The Parents' Handbookfor Orthodox Christian Homeschoolers
The purpose of this study is to develop and validate a process model for the design of curriculum in Orthodox Christian religious education. The model reflects basic elements of curriculum design, while remaining faithful to the tradition of the church as expressed in the Orthodox Christian family of churches. It assumes an educational paradigm in which education takes place in three contexts of church life: worship (church), teaching (school), and praxis (home and community life). – Dr. Constance Tarasar, A Process Model for the Design of Curriculum for Orthodox Christian Religious Education
attending and participating in the services
“…‘ Liturgical catechesis’ is not just an interesting custom of the ancient Church, but the traditional method of religious education…”
– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life
The Teaching Service
“Thus the first part of our Divine Liturgy is still called ‘Liturgy of the Catechumens,’ and this is not merely because catechumens were allowed to attend it, but primarily because it was and still is a teaching service…” – Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life: Christian Development Through Liturgical Experience
It wasn’t until the 15th century that the printing press was invented and this is when you begin to see a much larger audience of people who are now able to read because materials were 1) more readily available in order to teach others and 2) the average person now had the opportunity to even dream about owning a book of their own because the price of books were beginning to drop since they didn’t have to be hand written anymore. Therefore, through much of the Church’s history, our faith was taught through the services (worship), oral instruction, icons, and praxis.
An integral part of an Orthodox homeschooling family’s rhythm is attending as many services as possible.
Community as Educator
John Boojamra shares with us, “The early Church always placed learning in the context of the experience of the community as shared work and worship.”
Each family is a little church where a great majority of our spiritual upbringing takes place. But…it’s also within the context of our parish community where we learn stories from an older generation, socialize with other like-minded people, exchange tips in the art of getting our prosphora to turn out just right, support during our times of need (illness, birth of a child, death of a loved one), and any other number of scenarios. We come together to worship and to share in the Eucharist as a family.
expanding our knowledge
“Perhaps the best metaphor we can use as Orthodox is not that of product, but of process and pilgrimage: Christian education, as a curriculum, is the route over which we travel under the leadership of an experienced guide and companion, and in the community of the faithful. It is not a once-and-for-all given, extrinsic to human participation.” – John Boojamra, Foundations for Christian Education
What is an Orthodox Approach to Education?
- Our Church and Our Children by Sophie Koulomzin
- The Road to Orthodox Phronema by George Nicozisin (Out of print. If you can get ahold of it, it’s worth the read. It gives a background of how Sunday Schools came about in the Protestant and Catholic churches and its influence on Orthodox parishes.)
- Foundations for Christian Education by John Boojamra
- Perspectives on Orthodox Education by Constance Tarasar
By the hand of two Orthodox homeschooling moms striving to guide their children on their spiritual journey:
- Orthodox Homeschooling, Part I by Amanda Sexton
- Orthodox Homeschooling, Part II by Amanda Sexton
- The Epic Search for an Orthodox Christian Curriculum by Jennifer Hock
- Starting a Framework for an Orthodox Christian Homeschooling Model by Jennifer Hock
New to Homeschooling
Homeschooling Methods: Each family is going to have their own reasons which brought them to homeschooling and their own unique needs regarding homeschooling methods. Your homeschool will not look identical to your neighbor’s homeschool, even your Orthodox neighbor – and that’s normal! If you have not already decided on a homeschooling method or would like to know more about the different styles of teaching, Homeschooling Methods is an excellent introduction. You will probably find that most seasoned homeschooling parents tend to merge several different methods of teaching as they become more familiar with the needs of their family and more comfortable with their own teaching. As the years progress, you’ll find your own personal groove that compliments the ebb and flow of the seasons and also learn the methods which best suit your family. A little trial and error seem to come with the territory.
