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Home School Helper…


Stay in the Trenches!

Looking Back from the Finish Line


Sherry L. Foster


(Posted 06/14/10 There does come a day when you actually finish home schooling your children. I have reached that day this year with our daughter’s graduation from high school. As I work my way through the empty ‘school desk’ syndrome and begin to look at myself anew and consider my possibilities for the future, I can’t help but reflect back on what I found most important in our experience.

There were many days when home schooling was a test of endurance, patience and faith, and other days when I turned it into race and almost burned out, but mostly I managed to keep the pace even, trying not to pass up too many rest stops. I had to completely remake our home life. I learned the Faith, and also received the Catholic education I was never given – both of these gifts were worth the work of home schooling and I doubt that they would have happened without it.

I truly enjoyed every minute – even the ‘difficult’ days that helped me to learn to adjust, detach a little and suffer a lot! I am sad to see the school days end. I will always cherish the memories our family has made and the knowledge we have acquired, but most of all I am thankful that our search for the truth lead us to the Traditional Faith. Home schooling has enabled us to take the time to learn the Faith and try to live it as a family.

Most families home school from necessity and often it is thrust upon them suddenly. Childhood illness, lack of traditional Catholic schools, learning difficulties, or harmful peer pressure even in good schools make the choice to home school inevitable. Over the years I have watched many children grow into productive Catholic adults by way of various forms of Catholic education. I’ve also found there are strong and unfounded biases about education (especially home education), child development and parental responsibility. As I look back over the past twenty years I want to share with those ‘still in the trenches’ some of the important things I’ve learned the hard way, and hopefully assuage your fears and frustrations and provide hope that your efforts are not wasted or misguided:

It can take up to a full year for children and parents to make the change from institutionalized school to home school, especially if children are unwilling because you are trying to draw them away from bad companions and unhealthy peer pressure that they are attached to, or if they have lost respect for authority or are having academic problems or loss of confidence (it can take a while to assess and find an appropriate program or learning approach for these problems). The older the child – sometimes the longer the transition period. Don’t be discouraged and quit – there will be ups and downs aplenty the first year; just keep to a routine, use a good curriculum, make time for some interesting cultural and liturgical based activities, and one-to-one time between the child and each parent. Have them read saints and hero stories; older boys should get involved with their dad in leadership programs or hobbies; girls with their moms cooking, decorating, and sewing.

We have had to exercise what we call ‘the big hug’ in our home many times over the years – we’ve cancelled outside activities, increased our prayer life, read and studied and recreated as a family more in order to reclaim order in our home. After awhile we add back activities one at a time – if an activity causes problems it may have to go. Take the transitional period as an opportunity to look away from the past and its baggage and venture into the future – no blaming or guilt trips! There’s work to be done!

There will always be busy bodies who will tell you ‘you cannot or should not home school’; we’ve heard this from many different people the entire 20 years we’ve home schooled (even relatives and close friends), but we’ve home schooled any way. Do not let these comments throw you off balance. These naysayers usually can’t be convinced otherwise; time will show the fruit of your schooling choice. Often they have agendas: they have schools to fill, they realize their own children are not thriving in the local school but they will not take responsibility so they try to make the alternative ‘look worse’; they may need your ‘good’ child to help to provide better peer influence in their school; they often see that other parents just like you without ‘credentials’ or ‘training’ are teaching in their school but they will insist you are unqualified – you can send them to for national survey results from over many years which refute home schooling myths.

Sometimes their children are begging to home school because they’re experiencing the ill effects of their school on themselves or other students: constant negative peer pressure, prolonged immaturity, habitual uncharitable-ness, persistent lack of justice with bullies, dog pack mentality (talk about socialization problems!) and other fairness issues, rigid rules that only apply to maintaining the institution, one size fits all learning, no time for real home life (especially for girls, due to evening, weekend and holiday home work), endless fund raising and meetings and no time for important works of mercy. They may resent the more mature habits and personalities of your children who are learning from adult role models and cooperating with friends of different ages and in many different natural environments (how many adults do you know that work with only the same age group, cooped up all day in one room, doing the same thing regardless of talents and abilities?)

