Gentle Help for the Struggling Math Student

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Being a homeschooler allows me to call a full stop and redirect when one of my students is struggling. This is a huge advantage, particularly in math, because progression is necessarily linear. If a student gets stuck on a foundational concept, progressing with a grade of a C or a D may spell disaster at a later point.

My non-professional opinion is that no child should be forced to progress in Math until they have mastery in the previous concepts. I don’t know… it seems like a no-brainer but I can see that it would be difficult in an institutional school setting.

As a homeschooler, I do not focus on grades other than as an assessment for knowledge. So while I might not give a letter grade to a 2nd grader for history comprehension (for example), I do need to know if the concepts of addition and subtraction are nailed down before we move on.

I still don’t give permanent Math grades until high school though… because we simply don’t move on with foundational concepts until there is mastery. Nothing else makes sense when it comes to basic mathematics.

Most of my kids have had no trouble with beginning Math and pick it up quickly and move on. But every child is different and even very bright children might run into trouble with retention, slow processing speed, or confidence.

This recently happened to one of my amazing, talented, and intelligent kiddos who just has a bit of trouble with retention and processing speed. I kept moving the child along to the next chapter in Math even though they were losing confidence and secretly panicking every time a new set of problems. It was a newbie mistake that I shouldn’t have made. But…

I eventually caught on and knew that we had to make a full stop and redirect.

I was not moving on with this child until mastery… and mastery was impossible as long as we continued to add new concepts. So…

We put away the Math book and bought some games. We stopped all online Math games since the child was not processing as quickly enough to do anything but guess and was not learning and not building confidence.

These are the hands-on tools with which we have temporarily replaced linear textbook learning:

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CALCULADDERS

Calculadders is simply gentle timed repetition. The student competes against no one but herself. You can print at home and use for multiple grade levels. It is a Christian company with Scripture at the bottom of every page. We discovered them 15 years ago when they sold printable CD’s and were pleased to discover that they now have internet-based software at a reasonable price.


MOBI

Mobi is the Bananagrams of the Math world and follows almost identical rules except that instead of making words, the players make Math problems. If you haven’t played Bananagrams, it is like a freeform Scrabble where all players work simultaneously on their own word grid. (It also happens to be my favorite game for myself and my homeschool!)

With Mobi, I have found that the format allows slower processors to participate without feeling the pressure of others waiting on them to finish their turn and without being forced to compete with an uncomfortable pace. Since it is tactile, more senses are engaged in the learning process.

This regular version included addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Younger players do not have to use multiplication and division but might find the Mobi Kids version (below) more to their liking (subtraction and addition only)

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MOBI KIDS

Mobi Kids is identical to the original Mobi (above) but only includes the addition and subtraction tiles to simplify the game for younger players. They can still play the original version but with multiple players, the pluses and minuses do tend to run out.


ABSOLUTE ZERO

Absolute Zero is a simple card game that involves addition and subtraction skills. Players combine positive and negative numbers to create a value of zero. There are also alternative ways to play including a form of “War” in which players use simple subtraction to see who gets to keep the cards.


DICE

Yep… just plain old dice. I purchased this set of 100 in pretty translucent colors that came with a carrying bag. There are endless Math games that can be played with these little cubes. A good Google search will help you identify games to suit the skill level of your child.


At the end of the day, building a good foundation for a struggling child will go much better with gentle, appropriately paced, tactile fun. Every child is different but if the Math book is causing anxiety in a child’s life, there is no harm that can come from taking a step back and bringing joy back into learning.

If your child is in school and you don’t have the advantage of slowing down the pace of the curriculum, these games would be a great way to reinforce concepts without the tear-filled drills of desperation so common in the precious after dinner hours.

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Flotsam, Jetsam, and Homeschool Consolations

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Several years ago, we were trying to figure out how to fit in as homeschoolers in a vibrant, school-based parish with a DRE and pastor who weren't super supportive of homeschooling. We had previously enjoyed years of support and encouragement but our pastor was forced into retirement (he desired to serve longer) and the administration turned over to people who did not share his approach to shepherding. 

For years, our parish had been a place of joy, consolation, and respite. Suddenly, we were outsiders. 

There was rarely an open hostility but the passive aggressive punch that confronted us constantly became more than we were willing to absorb. This is not the way home should be and not the way children should be raised in the faith. We eventually left. But I haven't forgotten those difficult days and the important of encouragement and consolations that come when we most need them. 

