Homeschool teens on vacation

Real Life Learning and Catholic Homeschooling

Real Life is Real Learning

Life as a junk drawer

Long ago, a homeschool friend drove across the country to a family event and returned to say she was terribly behind in school. I was puzzled. “But your kids saw the country! That’s school!”

My friend was unconvinced. Lesson plans had not been checked off. Textbooks had not been opened. Workbooks had not been filled in. Now, if only there were lesson plans and books about the very same places they had been to, that would have been school.

I still don’t get it.

Bookwork matters but bookwork is not all that matters. Homeschoolers see learning opportunities in everything.

Real life is an incredible teacher.

The past four weeks of school at our house were all about real life. They involved almost no books yet they were the most valuable four weeks of the entire school year.

The short and long of it is, we went on two pilgrimages. The first was the annual Pilgrimage for Restoration, which is a project of my husband’s these 27 years. All of our homeschooled kids grew up on it. I mean that in two ways. They grew up doing it and it helped them grow up. For instance, last year and this year, our sixteen-year old headed up two demanding jobs that usually require one adult apiece. For many days prior, during, and after the pilgrimage, she communicated with vendors, organized lists, ordered supplies, managed volunteers, and dealt with pilgrims. That was just the mental work. Physically, she loaded heavy objects, and climbed in and out of the backs of trucks and up and down hills. When it was over she helped clean up. She did some of the work in the heat of the day and some in the dark chill hours before dawn and some in the dark damp hours before bed – all outside. Yet, as soon as it was over, she was sad.

So many lessons in adulting came from that one pilgrimage.

She now knows things I do not know and do not wish to know and is in many ways tougher than I am. In fact, I am thinking of appointing her to the position of responsible adult female in the house. I’ve held the position way longer than is good for me.

The best part though is that she did it all for God. That is what Catholic homeschooling is all about.

We spent a week catching up on school as such and then it was time for our second pilgrimage. Normally, a second pilgrimage a week after the first would be a little much even for us. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our choir was invited to sing in the Basilica of St. Mary Major for the 450th anniversary of Our Lady’s victory at Lepanto.

We were not about to let covid travel restrictions stop us much less a backlog of vocabulary homework. My husband and I have always viewed travel to the old world as a must in our children’s high school education. No, we don’t have money. Our five older children had all earned money at their part-time jobs to go. Now it was the last two children’s turn.

To tell you that for over a week, our fourteen year old son and sixteen year old daughter got lessons in history, religion, culture, art, music, geography, politics, physical education, and current events would be to sell the pilgrimage short. Call it a unit study on the Battle of Lepanto if you must but then add all of your senses, your intellect, affections, and will. You return from such an experience changed in your very core.

Are the kids now stuck having to catch up? Yes and perhaps it is not ideal to watch HSC recordings on warp speed because Mr. Campbell sounds like Alvin the Chipmunk discussing totalitarianism. Admittedly, both pilgrimages have put us “way behind on school.”

They have also put us way ahead.

As homeschoolers, we often think about which books we need, which methods we should use, which courses we should teach. You need these but you also need real-life experiences to hang all that book learning upon. I once talked to an excellent father whose generally good kids were a little spoiled and entitled so he sent them on a mission trip to a third world country. Prior to that they certainly knew about third world countries but it wasn’t until they actually went that they were changed.

Everybody wants to know how to motivate teenagers. Give them real experiences.

They don’t just want to read about bravery, they want be brave. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. They want a challenge to match their youthful energy. Give them good opportunities and they won’t want to seek bad ones.

The more real-life learning you can put into your children’s homeschool, the better that education will be. Whether it’s traveling, working at a part-time job, visiting an elderly neighbor, working on a farm, praying at the abortion clinic, camping on a Colorado mountain in winter, or getting up at five to greet arriving pilgrims, real-life experiences bring learning out of the abstract so that all those homeschool lessons you get from books come alive.

Take it from a mom and homeschool mentor think like a homeschooler and embrace the real-life learning opportunities that come your way. Alvin and the Chipmunks will be waiting for you when you get back.

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