Catholic presence felt at homeschool convention

COLUMBIA—Christopher and Laurie Tollefsen have educated all nine of their children at home.

The Tollefsens, members of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, want other parents to know the joy and fulfillment that come with homeschooling, and especially want to reach out to other Catholics. They both led sessions at the Midlands Homeschool Conference at the Carolina Convention Center July 24-26. The event drew parents and vendors from across the Southeast who exchanged ideas, checked out a variety of teaching tools, and attended dozens of workshops on different home teaching techniques.

“Homeschooling gives you an opportunity to help your children develop in a way that is very personal to them and to your family,” Mr. Tollefsen told a small group who attended his workshop on “The Rights and Responsibilities of Homeschooling.”

“The family is a special kind of society, and I know our family community has really been strengthened through this experience. It helps the family to get to know each other better,” he said.

Mr. Tollefsen, who teaches philosophy at the University of South Carolina, said educating children is one of the main responsibilities of a parent. He believes home education is an important option to consider as public schools increasingly seem to operate on the theory that parents should “be walled off” from any decisions about what their child is exposed to in the classroom.

Mrs. Tollefsen led a session on “Making Homeschool YOUR Homeschool,” where she reminded parents that no two families will approach home education the same way, even though all will have to meet certain standards and teach the same subjects.

“Each marriage and each family is a unique entity, so each approach to schooling will be a little different,” she said. “What we have to focus on is that as homeschoolers, we have the responsibility not only for the full and complete intellectual development of our children, but their moral and spiritual education as well.”

It was the first time Catholic homeschoolers had their own exhibit at a statewide convention, said Jennifer Fitz, of Columbia, who helped set up the display. Visitors browsed a variety of textbooks, workbooks and other materials offered by Catholic companies like Kolbe Academy and Catholic Heritage, and picked up materials offering information on Catholic homeschool co-ops and support groups around the state.

The Tollefsens and other homeschooling parents said a variety of factors led them to teach their kids at home. Some wanted their children to have a Catholic education, but tuition costs at their parish schools led them to pursue the home option. Others felt home education offered their children a better chance to develop intellectually, to spend more time on special interests and integrate Catholic values in all subjects.

Gaby Hicks, of Columbia, considered homeschooling for her 4-year-old son after his years at a “Mom’s Day Out” and preschool program kept him away from home for long hours.

“I had a sense of grief about the way we were living our life … we were always rushed, late, frazzled and had very little quality time together,” she said. “We toyed with the idea of homeschooling after that and haven’t looked back.”

Hicks is not using one specific curriculum, but has selected a variety of workbooks, books and flash cards to help her son learn the basics of reading, math and religion. He will also be taking religious education classes at their church. She also plans to homeschool her other two children, who are 3 and 1.

“The main thing I want my children to get from this is a love of learning,” she said. “I want them to have an internal drive to chase their curiosity and interests that will last a lifetime. I worry that a conventional school setting can start to seem like a set of tasks for a child to complete, that it can stifle their natural imagination, creativity and curiosity.”

The parents were eager to debunk common myths about homeschooling, especially an idea that children taught at home won’t develop good social skills or learn to interact with other children.

Theresa Van Pilsum, who attends St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said her five children learn at home but also take part in a wide range of activities, from sports to music and dance classes.

“We’re not pulled in a million different directions,” she said. “We’re much more in control of our own schedule, and that’s brought a lot of peace to our family.”

Van Pilsum said parents just starting out shouldn’t expect to get everything right automatically, or to set up the perfect home classroom on their first try.

“Pray about it and do your homework,” she said. “Don’t feel intimidated or pressured. You can feel overwhelmed with all you have to accomplish, but as my husband said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourselves and put your life in God’s hands and it will work out.”

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