If you need that kind of consolation today, I have a story for you...

I was in the parish office turning in some paperwork for the CYO team I was coaching and ran into the new DRE of our parish. It was not an encounter I wanted to have, especially since we had recently informed her that we would be exercising our right to opt out of her sacramental program for our Confirmandi. 

We said our hellos and she said she was praying for my family. That was much appreciated, especially because she was a religious sister! But she looked quite distressed and I got the idea from her countenance that perhaps she was praying for us specifically because we were bad eggs who needed urgent Divine intervention.

Our interactions in the past hadn't been exactly joyful. The general formula went like this:

Sister: Asks me if I got an email about upcoming events.
Me: Pleasantly acknowledges receipt of email and politely declines.
Sister: Bursts into tears and walks away

So I was already accustomed to constantly feeling like a thorn in the sides of... well... all the spiritual leaders of my home parish. Not a great feeling. But this, one of our final interactions, has stuck with me over time. It really did sting. And it really did contribute to our departure from our happy parish home of a decade. 

Immediately following her promise of prayers, she looked like she was going to cry, shook her head mournfully and said...

 "The homeschooling situation is so sad. They are going to be so behind." 

I was struck dumb because she was so obviously talking about my family. In spite of the fact that I was standing inches from her. In spite of the fact that there really was nothing sad at all about our "situation" nor with the healthy and happy homeschooling community which had flourished in our parish up to that point. In spite of the fact that my family had never been anything but kind to her and my children were obviously well-formed and flourishing. 

But she really didn't see us.
She didn't ask me what I thought.
She didn't ask me what I love, what I pursue, what I dream about...
What my family loved about our homeschooling life.

She spoke at me, not with me. 

I was a problem child and she had to figure out what to do with me... and I was not invited to the discussion. She was consumed with her own sad drama. And that is sad. And extremely difficult to engage fruitfully. 

Part of me wanted to stand up and fight the ignorance. I was completely fine with dying on that hill. But I chose silence at the time. Eventually, my family also chose to silently leave. And while homeschooling itself didn't get any easier, we were free from an institutional pressure to view our life as deeply flawed and "sad."

That's a lie straight from the mind of the enemy of God and I'm sorry that Sister fell for it. But I won't live by it. 

Shortly after that encounter, I read a book by Father George Rutler called Cloud of Witnesses: Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive. It is not a book about homeschooling and I was certainly not expecting a homeschooling consolation from it; and yet there it was, right in the forward.

I don't suppose I'll ever be in a position to use the phrase "flotsam of their own infecundity" with any angst-filled educator, but it is awfully satisfying to hear Father Rutler use it!

Any homeschoolers need an arm to lean on today? A word from someone who knows why you do what you do?

Fr. Rutler offers you his. Enjoy! 

"While I have spent a lot of time in schools, the lives of people themselves are the best schools. When a friend asked me to coax his daughter, who had announced after her first day of kindergarten that she did not want to go back, I replied that the girls seemed to have sensed something quite right. With some rhetorical excess I said she should abandon kindergarten altogether, for it was my experience that school interrupted my education. It locks you in with your peers. That is a mistake. One's social circle should avoid one's equals. As a child I found children unexceptional and preferred the company of adults. I got to know lots of people who are dead now whom I never would have known had I waited a few years. So I have a collective memory, and oral tradition, that goes back to the eighteenth century, having spoken with people who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived then. The only real university is the universe and that is why an expression like New York University missed the point that the city is the university.

I exercised the child's father by suggesting that, instead of school, children should spend time in restaurant kitchens and shops and garages of all kinds, learning from people who actually make the world work. One day spent roaming through a real classical church building would be the equivalent of one academic term in any of our schools, and a little time spent inconspicuously in a police station would be more informative than many hours spent on social science. Formal lessons would only be required for accuracy in spelling and proficiency in public speaking, for which most public speakers in our culture are not models; and in exchange for performing some menial services, a child could learn the violin, harp, and piano from musicians in one of the better hotels or from performers in the public subways. I urged my friend to keep his child out of kindergarten because kindergarten will only lead to first grade and then the grim sequence of grade after grade begins and takes its inexorable toll on the mind born fertile but gradually numbed by the pedants who impose on the captive child the flotsam of their own infecundity."

