Dear Auntie Leila: I feel the burden of educating my children

Before I go on to the topic, I want to congratulate the winner of the Illuminated Liturgical Calendar Christmas Cycle, Jaunita! I have hosted lots of giveaways and the winners sometimes have short comments; doesn’t need to be long or complicated to win because I really do choose randomly, but her comment was so sweet:

These are beautiful! I already know where to hang them, on the wall at the landing at the bottom of the steps, first thing to meet the children’s eyes when they come down in the morning. I can see this being a wonderful source for quiet contemplation for children and adults alike.

12/13 years ago I was a new convert hunting through blogs trying to figure out how to raise our 3 little boys Catholic. I knew how to raise them Mennonite. Was it much different? I was completely overwhelmed by the myriad of crafts, cakes, activities, etc, etc. Surely, Surely there had to be an easier way that didn’t wear one out just reading about it. Then I stumbled on your blog! Ironically it was your post on spanking* that clinched it that you had practical, common sense advice that could be trusted. 😄 So, here I still am now with 7 boys and 2 girls. Thank you for saving my sanity all these years!

*my advice is embedded in this post!

IF YOU ARE NOT JAUNITA and would love to purchase — save 20% on the Liturgical Year Calendar: Christmas Cycle at Sophia Press using this code: Calendars20 (note that the code is not for the subscription, which is already discounted).


Thanks to all who entered and for all the encouraging and wonderful comments. I wish I could send a calendar set to all of you! The code is the next best thing. Now on to our main post!

Dear Auntie Leila,

Is it realistic for me to try to classically educate my four children, ages 2-9, with another on the way? We’ve had three moves and struggled with bad health; I’m not great at housekeeping; my children are high-strung and energetic. I feel like I’m failing all around.

I have tried to use The Well-Trained Mind and Memoria Press (not an affiliate link). A homeschool collaborative isn’t really working well for us. I am tired. I am exhausted. I fantasize about staying home with my younger three and sending my extroverted nine year old to school on his own.

I think about everything that I wish that I could be doing with my time (cleaning! helping friends! reading books! knitting!), but I feel stuck, because if we decide to homeschool again next year, using a boxed curriculum, I’m not going to have a whole lot more time on my hands anyway.

I want to be home. I want to educate my children well. I want to learn and grow myself. And I would prefer to stay sane in the process.

I feel that the perfect has become my enemy.

Classically Frustrated

Dear CF,

You can do it! Here’s my thought:

Instead of starting with the perfect curriculum and falling short, might I suggest that you attack the problem from the other end? How about starting with making goals this year for your children and see what these companies can provide to help you achieve those goals?

I outline this way of approaching things in this post on keeping records. Turns out that having to write down your goals as well as your particular lesson plans clarifies the mind wonderfully.

Let your children have their interests (and yes, even little children already demonstrate proclivities one way or another, very often); give them basics, including those that are oriented towards good literature and classical subjects as they grow older; and trust in the environment of your home.

Setting your own goals — literally writing them down on a piece of paper, going right down the line, one child at at time — will help you know what you should and could do this year, and probably no more, at least not officially. And really, that’s all you need to know for now. You have the big picture but you must, as you say, stay sane! The children will learn, don’t you worry about that.

My objections to The Well-Trained Mind have to do with the intensity of it, which is odd coming from someone like me, who loves Ambleside (a Charlotte Mason curriculum); but Ambleside is saying: “here’s the banquet, take what you like, be calm” whereas WTM is saying: “do all the academic things to succeed at the next academic level; we’ll get you through.” WTM is not actually “great books” or classical education (which could be defined as the study of Latin and Greek but we will use it more broadly here) so much as “elite, college-bound education packaged for the home school” — but not every child is cut out to be a scholar, and not every potential scholar needs to be at the academic grindstone full time.

WTM does not see the importance of nature, music, art, and dance, all of which the great John Senior thought were part of the good life, classically understood, and endeavors without which one cannot hope to succeed when it comes to book learning. They are part of and a necessary precursor to an education that emphasizes great books.

Susan Wise Bauer’s background is teaching at an elite secondary school. Her curriculum follows that model and I honestly don’t think that someone in your circumstances (or mine for that matter) could achieve it. There’s a very good reason prep schools charge $40,000 and upwards a year for that sort of thing. And in the end, if your child happens not to be scholarly, it will only frustrate him and, frankly, do his intellect harm. Yet, a true classical education aims to form even the non-academic, scholarly sort of student.

Interestingly, I read her blog back in the day and saw that she herself was, first of all, relying on her mother to do a lot of the actual schooling, and second, in her own words, bribing the littles with M&Ms and videos so she could “Get it all done.” (And she is a feminist and her book on world history is laden with progressivist baggage.)

