The boxes of books are arriving! Lesson plans are being recorded in crisp new planners! A new school year is just around the corner! How exciting! This will be the year, thanks to a sparkly new curriculum, we master chemistry. In addition, we radically modified our schedule in ways guaranteed to maximize learning and prevent sass mouth.
The new school year is always full of hope and anticipation. Whatever happened the year before doesn’t matter because moving forward, anything is possible! Typically, the weather is still warm and bright and September usually approaches like an old familiar friend rather than a dreaded adversary.
But not February. By February, or even sooner, you start seeing a fresh round of posts pops up about ‘Homeschool Mom Burnout’. We don’t like to think about burnout in September; we like to pretend it’s not going to happen due to some change we’ve made. “Oh, we’re following Charlotte Mason this year so I’m pretty sure the laid back style and nature studies will prevent me from gouging my eyes out in January, even though I detest nature. It’s Charlotte Mason!”
However, now is the time to plan to prevent burnout. NOW, as we’re writing out English assignments for Day 95 and thinking how wonderful this program is, is when we should take steps to prevent breakdowns in the not so distant future. And don’t tell me I’m raining on your parade. Nothing I’m suggesting is revolutionary, except in the fact that doing it now, rather than late January will hopefully prevent a breakdown rather than stress you out more when you’re already over-extended.
1. Plan time for yourself every day and every month. Carve out time for yourself every day or at the very least, every week. Attend daily Mass alone occasionally, get up a bit earlier to exercise or pray and drink your coffee in peace. If you have young children, you can be at the mercy of their schedule so make sure Dad knows to allow you some time in the evenings or weekends. Set a date, like the third Wednesday of every month, as your night to go out. Hang with friends, go to a movie, visit the hair salon, something that will give you an opportunity to just have fun. Put it on the calendar now, and protect those dates viciously. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.
2. Plan breaks in your year now, including mid-winter breaks and activities. Was last year’s Christmas break too short? Change your schedule now and allow a few more days. Did everyone want to kill each other by Thanksgiving? Try adding a break in late October. Are you always ready to ship them off to school March 1st? Take a week or more off in February. Make plans and reservations now for a winter vacation. Maybe you always take a trip in May. Depending on your spouse’s vacation time and your family’s budget, maybe try taking a trip in March to break up the year and give everyone something to look forward to during the long, cold days of winter. Start saving now, or tell extended family you’d like a membership to a local museum for Christmas so you can have somewhere to go when you’re tired of being stuck inside. Put those field trips in your plans now so you don’t worry about making up work later.
3. Resolve to immediately ditch curriculum that doesn’t work. “But Kelly, I just spend $150 on a complete writing course that all my friends rave about!” Sorry, but if it’s leading to tears every day, toss is aside, at least for the time being. You can always try picking it up again at a later time. Forcing your child, and yourself, to keep trudging along with a program that is not working is a sure-fire way to quickly bring on burn out. Kids don’t have to love everything you’re asking them to do, but if they won’t do something repeatedly, it very well might be because they can’t. There’s so many programs out there, I’ve never had a difficult time finding a program in each subject that works for each child.
4. Resolve to start planning for Christmas sooner. I know, I just mentioned Christmas in August. But seriously, many families do not leave enough time around Christmas and jump into classes too soon after the holidays. Or they school right up to the last-minute and are scrambling to properly prepare for the season. I have found that our family enjoys Christmas much more when I start planning early and we give ourselves plenty of time to enjoy our family’s holiday traditions and visit with loved ones. If you’re coming out of Christmas feeling frazzled, that doesn’t bode well for a joyful school experience in January.
5. Don’t over commit your kids to activities. Getting out of the house is great, except when the craziness of extra curriculars leaves everyone eating fast food for a week and too spent to get up in the morning and tackle school work. Think back over the last year. What activities do the kids genuinely enjoy and have a talent for, and which are they taking just to be with friends or out of habit? Cut back. Just because we have the flexibility to join everything, doesn’t mean we should. Ask your kids which are their favorite activities. You might be surprised to learn they don’t like the rigorous fall soccer schedule either.
6. Arrange for help sooner , i.e. cleaning, baby sitting, online classes. Don’t wait until you’re stressed to the max and the house is a disaster to consider help. Make sure your older children are helping around the house too. Start designating chores now as opposed to say, yelling at them in February to “clean your damn room!” and then bursting into tears. Start bringing a housekeeper or mother’s helper in now so you have time to find someone who fits into your family dynamic. Don’t rule it out as too expensive until you actually look up the cost. Is there a subject you despise teaching? Find a tutor, co-op or online course now so you don’t toss Latin in December for the third year in a row. You can’t do it all. Let go of that idea, and bring in some help from the get go.
7. Surround yourself with a positive support network. A local group is preferable, but an online community can work well too. When the going gets tough, there are plenty of other women right there with you. Lean on one another. Pray for one another and schedule some of those monthly outings together. Help each other remember why you homeschool. Plan to attend a homeschool conference or listen to a speaker online to give yourself a pep talk or boost occasionally. Who can listen to Laura Berquist and not come away feeling like they can tackle it all???
8. Remember the big picture. If you have a bad day, or week or even month, remember that doesn’t mean your children are ruined for life. Kids in school don’t learn everything; they have gaps in their education as much as the school system wants us to believe otherwise. Don’t hold your family to unrealistic standards. Start your year by remembering all the blessings homeschooling has given your family, write them down and keep it handy to read it on all those rough days. Add to it through out the year too so on the days when your child seems to have forgotten EVERYTHING you’ll be reminded that this was the year he or she actually mastered the nine times tables or discovered a love for the Little House books.
Homeschooling isn’t just about books or lesson plans. With a little extra planning, prayer, and maybe some boxed wine, we will not only survive this year of school, but thrive! What are you doing to start your school year off on the right foot?