How Can We Help? Please Reply. A Letter to Catholic Families

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The letter was a stunner. I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face, reading the words from a friend which seemed to open old wounds and heal them at the same time. He was asking for my thoughts (and the the input of other Catholic families) as he and his wife discern their family's role in living out the Gospel message. And now they have granted my request to share this letter with you. 

My friend is a faithful Catholic man married to a beautiful woman of God, and their marriage is a blessing to those who know them. Like other families, they carry crosses, and have been carrying the heavy cross of infertility for 8 years. I have watched them blossom beautifully, watered by grace, even under that difficult weight; and I have been so blessed by their continuous and fervent effort to discern the will of God for their lives. 

In the midst of their own trials, they have observed the unique crosses of Catholic parents and are wondering how those burdens can be lightened. 

They know that their primary call is to holiness... but they continue to pursue the "what" and "how" of the specific call of their marital vocation... and they are asking for input. In asking "How can we use our vocation to help support other families?" they are also asking "How can we help restore Christendom?"

Will you please take a few minutes to read and to answer his questions? Put your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, or email them to me and I will send them along. Also, please share this post and get this conversation rolling among the larger community. Perhaps we will all learn something in the process of pondering and sharing. 


Dear Friends, 

I am increasingly convinced that my wife's and my role (and perhaps mission) in this season of life is to serve in some way as support and aid to others attempting to raise their families in an authentically Catholic way. Everyone included here is already doing a wonderful job of raising beautiful families - I'm just wondering if there's some way it could be even better. I've spoken of this to many of you already, and want to pursue the idea to see if and how it might develop. 

Right now, I'm not sure what this means (if it means anything at all) or how it looks; but, the more I think and talk about it, the more beneficial and needed it appears. This may not lead to anything, but not pursuing the idea will certainly lead to nothing. So please take some time to thoughtfully consider together as parents and spouses and respond, which will help both us (in determining if this even a thing for us) and potentially many others.

The question at the heart of my idea is basically this: If you could have help in raising and forming your family, what would that help look like?

I think many parents have become inured to the challenges, struggles, and difficulties of raising a family, and accept them as "normal." And, of course, there will always be those. But how might they be lessened or eased? What would "someone to help" look like?

Would it be someone...

  • ...to help tutor/homeschool/supplement kids' education?
  • ...to help clean?
  • ...to help babysit?
  • ...to have adult conversation with?
  • ...to just come visit and spend some "quantity time"?
  • ...to help arrange real-education related events/trips?
  • (e.g. a trip to a farm to plant vegetables or collect eggs is far more educational than reading a book about gardening. Mom may not be able to take age-appropriate kid because younger kids need attention, but what if a trusted family friend could help chaperone a group of age-appropriate kids from several families? Etc.)
  • ...to help develop a more-enveloping/holistic vision for Catholic culture/community?
  • ...to recommend reading/music/media?
  • ...to help share the good ideas and experience you've already had with others?
  • ...to....? Dare to dream!
  • I've included several friends who represent different stages of family life, demographics, needs, and means. But everyone at least shares a commitment to raising Catholic families in some way. And everyone has something to contribute, no matter where on the family-life spectrum you are. 

I've been developing my own understanding of what Catholic culture (which will only be rebuilt through the family) looks like; most recently based on Anthony Esolen's book Out of the Ashes, and the concepts of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. In short: real friendship, real community, built on Truth and a pursuit of virtue and true human formation. But I want to hear from you "in the trenches," who have real day-to-day experiences in this thing.

Finally, I anticipate some resistance to your thinking and replying on this. Some of the things you might think:

  • "I don't want to bother anyone."
  • "This is my family and I chose to have the kids, so I don't want to burden anyone else by asking for help."
  • "I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad mom/dad."
  • "I don't want to admit it's hard."
  • "I don't want anyone to see my messy house."
  • "I don't want anyone to judge me."
  • "I don't need help."
  • "Nothing will change anyway, this is just fantasy."
  • "I don't know what I don't know."

Please, please, please do not allow fear, pride, vanity, negativity, or a sense of "bothering someone" prevent you from thinking, replying, and embracing this idea. I don't know where this will lead (if anywhere), but I do know that not asking the question, and not trying will lead exactly no where. The perfect guarantee of nothing changing. I'm not trying to create a "program" or impose obligations - just trying to figure out if there's a way to help serve the needs of good friends raising good families.

