I love to discuss the principles of education and the stages of formation, and I think a discussion about parents as the primary educators of their children is very important, especially in our day. In fact, I think it is foundational to every other discussion about the education of children. I homeschooled my own six children for about 25 years, and I have helped many other families do the same through Mother of Divine Grace School. I loved homeschooling my children. But whether you actually homeschool or not, all parents are the primary educators of their children, and all parents should think intentionally and specifically about how best to form their children. We want to think about what is involved in the right formation of our children. If you homeschool your children, are thinking about doing so, are teaching in a school, or are in a position to develop curriculum, a reflection on the most important goals of the education of youth is important.
At the bottom line this is what parenting, and teaching in a truly good school, is about: passing on the faith, and creating and living in a Catholic culture. We want our children to know, love, and serve God. Hopefully we aren’t living in a state where we are told we can’t pass on the faith, but we are all living in a time when the whole secular culture is working against the formation we want for our children. While all Catholic parents have this goal, and work toward it, homeschooling is a very direct way to take back the formation of our children.
So, I would like to talk to you about the primary reasons to homeschool. I hope this will suggest ways to provide formation in the home when your children are in a brick and mortar school, and ideas about the goals of all Catholic education.
After 25 or so years of homeschooling my own children, and many more years of working with other homeschooling families, it is my judgment that homeschooling more naturally provides a truly excellent education, real socialization skills, as well as valuable life skills, especially family life skills, and provides, most importantly, more opportunities to develop a relationship with God than any other educational venue. It is my judgment and my experience that no other educational venue so consistently provides the same converging opportunities for excellent formation. These are all, especially the last, eternal reasons to educate in this way, because they have eternal consequences. The success of homeschooling in these areas provides insight for every educational situation, as all educational venues have those same goals.
I would like to look at each of these aspects individually. First, it is my experience that homeschools provide excellent academic formation for almost all children. The knowledge and concern of the teacher for her student, for one thing, is unique. She knows her student’s capabilities, interests, and past experience better than a teacher in a classroom with 25 students she only has for one year can do, however accomplished she is. The amount and quality of the one-on-one tutoring available in the home setting could never be matched in a classroom with many students. One study I read said that on average students in a traditional classroom receive three minutes of personal attention per day. However difficult her days may be, the homeschool teacher is able to give more individual time than that to each student.
All the data available confirm that children learn better in such a situation as that provided in homeschooling. Students are helped when they need it, but not when they don’t. When my children were young, before MODG existed, I was part of an umbrella school in my home area. It was run by a very nice Protestant couple. I joined for legal protection, because I didn’t want to notify the state authorities that I was homeschooling, as I would then have my name and address as a homeschooler on a public record.
I had already worked out much of my curriculum and I shared it with this couple. They were running both an umbrella school and a regular day school for multiple grades. The wife met with the homeschoolers who were enrolled in the umbrella program.
When we were having one of our yearly meetings and I described what I was doing with each of my children, she said, “I just have to ask you how you can do so many different courses with so many children at different levels.” She went on to explain, “We are trying the ‘little red schoolhouse’ approach here for our day school. I constantly have students asking me what to do next, and I have no time for teaching any one student or even group of students.”
I thought about it and realized that the reason I could teach a 17-year-old, 14-year-old, 13-year-old, 11-year-old, 8-year-old , and a 5-year-old, simultaneously, was because I knew what each child could be expected to do on his own, and what each would need me for. I tried never to help someone with something he could do on his own, but I also tried to be available to any child who actually needed help. I passed that on to this educator, and at our next meeting she told me she had implemented that technique and school was going much more smoothly. Of course, she was working with a situation that was actually much like homeschooling, with a mixed age group in one or two rooms. Teachers in a traditional setting have a harder time implementing that technique.
