Starting the School Year With a Bang or a Fizzle

back to school

Summer’s almost over and many are about to begin (or have already begun) yet another school year.  Parents and students are excited to begin using new curriculum with the optimistic plan that this year will go more smoothly than ever before.  Unfortunately, for more than a few, within just a few days frustrations, caused by one or more of the following situations, may arise:

  1. Your student’s attention span is maxed out at five minutes.
  2. The curriculum that looked to be so user friendly is actually requiring much more preparation time than ever imagined.
  3. You realize you purchased far more curriculum than you could ever cover.
  4. The curriculum that looked perfect turns out to be not-so-wonderful.
  5. Teaching children of multiple ages is not as easy as veteran parents promised.
  6. Life happens.  Whether it’s illness, job transition, moving, extended family needs, or something else, disruption seems to be the norm.
  7. Laundry and dishes are piling up.  Meal planning is exhausting.
  8. Outside activities begin to rule the day, leaving little time for school or rest.
  9. Comparing your life with the lives of others who, via Facebook or by observing in person, appear to have it all together only adds to your feelings of inadequacy.

Calgon, take me away! (If you are not familiar with these vintage commercials, take a look. Go ahead.  This one is very short.  You will appreciate it!)

What’s a mom to do? The temptation is to throw up your hands, give up, and muddle through each day the best you can, knowing that you can endure yet another not-so-perfect year of homeschooling.  Do not give into that temptation.  With a few changes, homeschooling can be a blessing to both you and your children.

The first thing to do is to prioritize.  What is the most important objective to accomplish? Make a list of what you want to see completed by the end of the year.  Be realistic.  If your children are unkind and disobedient, then it may be more important to prioritize character training over academics (although it does not have to be an “either/or”).  If your house is in total disarray than perhaps getting the house in order can become the priority and you can train your children to be proficient housekeepers!  If your children have very short attention spans, then be pro-active in training them to lengthen their attention spans.  If your children have short attention spans, then you may want to do what my friend, Debbie (mother of 11), did with her children.  She created a sit time chart that she used with her children to increase the time they could be still. This was a huge help in getting them ready to sit while they waited for her to get her hair done, or at an appointment or the drivers license place – even sometimes when she checked out at the grocery store. There was a bench across from her favorite line at Publix and she would ask them to go sit on it while she paid. They would sit still with their hands folded. They thought it was fun and were just doing what they had done at home all those years. She started with 1 minute sitting sessions and the chart went up in increments of 1 minute – up to 15. If they can sit still 15 minutes, then they can do it for much longer if there is ever a need. Debbie shares, “Attentiveness is the first thing a child needs to be taught – even before first-time obedience, etc.  If one is not paying attention, how do they know what they are being asked to do?”

If the curriculum you purchased is not working then tweak it, set it aside or sell it. Curriculum is a tool we use and not something that should enslave us to a miserable life-style!  And, if there are illnesses, moves, or accidents, adjusting to change is a great lesson in-and-of itself!  Your children will learn a lot by watching how you react to the disruptions of life.  It is okay to stop what you are doing in order to minister to the needs of others. That is a far more important lesson than any lesson a book will ever provide.

Homeschooling can be a joy-filled experience.  If that is not the case in your situation, then make the changes that need to be made in order to restore joy and relieve stress.  If, on the other hand, your year has begun with a bang then, by all means, keep it up!

Mary Hood, the Relaxed Homeschooler, says that for younger children should work on values, attitudes and habits. For older children you should work on skills, knowledge, and talents and interests. Great advice. When your littles have great attitudes, habits, and values, it makes life much more pleasant!

If you need a little more inspiration, take a look at what they have done in Finland to improve their education system or watch this Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson on How Schools have Killed Creativity.

Two recommended books for encouragement: Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins and Teaching from Rest by Sarah McKenzie.

Here are a few quotes and links to keep around as reminders:

How about making a sign that says “School.” Place the sign over the backdoor. You know, the door leading outside. –  Chris Davis

There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent. – Mahatma Gandhi

[Homeschooling]…recipe for genius: More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons. – Raymond S. Moore, School Can Wait

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. – Roger Lewin

Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent. – Plato

Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and out of mind. – Charlotte Mason

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men. – James Beattie

What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all. – John Holt

Unless education promotes character making, unless it helps men to be more moral, more just to their fellows, more law abiding, more discriminatingly patriotic and public spirited, it is not worth the trouble taken to furnish it. – William Howard Taft

Here’s to hoping you have a fantastic homeschooling year!