The world and secular culture is encroaching and the Enemy is ever seeking to destroy the family. We must take those threats seriously stand firm and do something to help one another in this spiritual battle for the souls of our families and friends. I hope just asking these questions will help foster some ideas as to how we might work together in love, friendship, and virtue to rebuild and re-claim authentic Culture. I look forward to your thoughts!

Oremus pro invicem,
Your brother in Christ

Catholic Spiritual Bouquet Coloring Page

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Once upon a time in a land far away, I thought that I could be anything I wanted to be and I imagined that I would end up in a prestigious art school. I knew that they could (and would) take my rough little attempts and refine them until I was a master. 

Little did I know then that art school would never happen, and that I would not only end up with no training, no art degree, and no claim to the name "artist"... but that I would ultimately be okay with that and be satisfied with periodically drawing something to please my children.

I simply didn't know that God's dreams for me were bigger. I didn't know that success wasn't quite that linear and that He would draw a depth of talent out of me in other ways that looked sort of like art... but are less easily grasped and touched. And so... in gratitude that God saw fit to give me more than I even knew to ask for, I drew a little something to share with you...

So that you can bless others.

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This spiritual bouquet prints out black and white to an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper unless you scale it down to make smaller cards. I think it's the perfect Catholic Valentine but can be given for any occasion. 

It prints as a black and white outline to leave room for coloring and creative expression. The middle of the page is blank for you to write in whatever you want. I chose a simple hand written spiritual bouquet for my sample. It can be the background for a birthday letter or an Easter greeting, a Mother's Day spiritual bouquet, an ordination anniversary, or... just to color for fun.

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We have printed these on card stock and used art markers and illustration markers (in the pics above) and have also used crayons, colored pencils, and have printed on a lightweight watercolor paper to use with watercolors

I never did learn how to use oil paints or fully refined my natural gifts. But I love to throw in my pennies here and there to contribute to the wealth of Catholic culture, built by the hands of the faithful... by the grace of God. 

While I certainly take advantage of the mass marketed cards and gifts at the box and dollar stores, there is something so satisfying and deep about building and sharing smaller. 

If you can use this FREE template, sign up at the link below and enjoy! If not, perhaps you can share this post with someone else who can. Thank you so much... and thanks be to God! 

...

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Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness (when mom is sick)

I have a secret about my homeschool and it's finally time to tell it. Okay, I have a few secrets...

I don't know much more about how to successfully homeschool today than I did at the beginning almost 20 years ago. I don't really go to homeschool conferences. I don't belong to a co-op. I know a lot about homeschooling and I've read all the books and purchased all the programs... but my days... they've been uncertain and long. And I've spent more than a few of them battling chronic illness.

I guess that's not the most flattering picture to paint of myself but... that's not the secret that I came here to tell anyway.  

This post is really about the secret that I discovered while slogging uphill for this dream and for my family. It's about the real gift beyond the details of these days and what I want to be able to pass on to every homeschool mom I know...

Truly successful homeschooling is never about how much material we can stuff into a kids' brain, it's about lighting a fire in their very souls. And there is no one best way to do that. It is much more about trusting the process than about planning for perfection. Success isn't for the perfect, it's for the persistent.

I clearly remember the time I kicked an American Doll horse in anger and broke my toe. That's often what my version of "persistence" looks like...

Fail, wail, move on, stop kicking toys.

That toe has never healed completely and that's frustrating but it makes for a great story that the kids love to tell. And in a strange rubber-meets-the-road-on-Calvary kind of way that usually only homeschooling moms can understand, I think I can call that a success.

The family is made to nurture body, mind, and soul. We were created to do this. We don't really look like a school. We often look like a first class mess. But that is the gift... 

That God allows us to become nothing so that the flame of His Love might rise and become a blaze in the heart of the family. 

One of the best lessons I ever learned about homeschooling was from a local mom who faced a life-threatening illness and was sick for an extended period of time. She told me that she spent many days resting in a hammock on their enclosed patio while the kids pressed on, more or less, with their homeschooling. Her kids told me how they used to pretend to work or study and they laughed and teased each other about what they really did when they were supposed to be working. She told me (with a smile) that she never doubted their decision to continue homeschooling even when she wasn't able to do a thing. Because it wasn't about her. She knew their decision was right and she trusted that God had a plan for her illness. 