Since MODG is accredited by the regional accrediting agency in the Western United States, we participate in the accreditation process for other schools. I have now visited a number of such schools as part of their accrediting team. It is striking to me that one of the teaching strategies we are supposed to be looking for in these schools is differentiated instruction. Everyone knows that children do not learn at the same pace and from the same presentation, even if they are the same age. Good teachers try to teach to the individual student, even in a classroom of 20 or more children. They know it’s important, but they tell me how hard it is, and it’s clear to me that it is hard. But it isn’t hard for the homeschooler. Educationally speaking, one of the best features of homeschooling is the individual attention students receive.
Think about this: in a classroom with 15 or 20 students the teacher can’t be teaching to any one student. She can’t teach to that bright student who can answer every question and will have to be ignored so that someone else will get a chance to answer. She can’t teach to that struggling student because everyone else in the class has already figured this concept out and will be very bored. That is a recipe for classroom disaster. The poor teacher has to somehow try to hit a mean so that no one is left consistently behind, or so bored with already mastered information that they just ‘check out’. It’s really difficult. But that problem does not happen in the homeschool where the mom knows what the child knows and can do on his own, and what he needs help with.
As a result, the homeschooled children both learn how to learn for themselves, wherever that is possible, and they get the help they need when they need it. The homeschooling parent has time to work with each child who needs help, because she doesn’t help the student unless he needs it. One technique that is now being employed in traditional classrooms is called ‘the flipped classroom’ where students study the text or watch a video presenting the lessons on their own, and then do what has usually been considered the homework, namely implementing the principles presented in the lesson, when they are in the classroom. Then they can get help if they need it, but can just complete the lesson themselves when they don’t. This is a huge educational advantage. Students learn how to learn, so that they can be life-long, self-directed learners.
One of my friends sent her 16-year-old to high school. This was a big decision for the family, and the mom was, of course, anxious to see the results. Her son was not particularly communicative, and so she finally asked him, “George, how is it?” His response was unsettling.
“I love it, Mom. It’s so great.” (My friend was both glad and sorry at this response.) He went on, “The teachers tell you everything; you don’t have to think! They present the math lesson, explain it all, have you work problems at your seat while they go around the room checking the work, and then they do the problems up on the board. I never had it so easy in your school!”
That’s true; homeschooling students never have it so easy as that. The teacher in a classroom has a harder time tailoring the education to the individual student. She can’t teach this concept but not that, because among her students there is going to be someone who needs help with each. What we want in every educational setting is to allow students to get help when they need it and figure out on their own what they can. They then have the opportunity to be self-teachers.
This way of teaching has practical results. One of my students from MODG is now working for the Exxon Oil Company in Texas. He was hired as an accountant, but has revamped part of their computer records' procedure. He never studied that in school, but he saw a need when he got to work, and taught himself what he needed to know. His mom credits his homeschooling experience for that. The company was extremely pleased and impressed! Similarly, one of my students is at Texas A&M, a large and prestigious university in Texas. He said that he had a very poor teacher for one of his math classes, and many students in the classes dropped it or failed. He was ok, though, because he had the text, and he knew how to teach himself. These are just two of many stories I have heard over the years. We want our children to be life-long learners, able to teach themselves what they need to know, when they need to know it. The homeschool situation naturally allows students to develop that skill; other schools need to work at it consciously.
Note that this doesn’t mean that the children aren’t taught. They are. They are taught in the method that is best for them in the particular subject. They are able to learn from a text (so the text is the teacher), and they have access to one-on-one tutoring, when that is the best method. For this reason, the student doesn’t go on to the next step in any subject until he has mastered the previous one. Such a student becomes accustomed to thinking logically, clearly seeing the next step, and being able to articulate it. His teacher holds her student accountable and makes sure her student is getting his algebra lessons right as he does them. If he is not, she is aware, and helps him re-do them until he does. This allows for mastery learning, which is essential. The student’s intellect is formed in the truth. This is an eternal advantage, and it is really exciting! One of my children said, "Mom, there is nothing as exciting as seeing that something that is true, IS true." I couldn’t agree more. When I homeschool it is easy to communicate that to my children, but all teachers want to communicate the same truth.
