Most of you know that I am an accidental homeschooler. It’s true. So when I got into this wild, crazy homeschooling adventure, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. No. Idea. I knew I could do it, I’d seen it done. I just didn’t know what it meant for me.
One of the biggest challenges I find with homeschooling is scheduling it all in. Even if we don’t have a super set and outlined schedule, it’s still one of the biggest stressors when it comes to the homeschool year. I want to make sure I fit in everything, but I also want to make sure I’m not overwhelming anyone. I tend to let my kids lead in that realm of things, as far as how much they can do. I set the guide because we do need to cover certain things each year, but beyond that – it’s up to their ability and desire.
We usually end up doing much more than I had planned because my kids are eager learners and love to read. Often times at the beginning of the year I’m shocked at how much we have planned for the year. I believe that our relaxed approach to our schedule is a huge contributing factor to them having such a love of learning.
The next challenge is the wide age range of my children. My eldest is in 8th grade, then the next of my kiddos is in 1st, followed by my little one who is 3. I guess the three-year-old would be considered preschool or toddler school level.
As you can see, we have a pretty big age range. You might have more kids which might mean you have several kids in multiple different grades, more than I do.
So, how do we face head on homeschooling a wide age/grade range?
First things first
See if there is anything you can teach all of the kids together. For instance, if your 8th grader is studying American History, why not have your younger children study American history too? They don’t have to do it at the same intensity or depth as the older one, but they can still do it. Many curriculum options out there offer this flexibility to tailor their curriculum for older and younger students to use at the same time. But if they don’t have that option, you can easily relay the information to your younger one in a manner that they understand.
Next, keep your schedule super simple.
For us, this is essential. And as more of my kids are heading into school age, it’s been a huge life saver for us.
I have a rather untraditional schedule with my kids. It works for us and it helps me teach each of them according to their needs without feeling like I’m overwhelmed, overwhelming them, or missing anything.
My approach: I don’t teach every subject every day! That’s right. We have designated days for our more meaty subjects. This allows us to focus on one topic at a time and allows me to spread myself amongst my kiddos to give them the best attention I can.
So, how does this look you’re wondering?
Let’s say we do Math on Monday, History on Tuesday, Science on Wednesday, Language Arts on Thursday, and Foreign Language on Friday. That’s just a sample of what it could look like. Many wonder – but what about constant practice? What if they forget skills from one week to another until that subject day arrives?
Here’s how we prevent that:
Using the example above, Math would be taught on Monday. We would work through the lessons and then practice with our worksheets. I would work with the older student first and work my way down through the younger ones.
Then Tuesday comes along and we’re on to History, but before we start History we do another Math worksheet. Our math program offers 5 worksheets for each lesson so it happens to work well with our schedule. If that weren’t the case, I would simply create or find worksheets based on Monday’s lesson.
This way, they are refreshing and practicing their newly learned concepts all week, but just with a simple worksheet which takes maybe 5 or 10 minutes. They’ve taken the core of the lesson on Monday – leaving the rest of the week for practice.
Back to Tuesday, when we’re on History. After we do our Math worksheet we do our History lesson and discuss it. We do some map work and really dive in to any discussion questions that we may have. But we don’t just forget about it until next week. On Thursday we would have a brief discussion with my youngest about what we learned on Tuesday and I’ll have my big kiddo write down a paragraph or two. Catering to their capabilities.
This keeps things fresh in their heads, allows for time for it to really soak in for a day or so, and allows for me to see how much they have retained. It’s a super chill approach to learning that we have grown to love.
If this schedule just does not appeal to you, I have another suggestion. We’ve tried this method before and although we liked it, we went back to our one-subject-a-day method.
Work with your older kids first. They are more likely to have work that they do more independently than your younger ones, but may need you to either teach the lesson or at least assign them the lesson for the day should they be working on it independently. When my eldest hit 6th or 7th grade, she did a lot of her work independently and I would just grade her work and discuss it with her after.
Once you’ve finished with your hands-on lesson teaching with your older kiddos, move on to your younger ones. You’ll have the peace of mind that your older kiddos are working on their school work, which allows you time and focus to teach the younger ones.
