After 8 years of homeschooling, I’m giving up

by Elizabeth

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I give up. After eight years of homeschooling, I just can’t take it anymore.

Wait a minute, WHAT?!

No, I’m not giving up homeschooling.

But I AM switching to a different kind of schedule.

For years I avoided the way “expert” homeschoolers scheduled their school year, with six weeks on and one week off.

I was afraid that kind of rhythm would make the school year last forever and that I wouldn’t have a significant enough summer break to recharge.

Who wants to do school all the time?? And school all the time is exactly what that approach sounded like. I opted for the “traditional” school schedule instead.

Practically speaking, what that meant was that we plowed through our weeks and plowed through our months and plowed through our years, desperately trying to get to that elusive “perfect” summer.

(And also, it meant desperately trying to squeeze in as much school as possible before that very interrupting excursion known as the missionary furlough.)

But what I’ve discovered (took me long enough, huh?) was that going without adequate breaks is just not good for us, even if those breaks, when they come, are adequately long.

One simply cannot push hard for 12 weeks straight (or more) without a break and not lose some small part of their mind.

I had avoided the six-weeks-on-one-week-off approach out of fear that I would feel like we were “doing school” all the time, yet ironically, what I felt in going the traditional route was that we were doing school all the time.

So even though I’d heard about the 6-on-1-off approach before my oldest was even in preschool, I rejected it out of hand.

And lived to suffer the consequences.

This year I hit a point when I realized enough was enough. I couldn’t take any more hustle. I couldn’t take any more hurry. I was done with the way we were doing things.

That’s part of the reason we’re extending our third term by half a year: to be able to get into a better rhythm and routine with school and ministry.

(And also, because I was tired of feeling like my toes and fingers were freezing off in that blasted Missouri winter.)

Next school year, we’re doing things differently. We’ll take a pretty short summer break and start our next school year soon after finishing this school year.

But then we’ll take much more regular breaks throughout the school year, before heading back to the States for a few months – this time without school work.

(Why did it take me two entire home assignments to figure out that meaningful school work is just NOT going to get done while dragging a family of six across the United States?? What can I say, I’m a slow learner.)

The upside of all this? Many Cambodian and international holidays fall easily into a 6-week rotation (we have a lot of holidays here), meshing our schedule better with both father and friends.

Another upside? Getting to skip half of hot season next year.

I only wish I had listened to the experts earlier.

Some people call this approach Sabbath schooling, as it mimics the Biblical pattern of six days of work followed by one day of rest.

Others call it year-round schooling, since it stretches the school year out longer (though it doesn’t quite reach the level of studying the entire year).

Whatever you call it, I’m claiming it as my own.  I’m giving up my entrenched public school ways and adopting newer, more sustainable ways.

And if you, like me, are worn out and exhausted, maybe you need to, too.

Home School Burnout Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary

by Elizabeth

Here are the links for the previous posts in my Home School Burnout series, in case you missed any of them:

Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

And now, on to my 4th and final installment! For me, recovering from home school burnout was about addressing spiritual and emotional issues, as well as practical issues. Here are some resources that helped:

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This spring I listened to a lecture from Susan Wise Bauer, my absolute favorite home school writer and speaker. It was called Burning Out: Why It Happens and What to Do About It.  Bauer went through two separate home school burnouts and shares the  lessons she learned. She’s probably the reason I didn’t feel guilty about my summer “mom fails.” Well worth the $5.

Another good one from Susan Wise Bauer is Homeschooling the Real Child, which I also listened to this spring. Again, you have to pay for it, but again, really valuable information.

The personally-convicting webinar I discussed in Part 3 isn’t available online anymore, but the author put her presentation slides up as a Google document. Might be useful to some, and feel free to ask me questions about specific slides. I can probably remember what the speaker was referring to.

If you related to the tension I felt in Part 2 between work/ministry inside the home and outside the home, you might appreciate this conversation between Rebekah Lyons and Jennie Allen. (I’m now obsessed with Jennie Allen, after discovering IF:Gathering and IF:Equip this year). We can trust God to call us back home, even when He’s called us outside the home, too.

For anyone new to homeschooling, I always recommend reading Susan Wise Bauer’s chaotic days with littles. Guaranteed to make you feel normal and non-failure-y. As Bauer’s children grew older, she stopped sharing details of daily life, a decision I really respect. I’m glad she shared the early years though:

A Day of First Grade and K-4 (with three boys under seven)

A Day with a First and Third grader and a Three-Year-Old

A Day with a Fourth and Second Grader, a Four-Year-Old and a Newborn

For anyone brand new to homeschooling, I always recommend Cathy Duffy’s 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum (an update of the original 100 Top Picks and subsequent 101 Top Picks). Don’t buy it just for the curriculum reviews; buy it because she walks you through the various homeschooling approaches and differing learning styles. She helps you identify your home education goals and then find an approach that matches your family’s learning styles. Really valuable resource.

For anyone who needs help with making schedules, the following posts helped me get started several years ago. I still have to make a new one each year as the workloads and number of students increase, and I have to make adjustments in the first couple weeks of school.

Routines, Schedules, and Hooks: Getting It All Done

The Schedule

Build a Better Schedule

Lastly, I’ve found that the main key to making the home school schedule work is monitoring my schedule. I have to keep tabs on my own time. I have to go to bed on time and get up early enough. I have to discipline myself to go straight from one kid’s lesson to another to another, etc., no breaks or wasting time. I have to stay off the computer till my scheduled writing time and close it when that time ends.