When we are homeschooling, we can determine what our children learn when. We can make sure their education is integrated, that is, that all the subjects teach the same truths. In a traditional school, where different people, or different departments, are in charge of the various subjects, one discipline may present a different ‘truth’ than another. In science the student may learn that evolution is a fact, for example, and that there were multiple ‘first parents’. In religion they will learn that we know, with certainty, by faith, that there was only one set of first parents, and that any discussion of evolution has to be seen in the context of God’s Divine Providence. This can be, to say the least, confusing to a student. That will never happen in our homeschools. That is an eternal advantage.
Additionally, even if this kind of educational dissonance doesn’t happen in an egregious manner in good schools, there is often not the integration between subjects that is one of the delights of education. All schools should strive to present an integrated view of reality, because reality is integrated. God, Who is Truth, is the author of all truth, so there can never be disagreement among truths.
In my program the students in their second year of high school address final causality, in an appropriate way, in Natural Science as well as religion. Both are ordered to understanding the theological argument we call the Motives of Credibility. That’s one integration. Also, the literature selections are all in support of the history readings. Further, the history readings are ordered to a larger conversation concerning government that takes place over four years, thus integrating the thought of those four years. Now, this is just one curriculum, but the general point is that when one homeschools he is able to determine what kinds of integration he wants for his children. That is not true when you put your children in school, because someone else decides what they learn. When you have a school, you need one intelligence having an overview of the curriculum as a whole so that all the parts are coherent.
Further, in every educational venue one should work on appropriate skills for each child at his level. In my curriculum, in the earliest years, that means working on developing the strength and docility of the imagination through memory exercises, observation activities, and sequencing. Whoever is in charge of curriculum should make sure that each assignment employs one or more of those activities. At about 10 or 11 years of age we add to those types of exercises others that are working on patterns of language. At 12 years of age the emphasis changes to analysis, with gradually increasing analytic expectation for the students through age 15. Every assignment during these years has an analytic component. For the 16-to-18 year old we work on the skills that make it possible to present arguments coherently and cogently. This sequence of skills acquisition is what we have had in mind from Kindergarten on. Every assignment, in all the years, should have four intentional goals. It should have a current methodological goal, a current content goal, a later methodological goal, and a later content goal to which the current goals are ordered. We will discuss this again, with examples. But the point is that with one intelligence aware of all the parts of the curriculum, the education can be tailored with these universal ideas in mind, and applied at the right moment for this particular child.
My mother, who was one of the first people to suggest homeschooling to me, spent much of my growing-up years, and those of my siblings, in ‘discussions’ with our teachers. The materials were questionable, the methodology was questionable, and the sequence of courses from year to year seemed random. This is often the experience of concerned parents. They are trying to make sure their children get a good education. My mother spent her time indirectly on our education, and was often frustrated in the achievement of her goals. She took seriously the encyclical Divini Illius Magistri by Pope Pius XI, where he explicitly says that parents educate their children directly until they can’t do that. (#30) Note that that point comes at different times in the life of different families. So, parents should be allowed to directly educate their children until they need help. For some families that will be university level. At that time, whatever it is, they entrust their children to schools which will continue the education that the parents would themselves implement, if they could, as Pope Pius makes clear. He says, “the school is by its very nature an institution subsidiary and complementary to the family and to the Church." (#77) In Gravissimum educationis, section 8, Blessed Pope Paul VI says explicitly that teachers are to work with parents as partners. Both bend their effort to the work of education, as Divini Illius Magistri says, in preparing “man for what he must be for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created.” (#6) Thus, there should always be a harmony between the Church and the family in the mission of education, and schools must be in “positive accord with those other two elements, and form with them a perfect moral union, constitute one sanctuary of education, as it were, with the family and the Church.” (#41, 77) Pope St. John Paul II reiterates this teaching in Familiaris Consortio, when he says the role of parents in education is essential, irreplaceable, and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” (#36)
That is the ideal, and my mother understood it, but she found she spent her time indirectly on the education of her children, to little effect. Homeschoolers, on the other hand, spend their time directly on the education of their children, and they can achieve their educational goals, because they are in charge of the curriculum. Even when you join a homeschooling program like mine, the homeschooling parents still make the large decisions about courses to be done each year, and the day-to-day decisions about how to present what when.
