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Ten Things I Wish I'd Known When I Began Homeschooling by Nancy MacArthur

I have been homeschooling a long time now and I began without a clue. In the spring of 1994 I was expecting child #5 and had just pieced together how unhappy child #1 was in public school. In addition to being bored silly with far too much ancillary time (drug awareness, computer (game) time, recess, preparation for some upcoming school pageant (Earth Day), coaching for upcoming state assessment tests, etc.,) Rob was being singled out by the class bully. After an especially upsetting episode, I asked the teacher to intervene. But she declined saying we couldn't do that because the boy's mother was an important figure in the school district administration. My heart ached and I felt powerless.

Two days later I was invited to the home of a friend-of-a-friend to hear about something called "homeschooling." Needless to say, I liked the sound of this homeschooling then and cast my lot with a bunch of moms who only knew they wanted something better for their children. I'm sure now that this invitation was providential.

Now, after the passing of all those years I can say, "If I only knew then what I know now…" I'm here to pass along my two cents' worth in that department—ranging from the trivial to the more critical. I know some of you have been homeschooling longer than I, but if any one of my "tips" is of help to you as a novice or a veteran homeschooler, I am pleased.

1) Weekly Assignment Sheet
As I mentioned a little earlier, my fifth child was "on the way" as we began to homeschool and she arrived part-way into our first year. Before long I was about ready to call it quits: trying to help a 4th and 2nd grader, a Kindergartener, as well as manage a toddler and a newborn?! Someone was constantly at my elbow asking, "What do I do now?" I felt like the juggler spinning plates on the old Ed Sullivan Show.

One night out of sheer desperation I marked off a piece of paper into a grid showing what subjects we were working on and the page number we would try to do tomorrow. How satisfying it was the next day to check off each assignment as it was done; although, because of many interruptions, we weren't "done" until 4:30! The following day the kids wanted to be the ones to do the "checking off" as they finished each subject in, I noticed, a more efficient manner. Pretty soon each child had his own customized "Weekly Assignment Sheet" which would answer the question, "What should I do now?" I also now had ready-made records of our work and some lesson plans for future years, and I have unintentionally created children who like to make lists when the situation warrants and then check off each item. I believe these sheets have done more to organize and create free time in our lives than any other item.

2) The 365-Day Drawer
Now, fortunately I devised our Weekly Assignment Sheets fairly early in our homeschooling venture. Not so with my next tip which developed only a few years ago, and how I wish I had back materials for it that I've thrown out! What am I talking about? It's nothing more than a file cabinet drawer full of 365 manila folders-—one for each day of the year. After I bribed my kids to help me label each tab (January 1, January 2, etc.), I placed into each folder information I'd accumulated for that day's saint(s). Ideally this was a brief biography, a prayer, and a picture. Sometimes it was just a scribbled note telling me there was a story about St. Elizabeth of Hungary in such-and-such a book on such-and-such a page. Eventually I started adding more things to the folders that were keyed to dates:

a) Reminders when to begin novenas
b) Photos of relatives whose anniversaries of death were that day
c) Anniversaries of sacraments received
d) Ideas for upcoming holy day projects, recipes, stories
e) Birthday cards to act upon in enough time for mailing, and so on.

The mind boggles and the file folders grow fat.

3) Flexibility
As I became more organized and disciplined in my approach to educating my children, I also acquired an unfortunate trait—-I became rather rigid: we needed to start school at an exact time every day, the children sat in assigned spots, if I had purchased a book or started some program of instruction then, by gum, we were going to use it! I told my friends and relatives not to call between certain hours—I was HOMESCHOOLING! But the pitfalls of an inflexible nature were brought home to me when we entertained another homeschooling family for a picnic supper one July 3rd. My assumption was that after grilling hamburgers and making homemade ice cream our two families would enjoy a leisurely evening until it was dark enough to go to the day-early Independence Day fireworks.

Was I ever surprised when shortly after dinner the mom started to gather up her kiddos and make her thanks. Without thinking I blurted out, "But what about making some chocolate ice cream? And the fireworks?" Her children's faces fell—they hadn't known about these possibilities. Their mother explained, "Well, no, we have our school bright and early in the morning."

"On the 4th of July?!" I asked.

"Well, I forgot it would be the 'Fourth of July' when I drew up this year's schedule," and she closed the subject.

Since then I have lightened up: my kids do their schoolwork where it is comfortable for them, if a book or approach to learning is just not working for a child we try something else, and as life "happens" I try to roll with the punches. After all, homeschooling affords us the luxury of tailor-making our little school exactly as it suits us.

4) More Praise
During my tenure as inflexible do-it-my-way-or-else mom, I was (and still am) guilty of not noticing my children's behavior unless it is interfering with my completing what I perceive to be my enormous amount of work. It is when they are being "bad" that I turn my attention to their behavior because they're preventing me from getting on with the work I have to do.

My middle child, Phillip, does not possess the academic brilliance of his older brother and sister nor does he shine in social situations like his younger sisters. I tell people that homeschooling has helped create "voracious readers" of my children—that is, four out of five of them—guess who dutifully plods through his assigned reading but no more? He fits many of the stereotypes of "the middle child."

Yet because of one lovely, God-given moment ten years ago, he knows I think the world of him. One evening I was stuck on a phone call with a very important older lady of our parish. My attempts to bring the conversation to a close were unsuccessful, and I could hear the two youngest (then ages 3 and 1) getting increasingly restless awaiting their bedtime ritual. My husband was away at a meeting, the older children were lost in their books, and I couldn't break away! After a while I was finally able to close the conversation and head off to do my mommy business. What did I find? There were the "little girls" tucked in and falling asleep as Phillip, age 6, was singing "Hush, Little Baby." I drew back, not wanting to disturb the spell, and waited. As he closed their bedroom door a minute later, Phillip eyed me questioningly and apologized, "I could only 'read' them Good Night, Moon because I have that memorized." I hugged him tight and said, "You'll be a wonderful daddy someday."

"Neat," he grinned and strode off.

We all like to be praised for good work or just plain good-ness, and it is amazing to me how much more cooperation and general goodwill abounds when I praise my kids genuinely and regularly.

5) Catholic Homeschooling As a Way of Life
A few years into homeschooling I got together with some of those moms who attended, with me, that first meeting explaining the idea of homeschooling and its possibilities. As it turned out, everyone at the get-together was Catholic. After catching up, sharing war stories, and comparing what our children were studying, someone asked if anyone taught "Religion" as an actual course in her homeschool. I replied that I did and mentioned the texts I liked. At this one mom piped up, "We're much too busy to work Catholicism into our school day." I was floored and mumbled something about also trying to make Our Church's teachings a natural part of each moment of the day, not a separate subject only. But she didn't even mean that; she pointed out the many activities in which they were involved, how far her children were progressing in math, etc.

My delight in homeschooling is that I, as mother of these five souls God has entrusted to me, can have such a huge impact and influence on their formation, academically and spiritually, without much infiltration of the often unsavory culture that surrounds us. My kids see me struggle with daily ups and downs; and though I always feel I'm not doing the best job possible, I point to the rich storehouse of our faith, the models of the saints and the Holy Family, and the help of the sacraments—especially Penance—as blessings we Catholics enjoy. It is not so much that religion is a separate subject in our homeschool as it is THE subject. To borrow the motto from a well-loved homeschool publisher, I am "educating for eternity."

6) You Can't Do It Alone
I've attended several homeschool conferences to show and explain the materials that Catholic Heritage Curricula publishes. And while it is always inspiring to see the young moms' faces light up as they realize, "I CAN do this," invariably one or two will turn to her husband and sigh, "Now everything will be fine; they'll be safe." And my heart goes out to them because that's just what I thought so many years ago when I brought my children home from public school: away from the bullies, away from the pluralistic agendas, away from the unsavory influences.

As our homeschooling years passed, my husband and I labored very hard to instill our moral values, our deep love of our faith in all its richness to our children. What I wish I had known was that the Prince of Darkness never rests in his quest to spread misery and ruin, and that to win our individual battles we must avail ourselves of all the divine helps offered to us: frequent reception of the sacraments, special devotions—especially the Rosary, and daily petitioning the Guardian Angels of our children to protect them always—body and soul. For although parents cannot suspect everyone, they must remember no one is above suspicion. Do not neglect to teach your children to live in this world but be not of it, and to keep an eye always on the next. The whole Communion of Saints stands ready to help because you simply cannot do it alone.

7) Siblings As Best Friends
We've all heard the tired old "socialization" argument raised to homeschoolers, questioning our kids' ability to avoid becoming social recluses. There is no need to preach to the choir and refute that silly objection, but I would like to mention a benefit of homeschooling I wished I'd realized as I began--that my children would and have become one another's best friends.

This was not a goal I set—it just unfolded as the circumstances kept them together pretty much 24/7. No, they certainly don't get along all the time, but it is to one another they turn for their spur-of-the-moment games, for sharing scary dreams, for a sympathetic ear when Mom lays down the law. I must say I would envy their closeness when they developed a play or puppet show, or played "Old West" or "Pirates." I was never that close with my siblings who were, when I was in my teens, little people to avoid. My friends and their opinions were what was important.

Thirty years later I have no idea what's become of most of these old friends, but I have now made it a goal to get closer to my brothers and sister even if they are over a thousand miles away. God willing, my children will always enjoy and benefit from one another's company—after all God created the seven of us as a family unit for a reason.

8 ) You Can't Please Everyone
I was taught as a child to obey those in authority over me and to help out in any way I could. I was a docile, non-rebellious sort and took these lessons to heart. By and large, this was sound teaching and it stood me in good stead: I was well-liked and well-thought of.

But as a homeschooling mom these long-ingrained traits had to be tempered. No longer could I please everyone. For example, some people had a tough time accepting my decision to homeschool, "What's so wrong with our educational system that you alone can offer the kids more than all those teachers?" "What about the kids' socialization?" "This sounds like an awful lot of work; are you up to it?" I learned to say, "My children are worth it," setting aside both my doubts and my old desire to avoid disappointing people whose opinions mattered to me.

Further I had to learn to say, "No." In our early years of homeschooling we would try to attend every field trip, every meeting, every opportunity to stave off the "socialization police." The result was too little school, too many commitments, too worn-out kids and mom. As a dear friend puts it, "It is better for me and ultimately my family to bow out of a commitment which divides my attentions. I have to remind myself that homeschooling is a gift and requires my ultimate effort in order to honor this blessing which the Lord has bestowed."

9) Copyright Infringement
I have a confession to make—I'm not perfect. But you knew that, and God knows that, and in His Mercy he allows me to make a new start each day and especially after receiving the Sacrament of Penance.

Money is almost always tight at our house—is it at yours?—after all, so many homeschoolers must manage with one income in a society that expects two-income households. In an effort to "save money," I confess I have photocopied many pages and even whole workbooks I've purchased because, I thought, "My younger kids will need this same workbook." It took the news that some publishers of Catholic homeschool materials have or are in danger of going out of business due to loss of sales by customers' copying to haul me up short. I learned some folks have even copied books and then sold the copies to other families.

I was sad also as I realized I was really stealing from not only the company but also from the authors and illustrators whose work I was copying. I decided the books contained too much eternal value to quibble over a few dollars. I want my much-loved publishers of Catholic materials there for me in the future. I won't copy anymore.

10) It's Hard to Let Go
The past thirteen years of homeschooling have furnished some beautiful highs, some embarrassing lows, and lots AND LOTS of stuff in-between. Sometimes the volume of the work—school, house, parish, extended family—became overwhelming. In particular I remember always trying to give my children clever "themed" birthday parties. One year as my birthday approached, I was feeling exhausted, and I self-indulgently announced, "I'd just like a 'Leave Me Alone' birthday!" That remark deserved just what I asked for, but fortunately did not get.

Today I am sitting alone writing this final tip at a park where I used to bring the children to play when they were small. Now, two of them are gone off to college, another's off on an interview for a part-time job, and I'm waiting for the "little girls," who help teach music classes. Nowadays my eldest, Rob, routinely flies around America and sometimes overseas, but I still think of him as the bully's victim whom the teacher would not protect. He manages life's ups and downs so well that my part has evolved into hearing, upon his return, how he handled this-that-and-the-other situation.

