Homeschooling, defined as “parent-led, home-based education” is the fastest growing form of education, now bordering on the mainstream in the United States. [i] According to National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) , in 2010 more than 2. 04 million students were homeschooled in the United States, and homeschooling has grown by seven percent in the last three years[ii]. 2010 statistics specifically pertaining to Catholic homeschooling are not available but if one figures that Catholics make up 23.9 percent of population[iii] it is easy to extrapolate, at least anecdotally, that Catholics make up a significant number of growing homeschoolers. In fact, Catholic Homeschooling, an informational academic internet site states, “At present, the number of students receiving a Catholic home education is estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000…this estimate is derived from the number of total homeschoolers in the country and the number of students enrolled in the Catholic home study programs.”[iv] Further, the website claims that the number of all homeschooled students almost matches the number of students in Catholic schools in the U.S.
Why? Why are Catholic parents choosing to homeschool? In gathering stories for Stories for the Homeschool Heart[v], a book I co-authored with Patti Maguire Armstrong, we found a number of reasons why Catholic parents choose to homeschool. Some parents cite their local parochial schools being too expensive or not satisfactory enough to justify the cost. The parents claim that the schools in their area lack solid catechesis and have become “too secular” or too indistinctive from public schools. Others, unable to afford Catholic school, say they worry for their child’s safety in a public school, while still others opt for homeschooling because of the academic benefits of one-on-one learning, evidence of higher test scores of homeschooled students over public schooled students and parental control over curriculum. While appreciating the role of professional teachers and the difficulties they encounter in today’s school system, still other parents simply do not believe in putting a five year old in an institutional setting and feel that the peer influence at that age as well as time away from the nuclear family is almost always negative. Certainly, safety in the schools, ability to teach the Faith at home and instill moral values, and believing they can provide a superior academic education to that being offered locally are compelling reasons that parents decide to homeschool. But during the collection of stories, while talking to scores of Catholic homeschool parents, Patti and I found time and time again that there was something more that was driving parents to begin to educate their children at home. Our anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of Catholic homeschool parents choose to homeschool quite simply because they feel God is calling them to do so. They report that they crave a rich sacramental, familial life and determine this can best be integrated with academics through home education.
The late Father John Hardon once said, “Home schooling in the United States is the necessary concomitant of a culture in which the Church is being opposed on every level of her existence and, as a consequence, given the widespread secularization in our country, home schooling is not only valuable or useful but it is absolutely necessary for the survival of the Catholic church in our country.”[vi] These are strong words for sure, but many homeschoolers feel the same way. While homeschooling may not be for everyone, and certainly God may call different families to different modes of education (possibly based on the ultimate mission of each individual soul) homeschooling can be a viable education option. Further, it is easy to see how Catholic homeschooling, with its directed focus and parents dedicated to intensive religious instruction and character formation, can contribute to the renewal of the Church in these tumultuous societal times.
How do homeschoolers homeschool?
Asking “how do homeschoolers homeschool?” is like asking “how do families eat dinner” or “how do families teach values?” Each family is different and develops its own style of homeschooling. Some families purchase an entire curriculum from a provider such as Seton Home Study[vii] , an accredited school and curriculum provider, or work with one of a myriad of other Catholic homeschool curriculum providers such as Mother of Divine Grace[viii], Angelicum [ix], Kolbe Academy[x] , Our Lady of the Rosary[xi] , Catholic Heritage Curricula[xii] or others. They may set up a classroom in an extra bedroom, room over the garage or in the basement. Or they may do school over a kitchen or dining room table. Some families take school “on the road” as opportunities arise. Families may begin and end school in a similar way to traditional school, beginning each day formally with the Pledge of Allegiance and particular prayers such as the rosary or Mass. Some select family ‘uniforms’ to help children focus on the work at hand.
Other families homeschool in a more relaxed way. They may vary the room in which they school. Children may start school even before they eat breakfast, while still in their pajamas. Parents may design their own curriculum around each child’s particular needs and abilities. They may use textbooks, original works, and/or interactive internet material such as Ignatius Press’s Faith and Family religion series online[xiii] Teaching Textbooks[xiv] for math or Institute for Excellence in Writing[xv] for language arts. Some buy new curriculum every year. Others pass down books from child to child. Still others trade with other homeschool families. Finally, some parents “unschool”, which can be defined as “as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning”[xvi] .
