by Briana Elizabeth
There’s always chaos in the beginning. The universe, Genesis says, was formed out of chaos. It’s no different with homeschooling. So, if you’ve decided to homeschool, I congratulate you on your life changing decision. It is still a brave and wild thing to do, and, because I want you to succeed, I’m going to lay some tough love on you.
First, I will tell you that I was the most disorganized person ever, and if you had told someone twenty-two years ago that I would have seven children and be organized, they would have split their face in half from laughing so hard. I was also the least patient, and cared not one whit about making a home, let alone homeschooling. So, I’m going to begin with some bold truths as I’ve learned some hard lessons, and I want to save you that pain.
Homeschooling will exacerbate your family’s problems. It’s like a magnifying glass, and you need to expect this, so that you know it’s not the just the decision to homeschool that’s made you all feel the pressure of close quarters. You need to know this upfront and really look at your family life and parenting style truthfully. If you are a yeller, there will be even more yelling. If your house is disorganized, you will become even more disorganized. If you lack habits of timeliness, then you will fall behind and be late even more. If dinner time comes and every day you are staring into the fridge, wondering what you will feed the family, that will now happen with every meal, because now you will have them all home for every meal.
The good news is that the good habits and virtues will also be brought to the forefront, but since you have all of that under control, I’m just going to give you the pointers I wished I was given those many years ago.
The first rule of homeschooling in our house is “Begin with the End in Mind.” Now, that can mean planning, as you start with what you want your child to achieve by their 12th grade year and work yourself backwards with a schedule, or it can simply be a way to make sure that you have controlled what you can control during the day so that your day ends in peace, thus promoting household harmony and good feelings about homeschooling. You are going to have to do this school thing day after day, year after year (perhaps), and when you start going to bed hating the fact that you have to get up the next morning and teach your children again it will be impossible to maintain any sort of peace.
Look, God took chaos and ordered the universe. We are not God, and our universes are much smaller, but we can order our homes, especially with His help. If I, the most disorganized (yes, ask my mother) yeller can learn to keep a home that is reasonably clean and ordered with some ‘pretty’ thrown in for good measure; if I can learn to bridle my tongue, I know that God works miracles and can do the same for you. But, a warning, things may look worse before they get better.
So what can you do to manage the daily chaos that will happen when your family is together most hours of the day, most days of the year?
Like all famous generals, you need to have a plan.
Homeschool is about order and wonder. Without order, there can be no wonder. That is not my idea, it’s a very old idea, but it’s a very good one so I’m bringing it out and dusting it off.
The biggest piece of wisdom to share with you about the ordering of your homeschool is that teaching is a full-time job. Meaning, you can’t stop your teaching to go dust the living room. You will then pick up a basket of laundry and end up on the second floor, putting it all away, and then you will find another thing that has to be done and there will be no schooling done the rest of the day. So, rule # 1 is that during school time, no chores get done. Obviously, if you have one child in kindergarten, your hours of schooling will not be like mine, which run from about eight-thirty in the morning until about four in the afternoon with a lunch break. So, if you adopt that rule, you can automatically see how everything needs to shift to accommodate the time you are schooling.
Beginning with the end in mind, you need to get the house under control so that you are just maintaining order once school is done for the day. If your kids are old enough to help and aren’t helping, this is the time for them to learn how. Their future mates will thank you for these habits!
If you have children that are old enough to fold laundry, then by all means, show them how. Fifteen minutes of folding before school starts in the morning is a lot of work done. If another is old enough to learn how to use the washer, again, by all means, show him how. They are not incapable, and you underestimate their ability if you don’t give them the privilege of helping the family in such a fruitful way.
Now is also the time to teach them how to load and unload the dishwasher. In our house, the dishwasher is run three times a day and that job cannot go to me all the time or no teaching would get done.
It is a grace and a blessing to teach your children to serve each other this way. Charity begins in the home. The bonus is that when they leave your house for college, they will know how to do their own laundry. Call it home economics and give them credit for it, even.
Now is also the time to wrangle the household schedule. I’m not talking about who has karate or soccer or piano, I’m talking about how you order your day. Don’t worry, I didn’t have a schedule, either, when I started, but this is easy to accomplish.
I start out the night before by making sure my coffee maker is ready in the morning, so that all I have to do is hit the button and go back to bed while it brews. If you have a timer on yours, bonus! Really, the day just is nicer when you aren’t waking up to have to clean the coffee pot, and work around a huge sink full of dishes.
