When Life Broadsides Your Homeschool
You had a wonderful plan this fall for a well-rounded education, envisioning academic excellence and character development in your smiling, well-adjusted offspring. But then…It happened (pick one):
- Your husband got transferred and you have now moved cross country, separated from your family or community support system.
- Your husband has been deployed and you pray for his safety while holding down the fort alone.
- The morning sickness has lasted five months, and shows no sign of slowing.
- The house burned down and the rental you finally found, sparsely furnished with blessings from the community, has been “home” for longer than you’d expected.
- The test came back malignant.
- You are now the sole caregiver for an elderly relative.
- The builders have been saying, “Just two more weeks…” for two years.
- Or ____(fill in the crisis)__________
Even the “good” stress of joyful events, such as that one tiny bleep on the ultrasound that turned out to be three, or the upcoming wedding or family reunion, can blindside us. Ah, the best-laid plans….
A homeschool mom who found herself in the midst of great upheaval, with one trauma after another in a short period, recently wrote: “We got a good start with school, ever so many months ago, but it has been almost three months since we have been able to study regularly. I feel so far behind that I am completely overwhelmed as to how to go from here. Do I just start at the beginning of all the texts again? Do I review and try to ‘catch up’ to where we are supposed to be? I don’t know. I am completely overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the task facing me.”
My friend Vanessa, who has struggled valiantly to homeschool the past two years while her husband has been going through cancer surgery and treatments, shares this insightful bit of wisdom: “When life broadsides you, the most important – and difficult – thing to do is re-establish ‘normal.’ ‘Normal’ provides a framework for healing.”
So, how do you find ‘normal’ again?
Start with a routine. When you feel so incredibly overwhelmed, just start with the basics of normal. What is getting dropped that just can’t? Meals? Bedtimes? Basic housekeeping? Re-visit your routine – I don’t mean the sort of schedule that has you checking the to-do list every eight minutes, or dinging a bell to move from lunch to naptime. I mean covering at least the basics and having some regularity to your day.
Knowing what comes next, without having to make one more decision, can be a relief. Children find security in routine, and we moms can find emotional freedom in having a basic structure for the day or week. For example: “I’ll make a great effort to have breakfast by 7:30 and then lunch ready at 1:00 and supper at 6:30, and everyone has to be in their rooms by 9:00 p.m., whether they are in bed or quietly reading or something else safe (depending on ages).”
It helped us to have a morning start-up time of, say, 8:45 to meet in the living room for 15 minutes of family devotions. I would drop all else at 8:45 and call the kids in and put on a praise/worship song (CD) and we’d just close our eyes and sing one or two songs. Then we’d have a quickie devotional or Bible/character lesson for about 8-10 minutes (from a book and the Bible – no major planning or thinking required), then pray together, either one of us or anyone who cared to (or some days, I’d have everyone pray aloud).
This gave me a consistent, prayerful, focused start to my school day, got everyone in one room, and gave us a launching point. That doesn’t mean we didn’t occasionally crash and burn later, but at least we started right!
Make a short list of what has to be done. During times of major stress, such as miscarriages, family deaths, job losses and relocations, unexpected diagnoses, and more, the house stayed up pretty well because we used a practical but simple chore system which has worked well through fifty kids, the changes of foster kids, moves, job losses, and more. At a minimum, make a list of the basic housekeeping or cleanliness standards that you consider non-negotiable. For example, my crisis list might look like this:
- Do dishes.
- Make the beds. (Critical for me! But simplify bed-making with easy linens.)
- Wash clothes (Hint: We don’t need fifteen outfits per person).
- Tidy bathroom daily and clean it weekly.
- Sweep kitchen in the morning and clean up spills as needed.
- Vacuum once a week.
- Clean the fingerprints on the door glass and bathroom mirror (but the windows can wait).
- Feed the pets.
- Feed the family. Oh, my…that means meals!
Consistent meals were a major challenge for me when I was overwhelmed by life. I was much better about consistent, nutritious, on-time-ish meals when I’d made menus. If you are having trouble coming up with menus, remember that your family is probably more impressed with eating nourishing food at a regular time each day than with trying a vast array of new foods each week.
To get into the habit of regular, healthy dinner times, consider something as basic as a weekly rotation of the same basic meals. You can work up to scheduling certain categories of meals on the weekdays (for example: meatless meal on Monday, poultry meal on Tuesday, ground beef meal on Wednesday, poultry on Thursday, new recipe on Friday, etc.). Then, as you are more comfortable with menu planning, you could even plan a month at a time, if you have room to store the groceries for that many meals. (I found that when I planned/shopped for a month at a time, my cost per meal was significantly reduced.) Some moms find it helpful to make a family project of once-a-month cooking, to stock up on meals or pre-cooked components of meals.
What does all that have to do with your homeschooling?
I specified those homemaking items first – meals, routines and bedtimes (including yours!), and basic housekeeping – because if your house isn’t functioning, then “school” won’t either. If we feel that something has to give, it will be the homeschooling that gets the boot.
Make a plan, starting from where you are now. Sit down (with your spouse, preferably) and re-group. Where are you right now? Where do you want to be at the end of the year? Don’t look at grade level – look at what is reasonable to expect to accomplish between now and June. The tests will most likely be fine, regardless of where the children are in “The Books.”
And speaking of “The Books”: This may be a great time to prayerfully evaluate what you are utilizing to meet your academic goals. Are you attempting to re-create school at home, or are you creating an environment for a learning lifestyle? Maybe you are overwhelmed because you are expecting too much of yourself or your children; there are many ways to multi-level teach, saving wear and tear on your lesson planning, your schedule, your emotions, and your budget.
If you need help feeling accountable and staying on target, a planner or a notebook with calendar pages on which you can jot your plan can be helpful. The lesson plan book we used not only had lesson planning sheets, field trip logs, reading logs, and more, but it included a chart and guidelines to set a few goals for each child, so I could then focus my attention on materials or activities that would help us to achieve those goals.
Anything that isn’t helping you achieve your goals is extra and should be included only if it doesn’t impede your forward progress. In most cases, your children have been learning just through the natural processes of life. You may be very surprised at the cognitive progress they have made, even if you’re not where you want to be, academically. Children whose parents have had to slow down on the textbook studies because of family crises often do remarkably well on standardized achievement tests. Not only do they usually do acceptably on the tests, they have learned valuable lessons in how to live through crisis, how to serve one another under stress, and how to trust in God for each moment. I am not recommending that you never expect excellence and diligence in formal studies; I am saying don’t let a temporary setback make you quit or panic – you can all learn and grow through it.
God is the Author of new beginnings
The following is a very big “if,” so please do not allow the enemy to condemn you. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but there can be conviction to make new choices.
If you happen to be in your academic situation because of a shortcoming on your own part, remember that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. I was not always as diligent as I wished I were, or as patient, or as discerning, or …. But if they learned nothing else, I wanted my children to see a mother who was humble and repentant and teachable before the Lord and in front of her family. I needed to model a Christ-like attitude (I often failed miserably!). They needed to see a woman who could admit those failings, humble herself to ask forgiveness, and try her best to rely on God to honor her Lord and her family in the future. I needed to stay on my knees and in the Word. I prayed for my children, just as Jesus did for his disciples (John 17).
You can’t change what you have or haven’t already done the last year. Just start where you are, ask the Lord to make you a “joyful mother of children,” pray for grace and wisdom (and strength and patience), and move forward.