If you are still here after the last post on considering homeschooling (here), I am glad to hear it. I hope you were able to spend some time pondering your motivations and praying over this decision. It can start to feel overwhelming, I know. It is a big deal to take this on, and yet, truly God is with you as you do. And there is great reward that does come in due time. I reaped some of those rewards today — as my boys played well together and sacrificed for one another and we were able to talk through conflicts. These are fruits of living together round-the-clock and having deep relationships with one another as a result of the lifestyle we have chosen as a family that home educates.
So, as you know I had my list of 10 concerns you may have about homeschooling (I know, you may have 100, but I can only blog so much, you know). In the first post I covered the questions of having a rough first year and the process of choosing curriculum and supports. In this post I will discuss the question of juggling the needs of multiple children and I will tackle the issue of perfectionism and how being a perfectionist impacts home education.
#3 Do you just juggle from child to child all the time?
Well, yes and no. We all have multiple demands in our lives (even moms with one child — never say “only” one child — have to juggle trying to get other things done like housework, errands, commitments, etc). I have to point out here, though, that this juggling act of motherhood is not a problem unique to home education. I have a friend who has four children. This year her children span ages of seven to 15 years old. So, two are in elementary, one in Jr. High and one in High School. They all have one extracurricular activity which requires practice and game/performance days. Now, on a given day, she is never home on the couch eating bon-bons. She has four different drop-off and pick up times. Even the elementary school has two varied pick-up times (1/2 hour apart from one another) and two drop-off times. She also volunteers in their classrooms in the elementary school at least two days a week. It means she spends about 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day in the morning and again in the afternoon just getting her children to and from school. Then she has the afterschool schedule. And there is homework. And it isn’t the homework she thinks is best for each of them — it is the homework given by someone else regardless of whether it meets her child where they need to learn. And, top it off, now it is all Common Core aligned (don’t get me started). If I ever saw a juggler it is this friend!
So, yes, we do all juggle. And, I think one problem I faced as a new homeschool mom (and for several years after we started) was this idea that somehow the juggling would go away or diminish (or something!). But it remains to this day. I have boys spread out in age. There is a seven-year gap between them. They are not learning together so to speak (though somehow my youngest just keeps learning what we are talking about even though I am not “trying” to teach him yet). We will always have multiple demands — and the more children or commitments you have, the more demands are upon you. So, rather than feeling drawn and quartered all the time, there are some things you can do.
- You can prioritize. You just will have to drop some things in order to educate your children at home. The good thing is you are dropping something right off the bat if you were in public school — you won’t have transportation and you won’t have homework. Whew. Take a breath! But, you will have many things on your plate and you will need to think about the needs of each child and in your own way figure how those needs can best get met in a given week or day. I have tried different things and what I do right now is kind-of a rhythm of “filling the tank” of my younger son, then giving him something to do independently (setting out a toy or an activity) and then sitting with my older child for a bit and then we do something all together. We just go through that younger/older/together rhythm throughout our morning so that I can spread myself out and no one gets neglected. [You may want to check out my posts on living by Rhythm instead of Schedule here.]
- You can pick as many overlapping subjects as possible. History and Science and Read-Alouds are great areas to overlap. For example, you can study the same time period as a whole family and the same subject in Science (such as Anatomy or Astronomy). This will minimize you having to teach, say, the Ancient History of Egypt alongside teaching about the Civil War. You then give your children “age-appropriate” assignments according to their capacity to learn in that subject. There are companies like Sonlight that put out materials in this way — you can check them out and see what they recommend and even get much of it through your local library. We start our day with a time at the table reading the Bible, singing the hymn we are learning and doing some Scripture memory all together. After that the boys do some morning chores and then we go into a time where my older son studies alone and I spend time with my youngest. Then I can do something with my eldest while my younger child works independently. Juggling? Yep. But, we do make it work and we are finished with this rhythm by 12:00 or 12:30 (in 6th grade) and we have lunch a quiet time in our rooms and then free time all afternoon. So, it doesn’t take up the whole day (unless my son dawdles and has to carry things over into his afternoon as a result). Most days we are free when other families are just starting their juggling act.
- You can train your children to do independent work bit by bit. My eldest is able to do a lot on his own now, but that wasn’t always the case. We practice “return narration” which is a fancy way for saying that he comes to me after he has read something and tells me all he got out of the reading. At his age I also have him write his narration several times a week. Even when I read to him he return narrates what he heard as well. This training into a habit called “attention” has helped him be able to read and retain what he reads, so that he can work independently and just come back to me with what he did. That frees me up to mop a kitchen (oh, yeah, that!), or push my preschooler on a swing, or get work done for my part-time job. Yep, I have one of those too.
4. What if I am too perfectionistic?
Well, now. I resembled that remark. I have to say I almost wonder if God didn’t get me into homeschooling for this reason alone. I mean, He had to break me of this need to get it all perfect and to have everything and everyone around me nipped and tucked. Homeschool was a tool in His wise and loving hands to unravel that tightly woven issue in my heart. Truly, I was so exacting of myself and my poor son — and again, homeschooling didn’t bring this out, it just brought it to a head. God is so sweet to work out our deepest needs in the most unexpected ways. Over the years I have just had to learn to let go; to let loose; to let myself and my son off the hook. It has been so good. And so hard. But so good. So, if you are a perfectionist, welcome. You can set up color-coded white boards in your homemade, Pinterest inspired schoolroom and just have at it. And that may work for you and I hope (really) that it does if it is good for you and your children. But, more often than not, something has to give. We live real over here and the truth is that when we moved from having to school in one spot and check off all the boxes and I started looking at bigger picture stuff — like do my boys love Jesus and am I cultivating a love of learning in them? I got more and more convinced that making sure they did all the exercises in our spelling book was not the #1 issue in our home. I am not a slacker, I’ll have to say, but I needed to learn to slack a bit and it has been a blessing to each member of our family as I have. Now, if you are Type-B and you just can. not. relate. I am sure that there are blogs out there for you about how you do need to get out of bed and actually have a plan sometimes, etc. But, I am not one to be able to help you much. I thought I would drive my kids nuts with my exacting expectations and my need to have them do it all right and perfectly. And, for a time, I did. But, as I said, God in His mercy had a plan to break me of that and replace it with something so much more loving and effective. So much of that nervous perfectionism comes from insecurity and fear. The more we get comfortable in our own skin and in what we are doing as home educators, the less we worry about comparing and competing and the more we hit the mark with our kids. And when we meet the greater goals (love of God, a sense of confidence, a love of learning) we meet the lesser goals as well (my child will be well educated and able to attend college, or whatever).
So, know that homeschooling will require some juggling and it will be a stretching experience for you. But, know that there is much good in being stretched and we only get to juggle for these dear children for such a short season. If you are called to this, you will find your rhythm and you will learn to give yourself and others much grace.