You may also be interested in reading: Starting a Framework for an Orthodox Christian Homeschooling Model
Mentors & Support: As with anything new, it’s beneficial to have a mentor who you can turn to for advice and support. The Orthodox Christian Classical Homeschool Yahoo Group was started in 2002. It has close to 1000 people who post and respond in the threads. You will find new and seasoned Orthodox homeschool parents in this group to turn to for advice and support. There is also the Eastern Orthodox Homeschoolers group page on Facebook. Ask around if there is an Orthodox Homeschool Co-op in your area in either of these groups or talk to your parish priest to see if he knows of any other Orthodox homeschooling parents in your parish or the neighboring parishes.
Curriculum: There is currently not an all inclusive Orthodox curriculum available for Orthodox Christian homeschooling families. (Please read through the What is Orthodox Education? tab above to better understand why.)
There are some Orthodox resources specifically geared towards homeschooling which were written and developed by Orthodox homeschooling parents. You can find these resources here:
- Age of Triumph by Katherine Johnson (Charlotte Mason inspired)
- Children’s Garden of the Theotokos by Anaphora Press (Waldorf inspired)
- Classical Learning Resource Center (Classical inspired)
- History Portfolios by Homeschool Journey (Supports Charlotte Mason, Classical, and Notebooking homeschooling methods)
- Interior Strength by Fr. John Peck (Classical inspired)
- St. Raphael Orthodox Online School (Classical inspired)
Browse through the links and resources throughout this site for ideas, lessons, and activities to supplement your homeschool.
Suggested Initial Reading:
- Orthodox Study Bible
- The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware
- Foundations for Orthodox Christian Education by John Boojamra
- On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children by St. John Chrysostom
- Our Church and Our Children by Sophie Koulomzin
- On Marriage and Family Life by Saint John Chrysostom
- Children in the Church Today by Sister Magdalen
- Conversations with Children by Sister Magdalen
- The Early Church Fathers as Educators by Elias Matsagouras
- The Road to Orthodox Phronema by George Nicozisin
- Liturgy and Life: Christian Development Through Liturgical Experience by Alexander Schmemann
- Perspectives on Orthodox Education by Constance Tarasar
- Raising Them Right by Saint Theophan the Recluse
- The Educating Icon by Anton Vrame
There is a wide selection of books to further your knowledge and understanding about Orthodox Christianity. Three major publishers of Orthodox books are:
The most important aspect to remember is that Orthodoxy is a way of life. It is a life long process that is formational instead of informational.
Using the 5 Senses as a Teaching Model
The Divine Liturgy offers us an example of the teaching method we can incorporate with our students by using our five senses. During the Liturgy, our entire person is engaged in worship – we hear the hymns, we smell the incense, we see the icons, we touch our forehead, shoulders, and chest as we make the sign of the cross, and we taste the Holy Eucharist. As we plan and create our lessons and activities, it’s important to remember this method of learning and involvement.
How can we include as many of our senses as possible during our lesson or activity to engage our children?
living our faith
“Yet the family is recognized as the ‘home church’, and the task of the parents is really a kind of lay priesthood.”
– Sophie Koulomzin, Our Church and Our Children
Mentors & Homeschool Co-ops
Mentors & Support: As with anything new, it’s beneficial to have a mentor who you can turn to for advice and support. The Orthodox Christian Classical Homeschool Yahoo Group was started in 2002. It has close to 1000 people who post and respond in the threads. You will find new and seasoned Orthodox homeschool parents in this group to turn to for advice and support. There is also theEastern Orthodox Homeschoolers group page on Facebook. Also, ask around if there is an Orthodox Homeschool Co-op in your area in either of these groups or talk to your parish priest to see if he knows of any other Orthodox homeschooling parents in your parish or the neighboring parishes.
Orthodox Homeschool Co-op Groups: Start by asking around about a co-op in your area in one of the online groups and your parish priest.
If you’re looking to start a group, email all the Orthodox priests within a comfortable driving distance from you. Explain to them that you are an Orthodox homeschooling family and looking for others in the area. Respectfully ask that they forward on your email to any homeschooling families in their parish so those families can contact you if they are interested in joining or helping to start a group for the area.
Once you have found other families, invite them over for a BBQ and talk about how you would like to set up the group – informal (get togethers at the park and field trips) or formal (lessons and activities taught by the moms and dads) as well as how often you would like to meet.
