We are in the heart of our school year… and most of our students are working hard, there is always that one that just isn’t (!!!) and I thought it was time to blog about when homeschooling just isn’t fitting “the dream.” When parents get together and chat… homeschoolers find themselves in one of two groups: with fellow homeschoolers they tend to lament the woes of their school and among non-homeschoolers there is a sense that they need to say how fabulous homeschooling is, all the time. The truth is somewhere in the middle. That being said, homeschoolers appear to be the best self-critics in the world. As a homeschool mom I think we may be stealing our own joy, by always having the “I am a failure attitude.” I decided to write a list of the things that left me feeling like a homeschool failure… and it turns out my failings might be challenges but they definitely aren’t failures.
- Your school days are not matching up to your dream, even slightly… You are Still on Track:
- If you take a day off, or even a week off, or even a month… You are Still on Track:
- You feel like you are falling behind on one, if not all your subjects… You are Still on Track:
- When your day gets off to a rotten start… You are Still on Track:
- When your students squabble all day… You are Still on Track:
- Pinterest makes every other homeschool look glorious… You are Still on Track:
- Just because you are schooling one day at a time… You are Still on Track:
- Your kids don’t love every moment and neither do you… You are Still on Track:
There is this thing that because you are homeschooling your days are filled with a collection of sweet and perfect events… one after the other after the other. A nature outing, a painting exercise, a visit to the museum, beautiful journaling, and our children complete mathematical puzzles while we read hours of classic chapter books. And at the end of it all, your children tumble into bed content and you are ready to spend more hours preparing the next day’s excitement. The reality is far, far, far from that. While it is a good idea to have a dream and a goal… we need to remember that we live in a culture of bucket lists… and perhaps we should stop looking at all the things we wish we were doing and we should just enjoy the things we are doing. If we looked for the things that are working as hard as we looked for the things that we aren’t our sense of failure wouldn’t get nearly such a good hold on our hearts.
As homeschoolers we often forget the value in our everyday lives… how often we find ourselves taking a week off school and then it turns out to be three weeks and it takes everything in us not to panic. Even when we aren’t in school we are doing lots of schools things, naturally, because learning is a lifestyle. So recently when were all sick and definitely not up to any school… board games emerged and piles of library books were conquered, half finished sewing projects were brought out and finished. Just because we weren’t doing our usual school doesn’t mean we weren’t learning or doing a lot of things that are actually a realistic part of school. Just because my kids’ files say week 11 instead of week 14 doesn’t mean they weren’t learning and making progress in so many other areas, that never get into the file. Sometimes school stops for even longer, a serious illness, a new babe in the family, moving house, whatever the reason. One of the glorious reasons for homeschooling is that real life is full of lessons and this is the time to embrace that and let your kids learn them. I honestly found the life skills and life lessons learnt for my older kids whenever a new babe arrived in the house was well worth the time we took off “official looking school”… laundry skills, cooking skills, caring for little people skills, reading skills as they get to read piles of picture books to younger siblings. There is a lot to be said for letting life be the teacher, when life takes you into a crazy season.
I have never met a homeschooling mum who didn’t think they were behind in something or other. Even on the first day of their school year, homeschool moms can sense the overwhelm of a year ahead and feel behind. There is this idea that if you haven’t finished everything on “the list” every single day then you are falling behind. Can I just suggest that as the head teacher and principle that this is one time that you get to create the list and your expectations may be a little high. One of the joys of homeschooling is that you can go at the pace of your child. Our curriculum suggest a chapter a day of reading and one of my readers is only up to a page a day. In the past I would have let that child read the one page and then read the rest of the chapter for them… this worked then, but for this child the need to do it all on their own is huge… and so we just plod through. And the heady joy when a book is eventually finished is immeasurable… we are not behind at all, we are conquering over here!!! Now about those science experiments that we haven’t yet begun this year – I could be concerned but I am not, I know there will be a lull later in the year and we will bring out the science and have a week of science experiments. Often the reason things aren’t getting done is that is just a matter of timing… for us to try and do one science experiment each week (times eight students) is unachievable… but when we dive in and immerse ourselves all at once it will be well worth the wait.
My best days are the days that I have gotten to bed timeously and I wake up naturally about an hour before everyone else. Yes, I could set an alarm and get up an hour earlier, I could have an enormously productive morning schedule, and I could berate myself that I don’t. The reality is far more like a couple of kids are up and have been up for h.o.u.r.s, at least one person got lost in a book under the covers the previous evening and won’t be able to surface for more than a while, and there are a couple of teens that you would rather filled their sleep bucket for the day, before you tried to have a conversation with them. You head for the breakfast table and half the people don’t want tea and toast again, and instead of porridge being hailed as the breakfast saviour of the world, it results in actual sobbing, “not again,” from more than one of the the team players at the table. The truth is that often that extra hour of sleep is more valuable to the whole family than me getting up earlier. In fact, after years of fighting it Mondays are now an hour later than usual, evening church the night before means that my kids sleep an hour later. I could keep them home and make the little people head for bed… but actually it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of life and they love evening church. If you are stuck on the idea that school has to start at a particular time each day then mark down the time you start for a week or two and you will see a pattern, not the neighbours pattern, but your own – let that be your mental start time and there will be a lot fewer incidences of panic as the “day gets away from us.”