I don’t think that approach conduces to the overall building of an environment of peaceful learning (as peaceful as it’s possible to be when there are, you know, kids involved). To me, it’s better to do less and calm down the relentless push to get things done. Busywork doesn’t guarantee outcomes, anyway.

I am a big believer in doing what excites you and seems to fit your children and family, rather than trying to force everyone into someone else’s idea. Try my approach for a year and see how it goes! I am assuming you saw this post (super long-winded, sorry), and this one about having a vision for your educational path.

Look at it this way: Let’s say you have a third grader who hasn’t become fluent in reading. That means that your year’s goal for him has to be “become fluent in reading” or maybe more specifically, “enjoy chapter books.” To that end, your English class for him will be doing MC Plaid phonics along with read-alouds that entice him (and following my advice, reading one and a half chapters and then suddenly having to go do something, to entice him to finish on his own… or leaving the book in the bathroom for him to pick up during that boring yet immobilized time… ). If by the end of the year he is enjoying reading on his own, it’s a success. Done and done!

Another third grader might have been reading for three years. So the goal for this child is “good narration and being able to write a good sentence.” The Charlotte Mason curriculum on Ambleside will give you good leads on books that will challenge him. And he might be ready to start Latin, for which Memoria Press will be most helpful.*

*I have a whole series on teaching your child to read. It starts here. My book, The Summa Domestica, will have the whole series in a chapter of its own. 

That’s how the goals work, being specific for each subject and written down. That way you have a sense of accomplishment and not having wasted a year, because it’s all too easy in April to forget where you started in September, and to become a victim to that snare and delusion, the receding goalpost. The poor kid never gets a break because his accomplishments seem unremarkable, when really he went forward with a great leap. Let’s give our kids a break by being clear on what we are hoping they will accomplish.

This is the key, all you overwhelmed people! Use these comprehensive curriculum offerings not as a stick to beat yourself with but a means to achieve your goals. Don’t let them set the goals (except insofar as you find it helpful). These two third graders I mention can hardly be compared. They are in very different places. Forcing them into the same curriculum would be damaging to each, in a different way.

Some kids cheerfully do all the work put before them. Others balk. Most of mine went along fine. My Will said in 8th grade that he didn’t want to do more math. Alrighty then. By the time he got to chemistry, he needed calculus and he learned it without difficulty.

John Taylor Gatto says you can learn anything in six weeks. If your child is interested, he will learn. Your duty is to give him the tools. And to make the environment rich enough so that he knows enough to get interested. I don’t even think that the elite curriculum approach says much about music, viewing it as an extra-curricular. But many children are quite musical and simply are given no scope. for their talents. All children need to learn the basics of music (and to read music, something I didn’t quite understand at first). The actually classical part of the curriculum called the quadrivium is almost all related to music! That’s a topic for another time, but worth remembering when you are evaluating someone’s idea of what they are calling classical.

Many parents come to feel they have expended all of their efforts on the purely academic aspects (not customized for their child though) and parenting and running the home, and have nothing left for the good bits, the original elements of “wonder” that lured them into homeschooling in the first place. They realize they haven’t even started music lessons, haven’t learned French, haven’t done art camps or learned how to play basic sports, haven’t gardened or grown flowers or built anything. I’m trying to show a way forward to changing that, just by changing from being a blind consumer of curriculum to a careful distributor of it and maker of an environment that fulfills your own vision.

If you and your husband are academic and bookish, most of your children will be as well. If you are not, probably not. However, children surprise us all the time by being interested in things we never thought about, one way or another. Don’t fret about it. They will be what they will be — your part is to use your energy helping each one make the tools of learning his own and be able to pursue what really interests him.

Our Bridget insisted on the violin — which seemed a bit random. And then after she started, she needed encouragement and a certain amount of gentle forcing to keep at it. Once over the hump of the tedious process (for everyone, believe me) of acquiring the skills, she became proficient. The violin was not in our wheelhouse but we saw she really wanted it.

Learning a language, singing in harmony, writing a newspaper, solving mathematical problems — these are the pursuits that make the family interesting and interested. Offering an ordered path to familiarity with perennially fruitful subjects and books, in harmony with their temperaments and abilities, gives them a good and classical education.

bits & pieces

  • I have taken a real dislike to the current trend of referring to our minds with the language of computers. We are not processing, we are thinking. The metaphor tends to ratify the idea that computers will soon think (AI), which is impossible, but if you downgrade the one, you can elevate the other. Robert Epstein on The Empty Brain.

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The post Dear Auntie Leila: I feel the burden of educating my children appeared first on Like Mother Like Daughter.