Well, that escalated quickly. Last week I was hiking in the rainforest of Costa Rica trying to find a red-eye tree frog and this week I’m fighting the masses for a roll of toilet paper.
Just because I classify myself in the homeschool mom category doesn’t mean this is my norm. Our norm consists of art groups, tutors, field trips, and travel. I’m not a person who stays at home. Like ever. I literally can’t remember a day where we didn’t have somewhere to go or something to do. Not to mention, we homeschool only 3 days a week. My oldest actually attends school the other 2 days. This quarantine and social distancing have me turned upside down too. Our plans are broken, our schedule is off, and we’ve got more time together than I’m sure I know what to do with. We’re in this together friends.
I’ve had a few people reach out to me for some “advice” now that they too find themselves in the homeschool category. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned over the past 5 years but I need to insert a disclaimer here. I rarely post about homeschooling because I still feel like I’m figuring it out myself. Some days I think we’ve nailed it and some days I feel like I’m 10 steps behind. I want you mamas who are feeling overwhelmed to hear me – I feel it too! You are not alone – the best tool you’ve got in your belt (apart from God’s grace+wisdom) is a community to encourage, challenge, and inspire you.
I took inventory this afternoon of what I’ve learned over the years and summed it up in 5 thoughts to share:
1. Develop a routine.
I actually don’t like the word routine. Routine sounds boring and stiff to me. I prefer the word rhythm. I’m striving for my days to move in an organic flow in a certain direction. I have found that my kids work best with some structure. When they know what to expect, there’s less opposition. My home-schooler does his best work in the morning so we get our hardest subjects out of the way after breakfast. We eat generally around the same time so I know when the “I’m hungries” will typically begin. Fresh air is typically good for an afternoon pick-me-up and it’s never a good idea for us to end our day with math. We are hands-on people who need lots of snacks and walks outside to break up our day. I taught preschool before I was married and one of the best things I learned during that time was that it takes 3 days to make or break a behavior. 3 days to break a bad behavior and 3 days to start a good behavior. Typically when we are making a transition of some type – I give it 3 days before I make any decisions about whether it is working or not working.
2. Don’t glue yourself to the routine.
Be flexible. Wait what? Doesn’t that contradict my number one suggestion? Hear me out. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities and you have to duck and weave with them. A routine loses its merit if it becomes so rigid you can’t move. We’ve learned to keep a rhythm all the while allowing space for what the day brings. If we are having a meltdown in the middle of a school lesson then sometimes the best thing to do is stop, take a walk, and try again in a little bit. Sometimes we table the lesson all together and come at it the next day with fresh eyes and hearts. I might have something on the schedule and find my kids working together to build an obstacle course through my house (thanks American Ninja Warrior for the inspiration) and so I just let it be. I’m aware that means something else goes undone and that is exactly where the flexible part comes in. Some days our school work is a breeze and sometimes, like today, we get stuck on dividing fractions and the extra time spent there meant that we didn’t get to our literature assignment. Other days we trade our worksheets for life experiences like baking and budget management. And then there are still days that are a complete wash and we scratch it all to cuddle and watch a movie on the couch.
3. Set realistic expectations.
When I first started homeschooling I had glorious expectations of what it would be like. How close it would bring us, how much fun it would be, and all the lists I would check off as we completed all our subjects each day. When things were hard or when or when we weren’t getting as much done and I thought we should, I was certain I was failing. I blamed my kids, I blamed myself. Long story short it led me to a place of stress and guilt. I found that my kids follow my lead and here’s the end of the story: a stressed mom teaching a stressed kid does not produce good results. The problem was that I had created metrics and expectations that were not sustainable. Not every problem on every worksheet needs to be completed. My plan during this new season is to make learning tiers. Tier 1 -Our top priority for the day/week – most of our focus will be allotted here. Tier 2- less important, no stress when not completed. Meltdowns, tears, outbursts – they are all going to happen. You are going to have bad moments, bad days even. Don’t judge your success by these markers.
4. Stop comparing
It doesn’t matter what Karen down the street is doing. It doesn’t matter what cute craft Sally just posted on Instagram. Just because something works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. We are not the same. Our kids are not the same. It’s like saying you make a meal with only the ingredients you’ve got in your kitchen, and then I’ll make a meal with only the ingredients I have in my kitchen and then we will judge each other on who is the better chef (spoiler alert it won’t be me). Getting stuck here will be our downfall. Don’t make the fatal mistake that because you are doing things differently that, that means you are doing things less than.
5. School isn’t just about the homework.
Just because you get all of your worksheets completed doesn’t mean you’ve made the most of your time and just because you don’t complete your checklist doesn’t mean you haven’t spent your time well. School, both traditional and homeschooling, isn’t just about the academics. It’s about growing and developing mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Learning is a mindset, not a checklist. Focus on quality time, on being together, on building relationships. Foster creativity, get outside, read and then read some more. Make a cake just because, stay up and sleep in, lean in close and be real with your kid about what’s going on around them. Let faith, not fear be your guide. This is one of those times that you (and them) will remember for the rest of your life. Chances are the school work will fade, but this is the stuff that will stick. Believe it or not, there’s no one more qualified for this than you mama.
You got this – Take it one day, or even one hour at a time.