My schedule is working really well right now, but I have to be pretty strict about keeping it, or I don’t end up getting everything done that needs to get done. I still have to be careful about over-socializing, which uses me up until there’s nothing left for husband and children. In short, I can’t just make a schedule. I have to stay alert and stick to it.

Home School Burnout Part 1: Unrealistic Expectations

by Elizabeth

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I wanted to quit homeschooling this year. I had two separate crises in fact. I got to a place where I didn’t know what was wrong; I only knew something wasn’t working. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I couldn’t figure out how to fit the responsibilities of motherhood, homeschooling, and writing into my life. I kept thinking that one of those three things had to go. It obviously couldn’t be motherhood (duh!), so which of the other two was it going to be?

I got to the end of most school days and didn’t want any more kid-interaction. I just wanted to quit and go hide somewhere. I wasn’t playing games with my kids anymore, I wasn’t reading aloud to them, I wasn’t enjoying them. I felt guilty about my lack of interaction. I complained to my husband that homeschooling was stealing my motherhood. This wasn’t what all the home school speakers and writers promised would happen if I chose to home school. Everything was supposed to be peaches and cream! Rainbows and butterflies! Pony rides in May sunshine!

A friend (and fellow home school mom) said I sounded like I was in burnout. My husband kept asking me if I wanted to put the kids in school. I kept hesitating. We were finally able to sit down to talk about homeschooling in January. I’m the kind of person who feels overwhelmed and doesn’t even know where to begin problem-solving. I need someone to talk it out with me and guide me through it.

So we talked. We talked about what homeschooling gives our family. Things like:

  1. We can take our vacations and home assignments whenever, and sick days are easy to make up.
  2. We have long leisurely family breakfasts where we sit and talk together.
  3. We don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to have said family breakfast.
  4. As long as the environment is quiet and peaceful, I do actually enjoy teaching, especially subjects like math and science.

We also talked about what made homeschooling so stressful for me. I had to think for a while to come up with answers that didn’t include the word “everything”:

  1. I was extremely far behind on read-alouds, and it was majorly stressing me out. Our Sonlight curriculum chooses historical fiction novels that correspond to our history lessons, and Mom is supposed to read them aloud during the school day. I was really uptight about these read-alouds. I feared my children would not receive a thorough education if they did not hear me read all this historical fiction to them. But I couldn’t find consistent time to read the books. The daily readings were rather long. That meant I would get really behind if I missed even one day, and by that time I had missed a lot of days. I felt perpetually behind and would not allow myself to read something for fun if I hadn’t finished the “assigned” book. This meant we never read anything for fun. The Sonlight read alouds are supposed to be fun, but to me they still felt like school, and I wasn’t having any fun. On top of that, I missed reading to my kids. When they were younger and had less schoolwork to do, I was able to read to them for hours each day. All the Sonlight books, plus extras from the library. With the loss of read-alouds, I felt like my bonding time with my kids had been snatched away.
  2. I worried over what I would do if I ever had trouble teaching a particular subject to a particular child.
  3. There was also the fact that four children in one house can get rather loud rather quickly. Chaos due to age gaps is what home school moms have to deal with if they happen to have more than one child. How to keep your young ones quietly entertained while older ones work? That is the age-old question for home school moms, and its answer had been eluding me.
  4. Additionally, I had been freaking out for years about how to teach four different levels at the same time. Even when I was only teaching 2 levels, I worried about adding the 3rd and 4th. I dragged this fear around with me each year. I carried it through each day I didn’t quite finish everything I intended to finish. I was so afraid of what the future would hold. (Worry is a common theme with me, have you noticed?)

At this point my husband noted something important: Sending the kids to school wouldn’t cure all my parenting woes. School wasn’t some magic elixir. I might not have the burden of teaching them, true, but I’d have to get up early each morning to get them ready to leave. I’d have to pack lunches each day and check homework and organize transportation to and from school. We wouldn’t have our peaceful, unrushed mornings, and I knew I would miss that family time. Sending my kids to school, just like schooling them at home, was going to have both pros and cons.

So we talked about targeted solutions for specific problems. Most of these solutions came in the form of permission. Permission not to read the assigned historical fiction. Permission to read what I want to read to them. Permission to get tutors or outside help if I ever felt the need.

Permission. Was it really that simple?? All I know is that releasing some of those expectations lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Astonishing how such a simple statement (“I don’t have to read the Sonlight read-alouds”) could so unburden me. Oh I knew in theory that you can’t do every Sonlight assignment. The company says that. Experienced Sonlight moms say that. But I had never internalized it. I had never applied it to my own classroom. Now I had the chance.

Next on the to-do list was searching for a good time to actually read together. As I mentioned, even though I wanted to read, I was having difficulty finding the space in our days. When I stopped pressuring myself to read Sonlight’s books, when the read-aloud timeline was lifted, I found I could squeeze reading into our day.

I started reading aloud during lunchtime. Now, I eat quickly and read while everyone else eats. When we finish eating, I clean up, and we move to the living room where we keep reading. With this approach I’m able to read about 45 minutes each day, and we all love reading together again.

I didn’t find a solution for my fears about teaching four levels at once. I just sort of put the worry off until tomorrow. But hey, that’s Biblical, right? “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Relinquishing the expectation to read every single Sonlight read aloud was enough for now. I could deal with the other stuff later.

Part 2: “Mom Fail”

Part 3: The Mean Mommy

Part 4: Resources for the New & the Weary