This is the fifth in a series of columns on the importance of giving all Catholic kids a Catholic education. (Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four.) The idea of home schooling, while not unheard of these days, still causes many people to squint their eyes, give a puzzled look, and ask, "Why? What's the point of reinventing the wheel?" For Catholic parents, the point is actually quite simple. It is to acknowledge that instructing our children in the ways of the faith is just as important as instructing them in reading, writing, and arithmetic. By freeing families from school-imposed schedules, home schooling makes it easier for us parents to give our children the heart, hand, and head knowledge we want them to have about the Catholic faith as well as to dive into the traditional school subjects.
If education itself is like a glorious, full-color picture book, then homeschooling, for our family, has been like a pop-up version of that book. History springs to life as we read about it in our textbook, and then go visit where it took place. Science projects leap off poster boards and become fully animated adventures to beaches, swamps, labs, and museums. Like the shapes and colors of a Monet painting, school subjects, family vacations, holy days, and even different grade levels, merge together to produce an integrated lifestyle of learning. The best byproduct of homeschooling by far, however, is the very special sibling bond that our kids share, having spent so much of their childhoods together.
One thing that surprises most people is that there is no single correct way to home school. There are, in fact, many different philosophies and methodologies from which to choose.
Here are four important questions to answer as we investigate home schooling.
First, for what purpose and during what time frame do we want to homeschool? The curricula we choose, the support groups with which we get involved, and even the space that we convert in our homes for school use will depend on how big of a commitment is being made in time, number of kids/students, and grade levels.
Second, are we prepared as parents to take on the task? Of all the school options, this one is going to require the largest investment of parental time, energy, and space in our homes. Especially if giving our children a Catholic education is one of the reasons we choose to home school, we have to be willing to re-educate ourselves in areas of spiritual, catechetical, or theological weakness. The same willingness applies to areas of intellectual weakness. Fortunately, this is not hard to do. Weekend-long home schooling conferences with speakers, workshops, and curricula galore are available all over the country. Cooperative classes, support groups, and opportunities for field trips abound in many regions of the country.
Third, how much will home schooling cost? Every family will be different, but home schooling costs us around $1,000 per kid per year. On the other end of the scale, a friend in our home school group spends about $15,000 per kid per year, so that her children can attend intense music programs in Boston.
Lastly, "What about socialization?" It is the question asked most often about home schooling, but it is really based on the false idea that socialization only takes place in a classroom of children of the same age. It does not. Socialization actually happens best in a stable environment where a child knows he or she is loved, safe, and has the chance to interact with people of diverse ages and abilities. Still, some people just can't envision school without buses, desks, and recess. We found it best to explain our schooling choice by making simple, positive statements about why we were home schooling, and to refrain from negative statements or arguments about why we were not sending those particular children at that particular time to any other particular school.
If you're a parent considering home schooling, there are many home schooling curricula that I would encourage you to consult. One is the Mother of Divine Grace home schooling program, an excellent review of which is found here. Others include the Seton Home Schooling program, Catholic Heritage Curricula, and Regina Coeli.
Next time, we will take a look at ways to ensure that a child's faith formation is not left at the schoolhouse door while attending a non-Catholic high school.