For me, myself, as I was homeschooling my children, this was one of the most delightful aspects of homeschooling. I loved figuring out, each year, what I was going to do with each child, picking out the course materials, thinking about what would be most effective with this child in particular. I also loved the time we spent together, learning those many interesting facts and processes that come up in 12 years of schooling. I learned those disciplines so much better teaching them to my children than I had ever learned them when I was a student in school. We truly enjoyed learning together, and that is an educational advantage, too. In every educational setting the teacher should delight in what he is teaching, and be ready to deepen his own understanding of what he is presenting through his interactions with these particular students. If he approaches education that way, he will communicate his delight to the students.
I remember the day one of my children said to me, “I don’t know how much I like Latin, Mom, but I sure like doing it with you!” That was an educational success.
In my experience, and in terms of any study I have ever seen, the educational advantages found in the homeschooling setting, namely, the individual attention students receive, the fact that they learn how to learn, as well as the ongoing accountability of the student to his teacher, and the integration of the curriculum, with the direct and loving companionship of the parent teacher and child, yields the results you would expect. Homeschoolers do better, on average, as a group, in the US on the college entrance exams, than the national average, for example. Certainly in my program the average college entrance test for each year’s seniors is significantly higher than the national average. Our students get into their first-choice schools, and in a recent year our seniors garnered over 7 million dollars in scholarship offers. Even better, the students do well in their college programs. Educationally speaking, the evidence clearly shows that homeschooling provides a truly excellent academic formation. Due to the control you have over the curriculum, it also provides a truly excellent eternal formation, as well. If schools were to follow this model, in so far as they can, they would have more educational and eternal success.
A second reason we homeschool lies in the social formation of our children. It is my opinion, formed by experience, that homeschooled children are better socialized than others educated in more traditional venues. It is worth thinking about why that is true.
These days, when I talk to someone in the general public about homeschooling, their first question is never about the education. It has been pretty clearly established in the US that homeschooling provides good education. Their first question is always about socialization. They think that since the homeschooled child is not in a classroom for seven or so hours a day, with 20 or so other students his own age, he won’t be properly socialized.
Now, I think people need to think about what socialization actually is. Socialization is the process by which an individual learns how to fit into a group, how to be part of a social unit, how to interact in a community. It involves an awareness of the needs of others, an ability to see the common good and act in accordance with that. My whole experience is that homeschooled children are truly socialized, learning how to get along with those they live with, how to be polite to adults, and how to be charitable to other children. Some 'experts' talk about their fears of lack of socialization skills in homeschooled children, but the opposite seems to be the case. The home environment provides the kind of security that allows independence to grow. It encourages real social skills. And it is more in keeping with reality, because it integrates young and old. If schools want to improve socialization they should consider out-of-the-box solutions that provide a more natural environment. Smaller classrooms would help, but more age integration and a model wherein children are able to help one another learn would also help greatly.
Valuable Life Skills
It has always seemed strange to me, even when I was a young student myself, that we should put our children in age-segregated groups for all of their early, formative years, to prepare them for a life where that will never happen again. It has also seemed strange to expect them to learn to grow in the virtues of self-control, self-direction, and unselfishness, all very important adult virtues, when they are in a situation day by day that doesn’t provide practice for those virtues.
