In the beginning…
…of my homeschool journey that is, I didn’t know what I was doing. Anyone else been there? Full-discloser…I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I know a bit more now than I did six years ago.
At first, since I didn’t know what I was doing, I just did what I knew. I did school. I bought cute little desks and lots of charts to put up on the wall. I bought all the adorable little teacher supply stuff. It was so fun. Then about two weeks in I realized…I didn’t need any of it and I had wasted all of my education budget on colorful posters and accessories. Ugh!!!
I had also spent a pretty penny on a box of very demanding curriculum that had dozens of pages of written work that had to be done each day. In an attempt to be faithful to the demand of that curriculum, I dutifully created this very detailed (like, to the minute) schedule. I had recess and lunch time scheduled. We would start with phonics, then Math and then writing and so on. My schedule was so organized in a cute binder… I was basically the Leslie Knope of homeschooling - or so I thought.
The only problem was…the 1-year-old would demand her snacks and diaper changes in the middle of our math lesson…and the dog refused to puke on the couch during a time convenient for me, like recess…and the phone would ring…and the dryer would buzz…and the neighbor would come to the door, and, and, and,…and the schedule went flying out the window in pieces. As a result, we would get behind on our paperwork that day, and then had double to do the next day, which also wouldn’t get done and then by the end of the week I was curled up in the corner in tears because we were so far behind, the kids hated homeschooling, and I basically figured I was a failure as a teacher, a mom, and possibly also as a human being…deeeeeeep breath…
So, I decided I had to come up with a better plan, because a home does not, and should not, function like a traditional school. Why not? (Get ready for a major epiphany!) Home is not school!! Did I just blow your mind? Probably not. But when I came to this realization, it was a very wonderful aha! moment for me.
Home is a place where everyone feels comfortable being themselves, so it’s hard to remember manners, it’s easy to get distracted with household chores, and there are all kinds of other people (and mammals, reptiles, fish, etc.) hanging around needing attention.
It can be very tempting to try to compartmentalize home and school, because traditionally these two environments have had their own compartment. However, when you homeschool, these two environments have to share a space (and become a compound word) so it can take some time for them to learn how to get along with each other.
I found peace when I stopped trying to separate them so much. When home interrupts school, or vice versa, I do my best to roll with it. Flexibility is what I’m really talking about here, and that can be very hard to learn. It can feel like failing when lessons keep getting interrupted, especially when a child is trying to learn hard concepts. We can do our best to keep the interruptions minimal, but the truth we all know is that you cannot eliminate them completely.
Here are some simple things you can do to try to minimize interruptions or at least to control your own personal freak-out when interruptions are endless.
Have a routine, but not necessarily a schedule.
It can help to have an order of how the day goes (for instance we start everyday with our binder work and breakfast. Then after that we do read-aloud, scripture memory, and so on). There is no set time to start or finish (though I aim for a 9:30 start time to our day, but that varies and I’m ok with that), we just work on each task until it is done or until I sense that everyone has reached their limit and productive work is no longer being accomplished. That means it’s time to move on to something else. Sometimes that means we leave pages unfinished and come back to them the next day and guess what? Not only is that a-okay, it also keeps my kids from getting overly discouraged. You may ask “but won’t you get behind?” First, I would ask, behind what? It’s not a race, it’s an education and there is no finish line. Not really. I’m still pursuing education. It’s a life-long pursuit, so it’s ok to slow down and enjoy the process. Second, we finished this year 3 weeks earlier than I had intended, so…apparently slow consistency trumps speed? I think it was the tortoise that taught us that lesson.
2. Have children use earbuds and listen to quiet/classical music while they work.
My most easily distracted kid suddenly gets laser-focused when she’s listening to her iPod. She is suddenly able to do an entire page of math problems like it’s nothing. Trial and error is the way we figure out this homeschool thing, so try it and see if it works. If you can trust your kid to do his work in his room, that’s fine, too! We do our work wherever it is quiet and comfortable which leads to the next point…
3. Go outside.
I’m a huge fan of doing school outside. Outside there are things to distract, but usually they are the natural things like birds and leaves rustling in the wind. After a few minutes everyone seems to settle in and their moods always seem to lift as well. Fussy toddlers are preoccupied, and dogs can do whatever they need to with no threat to your couch. Our hearts and minds tend to relax a bit when we are outdoors and then everyone has a much better attitude about getting work done.
4. Break up with your curriculum.
I understand that if you just spent all your money on curriculum you don’t want to ditch it. I did not ditch my first curriculum I bought because I’d spent that semester’s budget on it. If you can return it, great. If not, then forget the schedule that came with the curriculum and just divide the pages the way you want. You are the boss of the school work. Tell the curriculum how things are going to be done. It is your servant, not the other way around. If that means you do half the lesson that day, great! No one can tell you what pace you need to set. It is up to you to decide what works for your family and what you all can handle in a day. If your curriculum cannot tolerate any distractions (meaning, one little distraction completely sets you behind and snowballs into you curled up in the corner crying again) then ditch it. Break up with your curriculum. Just use the pages the way you want in order to teach the concept or find a curriculum that fits better with your family’s rhythm of life. If you can’t get it done, that’s not your fault, that’s the curriculum publisher’s fault for creating something that is so incompatible with real home life. Find the curriculum that leaves time for toddlers who put toys in toilets or piles of dishes that need to be washed. Click here to read about what curriculum I use and why.
5. Embrace the distraction.
Just embrace it and go with it. Put the books away and try again tomorrow. Go for a nature walk instead, or invite the kids into the distraction by saying “Hey! We are all going to learn how to change diapers now” or “fold laundry” or “clean up dog puke” or whatever the interruption is.
The beauty of homeschooling is every moment of everyday is an opportunity to learn. Your kids are not at the mercy of schedules, curriculum or fill in the blank work, but rather are free to learn all kinds of real life things that they will need to know as adults! That is so important! School is happening all the time for your kids as you unclog toilets, balance the checkbook, go to the bank, the grocery store, as they listen to how you have conversations with other adults and handle real life situations. They wouldn’t get that level of education in a traditional classroom where everything is so controlled and no one is allowed to deviate from the schedule. Problem solving happens naturally at home, because that is how it is in real life.
Train your brain to see interruptions as a leg up in real life for your kids. Remember that you are not teaching to a test, or a workbook, you are teaching to children - who are real people, not objects to be measured and evaluated - for the purpose of producing well-educated adults who can function with competence in real life. Yes, part of the goal is for them to learn things like reading, writing and math, but it is also learn character, time management, wisdom with money, and so much more!
Once they have mastered a concept, don’t stress about filling in every single blank and checking off every little box. Celebrate it and move on! Or if they are struggling, slow down and give them a chance to figure it out. You will feel much less frustrated (notice I did not say you will feel no frustration-lol) and your kids will be less stressed out.
Most importantly, do not beat yourself up at the end of the day over what did not get done. IT WILL BE OK! Everyone needs some grace and that includes you! Be kind to yourself and remember that tomorrow is another day.