PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series. They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself. It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.
I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these. Need to rectify that.
This time a year ago, my littlest homeschooler asked if she could go to St. Urban’s, the elementary school that serves several parishes in the region. We knew some of the families at the school and liked what we saw. She had made friends with girls her age at parish events. It was not an agonizing decision, because we had already been considering the move for about a year. We did a little more research and decided this was the time.
Our experience so far has been nothing but positive. Since this is Catholic Schools Week, let me share a few of the reasons we love our school.
Everyone is kind and friendly.
When I was researching the school, I spoke to a friend who had volunteered there and at a number of other elementary schools in the region. She said to me: “I can honestly say that St. Urban’s is what a Christian school should be.”
The administration actively works to promote kindness and encouragement among the students. Recently on the drive into town my daughter told me she had to write a persuasive paper, and she had chosen the topic ofwhether there ought to be school uniforms. She asked my opinion, and I gave her the long list of reasons mothers love uniforms (thank you, school, for a simple, stain-resistant, affordable set of uniform options). I finished up by adding, “And that way, for example, a mean girl can’t say oh your skirt is so ugly, because she’s wearing the same skirt.”
To which my daughter replied: “Mom. This is St. Urban’s. We don’t have bullies. The worst thing that happened is that Scholastica wanted to play with Benedicta at recess but not Ignatia, and then they all ended up playing together anyway.”
The friendliness is welcoming to me, too. The administration respects my time. The school’s academic reputation isn’t built on sending home young children with mountains of homework every night. We parents aren’t saddled with a bazillion overwhelming volunteer projects and fundraisers. When teachers or staff do ask for parent help, they take into account our varying circumstances.
I know some private schools have a “type” of parent, and if you don’t fit in you’re on the outs. Our school is truly Catholic — truly diverse. Not just in terms of race and national origin (though there is that), but also in terms of the parents’ professions, state in life, personalities, and dare I say it: social class. It’s not a prep school, it’s a parish school.
Our faith as Catholics is 100% supported.
The school Mass is both beautiful and edifying. Prayer is part of the rhythm of the day. There are Bible verses on the walls, a well-delivered religion curriculum, and an enthusiastic attitude towards Catholicism that permeates everything the school does. I don’t know all the teachers very well, but I know that the two teachers who have the most influence on my daughter both exhibit a sincere and profound faith.
Before she went to school, my daughter was homeschooled by me. There are ways the Catholic faith was shared in our homeschool that don’t happen at the parish school, but the reverse is also true. When I came to eat lunch with my daughter, I asked her as we sat down and pulled out lunch bags, “Do we wait for grace?”
“We already said grace in our classroom,” she said. “And also the Angelus.”
The children ate and then talked quietly. The teacher who was serving as lunch monitor complimented the children, as a group, on how her husband had been moved to tears by their beautiful singing that Sunday at Mass. The children swept up and prepared to leave. Before dismissal to recess, everyone stood and faced the massive crucifix in the cafeteria and prayed the second grace, thanksgiving after the meal.
My daughter’s teachers know her.
The school is small. There are about fifteen children in each grade (it varies), so that the total school enrollment hovers comfortably within knowable limits. (See here for the theory of Dunbar’s Number, andhere for TheNew Yorker’s explanation of it. I have found this to be true in practice.) My daughter has been with the school less than six months, and already knows the names of all the students except the very youngest. But more important me: Her teachers have time to know her.
When I went to the parent-teacher conference after the first quarter, the 5th grade teacher sat down with me and talked about my daughter. She talked about my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses; what she needed to work on; and how her transition to school was going. To all of it, my only answer was: Yes, you are correct.
I’ve been teaching and rearing this child for ten years, I know her. All these things you describe? That’s my girl. You’ve paid attention, you’ve gotten to see the real her, you obviously care about her. She’s not lost here. There’s a real relationship going on, rooted in both love and quantity-time spent together getting to know one another.
The curriculum is well-chosen.