So, on some bad, draining day when you just want to lock the kids in a room, to pass them off to relatives for a week, or to sell them down river, remember what a grandmotherly lady once said to me, "Enjoy them when they're young; they grow up so fast." Indeed.

 

Nancy MacArthur is mother of five children and author of 1001 Facts for Your Catholic Geography Bee and Pilgrims of the Holy Family. This article is based on a talk Nancy gave at a conference in Houston, Texas.

Copyright 2007 Nancy MacArthur.

The Family Altar by Rita Munn

Psalm 46:11: "Be still and know that I am God."

This is one of our favorite scriptures. My husband Ronald and I are blessed with ten children and two grandchildren. Four of the ten are still in the homeschool while three are in different stages of achieving college degrees and two are out on their own. Our oldest daughter is married. As you can imagine, there is a steady flow of activity: always busy, often boisterous, and certainly, at times, distracting.

The call from the Lord to “Be still and know that I am God“ is compelling.

In the earliest years of parenting when the house was filled with the nonstop demands of small children it was easy enough to separate everyone and achieve quiet. After night time rituals of bathing, story reading etc. quiet transcends the home.

Now, in our home of mostly teenagers and young adults, the demands are still daunting because many times the issues and conversations are not easily resolved with the tools of comfort used in the childhood years. There are debates, teens out with cars, dating and everything that comes along as children mature.

Many years ago my husband and I felt the call to create a place within our home where we could come together as a family and sit before the Lord in the quiet.

It was our hope that this place would be an oasis during times of desert, a sanctuary in times of trouble or sorrow and a presence that would reflect peace in our hectic household.

My first thought was a small building in the farthest corner of the backyard. Ronald vetoed that stating that time, inclination, and money would never collide in sufficient proportions to make such a desire a reality. I suspect he knew that given such a place of refuge I might move to the spot permanently.

Instead we built an altar in our home. Our house is filled with people, pets, and projects much of the time and finding an empty corner would be a challenge. The living room had a wall that wasn't occupied with toys or furniture. I asked the boys to bring the cedar chest from our bedroom and place it against the empty wall. Inside the chest was a seldom-used wedding gift, a lace table runner which would make a lovely altar cloth. I added our Bible, a candle, and a small lamp. The candle was a simple white one purchased at the Catholic bookstore and blessed by our parish priest. We like to light a candle each time we gather for prayer. It is a reminder that the Lord is with us.

Above the cedar chest, I hung our pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Before we finished with the project, a small shelf from the boy's bedroom was volunteered. We hung the shelf under the pictures. One of the boys attached cup hooks to the bottom of the shelf. Rosaries were placed on the hooks for easy access. On top of the shelf there was enough room for a holy water font and a couple of small statues.

Gradually we added to our pictures. Above the Twin Hearts hangs the Jesus of Divine Mercy inspired by St. Faustina's vision. For Ronald's birthday one year the children gave him a picture of St. Joseph cradling the Child Jesus. My brother, Fr. Kent, gave us the icon cross honored by St. Francis.

On the altar a small electric candle is illuminated always. The candle is a sentinel and reminder to pray for those in our family that cannot be with us.

We try to change the appearance of the altar as the Catholic Church moves through the liturgical calendar. Our Advent wreath is on the altar through Advent while the creche replaces it during the Christmas season. When Lent approaches, I remove the lace runner and replace it with a purple cloth. Palm branches are placed on the altar after Palm Sunday while Madonna Lilies are our favorite Easter flowers. In spring there is never a shortage of “bouquets” offered to our Lady, and the smaller children enjoy presenting our Lord with their seasonal artwork. In times of celebration, team trophies, 4-H ribbons and special birthday cards are placed on the altar as our way of visibly giving back to the Lord the joy He has allowed. Once when Ronald and I had an unexpected bill for car repairs we placed the bill on the altar. We prayed for inspiration and creative financing to cover the expense. I had a yard sale and made enough to cover the bill with a bit left over to give to the Church.

A framed picture of Pope John Paul II remains on the altar. I hope to find a picture of Pope Benedict to place there as well. If an older brother or sister away at school is having difficulty then his or her graduation picture is placed on the altar for a short time as a signal to keep him or her close in prayer.

I have on the altar a small glass jewelry box. In that box I place all the names and intentions of the moms and families with whom I speak or write to. They are the purest jewels and the holy witness I pray to emulate each day.

When one of the children is ill, he or she is isolated in the living room on the couch “sick bed.” Patients are able to gaze upon the kind face of Jesus, the Divine Physician, while recuperating.

In the morning, before we begin school, we come to the altar for devotional. In the evening darkness, we gather together for vespers and our family Rosary. The altar, though simple, is a blessing.

While we have traveled the journey of faith through parenting, this altar has created within our home not only a focal point during family prayer but a symbol of our Domestic Church.

To be domestic means to be related to the home. Within the walls of our house reside the means by which we further our journey to the fullness of faith and our arrival to our Heavenly home. Jesus in His tender love gifts us with family, friends, situations, celebrations, sorrows and experiences that, when offered to Him, become steps along the path home.

Your domestic church is sacramental in that the sacredness possible in caring for one another's needs imitates our Lord as He washed the apostles feet, cured the blind, lame, and mentally ill, forgave sin, and most especially comforted the grieving or heavy burdened.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

A home bursting at the seams with small children and the activity they bring is not the reason to wait to create an altar but all the more reason to have an altar. Certainly we do not want to make our altars places of temptation and frustration. A dear mom told me that her altar is a shelf attached high on the wall well out of reach.

“Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.'” Matthew 19:14

Those of you with teens or young adult children know that the challenges of parenting during these years take on a dimension that sometimes make us long for nights of colic, bending over the bathtub bathing little people, nursing and diaper changing. We are humbled, frustrated, perplexed and sorrowed when faced with what appears to be insurmountable challenges.

It is then that the family altar becomes a sanctuary. We parents sit before the Lord, crying out for answers and speedy solutions. In those moments I sit curled up on the couch wrapped in a blanket praying. My prayers are lamentations. I say to the Lord as the distraught father with the demonic son pleaded to Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

In those moments Jesus cradles us gently and calms our spirits so we are better able to feel the power of His touch. The power goes out of Him and enters us and we rest in the Peace that transcends all understanding. Philippians 4:7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our family altars are symbols of the Domestic Church. The domestic church leads our families to the Catholic Church. We are brought to a greater realization of the enormous gift of Jesus' Body and Blood. We are strengthened through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and fed with Divine Nourishment. All that we do in our homes to honor our covenant with the Lord will bring us to a deeper understanding of that covenant, making it possible to travel towards our Heavenly home without fear and filled with peace.

Late one night, after everyone had gone to bed, I began picking up. Feeling pressed for time, I made a pass-through the living room searching for stray books, papers, clothes, or toys. It wasn't my intention to make a visit at the altar- I was “too busy” for prayers. However, the couch looked inviting, so I sat down.

The candle cast a comforting light in the dark living room. The face of Jesus in the picture of the Sacred Heart was softly illuminated. As I took a deep breath, I could hear the silence so unfamiliar in our daytime household. In the silence, Jesus spoke to my heart and I remembered the very purpose of the altar. In that instant I felt more like a Martha than a Mary as is told us in the Gospel of Luke. The Lord was calling me to choose the better part and be still with Him. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Copyright 2007 Rita Munn. Rita is the mother of ten, speaker, and author of A Family Journal.

Mother is the Keeper of the Keys by Rita Munn

Matthew 16:18-19 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Let us begin this talk with a few explanations about the very important images, words, and phrases we will be using as we discuss the role of mothers as 'keepers of the keys.'

To say someone is the 'keeper of the keys' is to regard that person with a high degree of honor. In the late 1800's and early 1900's the mistress of the house, the person responsible for the day to day operation of a large household or country estate, was entrusted with the keys to important storage areas. Large households of that time, complete with servants, were very busy places. Much activity made the likelihood of frivolous theft possible. To prevent this aggravation, special supplies were kept in locked closets, chests and cabinets. These supplies may have included the silver service, the linens, certain medicinal herbs, pantry stores and other necessary items vital for the running of such a household. The head mistress wore around her waist a chatelaine which was a type of belt that held all the keys to nearly every locked area.

The chatelaine is derived from the French word of the same pronunciation. Chatelaine describes the person who is the keeper of a castle. In fact one of the definitions of the word keep is stronghold or fortress. The keep was the most fortified area of a castle and considered a place of safety. In time of danger, or threatened attack from enemy forces, persons inside the castle walls as well as those surrounding areas outside the walls would seek refuge within the keep of the castle. The keep was located deep within the castle.

You can see how these words are intertwined and carry significance. Sometimes in our modern world we lose sight of the very real meaning of these commonplace words. However, I think all of us at one time or another has experienced the sinking feeling of not being able to find a set of keys, perhaps the car keys. I have lost mine numerous times and indeed it sends me into a panic. I have the children searching and praying to dear St. Anthony until the keys are found.

My children cat, dog, bird, baby and house sit for our neighbors. In our kitchen on the wall near the phone hangs a key rack that holds various keys to all the households for which they work.

Keys are important. They aid us in gaining entry into areas which would otherwise be inaccessible. When someone is considered trustworthy or proves that they are willing to shoulder a responsibility we give them the keys which are represented in the task. Parents of teens enter a new phase of parenting the first time we hand the keys to the family car over to our first child driver. I was never endowed with a vivid imagination until our first child began driving solo. My imagination blossomed however as I created worst case scenarios and mishaps that could befall an inexperienced driver.

Many people keep their treasures under lock and key. Our homes are safe havens wherein reside our treasures (the people we love). If a man's home is his castle then surely it is reasonable to conclude that keys are used in this modern day castle to keep another safe.

I am certain no one in this room can imagine giving the keys to our homes to strangers or more absurd yet, a person we believe will intentionally harm our family.

Think for a moment upon this scripture.

Matthew 6:21 Where your treasures are there your heart will be.

Through our vocation of mothering, the dear sweet Jesus entrusts us with His great treasure; His little ones. Their health and well being certainly are important but their innocent and pure souls are the greatest of all treasures. Jesus gives us the keys and we journey into His will.

Just as the Blessed Mother was asked to keep the unborn Jesus safe within her womb and to nurture and provide for Him during His early life, we too are given the same call upon our efforts with regards to the little ones in our care.

The treasure of the Blessed Mother's heart and womb was her own Lord and Savior. Our hearts and wombs are deep within our bodies protected by internal organs and bone structures. All of us can remember the days of pregnancy when we watched carefully what we ate or drank, lest we compromise the unborn baby.

Once a child is born most mothers share a bittersweet joy of holding the infant that was so anticipated, because there is a realization that new challenges are born as well.

When the Blessed Mother's womb no longer sheltered Jesus her mother's heart nurtured and cared for Him. I think that the images of the Blessed Mother in her role of mother are the dearest to me.

Luke 2:19 Mary treasured all these things and kept them in her heart.

A mother's heart continues to love and nurture long past the legal age of 18. I am 52 years old and my mom is nearly 80 yet she mothers me in ways that are certain and comforting. God love her; she accepted the keys and has remained faithful to the task all these years.

What keys does she use to provide protection for her treasures? Which keys does she use to unlock areas where treasure is stored? Where does mother find her keep?

In accepting the keys we are saying yes to the responsibility placed before us to mother our children in imitation of the Blessed Mother. We are building a keep deep within our children where they will find safety and strength.

We strive to fortify this modern day keep with all that will be necessary to secure comfort during times of hardship, sorrow, and confusion. We carry the keys that will unlock the storehouses of treasure and necessary supplies that will ensure the keep is well protected and abundantly stocked.

One of our keys is the Sacraments of the Catholic Faith, in particular the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist.

Reconciliation repairs our dignity and heals our wounds, releasing us from the bondage of sin while the Holy Eucharist places us tenderly within the Keep of the Lord's Sacred Heart.

