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Last year was our sixth homeschooling year, and our first since adding a fourth child to our family. My friends have teased me (lovingly) each year about my annual summer declaration that, "This year is going to be different. This year, we're going to slow down and do less." They know as well as I do that, in spite of my best intentions, it never really seems to happen. We cut some things out, but just as many creep back in. I've been terrible about protecting our time as a homeschooling family.
But, let me say this now, just for the record: THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT. I know, you probably don't believe me right now. That's okay. Hopefully, I'll have you convinced by the end of this book review.
My Own Call to Teach from Rest
Long before this book entered my life, I knew that rest would be a key theme in our lives and our homeschool in the coming years. Within the first couple months of this past school year, I was falling apart. I had a baby who didn't sleep at night, a three-year-old who was trying to make up for being the easiest two-year-old ever, and two super-energetic, over-committed big girls. My husband and I were serving on multiple boards and committees and my kids and I had commitments out of the house seven mornings a week, and almost every afternoon. You don't even want to imagine the volume of "curricula" I was trying to cram in there in the midst of all this. It was not working!
By Christmas, I was ready to give up. I just didn't know how I was going to make it through another six months at this pace, let alone another eighteen years. Something had to go, I just didn't know what.
My husband, who has for years been urging me to do less, probably didn't realize before then just how much was really going on. I think that my surgery at the beginning of December was an eye-opener for him as he had to stay home from work and try to take over for me, which was simply impossible. I was embarrassed to even admit everything that "needed to be done" because I knew it had reached an insane level.
He took a week off at Christmas and we sat together for an hour every morning working through a plan to de-commit and to simplify our lives. We came up with some great strategies that probably salvaged our homeschooling year. (I will be talking more about these strategies in future posts, but if you are interested in a sneak peek, you can check out my Free Resources section under 11 Signs You're Doing Too Much).
But it wasn't nearly enough.
Over the next two months, I disengaged from as many commitments as possible, but I was still exhausted. Eventually, I felt the Lord leading me to let go of everything, to lay down everything I was doing, and start over from scratch. To spend an entire year learning to rest and then re-evaluating which, if any, activities we wanted to add back in.
It was both the easiest and hardest decision I've made. It was easy because I knew it was the right thing to do, and because it was my dream. How many times had I longed to simply escape from all of our commitments? Wasn't this exactly what I wanted? But it was so hard too. I knew my girls would be heart-broken. I knew we'd have to disappoint a lot of people. But more than that, it would require a paradigm shift—a complete one-eighty from the life we'd been living.
It didn't take long to persuade my husband that this was the direction I was being led, perhaps fifteen seconds or so. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, he was in agreement. In fact, he'd been hearing the same thing for months (years?) but was respectful enough of my journey to know that I needed to land there myself.
So, I set about preparing for our Sabbath year by trying to learn everything I could about what it means to really rest. Enter Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace.
Teaching from Rest (or how to actually enjoy homeschooling)
Although I'd been circling Teaching from Rest in curriculum catalogues for a couple years, I didn't get around to buying it until I'd hit bottom and realized that the only way out was to learn how to rest. All of a sudden, various resources started making themselves more visible on my radar and I finally started to pay attention. When I realized there was a book about rest completely focused on homeschooling, I knew this was my starting point.
Sarah Mackenzie opened my eyes to both the biblical basis for homeschooling from rest as well as the practical means of doing so, an impressive feat for a book that clocks in at under a hundred pages. She convinced me that as a homeschooling mother, it is not my job to perform miracles, only to do what I am called to do and surrender to Jesus.
More precisely, "He’s not asking me to feed the 5000, He’s just asking me to bring my basket of loaves and fish and leave them at His feet."
"He’s not asking me to feed the 5000, He’s just asking me to bring my basket of loaves and fish and leave them at His feet." Why we need to trust God with our homeschooled children.
Or, to put it another way, if our homeschool was a garden plot, He asks us simply to plant the seeds in the rich soil. He doesn't ask us to make it rain, or to tell the seed how to grow, or to transform them from cucumbers to watermelons. We can rest in the knowledge that if we plant the seeds in the right soil, He will take care of the rest.