Between homeschooling and my years of small-format teaching in religious education, chastity education, parenting classes, French, economics, logic, debate, apologetics, can’t remember what else, and maybe a little tutoring here and there . . . I’ve evaluated curriculum. Oh and I wrote a book that has a thing or two to say about how to structure a class.
If nothing else, I know how to see whether a class is working or not, and what is or isn’t successful.
Everything that happens at our parish school makes sense.
Sometimes the book the teacher is using is right off my shelves, sometimes it’s one I’ve never heard of before. But I am still waiting for the day when I see some assignment or activity and can’t figure out what the point is. Everything I’ve seen so far fits with the goal. I can immediately see why the teacher chose a particular activity, and how it fits into the bigger picture. There is no busy-work. Everything converges on a well-built whole.
Sure, I’d heard it was a decent school, but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this good. I’ll take it.
The school makes the most of its strengths.
One of the mistakes people make about homeschooling is thinking that it’s supposed to be just like school. That approach doesn’t work. Homeschooling isn’t for that. Homeschooling has a dynamic that’s unlike school, and that’s part of the point. If you try to re-create school at home, you’ll be harried and overwhelmed. The trick to homeschooling is to make the most of the distinctive strengths that only homeschooling can offer.
My parish school does that too.
There are ways to teach and learn that can only happen when you’ve got a dozen or so students the same age. There are cooperative projects with other programs nearby that take advantage of St. Urban’s downtown location. Even the way the classes are organized teacher-by-teacher makes sense developmentally — at least in the upper grades, which is what I’ve seen, the right teacher is assigned to each grade and specialty subject.
My daughter loves it there.
No school can be everything to everybody. My daughter thrives on structure, gentle but firm discipline, clearly stated learning objectives, and frequent feedback via formal assessments. Any time a child changes school systems there’s an adjustment period. She didn’t arrive at school having mastered The Way Things Are Done Here. Her teachers brought her up to speed through a steady combination of clear correction and enthusiastic encouragement.
She’s a normal kid. Left to her own devices, she’d gladly sit around watching sitcoms and eating endless bowls of ice cream. There’s a time and place for leisurely pleasures, but what she gets at St. Urban’s — the reason she’s excited to go to school every day — is the profound happiness that comes from having her genuine needs met so well. Her need for love, her need for guidance, her need for growth: Everyone at the school works together to do their part in meeting those needs.
Addendum: About that award she got.
Some people from the parish who read this blog might be thinking You’re just all rosy in the afterglow of your kid getting an award after Mass this morning. Truth? It’s the other way around. I started writing this post in my head months ago, and sat on it because I kept waiting for the inevitable bad day to show up so I wouldn’t be all honeymoon-googly-eyes. I started writing this post on my PC earlier this week, but it’s been coming along slowly because my primary vocation keeps getting in the way.
And thus before I could finish writing, first semester Awards Day came around. You know what happened? They quick gave out certificates to the honor roll kids, and then moved on to the big event.
What’s the big event? Grade by grade, each teacher gave a short talk about two students in her class who merited particular distinction. One student was lauded for attitude, effort, and improvement academically — not for grades earned, but for the student’s perseverance and diligence regardless of academic difficulties. The other honored student was praised, in descriptive detail, for kindness, integrity, piety, generosity — all the virtues that aren’t about being Number One, and are about being more like Jesus Christ.
St. Nicholas 2015 was more festive, but this year, thanks to the wonders of iBreviary, a poor spiritual life, and my top most annoying-to-other-parents parenting habit, we just scraped out an observance of the feast.
What happened is that late last night I finally unearthed my long-interred blogging computer. Things have been good here. I took about two weeks to get over a cold, then a third week to pounce on the opportunity to turn my bed into a work table while the SuperHusband was in Canada for three nights on business, and forsook a return to blogging in order to sort and purge the wall of backlogged paper files that had been looming over me for about a year. Now, finally, the layer of dust on the screen of my tablet has trails of finger-marks where I returned to the internet last night, briefly, and am trying again today.
