When it comes to my life, I often hear the popular catchphrase “I don’t know how you do it!” Usually I get this when I’m out with my kids, and most often in reference to homeschooling. People assume I have it all together or that I’m some kind of homeschool supermom. How I project this image I will never understand. I feel like I’m running around like a madwoman most days! While I normally reserve this blog for the more philosophical or theological implications of life and motherhood, I wanted to step away from that voice and platform for a moment, and offer an honest, real look at our homeschool.
The truth is that I don’t actually feel like I’m doing it. I just seem to get up each day and go from one moment to the next, and somehow my kids have followed suit. But as I’ve pondered our educational choices, it’s become so clear to me that homeschooling does not start with a fancy curriculum or a box of books delivered to our door. It starts with our intention.
The reason our homeschool and, by extension, our life runs as smoothly as it does is because I set it up to do that. I’ve figured out what my must-do’s are and what kind of support I need to accomplish them. I’ve also created a vision for our homeschool that directs our priorities and gives us a bigger reason for home education. And in all of this I’ve learned to be careful to account for my own personal needs and weaknesses. So here it is; a breakdown of the five things I do that make our home a place of learning without me actually being super mom to pull it off!
1) Maintain the Core Vision— Before we began homeschooling, I outlined in my own mind our reasons for homeschooling. This wasn’t about choosing an educational modality (like Classical, Unschooling, Montessori, etc.). It was more about the over-arching reasons for keeping my kids at home.
One was that we want to raise life-long, independent learners and we felt the home environment was best suited for that. We also wanted to have the flexibility to incorporate a wide variety of educational experiences into our family culture and provide an academically rigorous but also more flexible foundation for our kids than what traditional schooling options allow for.
And so every time we have a bad day and I find myself asking “why are we even doing this?” it’s helpful to go back to that core vision. It drives us forward and helps sort out many of the doubts or struggles that arise. (As an aside, even if you don’t homeschool, having a unified vision is so important for a healthy, functioning family. Mom AND Dad really need to be on the same page there.)
2) Make a Plan–Each summer I spend a lot of time thinking about what milestones I want each child to reach and how I plan to help guide them. (I should write all this down, but given that I have my hands full pretty much all of the time, I’ve become very good at operating on mental lists.) Personally, it works best for me to keep it to 3-4 broad goals per child, usually that have to do with helping my kids achieve growing levels of independence that propel us into future years.
For Ayla (5) this year, I simply wanted to 1) get her used to doing a short amount of more “formal school time” with me, one on one, each day, 2) introduce her to basic phonics, and 3) get her working with numbers and basic math on a regular basis. Everything else is a bonus, and believe me, we’ve had a LOT of bonuses! Why? Because my plan was manageable and set us up to succeed. At the end of the year what really matters most for Ayla? Those were the three things I kept coming back to. Those three things will lay the foundation for the next school year, when I will expect more from her and she will need to pick up the pace.
For Crew (8), my plan was a lot different. He’s older, has mastered all the foundations, and is ready to be challenged in other ways. But the goals I have for him function the same way; they’re always paving the way to another benchmark that leads to greater independent learning.
3) Define Priorities–Once my “plan” is in place for each kid, then I can start figuring out the ins-and-outs of how we’re actually gonna pull it off. What are my must-do’s each day? Each week? And how am I going to ensure that those things get don,? (We’re talking both school and non-school stuff here.)
Because I am a busy mom trying to homeschool two big kids with two very active little ones underfoot all day, priorities are a BIG deal. I can’t do it all, so we have to choose the right things. Priorities look different for every family, but what I have noticed over the years is that priorities are very hard to meet when you are not available to meet them. In other words, it’s really hard to homeschool when you are never home!
