When you are homeschooling, especially early on, life can often be overwhelming, and the advice you may receive is often equally so. Bearing both of these things in mind, I would like to offer five small tips that I have found make homeschooling easier. Please, take from this what you find useful, and leave the rest behind! No one has all the answers, and each of us has our own challenges to face; if even one thing here is helpful to you, that’s a win for us both.
1. Plan your meals, all your meals.
This is something I wish I had done many, many years ago, for though I’ve only been at it for about six months it has hugely improved our family’s diet and budget. Nowadays, I sit down on a Friday night or a Saturday morning and decide what we are going to eat for each meal for the next week. In the interest of frugality, I have switched our breakfasts from cold cereal and toast/bagels to hot cereal or eggs every day. I plan which of the five or six options for hot cereal we will have, taking into consideration what we will be eating later on each day. Thus, if we have cream of rice for breakfast, I’m not going to serve black beans and rice for supper, etc. From there, I go on to plan the rest of the week’s meals, giving thought to what we had last week, what is on sale at the grocery store, and whether each day will be busy or relaxed.
A couple of websites I have found very useful are www.budgetbytes.com, which has a fabulous selection of different types of meals on a very reasonable budget, and www.soscuisine.com, a Canadian meal-planning site, which has both free and paid subscriptions and an interesting variety of recipes; it is also often less meat-heavy than many American options I’ve seen.
2. Have assigned chores, for you and for your kids.
As a homeschool parent, often you’ll have the lion’s share of household tasks. However, you can significantly lighten your burden without overloading your children by giving each assigned tasks to complete daily. The reason to assign them is that old saw about how Anybody could have done the job, and Everybody thought Somebody would do the job, but in fact, Nobody did it. If five-year-old Charles knows it’s his job to feed the dog and set the table, and nine-year-old Helen knows it’s hers to unload the dishwasher, and so on, then all those necessary things are done, and done with minimal argument, because everyone knows that there’re plenty of jobs to go around. Mom (or Dad) is then freer to focus on the larger-scale aspects of running the home and the homeschool, using timely reminders, rather than having to newly assign every task to someone as the day goes on.
3. Work for finite periods, both daily and in the longer term.
Homeschooling is a tough gig: though the rewards are great, the pay is miserable and the hours are often long. One way to help counteract these long hours is to decide to only work on school for limited periods of time. To begin with, decide on a time when you’ll be finished for the day, even if you’ve not accomplished everything you wanted to do.
At my house, we school from 8:30 to about 3:30, with an hour for lunch in there somewhere. If you have only young children then your day will be shorter, and if older the day can often be longer, but whatever your cut off time is, stick to it. Older kids can work on schoolwork as homework later, after supper for instance, but you and they both need a break.
In the grander scheme, it has been very beneficial to our homeschool to have finite schooling periods after which we have a small vacation. In some years, we have divided our year into quarters, with ending points at Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, and summer. More recently, we have shifted to a six weeks on, one week off schedule. For us this has been a wonderful change, as it allows us the freedom of more frequent breaks without getting behind.
These are just two of the myriad scheduling options you can choose from, but whatever you choose, make sure you schedule in breaks–you and your children will be thankful.
4. Say NO to outside activities.
It is often tempting as a homeschooler to try to take advantage of every educational opportunity that presents itself to your attention. Resist this temptation. While a couple of outside-the-house activities are very enriching, maybe even necessary, to the homeschool, undertake too many and you’re dooming yourself to failure. You will find that you’re doing fine for a while, a month or two maybe, but as time wears on, you’ll soon start to dread every trip, consumed with worry that you’re falling behind, with the feeling that you’re failing your kids’ education, and generally succumbing to serious stress. Don’t do it. Thoughtfully consider where your and your children’s time is best spent, and spend it there–not in the car.
5. Take time for yourself.
I know, I know, this is trite, and everyone says it ALL.THE.TIME. But you know why? Because it is pure and simple TRUTH. You must take some amount of time away. This can be very simple and functional, as a weekly grocery-and-necessities shopping trip. It can be a monthly book club, craft evening, or Bible study. It may be a daily exercise regimen, or a once a year trip to a homeschooling conference. Maybe you go have hot chocolate by yourself at Barnes and Noble for an hour twice a month. But whatever your preference for spending time with yourself (and other adults), do it. It is not a luxury, it isn’t selfish; it is necessary to have the small breaks that give you the oomph to return to your day job.
Caitilin Fiona is a homeschooling mother of six children, ranging from sixteen year old twins down to a five year old. Her particular interests in the homeschool universe include teaching Latin, Shakespeare, and Great Books. Outside of homeschooling, her interests include language and languages, theology, cookery and nutrition, movies, and fooling around, er, researching on the Internet.