My five year old daughter started First Grade yesterday. We have been homeschooling for a year. Kindergarten was very relaxed because I didn’t want to force her too quickly into a rigid school routine. She was interested in starting some school at three and became very interested at four. To my delight, not so much surprise, she breezed through Kindergarten and was ready to jump into First Grade early. The reasons we homeschool are vast. Some of these reasons include: religious conviction (this is the biggest), conscience issues, intellectual rigor, immorality within the culture, and the desire to go at our daughter’s pace.
Thankfully, we live in a state where homeschooling is respected and we live in great freedom. We do homeschool under a religious exemption and I applied under Virginia state code with my local school board using a variety of quotes from Popes and other Catholic resources. The great gift of the Church’s 2000 year history! It makes finding resources easy. Our exemption was granted with no trouble at all. It is very difficult to argue conscience of homeschooling with a Catholic because the Church has made it very clear that it is the parents’ right and duty to school their children in the manner they see fit and which will lead their children to Heaven. That latter part can be something we forget at times.
Part of homeschooling is to focus on going at the child’s own natural pace. My husband and I knew from birth that our daughter is smarter than both of us combined. While this does invoke some level of pride in us, some good and some bad, having a very smart kid comes with interesting problems and times of great comic relief. There’s nothing quite like your child pointing out your errors from a very young age. In fact, yesterday I was on the phone with my husband explaining to him a situation in which I felt powerless. When I hung up the phone, my daughter said to me: “Mommy, only God has power.” I was momentarily stunned into silence and then told her she was absolutely right.
Since I am a newer homeschooling mom, I try to read a lot of different books by veteran homeschoolers. I have read books on unschooling. I have read books on classical education of which I am a fan. I have read books on discipline and the need for tight schedules. I have read books on monastic living within the domestic church and the list goes on and on. These books have been helpful to a point, but really they tend to point to the author’s individual preferences over any universal necessity or practice in homeschooling. There is a need in day-to-day living and the spiritual life to instill discipline from an early age. Even though I was in the Navy for 6 years, I still struggle with discipline. One of the real difficulties is finding books that fully apply to us. I can learn a good amount from a mother with 10 children, but her situation is drastically different from my own. Homeschooling an only child comes with great blessings and difficulties that differ greatly from a large family.
First, I do not have older children or younger children who my daughter can learn from throughout the day, weeks, months, and years. Many of these moms discuss the great gift of learning from siblings, of which I have no doubt, but at this point it is God’s will for us to have only one child and that may remain. I do not know. We are looking into adoption, but just like my fertility, these things are entirely up to God. So the gift of a large family is wholly unhelpful to me and at times is painful for me since one child was never our plan. In all honesty, It makes it hard for me to want to attend a Catholic homeschooling conference since all of the speakers seem to have 6-10 children while the rest of us with one child or small families, through no fault of our own, are not represented in the speakers. My other friends who homeschool one or two children feel the same way.
Second, since it is just my daughter and me, there are times she is going to get tired of me and there will be burn out.There will also be burn out for me. Let’s be honest, homeschooling is something we are called to and it is by the grace of God that we are successful and survive. This is precisely why I cannot express enough gratitude and extol the blessings of our local Catholic homeschool coop.
Mondays are Coop day and while it is exhausting and crazy, it allows my daughter to be in a classroom with other kids of a variety of ages–I might add. She learns from other teachers on a whole host of subjects, many of which I do not do at home. This year she is learning Art, Italian, Classroom Concepts, as well as two programs we are doing at home, Harcourt Science (I am her teacher at Coop for this) and Classical Catholic Memory (CCM). She learns from me at home four days a week: Reading, Math, Religion, Science, Spelling, Writing, Art Appreciation, and CCM (a memory program that includes Latin, Religion, History, Science, Math, Poetry, and Geography each week). Coop gives her the opportunity to spend time with friends and to communicate with a wide age range of people from 3-18, as well as adults. There are over 30 kids in our Coop. Each Monday, she spends all day with other kids and moms and we both get a break and guidance as we go through this homeschooling adventure.
This year’s journey has only just begun. She seems to enjoy learning, and because it is just the two of us, we are done for the day by lunchtime. I am sure we will hit bumps on the road frequently. There will be days she isn’t as interested or a topic is a bit of a struggle. That is when we can take our time and down shift or up shift depending on her needs. Her being ahead allows for flexibility in future years. If she hits a subject in junior high or high school that is difficult for her, then we can take two years if we need to. She will graduate at 16 based on where we are now, but homeschooling her means that we can move her back to 18 if we need to. The point is to stay at her pace, so that she can foster a life-long love of learning from a very early age rather than become frustrated by either being ahead or behind. Pray for us. Like I said, no homeschooling family would ever pretend that it is an easy road. It is deeply difficult and one completely dependent on God, but it is rewarding, and in my view, the most assured (there are no guarantees, we can only do our best and rely on God’s grace) in keeping our daughter on the path to holiness in later life.