I'm laughing as I type this because my title makes me feel like I'm cooking a roast. But the truth of the matter is, that one of the top pieces of advice I NEVER received as I prepared to homeschool my boys, is now my most GO-TO piece of advice to give to parents who inquire about how to begin homeschooling their kiddos.
This post marks the 2nd article in a series that I am gearing to NEW homeschool families. In this series I'm addressing the questions I often asked myself before we began this journey, consequently it's many questions I also get repeatedly asked by others. As much as I struggled thru those early days of homeschooling, I hope I can shine a light and maybe help someone else's journey be just a little bit easier. As much as I call this series Homeschooling Countdown: How-to Make it Successful not Stressful, I could just as easily have titled it:
COUNTDOWN TO YOUR FIRST YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING
My goal with this series is to make a few posts geared for the NEWBIES out there. If you are a seasoned homeschool PRO then perhaps this is advice you no longer need. But MAYBE there will be things in here you think, "wow,...I wish I had known that when I started down this road." Whichever school of thought you fall into...welcome. Welcome to the wild, exhausting, and awesome road of homeschooling!
In my 1st post in the series entitled "Define Your Why" I emphasize that, "One of the first questions you should ask yourself is WHY DO I WANT TO HOMESCHOOL?" I talk at length about the importance of preparing YOURSELF to homeschool and I even give some practical tips on HOW TO DEFINE a 1 minute elevator pitch answer to that most common question. However, if we stopped there we would be doing you NO good service, dear hopeful homeschooler. To define your own Why, noble as it is, is still very much in the ethereal of preparing for homeschooling. What I want to focus THIS post on is the tangible. Lets really take a moment to TRIM THE FAT from your daily life to make room for homeschooling in your life.
Homeschooling, in truth, can take as much or as little time out of your day as you wish for it to. Some parents subscribe to methodologies that mandate extensive lesson planning and multiple hours covering every subject every day. Other parents take a more lax approach, allowing the child's natural rhythm and curiosity to guide their days and all variations in between. No matter which method you decide to use, and they each have their merits, they will require a shift in your day-to-day home life. And again I say, we are talking TANGIBLE here, folks. This isn't the "mentally prepare yourself" pep-talk. That's later. This is the, "sit down and make a list of your normal daily routine" real-talk. So grab a pen and paper and let's roll up our sleeves.
No seriously....get a pen and paper.... I'll wait.
One of the crucial rookie mistakes I made when we began homeschooling our then 5 yr old and twin 4 yr old boys (one kinder and twin pre-k....it got DODGY ya'll!) was that I tried to do EVERYTHING I was already doing, AND THEN ADD IN homeschooling and tot-schooling. I just had this image in my head that homeschooling was a natural extension of parenting and thus I'd just NATURALLY flow our day together and be able to accomplish it all with style and flair. Pardon me while I VOMIT!
In so many ways this really is an extension of the parent/child relationship but homeschooling takes energy! And I'm not talking about the mental energy though there is plenty of that involved too. Lesson planning takes time. Field trips require planning, and money. Extra Curricular activities demand scheduling. Getting your kid focused on their tasks, oftne requires YOU to be solely focused, on them! Doing it with more than one kid -- pfft. Good luck keeping your household running. Take a deep breathe and repeat after me:
YOU CANNOT MULTI-TASK HOMESCHOOLING!
Will you one day get there, sure. Will there be a time in the future when you can beautifully set your child to a task and they'll work independently while you toss in a load of laundry or prep a lunch, YOU BETCHA! But is that day gonna be day 1, week 1, of the 1st year. NOPE!
I say this with love because I care. And because I don't have a "sugar-coating" button. I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED so believe me when I tell you that you must, Must, MUST take a hard look at your daily life BEFORE you begin. Make a REALISTIC list of your responsibilities day to day, and then RED INK that bad-boy until it looks like a crime scene! It's really not as hard as it seems. It's really just a few simple steps and I'll be right here with you. You can do it! Let's dive in shall we:
4 Areas to Evaluate:
Household Chores - This is pretty self-explanatory but don't limit yourself to the minimum of laundry and dishes. You do more than that. Who cleans the bathrooms and vacuums? When does the trash go out? Who cleans up after fido, and feeds the guppies? Think back over the past two weeks and write down every household chore that got done, needed to get done, got ignored and still NEEDS done, and more. Make the list EXHAUSTIVE if you must, redundant even, but write it ALL down. Don't feel compelled to organize the list or in any way take action yet. This is JUST a list.