Living Our Faith
“The image of the adult Christian is formed in the child’s mind by what he sees and hears adults doing.” – John Boojamra, Foundations for Christian Education
- Go to Liturgy every Sunday?
- Go to Liturgy during the week whenever possible?
- Follow the fasts?
- Pray daily?
- Celebrate name days?
- Give of my time and money freely?
- Read the Bible and continue learning about my faith?
- Arrive on time for services?
- Pay attention and refrain from talking during services?
- Attend classes or retreats at church?
- Ask for forgiveness?
- Show kindness and patience to others even when I’m tired or had a rough day?
- Give my full attention to the person talking to me?
- Go to confession regularly?
These are just a few examples for us to reflect upon.
The Orthodox Homeschool Year
There is a rhythm, year after year, within the Orthodox Church. The ebb and flow of the seasons guide us through the Church calendar as we live these moments using all five of our senses. Thus, the most natural approach for an Orthodox homeschooling parent, as they plan their upcoming year, would be to follow the Church cycle and make it a central part of their educational efforts.
Consider reading this post for greater depth on how to possibly structure your homeschool year: Starting a Framework for an Orthodox Christian Homeschooling Model
An Orthodox education is formational, therefore don’t try and squeeze everything in the first year. Choose an area of interest to study for the year and then add one more aspect each additional year. Remember, this is a journey for each family with all of their own unique circumstances and our pilgrimage is going to look different from our neighbor’s.
I would strongly suggest focusing on the following first to set the basic foundations for your little church, your family:
- Making the Sign of the Cross: For children 1 year old and older, guide their hand to make the sign of the cross until they are old enough to do it themselves. When you feel your child is ready, teach them the symbolism of making the sign of the cross. (As we touch our forehead, we love God with all of our mind. As we touch our shoulders, we love God with all of our strength. As we touch our chest, we love God with all of our heart. Our three fingers pressed together represent the Holy Trinity. Our two fingers pressed to our palm represent the two natures of Christ, fully God and fully man, who came down from Heaven to earth for our salvation.)
- Say a Prayer Before Every Meal: You’ll be amazed at how quickly your kids will pick this up and won’t eat without praying first!
- Start Family Bedtime Prayers: Every night might be too much at first. It may even be too much to gather everyone together when you’re so exhausted at the end of the day. If this is the case, trace the sign of the cross over each of your children’s foreheads as you check on them before you crawl in bed. Next, try for once a week for family bedtime prayers – keep it short at first. With time and when you know your family is ready for more, then lengthen it. Remember, if you want to run the marathon, you need train and build up for the long haul. Steady and slow but always progressing toward your goal. You will know when your family can handle a longer prayer time. The goal is to eventually say a prayer, together as a family, every night.
- Attend Services Regularly: “Children learn to be in church by being in church.” – My mom I’ve found that ages 1 – 3 are the most difficult years for attending services – but keep with it, both of you will make it through even if you know every inch of the narthex as you follow and carry them back and forth.
- Fasting: Again, this is going to vary from family to family. You can read more on this aspect: Living Our Faith: “It’s Too Hard For My Kids”
- Almsgiving: Let your kids put money in the donation baskets. It doesn’t necessarily need to come from “their” money. As you give them money to donate at church, you are building muscle memory and later, when they are older and ready, then you can discuss stewardship with them. “First I do, and then I learn about what I did!” – John Boojamra, Foundations for Christian Education
Our Family's Homeschool Year: 2014-2015
Our Family's Homeschool Year: 2015-2016 & 2016-2017
Our 2015-2016 school year was one for the records! I had a baby just before school began, we went to Arizona for a wedding, we were in a car accident, my husband got a new job and we moved to a new state, my grandfather passed away and we went back to Arizona, and our daughter got married.
All that to say…I didn’t get to explore the topic of “Living in God’s Creation” as thoroughly as I would have liked. I’m going to continue it again for this coming school year because as I scratched the surface of this topic last year, I realized the depth of this study and I want to learn more!