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Aug 17, 2020

Cultivating a Catholic School at Home: Pray, Serve, Gather

Ashley Bateman

In just a few weeks summer will come to an end, without the usual respite of Labor Day plans, back to school shopping, and the shift into fall. 

In the 2019-2020 school year, families across the world were thrust into an unprecedented modern-age crisis with the closures of schools and churches. Governance over how to gather, the removal of public services and enforced isolation have shocked our systems and our psyche. With so much uncertainty the end of summer is looking less and less like an end and more like a transient phase in this strange world.

Parents of school-aged children will be hard-pressed to accommodate in-home learners unexpectedly, and potentially, for the entire school year. Some of the largest public school districts in the country have announced one hundred percent virtual learning for 2020-2021, most are offering an in-person option for limited, alternating attendance. 

Catholic and other private schools intending to open for a full in-person school week still require state approval, and homeschool communities are suffering the loss of church space and facilities.

We are all meant to be our children’s first teachers in formation, but these additional responsibilities can feel daunting. The Church is behind us though, offering the gift of guidance in cultivating the Catholic Faith in our home. Framing the school day within a Catholic context is common for Catholic homeschoolers and an opportunity to sow the seeds of faith. It doesn’t require a degree, just a lot of grace.

The Catechism offers us perfect guidance in this:

“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues.”

CCC 2223

The Catechism further describes the home as the “natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities” (CCC 2224).

As a homeschooler of our four children, I think the most valuable aspects of our school year can be summed up into three cornerstones that have become the foundation for our learning at home endeavor over the past few years: pray, serve, gather. Regular prayer, cyclical service, and gathering whenever possible can contribute to the pursuit of lasting faith habits.

Pray 

Morning time with four small children is anything but predictable-or controlled. No one wakes up at exactly the same time (unless you count the three-year-old sitting on his older brother to “check” if he’s awake), no one wakes up in exactly the same mood. Some speed through morning chores, some forget and some get distracted. 

One thing that is predictable is the morning meal. We pray, eat together, and incorporate a Catholic podcast or reading. The Catholic Church has so many vibrant teachers, distinguished learners, and philosophers. Although it may be some time before our children see their teachers in person again, it is amazing how our Church can remain alive online. Catholic Sprouts, Blessed is She, Formed, and Ascension are just a few of the resources guiding our days now.

Catholic curriculum can be an amazing addition to any schooling, but it isn’t necessary. Any activity can be framed through the Catholic lens and teachings; the Catechism is an astounding collection of direction for any family and any activity in the home.

The Rosary may be considered the hallmark of Catholic prayer. Meditative, reflective, steeped in Scripture and lauded by many of our greatest saints and popes, it is worth exploring. Starting simply, a decade a day completes a set of mysteries over the course of a Monday-Friday school week. Scriptural Rosaries breathe life into the dramatic story of Jesus’ birth, life, and death; adding visuals and moving outside have helped our younger crew develop an understanding of the Rosary.

We are all works in progress. Practicing a virtue a week, opening the day with a faith question or verse, Bible readings or prayers are all ways to open the door to exposure to the great Catholic Faith. 

Serve and Gather

St. Patrick’s feast day was the first event we cancelled this spring. We had planned a big gathering at our home, with the story of St. Patrick, traditional music, games, and a bike parade through the neighborhood. We all hoped by May we would be back together. Then we set our sights on the summer. Now things remain uncertain.

The second tenet of the Church’s social justice mission is a call to family, community, and participation. We may not be able to gather like we did before the pandemic, but by adhering to the Church calendar and creating family-based plans to serve remotely, this flame can keep burning.

Our homeschool cooperative typically honors Mary in the beginning of May through a May Crowning of the church’s statue; last year the procession was led by one of our recent first communicants in her First Holy Communion dress. It was a sweet and lovely way to usher in the month of Mary. 

This year we looted the garage for old mason jars, pasted on printed images of Mary and ravaged our gardens for the first spring flowers. We left them, beautifully hand picked bouquets, on doorsteps with a prayer. 

We sent pictures to the lone great-grandparent who could receive no visitors in the nursing home. We changed the colors in our prayer space from green to purple and back to green. We played piano songs for grandparents via FaceTime. We donated more to the church and collected food for those in need.

The thing about the Church is, as long as we support it, it does the heavy labor of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. Though we may be busy occupying little hands, the Church is never at rest. Supporting the Church extends our hands out into communities where we cannot go. 

Small acts of service within the family are essential, especially when we are so close for so long. Happening on a virtual Vacation Bible School with virtue reward sheets really helped our young ones find a reason to strive for good acts as each week passed with no return to the old normal.

We continue to gather where we can, especially with our Catholic community, but with so many limitations we rely heavily on stories of saints and the Catholic calendar. Those continue to bolster us up and remain unchanged while everything else is in flux. 

Give Yourself Grace

In his creation of a model monastery, St. Benedict describes the balanced approach to peaceful living. He achieved the Rule of monastic living still in practice today by leaving his town for a more hidden, quiet place.

As parents we can’t leave for a mountainside and, amidst all the noise and needs, an idyllic ebb and flow to each day can seem elusive. Give yourself grace in navigating the waters of education at home. 

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child‘s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.35 The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.”

CCC 2226

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Ashley Bateman is a policy reform writer for The Heartland Institute and contributor to The Federalist. Her work has been featured in The Washington TimesThe Daily CallerThe New York PostThe American Thinker, and numerous other publications. She previously worked as an adjunct scholar for The Lexington Institute and as editor, writer and photographer for The Warner Weekly, a publication for the American military community in Bamberg, Germany. 

Ashley is a board member at a Catholic homeschool cooperative in Virginia. She homeschools her four incredible children along with her brilliant, engineer/scientist husband, who is a convert to the Catholic Faith. She is an aspiring gardener, traveler, lifelong learner, and, foremost, a disciple of the Catholic Faith.


Featured image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay


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