Bringing our families, our needs, our prayers, and our joys before the Lord as He is present in the Holy Eucharist is the key to unlocking the vault of Heavenly resources standing ready to serve us.

Whether we sit silently before the Tabernacle or take the dear Jesus within our bodies, there is untold treasure waiting to be taken from this experience. I have encouraged moms to sit before the Tabernacle and practice this simple exercise. I ask them to pray for 5 minutes, pouring their hearts out to the Lord and then listen in silence for 5 minutes. It is amazing the revelations, inspirations, and consolations that become apparent through this quiet form of meditation. Our willingness to sit before the Lord is the key to the Lord's speaking with us and instructing us. She leads her family to the treasure vault and she unlocks the doors to this vault through her faith in the power of Jesus as He is tangibly present in her life.

In my laundry room I have several pictures depicting the Blessed Mother as she goes about her mothering duties. My favorite is the Polish Madonna. This beautiful picture shows us the Blessed Mother hanging out the wet laundry, Jesus' diapers to be precise. In this lovely scene we see the infant Jesus playing nearby while His mom hangs the wash on a clothesline, her gaze fixed upon the infant Savior. Our keys are found in the simplest of mothering tasks. Giving these tasks over to the Lord and offering our efforts to Him as prayer is worthy and makes holy the most mundane of chores.

Our keys are found in the spiritual readings, teachings, rituals, and traditions that we take the time to give to our families. Celebrating the holiness of our human bond with the Lord through special foods, decorations, reflections, and preparations aids us in our desire to draw close to the things of the Lord and far from the things of man. The simplest of efforts will be remembered long after the glue and glitter has been cleared away and the cakes have been eaten. My grown children who are living away from home will phone home for recipes for special dishes that bring the warmth of their childhood into their homes. Certainly many of these recipes are centered in our celebrations of Jesus' presence in our human life.

Let me end this talk by showing you a key that I believe unlocks a magnificent treasure vault. This key opens our hearts to greater understanding of the richness possible from each of the keys above. This key opens a doorway to a keep in which I have found profound comfort, strength, and peace. Within this keep I feel safe and loved. I want my family in this keep with me so that we may be together with its walls of security.

The rosary is not only a powerful prayer but it has been for me the most important of keys in that its profound devotion has helped me draw closer to the fullness of the spirituality available through the Sacraments and all our efforts to know and love the Lord more worthily in this life. We had always prayed the rosary off and on throughout the years of marriage but it was not until 1995 when our family was in the midst of a serious crisis that we made a commitment to pray the rosary each evening. We have prayed the rosary around 8:30pm gathered in front of our Family Altar. All family members who are not able to gather with us are encouraged to pray in solidarity as well. If praying the rosary is not possible we ask that each person not assembled make an effort to at least think of those at home during this time.

Is our family extraordinary? Not at all. Many of you here are far more worthy witnesses to this devotion. I am brought to this knowledge each time I am allowed the great blessing of speaking with moms.

Many times my family's outside commitments from sports to other activities have the potential to make us 'too busy for rosary time.' I can not tell you that in our busy household of mostly teenagers, that they are suddenly stopping all activities as 8:30 draws near and reminding me that it is time for the rosary. Or that my dear husband is leading the way and remembering our 'rosary time.' No, he is usually helping someone with Math or some other homework. It is myself who looks up from a project, the dishes or the laundry and says "Everyone its time to pray the rosary." I don't mind at all because I feel I am wearing this key for a season at this time in my life.

Everyone usually drops what they are doing, some dash to get into pajamas, others are reviving a disagreement about who gets to sit where on the couch. (Our couch is old and has a bad spring.) “Can I light the candle?” “Can we stay up after the rosary?” “Do I still have to finish my math tonight?” “I'm supposed to call Amy back, how long will this take?” “Are we going to pray the whole rosary?”

Some nights I have to remind myself why I am wearing this key in the first place. I admit that on occasion I have been tempted to 'skip the rosary' and finish cleaning up the kitchen or folding the laundry. Maybe I could work on some preparations for the puppet class I teach while the children pray.

Despite the temptations we gather. There before the altar, with our prayer candle softly illuminating the pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart we settle in and begin a most important family ritual. The comfort of our physical closeness to one another, the quiet that transcends in the dimly lit room, the familiar prayers recited by us all bring a sense of peace. When our household included toddlers and nursing persons it was always understood that they could play with quiet toys during this time. Eventually they would find a lap and settle in. Even nowadays someone always falls asleep cuddled up in such a cozy way next to a sibling. It is amusing to me that even our dog Holly has her 'spot' on the couch and is usually the first arrival after rosary time is called and the first asleep.

We offer each decade of the rosary for members of the family not with us during this time. We pray prayers for special intentions and sometimes I will read aloud from a book.

Jesus is present and His peace and His embrace are indeed the treasure our key has unlocked. When rosary time is concluded we pray an Act of Contrition.

It is interesting how quickly the quiet reverent mood is broken and our house returns to normal activity. Yet for a short time we gathered in the keep and felt the complete security found in the intimacy of giving ourselves over to Jesus through prayer.

I am praying that this time will remain with our children and they will look to the security of this keep when they take its key with them as they venture into the world beyond the homeschool.

Copyright 2007 Rita Munn. Rita is the mother of ten, speaker, and author of A Family Journal.

Mothers are the Lord's Heirloom Roses by Rita Munn

Contemplate for a moment: John 4:3 “Do not say, 'In four months the harvest will be here' I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.”

Those of you who are familiar with the Family Journal are also aware of my love for gardening. The Lord has blessed my family with a moderately large yard and plenty of teenage children to help tend it. We try to put in a vegetable garden every spring and have even been fairly successful with bumper crops of strawberries, sunflowers, corn, okra, tomatoes, squash and beans. There is usually enough of a harvest to fill our summer meals, share with our neighbors, and to freeze or can for the winter. Our efforts in horticulture have been concentrated upon the vegetable garden because a greater portion of our yard has been given over many years ago to playground necessities, a tree house, a makeshift ball field and pets. Beyond the vegetable garden the yard looks very sparse and in need of a dedicated effort. My husband and I have promised ourselves that the time will come when putting in flower beds and shrubbery will be a new delight. When the time comes we will probably enjoy landscaping but for now our landscape speaks loud and clear that “Children live and play here.” And to us that is beautiful.

However, there is one area of the backyard, hidden from view and enjoyed completely by myself. It is a small herb and perennial garden that I have tended for many years. It is filled with plants from many resources. The garden is actually two separate spaces. One is dedicated to the Blessed Mother (the statue of Mother of Grace is in the middle of the space) and the other to dear St. Joseph (the statue which depicts him gently holding the Infant Jesus is the focal point). Our wooden privacy fence shields the space from wind, animals, and the public. It is a small sanctuary but it gives me great pleasure. It is this garden that I want to speak about today.

During the dismal and cold winter evenings it is most pleasant to think of gardens. While curled up on the couch, near the kerosene heater with a cup of tea nearby, I like to plot out this small garden. I refer often to my catalogs for new seed varieties and fresh inspiration.

My favorite catalogs by far are those which specialize in heirloom seeds and plants. The heirlooms are old favorites which may have fallen out of popular demand but appeal to those of us who appreciate their unique qualities.

Heirloom seeds are likely to be touted for their hardiness. Unlike their hybrid cousins, heirlooms are usually more forgiving of their soil conditions and climate and thrive despite the limitations. I once planted a variety of Lamb's Ear that literally could not be disturbed no matter the harsh treatment the elements sent. It continues to fill every nook and corner of my St. Joseph garden to the point of amazement.

Heirlooms are usually described as drought tolerant, blight resistant, and sturdy. As if these assets weren't enough to convince one of their worth, heirlooms are as a rule more highly scented and their blossoms a deeper color. In the case of heirloom roses, their perfumes can be intoxicating. Many hybrid roses may appear perfect in shape and uniformity but are seriously lacking in fragrance.

My favorite old rose that I have grown is Joseph's Coat. Of course its name refers to the Biblical Joseph and his coat of many colors. This gorgeous multi-hued climbing rose is a beauty. In summer profuse blooms drape the wooden fence in brilliant shades of pink, yellow and cream. Bouquets of Joseph's Coat are so full of fragrance that one can't help but to “stop and smell the roses.”

The heirlooms are tried and true, dependable and rewarding. Their charms are timeless. Let us examine today how our vocation of Catholic motherhood and parenting is very much like an heirloom rose in the midst of a hybridized world.

When I reflect upon the witness of my Catholic sisters in Christ and the very profound and holy women who have shaped my beliefs, especially my mother, I am humbled by the Lord's great love for me in blessing me with the gift of their witness.

An heirloom is described in the dictionary as a valued possession passed down through the generations. I can go out into my garden at any season and see plants that were once gifts from another friend's garden. These cuttings were given in a spirit of treasured friendship and serve as reminders of the kindness of the giver. Surely mothers who work within their families striving to uplift, encourage, direct and instruct their loved ones, while at the same time bringing them to a deeper knowledge of the Lord, are the most treasured of all heirlooms. Their faithful witness will strengthen their children and serve as a light for many generations.

The Lord plants these women among their families, their friends, their communities and parishes to do His will. He gives them the graces to withstand drought conditions: long weary days, isolation, and perhaps spiritual deserts. They are, with the Lord's strength, blight resistant. Though they may be surrounded by the blight of a popular culture which seems to reward that which is contrary to God's plan for families, they constantly strive to stand strong and witness to the truth.

Our popular culture moves quickly to stimulate our emotions with a false sense of tradition and excellence. Secular schools may boast better test scores, higher achievements, and grander opportunities. The world constantly reminds us that our job of parenting ends when children reach the legal age of 18. However, there is no substitute for patient teaching, kind instruction and faithful action. Mothering is a vocation that lasts a lifetime. It changes through the years but the dedication and calling remain. My grown children who are in the world on their own have their roots in the many traditions and spiritual practices of their childhood. They appear comforted knowing they can predict my response to certain moral questions they may encounter in the world.

Like many holy efforts the fruit of our human labors may not fully be realized until long after the work has ended. How many of you have planted a perennial and eagerly waited for the blooms that will eventually follow in years to come. Boston ivy is one such plant. There is an old saying for ivy; the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year it leaps. I planted seeds for an heirloom foxglove one year only to wait two years for the first blooms. Unlike the plants that brag about blooms in the first year this foxglove has survived every winter storm and deep freeze that nature dished out, not to mention numerous ball games and mishaps in the garden.

We must not conform to a standard merely because it seems to fit one group or another. When we talk of homeschooling we are speaking of a lifestyle. Let me explain that I believe the homeschooling lifestyle is one that works to integrate all aspects of the family and education so as to weave faith and home life in to a complete and spiritually enriching experience. My own mother was an original homeschooler. She had the great blessing of such an integrated lifestyle. She likes to remember the days of parenting when the Catholic Church, the Catholic home and the Catholic school were all teaching and living the same truths. There was not the conflict of ideas which only served to confuse and frustrate parents and children. When we compromise our heirloom values to a world that does not recognize or claim their truths we are giving away the very nature of the treasure. Let me give you an historic example.

In the 1800's the potato was a stable crop for many rural Irish people living on and working tenement farms. The potato that was grown was a variety that could easily withstand the harsh climate and growing conditions found in most of Ireland. The potato is a food crop that is complete and capable of sustaining human life. Therefore the potato became the single most important food in the Irish diet. Wishing to increase crop yields for export, landlords experimented with a hybrid seed potato which boasted higher yields and earlier harvest. This weak plant was not suitable for Ireland and resulted in the spread of a strain of potato blight which decimated the potato crop. The resulting famine took the life of nearly one third of the population. In addition one third of the Irish immigrated to avoid starvation.