Encourage independence as soon as they show readiness.
As I mentioned above, my eldest started doing a lot of her work indecently once she hit 6th grade, for sure by 7th grade. How did I know she was ready? It just got to a point where I realized she was ready to take a stronger hold of the reigns and work at her pace. She works much faster this way too. I think my schedule was holding her back a bit.
Total side note: This is something I just adore about homeschooling, my kids can begin to work at a pace that suits their learning needs and style so much sooner than they could in what’s referred to as a traditional school setting. But with homeschooling booming, I think traditional is changing.
Don’t try and teach each of them different subjects at the same time. If your kids are working on two different subjects at the same time, it should be independently. Stretching yourself into different subject directions AND grade directions will cause you to burn out.
Plan your schedule realistically. Don’t try and do every single thing every single day with each kid. It’s just not realistic. I like to think of it this way: in college, do you do every subject every day? Nope! So there is no harm in not doing every subject every day now either.
Work with the older kids first, then work with the younger ones. While you’re working with the older ones have the younger ones work on something like handwriting or maybe give something for them to color. I have a few connect the dots booklets for my younger kiddo. This keeps her busy while I teach her big sister, and helps her practice her numbers!
And finally, encourage your kids to begin working independently as soon as they show readiness. This is beneficial to them and their development. Taking ownership of their work is exciting and encouraging for them!
A Diligent Heart
We started our homeschool year last week. It went great.
For one day.
Then the crazies came to visit. Interruptions. Crisis. Family stuff. Business stuff.
Something inside me knew it was coming. Every year it seems that something stops me from getting off to that great start that I’d dreamt of during those long uninterrupted periods of planning over the summer.
And then it happens – friends begin sharing their awesome back-to-homeschool photos and experiences on my beloved Facebook page. This is when it starts to get ugly inside my head.
Why, after 20 years of homeschooling can’t I figure this out? I encourage moms all summer long as a speaker at homeschool conventions! Shame on me! Guilt. Condemnation. Discouragement. I told you it was ugly.
One thing this long haul of homeschooling has taught me is that my God is faithful. I may be discouraged but I do not despair. 2 Corinthians 4:8 “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing.”
I head to the bathroom – many a busy mom’s prayer closet – and pour out my heart to God. He is the only one to go to. Only He knows why. There is no logical reason for my failure. I know how to plan and organize a homeschool. Only He has the answers for my aching heart.
As usual – I felt the Lord’s peace and presence. There is no shame or condemnation here.
I have peace, yet there is this part of me that hurts. That is when God reminds me that the pain I’m feeling is the idol I insist on making out of my kids’ education being torn down. God wants His best for me and my kids and that’s not going to happen if I insist on getting in the way.
Coming from a long line of highly educated people, God knew my propensity for making academics an idol. He has blessed me with 7 kids with dyslexia to make sure that never happens.
But I still try.
I still want to teach everything. Teach it well. Finish every page. Have my kids get A’s on all the tests.
And I still want my first week of school to go well. Is that too much to ask?
God is telling me that my homeschool is for His glory not for mine.
Honestly, looking back over my 20 years of homeschooling, I see so clearly that God has removed my signature from the lives of my kids. Sure I’ve loved them and fed them and done my best to faithfully shepherd them alongside my husband, but their successes are nothing about me – nothing but evidence of God’s amazing grace.
Every year I try to pick up the reigns again and make homeschooling and parenting about me – about what I can give and do and create out of these kids.
But, however much I want to be in control:
It is God that knitted them together in my womb. (Psalm 149)
God who has created them with purpose – since before the foundation of the world. (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
It is God that causes them to will and to work for His purposes. (Philippians 2:13)
Freshly humbled, I am able, once again, to let go of my grip and let my ideals, my plans, and my purposes go.
It’s a little scary and exciting all at once. Shouldn’t that be how it is when we walk with the living God?
If you are struggling with the back to school crazies, may I encourage you with the encouragement that I myself have received?
