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In the Lutheran homeschooling family’s toolbox, there is no more important item than the Lutheran parish. In fact, it might be more accurate to compare the parish to the toolbox itself. Without it, there is no way to keep all of the other tools in the box in good condition. As a toolbox protects and organizes a variety of useful implements, so the parish provides meaning and order to the homeschooling family’s days.
There are as many different ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. Some families take a more structured approach, following a traditional school day, but in the home. Others lean toward the “relaxed” or “unschooling” model. Each family has to decide for itself what works. But there is one thing that we should all agree on, whether our children are being educated at home or in a Lutheran day school, a private school, or a public school: As Christian parents, our most important duty is to bring our children up in the faith. It is not a job we can hand off to anyone else, but it is a job for which we can look to our church for guidance, encouragement, and support.
My husband and I began our homeschooling journey almost 20 years ago, when our oldest was in second grade. Through all those years of ups and downs, productive days and disastrous ones, trying this curriculum and that one, and worrying regularly about how it was all going to turn out, the thing that has remained constant has been our church. We have changed parishes a few times over the years. But what has not changed is the role of the parish as the organizing principle of our days. Everything else may have gone completely out of control, but between Sunday morning worship, midweek catechesis, and our family’s involvement in the work of the church (music, acolytes, youth group, altar guild), there has been order. What a blessing, when it is time for church, to simply go and be fed by Word and Sacrament! What a blessing to set aside whatever challenges or headaches we may be currently facing in our homeschool day to go to church for an activity or service opportunity and to be built up by our brothers and sisters in Christ!
Considering the LCMS’s history of planting and supporting day schools, it is perhaps not surprising that there has sometimes been tension between Lutherans who homeschool and those who do not, particularly when there is a Lutheran day school available. Yet I think that as we all realize that we have the same goals, that we are in this thing together, and that for various reasons we sometimes make different choices, that tension is on the decline. In every place that my husband and I have lived since having children, there has been a Lutheran day school available. Yet we have for the most part been supported by both our parish and the day school in our choice to homeschool, and for that we are grateful.
There are multiple ways the Lutheran parish and the homeschooling family can be a blessing to one another. The parish that supports a day school can consider ways for the day school to open its doors to homeschoolers. Might it be possible for the homeschooling family to participate in field trips, sports, choir, or other extracurricular activities, or to take one or two classes at the school? On the flip side, how might the homeschooling family serve the day school with its time and talents? My oldest son is an accomplished chess player. Some years ago he was invited to one of our day school’s classes to assist with the students’ learning of chess. Another time my daughter, who plays piano, served as accompanist for the elementary musical. Both my children and the day school students were blessed by these experiences.
For homeschoolers, an ongoing challenge is to keep “life” from getting in the way of “studies.” (I put both of those in quotation marks because most of the homeschoolers I know will tell you that life is the best form of study.) When big changes happen (new baby, job change, move, illness), it can be difficult to keep hitting the books. In our own homeschool, when everything else has gone by the wayside, there has always still been church, providing a focus and order to our week. An extension of church is family devotional life, and in this area, the parish can be a great source of support. By communicating with the pastor and/or cantor, homeschooling parents might choose to synchronize home devotions with congregational worship, spending time at home studying readings and learning hymns that are coming up at church. Children love what they know, and their faces will light up in delight when they hear a reading or get to sing a hymn that they have already learned at home.
Ultimately, the best thing the church can do for homeschoolers is simply to be the church. We may not always get math and science done, but we never stop praying. When we are so tired that even our prayers fail; when we feel like societal weirdos because of the educational choice we have made; when we get to the end of another long day of homeschooling and wonder what was accomplished besides survival—that is when we need our church more than ever, speaking words of both Law and Gospel, reminding us that whether we homeschool our children or send them to a public, private, or parochial school, life in this world is life under the cross, and nothing is a sure thing but the love of Christ Jesus, who died on that cross for the sins of all, no matter where they went to school.
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