It is certainly difficult to resist the temptations of this world and seek an easier way to do the work of parenting. We many times feel that our sacrifices go unnoticed and unappreciated. Sometimes our children are the first to remind us that we are not heirlooms to be treasured but instead 'old fashioned' and restrictive in our parenting. I can remember many discussions with my mother during the teen years which began with my claiming 'everyone is doing it' and ended with mom saying, 'if everyone jumped off a bridge would you?' The ideals of parenting and the steady persistent attention to the true vocation of mothering according to the Lord's desire will be rewarded. My mom used to tell me that when she stands before Jesus to answer for her life she wants to answer for a life well lived and in total submission to the will of the Father. As a mother myself I want that too. The Lord calls us for our lifetime. I want to hear the sweet and loving Jesus say to me as is said in Matthew 25:21 'Well done my good and faithful servant.' Sometimes when the discussions of teen challenges become heated it is best to remind our young people that we are not parenting from a desire to please the world but to rest in the arms of Jesus in our Heavenly home.

There are times when my garden of heirlooms needs attention and I escape there to refresh my spirit. After the winter the brush and undergrowth must be cleared away and the earth gently turned and renewed with food for the plants. I think about the needs of mothers who often times weather storms or labor despite spiritual deserts of their own. Sometimes the mothers I encounter are heavy burdened with sorrows and dry from lack of refreshment. We must seek the Lord and allow Him to work the gardens of our spirits and give ourselves over to His tender care.

We clear away the dead vines of regret that choke the new spiritual growth with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation repairs our dignity and heals our wounds releasing us from the bondage of sin while the Holy Eucharist feeds us and fills us with the food of life.

Jesus prunes, tends and nurtures His heirloom plants knowing that their loving witness will be a refreshing scent, bringing comfort to all who have the good fortune to make their acquaintance. These mothers are truly the aroma of Christ, permeating the world little by little. I am uplifted, encouraged, and renewed each time I encounter one of these dear heirlooms.

Someday our children will go out into the bigger world beyond the coziness of the homeschool and family. The heirloom seeds which Jesus planted and tenderly nurtured will produce a harvest of young adults ready to know, love, and serve the Lord in whatever capacity that He wills. Some will go on to be learned professionals, laborers, homemakers, religious sisters, and priests. A profusion of blossoms and a bountiful harvest will come from these heirloom seeds. Their blooms will have a spiritual beauty that will outshine the darkness and their harvest will enrich many.

These children raised tirelessly to enter the world will do so with confidence and a sweet witness despite the brambles they may encounter along the path. To be sure, our efforts are not meant to guarantee a result as much as they are meant to guarantee that our children know the Lord. We do all that we can do and we pray all we can pray. The good Lord who loves our children more than we can comprehend is watching over them. During times of spiritual danger it is important that the roots of their knowledge be deep so as to ensure adequate nourishment. We pray that they will reach for the tools of the Master Gardener when they encounter challenges. The Sacraments of the Catholic Church, spiritual readings and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit were tools whose worth they witnessed many times from their childhood.

In closing I want to share with you a tool that our family has depended upon to cultivate a deeper love of the Lord; the rosary. This beautiful devotion has healed, instructed, directed and nurtured our family for many years. In the evenings before we retire we gather together in the living room and pray the night prayers. As you can imagine we are a normal family and must deal with the challenges that make evening prayer time difficult. We had always prayed the rosary off and on throughout our years of marriage but it was not until 1995 when our family was in the midst of a serious crisis that we made a commitment to pray the rosary each evening. From that time in 1995 we have prayed the rosary in the evenings gathered in front of our Family Altar. All family members who are not able to gather with us are encouraged to pray in solidarity as well.

Is our family extraordinary? Not at all. Many of you here are far more worthy witnesses to this devotion. Despite the temptations we gather. There before the altar, with our prayer candle softly illuminating the pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, we settle in and begin a most important family ritual. The comfort of our physical closeness to one another, the quiet that transcends in the dimly lit room, the familiar prayers recited by us all bring a sense of peace. When our household included toddlers and nursing persons it was always understood that they could play with quiet toys during this time. Eventually they would find a lap and settle in. Even nowadays someone always falls asleep cuddled up in such a cozy way next to a sibling.

Jesus is present and His peace and His embrace are indeed the work of a Gardener that longs to see His plants come to the fullness of beauty. Trust that our children will reach back to moments like this in times of stress or confusion.

Catholic homeschooling mothers are indeed the Lord's heirloom roses. He has hand picked them to follow a path lovingly prepared from His wisdom and His desire that they and their family reach their Heavenly home safely. Our gardens are the souls of the children entrusted to our care.

 

Copyright 2007 Rita Munn. Rita is the mother of ten, speaker, and author of A Family Journal.

Evolution, Creation, and Intelligent Design by Suchi Myjak

Clearly, it is important to give our children a perspective on our origins that is in keeping with our Faith. What may be less obvious is that the information we present to them should also be reasonable in light of the scientific evidence available. Why? While the danger to our children's faith is more apparent in the first case, it is no less real in the second. Both faith and reason are important, and we must be careful not to put our children in the position of having needlessly to choose between the two.

Creationism

Creationism is the belief that the account of creation in Genesis 1 is to be taken literally. It goes along with a view of the earth as being rather young--anywhere from 6000-10,000 years old. Certain groups of Protestants and indeed some Fundamentalist churches hold to this view.

A problem with interpreting Genesis chapter 1 as a completely literal history is that it disagrees with the account in chapter 2 on certain particulars such as the order in which creation occurred. For example, in Gen. 1, man is not created until the sixth day, after the plants and animals; however, in Gen. 2:4-7, man is created "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," and before the plants and animals. Clearly both cannot simultaneously be totally literal histories of creation.

Also, in order to accept a literal reading of Genesis 1, we have to ignore the evidence of a number of fields of science from geology to astrophysics (radiometric dating of rock layers to distance scale measurements), which all place the age of the universe at billions (not thousands) of years. Of course it is possible that God could have created the world a few thousand years ago, and merely made it appear to be a lot older. However, this flies in the face of reason, a faculty for which the Catholic Church has always had a healthy respect. We need never fear to seek the truth in scientific investigations since God will not contradict Himself (see CCC 159).

As Catholics, we are blessed to have the Magisterium of the Church to interpret the Scriptures infallibly. We need not rely on our own understanding, which to my mind is the fatal flaw of Protestantism. Catholic Scriptural exegesis affirms the importance of the literal meaning of a passage; however, this refers to what the human author was trying to convey (see CCC 106-110). The Church has not definitively spoken on this aspect of the creation account; therefore we are not required to accept a literal 6-day creation as part of our faith. In fact, there is a long history including writers of the stature of St. Augustine of interpreting the "days" in Genesis as not literal 24-hour days, for example in reference to God's statement to Adam that he would die on the very day that he ate of the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 2:17) This makes sense since Adam and Eve did not literally die that same day, although they did suffer a spiritual death by cutting themselves off from God's grace and eventually did die bodily.

The Church does teach that the Genesis account is historical in some sense and not merely mythological. Clearly, God's creation of the universe from nothing is a historical fact revealed in Genesis. Another is the creation of man in God's image. A third is the fact that God has given man dominion and stewardship over the world. All these are points of definite Catholic teaching. Further, the Genesis accounts show that God's hand is involved in the design of every living thing.

Evolution: Darwinism and its Successors

Although the term "evolution" has come to mean a broad range of concepts, it is still the term used by biologists. The following summarizes the development of evolutionary theories since Darwin.

  • Darwin's proposal in The Origin of Species contained two key pieces: (1) common descent: that all the forms of life seen today arose from a common ancestor, and (2) natural selection: the mechanism by which this occurred.
  • Darwinism per se has been acknowledged to be insufficient for a significant period of time; for one thing, it did not include a method for generating variation. The theory was therefore updated in the mid-20th century, producing "neo-Darwinism." The main change was the addition of random genetic mutation as the mechanism to generate variation.
  • Over time, additional mechanisms, such as genetic drift and gene flow, have been included in the theory. Some refer to the result as the "modern synthesis," while others continue to call this "neo-Darwinism."
  • The unwritten rule is that all mechanisms must operate solely by natural processes.

Evolution can be broadly divided into two categories, with the species level as the defining boundary. "Micro-evolution" refers to events below this boundary, while "macro-evolution" refers to those above it. Further, biologists refer to the "fact" of evolution as well as to the "theory" of evolution. More on this in a moment.

It is vital to understand that biologists define "evolution" as a change in the frequency of genes in a population over time. At the micro-evolutionary level, such changes have been observed on numerous occasions. Examples include bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, insects becoming resistant to pesticides, and heritable changes in coloration or size of animals. No one, including creationists, disputes this. This is one aspect referred to as the "fact" of evolution--i.e. "evolution happens."

At the macro-evolutionary level is where creationists generally have a problem with evolution. However, here too, there is strong evidence pointing to common descent; examples include (1) fossil sequence, including transitional forms; and (2) gene sequence comparisons. Speciation events have been observed in several instances, including in plants, yeast cultures, and fruit flies. This too is referred to as the "fact" of evolution--i.e. "evolution has happened."

Why, then, is evolution also called a "theory"? When biologists speak of the "theory" of evolution, they are speaking of the mechanisms by which the observed changes in organisms might have occurred. In general, the currently known mechanisms are thought adequate for micro-evolutionary changes; however, whether they are adequate for macro-evolutionary changes is hotly debated within the community of scientists working in the field of evolutionary biology. The general pattern seen in the fossil record is one of very rapid differentiation of groups of creatures near the time of their origin, followed by long periods of stability. This does not fit well with the gradualism envisioned by the modern synthesis. While some contend that macro-evolution is simply cumulative micro-evolution, others (especially paleontologists) contend that additional mechanisms are needed to explain macro-evolution. Ironically, the actual "origin of species" remains poorly understood today.

Intelligent Design

The basic concept of Intelligent Design is that even though we can't always tell by looking at an object who made it, we can still tell whether someone designed it or whether it came to be by chance. For example, if you saw a watch or a car, you would immediately conclude that someone had made it, not that it had been constructed by random events. Similarly, scientists in the Intelligent Design community see design in the natural world.

Another important concept concerns the question of detecting design. We already know that God did design living beings, but can we detect that design? An artifact may be designed without that design being detectable; modern art comes to mind. Conversely, non-intelligent processes may create an orderly pattern. Scientists working in the area of intelligent design therefore look for both complexity and specificity in order to detect design.

These scientists see design in many places. For example:

  • "Irreducible Complexity" on a Biochemical Level. An irreducibly complex system has to have all parts in place and functioning in order to work. If the system only has some subset of the parts, it will not perform the function imperfectly--rather, it will not perform the function at all! The idea here is that it is not possible for such a system to evolve each part separately, since it doesn't make sense for an organism to retain several components that have no useful function. Thus, irreducibly complex systems imply design rather than evolution as their origin. For more on this, see Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe (See Additional Resources list below).
  • The "Anthropic Fine Tuning" of the Universe. There are many universal constants which we tend to take as a given; yet, if any one of them were changed even a little, life would cease to exist. So, many scientists (especially physicists) have asked, Why are these values so conveniently set? It is perhaps a measure of the desperation of those who reject the design hypothesis that they resort to extra-evidential theories such as the existence of infinite parallel universes to explain this fine-tuning.
  • Origin of Information in DNA. The probability of the development of these complex and specified (i.e. information bearing) structures purely by chance is vanishingly small even over a time scale of billions of years and given the most favorable (not necessarily realistic) conditions.

Intelligent Design in and of itself does not argue for or against any particular time frame. Nor does it posit that all possible variations were the direct result of design. Rather it contends that design rather than chance accounts for the increasing complexity of living creatures in the course of earth's history. In a sense, it may be thought of as a mechanism by which evolution has occurred.

As with any proposal in science, there are arguments against Intelligent Design, primarily from supporters of Darwinian evolutionary theories, which do not allow for intelligent agents. Many scientists, unfortunately, display an unwillingness to engage in discussion of these ideas on their own merits. For more on Intelligent Design, including responses to the major arguments against it, see Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, by Behe, Dembski, and Meyer (see Additional Resources list below for more information).

Intelligent Design is a plausible source for the sudden appearance of novel features in living creatures. It makes sense of the scientific evidence and seeks the truth, regardless of its implications. And, although it does not make any direct statements about God, since He is outside the realm of scientific investigation, design clearly implies a Designer. However, even if these ideas are true, we may never prove them to everyone's satisfaction; sometimes God chooses to be in the whisper rather than the earthquake (cf. 1 Kings 19:12).

