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Building Your Own Catholic Curriculum

         -And Staying on Track! 

by Marianna Bartold

This article may be reprinted in your homeschool newsletter

with written permission. Just email KIC  and ask!

hen parents start to homeschool, many use an outside curriculum source that assists them be sending pre-chosen books and pre-planned lesson plans. This is an excellent way to begin and continue home education for many reasons.

Sooner or later, parents begin to toy with the idea of looking for and choosing books on their own. The reason may be that parents feel more comfortable with the idea of homeschooling after some experience with it. Perhaps they have discovered the individual learning styles of their children. It may come down to the simple question of economics. (It is definitely economical to build your own curriculum.)


There are a few things parents should consider when deciding on whether or not to "strike out on their own, " so to speak. The list includes (1) the self-confidence of the parents in their teaching abilities and experiences, (2) the parents' motivation, (3) how much money is available to spend on books and supplements, (4) the time parents have available to choose curriculum and plan for lessons, (5) the ages of the children, (6) the learning strengths and weaknesses of each child (7) the parents' willingness to take on all aspects of the organizational responsibilities and the delegation of duties, and (8) the homeschool laws in your state that may or may not be enforced. (Note: This is not to say parents don't have a right or obligation to homeschool. Rather, it is something of which to be aware for many reasons.)

Parents' Trust in God


First, it cannot be emphasized enough that parents must realize and remember they have the continual graces from the Sacrament of Matrimony at their disposal for, among other things, the upbringing of their children. They have given their children a life, a name, and a faith. Both parents must know it is their God-given responsibility to see to the proper education of their children, no matter which approach they choose to incorporate. Knowing this, parents will have confidence in themselves because they trust God to help them.

It is often helpful for parents to write down the reasons they homeschool or want to do so. With this list of reasons, in addition to articles clipped out from daily newspapers, magazines, etc. pinned to a bulletin board, they can often be used to reinforce and strengthen the conviction to homeschool on difficult days. By adding a little prayer and offering of the day's tribulations, a family can turn all their daily duties and studies into merits and graces. (Remember Our Lady of Fatima's requests to offer the sacrifice of our daily duties.)

Looking for Resources

Next, a careful look at the books already in the home can reap a nice harvest to be used in the homeschool. Pile the books and divide them into grade levels and subject matter, taking into account each child's strengths and weaknesses. Don't forget storybooks, Catholic picture Bibles, audiocassette learning books, and any learning games that may be tucked away.

Then the search to supplement the family library begins. Getting books that the family needs can be challenging and rewarding. Catholic curriculum providers like Our Lady of Victory, Seton, and Our Lady of the Rosary sell some wonderful education books like Religion, English and Spelling in which Catholicism permeates the subject matter. They have many others from which to choose in addition to offering their complete planned programs. Libraries, bookstores, garage sales, or family and friends who are clearing their bookshelves are other places to tap.

Another consideration is going to sources other than Catholic ones. If parents decide to look into these resources, a word of caution is given -- choose carefully. Many catalogues sell materials and publications that espouse anti-Catholic ideas and present false information intended to denigrate the Catholic faith, especially in many of the popular homeschool Language Arts and History text, workbooks, and suggested lesson plans.

Just as our Catholic faith must permeate our curricula, which is a teaching of the Catholic Church, so are the materials of anti-Catholic resources permeated with anti-Catholic thought. We should never be so sure of our own strength that we deliberately allow such materials into our homes ("...and lead us not into temptation...").

On the other hand, there are many resources and supplements that are not hazardous to Catholic teachings at all. Some hands-on manipulatives and math helps are a few examples that come to mind. (Seea few excerpts from theKeeping it CatholicRed Flag List for things of which to be aware when looking through any homeschool catalog.)


Keeping Records on Your Own


After the books have been chosen, the lesson plans must be planned and written. How one approaches this task depends on personal taste, the way the parent teaches, and the way the family approaches time management. Some people write their lesson plans day by day, while others want to do so week by week. Of course, using a word processing program cuts down on much time and hassle!

A computer isn't as easily lost as a lesson plan book (have you ever noticed?). On the other hand, a computer isn't easy to carry around and jot quick notes into, either. You have to decide which is more in keeping with ease of use for you.

