Tuesday, February 20, 2024

How Catholic parishes can support homeschooling families

My family and I are moving to the area soon, and we're homeschoolers. What is a good church that offers opportunities for homeschooling families?

A variation of this question regularly pops up within social media groups, especially as people look ahead to the coming school year. Over time, I've noticed that in the Catholic community, the same handful of parishes tend to be recommended over and over. Homeschooling families flock to these parish communities. They know they will be supported in their educational journey, and they are excited about the existing opportunities they can enjoy. 

It's wonderful when parishes encourage homeschooling families, and I'm grateful for the encouragement that homeschoolers receive from the diocese as well. However, I wonder if more parishes could join in this support and outreach. Catholic parishes do a fantastic job supporting and celebrating Catholic education when it comes to the school system. Yet, there are families in the pews who seek a Catholic education through homeschooling. 

Homeschooling families are part of the parish community, even if we don't utilize the Catholic school system. We don't need a homeschooling equivalent of Catholic Schools Week, but we would love encouragement and support, too. I've encountered Catholic homeschooling communities across America, and between my experiences and those of my friends and acquaintances, I've observed different ways that Catholic parishes can reach out to homeschooling families. Here are a few ideas to get us started as we support these families in their mission and work: 

Offer an assortment of daily Mass times. 

Daily Masses often occur around the schedules of people who work 9-5 office jobs or take their kids to school every day. So, Masses are either very early in the morning or in the evening. There are great aspects to having Mass at those times (I actually love early morning Mass), but these times can be challenging for families with small children and/or several children...which describes many homeschooling families. Offering an array of daily Mass times, including the lunch hour (anywhere from 11 to 12:15) is a huge gift to these families. Plus, it's easy for families to turn those Masses into an informal homeschool gathering-first Mass, then a park! 

Transform the parish library.

The public library is an amazing resource that offers some Catholic books in its collections-but sometimes, it's helpful to browse in a library that only features the Catholic books that you've thought about reading, but don't want to buy. Parish libraries address this need by providing incredible books and DVDs for parishioners to check out and enjoy. Unfortunately, though, some people have no idea that their parish even has a library, because it's either tucked away in an inconvenient spot or not advertised. The parish library is often an underutilized resource, but we can change that. Parishes can support homeschoolers--and the entire community--by developing the existing parish library. Many homeschooling families have children who cross a wide range of ages, so if a parish library is not kid-friendly (breakable decor arranged in easy-to-reach places), arranging the space with small children in mind is hugely beneficial. At the very least, our parish libraries can feature a "kids corner" with a small selection of toys for kids to play with while their parents browse. Furthermore, instead of only stocking books for adults, parish libraries can offer a variety of books for children and teens-both fiction and non-fiction. A parish could even offer events at the parish library, like toddler storytimes or poetry recitation events for kids. With dedication, work, and creativity, we can transform our parish libraries into dynamic, vibrant hubs for parish life. 

Provide easily-accessible meeting space for parishioners (including homeschoolers). 

Even if a parish has physical space available during the day, those spaces are often seeming-impossible to actually use. They either require high fees, lots of hoops to jump through, or are not kid-friendly. Parishes have policies for important reasons, but it's unfortunate when these policies prevent the parish--and the homeschoolers--from growing in community. If Catholic parishes want to support homeschooling families, offering accessible spaces for regular use or occasional events is a great way to do this. 


Empower parents who desire alternative religious education formats. 

It is generally assumed, if not explicitly stated, that families who do not send their kids to Catholic school must send them to parish religious education classes (“Sunday school”). However, some families—for a variety of reasons—do not wish to enroll their kids in these classes. They instead desire alternate formats of instruction, like Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or family catechesis at home. Rather than trying to force all families into the mold of RE classes each week, parish and religious education leaders can empower and support parents who desire to either send their kids to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or educate them at home. If the state allows parents to educate their children about math, science, and history, could parishes allow and encourage parents to teach their children about God?


Be flexible about Sacrament timelines.

A lot of parishes use a manmade “Sacrament System;" for example, when an entire second grade class is expected to receive First Reconciliation and First Communion as one group, on pre-appointed dates that align with the end of the September-May school year. However, not all homeschooling families follow the September-May school year model. Many families choose to homeschool “year-round” throughout a child's whole childhood as they embrace a life of learning and wonder. What good will come from forcing those families into the “school year” system when they have already been doing sacramental preparation with their children for several years? I’ve already written about “Sacrament Systems,” but I want to reiterate: If parish leaders become flexible and allow the graces of the Sacraments to flow, it will benefit the Church and the world. If allowing families to individually seek the Sacraments is too difficult for parishes to handle, they could instead offer two or three times each year where a group of children is allowed to come receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist for the first time. For example, parishes could allow a group of children to receive these sacraments in November or December if they don't want to wait until May.  


Learn about homeschooling from the people who live it.  

Although I know of a couple priests who were homeschooled for a portion of their pre-seminary years, many priests and parish employees have not experienced homeschooling firsthand. So, the “homeschooling perspective” may be completely foreign to them. Priests and parish employees alike spend time learning about and working with the parish school; it is fitting that they learn from the homeschooling families in the parish as well. If the priest and church employees can't connect with any homeschooling families, they can still read about homeschooling (Dumbing us Down, by John Taylor Gatto, How Children Learn, by John Holt, The Brave Learner, by Julie Bogart, or Unschooled, by Kerry McDonald are all good places to start). Homeschooling families all have different perspectives and approaches, so it is important to remember that the way one homeschooling family does things is not the only way that homeschooling families do things. Simply asking a family what homeschooling is like, or how the parish can help them, is a great place to start. 

Keep homeschoolers' needs in mind when planning events.

Parishes and dioceses certainly don't need to plan everything around the specific needs of homeschoolers, but it's important to remember that when adults-only formation, conferences, and events are held during work and school hours, it can be very difficult for homeschooling parents to attend. Not only is it tough to find childcare, but childcare is expensive. Since many homeschoolers are single-income families, it becomes not only a logistical challenge, but a financial hardship for some people as well. Allowing adults to bring their children-maybe letting them play in a separate room while parents take turns watching them-is one option organizers can consider with weekday events that occur in the daytime. 

Ultimately, we must remember that we are all part of the Body of Christ. Supporting, praying for, and encouraging homeschooling families--in addition to families who utilize public or private schools-is important work for all of us. I think of the prayer that Christ offered in the moments before his Passion, when he prayed that we would all be one, as he and the Father are one (see John 17). Let's keep this prayer for unity in our hearts and actions as we work together. Then, with a desire for unity and holiness, we may grow closer to God and let the Holy Spirit work within our parish communities, educational opportunities, and the wider Church. 


  1. Thanks so much for writing this! I totally agree and wish my parish would do a few of these...

    1. You are very welcome! I definitely think every parish, even known as "homeschooling friendly," can continue to grow. Hopefully your parish will support and help homeschoolers as they are able.