Last updated on January 28th, 2022
Everybody and their dog is going to have an opinion of you, your homeschool, and how you should run it. If you take these too seriously, you’ll go crazy trying to have ‘the perfect homeschool.’ The only way to overcome this is to learn how cultivate and trust your intuition as a homeschooling parent.
Six years ago, my bright, language arts-loving seven-year-old would have daily meltdowns over her spelling curriculum. I couldn’t understand it. She was an excellent reader and writer, she scored perfectly on every spelling quiz, and the lessons were short and sweet. It didn’t add up.
I tried everything I could to make it more fun for her. I let her write her spelling words on the balcony doors with window markers. We made up crazy stories using her list words. I made vocabulary flash cards and turned them into a game. Nothing worked.
One day we paid a visit to our learning consultant for that year, who lived in another city several hours away. It might have actually been our first time meeting her in person.
The school she worked in was an alternative one. They had classrooms, but they felt more like living rooms, as did the staff room in which we met. There were no desks or chalkboards here, just couches, beanbags, and lots of books, games, and hands-on learning materials. It was like a homeschool-away-from-home.
As we sat drinking tea in the staff room while the schools’ black and white cat wound itself between my feet, I poured out my frustration about the spelling lessons. “I just can’t understand why it’s so hard for her,” I complained.
“Maybe it’s too easy for her,” our teacher responded.
Too easy? Huh. That had never occurred to me. If it was too easy, wouldn’t she just whiz through it like she did with everything else? Wouldn’t I be met with smiles instead of tears when I pulled out the spelling book?
“There’s an easy way to find out,” she explained. She gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil, and pulled out a long list of words. She began reading them to my daughter who wrote them down without argument.
The words were significantly more difficult than what we were working on at home, and she got all but a couple correct.
“Yeah, that’s probably the problem,” the teacher explained. “She’s working more at a grade five or six level and you’re using a grade one book. Just skip ahead. She’ll be fine.”
Skip ahead? Something inside me seized up. The introduction in the spelling book had been very clear: DO NOT SKIP AHEAD. No matter what grade you’re starting in, it explained, you should start with the first book and work your way through, as each successive book builds on the lessons in the previous book and skipping ahead will leave kids with knowledge gaps.
Learning to Listen Selectively
This was my first year using formal homeschool curriculum and I’d never ‘disobeyed’ the instructions before. I was an organized homeschool mom and I didn’t want to do things my own way. I wanted to carefully select the curriculum, order it all nice and early, and then follow it to the letter for the rest of the year.
But now I had a decision to make. Was I going to listen to the wisdom of the textbook, written by people who had never met my child, or was I going to follow the advice of a learning consultant who had observed her in person and recommended a different stream for her?
More importantly, was I going to listen to my intuition, which was screaming at me to make a change before I ruined any chance of my child ever loving writing?
The Pressures Facing Homeschool Moms
The more I immerse myself in this homeschooling world, the more I see the same questions coming up:
- What if we fall behind?
- What if we miss out?
- What if I’m not qualified to do this?
- Why isn’t my child learning at the grade level they’re supposed to be at?
- Why doesn’t my child like homeschooling/math/writing/[insert subject here]?
We also feel pressured to live up to the expectations of the curriculum, our province or state, or learning consultants/advisors, or our peers.
Overwhelmingly, it seems homeschooling moms are inundated with reasons to believe they are not enough. They are not good enough. They are not doing enough. Their homeschool is insufficient.
I think this is the biggest challenge we face as homeschooling moms. We perceive all this external pressure (much of which is in our heads) and we also put an inordinate amount of internal pressure on ourselves.
We want to provide the best learning atmosphere for our kids. We want to pick the best curriculum, check every box, ‘get it all done.’
Every week I have people asking me the secret of getting it all done, and I’ve gotten to the point where I now simply say, you can’t. You can’t get it all done.
Because it’s true. Nobody can get it ALL done. Not at home. Not at school. Not anywhere.
And the constant effort we make to do so is leaving us exhausted and insecure.
What I think we need to turn our attention to as homeschooling moms is learning to trust our intuition.
What Does it Mean to Trust Your Intuition as a Homeschooler?
Who knows your children best? Who knows their passions and interests? Who knows their abilities and their attention span?
Who knows what gets them excited and what bores them to tears?
Who knows which projects they’ll jump into wholeheartedly and which ones will make them drag their feet for a week?
Who knows exactly which kinds of books to look for at the library and which kinds of community classes to sign them up for?
