By Patricia O’Connell
It’s the start of September and the start of school.
Most students have returned to traditional classrooms.
But a significant segment learn reading, writing and arithmetic at home.
Marcia Grimes has been home-schooling her children since 1996. She now has it down to a science.
“This year I didn’t buy anything,” she said, noting that everything is handed down.
She said one mistake families make is to splurge on materials. You don’t need to purchase colorful plastic teddy bears to teach numbers, she noted, adding, “Kids can learn to count Cheerios.”
Mrs. Grimes, a mother of 12 living children and one in Heaven, frequently fields inquiries from other Catholic moms. They want to know how to start home schooling. She tells them they’re already doing it, and have been since their children were tiny.
She and her husband, Michael, began formally instructing their oldest, now 30, when she was in eighth grade. This has continued right down to their youngest daughter, now four.
“I could write a book on mistakes (home-schoolers make) because I made them all, “she said.
Recently, one child asked why they couldn’t attend a regular school. Mrs. Grimes answered it wouldn’t be possible to continue gym classes at the “Y.” The Grimes children frequently take field trips, with Mrs. Grimes weaving lesson plans into the outing.
Mrs. Grimes is thrilled her children accompany her on regular visits to a local nursing home, where they hand out Rosary beads at the start of a prayer service.
“If my kids were in school, I would not have the freedom to do these things,” she explained.
Lynn Minasian-Somers of Northborough is also happy with her choice to keep her children home. Shortly before Labor Day weekend, she and several of her six children were in the midst of cleaning their school room and “working on all the things we needed to get started.”
“Yes, it is a big time commitment, especially trying to manage everything else,” she noted.
Mrs. Minasian-Somer’s children range in age from one to 15. Although it’s a lot of work running a home and a school, her older children help.
“My three oldest are good cooks,” she said. “The other way I do it is just by a lot of prayer.”
Home schooling, she said, seems to be what God is calling her to do.
While the stereotype is of isolated families, Mrs. Minasian-Somers said this isn’t the case.
“We’re pretty connected,” she said, explaining she and her children attend a Catholic home-schooling cooperative every Friday. Five families pool resources and talents. “All of the Moms teach something,” said Mrs. Minasian-Somers. One mother, a journalist, teaches writing. Another, a scientist, teaches science. There is also a history/geography block.
Mrs. Minasian-Somers leads a preschool class. Her students learn letters by pairing each letter with the beginning letter of a saint’s name.
“The children look forward to the co-op‚” Mrs. Minasian-Somers said. “Oh, yeah, they enjoy it a lot,” she said of the cooperative. “This is our third year doing it. We go to co-op because it’s a Catholic group.”
The children in the group range in age from babies to young teens, according to Mrs. Minasian-Somers, who said high-school aged girls sometimes help with some of the lessons. The families typically have an All Saints Day party and some sort of celebration at Advent, she explained.
At different parishes, there are also special home-school Masses throughout the year. Mrs. Minasian-Somers said her own pastor, Father Stephen Gemme of St. Bernadette in Northborough, has, in the past, celebrated special Masses for home-schooled families. She said there are a couple of other families home-schooling at St. Bernadette.
Mrs. Minasian-Somers has been home-schooling for eight years, starting when her oldest, now 15, was in second grade and she was pregnant with her fourth child. If someone feels a desire to homeschool, Mrs. Minasian highly recommends it.
“I think anybody can home-school,” she said. “If you’re feeling called, pray about it.”
She does warn, though, that it is impossible to tell someone exactly what to expect. Home-schooling never goes according to plan, she noted.
Mrs. Minasian-Somers described one way home schooling has had a positive impact. Two years ago, the entire family took their lessons on the road, and embarked upon a cross-country trip. This, she said, couldn’t have happened if her children followed a traditional school calendar.
“It was a great experience we were able to share as a family,” she said, noting this was also a good way to teach geography.
Ann and Frank Hougham of Sterling also home schooled their children, at least until two were old enough to attend Trivium School in Lancaster, which begins in grade seven. Mrs. Hougham is still home-schooling her third child, and she’s considering it again for her youngest pre-school-aged daughter.
Mrs. Hougham was busy organizing materials before school began. Home-schooling families tend to schedule classes the first week in September. She said the process is different for every child. Some kids can’t be home-schooled, but most can, she said.
Chris Synder of Marlborough lives in the Archdiocese of Boston but because Catholic homeschool families are relatively few and far between, she has met people from the Guardian Angels Homeschool Group centered in North Worcester County.
She said homeschooling is a “beautiful way” to pass on the faith.
Although Mrs. Snyder’s children have aged out of homeschooling she eagerly awaits round two. There will be several young grandchildren living at her house and they will be homeschooled as well.
“I’m so thrilled to be part of it again,” she said.