If you're in a place where you are feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling, I hope these tips will give you a shot of encouragement. I don't claim to "have it all together." There's still many a day you'll find me in pj's at noon, trying desperately to get a shower and screaming out the back door for the whole neighborhood to hear, telling the kids to stop putting their brother in the human slingshot they designed out of clothesline. =)
I share these things that have made our homeschooling lives smoother to bless you where you are today and help you find confidence. You can do this! God is with you and will uphold you in this journey if He has called you to homeschool.
(A super-sweet First Day of School gift from my dear friend Amanda)
1. Realize homeschooling is like taking on a part-time or full-time job. Even if you only do school for an hour or two a day, you have the responsibility of your child's education riding on your shoulders, lesson planning, gathering materials, organizing field trips, co-ops, etc. If you are a stay-at-home mom and you begin homeschooling, it is just like taking on a job. There are adjustments to be made and sacrifices that you'll have to make. Don't be surprised if you are exhausted, sometimes overwhelmed, or often question if you have done the right thing.
A. Don't be afraid to ask your husband for help. You are a team. If he works all day and you work all day educating the offspring then it's okay to admit you can't keep up with the household chores all by yourself. My hubby works a physically draining job, but he still doesn't mind folding laundry with me now and then to help me catch up. He's even been known to grab a mop and tackle the dining room floor. And reading stories to the kids before bed is his specialty, giving me time to clean up the kitchen. Fold laundry and watch a show together or read a book aloud together as you do dishes. We've actually had fun working together to clean our house after the little ones are asleep.
B. Buy lots of paper plates! My really-green friends won't appreciate this one, but if you have a new baby, are pregnant, have a lot of kids, or are new at the homeschooling thing, give yourself a break and buy a bunch of paper plates so that you can have one less thing to do while you adjust to life as a Teacher Mom.
C. Lower your expectations. You will not be able to cook gourmet food every day and homeschool. Sometimes take-out is necessary. It's okay to buy Stouffer's lasagna and bagged salad instead of making your own. You will not have a spotless home if you are schooling your own kids. You can try and try and try (believe me....I have!) but it will not work! The amount of time it takes to nurture kids and help them learn will negate any hope you have of being "caught up" on everything like your other mom friends who are not homeschooling. You have to learn to be okay with messes because there will be lots of them! Even if you are normally very disciplined about doing your housework you will often have to choose between starting school or doing dishes and laundry.
D. Don't be afraid to say no! I repeat, LEARN TO SAY NO!!! Write this on a sticky note and put it on the wall. You will constantly be asked to take on more than you can possibly do. People won't care that you have a lot of kids or that you homeschool. They won't understand how busy you are or how many others have asked you for favors. You must, must, must make it a habit to say no to things that God has not called you to do! Practice in the mirror if you must!
2. Get organized. Yes, there are those that thrive on being relaxed. Delight-directed curriculums are very neat. God has made us all differently and we all have unique gifts and personalities. But if you are going to homeschool you need to work at being more organized, especially if it doesn't come naturally to you. You have to get a handle on your clutter so you can find your Letter of Intent and you must teach your kids to throw away craft project scraps or else you will soon find yourself buried under a mountain of paper. I've always been an organized person but I continually have to work at staying that way, training my kids to pick up, etc. If you are unorganized, find an organized friend who can help motivate and teach you!
A. Find a system that works for you to handle all your data/appointments/info, etc. Some like Cozi, some like a simple piece of paper for jotting down notes. This year I am trying The Well-Planned Day to keep our family's schedule organized. Find a system you like and stick with it. Make it the central info station in your home.
B. Learn to menu plan! Make a meal chart for the entire month so the question of what to fix for dinner isn't a huge dilemma every night. I list about 15 different meals (because we repeat our faves) on the fridge on a blank calendar so that 30 blanks are filled. I pick which one of the 30 sounds good that morning so I know ahead of time what I'll be making later in the day. Don't know where to start? Here are some good places to visit:
Simple Mom's How to Menu Plan
Passionate Homemaking's Simplifying Grocery Shopping and the Benefits of Monthly Menu Planning
Money Saving Mom's Meal/Menu Planners
C. Consider doing once-a-month shopping. If this is too overwhelming for you or for your budget try shopping only once a week and then gradually switch it to twice a month. Less shopping really does give you more time for homeschooling.