Despite the mode of home education chosen, all Catholic parents with whom we spoke report a deep love for their children and a fundamental driving concern for their child’s eternal soul. They report an understanding of their role as “primary and principal educators”, and take seriously and literally that “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring.” (Pope Paul VI)[xvii] . Since homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, although regulated more or less in some areas, Catholic homeschooling parents report feeling compelled to teach their own.
How do homeschoolers find support?
Catholic homeschool groups exist in every state of the United States.[xviii] With the rapid growth of homeschooling over the last ten years, most decently populated areas have some homeschool groups available. Homeschooling parents are an innovative bunch. If they can’t find resources they often make them. Sometimes, homeschoolers band together and barter services. If a member of the group includes a mom who was an engineer before she had children and another mom has extensive knowledge of the French language, they may trade services with each other. Sometimes they hire an outside expert to help them with particularly tricky subjects such as Latin or calculus. Homeschoolers also take advantage of resources in the community. They form clubs, organize field trips, plan lessons around local museum exhibits, visit art galleries and historical places. They travel together to see ballets or science demonstrations. Some homeschooled high school students, like their traditionally schooled counterparts, take classes at the community college, hold part-time jobs, volunteer and help in the family business or start their own. They are often quite active in their local parishes, being dependable altar servers, and participating in choirs. They may dance in ballet studios, take gymnastics classes at the YMCA, or participate in homeschool sports teams or music ensembles. Most homeschooling parents have no difficulty finding support not only in the local Catholic group but also in these sub-groups. Finally, with the ease of internet access, Catholic homeschooling Yahoo groups and message boards have popped up everywhere. Parents need only access to the computer to find the information and support they need.
Should you homeschool?
There are many factors that should be taken into consideration when determining whether you should homeschool. Among them include asking yourself the following questions
-Am I willing to spend a significant time in planning, implementing and evaluating curriculum for my child? Can I truly put other activities aside for this primary purpose? Every day? For 180 days of the year? Homeschooling cannot be relegated to a ‘hobby’. It must actively be pursued every week day from August or September until May or June, every year.
-Do I have access to the resources I need? Can I provide a well rounded curriculum for my child that will meet his/her unique educational needs? Excellent curriculum providers abound, but you the parent must research to find the right fit and grade level for your child. You must be willing to adjust and change as your child’s needs change. You must be willing to research options for him, particularly as he gets older, has greater educational needs and is looking at taking the SAT, going to college, etc.
-Do I have a basic understanding of my Catholic faith or at least a willingness to learn with my child? Many parents who embark on Catholic homeschooling do not know their faith as well as they would like, but find excellent materials and pursue knowledge together with their child, often taking advantage of resources at their parish and in their diocese.
-Do I have the support of my spouse? Some husbands take an active role in homeschooling, teaching a class in their area of expertise, often math or science. Other fathers’ primary role is one of principal and athletic or music director. In other families yet, fathers provide moral support for the wife and children, but are unable to teach or manage. A situation in which a spouse actively opposes homeschooling, however, is a red flag that successful homeschooling may not be possible. Spouses should be in agreement as much as possible as to the mode of their child’s education in order for any choice to be successful.
-Do I know and understand the laws of my state pertaining to homeschooling? The Homeschool Legal Defense Association offers a summary of homeschool laws for each state.[xix] For the most up-to-date information, consult your state’s Department of Education web page.
-Will I have the support of my pastor? Does my diocese offer resources or guidelines for Catholic homeschooling in my area? Many diocesan web pages offer guidelines for homeschoolers in their jurisdiction.
-Do I realize this is not just an option for education but a lifestyle choice? Many homeschooling families share that homeschooling is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week endeavor, where real learning is interwoven into everyday life. If this does not appeal to you, homeschooling may not be the right ‘fit’ for your family.
If you answer ‘no’ to some of the questions above but still have a strong desire to homeschool, know that you are not precluded from being a successful Catholic homeschooler. It does mean that additional challenges will be yours so make sure to address them upfront before proceeding with your plans.
Many Catholic families make the choice to homeschool for one year, often making it kindergarten or they begin homeschooling when a particular school situation is not working out. Then, they simply decide year to year how they will proceed. Some families end up educating at home until high school, where they send their child to a Catholic high school. Others home school kindergarten through 12th grade. Still others only homeschool for a year or two, and then find another option opens up which fits their family’s needs. The point is, Catholic homeschooling can be a viable option—either for a year or an entire school career– for Catholic parents who believe that educating for academics and eternity works best in the family and that there is truly ‘no place like home’.
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