My oldest daughter is entering second grade this year, and we will be continuing to homeschool her. (We also homeschooled her for kindergarten and first grade.) This year I will also be homeschooling my second daughter (who will be in kindergarten) and my baby daughter will also be along for the ride.
Every year, I try to attend a couple of the local homeschool conferences. Typically, one of them is more Catholic leaning and one is more Protestant leaning (not anti-Catholic, just heavy on the Protestant emphasis). In attending these conferences over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of fellow homeschooling parents, and I’ve sat through a lot of homeschool talks. One thing that I’ve taken away is that people choose to homeschool for a lot of different reasons. Some are doing it for purely academic reasons, some for religious reasons, others for the flexible lifestyle homeschooling affords, and others choose to homeschool out of fear. Many parents are afraid of the mainstream culture these days, and worried about the ways that this culture might confuse or corrupt their children.
Our family does not homeschool from a place of fear (although I’ll admit that it is nice to be a part of a wonderful Catholic homeschooling community of families that have similar values). We homeschool for academic reasons (we especially love the Classical model of education), for the flexible and relaxed lifestyle (one that even allows us to visit my husband at work and be a part of the formation of future priests), and for the opportunity to seek truth, goodness, and beauty in a more relaxed atmosphere.
This is not to say that truth, goodness, and beauty can’t be found in Catholic or public schools. I attended both Catholic and public schools growing up and I found all three in those places. However, the school schedule is a busier, fuller one, and with homeschooling we are free to pursue those at a more leisurely pace.
But there’s another big reason why we homeschool – so that we can work in natural light.
When I was growing up I was an introvert (and still am) and I also had anxiety as a child. I remember looking forward to the times when my teacher would turn off the glaring overhead lights (usually to use the overhead projector) and the room would just be lit by sunlight. The room would instantly feel more peaceful. I would always be happy when my desk was placed by a window, and I could watch the world going about its business. I craved recess, when I could find a quiet moment to sit under a tree or walk around or run in the fresh air. I wanted, desperately, to have some peace and quiet in my day.
Practically speaking, this doesn’t work in most schools. When you have many children to teach, it takes longer to teach them, and you don’t have the free time to spend outside or to spend in quiet. Most modern-day schools are also designed to not be lit solely by natural light. And in a building packed full of small children, silence and solitude is in short supply.
I have three small children, so I’m not going to pretend that our house is quiet. However, when one of my daughters is feeling overwhelmed, there are cozy little nooks throughout the house where she can retreat and recharge. We have a lovely backyard where our daughters can go and explore or play. And our house is old enough that it was designed to let in lots of natural light and air. My second grader’s favorite spot in the house is her little desk tucked into a nook in our playroom, right beneath a big window that lets in lots of sunshine and fresh air.
But why would that matter? Those sorts of things aren’t requisite to an adequate education. Children will learn wherever they’re planted, and there are wonderful teachers in most schools. So why am I so worried about peace, quiet, natural light, and fresh air?
Here’s where St. Therese comes in.
St. Therese of Lisieux was the youngest of five surviving daughters in the Martin family. Her sisters all went to a lovely little Catholic school and did just fine. Therese, however, was easily stressed and overwhelmed by that school environment. She was misunderstood by the other little girls, and she craved peace and quiet. Louis (her dad) made the decision to have her come home and be tutored there. It was a much better fit for that anxious young saint. She thrived at home.
My children do not have clinical anxiety as I did as a child. But they still benefit from peace. They still thrive in sunshine and space and time to play. Our family is still less stressed with the flexible schedule homeschooling allows.
Like Therese, I remember craving quiet as a child. I remember longing for beauty and peace. I think all children long for that, to some degree. We all do.
My job as a parent is to discern the best place for my children to find that. I think the answer to that will change, from year to year. Our family is not opposed to traditional school, and we are not committed to homeschooling indefinitely. But right now, I find myself thinking of St. Therese. I think of the time and space she had in that time when she was homeschooled. I find myself wondering if that time – time to sit in silence, time to wander in her family’s garden, and the freedom to be herself without judgement – helped her to discern her vocation with clarity.
I think that vocations can be discerned in Catholic schools and public schools. For many families, homeschooling isn’t realistic. Not every family is called to it. But for our family, homeschooling is giving us the chance to immerse our children in a beautiful environment, where they are free to seek truth, goodness, and beauty. They seek truth each day, through many informal conversations about their faith and through family prayer times. They also seek truth through reading wonderful children’s books, books whose stories capture their little hearts and imaginations. They even seek truth through their math work sheets and nature study. They seek goodness through the gentle and endless moral formation of family life. And they seek beauty constantly. They seek beauty when they are outside climbing their favorite tree. They seek beauty when they are practicing a musical instrument with their dad. They seek beauty as they play or flip through favorite books or look at beautiful art and icons.
But why does that even matter? In truth, goodness, and beauty, we are led to God. In silence and in peace, it becomes easier to hear God’s still, small voice in our hearts.
Of course, St. Therese’s sisters weren’t homeschooled. It was the best fit for her, but not for them. In this sense (and many others) I think that the Martin family is a good model for other Catholic families. The saints are typically not extremists, but those who seek the narrow middle way. The Martins discerned what each of their daughters needed, and they responded to those needs with love.
This is what we’re called to as Catholic parents. We are called to discern our children’s needs with love. Whether that discernment leads us to homeschooling, a public school, or a Catholic school matters less than that we bring that discernment to prayer. Although this is what our family has discerned for right now, I also find such comfort in St. Therese and her family, and in the knowledge that any method of schooling can produce saints, if God is invited into the process.