What Does the Church Say about Evolutionary Theories?

The fullest teaching of the Church on this subject is in Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis:

"The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that in conformity with the present state of human science and sacred theology research and discussions on the part of men experienced in both fields take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution in so far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming into existence from preexistent and living matter--for Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scripture and of defending dogmas of faith."[1]

In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."[2]

In sum, we may believe in "theistic evolution" under the conditions that (1) God created the Universe, so that it is not eternal; (2) God intervened in a special way in the generation of the first man; (3) all men are descended from one man (monogenism); (4) the soul of every man is directly created by God and not evolved in any sense and (5) we are willing to submit to the judgment of the Church.[3]

God's creation of the universe is not, of course, provable by science. Nonetheless, an "eternal" universe (as was once believed by scientists) would be in contradiction with it, whereas the Big Bang theory is compatible with it.

Similarly, science cannot determine whether God intervened to give man a soul, making him a rational being. Nonetheless, the evolutionary theory in question must be compatible with this idea. Both critics and proponents (most notably Richard Dawkins) of neo-Darwinism, or the modern synthesis, note that the theory implies atheistic materialism; it not only does not explain the origin of the soul, but it effectively denies its existence. This in and of itself raises a red flag for faithful Catholics. Pope John Paul II stressed this point in his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: "Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person."[4]

Another observation, made by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), is that our origins do not lie in "chance and error"; we are, rather, "something willed; ... the fruit of love." [5] Or, as the Catechismof the Catholic Church says, "man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake."[6] The point is that God designed the universe to make human existence not merely possible, but certain. We didnít just happen to come into being; God willed for us to exist.

Perhaps because of an animosity to creationism, most evolutionary biologists insist on polygenism, or the idea that there was a group of interbreeding individuals that were the "first parents" of the human race, rather than one couple (Adam and Eve). This is incompatible with the revealed truth of the dogma of original sin. (Incidentally, the mitochondrial DNA evidence harmonizes with monogenism, though it does not necessarily require it.)

The Church teaches that, subject to the above considerations, we may believe in a theory of the evolution of life on Earth, though of course she does not require us to do so. Such a theory must stand or fall on its own scientific merits.

© 2003, 2005 Suchi Myjak. Permission is granted to print this article in total for non-profit personal or educational purposes.

Recommended Resource
Creator and Creationby Mary Daly

Additional Resources (Thanks to Mary K for most of this list!)

Church documents:

  • Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII, 1950. www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P12HUMAN.HTM
  • Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II, 1996. www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961022.HTM

Books:

  • In the Beginning ... A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Eerdmans Pub., 1995.
  • Copernicus, Galileo, and the Catholic Sponsorship of Science by Jane Meyerhofer, Ye Hedge School, 2001.
  • 1000 Years of Catholic Scientists compiled by Jane Meyerhofer, Ye Hedge School.
  • Did Darwin Get It Right?--Catholics & the Theory of Evolution by George Sim Johnston, Our Sunday Visitor, 1998.
  • Darwin's Black Box by Michael J. Behe, Touchstone/Simon & Shuster, 1996. (Behe is Catholic)
  • Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, by Behe, Dembski, and Meyer, Ignatius Press, 2000.

Websites:

  • Catholic Educator's Resource Center: Core Subjects: Science: www.catholiceducation.org/directory/Core_Subjects/Science
  • Ye Hedge School (Mary Daly's website, Catholic): www.hedgeschool.
    homestead.com
  • Dave Armstrong's Intelligent Design site (Catholic): http://ic.net/
    ~erasmus/RAZ15.HTM
  • Discovery Institute (mostly Christian: both Protestant and Catholic): www.discovery.org

Endnotes

  1. Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, Aug. 12, 1950. www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/P12HUMAN.HTM
  2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 295.
  3. cf. John A. Hardon, SJ, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Image Books, 1985, p136. For more, see Humani Generis, op. cit.
  4. The full text of his address is at www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961022.HTM. A good discussion of it is available online at www.cin.org/users/james/files/whatsaid.htm.
  5. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), In the Beginning, Eerdmans, 1995, pp 56-7. cf. CCC 284, 295.
  6. CCC 356.

How to Evaluate Your Child's Writing by Sandra Garant

Why Evaluations are Critical to Writing Success

Writing is more than words on paper; the essay and story are greater than the sum of spelling and grammar. Excellent spelling and perfect grammar are not enough. They are important, yet they are not enough because quality writing needs organization, insight, and depth. The extent to which these elements are applied to the writing will depend upon the writer's age and ability. An eight year old will not usually be capable of the insights and abstract thinking that a thirteen year old will be able to express.

All writers need feedback. They need to know what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and what might improve their writing. Is their writing organized, does it contain depth, have they expressed their own unique viewpoint?

The feedback your child receives can be more valuable than the particular writing assignment. In each writing assignment, your child is playing with words, seeing how they interact, how they contrast, how they can be stretched and reshaped. Your child is also thinking and stretching intellectual limits. When we play, experiment, and reach beyond ourselves, we are going to make mistakes. Some of these mistakes may be marvelous, and others may just be messy.

For instance, how would you evaluate the following:

In my room is a wooden bed
In my room is a wooden bed with a fluffy pillow
In my room is a wooden bed with a fluffy pillow and a pink blanket
In my room is a wooden bed with a fluffy pillow and a pink blanket and a scruffy bear
In my room is a wooden bed with a fluffy pillow and a pink blanket and a scruffy bear that Grandma gave me. I love Grandma.

Do you start marking the missing punctuation, or do you marvel at the wonderful use of repetition and the meaning expressed in these simple sentences?

The point of writing is to express ourselves, to communicate information and emotions, to develop communion with one another. The point of evaluating writing is to encourage that self-expression, the exchange of information and emotions, and communion between two minds.

Proofreading vs. Evaluating

You are not a professional proofreader, and your child's writing is not going to be published at this point. This is a learning experience and a writing experiment. Your child's writing does not have to be perfect. Your child's writing does not have to be perfect. It does not have to be perfect. Professional writers rely on proofreaders because their writing is not perfect. Think of yourself as a writing coach rather than a proofreader.

Proofreading is important, but I have seen too much emphasis placed on getting the technical elements right to the loss of the content. Trying to coordinate spelling, grammar, and meaningful flowing sentences is like juggling.

I can almost guarantee you that if you insist on perfection, you are going to end up with a very discouraged child who balks at writing. That problem can be solved but in another workshop.

I hope you would not take a red pen to your child's artwork and slash it about this way and that. That type of an evaluation does not encourage and improve a child's art, and it doesn't always do much for writing either. Please use a blue, purple, or green pen to evaluate your child's writing. Try not to slash through it. If the writing is saved in a file on your computer, insert comments in a different color (not red, but pink is okay) within the lines or at the end.

Example: A fat bear scared a fat dog that scared a fat cat that ate a fat rat that ate a fat piece of cheese.

Recommendation: This is a bit short. It ends too quickly. I did not specify a particular length, but it would be more interesting if it contained something slightly unpredictable. I know you have a spunky personality. Let that show up in your writing.

If the writing is on paper, you might underline a word or phrase or use parenthesis to mark it. If the same mistake is made again and again, do not mark each instance. Mark the first one and then make a comment at the end of the page:

Watch out for words needing capital letters. Your punctuation needs repair. Review the usage of commas.

Evaluate by noting what was done correctly, what was done incorrectly, and what can be done to improve the writing. Try to balance these so that you don't have ten mistakes and recommendations vs. one well done. Make it clear that recommendations are not necessarily mistakes. This kind of evaluation takes time, but your child will learn and be encouraged by it.

The Inklings were a famous group of talented writers—C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and a few others—who got together to read and comment on each other's work. They needed to talk about their writing and share it. They weren't proofreading or grading each other's work; they were appreciating, criticizing, and encouraging each other. That is the goal of your evaluations for your own child.

Praise

There is always something to praise in writing. Find it!

Sometimes beginning writers do not know what they are doing right until you point it out. Maybe the writing is well-organized and easy to read. Perhaps the title is creative. Maybe a difficult word was spelled correctly. Perhaps the description or dialogue is excellent even if the punctuation is terrible. Maybe one sentence shows great insight. Perhaps the beginning is excellent.

Example: One of my students wrote in great detail about her younger brother. She outdid herself on this assignment with the details. I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously his misdeeds are very near to her heart. Here's what I wrote:

Very clear specific images here. You do a great job of proving your point that he gets into trouble and causes trouble for others. I like the way you arranged the material. You draw the reader along and continue to explain why he is a bully and troublesome in increasingly dire deeds. Well done.

Another student wrote a description of a birthday party, using all five senses. Here's what she did correctly:

I can tell that you used your imagination to write this. Thank you for adding a title to your paragraph. I like the little details you added, such as the coconut-flavored cake, the candles in the shape of the numeral 100, and the sound of the candles. Good going!

Always notice when your child adds details. Always notice it. Details are the rays that enlighten the reader. Readers are blind until the writer gives them details to kick-start the imagination. So praise those details.

Praise any clear specific images, such as the ones I underlined in this excerpt from a recycled fairy tale:

Once upon a time there was a young pig called Melody. Melody was not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, she was not afraid of the Wicked Witch, and she was not afraid of her stepmother. Melody was worried about floods.

So Melody found a big beautiful oak tree in an enchanted forest that was overrun with handsome princes. They had a lot of free time because Sleeping Beauty and Snow White had already been rescued. Melody hired the men to build a tree house thirty feet up in the oak tree.

The princes hauled up the mahogany wood and the nails and the shingles and the stained glass windows. The Big Bad Wolf bit one of the princes on the leg, but Melody whacked him with a sledgehammer, and he let go and ran off howling. The Wicked Witch sent a terrible rainstorm that ruined the mahogany, but Melody's stepmother filed a lawsuit against the witch for damages.

Praise efforts at applying information from other lessons. For example, if you have studied quotation marks, and your child uses them, praise that effort. If you recently studied a particular time period or a particular geographic location, and your child applies that information to the assignment, encourage that kind of connection. Writing requires this interplay. And that is why writing is so difficult for children—they have very little experience to draw upon. The experience and knowledge a writer has accumulated deepen the writing. If a writer has little experience, the writing will necessarily be thin. Any time your child manages to include some particular knowledge, you want to encourage and praise that effort.

Mistakes

Make sure the mistake is a mistake. Is your child experimenting? Have you covered that particular lesson yet? Do not mark off for grammar, spelling, or other information that a child has not learned yet. If your child is writing a conversation and has never had a lesson on quotation marks, then please do not "correct" that. Make a mental note to teach quotations soon.

If you have not covered point of view, then do not count point of view errors as mistakes. For example, if your child is writing from a first person point of view, and his character Rex falls asleep during the story, and then Rex continues to describe what else is happening while he is asleep, that is an "error," but not one for the mistake column. Although the lack of logic might be obvious to you, a child may not remember that "I" is the character in the story. To remember that requires concentrated abstract thinking. You might mention it in the recommendations.

One of my students wrote a story about a soldier going off to war. It was obvious from the plot that she lacked knowledge about the military, but that is not information I would expect a nine year old to have. She did an excellent job of using dialogue to reveal her characters and their emotions. She used description, tension, and sounds to draw the reader into the action. She put a lot of effort into writing the story and applying what she did know and that effort showed. Her story would have been better if she had known that soldiers have to go through intensive training and that they can't go home when the battle is over, but I did not even mention that in the recommendations. That kind of knowledge will come later; it is not a mistake.

If the writing sounds like "fill in the blank," count that as a mistake. This is writing that you want to discourage. An assignment on description may result in: I smell flowers. I touch the dirt. I taste sweat. I feel tired. I see grass and leaves. I hear birds singing.

This assignment needs to be redone. Ask your child specific questions to revise this style of writing: What kind of flowers did you smell? Why were you touching the dirt? Were you planting flowers? Where were you? Do you like flowers?

