Small is Beautiful: Homeschool Edition
For many homeschooling families, the choice to homeschool is motivated in part by a desire to avoid the “big government” approach to education represented by the public schools: curriculum decided by bureaucrats in our state capitals beholden to federal dictates, mass-produced corporate textbooks, one-size-fits-all teaching, and all the negatives that come with institutionalized education.
Sometimes, however, we homeschoolers can also fall prey to the “bigger is better” mentality. Homeschooling co-ops that are too large can take on a “schoolish” corporate feel. Larger co-ops can burden parents with bureaucratic complexity that rivals or exceeds what you’d get in a public school. The cost of managing a large co-op can lead to a tendency to monetize everything as a way to make up costs. And homeschooling programs can fall prey to the “one size fits all” mentality just as much as the public schools.
It is important for homeschoolers to be comfortable with the idea of smallness. Your student does not need to be part of a large institution to get a solid education. Catholic social teaching proposes the principle of subsidiarity for social and economic organization. Subsidiarity essentially means that things should be handled at the lowest level practicable. This principle gave rise to the “Distributist” school of economics, exemplified by authors like E.F. Schumacher and G.K. Chesterton. Schumacher’s famous book Small is Beautiful argued for a system of economics that is locally focused and responsive to the needs of the immediate community.
Small is beautiful in homeschooling, too! You don’t need to be part of a massive co-op or enrolled with a large homeschool program to reap the benefits of homeschooling. It’s also important to remember that many homeschoolers have no choice but to do it small; they may live in isolated areas where there are few other Catholics at all, let alone Catholic homeschoolers. I remember years ago talking to a homeschool mom from Yellowknife, Canada in the Northwest Territories. Her homeschooling world was entirely what she and her family could create.
Whether you are geographically isolated from other homeschoolers or just want to downsize your homeschool group, here are some suggestions for implementing subsidiarity in your homeschool, keeping things small and fun…
- Living room co-op. Who says a homeschool cooperative has to be big? Try getting together with just two or three other families in your home. You can have the benefits that come with getting other families involved while avoiding the headaches of a large co-op.
- Get out of your house. One benefit of homeschooling small is that its easier to take field trips. Dragging a co-op of fifty students to a field trip is a logistical challenge, but taking your own kids and maybe another family out for the day is very manageable. And there are so many options! Museums, historical sites, botanical gardens—really anything can become a field trip!
- Don’t wait for someone else to organize. Do you walk into a dark room and complain about the darkness? Or, do you flip the switch for light? If you’re looking for more things to do with your little homeschool, try organizing something yourself. Get up off your duffer and organize a Mom’s Coffee, Book Buddies, Socrates Cafe, Readers’ Anonymous, Homeschoolers 4 Life, etc. You’ll inspire others to do the same.
- Make friends! If you are homeschooling on a small-scale, it is easy to feel isolated. I recommend being intentional about making friends. Get to know other families! Invite them over for lunch. Or even host a “We’re Not Going Back to School Party” in your backyard.
- Utilize online forums. Online forums dedicated to homeschooling can be very useful; I use them myself. You can get quick answers, find support, etc. They can be an excellent resource. A word of warning, though: online forums that are not well-monitored can become whine-fests. People like to use them for blowing off steam, ranting, piling on with complaints and “just got to get this off my chest” type of posts. So, use them to get the help you need, but as with all things, practice moderation.
- Keep positive. Find the joy. Easier said than done, right? It’s good to periodically stop and reflect on why you chose to homeschool to begin with. When you feel yourself bogged down with details, it’s good to step back and reconnect with the big picture. Relax. Success doesn’t depend on whether you stick infallibly to your itinerary; it’s more important to be happy when you are homeschooling than to cram a certain amount of things into a day.
- Shop local. Shopping local and supporting small businesses helps reinforce the “local” aspect of your homeschooling endeavors. It also helps to build a sense of community, which is part of what the homeschooling ideal is all about.
- Support homeschool companies. You will inevitably need to purchase materials specific to homeschooling that are not available locally. When you do, support family-owned homeschooling companies that are niches, creating products just for you. They care about your mission. Amazon does not.
- Attend conferences or organize a watch party. With so much on Zoom these days, it is important to get offline and connect with the homeschooling community in real life. Attending homeschooling conferences in person is an excellent way to interact with new people and connect with others who share your mission. If you don’t have a local in-person Catholic homeschool conference, you can still get that in-person experience with the Virtual Catholic Homeschool Conference by organizing a local “watch parties”. It’s simple and fun. The virtual conference provides helps and ideas to get you started in organizing a watch party.
- Volunteer. All Christians should be generous volunteers, but volunteering as a family is an excellent way to grow your community and instill a sense of service in your homeschool. Get a few families together and volunteer at your parish, local soup kitchen, pregnancy help center, or recycling center.
- Weekday Mass. Attending weekday Mass with your homeschool friends will help you grow spiritually and start your homeschooling day off on the right foot. If it is not feasible to go every day, try to commit to going at least once a week. Get a few other homeschooling families to join you. One neat idea is getting the priest to offer a Mass for homeschoolers once a month!
- Get involved in your church community. Get involved with your parish community beyond just going to Mass. It doesn’t need to be much; just resolve to do something, even if just attending the Knights’ Breakfast once a month.
If you’re new to your community or to homeschooling and need to get connected to other Catholic homeschool families, you have a few options. 1. Ask the parish secretary if she can connect you to other homeschooling families in the parish. 2. Join the virtual Catholic Homeschool Community. It includes a feature to connect you to other community members in your city. 3. Search Facebook Groups or Google for [your city] Catholic homeschooling.
We hope that these tips help you find the “small is beautiful” in your homeschool.
May God bless you and yours abundantly!