A word processing program on the computer has its advantages, however. Besides not losing the lessons plans, you can easily type plans for weeks ahead and, with the whisk of the mouse, cut and paste and move plans around if the family has been stalled by unexpected visitors, sickness, etc. By backing up the word processor program, you have an easily accessible record of your children's work, progress, reading lists and grades without all the paper clutter hanging around the house for years.

A lesson plan book that records all educational work done is a valuable record to keep, too. Most book stores or supply houses carry teacher planning books, as do numerous homeschool catalogues, including the Catholic home study programs and some Catholic homeschoool businesses. A family can also make their own master planner, subdividing into week and day plans for each class.

The records need not be extensively detailed, but they should be kept in a consistent manner. Try to list the books and the pages worked from, as well as checking off work as it is completed.

The parent planning the lessons may want to prepare for each child, one at a time, going through each book for each subject. Another approach is to go by the subject first and plan for each child's lessons for that particular subject. Many do this simply because the family studies subjects together, according to the ability of each child.

Taking Each Child into Account

Children's ages will affect the way a parent teaches. A family with many preschool children and/or babies in the home, with only the eldest child being taught, will have a different schedule than a family with more children who are "officially" learning and have only one delightful toddler running through the house.

Further, the abilities of each child must be considered. Not only must a child's strengths in certain subjects be emphasized but the child's weaker or less-favorite areas must be worked on, too.

A parent can motivate a child by using his strengths as encouragement while gently challenging the child's weaker areas with the child's favorite method of learning.


For example, we have a son who is extremely talented when it comes to fixing almost anything - electrical and electronics, computers and plumbing. His ability to communicate orally and grasp a written concept is astonishing. Yet he is not motivated to write anything himself. Having this child write even a simple book report has been a constant struggle. We had to realize his gifts are different than mine or his father's, and we had to act accordingly.

Allowing him to write on reports on topics he enjoys, while staying within the educational goals we have for him, has been a great help. Having him express himself orally as I type for him works, as he slowly learns to type himself. Another technique is to let the child tape his notes for book reports, spelling tests, or vocabularly lists. Inevitably, he will have to write or type his words and, for many children, the thrill of using the computer, word processor or typewriter is a wonderful motivation.

The Teamwork Approach


Most important, the parents must be willing to take on more responsibility in organizing their time. This means making the whole family aware of the schedules, plans, and chores assigned to each member. Children must realize they are an important part of the family team, too.

This is where some people hit a snag in their home education. Many parents are reluctant to have their children help in maintaining a home. They must realize that homeschooling is total education, and they are preparing their children for the day they must take care of themselves. Nobody is doing children any favors when they are not expected to take on responsibilities.

A husband can be a great help to his wife who, in most cases, does the actual teaching . He must back her up when the children balk about doing either their studies or their chores. Together, husband and wife can work out a plan to institute in their home.

Because the mother of the family is taking on greater responsibility when she educates the children at home, her time becomes even more precious. The family will come to realize that homeschooling is a way of life, which is certainly different that the lives of many of our contemporaries whose children are not in the home all day.

Consequently, the homeschooling mother does not have time to do all the household chores, errands and teaching in one day. She will burn out quickly if she tries to do so all by herself.


Delegating and Sharing the Work


The family must understand that mothers are the "keepers of the home" and not the "maids of the home." Children will not be harmed by dusting lower shelves, picking up their own soiled laundry and putting it in the hamper, helping to wash, dry and fold clothes (and the tricky part--putting them away!), storing away their shoes, setting or clearing the table, emptying the bathroom wastebasket, etc. The young ones can be an invaluable help in the home. Let them know it and let them know you appreciate them for their help, too.

Both parents can supervise and work with the children as they are learning to do chores . Running through how to do particular tasks, letting the children know we will be inspecting the results, and informing them they will be doing things over if they are not done properly is a great way to start.

Many children will try to slip out of their responsibilities by day dreaming, "forgetting," poking around, taking too long to do the job, or starting and stopping whenever Mom's back is turned.