Finishing the Year Well (or maybe not)

allen-taylor-Im94u5EJsVo-unsplashBy this time of the year many homeschooling moms are looking forward to the end of the semester, ready for a summer break.  We want to stay motivated and remain upbeat, encouraging our students to complete their semester projects/co-ops/classes well.  With summer soon approaching your children are ready for the break and, more-than-likely, so are you.   The following suggestion might rain on your parade and I apologize beforehand.  Academia, education, and parent instruction are not entitled to a summer break.  There, I said it, but please allow me to explain.

Deuteronomy 11:19 instructs us to teach our children 24/7.  If you and your children are looking forward to a break from academia then let me suggest that your philosophy of education may need to be tweaked just a little bit.  Before you quit reading, allow me to propose that a change in your philosophy of education that might actually relieve stress and add joy to your family’s homeschooling adventure.  After homeschooling my nine for more than 32 years total, I am now finished!  In the beginning of my journey I thought of myself as a homeschool parent from September until May.  I, too, loved our summer breaks.  When I was challenged to come up with a philosophy of education I was hit with a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious).  Homeschooling was simply an extension to what we were already doing with our children from birth to age 5, but the necessity of putting in writing a plan with specific goals brought an awareness of the need to change my attitude about having a school year, a start date,  an end date, and a summer break!  In the end I was set free from these time constraints and, as a result, found that this new frame of mind actually brought about a new freedom to enjoy time with my children year-around as we took advantage of learning opportunities on a daily basis.

My husband and I were committed to raising our children to:

  • Have a love of learning
  • Be independent learners
  • Be articulate apologists
  • Discover their gifts and talents in order to plan for life after high school


Of course we created a plan that would, hopefully, ensure success, but being hit in the face with the realization that parenting is a year-around, 24/7 responsibility I decided to quit compartmentalizing our education goals into a limited time frame.  The day this BFO hit I told my children, “We are no longer ‘doing’ school.  We are doing life.”  We were homeschooling co-op style, using unit studies and, because of that method, my children were already familiar with the integration of subjects into the big picture.  With the exception of math we did not really separate and compartmentalize most academic subjects. Embracing a philosophy of education that includes the recognition of day-in and day-out academic opportunities was both appealing and welcoming.  That particular evening we visited my parents and my dad asked, “What did you do in school today?” One of my children replied, “We don’t do school any more.”  The look on his face clearly showed his shock and displeasure.  I quickly shared with him what the child meant by that statement — that instead of thinking that an education starts and ends at a certain time of the day, or year, we were now going to look at every day, all year long, as an opportunity for learning.  After all, isn’t that true for all of us from birth to death?  My dad was a professor at FSU so this response brought a smile to his face.

How did this realization change our lives?  The biggest change was simply a change in mentality.  We continued to take part in co-ops in the fall and in the spring, but instead of being stressed that we were covering everything that needed to be covered academically during those periods we continued to take advantage, daily, of learning opportunities.  This philosophy of education also meant that we did not have to worry about how many days of the year our children were “in class” because every day included the opportunity to learn something new.  Summers, as with most families, brought changes in the schedule, but continued to provide learning opportunities.

When I was in school from K to 12, I developed a “chew up and spit out” technique of learning.  I did well on tests, but I did not develop a love for learning.  In fact, I found school to be so boring that I could not wait to be finished!  Once I began homeschooling my children I quickly developed a love of learning and soon regretted how many years of opportunity to learn I missed out on growing up!  Hearing students say they can not wait to close their last book and never open another book is so disheartening.  These students are missing out on so much by thinking that learning ends at the completion of a degree.

By now you may be asking, “How does one switch from a school mentality to a ‘life is learning’ mentality?”  Thanks for asking!  Realizing the importance of embracing this philosophy is the first step.  Taking steps to ensure that you and your family have a mindset change is next.  This will come about through discussions and by example.  You teach a toddler to count as he goes up and down the stairs.  As you shop with your children, teach them to be aware of prices, to shop frugally, and explain that math will be a part of their lives until they die.  Throughout the day pose questions to your children that will cause them to be curious and then teach them how to find answers to the questions you ask and, eventually, to the questions they will ask!  Let your children know that learning is both fun and fulfilling and model that with your enthusiasm for reading, attending classes, and teaching!  As a family read biographies of famous people who were life-long learners and make a point of discovering what made them famous.  Oftentimes, people achieve success because they are tenacious, persistent, hard working, and open to new ways of thinking.  Sign your children up for conferences, camps, and workshops that will encourage them to have a desire to keep learning, even after they graduate.  When our children attended Summit Worldview Conferences repeatedly heard the phrase, “Readers are leaders.”  My husband and I, along with our children, have enjoyed attending political, worldview, entrepreneurial, theological, and speech and debate conferences over the years.  We love learning and our children know that.

Learning is a life-long adventure.  The sooner we get this message across to our children, the better it will be!  Rather than looking at the end of the semester as an end to the school year, encourage your children to love learning every single day of their lives!