I’ve found it helpful to build the rhythm of our day around what’s most important. Most weeks follow a pretty strict pattern, and that usually involves me staying home to ensure that the top priorities get accomplished. For us, mornings are school time. We are early risers, and often Crew is working away at math by 7:45am. This means by lunchtime, he’s done nearly four hours of solid school work. Our afternoons are marked by nap time for the littles and quiet time for the bigs (and mom!), and then we are free to play, work, or do whatever else is left in a very unstructured afternoon. Learning happens all day, every day, and for the most part, my must-do’s get done because the rhythm of our day supports my priorities. It’s been a helpful lesson to learn and eased my stress levels when I don’t feel like I have to do “all the things.”
4) Find Support–You cannot successfully homeschool, effectively parent more than one child, and also maintain a house, a life, a spouse, a healthy diet, and your sanity without support. I’m sorry, but you just can’t. Support is paramount for moms in general, and absolutely a necessity for homeschooling moms. Moms can’t to it all!
It dawned on me over the summer as I was struggling to pull any sense of routine together after having baby #4 and moving that I simply wouldn’t be able to accomplish our vision for our homeschool unless I got more support. I knew I would end up jipping the big kids in their education and having lots of loose ends because of two demanding little ones who also need me. Bit by bit I began figuring out what support would look like and realized how much I needed to advocate for myself.
This is a tough thing for many moms to admit, and especially difficult for people-pleasing personalities like me. But behind every woman who looks like she’s got it all together is a killer support system that she has cultivated and, more than likely, had a hard time accepting.
For me in this season of life, support looks like help with my toddler. Two mornings a week he leaves the house for a few hours. He goes to a friend’s house one morning and spends the other with his grandparents. This gives me a solid and predictable chunk of time to plow through things with the older kids. On weeks when my husband isn’t traveling or too slammed with work, he also pitches in and will sometimes take the two little ones out to run errands for a bit. It’s good dad time for them, and gives me yet another block of focused time. It can be a sacrifice to make support a reality in your life but it’s super important for the longevity of your mental health and overall quality of life. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m getting more comfortable accepting the help I need and planning for it to happen.
5) Play Up Strengths. Know the Weaknesses.–There’s a lot of wonderful ways to homeschool and many inspiring families out there who are accomplishing those things. I am not them. I’ve got to do what works for us, no matter how awesome another family makes it look.
Reading aloud is a great example. It’s so valuable, produces great conversation, and I love doing it. But reading aloud to four kids, with four different levels of interest, attention spans, and a wiggly baby who just wants to eat the book or pull my hair–well, I’m just not in a season of life where reading aloud to the whole family can happen without causing me a mild panic attack. So I only read aloud to the big kids together, and I read separately at other times to the littles. I know admitting this is like homeschool sacrilege but when all four are together, we don’t read!
Other things that are my weaknesses: I’m not the best teacher for something like long division, I’m quick to shrug off science in favor of discussing a great book, and I know that if I don’t get a little down time each day, I will lose it and turn into Momzilla.
To combat this, we switched math curriculums to something that Crew could be much more independent with. I still do math with Ayla, but Crew can work much faster and without my help most days. When Crew told me he’d like to study chemistry and physics, I decided it was time to bring in a science tutor who works with him once a week and gives him assignments to complete between sessions. This has been a huge hit for everyone this year! He is loving it, learning a ton, and I get to sit back and be the cheerleader rather than the coach. And the quiet time? That happens every single day. I guard it like it’s Ft. Knox because if I don’t, I will totally burn out.
By knowing my weak areas, I can better plan for them and free up my energy for the things that get me excited about homeschooling. I’ve loved teaching my kids how to read, and cannot wait until they hit middle school and we can really tackle some great writing and literature analysis. I also enjoy history and social studies, and I find it easy to incorporate these things into our everyday life. So I’ve learned to play up my strengths and find creative alternatives to teach the things that I’m not good at or that simply don’t excite me.
To sum it all up, homeschooling is a wonderful privilege, but it’s also an alternative lifestyle. I spend a lot of time curating the education we’re after, and that takes effort, intention, and creativity to make it a success. I didn’t start out knowing all this and we’ve made some big sacrifices and significant life changes to make it work. But when the long day finally comes to an end and another day of school is in the books, it’s these things that have been our guide and are preparing us for where we need to go tomorrow.