How to make me have a crush on you like I’ve got a crush on Ronald Knox:Announce that you’re hosting Stations of the Cross during Advent! Yes, friends, I’m living in the wonderland. Mind you I have not actually attended Stations at my parish this Advent, because the timing hasn’t worked out yet, but I can be all happy and joyous that other people are having their spiritual lives put in proper order, anyway.
Me? My 1st Week of Advent gift was showing up to Adoration for a half an hour before fetching the kids from school, and sitting there in the pew when guess who walks in? My own kid. The whole fifth grade, not just my kid, but my kid’s the one I was particularly pleased to see. How to make me have a crush on your parish school?Random acts of Eucharistic Adoration, thanks.
So that was last week. This week, the gift iBreviary gives to good little children with bad parents: Time Zone Problems. If you check my sidebar on this blog (click through if you are reading this from e-mail or a feed-reader), the iBreviary widget will take you to today’s readings. Except that iBreviary is from Italy, so today means What Italian people are experiencing. And thus, late in the evening in North America on December 5th, what you see is the feast of St. Nicholas of Bari.
Ack! A celebration!
So I quick summon children and remind them to put out their shoes, then wrack my brain trying to think up some festive item already on hand that I can stick in those shoes to mark the feast. Fortunately, the SuperHusband has had a bucket of biscotti from Costco stashed in a secret location. Italian-American is our theme for this year.
But sadly, no, it’s not that simple.
Naturally, I completely forgot to put the biscotti in the shoes. Thus it was a cold, dark, wet, barren St. Nicholas waking for us.
So let’s talk about lying.
People hate this. I mean, they can’t stand it. It makes heads spin. But here’s what we do at our house: We let our kids know how the world works.
I know! Thus over time they learn all kinds of adult secrets, like where babies come from, and that there’s a moment in the mandatory confirmation retreat when you open a heart-warming letter from your parents, and also that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all games of pretend.
Is our home life thus devoid of all magic? By no means.
The real world is far more, dare I say it, amazing than some cheap sleight-of-hand holiday trick.
If you tell your kids Santa is real, whatever. Not my problem (I’m not going to tell your kid that, but you can). So be it. To me, orchestrating such moments of artifice is a pale and pathetic imitation of the beauty of faith in the real world, where real miracles, both natural and supernatural, happen all the time.
I don’t object to figurines of Santa at the Nativity; but today (December 6th) in particular, and every day more generally, we get St. Nicholas adoring Christ, for real, at the Holy Mass.
Is that too abstract for children? By no means. Children know very well that what something looks like is different than what it is. They know that there is real supernatural power in this world. The game of Santa or St. Nicholas is, if you let your children play the game rather than hogging it for yourself, like a game of house or soldiers or any other dress-up: We’re children playing at real things, trying them out.
The game is marvelously fun, even when you nearly forget it, twice.
If your children are in on the game, the wonder of it no longer depends on falliable you. It now can rest on its own power, and wreak its real marvels even when you yourself are a few marvels short of a shooting match.
Thus, today, as I was rushing out the door at 7:10 to quick drive a teenager to school before coming back for the 5th grader, said 5th grader noticed the shoes were still empty.
Oops. Time is tight, but the feast is only once a year. “Run back to your room, quick, so St. Nicholas can come.”
I grabbed a stool, she went and hid in her room for a minute, and I found St. Nick’s stash of biscotti and quick doled it out, one-per-shoe.Magic accomplished.
So here’s a weird story that was a wake-up call for me:
I was getting the high school kids signed up for youth group, and one of the forms was a bit of information from the parents — contact info, are you available to chaperone, does your kid have dangerous food allergies, etc. Necessary stuff. Now right after the parent email and phone number lines was:
Preferred method(s) of contact: ____________________________________
Because I am a bad person, I answered the question honestly.
Preferred method of contact: In person.
