From the earliest years of the Church, the Christian family is described as the “domestic church”…created to play a specific role in God’s plan for salvation. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) also refers to the Christian home as the “domestic church”, realizing that the baptized family is the first place where the essential teachings in catechesis, prayer and morality are carried out to help in the conversion and development of growing Christians.
Today we hear of more and more families who are opting to teach their children at home, or “home-school”. The reasons for doing this vary from family to family; but for many, educating their children at home is an opportunity to bring children up in the Faith in an environment that will permit them to grow in love and to live as the Gospel teaches us to live.
When I was first asked to write about my experiences with homeschooling, I thought of presenting a perfect image of what it should be like to homeschool; where the children are all eagerly gathered around their mother, as she calmly explains to them their lessons… This of course would be the ideal image and one that I am sure most homeschooling Moms would prefer everyone to perceive. However, this would not be realistic; at least not for me or for my family. Instead, I have decided to try to be more objective and to relate here my actual experiences. It is my hope that any Mom considering homeschooling, but feeling unqualified to do so, will take courage from my story, believing that “…with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)
My husband and I were already considering homeschooling our children before our oldest son Michael was born. We had met many homeschooling families, and we admired the fact that in most of these families the daily Mass and the family Rosary took precedence in their lives. These parents also had beautiful relationships with their children and they were making of their homes veritable “domestic churches…where children receive the first proclamation of the faith…of grace and prayer… (of) virtues and (of) Christian charity.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1666.) We decided that this was what we wanted for our family as well.
After our son Michael’s fifth birthday we felt that he was ready to begin kindergarten that following September. We prepared ourselves by gathering all the required materials. He even had a small desk and a chair just his size and a “school uniform” consisting of a pair of khaki pants and a white shirt. We began with a very simple schedule; morning prayer, a short narrative of the life of the saint for the day and lessons until noon with short breaks in between. That first year went very well and we were even able to include our second eldest son, who was only a year younger than his big brother. Gaetan liked to sit and listen while Michael was reciting his lessons and we soon realized that he was picking up on everything that his older brother was learning. (This is often one of the great benefits of home schooling.) I worked with both of them, and as a result they were able to finish that first year together. Gradually, we began working with our son Eric, and then with our daughter Marie, so that by the sixth year we had ourselves our own little “one-room schoolhouse”. We would work with the more difficult subjects in the morning, and leave the easier subjects for after lunch. For the most part, our days passed well enough, even taking into consideration all the usual “busyness” of a home with many young children.
When we first began homeschooling I was putting together my own curriculum. I would purchase books on the different subjects, and/or borrow books and materials from other homeschooling families. This helped to make homeschooling very affordable, but as time went on, and as the demands became greater, we chose to go with one of the correspondence curriculums that are available to homeschooling families. (I have listed some of the popular Catholic programs at the bottom of this page.) It was important for us to have Catholic materials so we chose Seton Home Study in order that all subjects could be taught from a Catholic perspective. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Militantis Ecclesiae states that: “It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught, be permeated with Christian piety.” We found that Seton School does this so beautifully and the program has suited our family’s needs.
At one point my husband was required to change employment and it was necessary for us to relocate several times during a two-year period before finally settling into our present home. During this time we welcomed the birth of our little Aimie, and 18 months later baby Emilie. When September came around, I knew that the fact that we were homeschooling was going to present a much greater challenge. Along with our four students we now had a newborn, and a toddler who needed to be kept busy and out of trouble. Besides homeschooling, we also run our small family business from our home and there are days when the phone literally never stops ringing. Add to this the loads of laundry, cleaning, groceries, meals to prepare, doctor and dentist’s appointments… all the ordinary occupations of a large family… along with the unforeseen things: the unexpected flood in the basement, waking up to a swarm of bees in the girl’s bedroom, trips to the E.R. for a fractured wrist, stitches, broken bones... I am accustomed to distractions, but with so many interruptions our lesson time was continuously being challenged and we were now seriously falling behind. So when Matthew was born in 2001, I was tempted to doubt that homeschooling was going to continue working for us.
