Around the mommy-blog world, there are several versions of the ‘mom confessions’ memes, from ‘bad mommy confessions’ and ‘lazy mommy confessions’ – I tend to think they’re funny, and accurate, which is why they’re so popular. While I am certainly not the first one to do a ‘homeschooling mom confessions’, I thought this was a great one to start off on a subject that always seems to come up… interruptions.
“So my confession is that we do a lot of short homeschool days so we can LIVE LIFE and ENJOY IT. I did not get into this homeschooling gig so I could sit at a table with my 5 kids from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. pounding stuff into their brains.”
I love this confession – the entire idea that education is only valuable if it’s behind a desk or in a classroom, and/or that it has to take place during ‘normal’ schooling hours, is one of the stereotypes that homeschooling families deal with quite often. The idea of homeschooling as a highway to ‘super students’ is also a path fraught with unrealistic expectations and pressure that homeschooling moms often endure, even if that’s not their perspective or approach. Even if you’re a ‘relaxed’ homeschooler, the question still comes up: ‘What happens when real life gets in the way of your homeschooling plans?’
It happens to all of us sooner or later. No matter how well you plan, if you homeschool for any length of time, it’s inevitable – something WILL happen that takes your focus off school for a time. Things will be going well; you’re in a great routine and things couldn’t be better. You’re on-schedule, the kids are engaged, you feel like you finally have a handle on things… only to wake up one morning to find that you’re days or weeks off schedule, and wondering how you got there. Sometimes, the unexpected will be a small blip in your otherwise pristine homeschooling journey and you can jump back in without issue; other times, it’ll be a huge crevasse that will take weeks to finally get across and for things to stabilize again.
We all fall into ruts. My personal tragedy is the monotony of being a grown-up and doing ‘the things’. I’m horrible at over-scheduling myself and getting exhausted because I don’t take into consideration my need for solitude and quiet. I love being busy! But I also need time to re-charge and find my center again. I’m awful at striking balance, and have a really hard time building ‘me time’ into my schedule. I started this post a few weeks ago, having no idea how timely it would actually become. As I write, we’re approximately a week ‘behind’ on school work – partially because my work has recently become a little more time-consuming, but also because I’ve been a little under the weather and just plain tired; by the time I get around to working on desk work with the kids, I’m just not focused enough to keep them (or myself) on-task. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been ‘learning’ taking place. Times like this always present a challenge to my ordered nature – does it count as ‘real’ school if there are no worksheets or written work to prove it? I need quantification; it’s in my nature to want to see the data. But I know that’s not always a good measure of how much they’ve learned – I see it in my kids all the time. But knowing that doesn’t negate the desire to see it on paper.
Other times in the past, we’ve fallen behind our glorious yearly plan and schedule because there’s been some catastrophe or other real life issue that’s come up that I just have to deal with (like an unexpected plumbing nightmare, or illness in the family that takes precedence). We live in the South, so hurricanes are always a thread during the late summer/early fall season. We’ve thankfully not had to deal with those things recently, but if we did, the naive, ever optimistic homeschooling mom part of me likes to think we’d be prepared. The haggard, more realistic and experienced homeschooling mom part of me scoffs at this comment.
What happens when your attention is honestly focused elsewhere? For myself, there’s definitely a tendency to start with the self-blame and doubt – thinking that ‘if the kids were in school, they wouldn’t be falling behind’. But is that really true? I don’t think so; in fact, I am more prone to just skating by when there’s a stressful situation brewing. Think about it: as an adult, how much of your time is spent on autopilot; doing the bare minimum to get by that you absolutely have to do, without truly absorbing what you’re doing? Kids are no different; a move will be stressful – maybe even more so if they’re in school. An illness or sick relative will still be on their mind – what if it’s during a testing year/month? Are they going to be up to par if they’re worried and stressed about both things? I’d rather take the time necessary to deal with whatever needs handling, and return to our normal schedule when the distraction has passed that force a half-effort just to ‘get through the material’.
That said, there may genuinely be times where ‘getting through the material’ is called for, especially in cases where the distraction or situation is projected to be a long-term one, or something that isn’t quickly or easily resolved. In that case, doing the best we can with the options available is still the way to go, which may include considering options that wouldn’t otherwise be agreeable. I’ve said many times that I am not ‘anti-school’; if that was the best option for my kids, then I’d consider it.