When I get up to get some coffee, I stop at the washer and throw in a load. My reward for this first task is coffee.
As I sit and drink my coffee, I look over my planner and see what’s to be done that day. I also check my menu and before I even make breakfast for everyone, I make sure I have everything I need for dinner. Did you get a little scared there? Don’t, this is the easiest part, but the part that matters the most in the ordering of your day.
My second golden rule of homeschooling is to make sure you know what is for dinner by 10:00 a.m. The application of that rule has saved me from more catastrophes than I would want to list. How do I do that on a daily basis? I make a weekly menu with the weekly sales flyer in hand, and I shop by my menu. That way everything I need is in the house, because another “time suck” is running to the store to get last minute items. That happens occasionally, we’re human after all, but I cut the chances of that happening with a menu.
So, drink coffee, look over the day, and start dinner. That sounds crazy, but think of this: If you were leaving the house at 8:00 a.m., and would be walking back in the house at 6:00 p.m., what would be the first question from everyone in the house when you got home? “What’s for dinner?” And you’d learn quickly that you had to have a plan for dinner for when you got home. This is the same. The kids are going to wake up, the day is going to start, school will be rolling, and before you know it, school will be over and you will be tired. The kids will want to go off and play, and you will not want to haul yourself to the store or think about what you are going to make. This way, you finish school, you roll right into dinner, and everything is under control. Chaos is kept at bay. Then dishes get done, people relax, and you’re ending your day on a peaceful note, which makes your getting up and doing it all over not such a grueling task.
Which brings us to my third rule of homeschooling: You must read their books. You can skate by a year or two when they’re young, but the snowball effect will start and by the time they hit high school and if you haven’t read one book on their list (begin with the end in mind) you will hardly be able to catch up with them. How do you have a conversation about a book if the book hasn’t been read by both parties? Yes, there are all kinds of shortcuts around this, curricula made so you don’t have to read them, but you didn’t get into homeschooling to shortcut, did you? Look, this is the education of your children, and these books that they will be reading will shape them. They can fill out questions and write paragraphs or papers about them, but the real learning is when two people discuss the book. Not only will the book become a treasure to them, but sharing it will build your relationship. And that is priceless. Add to that when the siblings read the same books and say, “Oh, wait until ninth grade and you read The Once and Future King!” That stuff is magic. The conversations that happen after a few children have read the stories, and the anticipation of joining the familial club of those who have read the story. Truly, it is the magic of family and life and of people who love each other. So, at the least, stay a full year ahead of them so it gives you time to ponder the books and the ideas contained within. When you connect ideas and authors, you don’t leave their education to happenstance and formulas. They will get the best they possibly can from you if you do this one thing alone. That’s not to say it will all fall to pieces if they have to fill out questions on some books because there was a family crisis, but don’t let that become the norm.
My final rule is to find friends and carve out some time for yourself and your mate. Take up a hobby. Make sure you take time to reconnect with your spouse. Homeschooling is a lot of sacrifice, and the payoff is far off. Your marriage and your self cannot be left to rot as martyrs to homeschooling. Education is about instilling a liturgy of life and a culture of learning that will hopefully be passed down through generations of your family. This is heady stuff. You can’t give what you don’t have, so the cultivation of your own life cannot be left as an afterthought. You also can’t place the weight of decompression from this on your mate. I mean, yes, by all means, they are a parent also, but you don’t want your spouses arrival home to nothing but a litany of offenses of the day and complaining. And you will complain because homeschooling is hard. Parental discipline and decisions are a shared responsibility, but your spouse who also has worked hard all day and dealt with disappointments doesn’t deserve to be the sole bearer of your venting just because they are also parents. This is where friendships with other homeschooling parents are so valuable. It may take time to find them, and now a days we sometimes find these friendships online, but don’t stop seeking them out. And the friendships online can be just as, or even more valuable. You need them, and they need you.
You can do this, really. There are tons of us out there doing this now, in all walks of life. If I can, you can. I remember when I was going to take the test for my driver’s license, and I was terrified, my mother said to me, “There are terrible drivers out there. If they can get their license, so can you.” Truly, if I can do this, so can you, so take heart, adjust the sails, and start forth on this incredible, life changing, utterly fulfilling journey.
Briana Elizabeth is a wife, mother to seven children ages 23 to 7, and caretaker of one Amazon parrot, two dogs, and two cats. When she’s not planning lessons or feeding people, she paints, knits, and writes. You can follow her blog at www.justamousehouse.blogspot.com