Have you heard the joke about cleaning with kids in the house?
It goes like this: Cleaning with young kids under foot is like brushing your teeth with oreos in your mouth.
Well if that’s true, then homeschooling with young kids around is like brushing your teeth with oreos in your mouth while holding a baby and reciting poetry.
Translation: it ain’t easy.
If you count the year I “started preschool” with my eldest child, then this is my fifth year homeschooling. I’m currently teaching third grade, first grade, and something akin to preschool with a one year old baby along for the ride.
In some ways, this year has been far easier than years past. I know my kids a lot better, I’ve learned a lot of teaching tricks, have an ever-growing inventory of tools and books at my disposal, and I’m more confident in what I’m trying to do (even if I’m still learning as I go).
Logistically and emotionally, though, this year has been rough. At the most base level, I’m struggling with the 24/7 presence of four children in my home (though that struggle is nothing new for me). And, with a young toddler in the house, the chaos is over the top. It seems like as soon as we get started with a lesson, the baby falls off a chair. (Literally, he falls about a dozen times a day.)
Some days I can take the chaos with good humor, but other days leave me exhausted and overwhelmed. These past few months, there has been a lot of (both me and them) crying and hiding in the bathroom, counting down the minutes until I can get the baby to sleep so we can focus or the hours until my husband comes home.
Not all days are that hard. Most weeks, we have about one or two awesome school days that make me feel like a superhero teacher/mom/housekeeper/wife and make me want to shower my kids with candy and cupcakes all day and then publish a book about how awesome my family is. We also have one or two days a weeks that feel only marginally successful but (thankfully) go along without too much drama. And then there are always the one or two days that seem absolutely impossible until the day is finally over and I take a deep breath and honestly can’t believe we survived.
But we do survive.
We’ve survived 22 weeks of the school year, in fact. And I’m certain we’ll survive the next 14.
For anyone else in a similar overwhelmed-but-hopeful situation with homeschooling, I’d like to share how I’m surviving.
I’m slowing things down and doing less. I am saying “no” to invitations I’d really rather accept. I am ignoring cool events around town that I would normally love to bring my kids to. We are staying home more and not feeling bad about it and, while at home, I am keeping lessons quick, simple, and not forcing things that aren’t working. I’m not letting myself feel guilty for not enrolling the kids in sports or swimming lessons or art classes. I’ve also been taking one morning a week (like today!) to get away from the house, work on some writing, take care of personal/family business, run errands, etc. Even three hours a week makes a huge difference in my mental stability. I leave two or three easy, independent tasks for the two school-aged kids to do while I’m gone so they don’t completely waste the time and so we can jump back into “school” when I get back. It’s a life saver.
I’m adjusting my daily expectations for my kids and myself. The bulk of my school planning is done at the end of the previous year when I assess the work we’ve done and make lists of goals and attainments for the next year. The specifics come together over the summer as I research and purchase new materials and then it’s all re-calibrated as we near the end of each term. My planning documents for each term are not organized by day. Instead, I have a subject-based lesson checklist for each week. This means I have a lot of wiggle room on a daily basis to adjust my schedule and our content based on the needs of the day. In a season like ours, this is the only way to keep on track without getting constantly discouraged about not meeting goals like how many chapters we’ve read today or how many math facts my kid has memorized this week.
I’m learning to turn on a dime. Thriving in a season like ours requires being able to change course quickly. If something is not working, if the baby never fell asleep, if the weather is suddenly sunny, sometimes the best thing we can do is change the plan for the day. With so much to do and so many moving parts in a big family, I don’t waste time making myself or my kids miserable. Instead, I’m learning to stop the train before it derails and redirect quickly.
I’m trying not to compare my family to any other homeschooling families or myself to other homeschool moms. Maybe it’s a symptom of the social media age or maybe just a symptom of womanhood, but I’m constantly looking over my shoulder at how we compare to other families. It’s unhealthly and emotionally taxing. It’s a distraction. And I’m learning to stop it before it steals the joy from homeschooling and parenting. So what if my school room isn’t as beautiful as yours? Who cares if I don’t look photo-ready while taking my kids on a walk to the library? And is it really a big deal if my 6 year-old is still working to differentiate between “b,” “d,” and “p?” No. It’s not.
I’m putting the kids to work. This is admittedly one of the hardest parts of parenting for me but something I’m working on. Teaching kids to clean and cook and take care of themselves takes patience that I don’t always have to spare. But the investment in teaching my kids now will pay off in a huge way as they grow. One of my favorite new things to remind the kids, when telling them for the fifth time (or sixth time or seventh time) to clean up after themselves is: “This is not a punishment; this is your responsibility.” Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all, as adults, understood this for ourselves?
