You’re thinking about unschooling. It all sounds great… letting children follow their own interests, trusting they will learn all they need to know… But stop! Wait! What about religion? This is important. You think: “Can I just stand back and hope my children will want to learn about their faith? Doesn’t that sound a bit risky? What if they don’t want to know?” And then because the faith is so very important, you decide you can’t possibly unschool.
These were exactly my thoughts some years ago. Although I had let go in other areas, I still wanted to retain some control over the teaching of religion. I assumed we couldn’t be unschooling.
Actually, many unschoolers teach their children religion. A parent decides she has to take an active role in teaching the faith. And I think this is perfectly acceptable. After all, a parent’s first duty is to ensure her children know their faith and are brought up to practise it. That responsibility can’t be ignored, and it isn’t.
A parent could organise structured religion lessons, and insist a child joins in with religious activities and devotions. And many do, I’m sure. But for us, I have found that those lessons, and that insistence, aren’t necessary.
Like other Catholics, we live our faith. We breathe it in, like the air around us. It is essential. We don’t have to think about making it into a lesson. We don’t have to separate it out from our life, and place it in the context of ‘school’. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn about our faith. We are very aware all of us need to learn more, parents as well as children. Learning about our faith is a life-long process. We never know enough.
So how do we share the faith with our children if I don’t use formal lessons?
I think the most important way of sharing the faith with our children is to live it, and talk about it. Our example teaches our children so much. They watch and listen as we rejoice in our blessings, and deal with our sufferings. They see the faith in action. They hear our words of faith. They learn to view the world through the eyes of faith.
Every morning, we pray together as a family. I never insist my children join in with the prayers, but they arrive without fail. Again, it’s like breathing. We pray, we read the daily readings and take the time to discuss them briefly. It’s amazing how much knowledge of the faith and how to live it, can result from discussing short mediations every day.
And then there’s faith resources. I go looking for interesting books, DVDs, podcasts… that might interest my children, just like I do for everything else.
I find good books such as The Creed in Slow Motion by Ronald Knox. I invite my children to join me for a read-aloud chapter. They never refuse my invitation. I’m sure they love their faith as much as I do. We get a warm feeling, knowing we belong to the Catholic Church. We feel all ‘cozy’! You will have to read The Creed in Slow Motion to understand that sentence. It’s a wonderful book!
After I have finished reading, a discussion always begins. I don’t ask questions in an attempt to test my children. We just start chatting, with everyone adding their own ideas. One thing leads to another, and we seem to cover a lot of very interesting ground very quickly.
I often read a Catholic book at the lunch table. I always keep my tablet close at hand, because I know while we’re chatting someone will ask a question that needs answering. Recently, we’ve had great discussions about stigmata and other special spiritual gifts, the Incorruptibles, and the papal election.
I found some free spiritual talks online by such speakers as Fulton Sheen. I subscribed to Catholic Lighthouse Media and we receive regular talks in the form of mp3 files. I share these with the older girls.
Then there’s saints books and Catholic stories, the children’s Bible… We always have something interesting to dip in together. We also have books on the shelves for individual reading. Imogen recently came back from a Catholic youth mission school with a list of spiritual books she wants to read. We have most of them on our bookshelf.
Mission schools and spiritual retreats and get-togethers with other Catholics… These are wonderful ways of learning more about the faith and sharing it with others.
Of course, we go to Mass as a family. Everyone comes along. Do our children have a choice? No one has ever questioned whether they have to come or not. I guess they must all want to come. We are very involved in our parish. We sing and read and help organise parish events. Everyone has their place and is a valued parishioner.
My children have even learnt a lot about their faith through my regular chats with my Jehovah’s Witness visitor, who regularly drops by, hoping I’m ready to see the error of my ways. She hasn’t a chance! Anyway, it’s apologetics in action, as far as my children are concerned.
So our children learn so much about our faith without me planning a single lesson. But someone asked about the catechism. Now if the goal is to have a child memorise the questions and answers of the catechism, it seems to me, this has to be approached in an organised way. And I see nothing wrong with doing this.
Most of my children have memorised their catechism. Some years ago, Father James Tierney was writing a new catechism: The Catholic Family Catechism Disciples’ Edition with 50 Questions and Answers. Father sent the draft copies to our family asking our children to ‘try it out’. Soon they had the words memorised. Of course a catechism is more than remembering words. We also had to discuss what those words meant. Really they are just a summary of what they’d already learnt about their faith from living it, reading about it and discussing it.
Father Tierney’s catechism was published, and then Father decided he’d like to have a chanted version available on CD, to help people memorise it. He asked Felicity to teach our children how to chant the catechism. Then, when everyone was ready, they recorded the chants using the computer. Andy helped burn them onto CDs, ready for sale.
Sophie and Gemma-Rose were too young to learn the catechism when all this was going on. But just the other day, Sophie said, “Remember how the older kids learnt their catechism? Perhaps Gemma-Rose and I could learn it too.” Maybe I could as well. I never did master it the first time around. Yes, I think the girls and I should learn it together.
Together? Maybe that’s the key in making sure our children know their faith. If we all live it and share it, read about it and discuss it, how can they fail to know what it is all about? And the catechism? Yes, learn it together!
Have we faith-proofed our children? No one can do that, whatever method of homeschooling they choose. All I am certain about is this: Our children do know where to return if ever they are tempted to stray. They know where they belong.
If you’re interested, Father Tierney’s Catholic Family Catechism Disciples’ Edition in 50 questions and answers is available as a free download. It can also be bought as a paperback book, which contains lots of extra information, from Cardinal Newman Faith Resources.