D. Give bulk-cooking a try! Bulk cooking is an amazing tool for the homeschooling mama! Read my post here for some inspiration and recipe ideas.
E. Set up a zone-cleaning plan for your housework. It is overwhelming to save all of your cleaning for the weekend. A couple of years ago God blessed us with a fixer-upper that is 3x the size of our former home. Even if I work 15 hours without a break, I cannot get the entire house cleaned. It's like trying to eat an elephant.....you just have to take it one bite at a time. This is why the Fly Lady program is so amazing. If you're not into the online reminders, divide your weekly chores onto index cards or write out a different room for the day to clean on your paper planner or laminated schedule. Set a timer for 15 minute increments and do as much as you can during that time. Your house won't stay spotless but each room will at least be worked on once each week. Get the kids to help out with the "daily zone", as well as keeping their own things put away.
F. Figure out a strategy for snacks. I found myself getting soooo irritated with the kids this spring because it seemed that every time I turned around it was snack time again and kids were begging me to make them something. My kids are always hungry. Even though I had a menu plan for dinners, I didn't have one for snacks. So, I was always at a loss of what to feed them when snack time came around. I finally got organized and made a plan for this area and the stress over snacks completely disappeared. At the beginning of the month I purchase about 10 boxes of dry snack foods and bag them up in baggies and put them in the snack box. Every Saturday I get my Bountiful Basket full of fruits and veggies. The kids are now in a routine of grabbing a fruit or veggie for morning snack at 10am and they know that at 3pm they can go to the snack box in the pantry and choose one baggie of dry snacks for themselves.
3. Don't be afraid to find some help. If you have a friend or relative that is willing to take your child/children for a while to give you a break, or a co-op where you can share teaching responsibilities, go for it! I have a friend whose children are in public school and she loves preschoolers. She has actually asked me if she can "borrow" my 4 year old a couple of mornings a week to do crafts and preschool lessons with him. After the first ten times I asked, "Are you SURE???? Why on earth would anyone want to do that?" (Preschool-age is not my favorite!) I swallowed my I-won't-lean-on-anyone-for-help attitude and let her do it! He's having so much fun, is getting individualized attention, and it frees me up to work with the other three. She even picks him up when she drops her kids off at the public school across the street (Yes, I know I'm spoiled! My friends are awesome, what can I say?) When I was going through post-partum depression after my fourth baby a couple of years ago a generous friend who had been down that road paid for a nanny to come for 3 hours a week for 3 months to give me some time away from the kids.
A. Hire a homeschooled teen girl to watch the kids one morning or afternoon a week. Mother's helpers are a blessing and it's a chance for a young girl to practice skills she will need as a mother someday.
B. See if a grandparent would be willing to have a "date" with your kid once a week for an hour to work on flashcards or handwriting, etc. If you don't have family in the area, perhaps an elderly neighbor or friend from your church would enjoy doing this once in a while to give you a break, and you could offer them something in return.
C. Offer to swap childcare with another homeschool mom weekly or monthly so your kids can play with their friends and you can get a little time alone to plan out the next week/month's lessons.
D. Find a class or co-op your children can join. One gal I know goes to the gym to work out and her kids get to attend a kid's class there. Some ladies take turns teaching different classes in a homeschool co-op. Our local library had free Reader's Theater classes this summer that were EXCELLENT!