Her kids are all grown now - successful, happy, smart, faithful, and all good friends - and I've never forgotten what she told me. She successfully homeschooled imperfectly from a hammock. And joy grew out of that. 

When I went through my own early years of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, I didn't call her. I didn't really know what was wrong with me and I thought I was just a loser homeschooler. I didn't think that anyone was as lousy at this as I was and I imposed a kind of isolation on myself, determined to figure it out on my own.

But I wish I would have called her. I wish I would have let her see the tears. 

Six years ago, God allowed me to set down my cross of illness for a time. Since then, I have been on a journey of healing; not just my body, but also my battered mind and soul. And while I have never doubted for a moment that homeschooling was a worthwhile journey and blessed by God, I have never stopped doubting my own role in that beautiful dream.

Why did He make these beautiful children and then give them this wildly inadequate mother? 

It's all about the secret:

The mess is part of the gift. It is the stripping down of ego until we can see nothing but the grace of God. 

That is the secret, the gift of chronic illness. That through all the pain and struggle, we are presented with the reality that we, in ourselves, are small.... and that it is God who stands in the gap and enables us to rise. Thanks be to God.

John 12:24–25
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Harry Potter: Keeping the Debate Alive

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To talk to some Catholics, one would think that the Harry Potter debates are over and that a winner (Harry Potter) has been decisively declared. And to read some online articles, one would think that those who choose to opt out of this particular pop fantasy series are fun-sapping idiots... or at least remarkably close. The purpose of this post is to declare that the debate is alive and well... and that it ought to be. 

I've never written about the Harry Potter phenomena publicly, largely because I didn't need to. Opposing viewpoints have been well represented and my voice wasn't (and really still isn't) needed. But I write today because I see that there has been a large cultural shift over the last 20 years in the Church (gaining more speed in the last three or so) and I want to draw some attention to it. I admit disappointment, not so much that people disagree with my particular opinion, but at the widespread idea that Catholic parents ought to unflinchingly embrace trending occult pop fiction simply because it's popular among a large percentage of Catholics.

It is alarming to see opposing ideas rejected out of hand with a heavy dose of ad hominem. (You know, because only stupid uptight people restrict their kids' reading like that).  I'm disappointed in that kind of community "dialogue" and I'm hoping for something better.

So what would I like to see?

The ideal Catholic culture is one in which we would all be indifferent to the world of Harry Potter. Not emotionally invested in its promotion. Not emotionally invested in its demise. Just completely detached as we should be to all things of the world. 

That indifference should be reflected in the ideal Catholic dialogue and should follow correct discernment. Good discernment does not cling to preferences but lays them before the foot of the cross saying: 

"Jesus, this is nothing to me. I let it go. I expect nothing to come of it. My goal is simply You." 

If careful discernment returns the object of desire to a person's life, it would then be received with the same spirit of detachment; I am grateful to have it but I can still do without. I could lose it again without losing peace. If it is never returned, then the soul remains fixed on Christ. There is no loss. There is no entangled ego. There should be no other investment of energy other than the pursuit of truth... and a faithful and purposeful response to that truth. 

What we find in the case of Harry Potter (or similarly hotly debated cultural pastimes) is that true dialogue has often been shouted down. The desire does not seem to be truth but rather the thing itself.  Secular/pagan fantasy genre proponents too often hold the untenable position that there is no danger posed to any Catholic youth through participation. That it is innocent fun and a great good to the community at large. This is clearly an erroneous position as it disregards what we know to be true about human nature, the psychology of youth, American culture, the real dangers of the occult, and the facts of this particular situation. On the other side, there is the obviously false position that serious harm will absolutely come to all Catholic youth who partake. Neither position is true, although one is more inherently dangerous than the other.

Harry Potter was first released in 1997, the same year that my first child was born. My motherhood was formed during the years when hot debates were first happening on the internet (dial-up, of course) and Catholic mothers demanded meetings with the school board and asked that Catholic schools remove Harry Potter from libraries... and Catholic schools clung to them tenaciously because of their entanglement with the thoroughly secular Scholastic Books which had/has the monopoly on direct sales and marketing to school kids. 

