A big benefit of home education is the opportunity to make sensible changes or additions to the curriculum to accommodate a particular child’s learning needs. Of course, the wise homeschooling mom realizes that modification needs to be implemented to enhance the child’s overall educational experience, not simply because the child is resisting assigned work. Sometimes curriculum changes are called for when parents are unable adequately to teach the planned curriculum, or to meet a legitimate educational need, or to provide true enrichment to students’ education.
For many years, Seton lesson plans included a piece of paper—hot pink to catch parental attention—that reminded parents to “change the program to fit the child and NOT try to change the child to fit the program.” Today, the lesson plans often remind parents that they are proceeding at a pace that is appropriate for that age and grade, but that parents can feel free to accelerate or apply the brakes if necessary. Clearly, modifying a curriculum plan to suit an individual student’s talents and abilities is an essential benefit of home schooling, but just how accommodating should a wise parent be? Is there such a thing as too much customizing, and how do we know? Here are some simple ideas to help you.
My two previous columns (available in the online newsletter archive) gave a brief history of the rise, and sadly the partial decline, of Catholic education in the United States. To accomplish the goal of a Catholic education for their children, parents are increasingly turning to homeschooling, but we homeschoolers have many lessons we can learn from the Catholic educators who came before us. For Catholic homeschooling to succeed and thrive in educating future generations, it must remain authentically Catholic, unapologetically rigorous, and marked by a commitment to diligence and order.
Last month’s column was the story of how a largely poor, immigrant population built a powerhouse parish school system that provided a first-rate scholastic education. By the mid 1960s, the Catholic system reached its peak with 4.5 million elementary school pupils, and another million students in Catholic high schools.
My personal pet peeves include books and authors who present homeschooling as an always fun and sunny alternative to institutional schools. If you believe some of what is written, you might easily think that our homeschooled children are sitting at their tidy desks, in their neat school clothes, diligently hammering at the books, while begging for more challenging work. Let’s face it: sometimes the truth is not quite so pretty, making it easy to lose sight of our goals.
Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, on Catholic radio discussed the challenges facing the young men in the seminary. Vocations to the priesthood are up in Chicago, due in no small part to men from countries such as Mexico, Poland and the Philippines who come here to serve the Church in the U.S. While all the seminarians are pious and enthusiastic, the local men face special issues. The men from foreign lands grew up in observant homes in vibrant Catholic cultures, while the Chicago men grew up … well, here.
Faithful Catholic home schooling parents understand the value of our lifestyles in forming souls for eternity. Recently, however, I read a book that hints we may enjoy a real advantage here and now—living to our 90s or even 100s. In The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner shares the results of his research in four areas of the world that have a large population of centenarians: Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda CA, and Costa Rica. Some of his findings and recommendations are expected: eat less, and base your diet on mostly unprocessed, plant-based foods. Drink lots of water. Build vigorous physical activity into daily life. Other, more surprising results, point to the value of daily life in the typical Catholic home school family, and suggest that it may actually be adding years to our lives on earth.
One of the biggest perks to home education is the efficiency of the method. Think of all the time wasted in school: lining up to use the bathroom, lining up for lunch, lining up to go out for recess, and then lining up again to come in, and finally lining up to leave the classroom at the end of the day. This does not even count the time spent going to and from the school building.
At Seton we are often asked how many hours the actual schoolwork should take. The home school literature is brimming with advice on this very subject. I read once that no home schooler should spend more than three hours a day, three days a week, three weeks each month on formal schoolwork. With the possible exception of a super smart and self-motivated child in the early primary grades, that is simply not enough. On the other hand, some parents tell me that they start right after breakfast and work all the way through to suppertime. That is just too much. Like Goldilocks, we home schooling parents want to find the amount of time that is not too much, nor too little, but “just right.” Experience and common sense will show us just what that is for each child.
In the constant battle home school parents wage to keeps our students alert and motivated, we should recall that scientific evidence has demonstrated again and again that children who eat well and get lots of fresh air and regular vigorous exercise are better students in every way. They are more alert and better able to focus on their academic work and household chores. I am not sure that robust health makes children any smarter, but it does allow students to better live up to their own personal potential.