(A one-room cabin kitchen at the South Pass City museum)
4. Regularly de-clutter the house. I do this every few months and yet we still have toys everywhere and too many clothes. After a crazy mouse went through our house two weeks ago and pooped on EVERYTHING, I realized how much more I could simplify. In our simple, already-decluttered home, I managed to find an entire van load of stuff we could take to the thrift store. And after doing 35+ loads of laundry to wash what the mouse had pooped on in every closet, in every room, I adopted my friend Amanda's system of only having 5-7 outfits per kid. Now I'm forced to do laundry more often and I don't have 10 loads of clean laundry sitting on the laundry room table waiting to be folded. Now all of the kids' clothing has to fit in a sealed rubber tub (lest we get another mouse in the house-yuck!) and has to be washed more often. I do a BIG de-cluttering of junk before each new school year too. This helps me feel better about my house before I begin the season of house-neglecting, AKA homeschooling. The less you have, the less you have to take care of. We all have stuff we don't need, taking up unnecessary space and causing us stress when someone else could put that stuff to use. Get rid of it and save yourself the work of maintaining it!
5. Establish a support network. Whether it's online (love, love, love the My Father's World fb pages and all the collaboration that goes on there!), a local group, or just a close friend or neighbor who homeschools, find someone you can talk to, vent to, and pray with. You're going to need it! It's priceless to have people you can bounce ideas and questions off of ("Which Latin curriculum have you found to be easiest for young children?") and people to assure you that you aren't crazy for feeling the way you do after a long week of homeschooling. I don't have a lot of homeschooling friends in my town, but the ones I do have are solid gold! They are such an encouragement when I'm questioning why I've chosen this crazy, busy, challenging lifestyle! Girl time is a must and should be a priority on your schedule. It's a must for all moms, but I think it is especially important for the moms who never get a break from their kids. So, make time for connecting with friends!
6. Rest in God's grace for your imperfections and be humble. Know you need His strength to do this each and every day. It's easy to fall under the burden of belief that homeschooling families have to prove something to the world and to the naysayers or that they should be perfect. This isn't true! THERE ARE NO PERFECT FAMILIES. No matter how perfect they look on the outside, they are still made up of sinners. We all need the Gospel, not just once-in-a-lifetime, but every day. It's also tempting for homeschooling families to be prideful. Don't be quick to jump on a soapbox or judge those around you. That curriculum you said you'd NEVER use? You'll probably be using it in 3 years! You think your kid is a genius? The neighbor kid from up the street who goes to public school may come over and blow your kid away with how many math facts she knows. Always talking smack about public schools? Someday you may find yourself with a best friend who is a public school teacher or your child may need to go to public school for one of a variety of reasons.
You will have days you will snap and yell at the kids.
The kids will fight...often. The more kids you have, the more fights there will be.
You will feel like the worst teacher in the world some days.
You will wonder if you have what it takes to keep going.
Some days you won't even like your kids.
You will be tempted to flag down the school bus going past your house.
You will be in a fierce spiritual battle for your kids (just like any Christian parent).
But take heart, friend, because God is with you in this! You aren't alone and He wants you to trust Him in this walk of faith.
7. Create a window of unavailability for yourself. If you are a social butterfly, have a part-time job, or have a lot of ministry going on, you will need to carve time out of your schedule specifically for homeschooling. Let your friends know you won't be answering the phone in the mornings (or whenever you do school). Let online time (surfing, shopping, fb, twitter, e-mail, games, blogging, reading, etc.) be a reward for you at recess time or when the kids have finished their schoolwork for the day. (Preaching to myself here--that's an area I need to work on!)
A. Don't answer your phone or texts when you are in the middle of school. We've even made an answering message that explains to people that school is in session and lets them know when we will be available. If you help with a family business or need to be available for your husband that's fine, but try not to let your school time get eaten up by phone calls. Caller ID is wonderful!
B. Pare down your activities. Before you begin homeschooling and during the summertime, it can be easy to fill your days with playdates, swimming lessons, library visits, nature walks, etc. Once you commit to homeschool, you will have to let a lot of those things go or choose to do them after school is done. Instead of continuing on with life as usual, you will need to keep "School Time" central to your day, or it won't happen at all. Life, with all of its' urgent demands, will crowd out your schooling time in a hurry.
