Homeschool Burnout, Bedlam, and Balance
For many homeschooling families, getting back into the swing of homeschooling after a holiday is a challenge. Throw in a pandemic, and returning to ‘normal’ becomes even more of a challenge. Are you overwhelmed by the thought of getting back on schedule, or are you someone who does much better with schedules and you can’t wait to have your ducks in a row again? Are you dreading a return to using a curriculum or following a schedule that didn’t really work that well with your family? Regardless of your situation, this article will include some advice that may help you find joy in your homeschooling adventure.
Why Are We Homeschooling? Sometimes it is good to reflect back on why we are homeschooling. Obviously, there are many different reasons, and during 2020, many are homeschooling out of necessity rather than from a deep-seated calling. Let’s talk philosophy for a moment.
Setting Goals: If your goal is to graduate a student who excels academically, tests well, and has great grades, then this article may not be for you. That is not to say that your student may gain those skills along the way but perhaps as a result of creating a life-long learner rather than setting high academic goals. Soak in the words of this quote by Lori McWilliam Pickert: “The child who is a skilled thinker and adept learner can adjust to whatever the future doles out. She can spackle in those holes in her knowledge, and she knows how to acquire skills she needs to do things she wants to do. On the other hand, the child who shoveled down his prepared education but lost his curiosity, whose interests withered away and were replaced by a general malaise and desire to just be left alone — that child has a bagful of knowledge and skills with varying expiration dates and dubious ability or desire to acquire more.”
What is the more worthy goal: a child who is a skilled thinker and adept learner or one who has learned to chew up and spit out information but has lost curiosity? My husband and I homeschooled our 9 children in a very relaxed manner, and now all 9 are adults who are skilled thinkers and adept learners. Most are entrepreneurs, running their own businesses. They are constantly having to learn new skills in order to keep their businesses successful. They may not have achieved high test scores while in high school, but in hindsight, that does not seem so important. Although I am not a fan of test scores (and I’m thrilled that many colleges are now going test optional), once I realized how much college exam scores mattered in regard to academic scholarship, I did have my children study to the test in order to increase scholarships and prevent having to take out loans for college.
Setting Priorities: We are often overwhelmed because we lose sight of making what’s important the priority. We become slaves to curriculum and schedules when, in fact, changes may need to be made in order to restore a vision (and joy)! When sticking with a schedule becomes so important that we do not stop to address character issues, then relationships suffer. If you are the parent of young children, your academic goal should be to nurture a love of learning. Penelope Leach says, “For a child there is no division between playing and learning; between the things he or she does ‘just for fun’ and things that are ‘educational.’ The child learns while living and any part of living that is enjoyable is also play.” Read aloud, play games, spend time outside, and most importantly, share your enthusiasm for learning with your children. If you have children in middle school and/or high school then you will need to be more intentional with academic goals. Although every high school graduate does not need to go to college to be successful, it is best to prepare a student for college than otherwise. In order to make college affordable, then GPAs and college exam scores become important but not at the point of sacrificing priorities. Character issues still need to be addressed. Encouraging your students to love learning, follow their passions, and use their gifts and talents for others is so important.
Motivating Students: Let’s talk about motivation. If you told your child they could _______ (fill in the blank with whatever your child would get excited to be able to do) as soon as they completed a specific goal you gave him, would he be motivated to complete the goal? Would he happily complete the assigned goal? More-than-likely that would be the case. Dangling a carrot works. I was in a co-op years ago where each student was required to give a presentation. For our family, the co-op determined our academic schedule, and working on the presentations was priority (researching, writing, and practicing throughout the week). For another family, the dad insisted his children complete their “regular” school work before they could work on their co-op presentations. Guess what? Those kiddos completed their school work quickly because they were excited about the presentations they were planning to prepare. In hindsight, I bet those same kiddos, now grown, remember far more about their presentations than they do the “regular” school work they were required to complete. As adults, you and I both know that we will complete a desired task far more quickly and with a much better attitude if we are doing something we love to do. That’s not to say every task will be like that. We still have to clean bathrooms, mop floors, and do other tasks that are necessary but not necessarily ‘fun.’ If you work at a job you love, then getting a paycheck seems like an added bonus! If we could create an environment for our children to thrive as they joyfully complete tasks that are exciting to them, then we could sit back and watch our children become skilled thinkers and adept learners. Elizabeth Foss says, “When the atmosphere encourages learning, the learning is inevitable.”
Time for Mom: Do you, as a mom, find there are not enough hours in a day to keep caught up with all you have to do? If so, consider hiring out the cleaning, the laundry, or even the cooking if you can afford to do that. If you have older children, then divide the chores among those who are able to help and reduce your workload. Not only will you benefit, but your children will be well prepared for independent living by the time they graduate. A familiar saying in our home was, “Many hands make light work.” I had a friend whose motto was, “Work first, then play.” Creating a schedule that accomplishes your goals while taking advantage of family help is a great way to return joy to this journey.
Back to the Why: As I was preparing this article I have come across so many great quotes to share. Two quotes are from famous philosophers, Aristotle and Plato! Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” and Plato said, “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.” Let the children play, encourage their inquisitiveness, and help them pursue areas of interest that pop up on their radar. We have been tasked with educating the whole child (heart, soul, and mind) so that the end result will be young adults, passionate about doing what they love to do, making a difference in this world. If you are bogged down in activities that are not meaningful, change things up! If there is anything our children need this year, it is to be skilled thinkers and adept learners.
Finish Well: One of my mentors, Raymond S. Moore, used to say that the recipe for genius is “More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons.” We aren’t racing to a finish line. We are creating an environment that will allow our children to thrive in a future that may not be anything like we envisioned. It is imperative, particularly during this pandemic, that we think outside the box and make the changes that need to be made in order to maintain relationships and enjoy this wild ride we call homeschooling.
Pat Wesolowski is an author, speaker, and homeschooling mother of 9 who is now the Homeschool Specialist at Bryan College in Dayton, TN. After homeschooling her 9 children for the past 32 years, she is finally finished! Pat has a heart for helping parents find joy in their homeschooling experience and, for that reason, loves teaching workshops in order to encourage and equip parents for a fun and successful homeschool experience. Pat is the host of a podcast entitled “Homeschooling Co-op Style,” writes a blog, and has authored numerous unit studies for homeschooled students. Pat has also written a free eResource to help parents plan for a successful high school experience. It is available to download at this link: www.bryan.edu/ebook.