The baby is the lesson. Most of my homeschooling days have been filled with babies and toddlers in arms and underfoot. Even though my youngest is now five and a very enjoyable, mostly rational young fellow – I have grandkids! When the babies and toddlers are distracting you from your plans, remember that the baby is the lesson. Relax and enjoy them and show your older kids (who could otherwise be doing Math or English) that babies are a treasure. Show them how to love and enjoy that noisy, messy toddler. Mercy, kindness, compassion, service – that is the lesson for the day.
God is your Headmaster. We can plan and research all summer long but remember what God has to say about the plans of man. “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
It’s not about you. I know this is uncomfortable. Believe me. I know! Our homeschools are not for our glory. Look how quickly we finished our studies. Look at how well my kids did at the spelling bee. Look at all the great hands-on projects we’ve completed. Although there is nothing wrong with these things, they are not why we homeschool. We homeschool to raise kids to love and serve God and each other. Academic pursuits must be second to spiritual tasks.
God is faithful, Mama. If life is looking a little crazy today, step back and seek the One who has numbered your days. There is rest in knowing that He is perfectly aware of how much English you finished today and you are right where He wants you. And when others see your homeschool, though they don’t see a Pinterest perfect mama, they will see a family that is being perfected by what God is doing in their lives.
We are constantly being asked around The Busy Mom how we get “it” all done. Well first, we don’t, no matter how you define “it.” I am in a season where I have little margin and I have to choose to use every minute wisely. When I don’t, my house is what pays the price. Now I’m not setting expectations of having a spotless or sterile environment – believe me, I’m not shooting for the stars! I’m talking about a healthy, clean living environment, stewarding well what I have to manage. I wish I could say this busy-bess would end soon, but it likely won’t, so I have to apply a few tips to keep my sanity and manage my home well. I have given up on getting it all done, but there are a few things I do at my house to keep it livable!
Own less stuff.
Truly, go through and relentlessly purge your belongings (or schedule or responsibilities). This is the best first step. The less you have, the less there is to manage. And if you are frustrated that you can’t keep a reasonably clean house, that just may mean that you have too much to manage in your current set of circumstances. Right? If you could manage it, you wouldn’t be reading this!
You may have too much stuff to manage, or just too much stuff to manage with 3 small kids and a part time job, or just too much stuff to manage with a traveling soccer schedule, or just too much stuff to manage with a husband who works 65 hours a week, or too much stuff to manage with a chronic health problem, etc. If you truly can’t get it done, there’s too much “stuff” of some sort. I’m not criticizing any of those things, just pointing out that your set of circumstances is the reality in which you need to function well. I homeschool two kids, work part time and have a husband who has long work hours and chronic health problems, meaning he has little left to offer in the cooking and cleaning department. That is my reality, and I have determined what I needed to do to live well in it. But I can assure you, if you just have more belongings than your space will allow, it’s time to pack stuff up and move it out.
Make a list and post it.
Waking up with an expectation of what is to be done will set your mind in that direction first thing as opposed to waiting until you think about it. If you’re like me, I don’t think about it until I’m dragging already and that never works out well! Or worse, busy days go by and I don’t think about it at all. But if I have a list and stick to it, then when something comes up one day that prevents me from accomplishing whatever is on the list for that day, it doesn’t matter because I’m generally on track and can miss a day here and there.
When I’m successful, it’s because I make a list of what needs to be done weekly (like bathrooms, floors, etc.) and divide the list into chores assigned to certain days, adjusting for seasonal sports, Bible study and homeschool coop schedules. Then I purpose to obey my schedule because I’m a nerd and things like that work for me. I have no need to waste my limited brain power reinventing the list every day and no need to spend money on a beautiful notebook in which to write the same things over and over. Type it up, print it off and tape it to the frig. or put it on your bulletin board.
Use your non homeschooling or non working days to catch up.
If I spend some chunks on Saturdays or Sunday afternoons cleaning, I can rest during the week when I’m trying to work around schooling the kids. Using those weekend “rest” days to manage my house actually allows me to better handle the busier weekdays, so my general level of rest is much more consistent as it is spread a bit over each day. Since Jesus isn’t legalistic, I think this is okay with Him. If I use 60 minutes on Sunday cleaning, then I have ten minutes 6 other days to spend in the word, so my day of rest is spent “resting” with Him in the season in which He has placed me using my time to manage my home well.
