You know that feeling you get when you finish your homeschool planning for the year? That one where you sit back and think, 'This year I've done it. I'm finally come up with something manageable.' ?
It's a nice feeling, isn't it, believing that this year, for once, you'll be able to Get It All Done.
Of course, it never lasts, but those glorious summer months where you're filled with illusions of control and competency are sure welcome after a year of falling behind and rushing to catch up.
I usually do my planning pretty early. Our local curriculum sale takes place in April, and I like to have my plan in place before I head out to look at books. That gives me four whole months to feel like I know what I'm doing, to believe that this time, this time I've got it.
But two weeks into this school year, I was ready to throw my hands in the air and shout, "Enough already!"
Two weeks of schoolwork and extracurricular activities and I was already exhausted! Keeping up with these busy homeschooling kids is wearing me out!
Back in June, we had a pragmatic family meeting in which we discussed, debated, and decided upon our kids' activities. We thought we had set reasonable limits. Yet, it suddenly felt like a lot more than I thought it would.
It's like I am stuck in a perpetual game of Twister trying to make it all happen without falling over.
Why is it so complicated to juggle schoolwork, a few activities for each of the kids, a couple volunteer commitments, and a handful of appointments?
It's like: I'll put my left foot on the immunization appointment on Tuesday morning and my right hand on the ballet class Tuesday afternoon. You reach over and put your left hand on the online French class and your right foot on the specialist appointment. Can anyone reach the date night over there in the corner? No? OK, we'll have to skip it in lieu of the board meeting and two play rehearsals on opposite sides of town.
We have a slew of calendars and day planners co-habitating on our myriad electronic devices as well as on our kitchen wall, all wonderfully synced. Yet, I still feel like I am getting all tangled up trying to make everything happen. And I know that many of my friends are fighting the same battle. But what to do?
Do we pull our kids out of their lessons and postpone going to the dentist for a few years? Hire a full-time nanny (or four) and call it a day? Actually, if we lived in my husband's home country, that would be a legitimate option, but here in Canada? Not so much.
What to do?
For my family and many families we "do life with", working together has helped alleviate the over-scheduled, over-stressed, drive-all-over-town syndrome. We are fortunate to be part of a large, supportive homeschooling community. Most of our close friends are also homeschooling families. That means that we all get it, we're going through the same thing, and we want to help each other! As we have become more ingrained in this community, we've found many opportunities to work with our friends to make each others' lives easier.
For many years I felt that I needed to be the one to take my kids to their every activity. Looking back, I'm not sure where that notion developed. Whether it was a need for control or a fear of asking for help, it served no purpose.
As the classes got more numerous and widespread, the other parents and I had to divide and conquer. Now, we take turns driving to activities whenever possible and I often get to spend three uninterrupted hours at home catching up on things, instead of sitting in the car drinking coffee and waiting for lessons to end. It's amazing.
The ability to organize a carpool is now one of my primary deciding factors in what activities to undertake.
2. Get Help
I'm also keen on hiring babysitters whenever possible. Many of our friends who homeschool have teenagers who are eager to babysit, even during the day.
I used to feel that it was too much of an indulgence to book a babysitter during the day so that I could run errands or go to an appointment. Now I have come to accept it as a win-win-win solution. The kids are happier, I'm happier, and the babysitter is getting more work, so she's happier too.
When babysitters aren't available, I like to trade off kids with my friends so that we can go to appointments on our own and the kids get a visit out of it too.
3. Study Together
This year, for the first time, we've started doing some study groups with other homeschooling families. Several kids of similar ages will gather at one of our houses and one or two parents will teach a certain subject or run a projects with them while the other parents get a break.
I'm loving this as well, because my kids actually work better in this type of learning environment. They feel like it is a treat to see their friends when they would normally be doing their schoolwork on their own at home.
For example, we currently have five kids meeting weekly to work through the Readers in Residence curriculum. This is a great new series developed by Debra Bell, one of my favourite homeschooling authors. It is especially conducive to group study as it centres on the theme of a book club whose members become expert reading detectives.
The other thing I am getting more adept at is co-scheduling. For example, as I write this, I just finished taking a piano lesson while my daughter attends her rehearsal class.
A week into the school year, I realized I would be spending many hours sitting in our local arts centre. Not wanting to run around trying to squeeze in errands every Saturday afternoon, I signed myself up for piano lessons that coincide with her class.
Now I have something fun to do for myself, without having to make any extra effort to get to it. I also attend a nearby mom-and-tots meet-up during my child's musical theatre classes to avoid an extra 40-minute drive.
So, it still feels like we are doing a lot. But I'm learning how to lean into our schedule, to make it work for us. Perhaps more important than knowing what to say 'yes' to is knowing what to say 'no' to. I find that I'm saying 'no' a lot more this year as we sink into the reality of the fullness of our schedules. I know that too many 'yeses' will put us back in that crazy space. Each day I am becoming more aware of our limitations as a family, but I'm also seeing that acknowledging these limitations and bending to their rhythm is giving us a more satisfying life overall.
I'd love to hear some of your tips for avoiding scheduling burnout in your homeschool. Please share your ideas below.