8. Take care of yourself. Every mom struggles to find time for herself, but when you homeschool it can be even harder because your day and your schedule revolves around their lessons/projects/needs, etc.
A. Make sure you are getting good nutrients. My friend Nicci's vitamin smoothie is a daily must for me! If you don't do smoothies, try these wonderful vitamins, available in a cheaper form here.
B. Rise before the rest of the household. My goal for this school year is to get up before the kids so that I have some quiet and some prayer time with God before tackling the busy day. It's hard, but soooooo worth it. Crystal is so motivating in this area!
C. Always be reading a few good books. Karen Andreola talks about this in her chapter on Mother Culture in her book A Charlotte Mason Companion. Read things that stretch you, inspire you, delight you! Model a love of learning for your children. Don't get in a rut of only reading fiction or only reading personal growth books. Read from a variety of genres.
D. Have a daily quiet hour and enforce it. Kids need boundaries. When they are home all day with mom, it can be easy for them to fall into a "Mom is always at my every beck and call" mode. They need to know that at certain times they are not allowed to seek Mom's help and attention. We have FOB time in our home (taken from my days as a Camp Good News counselor--FOB stands for Flat On Bunk). The kids can lay on their beds and look at books or sleep. If they get off their beds or come upstairs they lose their afternoon snack; something that is majorly important to my always-hungry kids.
E. Plan for times of refreshment. Take regular breaks. Whether it's sneaking away to a coffee shop to think, pray, and plan on a Saturday morning, a daily jog around the block, or a yearly getaway with your husband, try to plan refreshment and rest into your week/month/year. One of my goals for 2012 has to be to make Sunday more of a Sabbath in our home.
F. Diet and exercise. Of course we all know that we should be eating right and exercising regularly. But how many of us can actually find the time to do so? I've never enjoyed exercise, but I know my body needs it, so I find ways to be more active in my busy homeschooling schedule. Instead of driving to a store or a friends' home, I will bike and pull the 2 or 3 little kids in the bike cart. Nature walks are part of our curriculum and they get us all out into the fresh air. Playing a game of tag with the kids, going for a hike, or swimming at the pool or lake are other things I enjoy. Bountiful Baskets, a produce food co-op, has enabled us financially to eat much more produce.
9. Put together some activities to occupy little ones. If you have babies or toddlers, it can be a challenge to keep them happy and out of trouble during school time. Here is a great article on things to do with toddlers/preschoolers to keep them busy. Here's a post I wrote a few years ago about our activity tubs. A friend gave me a booster seat for the homeschool area and this has been the biggest help in keeping my own little tot, Katri, busy during our school time. She loves to color and sit in her seat and "be a big girl."
A. School while they sleep! If you have a very demanding baby, try to do school during baby's naptime.
B. Have a playpen in the living room where the baby/tot can safely play with toys while you do lessons with the kids.
C. Fill a box with special toys that they can only play with during school time. They can sit at your feet, or even on your lap, and play while you teach the big kids.
D. Have one of the bigger kids take turns playing with the baby/toddler while you work with the other kids and then switch off.
E. Wait until Daddy's home. Do the more challenging subjects with your child early in the morning or in the evening when Daddy is home to hold the baby or occupy the tot.
10. Abide in the Lord and seek His guidance regarding your priorities, schedule, and friendships. This is the most important tip of all! My friend Nicci is such a wise example of doing this. You have to recognize you are just one person and you can't do everything people want you to do or be close to everyone in your life. This is a tough one for me because God has brought a lot of young women into my life who need encouragement, friendship, and discipleship. There are countless ministry opportunities available in my church and community. I could try to grow my photography business if I wanted to. Nicci always reminds me that just because I'm interested or have a talent or gifting in a certain area doesn't mean I am called to that ministry/vocation right now. I am called to be a godly wife and mother, and frankly, that takes a LOT of my energy and time. It's hard to know which friendships to pour into, which is why it needs to be a matter of much prayer.
Homeschooling is so rewarding in the end! You can do it!
May the Lord strengthen you and uplift you as you trust in Him for your children and your school year!