This is not to say that they never have an opportunity to practice them, but the situation as it is set up is not conducive to those particular virtues. Take self-control, for example. Many former homeschooling mothers have said that their children who threw themselves on the floor when unhappy at home didn’t do that in a school situation. I am sure that is true. But I am not convinced that the child who today is throwing himself on the floor in my living room tomorrow has acquired the virtue of self-control by the magic process of walking into a classroom full of people. Virtue is a habit of right action acquired by repeated right actions. It takes time, and it has to be done for the right reason, or it is not the right action. What happens to the student in the classroom is that his desire for human respect keeps him from throwing himself on the floor, not the virtue of self-control. He develops the habit of acting out of human respect, of doing what is expected of him in a group, rather than doing what he should do because of the circumstances. I am not saying that we should never care what others around us think. But I am saying that we should not mistake a desire for human respect for the virtue of self-control. And I do think that we live in a time when we can’t just do what those around us expect.
When I first started going to homeschool conferences, Father John Hardon was still alive. He was at many of the same conferences I went to, and I heard him speak on numerous occasions. He had a favorite phrase: “Only heroic Catholics will survive.” To be perfectly honest, it scared me. I do not consider myself an heroic Catholic and I do want to survive.
Then, later on, I went to another conference, one hosted by PRI. Fr. Fessio was speaking there, and he was talking about the advantages of homeschooling. One of the big advantages he saw was that homeschoolers are, by the very fact that they are homeschooling, different. He said that, to be Catholic in today’s world, one has to be different, and homeschoolers are already used to that. Then I understood what Fr. Hardon had been saying.
We are social by nature. We want to fit in. God made us that way, and for good reason. We need to be able to get along in various communities, and wanting to fit into the community facilitates that. Being different is hard for us. But today we have to be different, because the social culture in the time we have been born into is opposed to the values we espouse as Catholics. We really do have to see ourselves as citizens of the heavenly city, on a journey home, that takes us through hostile territories. This is heroic, because it is beyond our nature. Fr. Hardon was telling us that, to survive as Catholics today, we have to be willing to be different, to stand out, and that is heroic, because it is beyond nature.
For this reason, the homeschooled child has a tremendous advantage in terms of right order. He learns to do what he does because it is the right thing to do, not because it is what is expected by those around him. In the particular example I gave, he learns not to throw himself on the ground because that is better, not because of a fear of what others will say. In general, he doesn’t develop the peer-dependence that is fostered in a traditional school situation. Schools must intentionally consider this problem and think about how to foster independence, letting students specialize, for example, and then teach what they know to others who are interested.
This independence natural to homeschooling is important in other ways, as well. The homeschooled child is more likely to be self-directed. Since he is not peer-dependent, he is better able to think about courses of action on their own merits, rather than in terms of what everyone else is doing. This is a significant advantage in developing leadership skills. Further, in a traditional school situation, the student is, of necessity, used to being told what to do when. He is part of a group and has to do what the group does. He is schooled in working as a part of a directed group, rather than as an independent problem solver. Even in terms of his intellectual life, he is used to passively receiving information from the teacher, rather than finding it for himself, as my friend’s son, George, attested. All of these habits learned in school work against self-direction and independent thinking, while the homeschooled situation directly encourages them. This is an eternal advantage, especially in today’s culture. The flipped classroom, discussed earlier, which includes more independent study ordered to the common good, one-on-one interactions worked into the school day, and more input from the students regarding when and what to study (within acceptable limits), would help traditional schools achieve results more like these.
The external direction found in traditional schools has another corollary, one that I found initially surprising. Homeschooling encourages the virtue of unselfishness in a way that is difficult to attain in a traditional school setting. One might think that with more people around one would have more opportunity and inclination to think of others before oneself. But the fact that in a traditional school the student has to think all the time about his work and his deadlines and his activities, and he has to adjust everything else in his life to do so, means that he is the center of his world, and everyone else’s needs have to take second place. This is a particular problem for the adolescent, who is already inclined to be thinking about himself almost exclusively. Every family that I know who has put children in school after homeschooling is struck with the toll homework and school activities take on family-centered time, and family chores. The student often goes from being an integral and productive member of the family team to being a ‘guest’ boarder. Schools should avoid excessive homework, allowing the student to have real family-centered time when he is home.
