When we started homeschooling our children, it was largely for family reasons. My older children briefly attended a Catholic school, but we found that the school schedule consumed almost every hour of the day. My fourth child had to spend some time in the hospital after birth and was a high-needs infant, and it was very difficult to be an involved school mom for the older ones as well as a nurturing mom for the little one. Homeschooling came to seem like a way of centering our family again, and indeed, that turned out to be the case.
As a beginning homeschooler, I felt very inexperienced and anxious about my ability to educate my children. I remember kneeling in front of our home altar and begging Our Blessed Mother to be the heart of our home and to make up for my inevitable lapses, and to give me her motherly counsel and wisdom. Many times, I have been grateful for her intercession. There were struggles, but in the context of our growth in faith the struggles have helped us, in our late Pope’s words, “Become who we are” as a family.
It was family reasons, as well, that brought us to Kolbe Academy about a year after we started homeschooling. We found the scope and sequence reflected what we would want for our children, particularly the integrated great books courses in the high school years. Also, the philosophy about the sovereignty of the family spoke to our beliefs. Pope Paul IV spoke for the Church on this: “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.” The principle that the parents are the primary educators and that the school’s role is to support their efforts rather than displace them has been very influential in the way we have brought up our children.
The Holy Family is the role model for all families. Our Lord grew to adulthood within His Family, and His first public act in His teaching mission was to do a favor for His mother, in support of a newlywed couple, when He changed water into wine at their wedding. His childhood in a loving, responsive home environment was an example of the conditions under which all children best thrive and “grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
It is increasingly understood by psychologists of modern times that the sense of trust and safety and concern for others that grows naturally in a family relationship is nearly irreplaceable. This echoes what the Church has always taught. Furthermore, without this inbuilt sense of trust, safety, and commitment, it is almost impossible to learn effectively. A human being’s hunger for attachment and security is almost as fundamental as the desire for food, water and sleep. In some ways more so, since children deprived of opportunities to attach to a caretaker (for example, in orphanages or hospitals) often fail to thrive and sometimes literally starve for lack of emotional contact.
Our society ignores this truth by sending children out to educational institutions at increasingly young ages. This is perhaps part of the reason that homeschooled children tend to do quite well academically, socially and morally in comparison to their peers in public schools, even though their education is usually much less expensive and time-consuming. When public schooling is successful, it is usually when the family ties are strong and solid or where the children have found a replacement parent figure to become attached to.
Homeschooling families have time and opportunity to build strong family relationships, which is the main factor in academic success whether a child is homeschooled or not. Praying, working, talking, eating, and reading together are all ways to build close ties. Playing games, going places together, or learning about a new subject are also relationship builders. These things are a large part of our homeschooling foundation, and worth the time and effort spent. The formal academics are like the visible tip of the iceberg; but a lot of what goes on in the daily life of a family is like the mostly invisible bulk of the iceberg which stabilizes and raises up the visible part.
One very valuable thing to do as a Catholic homeschooling family is the annual home retreat. Praying and reflecting on your family’s unique charisms, purpose and mission can help you see, through God’s grace, what has helped strengthen your family in the past and where you are going in the future. Pray to invoke the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit when you and your children were confirmed, and pray to better employ the unique graces of your matrimonial sacrament. Ask for the Holy Family’s intercession for your family. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all the rest will be added unto you.” This Scripture applies to education, as well.