It doesn't all depend on us
As homeschooling parents—and probably as parents in general—we have a tendency to think we're supremely responsible for our children's future "success." If we do well and succeed as their parents, they will be well-adjusted people with reasonably happy lives. Unfortunately—or perhaps, not so much—we are in control of far less than we think we are. Certainly, we have a duty to love, nurture, and guide, but beyond that we have to trust that He has them.
Once we've accepted that premise, it really frees us up in how we think about homeschooling. Just how much should we be doing anyway? There are so many great books and resources out there; it's tempting to want to fit them all in, but Sarah warns against this firmly. Two key themes of Teaching from Rest are 1) the curriculum is there to serve you and your children, not the other way around, and 2) start your planning from the view of how much time is available to you, not how much stuff you'd like to fit in.
I will briefly touch on these two ideas, but if any of this is resonating with you, I strongly recommend reading the book. It will completely change the way you view homeschooling.
The Curriculum is there to Serve You, Not the Other Way Around
Too often, we homeschool moms open our curriculum catalogues or walk into a convention and we go crazy for all the amazing resources that are at our disposal. I've been known to purchase five or six different books for language arts in a single year; I'm not talking about novels or actual reading material, I mean five or six different curricula. And I actually try to get through them all. I tell myself that I'll drop anything that isn't working and I won't feel guilty about it, but once we get going, I just feel like we have to stick it out. I hate to be a quitter, and besides, I invested a lot of money. We need to squeeze every ounce of our investment out of these resources, right?
Teaching From Rest flips those ideas on their head. Sarah really encourages us to start with a vision for our homeschool and work backwards from there, filling in the gaps along the way with useful resources, rather than selecting the resources and hoping that they land us somewhere near our goals (if we even have them).
We don't need to complete every page of the workbooks. There's nothing wrong with letting go of a resource that nobody enjoys. Nobody says that we have to go through the curriculum in a linear fashion. Set your vision and goals, select a few excellent resources, and use them as needed to produce the desired results (which probably don't involve both you and your children crying and banging your head on the table day after day—trust me, I've been there!)
Budget Your Time Wisely
The other key piece of advice I'm taking away from Teaching From Rest is how to budget time wisely. When we do our financial budgeting, we don't start by making a list of all the things we'd like to do and then trying—without balancing our books—to do them all.
Yet, we're so prone to doing this with our time. We make a list of subjects we want to cover, research and purchase appropriate resources, and slot our academics and extra-curriculars into our schedule. I don't know about you, but despite countless hours of planning, this approach has never worked for me successfully. We never end up having enough time to get it all done.
Sarah strongly suggests that you take the opposite approach:
"Start with the amount of time you have available, subtract a substantial buffer to account for inevitable interruptions, and then allot the remaining time to the subjects and activities you want to cover, in priority sequence."
When I approached my new schedule in this way, knowing that I like to do my own writing in the morning, which means we rarely start before nine, and that none of us are very productive after three, I realized just how little I would be able to fit in this year. It's not that we can't or won't make adequate progress, it just means that I have to focus on four or five subjects instead of the eight to ten that I usually aim for. Yikes!
Every homeschooler should read Teaching From Rest
I could honestly go on for hours about this book, it's that good. I even asked my husband to listen to the audiobook so that he could support me in following through with our restful teaching plan.
Every homeschooler who seeks to increase peace and reduce overwhelm in their homes ought to start with reading Teaching from Rest.
I'd love to hear your feedback too! Have you read Teaching From Rest? What were your thoughts? How did it change your approach to homeschooling? Leave a comment below.
Want to get your copy?
I loved listening to the audiobook edition of Teaching From Rest, read by Sarah Mackenzie herself. I was able to play it in the car and let the kids hear it too. Grab your free copy of the audiobook with a free Audible trial and start listening right now.
If you prefer a real book, you can get it on Amazon.