Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Faith and Good Works: How Goes Your Homeschooling?

Why is it that the best laid plans of mice and men tend to go awry? I've been "formally" homeschooling since 1990, but I've found that no educational year ever follows its predecessor's path! Unless, of course, it comes to my plans not quite working out...

When things are so "crazy" that I feel a panic attack threatening, I simply resort to the 4 R's: Religion, Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic. They may not all be accomplished in the time frame for which I planned, but they get done. For many reasons, our planned schedule is totally off-balance. So we've been settling down to the formal task of "homeschooling" inthe afternoons. Such a thing never happened before.

My usual practice all these years was to teach morning and afternoon, with a fairly lengthy lunch break. After all, who can really prepare a decent, nutritional lunch, feed a family and clean up within 1/2 hour? Too, other things tend to come up - some task of handful of tasks that must be done right now. So the 1/2 hr. lunch break doesn't work for me...not unless I'm rushing everybody to eat, eat, eat, hurry, hurry, hurry!

For now, I've given up on the idea of getting everyone in gear by 6 a.m. There was a time when I accomplished so much but now it seems that, with older children who hold part-time jobs and attend college classes, it's harder to keep the family on the same schedule. With all the morning distractions and chores, it's practically impossible to teach the youngest, much less have any serious topics covered with the high schooler.

So the mornings are taken up with chores of all kinds, breakfast, cleanup, getting an early start on dinner (thanks to the crockpot), the laundry, and so forth. That accounts for at least 3 or 4 hours of morning work time. Then it's lunch here we go again! (I still wonder how I once managed to get it all done by 11 a.m., with toddlers and babies in tow.)

At any rate, afternoon homeschooling seems to work well, at least at this point in our lives. The 4th child turned 17 yo in November, graduated in December and is now attending college on a part-time basis. The youngest, just 10 yo, is at the point where he needs constant practice in arithmetic and spelling, but that is not a real concern.

Through the years of smooth-sailing and some very stormy seas, we've learned so much, and it can be summed up thusly:

Pray, study, act!

What do those three succinct words mean? Faith, hope, charity, justice, mercy, perseverance, fortitude, piety in the form of prayer and sacrifice - all of those virtues and actions mean teaching by word and example. There are so many other things that call for our attention, there are still only so many hours in a day. That is why the Morning Offering is imperative...offer to God everything we do, no matter how small or menial it may seem. That is prayer in action.

I doubt I will ever feel that we've taught our children all that they need to know, but the truth is simple. With the grace of God (for we never would have survived without it), their father and I gave them a sound Catholic education, one in which the Catholic faith permeates the entire curriculum. God is faithful to His promises when we lovingly obey Him, so there are no worries there. Our Lady also gives many promises to those who pray her Rosary with devotion, even when we are unwillingly distracted by crying babies and wiggling little ones.

Oh, we had our ups and many downs - no doubt about it. That was not God's fault; no, those hard days were the result of the effects of Original Sin. But grace perfects nature, and we are still being perfected; and if we are faithful and persevere, so it will be until the day we are called from this life. It is consoling to know that, despite human weaknesses, the children possess a strong faith, looking to Divine Revelation and the Magisterium for what is true and beautiful and good, as well as for what must be avoided. It is good to know that they can read and write and think, so that they are independent learners. All of these things are gifts with which they can spiritually grow; the rest is up to them. It's all about asking for graces we need and then using them well (which is an act of the free will).

That's the spiritual part, which is the most important part. Then I took another cue from memories of my own childhood, remembering the days when all the grown-ups were happily busy but didn't seem to feel rushed as we parents do today. Finally, there was another real life scenario from a time that was also not-too-long ago...

Remember The Little House books? When I was a pre-teen, those books somehow comforted me. Perhaps it was because of the sorrow in our own young lives and the awful changes which the early 1970's wrought. I didn't realize it then, but there were a few important things about the Ingalls family that subconciously reminded me of our own happier days before our baby sister and then our father passed away. I was like Mary in that I am also the eldest of an all-girl family. Like Mary, I emulated our mother, quietly observed all that went on, preferred quiet play with my few play things, enjoyed reading and study and writing - but I also liked to sing and dance and could be a bit of a social butterfly. Like Mary, I also would not want to eat the only bug in the whole Dakota territory (or in our gloriously green backyard in Michigan!).

My next sister was more like Laura - she was our father's shadow, a bit of a tom-boy with a generous heart, quick to react and seemingly fearless. Then there was the beautiful and beloved baby sister, so gentle and quiet and courageous...and I remember how Mama was always busy but went about smiling, and how much we looked forward to the hours when our Daddy came home from work, and the way we learned so many of the "domesticities" of a simple and happy home life.

All these memories and thoughts pulled together in my mind and so I thought not only of the similarities of our lives but also the differences...

When they were homeschooled, the Ingalls girls would help with the morning chores, breakfast, and dinner (their lunch), and THEN settle down for an afternoon of study. Books were then cleared away and the table set for dinner; the girls helped with the "washing up" and then accomplished their final chores. Although the Ingalls family was not a Catholic one, they retained the Catholic discipline of their Scottish forebears when it came to their daily duty.

I recognize an important lesson in that story of a real life pioneer family. They were exiles, in a certain sense, separated from loved ones, doing the best they could in very difficult circumstances. Despite many cares and worries, none of them shirked or complained or whined. Each one not only did their part, but they were happy to help each other. They possessed many natural virtues, including natural charity.

We, too, can always find a way to accomplish our daily duty - and do so in way most pleasing to God. We Catholics living in exile may gain heavenly merits in a way that our non-Catholic friends cannot. How?

Before the day's rush begins, we take a moment to make our "Morning Offering" - which is also a great comfort on the days when we did not accomplish all for which we hoped! Even more than that, we offer "every thought, word, and action of this day" to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary - for the intentions of their Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. Through the sacraments and grace, good habits become supernatural virtues because they are infused with the very life of God Himself.

Such things are what make up the Mystical Body of Christ; such things are Catholic Action. By offering all we think, say, and do to Jesus through Mary, we consecrate every day of our lives to God. Through our prayers and sacrifices, we are given actual graces to carry on, gaining merits, and (hopefully) take another step toward sanctity.

Attaining sanctity is a life-long work, and it is always accomplished only through the Catholic faith and good works. Educating our children for God's sake truly is a matter of faith and good works, which always means prayer and sacrifice. You see, my dear fellow Catholics, God gives us the same message in different ways, but they all come down to the Church's mission and, therefore, ours: Pray. Study. Act.

And how goes your Catholic homeschooling?

1 comment:

  1. We are currently homeschooling our dd for 8th grade. My ds is attending an Xaverian sponsored boys high school for 9th grade which is an hour from our home (my husband's wish). This is our 6th year to homeschool.

    The high school thing is not working out so next year our ds will return home for the remainder of high school. He is 16 so he will be able to take some classes at the local Community College.

    We have just purchased a 9 acre 146 year old farm. The house is structurally sound, but needs lots of work for which we have little time (husband travels a lot) and even less money. We will be moving within the next two weeks. We are trying to rent our present home as an investment.

    With the Graces from Our Lord and His Mother next year will be a happier and holier year.