There's a downside to seminars and lectures by accomplished and prominent home schooling figures. On the one hand I looked up to Laura Berquist, Mary Kay Clark, Miki Hill, Mary Hasson, and Kimberly Hahn, to name a few. These ladies were better than rock stars to me. They pointed the way to successful academics, healthy spirituality, and happy, holy family life. They also burdened me with crushing anxiety as to how I was ever going to live up to such sterling examples.
The question comes down to this: Can the disorganized, the anxious, the sincere but unsaintly, Catholic succeed in home schooling? Yes, I think, we can. I don't mean to sound like I'm advocating setting the bar low. I'm saying that being a home school mom is probably the most rewarding job at which most of us will always feel inadequate. And very few of us will regret having done.
MIDDLETON,NY (Catholic Online) - My husband and I attended a home schooling conference for fourteen years, from 1994 to 2008. It allowed us to see how others do things, buy curriculum and most of all, recharge our spiritual and emotional batteries after school years which had presented challenges academic, relational, and spiritual.
But there's a downside to seminars and lectures by accomplished and prominent home schooling figures. On the one hand I looked up to Laura Berquist, Mary Kay Clark, Miki Hill, Mary Hasson, and Kimberly Hahn, to name a few. These ladies were better than rock stars to me. They pointed the way to successful academics, healthy spirituality, and happy, holy family life.
They also burdened me with crushing anxiety as to how I was ever going to live up to such sterling examples.
If you haven't been to the conferences, you've read the books. They tell of families that rise with the sun, attend daily Mass, return to a hot breakfast, then tackle Latin, catechism, grammar, algebra and science before lunch. After lunch they create art while listening to classical music. The eldest child teaches the second to play violin and mom does her needlepoint while the pies cool on the window sill.
I have encountered two distinct reactions to these admirable examples of Catholic home school life.
The first is overwhelming anxiety. The would-be home educator compares her home to the ideal and decides she can't do it. This troubles me deeply. Year after year younger moms visit our support group and tell of self doubt, guilt, and fears. I assure them that anxiety is their worst obstacle, more than any task involved in home teaching. I ask them whether they passed first grade math and they smile and say, "yes." I suggest that they can teach it and remind them that there are many excellent curriculum choices available, not to mention online courses and private tutoring.
A related tale of woe is the mom who couldn't give her second child the attention she had lavished on her first, such as fewer trips to the library, science experiments, nature walks. My response is that the best thing the firstborn received from all that pre-school age academic work was time with mom. The little scholar will probably not remember much, if anything, studied at the children's museum. But they certainly have a loving bond with an attentive and caring parent. And the second born, while enjoying less one on one mommy time, has something the eldest did not have, a sibling.
The second and opposite reaction to the ideal home school is skepticism. Some moms have announced that they don't really believe these prominent families do the things described in lectures and books. Hints are made about skeletons in closets. This position is equally as troubling as crippling anxiety. Just because a tight schedule and a clean house are goals rarely attained does not, after all, mean nobody does it. We can admire and emulate the organized without beating ourselves up. Can't we?
The question comes down to this: Can the disorganized, the anxious, the sincere but unsaintly, Catholic succeed in home schooling?
Yes, I think, we can. First, we have to offload the guilt and anxiety. Why go to confession if we insist on carrying guilt? Our Lord tells us not to be anxious for anything. You can teach the early grades with the help of a good curriculum. There are informative websites and local support groups. Later on, most of us use online courses, community college, tutoring, or cooperative classes.
It's great to read the books and hear lectures as long as we don't expect to emulate perfectly the role models who address us. Take the advice that works and leave the rest. St. Paul tells us there is one Spirit but many gifts. We can't all be good at the same things. Give yourself credit for what you do well. Set smaller daily goals which allow you to build confidence. Tell the children they can have recess after three subjects. Or one, or two. Tell yourself the whole house doesn't have to be clean but just your home school space. Make one daily Mass this week or make a point to get to First Friday Mass.
Among my seven kids there are now two Associate's and three Bachelor's degrees. One is working on a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience, another is a full time artist. When they were young there were many things I should have done better. I have to make my peace with that. Yet they have done well in college partly in spite of what they got at home and, in part, because of it.
I don't mean to sound like I'm advocating setting the bar low. I'm saying that being a home school mom is probably the most rewarding job at which most of us will always feel inadequate. And very few of us will regret having done.
Christine Sacchi, who lives in Middleton, NY, has not yet finished homeschooling all of her seven children. A horn player, she blogs about opera at bassobuff.blogspot.com and attended The King's College and the Manhattan School of Music.
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