Count as a mistake any grammar and spelling errors that you have studied. Count as a mistake any errors that could have been found by proofreading if you have taught your child how to proofread. For instance, one of my students changed a character's name in the middle of the story. If your child has the sun setting in the east, that would be an error. If the character is running home and parks his bike in the garage, that would be an internal error.

Point out changes in verb tense. Typically, writers use past tense for stories and present tense for nonfiction. Beginning writers can get confused and switch tenses, especially if they include dialogue, as in the following: Ben walked home with his best friend. "Al," he said, "Let's go play ball tomorrow." "Sure," agrees Al. "Let's do it." They reach Al's home and say good-bye. Al goes in and Ben walked back to his own house. He is thinking about tomorrow.

The narrative should be all past tense—Ben walked home, "Sure," agreed Al, They reached Al's home and said good-bye, Al went in, He thought about tomorrow. The dialogue in this case should be present tense, although it could also be past or future depending upon the conversation, as in "Did you get that new bat you wanted?" Ben asked. "No, but I will once I've saved enough money," Al said. I generally count this as a mistake if the writer is over the age of 11 because by that time, most children should have developed an ear for changes in verbs.

Disregarding directions should be counted as mistakes. If a student leaves out a section of the assignment or fails to answer the question, then those are mistakes.

With children in the elementary grades, choose one or two elements to mark as errors. Do not try to correct everything at once. It is too overwhelming. Remember that the writing does not have to be perfect. You might focus on punctuation and organization. Leave the spelling errors alone. Next time you might focus on spelling and a lack of details.

What is the most important element or error in the particular writing you are evaluating? Draw attention to that.

Example: If people had wheels instead of feet(,) we could race from place to place. People would look strange and would not need there shoes. We might need oil, so we would smell funny(,) and we might squeek if we didn't get oiled. We would not have as many cars. We would need people lanes. People would have to be carful not to run into each other(.) (S)some people would knock over littler people.

The punctuation and the weak ending would be the mistakes to focus on in this paragraph. Leave the spelling errors alone. The paragraph does have some excellent details and a strong beginning. Weak endings seem to be a common error—students get tired and stop thinking, or they just haven't figured out how to wrap up their topic.

Children in sixth grade and up can handle more error messages, but again, choose the major problems. Try not to nitpick the technical points, especially when they are trying a new writing style or challenge. Save the thorough-going proofreading for the last year or two of high school.

Recommendations

Recommendations are the most difficult part of the evaluation. You are making suggestions in this category, not making corrections. How can the writing be strengthened?

Here is a basic checklist of what to look for:

1. Are the sentences vague?

2. Can the reader visualize the information?

3. Does the beginning immediately catch the reader's attention?

4. Does the middle prove a point, develop characters or situations, or otherwise draw the reader deeper into the writing?

5. Does the end solve plot problems or wrap up the point being made?

6. Is the material easy to follow and well-organized?

7. Does the writing enlighten the reader?

8. Is the writing impersonal (like a textbook), or does it reveal something about the writer's personality?

When you make recommendations, if possible, suggest at least two options. By doing that, you stress that the writer needs to make choices, and that sometimes, no one particular answer is the right one.

Example on a paragraph about dinosaurs: The ending is weak, which would not be as noticeable if you had not had such a strong beginning. If you will read your paragraph aloud and leave off the last two sentences, perhaps you can tell that the paragraph is stronger without them. You could also rewrite the last two sentences, making them more specific. They are too general to help your reader get a clear image.

How could you make the last two sentences more specific? Perhaps you could describe a dinosaur that looked like a chicken following the sentence on taste. Or you could describe a dinosaur that would feed a whole village of people, like the brontosaurus.

Don't be surprised if the evaluation is longer than the writing assignment!

Weak endings are a very common problem with young writers, and there are several ways to repair them. Try to give specific suggestions, instead of saying "rewrite the weak ending." This ending is weak because it fades away. Make a positive statement about your reaction to the situation. How do you feel about it?

Trying to cover too much ground in too little space is another common problem. This example skims the surface and neglects the in-depth details in the following paragraph: I like to dance, but it can be hard. Getting to meet people is great. Another part is just the music. One of the hard parts is remembering the steps. While I'm dancing, I have to look perfect and the steps are challenging. You have to pay attention to a lot of different things to dance well. You can't get nervous before the judges.

Recommendations: You have the beginnings of a great paragraph or even essay on dancing. You would just have to dig deeper to share this experience with your reader. If you know that you have a very limited amount of time to write, you must really narrow down your topic. You could have spent the whole ten minutes just describing how to perform one step. What do you look at when doing a step? What do you hear or is that even important? How you feel when doing a step would be very important. What is it like to perform before a judge? What are you doing with your hands?

You may decide to make some recommendations mandatory. Clearly mark these. For example, if your child's paragraph contains too many punctuation errors, then make a note for a mandatory review of punctuation. If the images are too vague, and this has become an on-going problem even after you have prompted your child in previous writing, then make the revision mandatory. If your child did not follow the directions, make the revision mandatory.

What About Second Drafts?

Getting students to write second drafts is very difficult. They simply do not want to do it, but second drafts are often necessary. No one writes perfectly the first time every time. What often happens is that students will make one or two tiny little changes on the second draft. They cannot see what changes to make unless the recommendations are specific.

To help your child get used to making revisions, begin with oral revisions. These take less time and are almost as effective as the rewriting. They are not quite as effective as rewriting because the improvement will be momentary and thus less obvious.

Example: I would have a student who wrote something similar to the dancing paragraph describe orally to me what dancing in front of a judge is like. I would have a student tell me a stronger ending for a paragraph with a weak ending.

In the case of grammatical revisions, you can also have your child read the correct punctuation into the sentences, as in "Capital I am not hungry, comma are you? question mark" for I am not hungry, are you? This reading of the punctuation sharply focuses the attention on the grammar, and most students do not seem to mind trying this novel approach to grammar.

The child can write shorter assignments that are of high quality rather than simply writing to get an arbitrary amount words on paper. These shorter assignments are also easier to evaluate and to revise when necessary.

Through this method of evaluation, your child will learn from mistakes, realize strong points in writing, and make choices when revising writing. Evaluating should be a positive encouraging experience. Remember that your child has just put much time and effort into an assignment, and that effort should be valued by both the child and the teacher. Too often all that work is simply checked and recorded and never truly appreciated by a reader. Be that appreciative audience for your child and your child will come to enjoy writing because writers need readers.

Sandra Garant is the mother of three, author of Creative Communications, and a writing tutor.

Sorrows in Our Life by Rita Munn

Ecclesiastes 11:5: Just as you know not how the breath of life fashions the human frame in the mother's womb, so you know not the work of God which he is accomplishing in the universe.

The Lord works intimately and continuously in our lives. I know this intellectually, but there are times when His nearness seems hidden. Times of sorrow or confusion can bring a feeling of being separated from God's sight.

I was experiencing one of these dark times in my life. A burden of sorrow had engulfed my spirit. I knew the Lord was with me, however I was confused because He did not appear to be removing the cause of my burden.

For several days I went about my daily chores in a distracted and hollow way. I was praying and asking to see God's power in my situation yet He remained (what appeared to me) silent.

My husband decided that a change of scenery would be beneficial to my mood. He suggested a late supper at a nearby restaurant. It was Sunday evening and the restaurant was nearly empty. Besides a few scattered diners, there was a party of 8 - 10 people. It was obvious that they had just come from church services as we overheard their conversation.

At their table sat a man with three young boys. By the way they acted toward one another it was easy to guess that they were his sons.

As we sat nearby, slowly eating and absentmindedly watching this happy group of people, I prayed within my spirit. "Dear Lord, please lift this cloud. Help me to see Your work in this burden You have asked me to carry."

No sooner had this prayer left my heart, than several waitresses came near the church party's table. "Please sing it for all of us," they asked. Without hesitation, the young man and his three sons stood up and began singing a beautiful acappella harmony.

I can not remember all the words because the first verse was so powerful, that it was all I heard.

The God of the Mountain is
Also the God of the Valley.

Jesus was speaking to me! I do not believe in coincidence, only Godincidence.

The Lord told me in that instant that He was with me in that valley, but more importantly, He is God while He is there. He remains all powerful, all knowing, and ever merciful.

I was comforted by this sign of God's faithfulness. I am certain that praying always, especially when it seems to be unheard, brings grace beyond measure. With that grace fortifying our spirit we are able to see what we may have otherwise missed. Just like Elijah, we will hear God in the whisper of the breeze.

That night the Lord did not remove the source of my sorrow but He helped me readjust my burden making it easier to carry. The Lord told me, miracles can happen in the valley because I am here. My spirit was refreshed and my hope renewed.

Praise God!

Lord, let me always be open to Your presence. Help me each day to seek You and the knowledge of Your will for me. Let me trust in Your teaching to "Be not afraid," for You are always with me.

When I find myself in the midst of a spiritually dark time I try to remember that this time is a battle.

I have to keep these things in mind:

1. Remember who the opponent is and that the victory has been won. A spiritual battle is the Tempter's way of bringing fear and doubt into our lives so that we will lose sight of Jesus, Our Victor and King.

2. Receive the Sacraments frequently, especially Holy Eucharist. The graces gained from these beautiful fountains of love left to us by Our Lord are refreshment to our spirits and armor for the battle.

3. Talk with a priest or spiritual advisor who can help you see the path through the dark.

4. Take time to rest physically. A battle is tiring and our bodies need to recuperate. Fatigue lessens our ability to think clearly.

5. Eat wholesome foods. Too much sugar or caffeine makes me jittery and on edge, giving the Tempter on outlet for anger.

6. Focus on simple tasks that can be accomplished with ease. Arranging a vase of flowers, taking a walk with the children, mopping a dirty floor or cleaning up a messy kitchen get me moving forward and improves my outlook.

7. Remember to praise God and thank Him for His faithfulness. Ask that He show you signs of His Love and His presence. Make your every move a prayer. The devotion of the rosary is so powerful. Sometimes if I am unable to 'pray' the beads just holding my rosary is calming. It is like holding the Blessed Mother's hand. *

8. Ask for the prayers of family, friends, your Guardian Angel, and all the saints. The elect of Heaven are our cheering squad and desire to accompany us on this journey and if necessary they will carry us over the finish line.

I know that each of you has insights from the Holy Spirit and that the Lord has empowered you to work through your spiritually dark times. I feel very blessed by the Lord that He has given me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. I thank Him for this gift. I pray for each of you that read my column and for all homeschooling parents each day when I pray the Second Glorious Mystery.

I will tell you that that difficult time in my life did pass and I feel closer to the Lord for His allowing me to see His power in the midst of darkness. We pray the evening prayers each night as a family. One of the verses says:

Jesus Christ is Light of the world.
The Light no darkness can overcome.

As followers of Jesus we are called to reflect the Light of Jesus to all those who may be in the darkness. Our witness as parents and teachers does just that in a quiet way. Homeschooling mothers and fathers seem to be the most compassionate group of people I have known. They are always willing to bring a casserole, say prayers, babysit, help out at church, or whatever is necessary. They are on the whole extremely open to the Holy Spirit.

* Do you remember the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot? I do. As he lay on the floor of the convention center, bleeding and mortally wounded, from out of nowhere someone thrust a rosary into his hands. Immediately he began moving the beads. I will never forget that image.

 

Copyright 2007 Rita Munn. Rita is the mother of ten, speaker, and author of A Family Journal.

Myth Busters : : The Accreditation Myth

The Accreditation Myth


What does accreditation measure, and how necessary is it? How do all those homeschooled students get into college without it?

To better understand how colleges look at accreditation, think of the student as a vehicle which the college is interested in purchasing, and his high school as the garage in which the student has been parked. Is the college more interested in the garage, or rather in how well the car performs?

Using public school as an example, transcripts reveal names of subjects taken and grades earned, but indicate neither content nor rigor of the coursework. Further, credits don’t indicate which texts were used, whether the class actually completed the text by the end of the course (most don’t), or whether the teacher even covered the topics in the syllabus. (A public schooled student, when asked what she had learned in science that year, sighed and responded, “All the teacher ever talked about was fish.”) Finally, a diploma simply indicates that the student received all the credits—meaningless or not—required for graduation. Hence, an accredited diploma tells a prospective college very little about the student’s actual knowledge base.