You’ve been with them since day one, teaching them all the essential skills they need in life. You’ve been reading to them since before they could talk and playing with them since before they knew the difference between a lesson and a game.
You are your child’s best teacher. But only if you allow yourself the space to lead them.
There are many voices that will try to influence you as you homeschool your children.
Your friends, your family, your neighbours, that woman at your church who homeschooled her kids fifteen years ago. Learning consultants assigned to you by your state or province, curriculum developers, teachers, bloggers.
Your spouse. Your children. You.
Everyone has an opinion on how you should do your job.
And not all of them are invalid. In fact, only a fool would completely ignore all of the advice and experience available to them as they chart their homeschooling course.
But you need to know when to draw the line between listening to advice and implementing a plan.
As the primary homeschooling parent, your job is to plan your child’s educational pathway and walk alongside them as they journey along it.
The depth of your planning will vary, of course, depending on many factors: Your philosophy of education, the number and ages of the children in your family, how much time you have available, your personal planning personality.
You might have things planned out down to the exact number of pages or minutes you’ll progress in each subject each day.
Or you might just have a general sense of where you’re currently heading. For example, you might say your goal for this month is to learn about the lifecycle of butterflies and improper fractions. The minute details of the schedule and lesson plans may not be as important to you.
But the key thing is that you are charting the path that is best for YOUR children and YOUR family.
And only you know which path that is.
What this Looks Like Practically in the Homeschool
Our intuition is a great tool: It’s what sends us upstairs to check on children who are playing too quietly, keeps us from eating food in the fridge that is probably beyond its best before date, and helps us steer clear of those creepy time share sales people.
It can also act as a barometer for how well things are going in your homeschool.
Hey, it may have even led you to homeschool in the first place.
But how do you put that tool to use for you? How can you use it to solve problems in your homeschool and optimize your children’s learning environment?
Sometimes, your intuition screams loudly. I remember one time, when I was a child, I was sitting alone on a dock when a strange man approached me and started berating me. My dad witnessed this from a distance and wasted no time in racing over to end the conversation. His intuition was like a raging fire inside him, propelling to him act immediately.
But other times, our intuitions whisper. They nudge. They tickle our tummies and make us think, hey, something’s not completely right here, but I can’t really put my finger on it.
These are the times we need to learn to lean into and listen closely to what our intuition is trying to tell us.
There may be problems with our curriculum, our teaching method, or our expectations. Or it might have nothing to do with us. Our children might be feeling lonely, anxious, pressured, or unchallenged. We have an inkling that something is off but we’re not sure what.
What I find helpful is to take time regularly to sit and reflect on some questions that help me tune into what my intuition might be trying to tell me. Before, during, or after, I may also consult with my children and see if there’s anything they want to talk about. This can help confirm or reshape what our senses tell us.
Here are some questions that can help in this process:
- What brings me the most stress as a homeschool parent? What brings me the most joy?
- Are the things that are causing me stress necessary? What could I do to make them less stressful?
- Where could I infuse more of the things that bring me joy?
- What about my children? What causes them the most stress and joy? Are there ways we can mitigate the stress and increase the joy?
- What delights my children the most as learners? What causes them to draw away from learning? As their teacher, how can I lean more into what they love?
- What can we do to strengthen the relationships in our family this week/month/year? Are there any particular places where healing work needs to take place?
- Are we doing too much? What could we take out of our schedule to give ourselves some more margin?
- Is our curriculum working for us or against us? Is it helping us meet our goals? Is it life-giving? What adjustments might we make to it to make it work better for us?
If possible, try to set aside a day or a weekend to work through some of these questions and journal your responses. This is particularly helpful if you find yourself stuck in a negative homeschool phase where everyone wakes up on Monday morning grumpy about having to get down to work. If things haven’t been going too well lately, it’s definitely time for some reflection.
Then, let your responses to these questions guide you as you chart the next stretch of the path.
Are there some curricula or programs that you need to cut out or make adjustments to?
Are there tensions between you and your children or between siblings that need to become the central focus for a period of time?
Making Adjustments to Curriculum
As you likely gleaned from my spelling curriculum story, veering from the exact specifications outlined in our purchased curriculum was a struggle for me. I’m a Type-A person–I want to get it all done and then some.
But making the decision to throw that spelling book away six years ago and skip three levels taught me that it’s okay to make my own choices in our homeschool. The world will not fall apart if I don’t do every single thing the curriculum tells me to.
(Case in point: that same daughter, who’s now in grade eight, is an accomplished writer with a vocabulary that long ago surpassed my own. Turns out she figured out all the idiosyncrasies of English spelling words on her own. Go figure.)