Now allow me to say right now that I don’t actually expect our youth ministers to personally hunt down me and every other parent of a student in the program just to let us each know that they need someone to bring plastic cups this week, thanks. I do live a little bit in this century. (And I solemnly promise to clarify that on the form before I turn it in tonight.)
But this lapse of mine got me thinking. Why was my writing that answer such a radically crazy, even potentially offensive or alarming thing to do?
Let’s review the facts:
The youth ministers and our family attend the same parish. We’re part of the same Christian community. (We even show up at the same Mass most Sundays — which defies the odds, but we’re lucky that way.)
The youth ministers are taking on the task of mentoring our children through their final years of Catholic youth. Next stop is full-fledged adulthood.
These are the years when kids make tremendous decisions about their vocations, their relationships, and even whether they’ll continue practicing the faith.
For the next few years, it’s quite likely that after my husband and myself, the kids’ youth ministers will be the other set of practicing Catholics with whom my children have the most frequent and most significant contact on a regular basis.
This is a big deal.
What youth ministers do — their role in the work of the Church — is huge.
But our concept of communal life in the Church has become so watered down that I feel brazen for even suggesting that such significant persons in our children’s lives should speak to my husband and me in-the-flesh as an ordinary, habitual mode of communication.
We’re used to this. In my years as a catechist in a traditional religious ed program, I typically met my students’ parents one- to -three years after the school year ended. (Format: I’d run into the kid at a parish event and ask, “So are these your parents?” and that’s how we’d finally meet.)
Once I had the chilling-but-fortunate experience of being in the room while a parent explained to the DRE about a problem in my religious ed class the previous year. [Sadly: A problem I could have fixed if I’d known about it, but it was the sort of thing you can only know if the parent or student tells you.] The reason the mother felt so comfortable laying out her problem right there in front of me is that she had no idea I had been her child’s teacher.
Not knowing people is the norm in parish life.
This is wrong.
There are many causes of this problem and only one complicated, difficult solution: We Catholics need to spend more time living with each other.
That’s all I know for now. If our youth ministers hadn’t posed that foolish question, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it, I’m so used to living with this problem, and so used to treating it like normal life. But at least now I’m more deeply informed of what’s not happening, and can start looking for ways to change my tiny part in all this.
In places NOT to look: Front Porch Republic, which I subscribe to but very rarely read, because publishing just a snippet for the feed reader is a very effective way to discourage me from reading your work, recently ran a piece about liturgy and limericks. The idea was spot on, unfortunately the chosen limericks were dreadfully lewd. Really? Was that necessary? No it was not.
To which end, perhaps not the most incisive wit, but making the same point as the FPR piece:
The rabbit who traveled by plane
said, “Security can be such a pain.
They opened my baggage,
and out fell my cabbage,
and I had to re-pack it again.”
The point FPR was making? A good genre, delightful in its context, is not necessarily the right genre for the holy liturgy. And another example, same rabbit theme, we have quite the collection growing*:
To my door came a poor little bunny,
who needed to earn some money,
“I’ll cut your grass for a dime,
one bite at a time–“
But in the end, the lawn looked quite funny.
See? Perfectly moral, g-rated limericks. It can be done. And the argument FPR wants to make is stronger when you acknowledge the genre isn’t used soley for smut. Show tunes are wrong at Mass not because Hollywood’s a den of sin, or because the cabaret / jazz / pop sound is always and everywhere associated with immorality. It’s because these types of music are about something else — something that can be beautiful and true and good and inspiring — but it’s something other than the worship of God.
And thus a final contribution for today:
On the feast of Teresa of Calcutta,
this pundit is likely to mutter,
“You’re housed and you’re fed,
but your brain is half dead,
’till you rescue your wit from the gutter.”
Happy Feast Day. Straighten up and fly right, FPR.