Timing the children the first time lessons or chores are assigned, by making a game out it, is a good way to find out what they can do when they want to do it! However, it will undoubtedly happen that at least one child or some of the children will try to "shirk the work."


Teaching Obedience


This is where obedience comes in. Those who will homeschool their children from their earliest years may be more fortunate in this than those who begin homeschooling later. Explain to the children that there is always someone to obey, no matter how old we become. For example, we parents must obey God through the laws of the Church. One of those laws is, "Honor thy father and thy mother."

Give the children practice sessions on instant obedience , like learning to answer immediately when called, while also stopping what they are doing and walking straight to the parent who summoned them. Explain, even to the younger ones, that no complaining, back talk or questioning will be tolerated as long as you, the parent, are requesting something that is not morally wrong. (Even parents must obey this law of God's.)

Then begin working on the studies and the chores again.

It has been my experience that children will continue to badger a parent, particularly the mother, until they can get the parent to break down out of sheer exhaustion.

This is the beginning of the path to what I call Burnout Boulevard. Both parents must present a united front to the children, letting them know that the father and mother reinforce each other's stance. Instead of letting the children rule, make it a policy to reinforce positive attitudes, sunny dispositions, and quick, properly done work.

Nip in the bud any beginning tendencies to disobedience. This can be done with young children by giving extra chores in addition to those that either should have been done or were done poorly; or by taking away a toy, a favorite past time, or privilege.

The more strong willed ones will test this over and over again, often for years. Stand firm. Allow them to reap the consequences of disobedience without rubbing their noses in it. It is an old saying but a true one that children want a semblance of order and discipline. They will look to their parents for this when young, and especially as teens will they test their parent's authority and beliefs while also needing the safety net of the home.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's life exemplifies this truth when we see in her life story the great rebellions from her oldest sons. These sons of hers, especially the eldest, were terrible trials but she never stopped in her practice of two things: praying for them and doing all in her human power to help them see the errors of their ways. After they became grown men, they both became great defenders of the Faith but not before their poor, sainted mother suffered much anguish over them.

Imagine the terrible trials these two living sons were to St. Elizabeth Seton, who saw two precious daughters die the same way her husband did. Surely she must have wondered why all these tragedies were happening. Surely she doubted herself many times.

Her greatest example to us - an ordinary mother who did not have visions, interior locutions, or any other outward mystical manifestations that naturally attract us in when we read the lives of the saints - was her perseverance and fortitude in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, bringing all her sufferings to Jesus and asking constantly for His graces while she herself was constant in her own daily duties.

This is also true of the Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of the Little Flower, who had one headstrong daughter that caused great anguish especially for the mother. Zelie Martin's letters, left for posterity, show us her deep worries over her daughter, Leonie. Both parents were deeply believing Catholics and both participated at Mass every morning, with the father making walking pilgrimages to ask for divine graces!

In particular, we see in Zelie's letters that her constant prayers, her readiness to acknowledge that there was a problem (while at the same time looking for the good in her daughter), her humility in asking others in the family to pray for this daughter's trouble, and her gentle, loving approaches and reproaches finally unveiled the cause of the daughter's stubbornness. After very many difficulties, Leonie the headstrong later became the gentlest and humblest of Carmelite nuns.

The 10 Rules of the Homeschool


We implemented our own "Ten Rules of the Homeschool," writing them and putting them up on the kitchen wall, which is where most of our homeschooling takes place. We sat down as a family and asked the children for their input on what they knew they were doing right and where they were falling short. This was done purposely so the children could examine their own consciences and show us if they were truly aware of what they were doing.

We kept the list to 10 main things that were important to us as Catholics (morning prayers, the Rosary) or were becoming a headache because the children had to be constantly reminded to do or not do something (finishing morning chores, leaving the table without permission during study time while I was busy with something else, not wanting to eat when a meal was served and then raiding the refrigerator later) or where there was a schedule conflict (who took their baths on which day).

For each rule, there is a corresonding discipline when the rule is broken. We asked the children to make the "punishment fit the crime." Most of the suggestions came from the children themselves.