For these very reasons, colleges require more substantial evidence of academic ability and work ethic such as SAT and ACT scores, student essays, documentation of extracurricular activities including community volunteer work, and perhaps a few classes taken at the local community college. (These courses can double for both high school and college credit, while demonstrating the student’s ability to tackle college-level courses). Homeschoolers often shine in these categories, and in fact are often favored by colleges because they have a reputation for self-motivation and industry.

In fact, Catholic homeschoolers for years have been accepted without accredited diplomas, not only at noted Catholic institutions like Franciscan University of Steubenville and Thomas Aquinas College, but in secular colleges across the United States and Canada. Again, prospective students were judged by PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores, student-provided transcripts, and portfolios documenting accomplishments. While admission requirements differ among colleges, homeschooled students are routinely accepted into U.S. and Canadian colleges based on these family-provided proofs of education.

Indeed, colleges often view an impressive history of volunteer service in the community and other significant experiential education, coupled with average SAT/ACT scores, as favorably as high SAT/ACT scores coupled with few or no community service or activities.

Another alternative used by homeschoolers to transition from high school is the GED. Graduates have used the GED (both in conjunction with SAT/ACT scores and without), as a springboard into the armed forces, vocational schools, community colleges, and university.

Thus, Catholic homeschooling students have numerous, routinely used options for demonstrating completion of high school requirements and readiness for college or career, that do not include an accredited diploma.

Further, an accredited diploma alone is no guarantee that a student will be accepted by a college, as witnessed by public-schooled students who are not admitted by colleges to which they apply. Conversely, the ‘non-accredited’ homeschool student with solid SAT scores and a portfolio brimming with evidence of a motivated young adult will likely be welcomed at university, as so many others have been before him.

Read about one young lady's high school experience here!

More information about accreditation can be found here.

Questions about accreditation? Email us!

CHC Booster : : What is My Vocation?

“It is most important that you choose your career with care,
so that you may really follow the vocation that God has destined for you.
No day should pass without some prayer to this end.
Often repeat with St. Paul , 'Lord, what will You have me to do?'”
-- St. John Bosco

What is more precious to us than our children? Truly, isn't their joy and fulfillment in this life and the next the reason that we homeschool?

  • We introduce our children to their Heavenly Father from their earliest years.
  • We train our children to whisper into the very Heart of Jesus, and then to listen for His voice.
  • We surround our children with roadmaps of the Way. In our Catholic homes, we teach them to take the Blessed Virgin's hand so that she might lead them to her Son. As a family, we participate in the life of Christ in His Body, the Church. The very materials that we use to homeschool are selected because we yearn to have our children immersed and formed in Christ.
  • We desire nothing more than that our children learn to incline their ears to God's voice, and be obedient to His perfect will. This is the secret to their eternal happiness!
  • In the depths of our hearts, we pray that our children will respond generously to everything that God asks of them, knowing that He created them for a specific purpose, and that their lives will never be fulfilled unless they respond unreservedly.
  • As parents, we also without reservation give our children back to God, for they will only reach the joy of their fulfillment in His glorious and perfect will.

Childhood is certainly the time to begin forming little souls for eternity. That formation sets the stage for decisions that our children will make as they reach adulthood. Is God calling them to the vocation of marriage? To the single life? To religious life?

A solid, Catholic education certainly plays a part in shaping hearts and minds so that they might be prepared intellectually and spiritually to discern their vocations. [Remember that 'discernment of vocation' isn't limited to religious life alone, but any vocation to which God calls.]

When making any choice, it is of course necessary to have a choice! That is, we have to know the options to weigh the options. Because we as parents have answered the call to the vocation of married life, that is usually the vocation and choice that we, and our children, are most familiar with. To examine the alternate call to religious life, we must reach outside our families to expose our children to this vocation, this choice.

An excellent website that features solid, orthodox communities along with a wealth of information on discerning God's call is:

http://www.religiouslife.com/

http://www.religiouslife.com/a_learn_discern.html

Let us pray, and teach our children to pray, for discernment of their vocations.

O Holy Spirit,

Spirit of wisdom and divine love, impart Your knowledge, understanding, and counsel to youth that they may know the vocation wherein they can best serve God.

Give them courage and strength to follow God's holy will.

Guide their uncertain steps, strengthen their resolutions, shield their chastity, fashion their minds, conquer their hearts, and lead them to the vineyards where they will labor in God's holy service.

Amen.

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula
CHC Booster : : New to Homeschooling? Five Winning Start-Up Tips

1. "How do I know what materials to pick? I'm overwhelmed by the choices."
Particularly in the first year or two, the choices and decisions certainly can be overwhelming. We suggest simplifying by beginning with CHC lesson plans; this choice eliminates worry about doing too little or too much, as everything is already planned for you. Using the lesson plans, you can just get down to the business of enjoying school with your children, confident that all your bases are covered.

If you'd like to preview sample pages of CHC lesson plans and materials by grade level, check out the Grade-by-Grade Guides!

2. "How do I set up my home?"
Some families like to school in a separate room, while others find the 'kitchen table' model to be the most family-friendly. Kitchen-table schooling can work well if you like to putter about the kitchen as the children dig into their assignments, and if you have room to store schoolwork close at hand. [Shelves, bins, crates, or plastic tubs with lids are all good storage possibilities.] If your kitchen is adjacent to an area where non-schooling toddlers may play, so much the better, as mom can keep an eye on all the children without having to run back and forth between rooms to check on who is doing what to whom and where. The disadvantage to the kitchen table method is that the table needs to be cleared for meals, and sometimes storage can be a problem.

If the size of the home allows the children to school in a separate room, some families prefer this arrangement. The advantage is that all materials can be stored in the same room, and tables or desks don't necessarily need to be cleared as they do in a kitchen setting. The disadvantage to using a separate schoolroom is that mom can't be in the kitchen and the schoolroom simultaneously, reducing the possibility of multi-tasking or keeping an eye on smaller children in a separate room.

[We suggest that you save ideas for major changes in your home's arrangement--no knocking out of walls or remodeling!--until after the first year, once you've had the opportunity to see which arrangement best fits your family's needs.]

3. "How do I introduce the topic to my kindergartener or first grader?"
This commonly-asked question is easily answered: Carefully read the lesson plans and any teacher's guides, introductions, and directions contained in the materials. Then follow the instructions. Homeschooling success is soooooooo much easier to attain when this very simple piece of advice is followed.

4. "Where do I find local support?"
Your parish priest will often know of other homeschooling families in your parish. In addition, public libraries are used extensively by homeschoolers; librarians often have contact names and numbers. Your local school district administration offices frequently will have contact information as well.

5. "How do I find out my state's laws and register with the county?"
Regulations vary from state to state. The best place to begin is to contact the administration offices for your local school district. An alternative source of information, for those states which are unfriendly to homeschooling, is Home School Legal Defense Association: www.hslda.org

More is better…Isn't it?
"Our school day is so short compared to public school! I'm worried that we aren't spending enough time on school. Should we be doing more?"

"We follow the lesson plans, but I have the nagging feeling that we just aren't covering enough material in each subject. Should we do more?"

To answer these queries, let's take a quick peek into a public school classroom.

Squeezing into Jordan's first grade class, we note that blocks of time are allotted for math instruction, reading, language arts, science, and social studies. Can you guess which 'subject' consumes the most time of all?

That subject would be 'Waiting.'

Poor Jordan.
There he sits, waiting for class to begin.
Waiting for attendance to be called.
Waiting while lunch orders are taken.
Waiting until all 30 children in the classroom have their books out and open to the proper page.
Waiting for all eyes and ears to be pointed at the teacher.
Waiting until the directions are read and explained a third time.
Waiting while the teacher brings a rowdy student back to order.
Waiting while lining up for recess.
Waiting, when the first student has finished the math problem, for the rest of the class to catch up so that all can proceed, together, to the next problem.
Waiting in line for lunch.
Waiting for the class to settle down after lunch.
Waiting while 30 papers are turned in, and on ad infinitum.

In the homeschool, most of this tedious waiting is eliminated, with the result that Jordan's instruction—which consumes six or more hours in public school-- may be completed well in as little as two hours at home.

Finishing early isn't a signal that Jordan is doing too little work. Rather, it is simply a reflection of the difference between teaching directed at a classroom packed with bouncing children working at markedly different levels, and one-on-one tutoring in the homeschool.

One of the many advantages to homeschooling is that children may, in their spare time and in a relaxed fashion, investigate areas of particular interest through enrichment reading and activities; it is not necessary, however, to lengthen Jordan's day or list of assignments, simply because he completes his schoolwork ahead of his public-schooled peers. [Do I hear Jordan cheering?]

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : Train Travel, and Ten Steps to Stress-Free Homeschooling

Has your family ever reached a vacation destination via train travel? After selecting an end point, colorful brochures that suggested various places to visit were gathered, along with a railroad schedule, routes, and prices. Your vacation was carefully planned around destinations and vacation budget, right down to flip-flops and sunglasses or mittens and extra-warm socks.

Imagine how your vacation might have turned out, however, had your family arrived late at the station, forgotten a key connecting route, or experienced a train derailment!

The homeschooling journey shares some interesting parallels with a vacation by train; in fact, derailing of the 'Homeschooling Express' has occurred more than once in almost every family who is making the trip.

If your 'homeschool train' is wobbling on the rails, the following tips might be just the 'ticket' to put your train safely back on track.

1. Start with the Core
Particularly if this is your first year, stick to the basics. By so doing, your students will cover all the key subjects as you learn the ropes and they settle into your homeschool routine.

2. Use Lesson Plans...
..at least for the first year or two. Lesson plans save preparation time and eliminate the uncertainty of that pit-in-the-stomach question: Am I covering all that needs to be covered? CHC lesson plans highlight core subjects for those who wish to begin with the 'easiest route' to the same destination, but also include all subjects as your family gradually 'picks up speed' toward implementing a complete curriculum, along with enrichment materials and attention-grabbing activities.

3. Don't Add or Substitute
If you are stressed and confused by decisions about what and how much to teach, stick with the lesson plans. Additions and substitutions add to the expense, preparation time, and workload. The lesson plans are complete and thorough without confusing additions.

4. Don't Compare Your Children...
..to one another, or to children outside the family. This creates a fear of 'being ahead' or 'being behind.' Remember that God creates each of us as individuals, with differing abilities. Children in public school are rarely exactly at grade level in each and every subject; it is not uncommon for children to be a few grades ahead in one or more subjects, a few grades behind in one or more subjects, and right on target in the rest. Homeschooled children are no different in this regard. However, the significant difference between the two settings is that homeschooled children can move ahead at their own pace, and receive immediate, personally tailored instruction for those areas in which they lag.

5. Avoid Burnout…
…by adding too much and expecting too much, too soon. Enjoy each mile of the train trip, without expecting to arrive just after the train has left the station. Just as it is only at the end of the journey, when your family has returned from vacation, when you can truly assess the success of the trip, so also with homeschooling does a retrospective reveal the territory covered. Certainly, keep track of strides in learning, but don't make a final assessment of progress from last year to this, until year's end.

6. Without Discipline…
...children may make a break for the door and take a flying leap from the train. If your children don't listen or mind outside of homeschool, they won't listen or mind during homeschool. It is impossible to succeed at homeschooling without discipline. [If you are having discipline issues, put all academics on hold and work on this pivotal parenting skill first.]

7. Combine Grades Where Possible
Do you have children who are close in age? Grades are somewhat arbitrary divisions that don't necessarily reflect a student's readiness to learn. [It is not out of the ordinary for parents to notice that, while Mom is teaching a kindergartener, the preschooler is catching on just as quickly.] There is absolutely nothing 'wrong' with having two children in the same grade, or using the same materials for two children.

8. Praise
Praise at least twice as much as you correct. Point out and applaud your children for the good points and improvement in their work before you suggest corrections or further improvements.

