home school day.
I love when we have meaningful discussions. Sometimes these are planned; they are part of the catechism, literature, or history lesson. Other times, they happen on the spur of the moment. Sometimes the discussions are long and in-depth. Most of the time they are brief but make a lasting impression (I hope!). However they occur, these discussions are some of the most important teachable moments of the day. Not only do they encourage our kids to be open and inquisitive, these discussions help them to think, question, wonder, and converse.
I love the flexibility of our schedule. Homeschooling allows us to make a schedule that is best for our family instead of following one that is designed for a large institution. This flexibility means we can make all sorts of adjustments to our schedule to meet the needs of each child. For example, we can start the day earlier or later, or we can take a day off when we need to. A tired child can take a nap in the middle of the day or a hyper child can run laps around the yard if needed. Sometimes we vacation during the school year. There is immense freedom in being able to create your own schedule.
I love being able to tailor the curriculum to each child. One year, someone asked my husband what grade my son All-Star was in. Since my husband didn’t know, he asked my son. He didn’t know either. All-Star was technically in grade four, but he was studying various subjects at various levels. In a home school, each child gets his own IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), which can be adjusted as frequently as needed. I can push my kids when I think they are ready for a challenge, and I can hold them back while I wait for readiness and maturity. Furthermore, while trying to give them a well-rounded education, I can cater to their special interests. Like many homeschoolers that customize their children’s curriculum, I occasionally second guess myself: sometimes I wonder if I am pushing too hard or if I have missed something important. This becomes an opportunity to trust in God’s providence. We do our best and let God take care of the rest.
I love the fact that my children learn to teach themselves. Starting around fourth grade, my kids begin teaching themselves more and more. When my kids do need my help, they either have to be patient and wait while I finish up with a sibling, or they have to figure out the solution on their own. More often than not, they choose to work it out. Sometimes, in the struggle to understand a concept or solve a problem, my kids become frustrated. But most of the time, this independence in learning gives them a lot of self-confidence. This confidence goes beyond the academic realm as they teach themselves to do many other things. For example, Big-Sis has taught herself to sew and quilt, All-Star is teaching himself to play the guitar, and Feisty is becoming our handy-man.
With cell phones becoming ubiquitous among middle schoolers, I love the fact that my kids are spared the peer pressure of owning one. According to this study Children and unborn babies do face a greater risk for bodily damage that results from MWR given off by wireless devices. In addition to the health risk, here are Five Reasons Your Kids Should Not Have a Cell Phone. It’s inevitable that when it really becomes necessary, my kids will have cell phones. But I do think that one of the huge benefits of homeschooling is that it delays and reduces the pressure for a child to own a cell phone/mobile device and to become wrapped up in social media. We can protect our children, who are so vulnerable, from all the dangers of prematurely owning a cell phone. As the adverse affects of cell phones and excessive social media on children become more evident, our home school becomes an increasingly important way of preserving our children’s innocence and emotional well-being.
I love and cherish the time spent with my ragamuffins. I’ll admit it: spending all day every day with my noisy, lively children can be exasperating and exhausting. Nonetheless, on the whole I enjoy my kids’ company. The little ones are cute and endearing. The older children are helpful and cheerful (most of the time). In addition, all the time we spend together gives us plenty of opportunities to deal with our issues – whether it be a child’s laziness or my own lack of patience. It really does allow for a lot of character formation. I have and will make many mistakes, but one thing I will never regret is the amount of time I have spent with my kids.
Lest I paint too rosy a picture of homeschooling, here’s a quote from the late Fr. John Hardon:
Even as homeschooling becomes more widespread and accepted (at least here in the USA), it remains a rough and narrow path, especially for large families with young children. So on those days, even weeks, when I don’t love homeschooling, I hold onto the strong conviction that I have to. We persevere because, despite the challenges, we still believe that the best education we can give our children is a home education. The best place to raise saints is within the family.
I’m not saying that all families ought to home school. Not all families can or are called to. Each family is called to discern what God’s will is with regards to the education of their children and to be faithful to it. But for those of us who are called to homeschooling, this “cross-ridden form of education” requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and conviction. Some of the most convicting words I have read on homeschooling come from Fr. John Hardon here (Homeschooling in the Heart of the Church) and here (Mother Teresa, a Model for the Home Educating Family).
In his Catholicism series, Bishop Robert Barron compares the spiritual life to an impressionist painting. Bishop Barron says that seen up close, an impressionist painting seems like a conglomerate of countless dots with varying shades and hues. Even the dots themselves are not perfect in shape; rather they are tiny brush strokes. It is only when one steps away from the painting and looks at it as a whole does the viewer realize how the differently shaded dots fit together to make a beautiful masterpiece.
In a similar way, homeschooling and family life is a work of love, formed by the incessant, daily grind of educating our children. Moments of darkness and difficulty are intermingled with moments of light and joy in a seemingly random, incomprehensible way. It is only when we step away and look at the big picture do we see the fruits of our efforts and the work of God’s grace.
So do I love homeschooling? Yes. Not always, but overall, yes.
Do I home school because I have to? Yes, again.
Not because there aren’t any good schools nearby. There are.
Not because we can’t afford the good schools. It would be a big stretch, but we would find a way if we had to.
Rather, I homeschool because of the strong conviction that this is God’s will for our family. More than anything in this life, I want my children to have strong Christian beliefs, a deep love for Our Lord, and the will to live out those beliefs. I do believe that for our family, homeschooling will significantly increase the chances that they will embrace the faith. Calling to mind the things I love about homeschooling only strengthens this conviction.
And what about you? Do you love homeschooling? Or do you home school because you have to?