Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Elizabeth Yank and the wisdom she brings from 27 years of homeschooling. Enjoy! -SR
“Why do we homeschool?” Often when we begin homeschooling there is something that prompted us to begin. It may have been a child struggling with school, a negative socializing experience, or any number of issues. Once the mom begins, she may feel conflicted that her children will miss out on some great academic experience. She may moan, “I wish I had a real science lab” or “I could never have an interesting literature discussion like I did in my British Literature class.” So why are we doing “that”? Why are we homeschooling? Because we want to educate the whole child; we want to educate the child for eternity.
On occasion my twin nephews, who are six years old, will burst into song, “Father, I adore you.” And I lay my life before you. How I love you.” In a public school setting, I guarantee the teacher would not appreciate or encourage such a song. But in the home, this is a beautiful testament of my nephews’ childlike faith.
Too often we focus on the academics and overlook the whole child, building the character of the child, considering all aspects of the person. In his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Blessed John Paul II described Christ as one who “labored with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted with a human will, and loved with a human heart” (par. #4). We need to ask ourselves when we educate ourselves and our children, “Do we labor with Christ’s hands, think with Christ’s mind, act with Christ’s will, and love with Christ’s heart.” We sometimes become so consumed with educating our children’s mind, we overlook shaping their wills, teaching self-control of their drives and passions, training their hands, and nourishing their hearts and souls.
Because the child is a whole, integrated person, we cannot always compartmentalize when we will be educating their minds, their hearts, or their hands. While showing my daughters how to crochet, we might have a discussion on a topic that would form their character or is related to their academics. In practicing her violin or playing the piano, my daughter develops any number of virtues, such as perseverance, attention to detail, and listening to the soul. When I ask a young child, “Please bring me a diaper or wash cloth” or another simple task; I am testing his will and encouraging his obedience. In the home, education is life.
What are we educating? The whole child.
How do we educate the whole child? Father Kentenich, the founder of Schoenstatt, an apostolic lay movement said, “We must educate our children in such a way that he or she can later give themselves to God, freely and of their own accord, when and where God wishes. When God asks us to return our children to him, we cannot keep them for ourselves. We must return our children from where they came, our Heavenly Father, whether in a consecrated life or a married or single state of life” (The Nazareth Family, unfinished manuscript, Fr. Jonathan Niehaus, 9).
It is not yet six in the morning and very peaceful and quiet as I am typing this up—a hushed quiet—, so it is easy for me to say that our homes should be a foretaste of heaven. We want to build our little Nazareth families, oases of love. When the baby is crying, the children are fighting, the phone is ringing and the water from the rice is boiling over, that is when life really begins to happen! Then can I also say, “Our homes should be a foretaste of heaven!”?
It is easy to smile, when the baby is coohing, but when the baby is fussing, the challenge arises that I then too should smile. At that moment, my human weakness reveals itself, I don’t want to smile. In my weakness, I can become discouraged or even despair, unless I look to a greater power outside of myself (or should I say deep within my soul). In my weakness, I can recognize that I cannot do this by myself; that I can turn to the Blessed Mother and ask her intercession. I can ask my Heavenly Father to send me the graces I need to accomplish that tasks he has set before me—to love my husband, children and family.
Once again! School is more than academics. It is habits and virtues. SAT and ACT tests do not measure creativity, ingenuity, industriousness, and many other virtues. Think of Thomas Alva Edison.
Every child is gifted, precious in the sight of God, created in the image and likeness of God.
Anybody can accomplish school academics for a year. We want to instill a lifelong love of learning, a striving to be a saint.
Homeschooling should be a restoring of childhood to its proper place. Even if you did not experience an ideal family situation when growing up, because of death, divorce, or brokenness, our Heavenly Father through the gifts of the Holy Spirit gives you the grace to transform your family into a family filled with the love of Christ.
Mitchell Kalpakgian in the dedication of his book, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, describes what we are striving for.
“To all my beloved Armenian family members who provided me an authentic childhood of play, innocence, and wonder, who instilled in me a love of life, a love of family, and a love of God; who made me feel special, loved, and the apple of their eye; who showed me by their example that loving children is the great business of life; whose generosity, hospitality, and kindness formed my heart; and who taught me how to savor the simple pleasure of life: delicious, home-cooked food, conversation at the dinner table, visits to friends and relatives, the bonds of true friendships, the love of learning, the mirth of games and sports, and the wonder of hearing stories of the miracles of Divine Providence in each person’s life” (vii).
What is your goal in homeschooling? If you define a successful homeschool year as doing every problem on every page and finishing all the textbooks and workbooks by a certain date, you may accomplish your goal, but did you achieve success? With this goal, you may end up a burnt out, frazzled, crispy-around-the-edges mom.
If you define your goal as the extreme opposite—Oh, just hanging out and doing whatever you feel like whenever—, then you don’t have a plan. What are “you” trying to accomplish? We need to have a goal. I need to know, “Why am I doing this? What do I hope to achieve?”
When you go to bed at night, what do you wish you had done that day? Then do it the next day.
What do you wish you had done growing up?
What positive memories from childhood do you have? What positive memories do you wish to give your children?
What do your kids wish to do?
What is the one thing you want to accomplish this year with each child? It can be a habit or a virtue, not just a subject or a skill.
What are social, emotional, psychological, and academic reasons that you are doing this?
As parents, what do we do to encourage or even make possible the healthy interests or childhood pastimes of our children? When homeschooling is all said and done, what do we as parents wish to accomplish? What is our end goal? If our end goal determines how we live out our lives on a day to day basis, then what is our end goal? How do we define it?
Is our style of life living from one TV program to the next? One sporting season to the next? Who won the Superbowl 10 years ago? 5 years ago? the World Series? Grammy Awards? Academy Awards? Who was the most popular singer, movie star, or sports personality 10 years ago? We can become sucked into a culture of superficiality unless we offer healthy substitutes.
By turning off the TV, computer or video games, and other distractions, you can experience life in a whole new way: plant a garden, learn a musical instrument, read that book aloud to the whole family.
Do we encourage the good, the true, and the beautiful? Phil. 4:8 “Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.”
Let us strive to make our homes havens of peace, joy, laughter, and love. Pope John Paul II said, the home “is truly ‘the sanctuary of life’” (Evangelium Vitae). Ultimately, homeschooling is an avenue to live that sanctuary of life. It is turning our homes into oases of love, miniature churches, in the midst of the world.
Homeschooling is not about academics or SAT scores or basketball scholarships. It’s about love. Love your children with the love of Christ. I may not always want to love, especially when someone is being unlovable, but I can ask Christ to love through me. Since we are fallen creatures, teaching our children to love is a lifelong process. In Familiaris Consortio, we read, “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Par. 11).
As Fr. Kentenich, the founder of the apostolic movement of Schoenstatt said, “The ultimate meaning of our life is to learn to love, to learn to love correctly, to learn to love selflessly, to learn to love constantly, to learn to love faithfully” (On Monday Evenings, Vol. 20, 123).
So, why do you do that?
Homeschooling is all about love.
Copyright 2014 Elizabeth Yank
Elizabeth Yank, a mom of 10, has been homeschooling for 27 years. She has been published in Faith and Family, National Catholic Register, Lay Witness, Catholic Exchange, mater et magistra and other Catholic and homeschool publications. She has also spoken at numerous homeschool conferences. You can find her blogging at coolstuff4catholics.