Written by Emma Button
Emma Button is a catholic home schooling mother of 8 children from Sydney. An architect by training, Emma has a passion for art and literature. She and her husband Sam have been married for almost 20 years.
When I was growing up some of my friends were home schooled and to me, they lived such a joyful and free life. I went to the local Catholic primary school and later an all-girls Catholic high school. I found school oppressive and was so happy when I finished. My schooling confused me spiritually, as religion teachers were teaching contrary to what my parents taught me at home. When I married and had my first child, the thought of putting him into the school system didn’t appeal to me. We wanted our children to enjoy their childhood without the pressures that school can bring and the possibility of losing their innocence prematurely. My husband and I now have eight children and have been home schooling for 12 years. Although it hasn’t been easy, I can still say that I’m glad we chose home schooling.
My first years were full of doubts, especially when it took longer than expected for our son to start reading. Now that he is 17 and reading Thomas Aquinas’ Summa, for one of his subjects, those worries feel far behind me. My teenagers will often recommend books to me that I am yet to find the time to read.
Fostering a love of learning is really the key to your children becoming their own teachers. I have always tried to read aloud to our children, starting with picture books, followed by fairy tales and classic novels. The books I read while at school are not worth mentioning. Which meant the first time I read many of the classics was to my children. I think that they could see in my face and hear in my voice that I was as delighted as them by what I was reading. Our reading time can be amazingly peaceful, but at times it’s chaotic too, as it is interrupted by a crying baby or a toddler trying to compete with my reading by singing louder than I can speak. Living in an age when technology and in particular television is so prevalent, the skill of using your own imagination to visualise a story as you are hearing it is something of a lost art. One of my sons prefers not to watch movies at all partly because he prefers to read and create his own mental images.
When we told some of our relatives that we wanted to home school they were worried that our children would be deprived of special milestones. “What about the school photos? What about their school formal or graduation?” Home schooling still has its milestones, like performing at a music recital, ballet concert, or speech recitation. Our relatives are used to us home schooling now, though for many people their questions stem from home schooling being something ‘unknown’.
There are the hard days when I think a particular child is trying to torment me by taking an hour to write one sentence and complaining all the while, and there are good days when they read you a great poem they have written. Other days I will explain the same mathematics concept from every possible angle and receive the same blank stare at the end of it, but the following day will see our child’s eyes widen in an ah-hah moment as I attempt to explain it again. People say to me “you must be so patient”, but I don’t think it’s patience to grit your teeth when you would rather scream!
One of the hardest aspects of parenting is guiding and forming your child in good habits. When you are around your children all day, there are plenty of opportunities to see any bad habits forming and try to curb them. As their parent you can come at this from a place of deep love for them, and you can give feedback and criticism which they will more likely listen to.
Perseverance is so important because as with anything worthwhile, there will be challenges. I’m not saying everything will turn out perfectly, but in time you will start to see the fruit of all your hard work. In the words of the Greek playwright Sophocles, who I wasn’t fortunate enough to learn about at school: “without labour, nothing prospers.”