In home education I think every parent faces the question, at some point or another, what are they working towards? School teachers are working toward the last day of school so they can get some peace and quiet until the next batch of students roll in. In the case of the homeschool family the goals are much more eternal in nature. We have a vested interest in the future of our students that an elementary or high school can’t possibly share. We start to formulate these goals much earlier than a school district or administration would because we are blessed to be able to see their gifts an abilities at a very early age. We can explore more thoroughly how best to set them on the right path.
In the case of our homeschool and all of the others in the community which we belong the ultimate and first goal is heaven. We are educating our children to know,love and serve God; to be devout Catholics; to love their faith; to love their families and their neighbor.
In addition, it is important to know the more temporal goals. I know some families who homeschool with the idea of getting their children into a great Catholic high school. Others homeschool in order to make time for the study of an instrument that the child is gifted with. Still others know all the facts about homeschoolers scoring higher on the SATs and getting into more prestigious colleges and universities.
These are all good goals. Choosing to homeschool is very personal and the reasons and goals are as individual as each family who makes the choice.
What if your goal isn’t as clear cut? What if you have a child with special needs for whom high schools, SATs and universities are not an option. Then how do you discern the goal? The primary goal remains the same. Heaven, a relationship with God, a good prayer life all as best as can be accomplished depending on your child’s abilities. And don’t worry if it takes five years for him to learn the Hail Mary – God knows this child’s abilities and loves and glorifies the efforts. Tremendous grace shall come of it.
The big question for parents of special kids is what shall they do when school is complete? Now in some cases this might be really simple. A child might have a disability but be gifted mechanically or with computers, they might be a great artist or a gifted musician. In that case finding the right situation, vocational training or job might be the challenge but at least there is a path on which to forge ahead.
There are those people who are aware from a very early time that their special child will always be with them. A child who will be unable to effectively take care of themselves or function alone. What are the teaching goals for that child? That child may not go to college but it is still very important that they feel like they are contributing something. That there is a reason to get up in the morning and have somewhere to go where they can earn respect and feel pride in accomplishment.It is so important in case like this to pray ferverntly for direction. God will reveal His plan in His time but it is important to be in communication with Him so that we don’t miss out.
In my house the teaching goals for Ryan are quite different than those of my other children. Each child is very different as are their methods of learning but for my more typical children the goals are to educate them well by teaching them to love learning, to have inquiring minds and to want to do well and take pride in their work. These goals are pretty broad at the moment since they are still quite young.
Ryan’s goals are different. It is unlikely at this point that Ryan will be able to learn higher math or embrace great literature such as Shakespeare and Milton. He can memorize facts about history but lacks the ability to fully understand the causes and effects of the events he is memorizing. The same applies to any science he picks up. So what is the goal? For what are we educating him?
Functioning well in everyday life is the primary. Ryan needs to know enough math to use an ATM, to go to the market and to balance a checkbook. He needs to be able to make or count change and avoid being cheated. He needs to be able to read and follow directions well enough to fill out a job application or an insurance form. He needs to be able to read a map and find his destination. These are not lofty goals but they are likely to take the next ten years to accomplish. We will not ignore the other things, he will still listen to Shakespeare and Milton and will visually be taught geometry and algebra. He will be exposed to all the History and Science I can cram in there but the true goal is functioning in the world around him well enough to get by. Anything else will be a tremendous blessing.
Ryan does have some gifts that make discerning God’s plan for him a little easier. He is a gifted musician with a great love of God. He is gifted with great piety. Before he could tell time Ryan instinctively knew when it was 3:00 p.m. and would say the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I did not teach him this, it just came to him. He spends a great deal of his time in our yard walking with his rosary, praying fifteen decades. His great joy comes from playing the guitar for our weekly family rosary night or for the occasional home Mass said by one of the Franciscan Friars we know. He loves the Mass. Tridentine, Novus Ordo, Life Teen, whatever…. he just loves to be part of it.
This has given us some direction. He has on many occasions over the years expressed a desire to be a priest. While I do not believe the rigors of the seminary would be possible we have great hopes for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. We love these friars and know many of them well. They are so good with children and Ryan loves nothing more than to be at one of the friaries. We have talked to several of the priests there about people like Ryan who might have a vocation but not the capacity for seminary or vows. They assure us that there can be a place in religious life for those people.
Thanks be to God.
Ryan is only 11 years old but since his preparation for the real world will take a great deal longer it is not too early to pray, plan and begin the process.
Mom of Five says
Thanks Mary Ellen. That was so beautifully put. I won’t worry anymore about how to mother a special child, if we are ever entrusted with one. I have a wonderful example to follow.
Mary Ellen Barrett says
Thank you Nissa. Your words mean a lot to me.
Mary Ellen, thank you for this beautiful, faithful, and uplifting post. You are a gift to all of us, as is Ryan.
Mary Ellen Barrett says
Thank you Alice, you too are a gift and a dear, dear friend.
Eric Forrest says
Wow! What a blessing! I have a mentally handicapped uncle, and he is a SAINT! He is just the sweetest man that I have ever met…ever. I certainly wish I was praying 15 decades and reciting the chaplet when I was eleven. Anyway, I found your blog because I am hoping to enter the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal as soon as they’ll take me! I’m visiting them in a few weeks, so pray for me! I’ll keep you and Ryan in my prayers! God bless! Oh, and I’m sure you already know about St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Franciscan friar who is the patron of those with mental disabilities…Oh dear St. Joseph; he was so simple and so faithful.