At that time, I had the great privilege of listening to and participating in the debate among intelligent, faithful, dynamic Catholics. It was healthy and invigorating and yes, sometimes got pretty heated, after which we all hugged or shook hands and went home in peace. I learned a tremendous amount about the impact of literature on the human person and had the opportunity to thoughtfully engage decisions regarding the direction of the intellectual life of our family.

My husband and I considered the arguments of both positions and decided that Harry Potter would not have a place in our home. After 21 years, we have not found a compelling reason to change that position. There are two primary reasons for this:

1) Any benefits of the books do not outweigh the spiritual dangers and moral flaws. 

2) It is not good literature (in the true sense, not the "fun" sense). If the Harry Potter books had not reached the level of popularity that they had (in particularly, finding favor with the ubiquitous and anti-Christian business called Scholastic Books), we never would have noticed them nor considered them for our home. 

Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of darkness, the devil.”
— Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Vatican Exorcist (2006)

So what are the spiritual risks? To put it simply…

An engaging, youth oriented, pagan fantasy series that glorifies magic is likely to provide a gateway to the occult for some kids. No parent should be shamed or bullied into foregoing serious discernment over those risks. I have had enough personal experience with the occult to have a healthy fear of the dangers. Spiritual warfare is real and frightening.

When I first read from the Harry Potter books I did not find them captivating, I found them alarming. It was quite clear to me how children (even well-formed Catholic kids) could easily be drawn to the dangerous elements. I know it because I lived it and it formed me. It was a high price to pay for the knowledge I bring to Harry Potter discernment. I have also noticed that many of those who oppose Harry Potter are also those who have lived through occult experiences. The risky side of occult "fun" is perhaps a bit too close to reality for them... and as such, not so fun.

As Toni Collins puts it: "Of the commentators I read who loved the Harry Potter books, virtually none of them had ever experienced the occult. To them this was a delightful fantasy in the same genre as J.R.R. Tolken and C.S. Lewis. In contrast, almost every commentator I read who had experience with the occult found the books disturbing."  

Those who have lived side by side with demonic influence know one important truth about toying with occult spiritualism: The demonic can manifest and enter children and homes even if you're Christian and even if you think it's all in "fun." And if someone claims that Harry Potter doesn't contain strong elements of real occult practices, then they either do not know much about the occult or about Harry Potter. 

Studies conducted by the Barna research group revealed a twelve percent increase in occult activities among Christian students in the U.S.A. after reading the Potter series, and which the students themselves attributed to the books.
— Michael O'Brien, Catholic author

 I know you wouldn't choose Harry Potter for your kids if you thought it was dangerous. I'm not judging your motivations and I trust that a loving, Christian home is a strong defense against any dangerous or immoral influence. But I freely share my serious concerns when asked (and sometimes when I'm not) because I don't think there are many things more important to Catholic parents than the souls of their children. And to be frank, I'm tired of my family being made to feel like extremists for what is a healthy decision within the bounds of reasonable, loving parental authority and consistent with our call to live a Christ-centered life.

2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.”
— Catechism of the Catholic Church

I'm not concerned about what people think of my parenting choices, but I grieve over what I see as a pronounced and unfortunate trend to fight to win instead of to seek truth and to make aggressive definitive statements (expressed more strongly than just personal opinions) about a work of pagan occult fiction. I don't think Catholic kids are the winner in that scenario.

It has been many years since I have seen truly excellent dialogue about Harry Potter floating around the internet. Perhaps it is because younger adult Catholics think that the issue has been decided... and that only a few fanatics still espouse the idea that a popular fantasy series could possibly have a negative impact on anyone. So I bring it up again, because not all of you have had the benefit of the best arguments against that position. And many seem to believe that this sort of debate is ridiculous or undesirable.

I couldn't disagree more. 

It should never be our own opinion which becomes the end goal of debate. Debate among Christians should always be oriented toward pursuit of truth. If it is your goal in writing to smack down families like mine who have made a careful, studied, prayerful decision, consistent with the Church's teaching related to our role as Catholic parents - or even to defend your own decisions - then you write and argue for the wrong reasons. You also betray a deep ignorance of priorities in Christian charity. If Harry Potter is important to you to a degree that you must attack those who have concerns, then it is too important to you. 

I'm not writing this to make anyone wrong (and anyway, I don’t have that power of truth). I'm writing because the conversation is still relevant and its flame needs a little fanning. It should not be allowed to die as long as Harry Potter remains a cultural force.

