My Andrew used to twirl himself upside down on the couch, so that his feet hung over the back, while I tried to teach him his phonograms. His sense of obedience kept him on the couch, but his restless body just needed to move. In the end, it was Cheerios that taught him to read.
It was just too much to expect a “not-quite-five” year old to sit calmly, hands folded on lap, for the time needed to master, “A – Ah, ay, aw.” So, in the end, I used bribery. For every sound he got right, he received one little, pathetic, unsweetened Cheerio. Ah, the sweet innocence of children. Poor guy.
I can see him struggling to print, and I can hear him reciting, “The rain is raining all around, it falls on fields and trees,” just one of the many Robert Louis Stevenson poems that all six of my children have memorized through the years.
Andrew graduated in the spring and is now gone off to college. It is an amazing thing to think of. I guess all parents reminisce and claim rights to sentimental moments. But to think of all that has gone on in those years: the reading, the laughing, crying, yelling, reconciling, singing, praying and planning. To see my time as teacher come to an end for my first-born is a triumph and a sorrow.
Instead of haggling over the sounds of certain vowels, my son now explains certain epochs of history, and corrects me on the differences between morality and culpability. Seriously. It takes some humility to become the student of your own child, and I’m not sure I’ve grown much in that virtue. I am annoyed and proud in equal measures.
But I’ve found myself, more and more, thanking God for inspiring us to homeschool our kids.
On a regular basis people tell me how they wish they had homeschooled their own children, and that they see the benefits of it now. It doesn’t seem that long ago when those same people thought we were extreme, helicopter-parents. “You’re not a teacher. Aren’t you worried that you’re endangering your children with the lack of…” you guessed it, socialization. Even then, it baffled me that, in the days of video game paralysis, my kids’ socialization was their chief concern. Alas.
When my husband Scott and I had our first baby, I only knew two families who homeschooled. One was a boy I knew in high school. He was an only child, kind, friendly, and perhaps a bit lonely. The other was my cousin, who bravely homeschooled her boys at a time when it was considered bizarre. I never quite understood what was going on inside her house. Was it legal? Did they wear special clothing? Would her kids read, do math… and graduate?!
My sister-in-law started talking about homeschooling as soon as her first child was born. It intrigued me, enough to store the possibility of it in the back of my mind, at least. So, when a group of Catholic families invited me to a homeschooling Q&A, I accepted.
What I heard there about the Catholic tradition of education: directing children in truth, goodness and beauty, in the development of their minds and the salvation of their souls, coupled with my natural cynicism in all things public and worldly, did the trick. These moms were speaking my language. It was, after all, Church teaching that education takes place primarily at home by people who love the child.
I met some of these families personally, and I was impressed by the manners of their children. I was impressed that they were outside getting dirty. They had chores, they said prayers together, they looked me in the eye. They had subjects they excelled in, and others that took some extra time with mom to master. And I was sold.
After reading books by Kimberly Hahn, Laura Berquist, and even not-yet-Catholics like Dr. James Dobson, I felt a deep inner calling to give myself to the hearts and minds of my children, all the while praying to God for His mercy, goodness, and inspiration.
Fifteen years later, and I literally breathe a sigh of gratitude when I think of how God led us on this path. “Imperfect, sin-inclined mother meets imperfect, sin-inclined children” could be the title to our saga.
Fifteen years has shown me, deeply, how very vulnerable I am to selfishness and anger. It has also shown me, without a doubt, that education, love, and virtue all take place in the home.
A child on his mother’s lap, hearing a great story from his father’s lips takes basic education and transforms it into something holy and natural. When a child is loved, he is opened to the possibility of growing in fullness. Every conversation, from the strange webbing on certain bird’s feet, to the mystery of Mary being redeemed by her own Son’s blood before He was even crucified, leads to fullness of humanity, to being more human.
God calls upon mankind to thought, to wonder, to questioning. We are invited to discover beauty and mystery. Our minds are built to discern, to seek out logic and reason. Our eyes look for beauty, for pattern, and clarity, and our hearts seek Truth. This is to be human. And as we become more human, we become more like God!
I believe with everything in me, that the devil is working to undermine the family. He is seeking to destroy our kids. He is insidious in his motivation, and we, well, we are prone to laziness.
Our children are being taken from us. They are intentionally encouraged to detach from the authority and wisdom of their parents, and to trust media, government, celebrity values, and garbage from every outlet. And so many of us have given in and accepted it as the new normal in familial mechanics.
Those of us who step outside of the world’s bubble are equally worked upon by the devil. How many days have I nearly given up, wondering if my weak attempts have only harmed my charges’ hearts?
The devil does not want my children in their mother or father’s arms. He will continue to work upon my doubts, I’m sure, but now, more than ever, I am convinced and determined that home is where God wants my children.
I am a weak and broken vessel, and yet God gives me His very creation, the eternal souls of my children, to guard and grow. This is a shocking amount of trust that He has in me, for something so unaccountably precious. Is it likely that, as I call out to Him, He will abandon me in the work of such great import?
If you came into my house this morning, you would find us, likely, in a moment of great imperfection. You would see the spots I missed mopping the floor, and the cheese left out to harden on the counter.
You might hear someone whining, and being scolded, probably too harshly, for their complete lack of manners, or for leaving their laundry on the bottom step three days in a row. You might wince at the sarcastic tone I use, and have yet to master. There are no canonized saints in the Roy household; God have mercy on us!
But, on a good day, you’ll find children who have been led, not by me, but by the Church and those who have been leaders in the homeschooling movement, to read about the lives of the saints.
They’ll be playing a variety of instruments, with a great variance in skill, Lord save me. Some of the books they are reading are TAN books.
Madalen might be baking in the kitchen, or writing a description of the Modernist Heresy (her eighth grade religion assignment today). Thomas might be outside with me looking for different insects to add to our list of invertebrates, or working on his multiplication tables.
Nicolas could be upstairs working on a natural science project that involves observing the effects of different music on our poor dog, Chesterton. Isaac might be reciting his Latin endings, third declension, or finishing his novel on Egyptian kings.
Elijah could be drawing, or meeting with other students on-line to work on geometry props. And hopefully, at the end of that day you’ll find us, after the victories and failures, coming together in prayer.
Each day is a different struggle and a beautiful joy. And in the end, when I meet God, my Maker and Redeemer, I will thank Him for calling out to me, loud enough for this stubborn mother to hear and respond, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Used with permission from the author.
Colleen Roy lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and six children. She is an educator who has been homeschooling her children for fifteen years. Her popular column on faith and family issues is published by the B.C. Catholic.