Ah, the thrill of a new homeschool year. Books ready to dig into, shiny new lesson plans to implement, a well-structured schedule that will work.
If you’re anything like me, you get excited over the spring and summer by all the prospects of what the new year will bring. It’s fun to unbox all of your new curriculum choices, and seeing the mailman or FedEx guy walk up to your door with boxes of books makes your heart leap for a moment. There is such a thing as “new book smell,” and it’s wonderful.
You break out the new planner and get to work. Ideas start flowing and fall into place. Seeing all the boxes fill up brings a satisfying sense of order and accomplishment, and you feel a sense of anticipation building.
And Then…October Hits.
Somehow, all the shiny-new anticipation of August and September start slipping away by October, and routine becomes…well, routine. Instead of approaching the day with excitement, you start to just wake up and go through the motions. And your kids follow.
“Light schooling” during November and December begins to look better and better. By January or February, that bright yellow school bus going down the street becomes a viable option, and you struggle to hold on until March, when you can start looking at options for next year.
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I know I’m not the only one that ever got stuck in that trap. It’s not something that we do intentionally, but let’s be honest: life happens. At times, it happens in a big way. As homeschool parents, we take on a lot, and we’re not willing to let any of it slip.
After a while, that pressure can start to wear away at us, and if we don’t have a plan in place to handle it, it can take over. This might result in your being so ready to finish come May, or it might result in you being ready to just shut down and call it quits.
It doesn’t have to, though.
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way!
I’ve been there, several times, for a number of reasons. My son went through two critical illnesses during our homeschooling years, both of which took a few years to fully recover from. I deal with an autoimmune disorder that was undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) for a decade. We served as caretakers for an elderly relative with Alzheimer’s for a time, ended up having to move on less than a month’s notice, and had to work around crazy work schedules.
Early on, I really didn’t understand how sneaky burnout can be when creeping up on us, or how to deal with it once it hits. Here are the tips I’ve learned over the years to keep it from happening in the first place!
1. Realize that your plan is a tool. It doesn’t own you, nor should it.
Remember those shiny, lovely lesson plans you spent all summer (or all weekend) writing? There are times they’re not going to happen, or at least they’re not going go “according to plan.” And that’s really ok, I promise. It’s annoying, but it’s ok.
Part of the reason many of us homeschool is to better prepare our children for what awaits them out “in the real world”…and the real world rarely goes according to plan. We often forget how much our kids watch us and trust our lead. How we react to plans not working out now will have an impact on how they react to the same thing later in life.
I’ve seen this in my son’s life in a few different ways. He is the ultimate strategist and planner, yet he trains and works in industries that are constantly changing – like, changing by the hour. Homeschooling him was certainly a wild ride at times, but he developed the ability to adapt to a huge variety of situations and handle them well. He sees and implements strategies that many others don’t, and he’s willing to take life lessons in stride.
Seeing those qualities in him today makes all the past worries about lesson plans going awry completely worth it in so many ways.
2. Make time for you. No, really!
Ok, I can almost hear the snorts and see the eye rolls on this one…I know I handed out enough of them myself. It really is necessary, though – and worth it.
Dr. Seuss put it best, I think: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive that is Youer than You.” And you are pretty darn amazing, just because you’re you. Hold on to that.
Whatever it is that recharges you, take the time regularly to do it. If it’s reading a new novel, take some time each day or two and do so – even if it’s only 20 or 30 minutes. If it’s Bible study, plan some time when your kids are otherwise occupied (asleep, doing activities, free time, whatever) and dig in. If you love to try out new recipes, go for a walk by yourself, or even just binge a bit on Netflix…do it. And let yourself enjoy it.
You see, as homeschool moms, we work so hard to create a lifestyle of learning for our children that we tend to let ourselves get enveloped in the process. In short, we tend to slowly lose ourselves. When that happens, two other things tend to happen.
First, when your tank is that empty, there’s very little you can give to others. Your spark, your creativity, your organization, your loving effort…they all go by the wayside. And that’s just not right, because you have amazing qualities to share. You inspire others, often without knowing it, by just being you.
Second, we will often react to burnout by becoming despondent or resentful, and that just isn’t a good thing. At all.
Taking a bit of time for you, even if you don’t think it’s necessary, is a huge game changer. Huge.
3. Teach your kids to take things on. Then, let them do so.
This is where I can see all the Type A moms cringing…”but they don’t do it right!”
No, they don’t do it like you would. And that’s ok. It’s annoying at times, but ok!
