Well, here we are! The day after Labor Day, Our Lady’s birthday, and for many of you, the first day of a new homeschooling year. I’m wondering how it went for you all. Great? Wonderful? Not-so-wonderful? Horrible?
However it went, I’d like to share some thoughts about beginning a new home school year including the two best things you can do for your homeschool.
First off: Today is not a real indication of how the rest of your school year will go.
If it went great — if your kids were excited and agreeable and did everything you told them to promptly and happily — fantastic! But don’t get too excited, because all this great behavior is probably due to the novelty of beginning something new.
If it went horribly — if siblings were fighting over pencils, books were missing, kids were complaining about math, and the toddler was climbing on the table shoving books onto the floor (that’s us) — I feel for you! But keep in mind this is just the first day. And sometimes the hardest thing about homeschooling is just getting started: making adjustments, clarifying expectations, and finding a rhythm.
It’s sort of like launching a rocket out into space. So much energy needs to go into that initial take-off that the heat and smoke is tremendous, and the earth trembles. But eventually that rocket goes into orbit and it no longer requires massive amounts of energy to keep it going. If you had a rough day today, perhaps that’s how it will go with you and your family. Homeschooling may be exhausting at first, but it will get easier with time. Okay, I’ll be honest. Maybe not easier, but it will get better.
A rough first day of homeschooling always reminds me of my intrepid sister. Years ago, before she had kids, she decided to walk the Camino de Santiago — a 500 mile walking pilgrimage through Spain that begins at Saint Jean Pied de Port, France and ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. On the very first day of that summer-long pilgrimage, she sprained her ankle! While the rest of her group travelled on, she had to stay behind and nurse her injured ankle. She could have given up or taken a cab to the next town, but she didn’t. She walked and persevered. And that 500 mile pilgrimage was one of the most memorable events of her life.
Catholic homeschooling, dear friends, is a spiritual journey — a pilgrimage. As such, difficulties are bound to come, especially at the beginning. I know many of you have prayerfully discerned the decision to homeschool this year and have come to believe that this is God’s will for your family. Well, if this is God’s will, guess who doesn’t want you to homeschool? The devil, of course! I guarantee he’s going to throw obstacles in your way to make you give up. So pray for strength and courage, and stay the course. Even if you limp through the first few months and things don’t go the way you planned them, stay the course. God will give you the grace you need to persevere, but you need to ask for it.
Secondly, remember that you are not in this alone. Our Lord is walking with you every step of this journey. He doesn’t need you to be successful. He just needs you to be faithful. So stop being afraid of failure. I think so many of us are afraid of failing our kids.
You know one big “problem” with homeschooling? When things go wrong with our children’s education, we can’t blame the school teacher or the system. We can only blame ourselves… our lack of patience, our lack of discipline, our wrong choice of curriculum, etc. And then we make it worse by comparing ourselves to other moms, and comparing our kids to other kids. We begin to fear that we won’t give our kids the education they deserve. It’s daunting to be solely responsible for the education of our children.
So we always need to keep in mind that homeschooling (and parenting) is a joint venture between God and parents. We set ourselves up for “failure” when we rely too much on our own efforts and when we place our expectations ahead of God’s expectations. We need to let go of our visions of success and the presumptuous idea that we can meet all of our children’s needs. Instead, we need to let God lead the way and trust in His loving plans for our children. We need to trust that where we fall short, He will bridge the gap in a way more wonderful than we ever could have planned or imagined.
God doesn’t need us to be successful. He just needs us to be faithful and faith-filled. That’s it. He takes care of the rest, and then some more.
Finally: Bring your kids to Holy Mass during the week. If at all possible, make daily Mass a part of your homeschool routine. I say this with a bit of trepidation, because I know how challenging it is to get everyone out the door and over to church in the morning. And chasing little kids or hushing them all mass long is not a relaxing way to start the day. It’s more like a near occasion of sin!
Furthermore, I know that the best time to begin school is in the morning. Going to mass in the morning means losing an hour of prime time for school work.
God can’t be outdone in generosity. What’s the exchange here? You give Him an hour of your busy day. He gives you His Very Self — body, blood, soul, and divinity — and an outpouring of grace that will strengthen and transform your soul and the souls of your children. You put up with a bit of inconvenience; He comes to your children as the Divine Teacher, imparting wisdom and love of God. Like Abel, give Him the first fruits of the day, your prime time. Let your children spend the best time of the day for learning with Jesus truly present in the sacrifice of the Mass.
In his 1994 Letter to Families, St. John Paul II wrote:
The Eucharist is truly a wondrous sacrament. In it Christ has given us himself as food and drink, as a source of saving power… The life that comes from Christ is a life for us. It is for you, dear husbands and wives, parents and families! Did Jesus not institute the Eucharist in a family-like setting during the Last Supper? When you meet for meals and are together in harmony, Christ is close to you. And he is Emmanuel, God with us, in an even greater way whenever you approach the table of the Eucharist. It can happen, as it did at Emmaus, that he is recognized only in “the breaking of the bread” (cf. Lk 24:35). It may well be that he is knocking at the door for a long time, waiting for it to be opened so that he can enter and eat with us (cf. Rev 3:20). The Last Supper and the words he spoke there contain all the power and wisdom of the sacrifice of the Cross. No other power and wisdom exist by which we can be saved and through which we can help to save others. There is no other power and no other wisdom by which you, parents, can educate both your children and yourselves. The educational power of the Eucharist has been proved down the generations and centuries.
So, ask Our Lord for the grace of going to daily Mass with your children. If not every day, then at least a few times a week, or even every Friday. Keep in mind that although going to Mass daily is a sacrifice, it’s not an accomplishment. It’s a grace, a gift. If it seems impossible for you to bring your kids to daily mass, ask for that grace. Beg for that grace. And when you hear that still, small voice inviting you to go, or when you feel the gentle prompting to go to Mass, ask Our Lord to make it easy for you.
There are so many days when it seems I won’t make it to Mass… obstacles always seem to crop up. But when I pray, “Lord, if you really want me to go to Mass, please make it happen,” He does. Somehow He gives us the grace to go. Maybe we’re late. Maybe we’re disheveled. But He gets us there. How good He is!
And then, when things at home go awry, when children fight and whine and cry, when school work doesn’t get done, I can humbly say, “At least I have done the most important thing. I have brought my children to Jesus and we have sat at His feet, basked in His presence and were filled with His grace.” From a supernatural perspective, nothing else is nearly as important. If my sole reason for homeschooling were that I could take my children to Holy Mass each day, I would do it. Because life here on earth is just a blip compared to eternity.
So however your first days of homeschooling are going, here are the two things that will bear the most fruit in your homeschool and family life:
And it’s not firming up your routine (although you may need to do that).
It’s not adjusting your expectations (although may need to do that, too.)
It’s not switching curriculum or finding a tutor (although you may eventually want to do those, too).
The two things that will *really* make your homeschool better are trusting deeply in Our Lord and bringing your children to daily Mass when you can. There Our Lord will give you all the grace, strength, and wisdom you need to homeschool your children the way HE wants you to. You may not see the fruits of this right away. We need to persevere in faith. But giving God your prime time will reap tremendous graces for your family. For God cannot be outdone in generosity.
May God bless you and your families!