Every Family a School; Every Parent a Teacher

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When my aunt asked me last fall why we chose to homeschool, I gave her the lamest answer ever: “The public schools here aren’t great and private school is too expensive.” In reality, those were contributing factors to our decision to homeschool, but they were not the driving reasons.

What I wished I told her is that I have come to understand my responsibility for my children’s formation, and I have found that in our circumstance, homeschooling is the best way to educate them.  Our kids are close in age, we have a large homeschooling community here, numerous extra-curricular opportunities, I stay at home, and my husband is self-employed. I also know that if I were to send them to school, it would be too easy for me to sit back and let the teachers do all the work. By becoming the teacher, I am forcing myself to assume more responsibility for my children’s education. This role also requires me to become more intentional, disciplined, and ordered in our home life and parenting. I’m a work in progress, but homeschooling is helping me to establish this foundation.

Other reasons we homeschool: I want my kids to read a lot of good books and to develop a life-long love for learning. I desire for my kids to ask questions, take a lot of fieldtrips, be amazed at nature, and know that life is to be lived rather than read about in a textbook. Most of all, I want to form in them habits of holiness and for our Catholic faith to permeate all that we do. I long for my children to know and love God through the use of their imagination, intellect, and heart.

I come from a family of teachers – my sister, my mom, my aunts and cousins. I have friends who are teachers, and I truly believe they all do an amazing job! We need incredible teachers in wonderful schools and thank you to all who work hard to make that a reality.

Still, no matter how amazing your school is, or even how you school your children,you- the parent- are the first and most important teacher to your kids.

Being a “parent/teacher” goes way beyond making sure your kids did their homework. It includes forming their character in virtue and in truth. They may be learning facts at school, but it is your job to ensure that you are educating their whole person by forming their conscience, teaching them to think critically, and ensuring they are taking responsibility for their actions.

In her new book, The Read-Aloud Family, author and educator Sarah Mackenzie writes: “Raising our children isn’t just about getting them ready for adulthood. It isn’t just about preparation for a career. It’s about transforming and shaping their hearts and minds. It’s about nourishing their souls, building relationships, and forging connections. It’s about nurturing within them care and compassion for whoever they encounter.” (p. 77)

She goes on to say, “Is the main reason we want an excellent education for our children so they can outperform their peers? So they can rank higher, get promoted faster, become more financially successful than their colleagues and friends? Or do we want our children to become educated so they can follow the two greatest commandments: love God and love one another?” (p. 80)

If my kids get promoted and rank higher as a result of loving God and neighbor, then so be it. But that kind of success on its own is empty. Children shouldn’t go to school to get good grades to get into good colleges to get high paying jobs. Then what? Work and spend money ‘til you die? Is that all there is? What about the saints who didn’t have good paying jobs or a lot of “success”? I need to be thinking about educating for eternity and building up the Kingdom. Ultimately, education is about becoming holy: to become the best-version-of-themselves and use their God-given gifts to build up the Kingdom. Through their work, children need to be forming habits of virtue.

Sarah Mackenzie brings this point home when she writes:

Your child is not a project to be managed but a soul to be cultivated.”

Here are two fundamental things we can do to help cultivate these souls that are entrusted to our care:

1. Spend Time With Them

How easy it is to forget this! We shuffle them to sports and extra-curricular activities, set time limits for screens and make them do their homework. We check off to-do lists and fall into bed at the end of a busy day. Only, the question we must ask is, did we make time to be present to our children today? Did we “waste” time on them, putting aside our agenda to truly build a relationship with our them? Our culture prizes efficiency and busy-ness so much that we can lose sight of the need to Just. Be. Present.

More than anything, our children need our time and attention to help them wrestle with big ideas and be formed in the truth. Sarah Mackenzie encourages this in her book Teaching From Rest. She stresses that we must put relationships first.

 “Relationships need time, spent lavishly.  They cannot be done efficiently.”

Make it a priority to eat dinner as a family, to read aloud together often, and to pray together every night. Do chores as a family. When we make time available, conversations will open up and we can teach from there.

2. Be An Example

If we would like our children to practice deep thinking, contemplate big ideas, and relish truth and beauty as they go about their learning, perhaps we should make that a habit ourselves.­  Andrew Kern, founder and president of CiRCE Institute states:

‘The most important thing every teacher should understand is that teaching is the art of being imitated. . . Make yourself worthy of imitation.’ ”-Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest p. 60.

I’ve begun making reading more a priority for myself. I try to carve out time to read before bed or at other times of the day. I want to continue to educate and delight my own mind so I can share that with my children.

Last but certainly not least, I cannot pass on a faith that I am not practicing myself. If I want my children to love God and see His work in everything, I must do the same. If I want my children to grow in virtue, I must be an example of those virtues for them to imitate. If God is the center of my life, He will more readily become the center of theirs.

In Conclusion

No one will argue that schooling and education are important. But not all education should happen in the classroom. As a parent, your home is the most important school of virtue for your children and you are their most important teacher. Home must be the first and foremost place a soul is cultivated and where truth, beauty, and love are learned.

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