Parishes aid homeschool families with lessons

Seminarian Quinton Thomas teaches homeschool students and their parents about the Mass at Christ the King Church in Fort Smith July 25.
Seminarian Quinton Thomas teaches homeschool students and their parents about the Mass at Christ the King Church in Fort Smith July 25.

FORT SMITH — River Valley Catholic Families, a new homeschool group, has begun deep-dive studies of the Mass, led by Christ the King pastor Father Brian Cundall. 

“We began with four founding families,” parent Katie Sharum said. “We all attended different Fort Smith parishes and met at a completely different homeschool group. We were thrilled to find like-minded women whom we could connect with on a deeper spiritual level. We are all passionate about teaching our children about our rich Catholic faith and decided to set up a monthly playdate where we could practice liturgical living.”

Sharum, who has 7-year-old twins and a 4-year-old, is relatively new to homeschooling, while co-founder Shari McCoy has sent four of her five homeschooled children off to college and currently homeschools her 10-year-old daughter. 

“We have belonged to a few Catholic homeschool groups over the years,” she said. “Now that I have a classroom of one, it’s great to have a homeschool community to celebrate the feast days and traditions of our Catholic faith.”

Father Cundall said he sees the role of the parish as a support to the already rich Catholic education the homeschooling parents provide. Homeschooled children also attend PRE classes each week in their own parishes and participate in parish youth programs. 

“Here at Christ the King, we have simply helped by providing a place where they can meet and get together,” Father Cundall said. “In our deep-dive sessions, we are slowly going through the Mass, and after that we will probably find a new topic to start on. I love the opportunity to teach the kids. Parents are the first teachers of the faith, so I want to help them in their mission.”

The sessions are geared to 5- to 10-year-olds, but there are older and younger children in the mix. The group has 16 families from Van Buren to Waldron, and there are usually about 30 children at group meetings. In addition to the deep-dive sessions, the group meets each month to celebrate feast days at Christ the King and other local churches.

“In August, we will meet at St. Michael’s in Van Buren to celebrate the Assumption,” Sharum said. “Parents take turns setting up feast day lessons with related craft activities and snacks. We try to engage the kids visually, auditorily and kinesthetically in faith-based activities. For the Assumption, we are making whipped cream desserts resembling clouds, doing crafts and discussing how we can bring the celebration into our domestic home churches.”

The group has taken field trips to parks, Subiaco Abbey and the labyrinth at St. Scholastica Monastery. Because St. Boniface School is closed, their playground is available to the group, and pastor Father Mario Jacobo is eager to help them in any way he can.

Early in the pandemic, every child had virtual learning but has since returned to in-person schooling. When Sharum sent her now 7-year-olds to preschool, homeschooling wasn’t on her mind. 

“I only made it through half a year at preschool,” she said. “I volunteered in the classroom and tried to be present, but I realized that I was missing some of the best parts of their days, and I could just do this, integrate education into their days at home. They are now going into second grade, and each year we will pray and discern about our three children’s educations, but we are doing what we believe is best right now. All of the kids in our group enjoy extracurricular activities. My kids are active in karate, gymnastics, swim team, computer coding, piano, and pottery classes.”

The founding group, which also includes Erin Lachowsky and Natalie Jordan, welcome other homeschooling families to join them for support, community and faith-building. For more information, contact ktea1989@gmail.com.

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Maryanne Meyerriecks joined Arkansas Catholic in 2006 as the River Valley correspondent. She is a member of Christ the King Church in Fort Smith, a Benedictine oblate and volunteer at St. Scholastica Monastery.

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