The world of homeschooling is, so often, the world of women. While dad goes to work, mom teaches (and cleans and cooks disciplines and plays and so on and so forth). There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, hardworking and devoted moms do the majority of the teaching in most homeschools. But that doesn’t make dad’s role in home education any less important. Trouble is, many dads aren’t sure exactly how to fit in to the order of the home-school, what part to play and, what’s more, how to help mom. They want to help, and they feel the weight of the endeavor that is homeschooling, but what means and what it should look like isn’t always clear.
So, to help out, we asked for some advice from various homeschooling dads and leaders in classical education. Here’s a sampling (and be sure to let us know your tips in the comments section).
From David Hicks, author of Norms and Nobility
I think I’m really disqualified from answering this since I was not homeschooled and never homeschooled my children. On the other hand, I firmly believe — and tried to raise my children on this belief — that the father is the “headmaster” in his home and is always conscious of his role as a teacher of his children, seizing the “teaching moments” in every day. The Russians, as you probably know, are fond of calling the home the “little church.” Likewise, home is the “little school” even for those not homeschooling their little ones. One feature of the “little school” not often touched upon perhaps is the importance of establishing and adhering strictly to family rituals and traditions. This is, in my opinion, the duty of the father. Reading and prayers before bedtime and after meals. Meals themselves. (We were four boys growing up, and every meal was a family affair. At breakfast we were given a verse from the Bible to memorize for that day, and when we came to the table in the evening we had to recite the verse before sitting down. After the evening meal, the boys always did the washing up as soon as we were old enough to go to school.) In my home, Saturday mornings were for opera and waffles. I got up with the children while momma grabbed an extra wink, and we made waffles in the kitchen while listening to Verdi, Rossini, and our favorite, Puccini. To this day, my children will call me of a Saturday morning from New York or San Francisco or Jacksonville to say they are having waffles for breakfast while listening to Puccini. So much of what children learn is through ritual and tradition, and the absence of these in our culture impoverishes our children. I wish I had been thoughtful and deliberate about this as a father.
From Matt Bianco, Director of Education and Events for Classical Conversations
We dads have a tendency to be fixers. When we come home from work and mom is upset, hair disheveled, house in disarray, children unkempt, then we want to fix it. Our initial reaction is to tell the woman we love that we will fix this by doing X, Y, or Z. Maybe we will send the kids back to school or whatever. The good news is that we are doing this because of our great love for the woman we have promised to spend the rest of our lives with. The flip side, however, is that our wives are hearing something different: they are hearing that we don’t believe in them, that we don’t believe they can handle this, and that we are going to get someone else to do it who can. One of the most important things we can do is to support them, disheveled or not, chaotic or not, unkempt or not, by telling them we believe in them, we love them, we know they can do this, that we are there for them. If we do nothing else, and there are many things we can do, we need to do this.
From Andrew Kern, President of the CiRCE Institute
I don’t know what “the number one thing” is, but surely “one thing” would be that mom needs his support all day long, even when he isn’t home. A second would be that his role, as quiet as it often is, is no less needed as the child (especially a boy) enters the teen years.
From Brian Phillips, Headmaster of the CiRCE Academy and Head of Consulting
Never underestimate the importance of reading to your children. It is easy for dads to think of homeschooling within the same structure of conventional schooling, that is, it begins in the morning and ends with the conclusion of the last “class.” That just isn’t true. Dads can accomplish so much by taking just 15 minutes or so each evening to read great stories or histories, teach Latin or the Bible, or whatever. The time adds up, and so do the blessings – the children learn from their father, they see that books are important to him, and that school does not stop at a particular time. Plus, Mom has less on her plate and could even get 15 minutes to herself!
From Chuck Hicks, CiRCE Operations Officer
What I’ve realized is that children learn a great deal by imitation. “Be imitators of me,” said St. Paul. The most important thing the home schooling dad can do is set the example of being an inquisitive learner himself. Children are keen to observe whether dad continues to take seriously the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom in the great tradition, both at church and in the liberal arts. The dad who does so faithfully sets the tone, alleviating the children of the fear engendered by mass culture that there is a limited window of time for gaining these virtues. Dad can further calm anxieties by engaging their learning in relaxed contexts. The stress of the work environment has no place in education if it is to lead to a contemplative life. Finally (I know, this makes three things) dad can listen to what his home school students have learned on their own or in other contexts, asking questions and giving them space to “teach back.” Taking an interest in their independent exploration nurtures a life of learning and, by God’s grace, the pursuit of the permanent things.