Streamline your system.
It takes time to get cleaning supplies out and put them away. Wrapping up the vacuum cord and kicking stuff out of the way to get it in the hall closet takes a few minutes each time. Eliminate chore transitions to save time. Clean all the bathrooms on the same day while you have the supplies out, vacuum everything on the same day to eliminate that take-out and put-away time, round up all the sheets to wash and grab your hubby or child to help you put them all back on at the same time.
Work yourself out of a job.
Most children are much more capable than we give them credit for. Look at your chore list and turn chores over to them. Kids should be doing all that they are capable of doing! They don’t learn anything responsible by creating the tornado with no obligation to help clean it up.
Just do it.
Don’t spend ten minutes every hour killing time on your phone or computer. (Yes, I’m talking to myself!) That can add up to 2 entire hours of lost productivity over the course of a day! When you’re tempted to sit down and veg, make the choice to keep moving. You can sit now or you can sit once the kids go to bed, but if you are a homeschooling mom and want to stay on top of your house, chances are good you can’t sit both times.
Know the difference between clean and picked up, and set your expectations wisely.
“Clean” means I’ve vacuumed, wiped, scrubbed or sprayed something. “Picked up” means all things are put in their place. I have children. I don’t strive for “picked up” constantly, or maybe ever. I don’t believe it’s realistic in a homeschooling home.
I regularly push toys out of the way with the running vacuum cleaner, because legos or hot wheels look a whole lot nicer on my floor when they’re not mixed with dust bunnies! A pile of mail doesn’t seem nearly as offensive when the counter on which it sits isn’t scattered with bread crumbs. Socks, shoes, flashlights and all manner of random child paraphernalia on the side of my staircase are much less bothersome when the stairs are freshly vacuumed. That’s the difference between clean and picked up. My goal is clean. I gave up on picked up as soon as my second tornado child could move. I’ll raise my bar when she moves out.
If keeping up with your house is a struggle for you, I’d encourage you to pick just one of these and start today. I need to get my list updated for this new season and get it on the frig. Which of these is the most applicable for you today? Let’s start together!
Am I the only mom who has come to dread the 430-6pm hours of the day? Man, these people, they want food every single night!! There has got to be an easier way to do this. It seems like freezer meals and once-a-month cooking posts are all over the place these days! For a long time I couldn’t see why this would be necessary. Well, I’m about to start my second year homeschooling, and am almost through my first trimester with our fourth baby, and it’s become pretty clear that cooking dinner is no longer my strength! Over the past few months I’ve been looking for a few ways to simplify the process. Thus far, I haven’t done a lot of fully cooked and frozen meals, but have focused on the most time consuming part of the process – MEAT! For me, just having this step completed has made it SO much easier when 5 o’clock rolls around. Here are a few ways I try to batch cook meat so it is ready ahead of time.
Ground beef ~ I’ve found that on a day when I am making something that requires ground beef, it is almost no additional effort at all to do it in a large batch. I buy the family size packages at Costco or Wegmans (sometimes 2 if I’m feeling brave!), brown the meat (sometimes with garlic or onions depending on what I am cooking), use enough for dinner for a night or two, and freeze the rest. I’ve done this with spaghetti sauce, chili, lasagna or tacos. It can be done with meatloaf too, although it is more time consuming to do ahead of time in bulk.
Rotisserie chicken ~ What would I do without Costco’s rotisserie chicken? This has saved me on so many evenings! Aside from the last minute dinner though, it has become an ingredient for many other recipes. Casseroles, soups, salads, there are so many options! On a day or evening that isn’t overly full, I’ll buy 5 or 6 chickens, pick them all and cut up the meat, then freeze in 2 cup portions to use in any of these recipes later on.
Chicken breasts ~ I’ve started buying my chicken from Zaycon Foods. Farm fresh chicken, $1.89/lb. You can’t beat that! When you buy from them, the chicken comes in a 40 lb. box and has to be trimmed, separated into bags
and frozen at one time. Definitely more time consuming than cutting up a cooked chicken, but worth it! Last time I ordered 2 boxes. My husband and I worked together, and in one evening we had 80 pounds of chicken prepped and ready for different meals. Sometimes I have gone the most simple route and just trimmed, frozen and bagged the chicken. Sometimes I make up a few marinades to add to bags or simple recipes and freeze a few portions of it that way to have a few ready to bake servings too.
There’s nothing amazing here, and I’ve also just learned to simplify our meals in this season for us. As much as I love fancy recipes (I’m a bit of a foodie), I’m just not in a season of my life where it serves my family well to cook involved recipes. But maybe there are some others who are looking to save time in simple ways like I am! What are ways you have been able to simplify cooking processes in your home?
For the first time that I am aware of, our Summer season has been chock full of things to do and people to see. I don’t just mean a little busy, I mean “Christmas busy.” Since the moment school let out, we have had a never ending stream of get togethers and events, friends and family to visit, and an ongoing “To Do” list. What gives?! Most of these things are really good things, and our schedule has been full but it’s been full of good stuff. But a too full schedule wears on a person; it wears on the whole family. God, in his infinite wisdom, has given us a pattern–a mandate–for rest, because He knew that His way is The Best Way. God knows that if we work continuously, there will be consequences. In other words: Take a break, girl!! But is it that easy? Why does finding time to relax as a family sometimes seem as difficult as a college calculus problem? Perhaps it’s because “finding time” is nearly impossible. Making time is what we are going to have to do to make sure that our family gets a break. It seems I have been living by this motto a lot lately:
“If it doesn’t go on the calendar, it isn’t going to happen!”
It’s true. We can talk about getting together with a friend some day but it we don’t pick a day it’s not going to happen. The same is true for our family day off. If it doesn’t go on the calendar – it’s not going to happen. Instead, things will continue to fill the little spaces on the calendar left and right like little breeding calendar rabbits. Even if what is filling up your weekends are fun things like holiday gatherings and time with friends, your family is going to eventually need a day without any plans to go anywhere at all. Your family needs a day to just be together, a day with no particular commitments. And ironically, you are going to make a commitment free Saturday by making that commitment on the calendar. It’s easy enough once you realize what you need to do.
Step One: Pull out the calendar.
Step Two: Find the closest open Saturday (or one that you can clear.)
Step Three: Circle the whole thing. Label it “FAMILY DAY OFF,” or as we call it “STAY HOME DAY,” or maybe even “PLAN SOMETHING HERE AND YOU WILL REGRET IT.”
Step Four (the only difficult step): Protect that Day Off like a Mama Bear protecting her cubs!
I know,. . . this isn’t rocket science. I’m not the first person to tell you to plan breaks into your schedule. But I am here to remind you they don’t often happen by themselves. In a busy season, you will have to make it happen. You will need to choose a day in advance and then guard it against all the great and wonderful and fun things that will come along and try to embed themselves on that calendar day. You’ll have to be ninja mom, blocking and deflecting every invitation and favor request. You make it happen. And when that day arrives? You spend it with your family, with no obligations and no commitments. No time constraints. Shucks, you might even unplug from the phones and tablets! Watch movies together, play games together, play outside together, or cook together. Or if you feel like it, chill out in your pj’s together and have a pj day. We need these breaks together. It’s not that seeing other family members, or attending a baby shower, or going to the lake with friends is bad — it’s not! But it’s busy. And while we are advised to rest from work every week, I think we also need to take periodic breaks from “busy.” And that only happens, when we make it happen. Are you adrift in a sea of busy? Pull out your calendar, find the closest suitable day, and circle it, or draw a big X through it so you can’t plan anything there, or fill the entire square with the words “FAMILY TIME.” You can do it! Image Credit: Public Domain, Alex Grichenko
You are busy.
But are you too busy?
How can a mom tell when she has crossed line from Acceptably Busy into Too Much Busy?
I have a few different “Busy Rulers” in my life. A peek into my purse or my minivan will give you a good idea of whether or not I’ve been running around busy, but there’s a much simpler, more accurate method for diagnosing Too Busy Syndrome.
At your legs.
What do you see?
- If your legs remind you of the Amazon Rainforest… you might be too busy.
- If you think you might need to borrow your husband’s hair clippers before you pull out your razor… you might be too busy.
- If you have been wearing pants or leggings for three weeks straight to hide your legs, even to bed… you might be too busy.
- If your children catch sight of your legs and exclaim, “Your legs look like Dad’s!!”… YOU MIGHT BE TOO BUSY!
The Shaved Legs Principle
Now don’t get me wrong: this post isn’t about shaving your legs, or leggings, and it’s especially not about vanity. I’m not saying that if you don’t shave your legs every day then you’re doing something wrong, because I don’t know any mother who has that kind of time! (Shucks, I will admit that I often run out in capri pants with a little bit of stubble showing. This post is definitely not about keeping perfectly shaved legs!)
What I *am* asking you to ask yourself is this: “Am I so busy that I don’t have the time to take care of myself, the way I want to take care of myself?”
If the answer is “yes” then you know you have been spending your time in other ways – probably all very good and noble and important – which have prevented you from taking even a small amount of time to take care of yourself.
And if you have neglected to take care of yourself long enough that you feel you need to bring in power tools or hide it to avoid embarrassment, then you know you definitely need to cut back a little.
But if you could say that this is a regular occurrence, that you regularly find yourself trying to cram in a few minutes just to shave your legs? Then there’s a very good chance you might need to cut back a lot and let some things go.
Maybe your problem isn’t your legs.
Maybe it’s never having time to trim or file your raggedy nails, except that one that tears and catches on everything so you have to stop and deal with *that* one.
Maybe you are always behind on other things you’d like to do for yourself, such as self-coloring your hair, or plucking your eyebrows, or taking care of those stray chin hairs.
Make no mistake – self-pampering and indulgence are not the goal here. Taking care of yourself, both what you need to do and what you want to do, is important for so many reasons.
- As mothers we are setting hygiene examples for our children.
- As wives, we are holding a hygiene standard for our marriage.
- As Christian women, we are honoring God by being good stewards of what he gave us (and that may or may not include shaving your legs if you want, but that does include taking the time to take care of ourselves as we each fit and appropriate).
Furthermore, if you are so so busy that you feel like you are always behind on taking care of yourself, there’s a really good chance you are also feeling overwhelmed and behind in a lot of other areas, too.
I write about all this, because I know this. I have been too busy too often for a while now. (Especially the last three weeks. I’m wondering if my razor is going to be able to handle the job.) I haven’t made time to file my rough nails, push back my cuticles, get my hair done, or check for chin hairs.
All of these things are flags, warning signs, for the house I’ve been struggling to maintain, the homeschool I’ve been trying to stay on top of, the church stuff, the family stuff…all the things I am juggling. A simple look down at my legs or my nails tells me that I need to re-evaluate how I am spending my time. Certainly not *all* the ways I am busy are noble, or good, or important.
So please, do not feel like you need to keep a perfectly clean shaven, manicured, and coiffed appearance at all times, because that is not what I want you to take away from this. I want you start seeing those little undone self-upkeep tasks as reminders. Let the undone tasks remind you to make time to take care of yourself.
When you start to feel too busy and you ask yourself, “Am I just busy or am I *too* busy?”
Well, just take a look down at your legs.
Hairy Amazon Rainforest Legs don’t lie.
For Those Who Are In An Unavoidable Busy Season Of Life:
On a serious note, I feel the need to add this: There are THINGS in this life that we will go through, things that make life harder, things that make it harder for us to take time for us. And if you are there, you do get a free “Unshaved Legs Pass” because honestly, shaving is much less important than holding a dying loved one’s hand. If you are there, I would encourage you to stay strong, lean into Jesus, and take whatever brief moments you can grab to take care of yourself–but don’t fret what you can’t do as you spend your time focusing on what most needs to be done.