You DO NOT need a degree or certificate or special training to educate your children at home. Studies have refuted this assumption many times over. In fact, one government study showed that one hour of tutoring was equivalent to thirty (30) hours of class time; it is the one-on-one time spent with a student that actually makes a big difference in a student’s learning – not the teacher’s credentials. And, not surprisingly, it is the support of the home life and routine – regular meals, discussions, parental involvement (all of the things that make a healthy home life) ensure successful students in school or at home.  Most schools, including home schools, use standardized curriculums that provide the materials and time frame and teaching aids built in to produce certain results. Often, school teachers train for years to learn a subject which they never get the chance to teach in their entire career; instead they spend their career teaching something they were ‘weak’ in! Teachers are not more perfect as a whole than parents, and in many cases they are ‘unknown characters’ with agendas of their own.

Sometimes parents have to first undo what was ‘learned’ when the child was at school – very often they must retrain the child to accept direction from the parents and then help him to train his will. This is the most important part of education and happens over a long period of time – not overnight. Even in well run homes this retraining of the will and forming good habits is ongoing even through young adulthood.  Sometimes the problem is big enough to warrant postponing a portion of the academic education to work on these problems while increasing parental involvement in other areas of the child’s life – chores, non competitive sports for boys (hiking with dad, camping, golfing, archery, building, scouting, etc.); home economics for girls (girls tend to be multitaskers, so skills that require quiet and repetition are good – sewing skills like cross stitch, embroidery, knitting, etc). Parents should not neglect casual socializing with other families to help teach good socializing skills by example, and perhaps organize small classes for certain subjects. They can also start home improvement projects together to build cooperation, or concentrate on helping the child make a success of one academic subject at a time if he needs confidence building.

All over the world, many traditional Catholics only have a traditional Priest for Sunday Mass. They don’t have regular catechism, retreats, sacraments, feast day celebrations, or processions to help them form in the Faith. You can expand on this limited priestly instruction by discussing Father’s homily in the car after Mass or at dinner that night. Look up scripture related to it, and watch for “Divine Synchronicities” through the week. God will speak to you through Father – use his words as a guide for the week. Read and discuss each day’s Mass and saint from the Missal, and use these to inspire your table decorations, family readings, and school subjects like art, poetry, and geography. Home school parents can learn the faith with their children and not ‘just leave it up to schools’. Many days we’ve been side-tracked by the Missal or our religious based readings and some of the most important learning sessions have taken place. (We all know pre-Vatican II Catholics who can memorize the catechism but do not vote or believe the teachings of the Church!)

Some things may have to be set aside, passed over or skipped, including parts of a program or lesson plan. This is often done in schools – they run out of time too. Most programs have reviews each year to refresh the student and you can always use summer to catch up. God will take care of what you may think are lost opportunities or omissions. Keep your sense of humor. Have ‘get out and see the world God created’ days – when the weather is good or everyone’s feeling cooped up. Expect Mommy meltdowns, but don’t drag them out; have your husband go over your schedule with you – there are usually too many trips, outside classes or errands getting in the way of school time and supervision.

Home school failure is usually due to a home environment which is more like a freeway than what a home or school environment should be: no order or routine and the parents cannot say no to anyone – their children, the phone and door; requests for volunteer work, favors and help come first taking away from the needs of the family and disrupting accountability. There are usually no limits to TV, videos, computer, music CDs, iPods, cell phones, etc. The term ‘scatterbrained’ comes to mind – the mother is usually driving too much, or otherwise away from home too much, and the home revolves around the whims of the children or the world.

Learning requires quiet, routine, a place to study, regular meals and time for leisure and discussion. Home school failure is never because the parents couldn’t find the right math book or are poor; it’s usually because home life is too distracting and the parents will not control it. Older children working outside the home during the school year also have a negative effect on many home schoolers. It is almost impossible to do a home school child justice when there are other children in the family going to various other schools – mom is in the car on and off all day, or getting lunches, clothes and supplies for the other children. The institutional school’s meetings, fundraisers, schedules, vacations, etc. always take precedence over the home schooled child’s needs, setting him up for failure or the above mentioned scatterbrain mentality.