This has been a huge relief for us as we’ve navigated our homeschool journey as a busy family of six, most of whom are high achievers.
The year after the spelling book incident, we start using Sonlight Curriculum in our homeschool. We loved it. The books were a glorious feast for our minds and I loved how the daily schedule kept me on track without me having to do any planning.
However, as my kids got older and our family grew, we got to the point where we needed two Sonlight programs in any given year, not to mention four math programs, two science programs, three writing programs, and a whole slew of extra curricular activities.
It just became too much. I was trying to read aloud all day–something that just wasn’t feasible in our busy household–while also trying to get everyone through their individualized programs, keep them fed, and drive them to their lessons outside the home.
The atmosphere in our home was intense and stressed, not at all what I’d dreamed about when I made the decision to homeschool. Something had to give. But what? We loved everything we were doing so much, we didn’t really want to give anything up.
So, we learned to scale back.
When I read this article on Sonlight’s website, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Sure, I probably should have read it several years ago before buying the curriculum, but back then, I hardly knew what I wanted in a homeschool program, let alone what would work for our family and what wouldn’t.
Looking at this with experienced eyes after several years using Sonlight programs, something clicked for me. I realized that, by design, Sonlight was not meant to be a taskmaster. Unlike the spelling book of yore, Sonlight didn’t mind if I skipped around. They didn’t care if I adjusted the program to fit my family better. In fact, they encouraged it.
This gave me the freedom to follow my intuition with the curriculum, rather than following the curriculum blindly.
At the time, we were doing the Sonlight Language Arts program in addition to another language arts program that we’d committed to the year before and hadn’t finished yet. It was way too much. I made the decision to just selectively choose a few of the Sonlight language arts assignments to supplement our other program and then reevaluate at the end of the year which one was working better for us.
I’ve also skipped readers or books that weren’t working for our family or that we weren’t particularly interested in. In some cases, I’ve substituted them with another book, but usually, I just let it go completely.
I’m not in the business of making my children do so much work that they’re miserable, or making them do assignments that they’re not getting any value out of.
So much learning happens naturally in our home, and I want to continue to encourage that. To that end, I see our Sonlight curriculum–and any other programs we allow into our home and schedule–as an addition to our natural learning, not as a replacement for it. We want to create a harmonious balance between enlightening ourselves with a plethora of books we likely wouldn’t have otherwise read and pursuing our natural interests, which are, thankfully, further fueled by the world of knowledge Sonlight opens up to us.
We’ve also learned how to pare down on the number of things we study/learn and instead of glossing over each one, we try to pause and take time to go deeper into the subjects that really interest us.
How Learning to Trust My Intuition has Changed My Homeschool
We recently found ourselves frustrated again. I had noticed that we’d been having a lot of heated arguments in the middle of our homeschooling days and that we were having a hard time getting back on track after lunch.
Upon reflection, I realized that a major culprit was the science experiments my older kids were trying to do for the robotics section of their science course. The experiments were simply too difficult for us (or they were not explained particularly well) and none of us were really enjoying them. We were trying to see them through because A) the curriculum schedule told us to and B) we had bought the materials.
These are never good reasons to complete something that isn’t working, and even though I do know that, I need to be reminded often. That weekend, I decided to scrap the rest of the labs in that part of the course and focus on other things instead.
I also noticed that my older children weren’t getting any hands-on time with me before lunch, and this was leaving them a little rudderless as they moved into the afternoon. So we made some modifications to our schedule and started doing a devotional together at eleven thirty each morning.
This gave us a meaningful touchpoint that brought us back together after we’d accomplished a bit of work and before we moved into the lunch hour and quiet reading time.
Making these two tiny changes brought about a lot of peace in our homeschool, and I don’t think I would have thought to implement them if I wasn’t committed to trusting my intuition as a homeschooling mom.
If this is something you want to work on too, go ahead and download the homeschool reflection pages below. They will help you get started with reflecting on what is working in your homeschool and what might need adjusting.
DOWNLOAD OUR HOMESCHOOL REFLECTION PAGES
Sophie Agbonkhese is a writer, veteran homeschooling mother of four, and a recovering overachiever (who occasionally relapses). She is the founder of My Cup Runs Over, a site dedicated to helping busy women simplify and enrich their lives, homes, and homeschools. When she’s not writing or debugging websites, Sophie spends her time reading with her kids, gardening, listening to audiobooks, and striving fruitlessly to have a clean house for at least five minutes. She lives in southwestern British Columbia with her husband, Ben, and their children.