I’m working on a list of all the resources we use to homeschool each year, but I realized there was a big something I didn’t talk about yesterday: burnout. As a second generation homeschooler, I’ve seen a ton of moms nose dive a couple years into homeschooling. They try so hard to do everything perfectly, then when kids are sassy and math books aren’t completed, they blame themselves for not being good enough. They feel like total failures when they stick their kids in school, and many even enter the workforce because they feel that the only way to justify staying home with school-age kids is to be homeschooling them, and if you’re not, you need to “earn your keep.” And of course I know a lot of stay-at-home moms who are trying to be SuperMom and are just burning out of being home.
Not all of us struggle with burnout to the same degree. I love being home with my kids, even when they’re crazy, my husband is totally and completely supportive of my desire to be a homemaker, and I taught in a classroom before having kids, so homeschooling comes naturally to me. Of course I have my Jonah Days like everyone else, but instead of fantasizing about putting the kids in school and heading back to work (which doesn’t sound appealing to me even when the five year old has spilled milk all over the living room rug), I just let them trash the house and curl up with a 19th century novel for a day or two until we regain our equanimity. BUT…I think I’ve also been able to steer clear of some big pitfalls that usually lead to burnout.
First of all, we don’t try to replicate a classroom here at home. I have the confidence to do this because of being a second generation homeschooler, but a lot of my friends struggle with thinking it’s okay to “only” spend an hour of one-on-one formal school time with their 1st grader and let her play and read the rest of the day. Believe me, speaking as a former classroom teacher, even five minutes of one-on-one time per subject is more than your kid would be getting in the classroom unless he is way behind. Your time with your child (or even a few kids) is so much more efficient than their public schooled friends are getting. You don’t have to spend seven hours a day “doing school” to give your child an excellent education. I’ve mentioned before that I’m really opposed to sitting kids at desks for hours a day, and while it is of course a good idea to teach your children to sit still for a developmentally appropriate amount of time, this can be accomplished at the sidelines of their sister’s ballet class, in the living room during family worship time before bed, in church (our fidgety 9 year old son has been sitting through the entire 90 minute worship service with us for years), on field trips, etc. School skills like learning to wait in line can be learned at the grocery store checkout or outside the bathrooms at a baseball game. Personal responsibility can be taught by requiring your child to keep their room clean, fold their own laundry, bring their own water bottles in the car on park days, and bring their sports equipment to practice.
Secondly, we are really selective about our out-of-the house activities. Susan Wise Bauer (my homeschooling hero) has a really good little video talking about co-ops and why she doesn’t recommend them very often. I wholeheartedly agree about this. Almost all of my local homeschool friends participate in Classical Conversations, the hottest fad in homeschool circles today, but I see them spending so much of their precious time and energy preparing for tutoring areas outside of their expertise (just in order to afford their kids’ tuition) and giving up a whole school day each week to expose their kids to subject matter that I easily cover with mine at home during the course of our normal school day. I can’t tell you how many friends have been fried by co-ops over the years, and CC (or similar co-ops) would not be a wise choice for my family. On the other hand, I’ve found a local Community Bible Study branch that has a thriving homeschool contingent, tons of supportive, like-minded women, excellent teaching, and the accountability I need to be in the Word regularly. That day out of the school week is totally worth it for us. We tried some extracurricular PE and Science classes a few years back that were pretty much a waste of time for our kids, so now we just address those needs through sports (swimming, soccer, or ballet) and field trips with other like-minded families. Plenty of home days are necessary for our little homeschool of two extroverts (my oldest daughter and me) and three introverts (the other kids) to maintain our equilibrium.
Third, I try to make my expectations realistic. I have to remind myself that the school year is not going to go exactly how I’d planned, that we might not get to the last five lessons in the math book, that someone is suddenly going to decide he hates French after loving it for three years, that we’ll hit a month-long slump in the spring, and that by the end of the school year, we will all just be counting down the days until we can take a break from it all. Having been a classroom teacher, I can attest that all these things happen to kids in public and private schools, too, and teachers look forward to summer just as much as homeschool moms. This year I am trying to be proactive about that by planning to finish some of our formal subjects early and planning lots of fun activities (and field trips and documentaries) for April and May. One of my main goals in homeschooling is to teach my children to love learning. My mom totally succeeded in this with me, and while I’m sure there were plenty of days when I was crying as she made me finish a math test or whining because she required me to write something in cursive, what I remember from my childhood were the books we read aloud and discussed together, her letting me spend a whole year delving into my passion of Native Americans and pioneers (probably sparked by reading the Little House books), and the way learning and discussing what we’re reading is just a part of my family life, even today. Because I’m a type-A perfectionist, I do have planners that I’m currently filling with lessons plans for each of my kids, but I also try to remember that education is a life thing, not a check-the-boxes thing. (But stay tuned tomorrow for the boxes we check.)
One last thing that I learned from my mom and tell all my struggling friends is that this is a lifestyle that needs to be taken year by year and kid by kid. We’ll make mistakes, and we’ll wish we’d made them on plastic kids, not flesh-and-blood ones, but over 13 years of formal education, it will likely be okay, especially if we’re persevering with the hard work of parenting (regardless of where our kids are sitting at 9 am on a Monday morning). My brothers and I did a combination of Christian school, public school, and homeschooling, depending on what my parents thought each of us needed each year. It takes so much of the pressure off of me to know from experience that there is no one perfect way to raise kids. There may be times, due to family stress, health issues, pregnancy, or whatever, that we won’t be able to do our ideal schooling plan. As I look ahead to fostering and adoption, I realize that I may be outsourcing a lot more than I’d like in the next year or two, and while that’s a bummer, there will be positive aspects that I can’t imagine right now with our relatively quiet life of four biological children. Even Susan Wise Bauer talks about how for some kids, a classroom setting may be better at some point (I believe she was speaking of one of her teenage sons), in case you needed a homeschool guru to give you permission to reconsider your plans. I tell young moms that if your school situation isn’t working for your family or your particular child, it’s not admitting failure to try something else.
If you’re a homeschooling veteran, what have been the best ways you’ve combated burnout? If you’re considering homeschooling, what seems most daunting to you?