Sometimes home school ‘panic attacks’ and competitive feelings interfere with teaching at home (he’s already 10 years old and he’s not ready for college yet!); for example, changing curriculum regularly fearing that the one you are using isn’t good enough. Constantly shopping for educational materials for the ‘next best thing’ or asking everyone for advice that is often conflicting is also distracting. Pick one curriculum and stick with it for all your children if possible – add field trips or more hands-on activities if it seems boring, or replace written work with plays and field trips. Supplement with scripture reading each night and saints books from the area or period studied this will keep you too busy to surf the web!

Leading a simple Catholic life, while fulfilling our duty to our family is what God requires us to do. Try to do God’s will using the resources and talents He’s given you and leave the rest to Him.

We’ll pray for you! Please pray for us!

Home School Helper Reprints

There are many Home School Helper reprints available in a variety of subjects that may help your family to more successfully home school. They can be ordered from the Remnant:

The End of the School Year Blues, April 2008, Vol 41 No 07 – How to evaluate your school environment and prevent common problems – especially burnout.

Gleaning The Most From Your Blessings, May 2008, Vol 41 No 9 – Big family, one income, downer economy – a little help can be found here.

Fighting Impatience, March 2009, Vol 42, No 5 – How to work on controlling impatience, practice detachment and lead by example.

An Old Fashioned Summer, June 2008, Vol 41, No 11 - How to make your home the place to be; resources for music, arts, games, books and much more.

Math Options, Aug 2008, Vol 42, No13– Look beyond Saxon Math to some lesser known but successful math options including those for young children and the college bound.

The Home Economics Series: Home Economics: The Science and Art of Home Management, Sept 2008, Vol 42, No15; Needle in Hand, Heart to God, Nov 2008, Vol 41 No 20; and Food is Love, Oct 2008,  Vol 41 No18 - How to teach the womanly arts, including many resources for Traditional Catholic women.

Latin From Heaven,  Aug 2008, Vol 42 No 12 – Ideas for using the New Missal Latin program (reprinted 1940’s ecclesiastical Latin texts) and other ideas for teaching Latin.

Little Christmas, A Day Most Holy, Dec 2008, Vol 41, No 22 Celebrating the Feast of the Magi in the home.

Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, Dec 2009, Vol 42, No 21 - Using the song and the actual 12 Liturgical days together.

Creation and Biology, August 2009, Vol 42  No 13In memory of Gerard J. Keane; a syllabus using Life Science or your current program with labs and references for adding the Church’s traditional creation doctrine.

Meeting God In His Garden, April 2009, Vol 42 No 7 Nature study as a means of drawing closer to God.

Learning to Draw From Life, May 2009, Vol 42 No 9 – Using nature study as inspiration for teaching drawing.

Some Old Books, Some New Books, Sept 2009, Vol 42, No 15 - Reviews of a few interesting books for the coming year for all ages.

Teaching the Love of Music, Oct 2009, Vol 42 No17 – How to introduce and foster a love for good music with some sound resources.

Family Formation = Catholic Action, Nov 2009, Vol 42 No19 – Reviews of materials to aid family formation in Catholic principals which will lead to proper Catholic Action.

Reclaiming Our Pascal Time Symbols, Feb 2010, Vol 43 No 3 - What about the Easter bunny or chicks – could they be Catholic symbols?

Catholics Don’t Date, Jan 2010, Vol 43 No 1 – More formational tapes and resources to help parents guide the formation of children regarding courtship and marriage.

To order, send check or money order to: Remnant Reprint Service, PO Box 1117, Forest Lake, MN 55025. Single reprints cost $3. Multiple reprints cost $2 per.  You can also order reprints via email by using our Donate link and filling in the appropriate dollar amount. 

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