For some odd reason, homeschool parents tend to get anxious when the end of a term arrives. I feel it in support as parents who have scarcely been in contact are suddenly in a panic–as my family begins closing up for the holiday.
School kids, on the other hand, are being dismissed for Christmas break and will not think about “school” again until after the New Year. Classes are having parties, exchanging gifts, etc.–happy the term is over. The kids run home knowing that they have weeks of Christmas celebration ahead of them, and they enjoy time they will remember the rest of their lives. I enjoyed such Christmas celebrations growing up, and I know many others did as well.
Unfortunately, schools today are not what they were 30 years ago, and Christian families are forced to take up the education of their children, at home. For homeschool students, there is no separation of parents and teachers, classrooms and living rooms, classmates and siblings. There is little or no sense of Christmas break when the normal schedule continues into the holiday season. Some parents keep pressing on into the holiday season, and worse, some parents try to make up for wasted time before the holiday arrives.
Homeschool parents have to avoid these mistakes and realize that the idea of “homeschooling” needs the same separation of school time and family time–epecially during the holidays.
A Time for Everything
There are three elements of our children’s education, which I mentioned in a recent article:
- Training in Christian faith, morals and culture;
- Classical liberal arts studies for general intellectual development;
- Practical studies for future occupations.
The most important of these is #1, and it’s during holiday seasons when the greatest lessons in Christian faith, morals and culture are learned. The education parents are responsible for isn’t limited to #s 2 and 3, and we’ll see, as our childen reach adulthood, that #3 is much less important than #s 1 and 2. Essential to the Christian education of our children is the celebration of meaningful holidays and the passing down of Christian traditions. For example, in the Old Testament, God explicitly commanded that Jewish parents teach their children their traditions–and they continue to do so to this day. Many aspects of Christian culture have been preserved and passed down in the same manner. Neglecting this and losing the aid of these traditions puts children at many disadvantages, for religion is not merely a body of knowledge or routine to be performed “at Church”.
Every week, we are commanded to take off from work to devote ourselves to the worship of God on “the Lord’s Day”. Throughout the year, we are commanded to take time to recognize “holy days of obligation” and honor special memorials and feast days by attending Mass and praying as it were a Sunday. Likewise, we are required to give special attention to the major holidays of the year because they celebrate key events in salvation history that we must meditate on and live in harmony with. This is why taking breaks and enjoying the holidays is not optional. We can’t allow these opportunities in our children’s lives to be wasted.
One of the evils in our increasingly secular society is that there are no more distinctions of hours or days, months or seasons. Everyday is a marathon of aimless, self-indulgence. There’s no preparation. No self-denial. No waiting for the right time. No planning. No celebration. No community. No religion. It’s a vulgar, miserable life, which, unsurprisingly leaves most struggling with loneliness, depression and poverty. Good things in life require planning, work, self-denial and collaboration.
Holiday celebrations, likewise, require work that makes our celebration worthy of the event. At Christmas, we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ–the Incarnation of the Son of God, the arrival of the Savior of the world. What kind of celebration ought that to be? Obviously, one that is most joyful, most beautiful, most meaningful.
Christmas time is not the time for catching up on school work.
As for classical (liberal) studies, they will continue throughout life. They are never studied under any worldly pressure, and cannot be so studied. They are “free” studies for free men. No “mastery” of them is possible in childhood, and the goal of parents is to establish a strong foundation of classical learning that helps students to “learn what they don’t know” and know where to look when leisure comes later in life.
As for practical (illiberal) studies, it is impossible and wasteful to try and give children any specialized preparation for their future occupations–for they are unknown. Responsible, practical studies will be directed by the student’s interests, abilities and opportunities as they move toward and into adult life. Excessive attention to practical studies in childhood will not merely prove to be a waste of time, but they will push more important studies out of the curriculum. This is the common error in modern education.
Training in Christian faith, morals and culture, is the principal duty of parents and it is crucial that it be provided for during childhood, in the home and church, since habits are formed that often last for life. The Proverbs teach us:
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)
In the Catechism, the Catholic Church teaches the following–which is worth reading several times, slowly:
“Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.” (CCC, 2226)
The holiday season is a special occasion for this “family catechesis”. There are so many rich, meaningful and beautiful traditions to be learned and celebrated at Christmas time, that it takes some work to enjoy them. However, they provide children with lessons in the faith that can hardly be learned anywhere else, annd which will be cherished and remembered for their entire lives: Christian songs, Bible readings, the Christmas tree, making ornaments, decorating the home, Christmas tales, exchanging gifts, Christmas dinner, Christmas Mass–and much more. These require time for planning, preparation and enjoyment and the time of Advent and twelve days of Christmas are scarcely sufficient for them!
Therefore, as we wrap up another term of studies this week, put away the books, close up the homeschool classroom and enjoy the holidays. There will be time for other studies after the New Year.
God bless your families,
William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Artys Academy
P.S. To help get you in the mood, I’ve even dressed up the website. 😉
Mr. William C. Michael is the founding headmaster of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. He graduated from Rutgers University with an honors degree in Classics & Ancient History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Mr. Michael has worked in private education as a Classics teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is a Roman Catholic, married to his highschool sweetheart, a homeschooling father of ten children, and keeper of a quiet family farm in North Carolina. Mr. Michael enjoys studying ancient natural philosophy, gardening and running.