Someone once said to me that “homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.” This at times can appear to be very true, but Pope John Paul II in his Letter to Families tells us that: “…the family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man. Every family unit needs to make these forces their own so that… the family will be strong with the strength of God.” (February 2, 1994.) When Our Blessed Lord reprimanded the sister of Lazarus and Mary saying to her: “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things…” (Luke 10:41.) He was not really scolding Martha for complaining that she had too much to do or that Mary was not helping her; He was instead trying to point out to Martha that she was allowing her duties to distract her from Him and His message of love.
|The Jacques family: Yves and Anne Marie (center) with their children, from left to right: Marie, Matthew, Aimie, Eric, Gaetan, Emilie, Michael and his wife, Kaitlyn. They all do apostolate work for MICHAEL.|
Mother Theresa reminds us that, “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put into the doing.” Today with the many different curriculums to choose from and the endless amounts of resources made available; the task of homeschooling has been made easier and more accessible to those willing to make the commitment. As parents it is important that we strive to deepen our love for Our Lord and grow ever closer to Him and we need to ask Him every day to increase our faith, hope, and love, so that we will be able to bring Jesus to others – especially to those within our own homes – recognizing within ourselves those charisms that are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit and bestowed on each of us according to our state in life. Pope John Paul II says elsewhere in his Letter to families: “Parents are the first and the most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents.”
Therefore to teach our own children is a right and a privilege, as well as a duty. And in order for our homeschooling to be successful it is very necessary to have a strong prayer life. That is why that from the first day we began homeschooling, we have assisted at daily Mass and recited the evening Rosary and Chaplet of St. Michael with our children. Confession is also a very important Sacrament and we try to go monthly and even weekly when possible, for it is in this Sacrament that we learn to appreciate God’s great love for us and to recognize that love in every moment of our lives. Prayer is truly the secret that allows us to walk with God. He in turn guides us through each day, and will not abandon us. We learn to rely less on our own capabilities enabling us to be more aware of just how “big” our God really is. Our lives then take on a whole new meaning.
Now on those days when I feel that I still fall short, when I am unable to accomplish everything that needs to be done and we seem to fall behind in our lessons. When the dirty dishes accumulate in the sink, soiled clothes overflow from the hampers, and unplanned-for accidents or mishaps occur; I no longer feel so overwhelmed. I had not really thought about this until one day just recently when our pet Siberian Husky, Tika, came into the yard carrying the neighbor’s duck in her mouth. Quacking loudly and struggling to free herself, she was making quite a disturbance. Our whole family began running in every direction trying to catch her – and anyone who has ever owned a Husky will know that their greatest joy is to have someone running after them! Needless to say, this caused much commotion, and many hours of lost study time, but when the culprit was finally apprehended, and the duck was returned, greatly shaken but unharmed to her owner, our lessons were enriched with the addition of a great story for our creative writing class!
God has a plan for our children, and He will lead each one of them in the direction that He wants them to go. He will also supply them with everything that they need in order to fulfill His plan for each of them. He only asks for our cooperation, with the help of His Grace. Today our son Michael works in the family business and he and his wife Kaitlyn are expecting their first child in October. Gaetan is studying to become an architect at the University of Massachusetts. Eric finished a year at Ave Maria University in Florida and is taking time off to also help out in the family business. Marie is our new secretary and is taking classes at a local community college. The three youngest: Aimie, Emilie and Matthew are still being homeschooled. So as we begin to prepare for this new “school year”, I humbly thank God for all the blessings that He has bestowed on our family. Our children have a great love for God. They have all kept the Faith and they share that Faith with everyone around them. They love each other and have made us very proud. I know that if I were to do over again, I would choose again to homeschool.
May the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph watch over all families and especially those who will be homeschooling again this year, as well as those who will be only just beginning. May they become our models of holiness, gentleness and patience and may they bless each family as we work to build up our own “domestic churches… where children receive the first proclamation of the faith… of grace and prayer… (of) virtues and (of) Christian charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1666), becoming “lights” in a world of darkness for all those who have “lost their way”, and a hope for the future of the Church.
Anne Marie Jacques
Seton Home Study School
1350 Progress Drive, Front Royal, VA 22630
Tel.: 540-636-9990 (office)
540-636-1602 (fax) www.setonhome.org
Kolbe Academy Home School
1600 F Street, Napa, CA 94559
Tel.: 707-255-6499 (office)
707-255-1581 (fax) www.kolbe.org
Catholic Heritage Curricula