With the kids about to all be back in school — two of mine start in August, and several others right after Labor Day — my home is quickly filling up with plaid skirts and ties, new shoes and socks, and a number of children trying to soak up the last moments of a summer that is, by all accounts, slipping slowly but surely away.

This time of year always finds me more than a little nervous about the educational choices we’ve made for some of our children. We have two daughters with special needs who attend public schools, which has always worked quite well. But then we also have four kids who will be new students at a classical charter school this year, and two who never made it past the waitlist and who will, therefore, be learning at home.

There will also be a 2-year-old running around wreaking havoc, and a baby due in November, but mercifully, they do not yet require any formal schooling.

Choosing a school is hard. We’re living in an era and a culture where how and where we decide to educate our children is of paramount importance. There is so much noise, and there are so many voices clamoring for our children’s hearts and attention. The virtues we long to live by, and impart to our children, are potentially threatened every day.

And yet we don’t want to live in fear. Our kids deserve far better than a reactionary “Chicken Little” parenting style. The choices we make for them must be rooted in knowledge, wisdom and hope, guided by not only a deep love for and desire to follow Christ, but also in an unwavering faith that God will show up.

It is true that there are indeed things to be quite legitimately concerned about. Negative peer influences and progressive anti-Christian agendas are real, well-founded problems for every parent considering sending their child off to a traditional public (or parochial, or charter) school. Homeschoolers, of course, aren’t off the hook either. It is the rare homeschooled child that never takes a class or visits a friend outside of the home, away from his or her parents’ watchful eyes. No matter how well we may rightly protect our children (and we must), they will encounter harmful elements of the world, at some point.

My philosophy has always been to strive to build up our family culture, as best I can, in hopes that it will at least help bolster young hearts and minds against the various competing influences. Family dinners — even if eaten in smaller groups on nights when there is sports practice or youth group — are a must. Then, there is the cultivation of ongoing conversations about all kinds of things, where kids are talking and parents are listening. These go a long way. And although it naturally becomes more difficult (and, simultaneously, crucial!) the older children get — teens invariably want to hang out and visit with you late into the night, when you’re wanting to go to sleep — it is worth its weight in gold. And finally, there is the pursuit of a robust family spiritual life, which includes (among other things) family prayer, spiritual reading/discussion, and belonging to a strong parish community.

We’ve done different things with our kids education-wise, over the years. Some have worked better than others. But the one constant is that no matter what the new school year brings, a strong family culture marked by shared experiences and strong religious formation will be an enormously huge benefit to each and every child in the home.