*The limerick fest began because, to my genuine shock and surprise, no irony there, my teenage boy does not love his poetry course for literature. I was stunned. A teenager? Not like poetry? Really? It’s all about love, death and self-centered dramatizing . . . that should be just the thing! Certainly was for me at that age. SuperHusband wisely suggested we begin with something a little lighter. And thus I succeeded, not in converting my skeptical teen, but in launching a festival of animal-themed verse among the the two youngest.
I’ll take my victories where I can.
Meanwhile, any poetry recommendations for less-romantic, very modern boys, who mostly read Dr. Boli?
We have decided to start homeschooling mid year for our son who is in 10th grade. He previously attended a private high school.
I am a newby and i am looking for structure without stress.
Any suggestions? Post in the combox or at your place and leave Anne a link so she can find you, please!
Everyone, Who else should we tag? Darwins? Brandon? Anna? Christian? Anyone? Bueller?
My thought would be to take his course load from school, and do a subject-by-subject picking of a decent text book? Something like this:
Math: Pick an appealing program, ideally something that uses DVD or computer instruction so you aren’t doing it yourself. Figure out where to start mid-year by doing sampling of the end-of-chapter questions until it gets to new stuff. (You may need to back-up and review select topics from early chapters that the school was going to introduce later in the year.) If money is tight, math books is where I’d risk the biggest investment, if you come across something that is good but expensive.
Science: Do part 2 of his current-year subject (biology probably?), using a text book that meets his general aptitude. As you read reviews, you’ll hear about some that are more rigorous, some that are “too easy”, etc. Try to aim for a ‘just right’ for his science abilities, challenging enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming. If he’s already in chemistry, either continue with it if he’s strong in the subject and knew what was going on, but if he was flailing, abort that mission and proceed with a different subject for the second semester — either morphing in “physical sciences” or going with something like astronomy (just do the first semester of a year-long program.). I would not try to remediate Chemistry mid-year. This is the second subject I’d invest in, in terms of quality of materials.
History: Pick up where he left off, time-wise, and just keep on moving. This is low-stress. Pick a book or books he likes, and have him write a paper a week (the infamous 5 paragraphs) on what he studied that week. If there’s no final exam (for example if you just do library method, where grab books on topic and read ’em), have him do a term paper or oral presentation for his final. If he was doing the government/economics two-semester combo, do the other subject this semester.
English: If he was doing a particular study (“British Literature” “English Literature”, etc), you can keep going with that, or morph into a generic “English 2”. You’re looking for a combination of literature study (reading good stuff and thinking intelligently about it), plus vocabulary practice from a vocab book in preparation for the SAT, and a grammar book and/or composition book to work the writing/editing skills. You may be able to just continue at home with whatever vocab book he was using at school. I’d look around at the various curriculum providers (Kolbe, MODG, etc etc.) and see what appeals to you and fits the budget.
Cheap alternative: Go to your library and check out Grammar Girl or an equivalent; one good beginner’s writing book written for aspiring writers (watch for foul language, there are some excellent writing books that have a touch of potty mouth); and a pile o’ classics that are of interest, and work through those for 2nd semester. There are also some curriculum out there such as the Literacy through The Lord of the Rings and so forth, that build a one-year or one-semester literature curriculum around a single work or genre. (I have not reviewed the curriculum, FYI.) If you find one that strikes his fancy, this could be a good way to finish out English 2 and cultivate an appreciation of literature that doesn’t involve too much penance.
Foreign Language: Your #1 concern is meeting the college-entrance foreign-language requirements. So take into account what he’s already studied, how much time he has left, and figure out whether you need to continue with current language, or if you can start a new one, or if this is a subject you don’t need to worry about this semester. Pick a program that appeals to you and roughly matches up to his current level. It’s okay to do, say, “Latin 1” or “Italian 3” spread out over odd-semesters, as long as he completes the necessary units of study. So don’t panic over this one.