But for most of us, distractions and interruptions are a part of life. They come and go. I’ve learned to accept them, and roll with them as best I am able. Depression and anxiety are issues that I deal with on a regular basis, so when I need to take time out, I do. Even though doubts still prey on my mind and my anxiety can get the better of me at times, I try ‘use my tools’, relax, and remind myself of the truths that I’ve come to know about homeschooling, especially in times of distraction or interruption:
- Learning doesn’t always have to happen at a desk.
- ‘Doing work’ doesn’t always mean that actual learning is taking place.
- I have time; this interruption will pass and we’ll get back to normal.
- We’re not in competition with anyone or any organization and are thus never truly ‘behind’.
- Our goals are for the kids to know how to study and learn; that’s not something that can be taught via worksheet.
- Our year-round schedule allows for ‘distractions’ and ‘interruptions’; we’re not off-track (even if the schedule says so – just fix it!)
- School isn’t limited to weekdays or daytime hours; we can make-up work on the weekend or in the evening if necessary.
What are your reminders that get you through distractions and back on schedule?
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’?
I am always so excited at this time of the year. It’s LESSON PLANNING TIME!! I have been reading and researching my little heart our and now I am ready to start putting it all together.
It’s been a long time since I have detailed exactly how I got about my lesson planning for the year, and watching a friend of mine who is new to homeschooling trying to find her way has reminded me how difficult lesson planning can be for your first year of homeschooling. There is literally an information overload when you start looking at resources. It gets completely overwhelming, and it’s easy to get stuck.
I will say that for first-years, I really do still stand by what I have always said – don’t buy much (if anything); sample everything you can get your hands on to see what you and your student like best – but most of all, learn to find the FUN in learning again. If that means that for your first year, you only do the 3 r’s, that’s cool. The rest will come. De-school if you need to, but if not, that’s cool, too! Don’t get locked into one mindset or curriculum – and open mind on your first year will help you find your way to what is right for your family.
But if you’re looking for more intense lesson planning, here’s how I got about it (which is in no way saying that mine is the only/best way; this is just how I, personally, do it. There are hundreds of other blogging homeschool moms who are more than willing to share their methods as well).
Fist, I decide what subjects I want to tackle, and how many times I want to cover them each week. For us this year, it’s:
- Handwriting (Daily)
- Math (D)
- Spelling (D)
- Writing (D)
- Literature (2)
- English (3)
- Latin (3)
- Weekly Research Project (D)
- History (2)
- Science (2)
- Geography (1)
- Art / Music (2)
- an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)
Then, go about refining the weekly classes:
- Handwriting (Daily)
- Math (D)
- Spelling (D)
- Writing (D)
- Literature (2), English (3)
- Latin (3), Art / Music (2)
- Weekly Research Project (D)
- History (2), Science (2), Geography (1)
- an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)
That is a much shorter list, because some of my subjects alternate days. Since I am only doing 2 days of Literature, then I can focus more on English the other three, etc…
Next, I can start looking at multi-disciplinary lessons. For example, I taught the boys more individual lessons (a set time for Spelling work, then a set time for English (parts of speech, sentence structure, etc.), then a set time for History, and so on. Now that they’re older, I can lump all of the reading/writing centered lessons into one.
Then, I start going through the books I have on hand, and through my links and Pinterest boards (by subject) to see what I wanted to use. Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome for archiving things, but unless you are very conscious about properly categorizing your pins, it can be a big mess when it comes to finding things. I separate my pins by subject. All grades are under the same subject, but I can wade through to find the right grade (or adapt and idea up or down for my kids’ needs). There are so many amazing links on Pinterest; even searching (i.e.: Math 6th grade) pulls up a ton of links that you can use.
This year, we’re trying something I’ve only just read about (on Pinterest), called ‘Thoughtful Journals’. The concept is fairly simple; a composition notebook divided into 5 sections (or 5-subject spiral). Each section is named. The sections are: My Strategies, My Thoughts, Powerful Words and Phrases, Author’s Craft & Genre Learning. As you go through your lessons, the student uses the journal to record notes and other useful tools to help them learn to be better readers and writers. I am paraphrasing, badly, in describing this technique, so I will link you to Life in 4B, which is the awesome blog I found the idea at. In any case, the Thoughtful Journal is where most of our work related to Grammar and Writing will find a home this year.
