Ok, so when I was in middle school, I got to go see a production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying that was being performed in Dallas. I think that a lot of the humor went over my pre-teen head, but the lead role was being played by none other than the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio. I just felt super cool getting to be in the same room with such an iconic movie star.
But as we gear up to start another year of homeschool, I’m reminding myself of the lessons we’ve learned along the way and I noticed a theme throughout a lot of them. Most of the stress we encountered in our first years of homeschooling were just due to misguided efforts. We were simply trying too hard in all the wrong ways.
Here are 5 ways that you need to stop trying in order to improve your homeschooling experience…
Maybe this doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you truly do love EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. of curriculum you ordered this year. But maybe, just maybe – there’s something in there that just isn’t working for you. You know, that one book that makes you cringe a little every time you reach for it. Or the one that creates friction between you and your little learner each time it opens.
I’m giving you permission to hate it. I’m even giving you permission to shelve it for the rest of the year (or until you find a suitable alternative). I know that diving back in to the sea of choices can be overwhelming. I also know that sometimes you plunked down a nice chunk of change for that book you now despise. Fear not, you can resell it to someone who might not hate it. You can take a little time to explore your options.
Even if it means taking a small break from that subject, it’s worth the trouble you’ll save yourself in the long run. Pressing though a bad curriculum choice is just going to start planting or cultivating those “I hate school!” seeds in both you and your learner. I don’t know about you, but we try to maintain a more “Learning is awesome!!!” type of atmosphere. I’d much rather sacrifice a few weeks of (insert crazy-making subject here) than sacrifice an ounce of the positivity that I’ve worked hard to grow.
I’ll never forget our first week of first grade. I had so many grand plans and oh-so-much to learn. I set my alarm for 7:45 AM and hopped out of bed ready to prepare a nice filling breakfast for the kids, walk them through their morning chores, and have lessons started at 8:30 AM sharp! And for the first day, it was a success. But here’s the thing – I am not a morning person. I mean, REALLY not a morning person. As in, please don’t talk to me for at least 30 minutes after my first cup of coffee… Clearly, “first day of school” adrenaline saved us on Monday, but things quickly went downhill from there.
I was short-tempered, grouchy, and ready for lessons to be over as soon as we started. Soon, I abandoned the alarm clock and we adopted a much more “organic” schedule in the morning. None of my kids are naturally early risers and we’re all quite content to have a slow-moving morning that eases us into the day. So, we wake up when we wake up. Breakfast is ready when it’s ready. After morning chores, we sit down at the table for lessons. Sometimes it’s 9:30, sometimes it’s 11:00. We have routine and structure, but there was just no need for us to be tied to a clock.
After a leisurely wake up and a strong cup of coffee, I’m much more able to enjoy our learning time and I have the patience to walk through tricky concepts, instead of feeling like a giant ball of stress the whole time. It was a major improvement for us.
I have a friend who realized that her boys did much better with school if they took it in smaller chunks throughout their day, instead of one-after-another all at once. Each family has their own quirks and rhythm. Trial and error are great teachers in this arena.
When I started teaching my twins how to read, I had totally arbitrary ideas about what milestones they should be hitting at certain ages based on my knowledge of what 2 or 3 other children had been able to do at that age. Since I’m so awesome and my kids are so awesome, I just assumed that “anything you can do, we can do better.” Right? Oh, Sara… Sara, Sara, Sara… Somehow I actually thought that by sheer enthusiasm, there would be no challenge we couldn’t overcome in whatever timeline I thought sounded good.
I’m sorry… It’s hard to type while laughing this hard…
Y’all. Developmental milestones are a crucial part of the homeschooling journey – HOWEVER – the windows for normal development in the early education years are HUUUUUUUGGGGEEEE. Did that stop me from panicking when I saw my arbitrary deadlines flying by? Nope! This is one of those lessons that I could only learn in hindsight. Now that my oldest kids are reading independently, I’ve finally let go of the unnecessary pressure I had been putting on myself.
As my youngest starts her first official year of school with us this fall, she will reap the benefits of a relaxed mommy who can work with her at whatever pace she needs to be able to master the content in an enjoyable way.
So, while I’m not advising that you ignore all milestones, I gently suggest that you make sure you’re not putting undue stress on you and your kiddo for no real reason. And when you finally see them making developmental leaps in their own time, you will be overflowing with pride (while breathing a huge sigh of relief.) 😉
You may be your child’s only teacher but you are NOT their only resource. I spent far too long feeling like we were only “doing school” if I was right in the middle of it. If you are schooling a 5 year old, that may be appropriate. But I have often found that my children are just as successful (if not more!) when I get them started on something and then leave them be. If I’m feeling productive, I’ll go wash the dishes or fold some laundry. If I’m feeling stressed, I’ll browse Pinterest. The bottom line is – they can learn without you. Repeat after me: They – can – learn – without – you.
Here’s a perfect example. Last year, I was really struggling with finding a successful approach to helping one child progress with her reading. It was becoming one of those tedious, stressful parts of our day and I knew we needed a change. I found a brilliant app that incorporated all of the elements that we were struggling to fit into our time together and did so in a way that she was excited to use it. We switched from working on reading one on one 5 days a week, to having just one session together each week while she worked with the app independently everyday.
Her fluency skyrocketed. My stress level dropped. Everyone wins.
Another example is the way we started listening to audio books via Librivox.com. While our family read alouds had been one of my favorite parts of the day previously, this past year I have struggled with chronic illness and my symptoms were making it hard to complete the amount of reading we were used to. I grudgingly started to play audio books on the days when I felt really crummy but it didn’t take long before I realized how well my kids were responding to them. They were absorbing the content well and willing to listen to far more than I could read out loud in one sitting. By incorporating audio books, we have far surpassed our reading goal for the year and discovered that we have some serious auditory learners on our hands.
Just because you can do something on your own, doesn’t mean you have to. There are so many resources out there – take advantage of them!
I’m going to be honest here. I didn’t take any of the photos in this post. I’m a photographer by trade and totally could have, but I didn’t. They’re stock photos. I say this because we are constantly bombarded by snippets of people’s lives online and I want you to remember that nothing is ever exactly as it seems. My sink is full of dishes and if you showed up to use my bathroom, I’d be embarrassed right now.
Stop trying to make every day and every activity “pinterest worthy”. It doesn’t matter how good something looks on Instagram if your kids remember it as the time that Mommy was really stressed. I love to document our schooling journey from time to time but I’ve learned to make a real effort not to let that get it the way of the journey itself. If I find myself snapping at someone because I’m too focused on that perfect shot, I put the camera away.
The most common source of stress is unmet expectations. If homeschooling is stressing you out, take a step back and see if any of that stress is coming from feeling like you haven’t met the expectations of others. In the end, just remember that it’s going to be your children’s opinion of your homeschooling that matters most.
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