You could also wait a few months and do your 2nd-semester foreign language in ‘summer school’. Language-learning can be brain-intensive, and some students benefit from focusing 100% on the language for a time, and essentially completing a semester or year’s worth of classes in a shorter more concentrated period. Picking the exact right book/program is not important in 10th grade second semester. Language-learning is cumulative in a networked, whole-brain way. Whatever he uses will benefit him, and you can refine your choice next year. If you aren’t sure what to do, beg a free loaner book off someone to start with, and invest after you are confident of your choice.
Religion: If you’re looking for suggestions, give us some more details on what he’s done already? Kids are all over the map in terms of background knowledge, interests and abilities, and you want to strike a good balance in difficulty-level and topics, in order to keep it interesting and appropriate.
Other electives: What can you knock out this spring that you’ve got to do in order to graduate / get into college, without making anyone cry? My thought would be to pursue a hobby that he loves and would consider rewarding, ie if he loves to draw than take an art class, or if he plays sports, join a team and give him credit for PE. But I wouldn’t pursue the extras this semester when you are transitioning if it’s going to stress you out or make him miserable. A man should be made miserable in moderate doses.
If there’s a pre-packaged curriculum that just seems like the perfect thing, go with it. If not, compile your course of study a piece at a time. My advice would be, when you read about the curriculum, does it make sense to you? Can you get your head around it? You’ve got so much suddenly on your plate, this is probably not the time to slog through an academic approach that is going to stretch your brain to snapping point. Look for stuff that makes you go, “Oh yes, that! Perfect!”
Okay, that’s my guess. Other people, correct me, hmmn? Any personal experiences to share? Cautionary tales? Bits of encouragement?
My awesome niece & goddaughter just started college, and the other day she phoned me. “Do you have an hour or two? I need to get your opinions on higher education for this paper I’m writing.”
I’m pleased to tell you I kept my comments to 59 minutes, a record for me. She e-mailed me some follow-up and some get-the-quote-right questions, and that’s on my to-do list for today.
If you’d like to answer some or all of them at your place, I know she’d be interested in your answers. Leave the link in my combox and I’ll direct her to take a look. Or just answer in the combox here, if you aren’t a blogger yourself.
1. What is your opinion of the value of college in today’s society?
2. Do you believe in the theory that everyone should have a college education?
3. According to Louis Menand, author of “Live and Learn”, there are three theories of why people attend college. The first theory is that college is an intelligent test meaning people go to college to prove they are smart. The second theory people go to college is for the social benefits since college should theoretically be getting people ready to enter society. The third theory is that college is job training. How does this align with you own theory of the purpose of college? Do you believe in these some values?
4. Growing up was your value of a college education influenced in any way? If so was it family? Teachers? Or some other form?
5. In recent years the availability of a college education has changed and become more accessible to more people. For example there are online Universities, certain states offer scholarships to many high school graduates, and there is government funding to minorities. Do you agree or disagree with this?
6. What will you teach your own kids about the value of a college education? What influences this?
I’ve been using the Faith and Life textbook series for homeschool religion since the boy was in first grade. I loved it then, and still love it now.
What you get: Each book in the series has approximately 30 chapters, designed to be read one a week throughout the school year. (Some years there are more chapters, some years less). The reading is on grade-level, but the first grade book is designed to be a read-aloud, and the second grade book will be a read-aloud for some students. Each chapter might be ten minutes worth of reading? One day’s assignment. At the end of the chapter there are usually some vocabulary words, a scripture or prayer, and some catechism questions and answers.
All except the 2nd grade book feature gorgeous traditional artwork for the illustrations. The second grade book uses contemporary-school-book genre stuff, but you’ll get over that insult when you get back to 3rd grade and the serious art resumes for the remainder of the series.
Each book has a theme — first grade covers Salvation 101, 2nd grade prepares students for the sacraments of reconciliation and communion, fourth grade is a survey of the Bible, sixth grade is heavy on the moral life. Along the way you spiral through the essentials of the faith at an age-appropriate level, so it’s possible to jump right in at grade-level even if you haven’t used the texts before, or even ever studied the faith before.
