I remember the day we started homeschooling. My daughters were first and fourth grade, and besides my high hopes I had
- two sets of Sonlight boxed curriculum that a friend with older kids had loaned us
- a detailed schedule
- all the supplementary activities we would be doing
But R, my older daughter, was a world-weary 9-year-old with five years of private school experience under her tiny belt. She resisted my plans with the refrain “But my teacher said…”
Our Sonlight program happened to be History / Bible / Literature D+E, which is American History. R always questioned why she had to study American History, since we aren’t Americans.
One of the perks of homeschooling—the ability to set our own schedule and pace—actually worked against us because it turns out that we are a family of laid-back crammers. We enrolled under a local homeschool provider because we thought we needed the accreditation with our Department of Education of the Philippines. So when it came time to present the kids’ portfolios, we were stressed out and cramming like crazy.
In other words, our first year of homeschool was not the serene, Sonlight catalog-worthy picture I had in mind.
In fact, it took us about three years to get into the right groove. And we still keep tweaking our homeschool as we go along. Now going on our sixth year, I feel that we’re more relaxed and closer to my homeschool ideal. Also, I have somehow redeemed myself in my daughters’ eyes, and am now an acceptable source of knowledge.
I do wish though that I had known then what I know now. Here are three things I learned along the way.
1. Plans Don’t Always Go as…Planned
I was a box checker. So we followed the Instructor’s Guides faithfully. I also added other language arts workbooks, art history and art activities, a formal P.E. curriculum, music theory lessons, and life skills lessons.
You can guess what happened next.
By the third or fourth week, we were behind on the schedule I had so carefully laid out. The kids started dreading school, and sometimes I would catch R muttering that she “liked real school much better.”
B, my younger daughter, wasn’t as mutinous, but I could see that she was struggling to keep up with the frenetic pace Mommy set. Also the History / Bible / Literature B+C I was using with her was just too heavy for B at that time.
A couple of months in, I knew I had to rethink what I was doing. What did I really want for my kids and why did we decide to homeschool in the first place?
Although I wanted them to love learning, and I wanted them to learn how to learn, my regimented schedule and the heavy workload certainly wasn’t getting to those goals.
So, first we slowed down. We decided that R would cover History/Bible/Literature D+E over two years, and we halved the number of Readers, Read-alouds and discussions we did in a week. For B, we also decided to do the individual History / Bible / Literature B and History / Bible / Literature C instead of doing the condensed version, even if this meant that we would need to buy new IGs and the required books that we didn’t have.
And we simply had to drop a lot of the activities and supplements that I lined up. There was no way we could do everything I had planned unless we slept only three hours every day
Lesson learned: It’s good to plan. It gives me direction and helps me focus. But I also need to be flexible enough to let go of my beloved plans even if they took me two sleepless weekends to put in place. Also, I need to plan for unexpected disruptions.
2. Sometimes They Just Have to Eat
While I am not the most domestic of people, I do try to make sure that my kids eat yummy, healthy meals, with the recommended balance of veggies, fruits, protein, and carbs. But there are days that I simply cannot cook a decent meal.
These are usually the days that I have multiple deadlines looming, and I just have to tell the kids, “Girls, can you just fix yourselves some sandwiches or something for lunch? Mommy needs to finish stuff.” These are also the days that I let the girls read their books on their own, correct their activity sheets, score their math tests…And I feel so much mother guilt.
But on one such Bad Mother episode, I actually looked up from my computer and saw my girls gleefully preparing what they called their “treat lunch.” They actually looked forward to the times that they could have peanut butter sandwiches as a legitimate main meal.
That was a liberating lesson, that I don’t have to make fantastic meals each time. Sometimes, they just need to have some food in their tummies.
That goes for most things.
Perfection isn’t required. I don’t need to check off every item on my lesson plan.
The girls don’t need to finish every worksheet (or score perfectly each time). The house doesn’t need to be House Beautiful-ready; relatively tidy will do. My more-fastidious husband has also learned to live in slightly wrinkled, but clean, clothes.
By letting go of the need for perfection all the time, I save myself from mother guilt, and I have more energy for things that matter more. Like spending time with the girls watching movies or playing board games or settling down on the couch for an extra chapter from their Read-alouds.
3. You’re Unique, Just Like Everyone Else
Before we started homeschooling, I looked to other homeschool families for guidance. I followed dozens of mom and homeschool blogs, bookmarked countless pages, added homeschool-related quotations to my ever-growing OneNote Homeschool References folder.
In my imagination, I wanted to do everything that looked fun.
- We would do nature walks and narration.
- We would gather around the kitchen table doing photogenic Science experiments.
- And my children would always be smiling and eager.
This ideal picture in my head led to my overzealous planning. I wanted to do one field trip a week like Family X and make handicrafts like Family Y. If Family Z can stage their own Shakespearean plays, then so can we! I tried to incorporate all the books and suggested activities. And we kept yo-yoing between doing school like this, and after two weeks, doing school like that.
Experimentation is not bad, and flexibility and adaptability are good things. But what I was trying to do though, was be like all those Pinterest/Instagram moms. We all know that what can work splendidly for one family can crash and burn with another.
We had to find what worked for us.
For example, most moms love the Read-Aloud times. I used to, until we came to the really long chapters in the higher levels. Besides, the girls preferred to read the books themselves. So even if reading aloud was meant to go on until before high school, we stopped doing it by the time R was on History / Bible / Literature F and B on History / Bible / Literature D+E.
I’ve also discovered that what works well one year or one season may not work for the next. While I learned my lesson about over-scheduling and micromanaging, my children needed a more detailed routine when they were younger. Now that they’re older, they’re free to set their own schedules as long as they get the required school work done. We used to check for done-ness at the end of each day, but now they’ve graduated to a weekly check-in.
I found out that what works for my family will not always work for any other family. I need not be scared to make adjustments or feel that I have to stick with something obviously not working (we have switched math and language arts materials midway through the school year).
One caveat though: there is a fine line between tweaking our homeschool so that it works better for us, and constantly trying out new things just for the sake of it. The first will make things run more smoothly; the second will lead to endless chaos. Ask me how I know.
The bottom line? We just keep going back to the reason we homeschool. And even if things don’t work out the way we plan it, homeschool is still one of the best decisions we made for our family.