“A child will always learn best when he has a teacher who loves him.”
It sounds a bit romantic, perhaps bringing to mind pretty children in lacy pajamas, staring into their father’s eyes as he reads poetry from a rocking chair. Nevertheless, this adage is true. While our concept of love may need tweaking, it is still the one ingredient necessary to teach a child. And that is where a parent’s victory lies.
These past two years of COVID chaos and uncertainty have turned many people’s lives upside down. On top of the loss of jobs, freedoms, and security, people have been left making tough choices about their children’s health and education.
For a time, “distance learning” – homeschooling, of a sort, was forced upon many.
When schools opened again, the question became not where or how to homeschool but why continue homeschooling. The classrooms were open for business, and the kids were happy to see their friends again.
Some families quickly put their kids back, while others discovered that homeschooling was a surprise blessing here to stay. They realized that teaching their children didn’t need to be a burden. They felt that they started to know their children again.
But many of those who chose to put their kids back into school have been faced, once again, with a dilemma. Many schools have continued mandating masks, vaccines, and social distancing.
I’ve always believed that compromising on important things, especially when it comes to our children, is, inevitably, a regrettable choice. If your child cannot thrive in his school, masked for a seven-hour day, excluded from sports or music because you’ve chosen to hold off on shots, then I’m writing this column for you.
I’ve homeschooled my six children from the beginning, seventeen years ago. I had the time to discern the decision, to prepare, to pick the minds of people I trusted who had gone before me. That isn’t the situation for everyone. And so, I write this with the hopes of encouraging you and, in humility, reminding you of a few important things.
The first thing I would remind you of is this: for good, or for bad, you have already been homeschooling your children since the moment they took their first breath. Every conversation, movie, joke, prayer, story, vacation, each argument has been homeschooling.
A second important thing is that educating your child is actually your vocation as a Catholic parent. Wherever they learn arithmetic and grammar, it is Catholic teaching that we are the primary educators of our children. That means that you were meant to be teaching your child, and so, God’s grace is with us as we tread the terrifying path of forming little hearts and minds. This is a part of our vocation.
I have learned that most children will inevitably learn to read, divide fractions, and memorize capital cities. But not every child learns to pray from the heart, hears a wonderful story from the lips of their father or memorizes a beautiful poem and recites it aloud. Most children will finger paint and glue stuff, but not all will look at beautiful works of art with their mother and talk about the history of those times and peoples.
Many go to church, but not every child learns to pray, or reads the lives of the saints, and discusses the meaning of truth, goodness, and beauty with someone who cares.
I’ve found I do best when I make my days intentional, when I enjoy preparing for the day. Because I have followed classical Catholic curriculum I trust, my children are learning their grammar, arithmetic, and science concepts. But the reason I trust our curriculum is because it works not just to have a child memorize a group of facts but to teach a child the art of learning.
I know many of you might have your children doing their studies online. If not—actually, even if so—I highly recommend the book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist and perusing the lists of books on the TAN Books website. There are hundreds of worthy homeschooling books.
From the little wisdom I have gained over these past years, I offer these suggestions:
- Start your day with prayer. Trust me, you need it. If it isn’t something your family has done before, start simply and briefly. Prayer is your foundation.
- If your child struggles with a subject, slow it down, and do everything you can to find some way to make them succeed. Every child thinks and learns differently and in a different time. But if they have “failed” at something in their school career, now is the time for them to succeed in some small way. Every success builds their confidence and the belief that they will succeed again.
- Let your child teach you something. After they have been tested, let them test you. My children always laugh to see that I am in the same boat as they are. They also seem to remember so much more when competing with a parent.
- Balance drudgery with fun. Homeschooling is really not all pajamas and science experiments, but some of it can be! I would not have gotten anywhere in homeschooling without order and stability in our schoolwork, but that includes knowing when it’s time to make a mess, go for a nature walk, or make something explode.
- Dare a little romantic love. Put your child on your lap and read a poem while they draw a picture about it. The mind opens when it is offered beautiful things. I have heard it said that it is more important that a young child has good literature read to them than that they learn to read themselves “on time.” I’ve also heard it said that it’s more important for a child to hear beautiful music than to play it. You may not be able to teach your child the recorder (you actually can), but you certainly can play Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals and read The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Many of my children will say that history is one of their favorite subjects. I believe that is because our curriculum uses the text as a supplement and historical novels as the fodder.
- Find good movies to watch with your teens. Explore different cultures, moral dilemmas, and historical events. Don’t make them write an essay about it; just talk about it with them.
- If you, like me when I started, know nothing about classical education, at the very least investigate the different stages of learning. You may be surprised to discover what stage your child is in and the different things you can do to take the most advantage of it.
- In order to survive, you must work as a team to keep the house in some kind of order. Make a chart or list, and expect everyone to do their part.
- Get outside and savor the air and sunshine together. Our isolation may feel like a prison, but in many ways, we have now been freed in a way that allows us to connect with our children, who are often pulled away from us by the world.
These years with your children are a gift given to you. In no way does that gift exclude stress, exhaustion, doubts, and days when you feel like running away. Those things are usually included in most acts of real love, I think.
It is a humbling thing to ask your child to forgive you for impatience, and I have had to do it many times. It is good for children to experience the forgiving, and it helps them to trust they will be forgiven.
Saint Benedict wrote, “Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.”
Most certainly, the education of our children is a good work, deserving of appeals made to God for grace, for patience, and for peace. To all of you who have suddenly found the job of your children’s education placed soundly in your laps, I say, “You can do this! You are able, you are strong, and you are equipped! Go forth, and raise your little saints.”
Resources I have appreciated:
- TAN Academy Curriculum, an excellent resource from TAN Books.
- Professor Noggin’s card games (every topic imaginable)
- Dutch Blitz, Cribbage, Rummy. Play card games and let your kids keep score.
- Mary Fabyan Windeatt novels of saints, available from TAN Books.
- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
- Child-sized Masterpieces (art appreciation cards)
- Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb