You can only do what you can do
I’ve had a flurry of phone calls lately. One common thread is that January seduces parents into believing they can fly. There’s something about the start of a new year—the blank slate, the brand new, the no-mistakes-made-yet, the intoxicating elixir of “this year will be different.”
Whatever failed in fall is now up for re-evaluation and redoubling of effort. The urgency to “get something done” for year end evaluations, or to satisfy a skeptical spouse, or to appease your own fantasy of what “should” be happening in your homeschool is surging. The temptation is great: to completely change gears or programs, or to load up on one particular subject area, or to revamp your schedule so that the one neglected child who was happily playing Minecraft all day is now required to sit at the kitchen table for two hours straight every morning (to prove to you that he IS being homeschooled).
My caution: Slow down, Bessie.
You can’t change who you are with the snap of your fingers or all the alarms and whistles of your smart phone. No one new curriculum piece will transform your personal style of being or your natural family rhythm. Worse: if you do the “big overhaul” right now, you may upend all that lovely “settling in” that would naturally happen in January, mid-year.
Huge shifts in philosophy or practice midyear feel like whiplash to kids. They sense that the changes mean whatever came before was “not good enough.” (And what if they were reasonably happy doing whatever before? What if they were just getting the hang of the math book or copywork or the system you use to study history?)
It’s hard to commit to an experiment, too. Your children aren’t reading the home education discussion lists and they aren’t necessarily worried about their educations. You worry (that’s your job).
So what should you do if you are dissatisfied with the program or the schedule or the feel of your homeschool midyear?
Pause. Take notes.
Let yourself consider the good of what IS going on in your homeschool before you assume it is all wrong or messed up. I remember one year when I thought we weren’t doing enough dictation (I had some fantasy that we’d do it a couple times per week per child).
Midyear, I pulled out our notebooks where I collected their work. Page after page of dictation. It wound up being that each child (the three who were writing) had practiced dictation 2-3 times per month and by January, that meant they had done dictation practice 8-10 times. These dictations, in the shiny clear page protectors, showed remarkable effort and growth. Did they need more dictation than that?
No. The answer turned out to be no.
But the temptation to revamp the schedule was so strong, I almost did it without that backwards glance. It was a fluke that led me to examine the notebooks and to recognize that with my personality and our busy lives, getting to some form of dictation 2-3 times a month was not only pretty good, it was getting the job done!
This is what I want you to consider. It may actually be true that the practices in place from fall are enough and are a true reflection of who you are, already. It’s good to pause, to look through workbooks, to flip through photos, to remind yourself of all the ways you explored learning and the world in the fall.
To make an adjustment, follow this plan to help you and your kids make authentic reasonable changes.
Change one egregious subject only.
Don’t get swept up into the “change it all” plan. Save that for summer, when you have time to really think through how the new philosophy will work. If the subject getting you down is your awful co-op composition class for 5th grade, drop it. If your daughter despises the Wordly Wise workbook, shred it. If the math text is confusing even to you, a full grown adult, replace it. Overhaul the one truly awful component in your homeschool.
Make logistical changes first.
Rather than throw in the towel on dictation, try new tools or a new environment to see if those recast the practice. You might move dictation to a new time of day, or add candles, or add brownies, or use a digital recorder and let the child do dictation alone in his bedroom, or try typing dictation rather than handwriting, or let the child select her own passage, or have the children pair up to do dictation of jokes with each other, or use gel pens and black lined paper. The point is that sometimes the practice is fine, but the context is tedious or unhelpful.
Does the child need to work every single math problem if she already understands the concept? Can you skip the odds or a full chapter? Perhaps you’ve been over-doing it on freewriting. Time to take a break and only have experiences, read books, and play with poetry before freewriting again. If you are trapped in Ancient Greece in history (kids are into it and you are sick of it), consider ways to re-hook your interest to accommodate theirs. You don’t HAVE to follow the four year history cycle just because a book tells you to.
Add or take away one regular out of the house trip.
For some families, if you just stayed home one more afternoon or day, you’d find that everything works beautifully. You’d have enough time and space for everything without rushing or hurrying or interrupting the flow. But there are some families who are home so much, the kids are utterly bored of the four walls and need an exit! Add one exciting outing a week (even going to the mall, the park, a coffee shop, the zoo, McDonald’s play land, a friend’s house, the library) to change the vibe of family life, to have something to look forward to!
You can’t fly. You can only do what you do a little better than you are doing it now, until it stops feeling better…and you tweak it again. Be patient, trust the process, and go do something AMAZING that enlivens YOU (take on a big goal like traveling for a weekend away with girlfriends to see the Chicago Art Institute, or running a half marathon, or going to cooking class, or signing up to get your Master’s degree online).
You’re already doing a better job than you realize. I know because I know.
Top Image © Michael Spring | Dreamstime.com