Weekly Errands - These are the errands you must do on a regular basis but that take you AWAY from the home. Grocery store runs, pharmacy pick-ups, even weekly lunch with grandma appointments. Do you see a weekly therapist or chiropractor? What about the monthly dog grooming or even weekly book club meeting. Literally anything that you do on a semi-regular. Don't overlook that mama self care too. If nails every two weeks and a hair salon once a month keeps you sane, then write it down. WRITE IT ALL DOWN!
Home Management Tasks - This list is usually small but crucial. Who does bill paying, budgeting, bank runs? What about mowing the lawn, scheduling pest-control services, and any seasonal services that need to be tracked/paid for? Those require your time and invested energy too so....you got it....write them all on the list. No matter how small or "fast" you think a task is, write it down.
Side-Hustles - Now this one gets a little grey because we don't often think of our outside
extracurricular as cutting into our 9-5 time, but just stick with me and I'll break it all down for you in a minute. What social obligations do you keep up with? Any church activities or bible-studies you regularly attend? An exercise class you teach on every 2nd Thursday or perhaps that neighborhood bunco game once a month? Do you have a part-time job? Or do you have a nice side-hustle MLM that requires some time? Write them all down.
WHEW! If you are like me, this list is exhausting to WRITE much less face. We are BUSY! So busy! Who knew life required so much time and effort to just run smoothly? Well clearly, honey, you did. LOOK AT THE #BOSSBABE you are! You are running your home like a champ. GO YOU! You should stand with pride that you are ruling your domain with style and flair. And while your up, grab that red pen....we're not done yet.
The purpose of this very detailed and exhaustive list to help you see that if you want homeschool to be a success....not a stress....you must MAKE ROOM FOR homeschooling within your life. If you don't, those early days will be fraught with massive stress as things begin to slip thru the cracks. Either the household chores will slip or the side-hustle will break down. Or, worse yet, you will be so stressed maintaining your gargantuan list that the ACTUAL learning will become a ball of stress! These early days SHOULD. BE. FUN! For you, AND YOUR KID! If you are stressed out pushing them, they will sense that. They won't enjoy the PROCESS of learning and the early days of homeschooling are as much about learning to ENJOY the process of learning! You want to set up good attitudes and habits in your kids and that starts with YOU! Now, let's return to that list.
TRIM THE FAT
Realistically you do so much around the house now, but homeschooling is a new level of work. Think about it as a JOB in the sense that your time will be FOCUSES SOLELY on your kid and their learning for a few hours each day. Without the ability to multi-task you need to find other ways to accomplish what needs to be done. Lets look at that the same 4 point list from above, and break it down into simple manageable chunks.
Household Chores -- First thing you need to do is have your significant other circle any items they are WILLING and ABLE to take off the list for you. Let them have first voice here and they may surprise you. Once they have had a voice, take a look at the list together and talk thru the areas that you could use a wingman for. If you do all the cooking, can they handle dishes each night when they get home from work? For me, hubby was in charge of the trash cans both within the house and rolling the cans out for the pick-up each week. Furthermore, as I'm mentally fried by the days end, hubby handles bedtimes with our rowdy crew. It's a precious 45 minutes that they CHERISH with their daddy and I get to finish up any last minute tasks or *gasp* sit down and chill! It's precious and I treasure it and protect it viciously. VICIOUSLY! Once you have determined what tasks your spouse can take, is there anything you can outsource? Can you hire out the weekly lawn-mowing? Can your spouse take his work laundry to a dry cleaner to alleviate some of that off you? For me, we altered our budget around and made room for someone to come in and clean my house once a month from top to bottom....then a second trip, mid month, just to clean bathrooms and floors. It was a budget stretcher - Having that OFF MY PLATE was like a breathe of fresh air! Not everyone has the budget to hire out or outsource many household tasks....but it's worth skipping that weekly latte to remove some of that stress and still have your house run efficiently so really invest time thinking on this one. And really work as a TEAM with your spouse. Homeschooling will be the major workload on YOU, so having your spouse support you in this way is a GREAT show of teamwork and will go far!
Weekly Errands - This section of your list may take a little time to move around. But your ultimate goal is to prioritize your homeschool time into manageable chunks. Again, slide the list to your spouse and let THEM choose what items they can handle. Can they pick-up pharmacy stuff on their way home from work? Can they make bank runs and do deposits or pay a bill? These items are only a few minutes from their commute, but are a solid hour or more of you loading and unloading kids and that adds up. Let your spouse take a few items and with what is left try to compartmentalize. I have gained this skill from 12+ years with my hubby but it's gold. PEARLS of wisdom I'm sharing so really soak this in. COMPARTMENTALIZING your schedule is just pure genius. Shove your grocery shopping into one or two days a month. Make all your appointments on the same day of the week, and otherwise move things around so that your homeschool time is protected. For us, I homeschool Monday-Thursdays for 4-5 hours in the morning after breakfast. The afternoons are for errands and extra-curricular field trips and FRIDAYS' are for my many medical appointments I must juggle for my kids. This AUTOMATICALLY clears off Monday-Thursday for school time. I'm not trying to do school in-between too many appointments and lugging kids in and out of the car constantly running around. A solid well planned calendar really does help!