History, Science and Geography are another area where I smooshed subjects together. We are still going through Story of the World II at the moment; I plan to be finished by December. We are still lapbooking it, thanks to CarrotTopX3. When Alia from ‘Chronicle of the Earth’ was unable to finish the lapbook template for SOTWII, awesome bloggin’ mom Brenda stepped in to fill the gaps (for which homeschooling moms all over the WORLD are eternally grateful!!) – Team Work, yo!! SOTW makes History easy, especially with lapbooking. We try to coordinate our artist and composer study with History, so even though they’re not ‘on the list’, we still work that in. As we finish up SOTWII, I have SOTWIII waiting in the wings. I have already started lapbooking it; hopefully I’ll be able to post it in full when we start on III. We have the activity guide as well, and I am looking forward to digging into that.
Science fills the other two weekdays when we’re not focusing on History. We usually switch them up, but I am considering doing History M/T and Science W/Th so they have two days in succession to focus on one subject this year – dig a little deeper. Then Friday, of course, leaves us time for Geography as it’s own subject. We also tie in Geo. with History, but this gives us extra time to work on land forms or other interesting components of the earth (which is kind of History AND Science).
Math is another one that’s easy to plan; I don’t go off-road much which Math, so I get a grade-level curriculum and go from there. We’re working with Math Advantage this year. Latin is another one that I don’t experiment much with. I don’t know Latin any better than my kids at this point (though I am learning), so I can’t rightly ‘teach’ it to them – we’re learning together. We are still in Book I, but will be moving to Book II later this year.
Once I decide how I am going to plan my lessons, I start looking at the actual curriculum. For the most part, I stick with what I can find that’s grade-level. But, as is wont to happen with homeschoolers, I have found that they naturally fall into their own strengths and weaknesses as they progress. I found a great article discussing Homeschool Misconceptions that touches on this a bit, and is worth reading. For us, it means that this year their curriculum may fall anywhere from 4th to 7th grade. Spelling is a weakness, but Grammar is something they’re both strong in. It balances out! I found that even the school system uses different books for different grades, depending on the school district. I have a copy of the Science book that I used in school in the 6th grade that the manufacturer says is 5th grade level. I’d rather have my kids spelling ‘below’ than keeping up and failing in the classroom. Their spelling skills can be improved. Self-esteem takes longer. Whatever sources or grade levels you choose for your kids, you get the most out of it in whatever way works best for your family.
Once you find your curriculum, it’s time to look back at your schedule. You may want to flip through the books you’ll be using and make some rough outlines of how much material you want to cover each week, or how long you want to spend in one unit before moving on. I usually map out the schedule on notebook paper (Week 1 = Unit 1, Chapter 1; Week 2 =Unit 1 Chapter 2; etc.). This may change during the year, and that’s okay. But having a guide makes it easy to see the pacing of the year a bit better. You can always make adjustments later on.
This year, I am using a binder in addition to my usual lesson planner (homeschool bossy book). We aren’t doing workboxes this year, so I have been using the workbox plans in my planner for scheduling. It works well for that. The binder is a more in-depth, day by day type of lesson planner. I have it divided by subject, and the year’s activities per subject mapped out in each tab. This is also where I am storing printed materials, and unit study/lapbook plans. Having both planners will help make the day’s activity easier to follow, I hope.
We have in the past clocked about 25-30 hours of school per week. That averages out to some longer days and some shorter days. This year, however, I am pushing for more of a set schedule – about 30 per week. That’s on the high end of what we normally do, but I think it’s reasonable for my kids. Mine still need to be led quite a bit, or they lose focus. Not all days will take as long, but some will go over, so again – balance.
The only things left after this point are gathering school supplies and waiting on the first day of school!
… and the second-guessing, and worrying, and reading a blog at 3AM that tells to do do something totally different than what you have newly finished and ready to go… relax. That’s totally normal! Know that you can change any aspect of what you have planned at any time. It’s not a big deal – just go with the flow. The hardest part is getting it all laid out in the first place. There are SO MANY cool things to try, to implement, to experiment with – and each and every bit sounds more exciting and fun than the next.
I read a great blog yesterday that was talking about being ‘inspired’ by someone without re-making yourself in her image. I take that to heart when I read about SuperMoms in the homeschool world who have their crap together far better than I do. Go have a read. It’s at Living Well, Spending Less.