We’ve just finished up our homeschool year. Friday was our last day, and while we’ll still keep up with reading and math during the summer, we’re done with a structured day, lesson plans and fitting everything into one day while still trying to make it to a park day, field trip or run errands.
One of the draws of homeschooling is the idea that we can set our own schedule and that our hours will be shorter than public school hours. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves following a stricter schedule and with longer hours than we want – especially in the beginning, when we’re still finding our feet. We want to change that, but we aren’t sure how. After all, we have to teach our kids everything they need to know, right? And there’s so much! So many subjects, so many topics within each subject! And how much time do you really need to spend going over something every day? Do you ever need to go over everything every day? It’s overwhelming, and the more you think about it, the more overwhelming it feels.
Maybe, like us, you’ve just finished your year. Or maybe you’ve just withdrawn your kids from public school and plan to start homeschooling in August, or you’ve just made the decision, but are finishing the school year before you take the next steps. Or maybe you school year round and you’re taking one of your short breaks right now. Whatever point you’re at, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to change that, I’ve got a few things you can try.
- Combine subjects. Many times, the biggest source of our stress is trying to do too many subjects. We try to do math, science, social studies, geography, history, art, music, PE, language arts and spelling all in one day. Try combining things. Consider that spelling can be a subset of language arts. Geography falls under social studies. If you read a book about a historic period (for example, a Sherlock Holmes mystery or the Little House series), that could cover both history and language arts for the day. Take out a map and look up London or the various places that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, and you’ve covered geography, too. Are you baking cookies today? Doubling a dinner recipe? Have the kids do the math on what 1/2 cup + 1/2 cup is, or how much sugar you’d need if you wanted to make a triple batch of cookies, and now math is done – with a sweet treat or a delicious dinner as a reward for a job well done. PE doesn’t need to be a defined, rigidly structured activity. A ride around the neighborhood on bikes as a family, a game of touch football in the backyard or simply a good game of hide-and-seek or Marco Polo in the pool can all count as PE. Since you’d be going outside to play anyway, you cover PE and don’t need to make your school day any longer.
- Consider loop scheduling, block scheduling, etc. You don’t necessarily need to cover every subject every day. Think back to middle and high school. For most of us, we didn’t go to every class every day – we went to these classes on Monday, Wednesday and those classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and maybe on Friday, we actually went to all of our classes, but for a much shorter duration. You can do the same thing at home with loop or block scheduling. Block scheduling is exactly what it sounds like, and similar to those schedules we had: you plan certain subjects for specific days, and other subjects for other days, and you plan them for longer periods. It allows you to go more in-depth, spend more time on a subject, and still have a reasonable length school day. Loop scheduling is a little different, but with the same basic idea: you decide your core subjects that you must teach each and every day without fail; say, math, spelling, reading, and science. Then you have the other subjects that you want to teach or feel you have to teach but aren’t as much a priority: art, music, social studies, history, life skills, whatever else you want. These subjects go in the loop, and after you finish your core subjects, if you have time left in the day, you start with the first subject. In this case, art. You do art until either your day is done or your art is done. If you finish art before you finish your day, you move on to music. When the day is over, and the next day rolls around, you do your core subjects, then start where you left off with loop subjects, so if you finished music yesterday, you start with social studies. When you finish all the subjects in the loop, you move back to the top of the list, and repeat. Loop scheduling allows you to decide on an end time for your day and work on things within the framework of the length of day you want to have, rather than your day’s length being determined by how long it takes you to finish everything.
- Get rid of “filler.” In public school (if your kids went), you probably noticed that your kid would come home with the same kind of math worksheets for a week, or the same language arts homework for two weeks. That can easily make us think that the key to learning something is continued exposure, focusing on something for days or weeks at a time. But think about this: how much class time did they ever actually spend covering those things? Not much. Between lining up for lunch, art, music, PE, bathroom breaks, etc., as well as finding pencils, passing out papers, calling roll, and so on, they didn’t spend much time at all on any one subject. And every kid is at a different level, so covering the same thing for a long period ensures that they all get it. But at home, you’re focused on your one (or two or three) kid(s), you can spend more quality time on a subject, and you can move on when you think your kid has mastered it. Really look hard at the work your child is doing, and ask yourself if it’s really necessary, or if it’s just filler. Is it filling time so you can get other things done? Is it filling the workbook that came with your curriculum so you feel like you have to do it? Is it filling the notebook you created at the beginning of the year so you feel like it’s a waste of ink and all your time researching and hunting it down if you don’t use it? If the answer to any of those is yes, then stop doing it! Move on and keep making progress. (Especially if it’s just to fill time so you can get other things done – move on and your day will be done sooner, thus giving you time to do those other things.)
- Ask for help. If you’re struggling, it’s okay to ask for help. Whether that help comes in the form of giving you a break, teaching a subject you’re unsure of, a loan to cover the expense of a co-op class or textbook, or even just a shoulder to cry on, don’t hesitate to ask those closest to you. It might seem like homeschooling is a “go it alone” kind of thing sometimes, but the truth is, you need the support of others. You need friends and family who can listen, advise, babysit, teach, suggest, or just be there. What if your friends and family aren’t very supportive of your decision to homeschool? Join a local homeschool group, join an online group, find homeschooling blogs, look for discussion forums and email lists that you can join and talk to likeminded people who’ve been where you are (or still are where you are) and can sympathize as well as help – even if it is only through emoticons and memes.
- Ease up on your expectations. There is so much that we need to cover between the time we start homeschooling and the time our children become adults (and are done with school, whether we want them to be or not) that sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves and them. If they’re behind, it can be even worse. Outwardly, we may not put pressure on ourselves or them, but inside, we may be panicking because they ought to be at this level and instead, they’re on that one. Or we plan out our entire school year, and when lessons take longer than we planned for, we begin to freak out because we’re “falling behind.” Planning ahead is great, and naturally you want to keep moving forward, but when you feel that bubbling sense of panic, ask yourself if you’re not expecting too much from yourself or your kids. Remember that they don’t have to learn everything in one day, one week, one month, or even one school year. You’ve got years ahead of you for teaching and learning, and it will all balance out in the end. Match your expectations to the child’s actual abilities – just because he would have “mastered” multiplication and division by the end of this school year in public school doesn’t mean he needs to at home – and also remember that just because the public school would say he mastered it doesn’t mean they define mastery the same way you do. Maybe for you, knowing his abilities, being able to do it in his head 80% of the time is good enough, when public school would demand 90% or 100%. Don’t push for that extra 10-20% just because the public school would, if it’s stressing you and/or your child out.
Take a break, if you need it. Forcing yourself to keep going when you know it’s not working will only make things worse. This is the perfect time of year to take such a break. Enjoy the summer, have some fun, relax and get your mind completely off of school. No planning, no work, no lessons, just fun and relaxation. Do a complete reset and come back in a month or two and look at your homeschool with fresh eyes. After a nice, long break, you may be able to more clearly see the things that are causing your stress and figure out how to change them. It will also give you more time, if you really feel you need to be doing something, to do some research: read blogs, grab some library books, watch videos and listen to podcasts about homeschooling methods, tips and tricks to make things easier, and research curriculum choices.
Regardless of what you choose to do, always ask yourself this question: Will this really make things easier for me, or is it just something else to add to my schedule? Planners, schedules, charts, and curricula are all helpful, but only if you actually use them, and only if they actually work in your life. Be sure that the one you’re planning to use is truly going to work for you – simple enough to use every day, detailed enough to do what you need it to do, and not going to break the bank, plus whatever other criteria you may have.