9. Pray
Begin each school day with a simple prayer for wisdom, guidance, and the desire to use skills learned to help others to the glory of God. Use the free Wednesday that is built into CHC lesson plans and make a mini-holiday/holy day of it. Assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and take the kids to the park for a picnic, or go out to lunch.

10. Relax
Just as you would on that train-travel vacation, take photos and create a brief written record of those 'ooh and ahh' moments. Keep a portfolio of the year's activities [and collection of best papers] so you can look back on all the happy times, surrounded by evidence of your children's progress, and warmed by soul-satisfying memories.

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : Multi-tasking and the Inevitable Interruptions

Life is what happens when you're making other plans.
--Unknown

Two common homeschooling frustrations are the need to multi-task, and dealing with inevitable interruptions. From one battle-scarred homeschooler to another, some effective plans of attack:

One of your best 'weapons' in the battle is organization. For example, on the weekend, plan menus for the week. Linking menus—crockpot chicken one night, leftover chicken for a nutritious salad the next night—saves time, too. Each evening, check the next day's menu to make sure any frozen ingredients will be thawed in time.

If you do all the housework yourself, organize a team of helpers. Make a chore chart; even a four-year-old can empty a waste basket. Make it clear that chores will be finished before dinner. That is, Timmy can expect dinner when he has washed the sink. At the same time, be sure to give him a big hug for completing the task!

Create floor or shelf space in the laundry room, and get a box, five gallon bucket, or other container for each child. Sort wash directly from the dryer into each person's laundry container. Children are responsible for putting away their own clothing.

External interruptions may be reduced with an answering machine; spread the word that you teach school at home during the day so can't visit during school hours.

Internal interruptions have a two-fold approach. When you are doing math time with Gianna, does a line of wiggling children back up at your side? First, no interruptions relating to school work are allowed when Mom is giving instruction to another child [dirty diaper alerts are another story].

The second part of the approach is to eliminate 'wait' time. Yes, it is inevitable that one child will finish his work and have to wait for instructions from Mom before moving to the next subject. But these idle times lead to boredom which can lead to mischief.

Announce that there will be no more 'wait time.' Keep educational games on the computer, hand-held devices, map puzzles with states, countries, and capitals, etc. that can be used independently, close at hand. Keep a basket of books for mandatory 'free reading' time. [A set of children's encyclopedias works, in case you haven't made it to the library.] Make it a 'school rule' that when children are finished with their work and/or are waiting for help, they must choose an activity from the 'fun stuff list.' The benefit is that the children continue learning instead of vegetating and perhaps inciting to riot while they wait their turn for your attention. [It is a good idea to let the children do these activities somewhat removed from the schooling area to lessen distractions and also give them a change of scenery.]

Implementing this 'no down time' strategy also works when Mom is interrupted by phone calls or emergency diaper changes. Children know, if Mom is temporarily unavailable and they have finished their work, that they automatically shift to the 'fun stuff list.'

Finally, remember that Jesus is at the center of your homeschool. When the school day's 'tide of battle' seems to turn in the wrong direction, take a deep breath and run for reinforcements to Dominus Deus Sabaoth, Supreme Commander of all the armies of hosts!

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : A Simple Recipe for a Successful Homeschool

To be simple is the best thing in the world.
--G.K. Chesterton

In the first few years of homeschooling, which of us hasn't struggled to recognize and find the balance between too much and not enough? Of all the homeschooling 'recipes' we've tried over the years, this is the most pleasantly balanced.

A Simple Recipe for a Successful Homeschool

In a scene from an old Disney movie, 'Million Dollar Duck,' housewife Sandy Duncan cooks applesauce for the first time. Her cookbook rests by an open window, through which a playful breeze flips the pages from one recipe to another, causing the oblivious and inexperienced cook to add garlic, cayenne pepper, and a host of other strange ingredients to her applesauce. Needless to say, despite her earnest but haphazard efforts, the end result was not applesauce.

Haven't we all at one time, as inexperienced but earnest homeschoolers, stumbled into a similarly catastrophic recipe for homeschooling? That is, in a sincere desire to ensure academic success, we overlook the truly simple 'recipe' before us, skip steps, and begin to substitute 'ingredients,' with disastrous end results.

The good news is that the recipe for success is gloriously simple.

Step one is to read and follow all directions in Teacher's Manuals, Lesson Plans, and workbooks. Each component of each workbook and plan is there for a purpose. A few short minutes reading the introduction at the beginning of the school year, and then a moment to read any notations about the day's lesson from the Teacher's Manual or lesson plans, can save weeks and months of frustration.

The second step is to do every activity in the workbooks without skipping steps. Again, each component of the lesson is there for a reason. For example, we occasionally hear from struggling moms of tearful students who are having difficulty with reading, only to discover that the well-meaning mom had jumped right into the Little Stories for Little Folks readers without doing any of the essential pre-reading exercises. Without being taught the absolutely foundational letter sound and sound blending lessons from the Little Stories for Little Folks Parents' Guide, it's no wonder that there were tears!

The last simple step in our recipe for success is don't substitute within a program. For example, if you are using Little Stories for Little Folks: Catholic Phonics Readers as your reading program, don't add different phonics materials to substitute for parts that you've skipped. How often we hear that the Little Stories for Little Folks program is being used, but with different flash cards, or that the 'Name Game' or 'Silly Willy' exercises have been omitted in favor of a phonics DVD. Each segment that is skipped leaves a little instructional 'hole'; each substitution adds confusion because the substitutes aren't designed to fit with the program. ['Add-ons' are also expensive, unnecessarily raising the cost of homeschooling. Years ago, a mother in our homeschooling group--who had a reputation for adding and substituting rather than sticking with one program--was asked if homeschooling was expensive. She ruefully replied, "It is, if you homeschool the way I do." I might add that it's pretty confusing, too.]

Simply following the materials as they are designed is far easier on mom and student, and certainly makes for more stress-free and relaxed homeschooling.

Think of it as a happy recipe for success.

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : Kitchen Table Homeschooling

God couldn't be everywhere at once, so He created mothers.
--Unknown

You have surely heard this adage before and, if you are a homeschooling mother, my guess is that the inaccuracy of the saying brings laughter to your lips. Moms attempting to school children in a wide age range, and keep the home fires burning [rather than dinner], would probably rewrite the adage to read, 'Mothers can't be everywhere at once; thank God that His grace is sufficient'?

God's grace, along with a bit of strategy, can ease many of the frustrations of homeschooling. If you are a multi-tasking mom who feels stretched so thin that it's a wonder you aren't transparent, we invite you to consider kitchen table schooling. Yes, it's true that a separate school room lets you leave the mess behind. However, there are distinct advantages to 'kitchen schooling.' [Or dining room schooling with an unimpeded view from the kitchen.]

  • While you are waiting for children to bring work to you, you can be cleaning up after breakfast or starting lunch or dinner.
  • If the children are in the kitchen with you, monitoring their activities is a snap.
  • Once the one-on-one basic lessons have been explained, most questions about schoolwork can be posed while mom goes about her kitchen tasks.
  • Kitchen table schooling eliminates the need to bi-locate.
  • Wee ones can be put in a high chair in the kitchen, for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time, to watch mom at work.

One minor disadvantage to kitchen schooling is the need to clear schoolwork from the table for mealtime. However, this problem is readily solved by using 18 inch square, woven wicker drawers in a 'stacked' column-type unit, or a similar stacked basket-drawer storage unit. One drawer is just the right size to contain the school work of one student, and the attractive units can be kept in the kitchen or dining area for easy access and speedy table clearing. [Clear plastic containers can be stacked in a similar fashion.] Each student brings his work to the table from the drawer five minutes before school begins, and returns the work to the drawer five minutes before mealtime.

Wall shelves are another useful addition to kitchen schooling. They take up no floor space, and cloth boxes or woven baskets on the shelves can provide attractive storage for general schooling supplies.

Kitchen table schooling is one strategy to lessen the chaos of multi-tasking. But whether your family educates in a schoolroom, or at the kitchen table, it's good to keep a firm grasp on St. Paul's admonition: God's 'power is made perfect in weakness…for when I am weak, then I am strong.' [2 Cor. 12: 9-10]

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : Praise Phrases

Words of praise, indeed, are almost as necessary to warm a child into congenial life as acts of kindness and affection. Judicious praise is to children what the sun is to flowers.
-- Christian Bovee, 19th century English author

Whether beginning or veteran homeschoolers, we're always on the lookout for better approaches to teaching. Can you guess which teaching tool is age-appropriate for all grades, takes no prep time, warms the heart, and doesn't cost a nickel? Good for you! You guessed it! It's praise.

To be effective, praise should not be vague, but must be directed at a specific action or work.

'What a good boy!' is vague and ineffective praise. 'See what a good job you did, staying between the lines on your handwriting page!' is specific. The former is a 'warm fuzzy' alone; the latter is a 'warm fuzzy' with directions embedded: praise as a teaching tool.

For example, you might say, 'See how you made this letter 'o' stay right between the lines? This is your best one. Do you see any others that are really well done, like this one?' Rather than pointing out only the o's that are too small or go above or below guidelines, this method of 'teaching praise' demonstrates to the child what the goal is, and also points out that he can do it. Pointing out the positives is a way to point out the negatives without mentioning them specifically. [If the letters that touch the top and bottom line are best, then it follows that dinky or wandering letters aren't the best.]

Ineffective praise lets the child know that you are happy with him, but without knowing exactly what he has done to please you. Specific, effective praise not only lifts a dear little heart and brings a beaming smile to his face, but encourages him to continue his efforts, now that he understands what is expected. 'Oh, so that’s what it's supposed to look like! Hey, I really can do this.'

St. Philip Neri said, 'If we wish to keep peace with our neighbor, we should never remind him of his natural defects.' This advice works for children as well. However, there are times when pointing out errors is unavoidable. In these instances, offer the child a 'praise sandwich': 'Look at all these good letters, here and here and here. Now, see how this one keeps wandering below the line? I'll bet you could bring this one up, just like the others. See? Here's another one that is exactly right! Way to go!'

'Praise phrases' are sincere and specific; they point out the positive rather than the negative. 'Beautiful work on your spelling test; you got 16 out of 20 right. You are improving.' is much better than the deflating, 'You missed four this week. I guess that's better than missing six like you did last week.'

Some useful 'praise phrases' are: 'Good job on the----------' 'Look at the nice work you did on---' 'Wow! Your-----just keeps getting better and better.' 'I like the way you are--------'

Good use of teaching tools, Mom!

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

CHC Booster : : What Is the Greatest Drag on Homeschooling?

What do you think is the greatest 'drag' on homeschooling? Teaching higher level math, or science? Nope; the greatest 'drag' on homeschooling is the discouragement virus. Some of the symptoms sound like this: "Am I depriving my child by teaching him at home?" "I have no patience." "I feel like I'm trying to cover too much, and doing a poor job at all of it."

The inoculation against this deadly 'discouragement virus' begins with the realization that we aren't homeschooling alone. God is with us; our homeschools are His work, too. View homeschooling progress as God views spiritual progress: from the scope not of one day, but from eternity. If our Father delights in our toddling spiritual steps toward Him, we don't need to judge ourselves more harshly than He does.

What period of time elapsed between your baby's first self-feeding and the time he could neatly feed himself with silverware and no bib? A week? A month? A year, or two? As we can see the long-range perspective, and exercise so much patience with progress in self-feeding, we can have the same patient perspective with academics, both with our children and with ourselves.

As with self-feeding, neither measure progress by the day or week, nor focus on every single spill. Rather, compare work on a quarterly basis, and focus on what the child is doing right. Yes, correct where correction is needed, but spend even more time noting what the child has learned. Take photos; keep portfolios of work, and then go over them with your children every three or four months. You will be surprised at how much you have all progressed!

When the 'discouragement virus' begins to lurk, banish it with the knowledge that Our Lord is at your right side as your helper; He delights in you and the eternal gift that you are giving your children through Christ-centered homeschooling. Keep going, Mom, you're doing great!

© 2010 Catholic Heritage Curricula

More Talks Coming Soon!

Do you have a talk or article you'd like to share with other homeschooling moms? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Please query theresa@chcweb.com today!

 

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