12/15/07

HOMESCHOOL AS BEATITUDE

Three features of a successful homeschool experience include self-discipline, family discipline, and curriculum, in that order. The homeschooling family has the advantage of practicing discipline all day long, every single day. So, you can see from the very beginning the beatitude of homeschooling – the very thing many families try to avoid, that is being together so much – is in fact, a blessing from God.

Let us first consider the heart of the homeschool – the teacher. We first turn to St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, she founded a religious order as a widow, after having provided for her four children. The following anecdote is from her days as a Mother in religious life, but we can easily imagine her saying this to her little children at home:

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal was heading to the convent chapel one day topray.
Encountering a young novice in the hallway, she said:

why don't you join me in the chapel for prayer?

The young nun answered: Sister, I reallydon't feel like praying right now.

Whereupon Saint Jane retorted in her no-nonsense way:

Sister, I haven't felt like praying in years! Now, let's go to the chapel and pray!



Because the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324), it is most strenuously urged to attend Mass every Sunday, and perhaps consider going to Mass in addition to the Sunday Obligation (CCC 2192). If you don't feel very holy by the end of Mass, take heart; the true measure of an increase in holiness is not how you feel, but an increase in virtue. If Mass is too much for the little ones, perhaps stopping by Church to adore Christ in the Eucharist may be an option.

Though you cannot set up a Tabernacle at home, you can familiarize yourself and your students with Scripture: “the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body” (CCC 103). “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength” (CCC 104); you can, too. This can be done in a variety of ways. If your children are young, simply start reading out of a children's Bible to them. You can choose to pray with the Church, and use the daily readings from the mass. The Catholic Source Book by Fr. Peter Klein lists significant events in both Testaments. If you wish to acquaint yourself with both Christ and His Church together, a “Daily Scripture and Catechism Devotional” pamphlet can be found at this url:

http://www.chnetwork.org/journals/readguide04.pdf

Knowing Our Faith does require learning a certain amount of data; but really, knowing the data serves to help us primarily Love a Person, or rather, Three Divine Persons. We don't want to be merely acquainted with the Lord; we want to Love Him. Jesus tells us “the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). The Church provides devotions as old as the Rosary and as new as Divine Mercy. Pick your favorite and do it!

Just as we give our children three meals a day, we can feed their souls in three ways: frequently receiving the Sacraments (including the Sacrament of Reconciliation); frequently reading Scripture; and practicing those daily devotions that help us to Love Him.
Just as time should be set aside for God, the homeschool parent needs to determine how much time to set aside for school. This does not necessarily mean that you are separating “school” from “real life.” Rather, it means “including school in the rhythm of life.” If you anticipate a major life event coming up, like moving or having a new baby, expect it to have an effect on how much time you can put toward school. There are seasonal considerations, also: you may not get as much in during the holidays, or at the beginning of Spring. Perhaps the family can look forward to doing extra during February, when no one wants to go out, anyway.
Another way to evaluate the time requirements of your school is to determine what priority each academic subject has in your school.

We are created as finite beings with bodies,

but yet we have a desire in our
souls to know the infinite.

This can be a source of vexation in the homeschool!



Where to start? The basics -- Readin', 'ritin', and 'Rithmetic – is a great place to start. As you are your own Superintendent and School Board, you have the burden of determining what is a core subject and what is an extracurricular subject. You also have, to a lesser extent, the burden of choosing at what age your students start school. Younger siblings may associate “school” with “attention given to the older ones,” so you may consider starting each schoolday with some time with the youngest so that she feels included. Be sure that your expectations of each student are age-appropriate.

So far, we have discussed the primary agent of your homeschool – you. Now, we briefly turn our gaze to the reason for it all: the students. To put it bluntly, if the kids don't mind you, school isn't going to happen. Thus, you share the burden of all teachers: you must advocate for your students as well as discipline them. Happily, this is exactly the burden of all parents, and the shelves are full of parenting advice. Of course, all authors have their own views, and even among Catholic authors there is significant diversity of opinion. That said, it does seem that the most popular books share the same general philosophy: do not tolerate disrespect, and give lots and lots of love.

Perhaps by now you are wondering of what use this session is – when are we going to talk about curriculum? Certainly, curriculum affects the homeschool; but curriculum, in and of itself, cannot do much to fix the teacher's problems if the issues of self-discipline and family discipline are neglected.
Keep in mind that curricula are like husbands:
there is no perfect one;
they all require work, but all of the best ones share some things in common;
and, your best friend's may be totally unsuitable for you.
Curricula are also very unlike husbands: no lifelong commitment.

Love God, love each other, and love learning!

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