You see, teaching our children to take things on for themselves is part of teaching them to be adults one day. We’re not so much raising kids as we are raising adults…they’re just not there yet. One day they will be, though, and if they don’t know how to make themselves lunch or do their own laundry, well…that’s not going to be pretty. (I’ve seen that in action. It’s really not.)
So, start out light. Hand over tasks that you can handle not being done as well as you would do them, and grow from there. Bring your kids through them and make visual references for them to follow while they’re learning the process. (These could be anything from full-blown charts to before and after photos of what is considered acceptable in your house.) If necessary, ask your husband to supervise some of the tasks while the kids are in the learning phase.
It’s not an easy process, but it’s one you’ll thank me for later!
4. Learn, try, or read something new on a regular basis.
Seriously. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. Even if it’s trying out a new recipe you found on Pinterest or writing down a story or lyrics you can’t get out of your head, keep yourself challenged with things you love to do. Whether you’re reading an awesome new novel, trying a new craft, or learning about a place you’d love to visit someday, go for it.
It will help keep you energized and full of ideas…it will also teach your kids to do the same thing. And that’s one of the goals of filling their lives with learning opportunities, right?
For me, this might mean trying out a new cookbook (I’m currently learning about real Mexican food, since my son works with a missionary family in Mexico and fell in love with the food there) or working in spurts on a craft project (whether that means dusting off my sewing machine for little spurts of time or learning to work with the pack of Gelattos I found on sale). Even if it’s just for a few minutes here and there, it does a lot to keep me from falling into ruts.
5. Stay flexible. (More on this in a couple of days.)
Ok, this one’s huge. It’s actually so important that I’m going to devote a post to it in a few days.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. As a teacher’s kid, I learned the value of a lesson plan pretty early on. When you’re teaching 20-30 kids at a time and have to make sure to teach all the standards in a methodical and timely manner, it’s a valuable tool. And it’s one that you don’t stray from lightly. And you shouldn’t either…but you need to be ok with putting it on the back burner when other things become more important.
If your child is sick (or you are), take the day off. It can be made up later.
If your child falls in love with something you’re studying, keep going! I don’t know about you, but one of the things I couldn’t stand in school was having to move on just when things got interesting, because it’s what the lesson plan required. If your kids want to dig deeper into something, let them. Capitalize on that. It’s a blessing.
And if it turns out that a curriculum choice isn’t working nearly as well as you had hoped…feel free to either change or scrap it. Your goal is to teach your children, not the curriculum.
6. Have a backup stash of ideas to fall back on.
For those times that life hits, that your child gets engrossed in a subject, or that something you’ve planned fizzles big time…have a backup.
For me, this meant a few different things. I made it a point to stick broken appliances in a box in the garage so that my son could take them apart and “reverse engineer” them. (Hey, it’s far better than letting him do that on working appliances!) When he started talking a mile a minute about some random subject or another, I jotted it down and researched ideas for a mini-unit when I had time. When the need hit, I pulled it out and let him loose.
I kept our book basket stocked with everything from chapter books to activity and craft books from the library. Just by keeping it visible in our work area, he got curious and picked them up whenever he got bored. I didn’t make him do worksheets or reports on them, but if they sparked an interest, I took note.
Anticipating what your kids might need before they need it takes a lot of pressure off of you and teaches them to learn independently in ways they enjoy. It’s a win-win!
7. Let it go.
If you currently hear Elsa singing, my apologies…but it really is true. Sometimes, you can’t do it all, and you do need to let something go. Again, I can see the Type A moms cringing, but it’s an important thing to remember.
As I stated above, we hit some pretty major roadblocks during my son’s homeschooling years. Now, your situation may not be as extreme as ours, but life still happens. You may have to become a caretaker for a family member (young or old), or your family may go through a job loss or relocation that requires you to change everything for a while. You may have a baby or have to take on part time work. Life happens.
The beautiful thing about homeschooling is that it follows right along with life – if we let it. However, if we try to micromanage it during those times, it doesn’t end well.
So, for a bit, your house may look like you’re losing a game of Jumanji. It won’t forever. Your lesson plans may go by the wayside for a bit, but they’ll get back on track. (If nothing else, your kids will remind you!) Focus on what’s really important – your family – and know that the other details will fall back into place when things calm down.
Wrapping It Up
Have you experienced “life happening” during homeschool? How did you deal with it? And what advice would you give to others? I’m interested to hear – comment below!
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