When it comes to establishing habits and patterns in your life, experts will say that you have to do it consistently for anywhere from 2 weeks to one month for it to become your new normal. While there may be some grain of truth to that, I think there’s more to it than just committing to something new for a while and expecting the new thing(s) to magically become ‘how you are’. Particularly when it comes to making changes to habits that you’re pre-disposed to having or that you’ve had for years, or doing something totally new in your life that also works against your nature.
For example, homeschooling.
For many of us, taking on the full responsibility of educating our kids is a new thing. If you had a child in school, then going from being the mom who gets the kids up, fed, packed and out the door to school everyday, to being the parent who gets to revel in the first (or third) cuppa long before the kids get out of bed seems like a luxury. And it is, don’t get me wrong! But all too easily, in even the strictest of homeschooling homes, ‘relaxing’ can go too far. To be fair, so can rigidity – but this post isn’t really about how relaxed or rigid your homeschooling style is. It’s about moving from your reality to a space that is more in line with your ideal (provided your ideal is at least somewhat realistic).
Lots of parents, when they first start homeschooling, have this vision of educational perfection in their heads. I am not excluded from this misty-eyed vision of homeschool naiveté; it’s such a great fantasy! But that fantasy rarely takes into account your level of introductory excitement vs. your maintained enthusiasm. It also rarely takes into account the family’s routines and patterns.
‘What is she talking about?!’, you’re probably wondering. Hang in there – I’m getting to the point, I promise!
So, as a new homeschooling parent, you may have this vision of greeting the sun, coffee in hand, with snuggly children all around you. The sun rises, the birds sing, the children yawn and stretch and get ready for the day. While you gather your materials, they brush teeth and finish breakfast and everyone gathers at your knee to start their daily lessons, while you (indulgently) pat them on the head and offer gentle re-directions and instructions as needed. The little darlings are blissed out, understanding their privileged state of learning at home, and showing deep respect and appreciation for the time and effort that their dear mother puts into finding the right curriculum and materials and blah, blah, blah… you get the picture.
Only to find out, disturbingly, that instead of this beautiful fantasy, you end up with a life that looks more like the after picture in this equation and wondering what the heck you did wrong.
So what’s the trick? How do you go from your frazzled reality to a more peaceful new world? More importantly, how do you get started in such a way that you don’t automatically fail after a week?
The answer to both questions is ‘go with the flow’. What I mean by that, is to plan on a routine or schedule that flows within your already established patterns. If you’re not a morning person, then creating a schedule that requires you to be up with the sun is probably not going to be realistic. It’s easy to plan on paper – but when we have an ideal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our lives, instead of making adjustments and keeping that momentum going, all too often, we chalk it up to failure and nothing gets done that day….or week, or month. While ‘try again tomorrow’ is a good theory, it only works if tomorrow’s plan is better than today’s, and being creatures of habit, we rarely take the time to analyze what went wrong today and make changes (that we implement) for tomorrow.
If your patterns run toward more productivity in the afternoon, it may be wise to schedule a lazier morning and have your more in-depth studies later in the day. However, if you notice that your precious little darlings work better in the mornings, it may be necessary to work towards making an earlier start. This may take some time to accomplish, but it’s worth it if it’s what your kids need.
I notice that, in my family, none of us are ‘morning people’, however when it comes to schoolwork, if we are up by 8AM and start school by 9AM, the day seems to be more productive overall. If we wait until 10 or 11 to get started, then it’s like pulling teeth all day to get their work accomplished. This sucks for me, because I could win sleep marathons if there was such a thing; no time is better for sleeping, in my opinion, than between 4AM and 11AM. MY most productive time is typically between about 11PM and 2AM. But my kids are not that way, so I’ve had to make adjustments to ensure that we get at least a couple of days during the week where we are up early and working earlier in the day.
So how do you make those changes? Small steps add up to big ones. Start small – it may be a matter of slowly adjusting your schedule over the course of weeks or months to get where you want to be. You could take a different approach and designate one or two days as ‘this’ schedule, and one or two days as ‘that’ schedule. We tend to take the second approach; one day home, one day out. One day early, one day later. It works for us because it doesn’t require the odious task of making a permanent change that contradicts my personal needs (or desires, if you wanna get technical about it. Habits… how’s that?).
Another facet of ‘going with the flow’ is your ability to put in the time and effort – meaning, in short, homeschooling is hard. And time-consuming. And HARD for the parent. It’s much more-so if you choose to construct your syllabus, rather than rely on a boxed curriculum. Much of your free time is eaten up with school planning and studying so that you can provide for your kids. Realistically, after a couple of years, that gets old. Your eventual need for a break can outweigh your intent, and there’s no shame in acknowledging that. Implementing a change that helps the situation is better than dealing with burnout (which can last a long time).
I’m talking about getting help with school. If you can outsource in any way – whether that’s just having Dad (or Mom if you’re a homeschooling Pop), or Grandma or Grandpa or a homeschooling friend or co-op or community lessons or a tutoring center … if you can lighten your load, then don’t be afraid to take advantage of those resources. Some of them are costly, and for many (us, included) that takes them off the table – but some solutions just take effort to implement! A mini-co-op, for example: choose one or two days a week and one or two friends who have strengths in subjects you’re weaker in and school together. There are many free online resources that can lighten your load as well.
This year is the first year that I am out-sourcing some of the kids’ work – and ‘lo, it is *glorious*. Math is not my favorite subject, and it’s my weakest subject, both for my own skills and my ability and confidence to teach, so we outsourced it this year. Having Maths off my plate to plan and teach has relived SO MUCH of my stress – I can’t even tell you. I’m not totally un-involved; we’re using Khan Academy, and we all have accounts. I ‘play’ too, and we compete. I brush up on my skills, learn new things, have my finger on the pulse of their lesson and it’s fun, too. But being able to oversee, rather than instruct has made this year so much more enjoyable for me (and less stressful).
Another way to ‘go with the flow’ involves maintaining the connection and relationship and communication you have with your child(ren). Successful homeschooling is a two-way street; it involves the kids just as much as the parents. Some days, the vibe is just ‘off’ and as any seasoned homeschooling parent can tell you, it’s far better to reschedule the day than it is to try to force something that’s going to make everyone miserable. I tend to build in ‘slacker’ days on our schedule so that we can either take that day with a lighter load, or play catch up if we needed that slack earlier. It all evens out in the end, and makes for much more harmonious days as we go.
So what are your tips and tricks for ‘going withe the flow’?