That fact further encourages what the peer-dependence already creates an inclination toward, namely, a ‘them and us’ attitude. The truth is that parents and adults intend the good of their children and students. Rules are created to help make those under the rule happy, or at least good rules are. Good rulers rule for the sake of those under them. Students should not be afraid of talking to teachers about something going on that shouldn’t be, or regard it as being a ‘tattle tale’. We are all on the same side. Yet I am afraid the traditional school situation encourages the opposite mentality.
One of my students in MODG decided to try out a little, good, Catholic school one year. She lasted about a month before she was home again. She had many ‘stories’ to tell about her experience, but one really stuck with me. She said that on one particular day she joined the lunch table group where everyone was eating their sack lunches (no doubt prepared by, or at least furnished by, their mothers). The group conversation was a general discussion about why the children didn’t like their mothers. This little girl was nonplussed, and uncomfortable. The conversation moved around the table, each student contributing her story about her ‘weird’ mother. When it was this child’s turn, she said, “I like my mother.” She was never regarded, from that point on, as one of the group. One way schools can address this problem is to truly and systematically teach students that authority is always practiced for the sake of those under authority. In my curriculum that message is delivered on multiple levels, in multiple classes. I recommend that both the theory and the practice be available to students.
This ‘them and us’ attitude poses a problem in another way. It doesn’t prepare the children for family life. Most people’s earthly happiness depends on a happy home life. It’s a funny thing to send children out of the house for most of their waking hours for most of their formative years and expect that they will learn the virtues that help them live well in a family.
This is another of the chief joys of homeschooling. The time together allows parents and children to build a relationship that is very hard to build when the child is gone for most of his waking hours most of his days. I enjoyed my children, and I am so glad I had that time with them. They are all grown up now, and most of them are raising their own families. But we are all close and we have been able to weather real difficulties in life because of our relationships. This, too, is an eternal advantage, because we need all the help we can get in rightly addressing the troubles that will come our way in this life. Schools have to be aware of ways to foster the family relationships. One thing I have always thought helpful is to offer classes for parents (I know not many will come, but some will) that teach the material of the curriculum, and enable the parents to work with the school as part of the team.
Family Life Skills
A family is a good place to learn how to live in a community. In a family, a child is surrounded by love, which breeds confidence. He sees the importance of his contributions, because his contributions make it possible for the daily life of the family to continue. And he learns that working out one’s differences is possible and important. I have often thought that sending a child to school because of disagreements at home, which is frequently why parents decide to send a homeschooled child to school, teaches him not to expect to work out disagreements. He learns that the way to deal with controversies within the family is to leave the family. Everyone experiences a certain amount of conflict with those closest to him. Successful socialization teaches us how to deal with such conflicts. I’m convinced that this is better taught at home. The rightly-socialized, well-adjusted child who has learned how to live happily in a family has a significant head start on a happy, well-ordered way of life. Such a life is a real advantage in pursuing eternity rightly. With homeschooling this is easier, but all families need to teach ‘conflict resolution’, which ends in acknowledgement of error and forgiveness. This is much easier if it is taught early on.
Another note, born of experience: if you want your children to share your values, you need to see them as your friends. You need to spend enjoyable time with them. You are the mother, and the one in charge, but yours is a joyful monarchy. Obedience is no good unless you have their hearts. Homeschooling gives you the time and occasion to nurture your friendship with your children, to truly gain their hearts. But all parents must take advantage of time together to build up their relationship with their children. If you children are in school, after school hours and weekends are precious. Use them.
A Relationship with God
The third and most important advantage of homeschooling is that it is an effective way, perhaps the most effective way, to form our children according to the mind of Christ. What a joy it is to participate in this work! Christ is the Word made flesh, and it is primarily through words, spoken words, that the faith is passed on to the next generation. In homeschooling, one has the opportunity to speak, in season and out of season, of the reason for the hope which is in us.