And for that matter may I remind you GET A CALENDAR! Your going to have to juggle a lot of stuff and keep it organized. so GET ORGANIZED! I'm love the Erin Condren Teacher Planner as it let's me group lesson planning apart from life-stuff....You can click on the picture (for some reason it's WAY UP THERE above the other line item and I can't figure out why cause my brain is fried) to get a good look at the options, but they are beautiful and hold up really well. I've done the life planner, the teacher planner, and more. It's my brain in paper format!
Home Management Tasks - Truly this is a tough one because it often is driven by when the paychecks and bills arrive and that's out of your control. I'd say let your spouse circle a few items but my larger tip is to start a daily "quiet time". When the babies are little they nap each afternoon - perfect. Take that time to make the phone calls, pay the bills, or eat a snack! But as they get older it's VERY helpful to transition to a daily "quiet time" whereby they must be in their rooms. They don't have to sleep, but they can't be loud. They can read, draw/color, build legos, play dress-up etc....as long as it's AWAY from each other and QUIET! For us this works in the afternoon at around 2. By then we have all been awake for a solid 8 hours and INTENSELY together. MANDATED QUIET TIME allows me to focus on those home-management items as they arise each week, and not let them stack up under the weight of being overly booked. Also, take a look at Meal Planning. I know, I know, I can't stand it either....but it's doesn't HAVE to be a "cook it all in one day and eat it for a month" gig. For me it was simplifying lunches. Making stuff that was GRAB AND GO simple like veggies cut and bagged in ziplocs. Or sandwiches made the night before. Not terribly unlike what many regular school attenders do. Having those lunches pre-packed made my days easier when school runs long and everyone's getting HANGRY!
Side-Hustles - *sigh* remember how much I said I LOVE you and WANT you to succeed....wasn't that nice....didn't that make you smile? Think on that now and take a deep breathe as I tell you -- you need to maybe let some of those side items go....for now. I know, i know, you love them and your invested and they are crucial. But if you really want that FIRST YEAR of homeschooling to be successful you simply MUST make ROOM for it. And don't worry, dropping that side-hustle isn't a permanent thing and it's not forever! Homeschooling is going to usher in a whole new phase of life for you and your family and you want to honor that with the room it deserves. Moreover you will begin to encounter new people and make new friends and you will need to have ROOM for them too. I've taken a break from volunteering in the past and even just this year when we moved across country - AGAIN - I took the first 5 months of the year to just enjoy an EMPTY calendar, free from obligations, and focus on getting my family re-established in our new area with our new routines. In a lot of ways, it can be LIBERATING so try to enjoy the solid excuse to say NO! You may surprise yourself and decide you like a simpler pace. If not, don't worry, it's JUST a season and you CAN pick those things up again anytime! --> IMPORTANT ASIDE: If your outside interests are earning you an income you truly love or your family budget needs it, please don't rush off and quit. You CAN prioritize the time for those items AND homeschooling. But make a concerted effort to find that time NOW before the schooling begins so that all areas of import get their measured attention.
Trimming the fat from your day-to-day grind NOW, before you begin your first year of
homeschooling, will help prepare you mentally as you make this shift. You can use the extra time NOW to research curriculum, prepare a space for work, and enjoy the few last bits of this season before you begin a new one. Let your kids enjoy the new lighter schedule and let your spouse adjust to the new norm too!
Above all, however, REMAIN FLEXIBLE. Whatever you plan for now, will change dramatically as the reality of homeschooling sets in. Your teaching style, your child's learning style, your home's natural daily rhythm and more will ALL come into sharp focus once you begin. Give yourself grace that it takes awhile to embrace this new lifestyle. Plan as best you can.....and then PREPARE to flex those plans around as the needs change. YOU CAN DO IT! And I'll be right here....doing it with you!
If you haven't yet, check out my FIRST post on the importance of building a good WHY statement. And don't miss out on the next post in this series entitled: PLAN YOUR SPACE! It's a fave and will include SHOPPING LISTS and links and squealing girlie fun!!!!!!!
ALSO check out some of my other articles on homeschooling for the busy family!