Kids squabble, its a fact. So do adults, that’s another fact. But when you are the mother person and you desperately want your kids to get along and be best friends forever, then the endless… “he touched me, she looked at me, that’s my pencil, and it’s my turn,” can wear you down. The thing is, squabbling is one thing that isn’t actually a reflection on your children’s relationships with each other. They are totally able to squabble and be best friends. Kids do need to make their voices heard, and they need to feel secure enough to state their preferences. Honestly, it does wear me down and at the end of some days my head could literally crack, but kids need to learn how to stand up for themselves and what they believe… there may be a time when they need the skills that they have gleaned through hours and hours of sibling bantering. And when I just can’t take it anymore, I get them all outside… because there is something about the great outdoors, rain or shine that settles us all. The truth is there is a whole lot more to our relationship with our kids than just being their teacher, and a whole lot more to our relationship with our kids than their squabbles too.
In the spirit of “the grass is always greener” and being very wary of comparisons. Pinterest, the great green field of plenty of ideas and inspiration is quite simply packed with things you could be doing and then those very quickly become things you should be doing. Before you know it… you are wondering why your kids can’t manage to create thousands of beautiful artworks, not to mention filling in bazillions of worksheets (perish the thought)… as well as all the things you had planned for them as well. It is one thing to look at what other folk are doing for school and quite another to think that your school would be so much better if it looked more like their school. Inspiration is one thing, envy is quite another. The thing is that every homeschool is different and unique to their own family, when you start wondering why your school isn’t as good as someone else’s, it is time to take a pause and look at your school and all the things that are really working of you. And someone will say, nothings working for us… look again. And if you still can’t find something… grab a story and read it, go on a leaf hunt, put a pile of magnets on a baking tray… take a few photos and your school will look awesome. It doesn’t take much to make your school awesome.
It is a crazy world, where every opportunity must be embraced and taken on. People have this expectation that children need to do a million extra-curricular activities in order to experience everything. Not to mention everyone wants to know how your kids are going to get into college… that probably isn’t next week and you have time to take a breathe. Everything is taken on as if your child might be a potential olympic athlete, every extra-mural could be a career choice. There is a desperate earnestness to get ahead. My kids have loved almost every extra-mural they have ever done (and there haven’t been many) – that doesn’t make them olympic athletes or multi-talented, they just have a high capacity for fun. We find ourselves somewhere between the wild and crazy storms of winter and glorious days of summer. The weather is somewhat tepid, especially when you are longing for summer, and school can be the same. Turns out homeschooling is not all about blue skies and picnic blankets… or couch days for that matter. And it definitely isn’t about one homeschool outing after another either. Sometimes you have to just settle down and get the schoolwork done: No lesson plans, no fancy resources, no crafty activities just page by page and chapter by chapter, muddling through. Some days are great and some days the interruptions are somewhat disheartening, but learning is a life long journey and you don’t have to reach your destination today.
In an all or nothing culture, we have this idea that we have to love every single moment of every single day… and how often do folk ask my kids if they like homeschooling. My kids know no better, this is their childhood experience and to be honest when you are in the midst of something it is hard to say if it is the best experience ever. From an adult perspective we often look at other folks homeschool, as they travel around the world or live in wonderfully exotic places, and think, “le sigh… thats the schooling we wish we had.” The truth is your kids won’t love it all. There is an initial burst of enthusiasm, when it so fantastic to be a little person welcomed to the school table… but actually I am relying on the long haul for my kids to love the schooling they have had. There were many aspects of my schooling that I did not love, that as an adult I am so grateful for. And while my kids don’t always want to sit and do math with me, and they groan when I gather them all together to finish another chapter in a long and sometimes tricky book. Over all they will have happy childhood memories and the fact that homeschooling was a huge part of their childhood, hopefully they will have happy homeschooling memories too.
The thing about school is that it plods along merrily, somedays are disciplined, some days are far from it… progress continues slow and steady, sometimes slower and sometimes steadier. And then we are struck by what someone else is doing for school – an exercise of math every single day, and a Shakespeare sonnet memorised and dozens of science experiments under their belt, not to mention hours of programming and all the while with cheerful happy faces. I won’t even mention the friends in school who do three hours of homework everyday, and that’s after a day of school – my heart could sink sometimes… most days my kids’ formal schooling takes a lot less time than these kids are spending on homework alone. Immediately it is easier to think that we are failing our kids in reality, hours of busy work does not necessarily make your children better students. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and take a good look at the things you are getting right and put those little “failure” voices in your head to rest. Honestly, if you are a homeschooling mom or not, you have to deal with those niggles of doubt… the fact that we homeschool means that our doubts are directed at how we school. The reality is that fun times are happening, school is happening, good memories are being made, and kids are learning which means we are probably doing just fine as a school. I truly believe that play is a child’s work and they need hours and hours of play to learn… So when our school days look like heaps of play, then I shouldn’t lament the lack of apparent school… this is their work and they are good at it!!!