The accompanying Activity Book is a consumable workbook with a combination of study questions and fun activities like coloring pages and crossword puzzles. Together the two make a complete package for home use — the student does the reading, completes the study questions, and does any of the extra workbook pages as desired. I let my kids write in the book, but if you did only the study questions on a separate paper, and no fun-and-games, you could pass the book down.
I have looked through the expansive (and expensive) teacher’s manuals, and they do contain a lot of helpful information for the catechist. But for home use, I think these are not needed. My advice for a parent who is not very knowledgeable of the faith would be to do the student reading along with the child, and then to learn more about the faith in general by picking out other good Catholic books on topics of interest.
UPDATED: Tara in the combox observes, and I would take her advice over mine:
I find them really really useful because I am not a catechist and I cannot make this stuff up. They have the answers for the activity book pages and have a test / quiz for each chapter and each section (again, answers supplied too). Unless you’re very confident and very experienced, I think they’re well worth the money.
FYI the teachers manuals are huge. So priced comparably (even favorably) to other works offering similar amounts of info.
I’ve never used Faith and Life in the classroom. My parish has always used some-other-brand. I have talked to several catechists from other parishes who didn’t care for F&L, because of the strongly academic focus (a selling point for me — I love it), and because the style of the lessons didn’t call for crafts and activities and so forth. We did do one test section of F&L for 8th grade last year, and the feedback I received at mid-year from the catechist teaching that class was very good. Feedback from a 2nd-grade catechist at another parish was that course material was good, but the lessons worked best if the teacher had free reign to present the topics the way she thought the students would learn them best. I think a lot depends on whether the parish in fact wants students to learn the faith with the rigor expected in other academic subjects, and whether the teacher has the experience and confidence to teach the material effectively.
What you don’t get in F&L: There’s very little in the way of multicultural imagery, church geography, or even much for lives of saints. This is a theology course, and you need to plan to fill out your students’ religious education with all the other stuff that makes up our faith and heritage. If you are going to Mass, observing the feast days, living out in the wider world, praying as a family, and reading lives of saints as part of your literature curriculum, you’re in good shape. Otherwise, plan to pick up some supplemental materials that will fill in your gaps.
About the Three Editions: There’s original, revised, and 3rd edition to match the new mass translation. Don’t worry about it. If someone gives you an older edition, it’ll work fine. Every now and then one of the assignments won’t line up, but it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, the books are fairly affordable new. My personal approach is if I’m going to buy, I buy new, but I’m not upgrading my older stock.
Kolbe also uses the St. Jospeh Baltimore Catechism series. These are retro-style catechisms, complete with an English translation of the mass that sounds almost like our new mass translation, because, get this: it’s translated straight from the Latin. Because the books are that old. The language is frank, the drawings are 1950’s-chic, and yes, I love this one too. Great discovery. If you want to justify mowing the lawn on Sundays, don’t let your kids read this book. No toe left un-stomped.
The course plans. For me as a catechist who happens to be a parent, the course plans primarily save me the work of writing up my own. But I think they’d be one of the sets of plans worth purchasing if you aren’t registered with Kolbe, because each day’s and week’s assignments include a summary of the lesson topic, and points to clarify as you teach your student. Lots of material in the plans.
The planned assignments do call for a lot of memorization and recitation. Recall that as the teaching parent, you’re free to decide just how much of that memory work your student needs to do.
FYI: The Kolbe plans run on a four-day schedule, and are built around a tutoring-type environment, so they can’t be peeled off the page and inserted into a parish religious education program as-written. That said, if I were Queen of Religious Ed (I’m not) and had the budget to match my imperial fantasy life, I’d want something like this to give to new and struggling catechists, because the plans to do a good job distilling the faith into the essentials.
I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world. I bought one book. This is it:
Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours. Perfect timing.
What it is: Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC. Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right. Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman. But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring. Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.
The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here. It’s what happened. The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler. (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.) The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details. Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.
–> I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen. If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few. Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.