If you allow Harry Potter in your home, you should be constantly discerning its place there. Life does change. Cultural context does change. Understanding does change. Children have different and changing sensitivities and weaknesses. Even within one family, one child may be secure and another more susceptible to negative influence. Charity demands the kind of care and courtesy that never stops assessing those changing and personal elements and visiting the question again and again. It also demands humility... and acknowledgment of the weaknesses of our positions even while we hold them. 

It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly
— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (2003)

The truth is that the Harry Potter series can and does act as a gateway to the occult for some children... even Christian children. It is also true that it won't affect all children that way. Although a parent knows a child and his or her general personalities and sensitivities, there are regions of their autonomous souls which we can not access. We cannot enter into the interior life of the child where imagination and and the spiritual life are engaged. 

We must aggressively evaluate the influences in our home through the lens of Christian truth so that each child can develop their interior disposition in safety. The overall debate is really not about us or our preferences, but a seeking of truth for the greatest good of our children and the glory of God. Whether or not we think there are some good elements included in Harry Potter does not reduce our obligation to make sure that souls in formation are protected from the dangerous elements.

Although Harry Potter won't draw most kids into the occult, it seems clear that it does desensitize many families and has lowered their guard against occult dangers. I see it when Catholic parents allow their kids to dress up like Harry Potter characters and permit them to pretend to cast spells. Maybe if they really knew the hellish end of witchcraft and the swiftness with which the demonic responds to an open door (even opened in ignorance), they would not think such imitation is cute or harmless. I saw it recently in the comment box of a popular pro-Harry article. The commenter described how her homeschool Latin class was enhanced by creating a book of spells, both copying Rowling's and the student's own spells. I sat in horrified wonder at the naivete with which some approach the dark arts. And all I can say is I am confident in their good intentions - and that they don't know where it can lead - or else they wouldn't tinker. They certainly wouldn't let their kids knock on that door. 

My kids have access to thousands of books in our home, including works of fantasy such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. There is almost no similarity between Narnia and Harry Potter since Narnia is very clearly and intentionally Christian allegory (even Rowling rejects comparisons). But between Tolkien and Rowling? The similarities are only superficial. 

The Lord of The Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously at first, but consciously in the revision.
— J.R.R. Tolkien

I could write an entire series on the substantive differences between the Tolkien's work and Rowling's since they are plentiful. My husband and I do not dismiss out of hand the element of magic in Lord of the Rings, but examine each work on its own merit; its content, authorship, and context. You might say that we have an affinity for the written word. But among our copious volumes, you will not find Harry Potter. The series never made the cut as we made literature choices for our household.

My kids will survive. They might even thrive. (Since I first published this article, two of them have successfully navigated their way into adulthood.) And I hope they can grow up without continuing to be ridiculed by other Christians for not reading literature which has NO actual bearing on health, happiness, intelligence, or salvation. 

Finally, it is not my aim here to make you agree with me... simply to reignite some healthy and important conversation within Catholic homes. My husband and I still spend hours debating these important topics and probably awakened the neighborhood as we walked the street and passionately discussed these very subjects last night. As long as we live, we will never be done discerning.  It may feel a little uncomfortable to have the heat of real truth-seeking action warming us... but if approached with charity and a Christ focus, only good will come of it.

Comments of all respectful kinds are welcome below. Name-calling is not. (I apologize to all the thoughtful people whose comments were deleted when I moved to my new website!) I am not attacking you, I am discussing ideas... so I would also appreciate a discussion of ideas and not people. And please, if you are inclined to comment, make sure that you have read (not skimmed) my post. That simple effort would save a boatload of strife in comboxes everywhere. It would also benefit the conversation tremendously if you took advantage of the links included at the bottom for a fuller understanding of an anti-Potter position. Also, I know very little about the movies and they don't factor into this discussion at all. If your only experience is with the film version of any works discussed, then there may be obstacles to understanding between us. 


For more detailed reading on some of the issues surrounding the Harry Potter series, see below. I have not linked very many because the ones I have included are rather long! It is a good representation of what is out there and a solid jumping off point. I did not include any specifically "pro" Harry Potter positions because those are currently incredibly easy to find (one might say "trending") while the opposing position is not. But I do feel that these authors and speakers give a fair treatment to the relevant topics.