Handling Homeschool Stress
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: March 2002
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My days were already more than full, so when I thought about taking on homeschooling I panicked. How could I possibly manage it all? That was eighteen years ago and I've discovered that my reaction was a common one. As I juggled all my responsibilities, I realized that some things needed to become habits in order to keep me from feeling continually overwhelmed. My kids are grown, but my life is busier than ever, so I'm still using these same techniques. Hopefully, they'll help you not only manage your load, but also find the time for breaks that can leave you refreshed and enthusiastic as you shape your children's lives.
- Get organized.
- List priorities instead of trying to do everything at once.
- Have back-up plans in place.
- Schedule time daily for personal exercise.
- Schedule time daily for personal prayer.
I grew up in a family of organizers and thought this was an instinct everyone shared. I married someone absolutely my opposite, of course, and had a rude awakening. It wasn't until I began working with homeschooling families, though, that I realized just how difficult this can be for some personalities. So, if you happen to have trouble in this area, I urge you to find someone to help you organize the house and then your schedule.
Having an assigned place for everything makes it easier for everyone to find what he needs, but choosing where to have that assigned spot is also important. Organize for easy access of those things most frequently used, and with a mental picture of the interaction of the family in mind. At first it may seem easier to have a place for the toddler other than in the school area, but how much will you then be running from room to room? Having a section set aside for him within the school area may serve your purpose more efficiently. For a while I had my desk in the same area used for school so that I could handle some company business as the kids worked on things nearby. While they were young, my visible presence was both reassuring and the key to keeping my son on task.
I scheduled our days with all our needs in mind. My daughter would have preferred to sleep until noon, so I didn't give her difficult tasks in the morning. My son needed to move all the time, making it necessary to alternate quiet and active tasks throughout the entire day. The advantage of homeschooling was having a 24 hour day and 7 day week to use. Saturday art and music classes, Sunday's children's choir practice, and weekend field trips were all part of "school" and justified time during the week I needed to spend on non-school tasks.
I know my teaching experience helped here. I learned that concepts and skills are continually reviewed—year after year. I found that if I targeted objectives, moving on when they were achieved, instead of trying to do a little bit of everything all the time (that is, supplementing the curriculum as well as skipping things as I saw fit), I saw more significant progress.
I did still feel the pressure as a homeschooler, though. My first year was under the supervision of the disapproving superintendent of my local school district and I guess I wanted to prove that we could do everything perfectly. I made the mistake of using a packaged curriculum in the morning just to be sure I covered everything and taught to suit my kids' needs in the afternoon. Of course, my kids were miserable every morning, adding to my stress. They not only enjoyed the afternoons, but, as it turned out, usually only remembered what they learned then, forgetting all those morning lessons.
I developed lists so I could keep track of concepts and skills and use only effective teaching methods and resources that appealed to each child. Then I no longer needed a curriculum package as my security blanket, so the kids didn't have to deal with morning drudgery. (This is how my Design-A-Study books began.) Their willingness to work increased, their retention improved, and I really enjoyed teaching. Of course, there were still struggles in areas each found difficult and wanted to avoid, and the usual fusses when they just didn't feel like doing much of anything at all, but that was much easier to deal with when we had so many more good days.
It didn't take long to realize that, in reality, my schedule merely served as a framework that allowed us to get more done than if we didn't have any plans at all. It couldn't really dictate the day. Invariably, the unexpected interfered with my written lesson plans. Certainly we had the usual car and appliance breakdowns that needed handling, but typically adjustments were necessary simply because I couldn't always predict each child's needs or health. Something I thought they would understand easily turned out to be difficult or vice versa, or allergies or other illness made it too difficult for them to concentrate. When illness interfered, I would read out loud, discussing topics, or have them watch videos so that learning was still taking place, even if only as review or exposure.
They both learned how to pace themselves and work even when pain or allergies slow them down. (Neither has ever been off the "Dean's list" at college.) I developed the habit of taping all sorts of television programs and movies to have on hand for those difficult days. I also piled up kits and board games for them to use when I was too sick to work with them directly.
I wanted my children to be fit and learn to exercise as a habit, so always included it in their schedules. But while they were attending a swimming or gymnastic class, I was more likely to be running errands than using the time to exercise myself. I think my biggest challenge was learning to ignore the constant fatigue that told me running up and down stairs to do housework was exercise enough. It wasn't. Even though exercise left me more exhausted once I'd finished, over time I realized that I did actually have more stamina, my back pain decreased, and what I'd read was true: it did reduce my stress. Remembering the benefits helps me continue with my daily exercise regime.
This is last on my list because I am hoping it will linger in your mind. Busy days and times when I just don't feel like praying are the two obstacles I battle regularly. I've learned that giving in to either excuse eventually catches up with me—those feelings of being overwhelmed return. So, I found that habit and discipline have to be my reasons for sticking to a personal and daily prayer time. Reading Scripture reminds me who I am in Christ ("I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phil. 4:13) and how much He loves me. I hand over all my anxieties, (the tricky part is not taking them back, which I've yet to master), and I seek direction. I remember all the times God has answered. I remind myself of His faithfulness. Then I'm much more prepared to face the day with patience and confidence.
Now I watch my grown children juggle busy schedules. They have become organized (a major triumph for my son), are pretty regular about exercise, and are absolutely determined to spend time every day in prayer. I can't say we are all stress free, but we know it's our own fault if we're not (Phil. 4:6-7), and they do face life with enthusiasm. It is a great feeling to know that I've given my kids more than academics. They both have a heart to serve God and these habits continue to help them, like me, try to do that more effectively.