My experience is that the best quality time with one’s children occurs in the context of quantity time. You can’t actually schedule those important conversations, especially about the moral questions that come up in life; they come up in a particular context and that is the time to talk about them. The message sent by the busy mom whose life is her children, who has real and significant daily ‘quantity’ time with her children, and then stops everything to have that important conversation when needed is blindingly clear. This matters and matters so much everything else gives way to the discussion. That is real quality time.
I remember when my children were young and learning family social skills, I spent quite a bit of time saying to one or another of them, “Honey, is that what Jesus wants you to say?” or, before they understood what Mass was, “We are going to go to daily Mass because it is the most important thing we can do with our day.” I could monitor the conversation and actions of the children throughout the day, day by day. This is such a help in the formation of good habits, and provides the immediate explanation of faith formation questions as they arise. No teacher, however good she is personally, can have the same oversight, and in most cases the teacher doesn’t see her role in the light of religious formation. The Catholic homeschooling mother sees that to be her primary job, and she works at it all the time. This was one of the features of homeschooling I valued most. I liked being intimately and immediately aware of what was on my children’s minds, so that I could work on their formation as they needed it. I could talk to them when the situation that needed conversation arose. A good Catholic school will make sure the teachers view their role in a similar way; they are vigilant about monitoring the children’s actions and conversations in this regard. All things must be ordered to conformity with Christ. When that happens at home and is reinforced in school, the home and school are working in complementarity, which is what they are supposed to do.
In any educational setting, our participation in Mass, the sacraments, the Rosary, Holy Hours, and good works, are necessary to the passing on of the faith. This is much easier for the homeschooling mother because she is in charge of the schedule. I remember the hectic days we had when my children were in a brick and mortar school. Our schedule revolved around the school schedule. We couldn’t go to daily Mass, and getting in the Rosary was not easy. Holy Hours would have cut into homework time, or bedtime. Even if the Mass times had been convenient, and we had been organized enough to get in Rosary around driving time, homework, and school activities, the simple fact that I wasn’t in charge of the schedule, and we didn’t do these things regularly, affected the children’s attitude.
When we went to Mass infrequently and said the Rosary erratically, the children saw them as impositions. They complained about losing the time it took to go to Mass, or kneel in the living room for prayer. When we started homeschooling, and I was in charge of the schedule, I could make sure we got to daily Mass, and said the Rosary regularly. They became an expected part of the day. Even as adults, almost all of my children continue to go to daily Mass, and those that don’t (because of small children or their daily work schedule) go frequently, even if not daily. They all continue to see Mass as the most important thing one can do in his day.
To cultivate this attitude is a huge, eternal advantage for every child and for the whole family. When we homeschool, we have multiple opportunities to have our children share in the practice of our faith. We can truly have a faith community in our families, and give our children opportunities to develop a strong relationship with God. But all families and all schools should work on this awareness, making time for a relationship with God. We all know that you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The fact, however, is that in most cases, if you take a thirsty horse to water, he will drink. All men, and certainly our children, “thirst for the living God”. If we take them to the Lord, they will drink. What could be more helpful to an eternal outlook than that?
All of us will encounter times in our lives when a close relationship with God is the only thing that will carry us through. Recently, I was thinking about situations among my friends; I had two who were caring for children with cancer, one whose husband had cancer, several who were suffering serious financial distress, and some worse situations. These women all turned to God, Who is their strength. They were and are able to cope, rather than despair, because their best friend is He who can do all things, including giving them the peace and grace and vision of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to nurture in our children this understanding so that, when they need His strength, they will be calling on a friend they already know and love. Homeschooling provides this formation opportunity.
We have to see that it is persons, not things, which have the greatest innate and permanent value. Since that is the case, the formation of the soul must be the greatest work that can be done. A soul well-formed, and living according to that formation, will see God face to face. Nothing could be more important. All of us who are teachers have to constantly recall that this is the work we are engaged in, and all of us who are parents, and thus have the primary responsibility for the formation of our children, need to keep our eyes focused on God, and give ourselves to the work of leading our children to Him.