One summer, I spent two weeks in a classroom in formation as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-approach to faith formation. This particular course revolved around serving children ages 6-9. My oldest child had just turned six, so this was new territory for me. As I scribbled notes furiously, I began to think about all of the situations that could arise with children in this program. I wanted to be prepared for anything. So, when the formation leader would introduce a new presentation, I would ask her questions pertaining to hypothetical scenarios. Her repeated response struck me with its deep truth and simplicity: “Look at the child in front of you.” She would then explain how, in observing the child, we could best figure out what she or she needed.
“Look at the child in front of you.”
This is sound advice in a faith formation program (and for life in general), but I’ve also been bringing it into my homeschooling approach.
With four children ages six and under, we are very new in our homeschooling adventure. Still, I’ve already noticed how many wonderful resources exist, especially in the area where I live. Towards the end of winter and beginning of spring each year, I notice different enrichment opportunities, materials, and curriculum sales for parents as they prepare for the upcoming school year. I spend an embarrassing amount of time scrolling through websites for local co-ops, homeschool events, and curriculum reviews. Part of me longs to buy every beautiful new curriculum I see and scoop up gorgeous materials right and left. Part of me wants to fill our schedule with co-ops and classes, so that I can give my children a large feast of educational opportunities.
Yet, I recall my Catechesis formation leader’s advice, and I stop in my tracks: “Look at the child in front of you,” I remind myself.
Do my children need a large assortment of groups and activities to participate in, or do they need large blocks of open space in which to play and rest at home?
Will my children benefit from every gorgeous curriculum I find, or would it be better for me to address their individual needs as we explore a life of learning together?
How do each of my children like to learn? Does the approach I followed as a homeschooled child fit their interests and learning styles?
These are some of the questions that I’ve been asking myself. I’m trying to listen to my children and observe what does and does not help them. For example, I was recently offered a gorgeous grammar book. Alongside the lessons, the book included Victorian-era illustrations that made my old-fashioned heart sing. However, as I paged through the book, I thought of my two oldest children. They are rough-and-tumble boys, who respond much better to dinosaurs, video game characters, and fighting each other with toy swords. Would this curriculum reach their adventurous minds and hearts?
Observing my children’s interests in this way and asking them how they learn, is not the simplest path I could take. I imagine that as my children grow and more of them reach “school age,” I will have less mental and physical energy to look this intently at each child’s educational plan. Currently, though, this approach is serving our family well. “Looking at the child in front of me” means that we decline certain activities and curricula, but it also means that we spent an entire month reading Greek mythology in lieu of our usual history book, and spontaneously have math class while shopping.
No matter what age my children are, or what interests they have, I hope that this small practice will continue to inspire and inform our homeschooling journey. I will probably be surprised by some of the answers to my continued questions over the coming years. I suppose, though, that this is what makes life exciting. My children are full of surprises, and I have no doubt that our homeschooling life will include many unexpected adventures. With joy, let us “look at the child in front of us” as we plan our homeschool years and prepare for an ongoing journey of discovery.
Copyright 2023 AnneMarie Miller