Why “Most Important Book?”
This is a story that needs to be known. It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today. And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:
Freedom of Religion
Goodness and Virtue
Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
Huggy vs. Not-Huggy
You get the idea. There’s more. Without a single moment of preaching. Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.
I’ve gotten a reader request to write up my thoughts on choosing a curriculum, so I’m jumping ahead to the end of the series, and then I’ll come back and revisit Math and Religion.
Can you afford it? With a very few exceptions, I don’t ever recommend pursuing education you can’t afford. End of story. Kolbe and the like are not cheap (though Kolbe is less expensive than some of the other alternatives), and as with many good or convenient things, when you are short on cash, you have to find another way. Sometimes the other way is in fact a better way, so don’t panic.
–> Don’t spend your whole book budget at the beginning of the year. Save some money for mid-year changes, because you aren’t omniscient, so there’s a decent chance you’ll pick one or two flops. It’s okay. Set aside the cash so you have it when you need it.
Does is fit with your real life? That’s how we ended up with Kolbe, FYI. I’m perfectly capable of writing and teaching from my own curriculum, and enjoyed doing it. But I’m not at all above outsourcing cleaning help, buying prepared foods, paying some other mom to drive the carpool to dance class . . . whatever it takes to make real life work. [I once started to ask my daughter to pray my rosary for me, then remembered, “No, that’s not something you’re supposed to delegate.”] When I was at a point where something (else) had to give, on the long list of things I do, writing up weekly course plans was one I learned I could outsource. So we did. It’s been good.
–> My point here is to encourage parents to look closely at the time and energy and involvement different curricula require. Don’t pick Math Made Easy By 60 Minutes of Absolute Silence if you just gave birth to quadruplets. It’s okay to pick the cheesy, low-intensity, lowest-common-denominator program, if that’s the one you’ll actually do. Doing all (or most) of the work from a cushy program is better than doing little or none of the work from that majestic High Standards Because We Are Achievers program.
Do you like it? You. The parent. When you read about the curriculum, or thumb through the book, does it make you smile? If it makes you groan, or you think, “I guess I have to do this because these smart people say you have to, but how on earth . . .” that’s your warning. Back away. If you hate it, it’s not going to work.
Do you believe it matters? If the student finds it fun, the student will do it. Unfortunately, there’s a 95% chance you are going to try to teach your child something the child doesn’t think is fun. Which means your willpower is the only thing that will make the learning happen. Don’t spend a lot of money and space and guilt on a product you don’t actually think matters.
–> I am increasingly convinced that the reason Living Books or Nature Study or Memorization Of Everything or Latin First English Second or Name That Approach, Written About With Fervor And You’re Ruining Your Child If You Neglect This One Thing . . . I’m convinced they work, and work well, because of the teacher’s enthusiasm. There are bad teaching methods, don’t mistake me. And I have methods I love and firmly believe in, and that I think make for sound teaching and real education. But ultimately some part of my success as a teacher isn’t about having found The One True Way, it’s about having found a way that I can run with, that matches who I am and how I teach and the way my brain works and helps me connect to my students.*
As you learn about curricula, look for choices that just seem so right. They just seem to fit. They make you smile and go, “Yes!”. That’s your ideal.
Do you scruple? Kolbe is very intent on subsidiarity, and I love that. As the parent-teacher, I blackline some assignments, I add to others, some things I trade out wholesale. I have a friend who nearly died of heart failure using Seton, not because Seton is a money-maker for cardiologists, but because she wasn’t comfortable with paring down the curriculum as she needed to do (and as her advisers at Seton said she should). She does everything 100%. Seton proposes a tremendous curriculum, and she didn’t know how to say No to the parts that were too much. She needed a lighter program that she could plow through from start to finish, and rest knowing she had Done The Whole Thing.
Those are my main thoughts. I know we have a number of other homeschoolers reading here. What else would you add?
*This, I believe, is why Math books are like a religion unto themselves.