As for special rewards - we don't have them. We learned that, for the most part, they don't work and it's not good for children to expect some want to be fulfilled if they do their duties. Children have to learn they aren't going to be rewarded every time they do what must be done. The rewards are more in keeping with reality - they know they have pleased Mom and Dad by fulfilling a legitimate request or need and that we, in turn, are grateful they show their love for us this way.

They then have a chance to relax, play, have a friend invited to visit, pop in a favorite video which the family watches together, read, draw, or play a board game at night with Dad. This is our way of teaching "work before play" in a world that emphasizes the opposite.

These are our Ten Rules, which any family who wishes can use as an example and modify for their own homes:

1. Lay out clothes for the next day

2. Rise from bed immediately when called in the morning, wash and dress

3. Morning prayers, daily Rosary at 3 p.m.

4. Take a shower or bath on...(listed by child's name and days of the week)

5. Don't go into the refrigerator or cupboard without Mom or Dad's permission

6. Everyone at meals at the same time

7. Clean the family pet's bowls every day

8. Don't leave the table without permission

9. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (the Golden Rule)

10.Finish your chores and your class subjects completely and in a timely manner


The corresponding discipines:

1. Completely clean your drawers and closet.

2. An earlier bed time that same night

3. Write a composition on why any Catholic would think neglecting daily prayer is acceptable to God

4. Clean the bathroom you were supposed to be using for bathing

5. Clean the refrigerator or the cupboard you weren't supposed to be in

6. Wait for the next meal (no separate meals from the family or an in-between snack)

7. An extra school lesson of Mom or Dad's choosing OR a one page composition about how our family pet depends on us for its care

8. An extra school lesson in the subject you were studying when you left the table

9. You must genuinely say you are sorry for offending the other person by teasing or or a thoughtless remark. If a very serious offense, show your remorse by deference, going out of your way to be kind and helping with chores or studies the rest of the day.

10. No free time if time was not used wisely during for study and chores.


The Virtue of Charity Really Does Begin in the Home!

Stress to the children that they are practicing virtues of?charity and?obedience when they help their mother with the housework. Teach them to be on the lookout for ways to help their siblings, too. Just because we are done with our own chores doesn't mean we can't help someone else with theirs.

On the other hand, don't let the naturally helpful child be taken advantage of by less-motivated children who are more than willing to let others do their work. A safe, general rule of thumb here could be that everyone does their own chores first and then asks mother if they can assist someone else. That helps mother know who is quickly doing their jobs and who is lagging behind and why.

Try to schedule everything absolutely vital to the home life. Do this by making a priority list - things that must be done each day or week. For some families, this means scheduling rising times, meals, chores, and class times helps to keep things running smoothly.

Different tricks, liking cooking two dinners every other day so that the extra dinner is put in the freezer, help give a little breathing room. Let older children prepare dinners and young ones help in "pick up and put away" as the parent puts away clothes, gives the baby a bath, writes the bills, or attends to other duties. Break times between classes are great times to give the children "mini chores." It lets the kids stretch and helps keep the house orderly.

Another time saver for dinner is the use of paper plates for, in my opinion, it saves valuable evening time for more important things, like praying the family rosary and letting both mother and children spend time with father. (An even better time saver is a brand new dishwasher that can be loaded throughout the day, run at night, and unloaded in the morning.)

Do whatever is necessary to make the chores less of a chore, the home life less complicated, and the children happy that they are homeschooled. Just don't get caught up so much in the schedule that it becomes impossible to bend. Some days the schedule must be thrown away for the day and things allowed to run their course. If aggravations becomes habitual instead of an occasional thing, something is wrong somewhere, whether it's an unrealistic schedule, consistent disobedience or a lack of follow-through from the parents. Be honest when looking for where the problem is coming from (it could be more than one place) and "tweak" at it until it's adjusted to your satisfacion!

The most important thing about homeschooling is to remember why it has been chosen as the method of education. We are handing down knowledge of God first and academics second. We have to work toward balance. We want our children to know and love and practice the true Catholic faith.

If parents practice the faith in and out of the home and church, and try to season all things with love, patience, and firmness, the children will inevitably learn to follow the examples set before them.

From The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Magazine.
Copyright 1994. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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