11/02/2017

Homeschooling for the Long Haul
by Robin Callon

When I first started homeschooling I had this vision of what it would be like in my home every day. Serenity was king. Peacefulness reigned. My kids running through a field of daisies like Little House on the Prairie. All of us sitting down quietly on a rainy day to read out loud. The house was always clean, all food homegrown and homemade. I was always calm, that picture of perfect motherhood where all I existed to do was be patient with my children no matter what they did. Well, that vision quickly died a violent death, especially as boys started entering our household. Even so, after 25 years, that picture of perfection still creeps back in my mind occasionally. I imagine that many of us have gone through this at one time or another. For some, these thoughts can linger far too long, causing us to think that maybe we shouldn't homeschool because we aren't doing all of the things we “ought” to do. After all, we see other perfect families. Why aren't we like them?

So the question is: How can we keep on homeschooling without falling prey to the devil of comparison and the ultimate feelings of failure that follow? How do we stick it out for the long haul? I think that the answer will be different for most of us. But there might be some common themes that we can all look at and think about that might help us.

The first thing is prayer: Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Rosary. Daily Mass. The Liturgy of the Hours. Time spent in the presence of God. If we can see what we do as a vocation and not just as, “something we HAVE to do because there's no better alternative”, then maybe our thinking will shift to a better or even bigger perspective.  Sometimes pragmatism takes over instead of remembering why we do this in the first place. Why do we homeschool? Do we have goals for our children? Maybe having a “big picture” mentality can help. So prayer - consistently trying just one of the things mentioned might be what we need to keep going and not give up. Asking for help to see the big picture and to focus on the goals we have. Jesus and the Blessed Virgin are our biggest advocates. So let's go to them asking for vocational support and to help us remember why we homeschool.

The next thing that comes to mind is consistentcy. Two areas that it could be helpful to have consistency in are time spent at home educating our kids and curriculum choices. As a young mom  I went through many periods when I was driving my kids around all the time, and it seemed like that's all I did. My goal was to always have the kids bring their school books in the car but that never materialized. As a result I always felt rushed, never caught up with anything, and generally anxious. When I spoke to a good friend of mine about this, she pointed out to me that the best thing I could do for myself and my kids was to actually spend a consistent amount of time at home every day getting school done. What it really meant was that I had to say no to some activities, no matter how beneficial they were. Besides the encouragement to pray more regularly, I think that is the best advice I have ever received. Since then I have made a better effort to stay home, especially in the mornings, and that is when we have been able to get most of our work done. Now, this is not to say that all activities are bad, and we shouldn't do them, but there might be a time when we need to think about balancing things out better so that we are home for a consistent amount of time.

Consistency in curriculum choices is another area that deserves some attention. When my oldest was just starting high school math, I found myself switching programs  a lot and it was to her detriment. As a result, we were both confused and somehow algebra became this forbidden, esoteric subject that neither of us really understood. When I took this problem to the above mentioned friend, she told me to pick something and stick with it! I followed her advice and over time that helped greatly. That episode helped me to put “blinders” on when it came to looking at the plethora of new homeschool resources and materials that are always being promoted. Again – this isn't saying that we don't need to ever make changes in curriculum....there are definitely times when that's necessary. But there are so many ways to “tweak” something first before throwing it all away to try something new. For example – back to math. My 7th grader struggled with a particular math program; she took way too long to get lessons done, she cried when she had to do them, she didn't get it, and so on. Had she been my first, I would have immediately changed the program. But instead I changed up “how” she did the lessons. We focused on mastery, so if it took two days to get the lesson done, so be it. We slowed down, I set a timer so she only had to work on math for a certain amount of time every day (best thing we've ever done!). If there was a concept she struggled with, then we stopped moving forward and focused on mastering that concept. And now, a year later, she breezes through the lessons for the most part and aces her tests. Is she still technically behind? Yes. But, she's where she needs to be. And the frustration and tears  (mine and hers), are gone. We have been able to stick with the program, let it do its job and saved money in the process.

Finally, and I think this is very important – we need to stop comparing ourselves to others. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has flaws and imperfections. No one is the perfect homeschooler. We are all in the same boat  trying to get through each day and doing the best we can for our families.

So - prayer, time, consistency, and no comparing! These have helped many homeschoolers to keep going when they felt like they wanted to quit. My hope is that all of us can think about these things, and how they can be beneficial, especially as we start to plan for the upcoming school year.