I’m reminding myself the “why” and keeping it in the front of my mind. People homeschool for many different reasons. Some, for example, have children with special needs or gifted children who require special attention or direction. I wrote a post a few years ago, when my son was in the first grade, about why I’m choosing to homeschool our kids and I re-read it every so often to keep myself focused. (While some of that post is outdated, it’s still mostly true. Check it out if you’re interested.) Keeping the reasons why I’m doing this in the front of my mind help me keep my priorities straight and make better value judgments about the work we’re doing (or not doing, as the case may be).
I’m keeping my head in the game. I keep reading, researching, and refining my beliefs about child development, parenting, and education. I don’t want to follow a method of schooling blindly or without thoughtfulness. Part of my responsibility as a mother and educator is working at it like a job, like it matters as much as any other career or vocation. That requires focus and energy in developing my skills so I can serve my family well. As I adopt an educational philosophy and method that excites me to teach, it makes walking through a difficult season a lot easier.
I’m leaning on community. Making “girlfriends” is not easy for me, but I’m trying to stretch myself. Some of this involves presence on social media and using it be inspired and encouraged by other homeschooling families. Some of this involves inviting myself into the lives of other women who are further along in the journey than I am. And some of this involves making time for friendships with women of all ages and life stages that hold me up through a difficult season and vice versa.
(Sidebar: Please, if you know me in real life and feel like we should be friends, let’s make it happen.)
And, lastly, I’m reminding myself that this is just a season. Kids grow fast and the one year-old who is driving me crazy today will be talking tomorrow and then riding a bike and, someday, driving a car. (WHAT!?)
This year is hard. But this too shall pass. And I’d rather make the most of the luxury of keeping these kids around the house all day than wish them gone.
5 thoughts on “How I’m Surviving This Year Of Homeschooling”
My wife did the heavy lifting homeschooling our boys when they were younger. I have now inherited the teaching role as she has gone back to work full time, and I can tell you that all that hard work in the early years pays off handsomely.
The boys are now 13 and 11. They can both (mostly) prepare all their own meals, are able to help with just about every cleaning chore around the house, and can be relied upon to stay on-task with each school subject throughout the day. (Well, the 11-year-old is getting better. There are some days that are quite trying!)
We homeschool for many reasons, one of which is simple: We just really like spending quality time together as a family. I am unbelievably blessed to have had my career take a detour that allows me to be home now with my sons full-time as their teacher. I can think of no higher-value use of my time and no two young men I would rather spend it with.
I am cheering you on as you wade into the messiness of the mundane, day in and day out. There is no greater act of bravery or heroism than consistent parenting. As the motto of our homeschool says, “Nil desperandum!”
Cheers, Jeff, to you and Dara! Thanks for the encouragement.
Glad I found your blog, Liz! Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your world; you are a fantastic mom! Your post brought back the sweet and painfully familiar memories of homeschooling my own four several years ago. It is a collision of extremes for sure; the good days feel nothing short of profound and the bad days…well, ahem. I want to encourage you to stay your course – the one God has for your family. For us, it has changed dramatically over my time as a mother, but He has carried and held us close constantly, opening our eyes to many brilliant shades of redemption along the way.
I had to pinch myself last weekend as I sat in the passenger seat while my oldest sat in the driver’s seat (what?!?) because I truly do not know where the time has gone. On the other end, my baby girl will be seven on her next birthday. (again, what?!?) But they are soaring! There is so much hope on their young horizons and they dream!
Occasionally I would like to pull my hair out and raised voices sometimes still bounce off our walls. (Does a twelve year old really not know how to put the milk away? Does a nine year old not know that we don’t shoot nerf bullets at grandma? Could these kids possibly survive for five minutes without technology?)
But as I watch my teenage daughters, amazement abounds as we slowly yet reciprocally cut our proverbial cords. The babies that I rocked and band-aided and drug tiresomely around a grocery store have transformed into courageous and capable young women with their own tender convictions and ideas of the way the world should work. I stand in awe!
This mothering gig, through all of its up and downs, will forever be my most important job, my life’s work. And it is indeed an enormous privilege; a thing a great beauty. Thanks be to God.
Yes! Thanks for the kind reminders. And I’m glad to know my 9 year old isn’t the only one shooting nerf guns at grandma.