On Doing Something I Didn't Think I Could Do
I could have also titled this How Do You DO It All? or Working Moms Can't Homeschool, but it kept coming back to me that I'm doing something I never thought I could do.
I knew all of the responses I would get when I'd tell people we homeschool because I gave them. I was the one who said I didn't have the patience. I was the one who said I loved the idea but just didn't think we'd like it. I was the one who put more faith in a public institution than my own momma gut. I was the one who thought working moms couldn't homeschool.
I was also the one who said I'd always been interested in it, but we hadn't been called to it. And looking back to the times I know I said this, I give myself a bit of grace because it's completely true, we just hadn't been called to it yet.
Then a worldwide pandemic hit and the kids were sent home, and I was thrust into this new role of working homeschool mom. I knew it wasn't real homeschool, I had enough home educating friends that I didn't for one second believe distance learning was the same as a quality home education, but it gave me a small taste. That taste gave me a tiny inkling of a thought that I could maybe do this. That maybe we'd all like it.
Then it turned to "Wait a minute, I can barely handle being around the kids in the evenings. God, you have to change my heart towards them if this is going to happen." And suddenly, He did. I was craving being with them. I was showing physical love more than I had in a long time. I found myself with not more patience, but a desire to be more patient. Not only did He change my heart towards my kids, but He also laid this calling on us to switch to homeschooling.
Now, I'm not bragging that Josh and I obey easily, that's not always the case, but this time, we obeyed, then said, "Wait, what? How are we going to make this work?" Homeschooling takes time, and as the CEO of our small, but growing, business I had no clue how I was going to fit school in between emails and packaging coffee, and seriously, this was the year all of my kids were going to be in school all day! There were so many reasons it shouldn't work.
There were many moments of thoughts like "working moms can't homeschool" and "am I screwing up my kids?" that I had to just reframe and replace and remember why we're doing this. First, God called us. After that, the reasons ranged from our family being our first priority, some behavioral issues we were having with one of our kids, and the fact that we would no longer have to get up and go to school in the mornings (all the praise hands). I replaced "working moms can't homeschool" with "working moms have to be extra creative to make it all fit in and really good at setting priorities and boundaries". And I replaced "am I screwing up my kids?" with lots of prayers, just being honest here. We're trusting God to show us where we're lacking and praying for the wisdom and discernment to take action when we need to change something.
So how do I actually do it? I've had many people ask me this over the last ten months and I don't blame them at all. How do I run our business at the same time as homeschool four elementary kids, three of whom are still really dependant on me teaching every subject? I've gathered some actionable ways I've made it happen in our homeschool, and I'd love to hear if you have any more tips!
When we first learned that school wouldn't be going back to normal, I knew there were three things I needed to focus on: relationships, being outside, and reading together. I knew that even if the kids did go back to school, I would want them to remember the fun we had and how Mom and Dad gave everything they had to comfort and connect with them. I knew no one was going to be "on track" anymore, and checking boxes wasn't the important thing here (yes, that was hard to admit). From there, I knew that being outside would not only boost our immune systems, but also boost our serotonin and I don't know about you, but my kids never fight when they're outside! And lastly, I remembered the nights of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder aloud before bed and thought it would be the most comforting thing I could bring in every day.
And still now, after ten months and changing a lot of things, these are still our priorities. I'd love to say we're hitting math and writing every day, but we're not. I didn't know how traumatic the transition would be for the kids at the time, but I feel like these things helped that de-schooling process. If we needed a day to connect as a family, we'd brush school to the side and do the other two things: get outside and read together, and before we knew it we'd be better off.
Remember those "working moms can't homeschool" thoughts? They lead me straight to a textbook/workbook-style homeschool curriculum company, and I bought it all. I thought it would be easiest and fastest since it's closer to what the public school does. I've since learned that our family works best by snuggling up, reading amazing books about a subject, and talking and writing about them. The textbooks felt too much like public school and the kids balked, I felt clunky teaching the material.
I think it's easy to assume that straightforward textbooks are going to the easiest and least time-consuming way to teach a subject, but once we factored in our learning style, we realized that there are several things that part in getting it done. Choosing a curriculum to fit in with our lifestyle is more than getting it done quickly, it's also about not having them fight me doing school, it's about the portability, it's about the number of lessons. I didn't want a fully online school because that's the first thing that made me stop and think I could do this: I liked teaching them things.
Another important factor for us that came up a bit later was that we wanted it to be easy to travel with. One of the reasons we decided to homeschool was so that we could visit my family, who lives four hours away, more often. Just after we started school this year, we packed up and took school to my parents' house for a week. We did leave history at home and focused on our science unit because we had access to my parents' pond, but it was easy to pack up and go, and school only took a small amount of time during the day. We also wanted the kids to be able to go hang out with Dad at work and take school with them. Lugging textbooks and workbooks was not awesome. A small hardcover book and a narrations notebook? No big deal.
I'm not going to tell you the eclectic Charlotte Mason-style education is going to work for you, but I think the perception out there is that the style of education is not for those who have to budget their time closely, and that's simply not true. We get more done in one session that we did in a week with our textbook situation. The kids retain the information so well because it's like we're seeing it live and then discussing it. The important thing to remember here is that you need to know and understand your family's (or kids', I have one kid who learns drastically different than the others, so we've had to tailor her school a bit more) learning style.
Oh jeez. I won't go through all of the planners I've gone through or all of the ways I organized our homeschool materials, but I will give you a couple of things I learned. At first, I was trying to keep it cheap, using things I already had and found myself more frustrated than if I'd just budgeted and bought what I knew would work for us to begin with. I tried fitting it all in our tiny closet in our dining room because I didn't want our home to be overtaken by homeschool stuff. Did I mention we're living in a 1300 square foot house? I tried training the kids to fit into these tiny spaces and share all the things and I didn't want to look at it, darn it.
A couple of months into this journey, we also learned that we're more of an eclectic Charlotte Mason family and not really a workbook family. Turns out living books are prettier to look at than workbooks. So that was kind of fixed as we've transitioned a lot of our school to a Charlotte Mason-style homeschool.
I also realized I needed to just make it easier for the kids. Create the space for them. They live here too all day long and need to feel comfortable. I finally broke down and bought them all one of the iconic three-tiered carts that every homeschool Instagram account has and those, along with these magazine holders and these flashcard boxes, were exactly what we needed. There's literally no way to photograph those carts well, but I did a tour of the carts and put them in my homeschool organization highlight on Instagram. The only other thing we're adding is a full caddy for each kid. They're currently using soup cans as pencil cups, and they tip too easily and are not as portable.
As far as a paper planner, I compiled all of the grading sheets from their books (we did stick with the workbooks for math and language arts for this year but will switch next year) into one binder so it would be easy to check off each day's work. I also created a color-coded ideal week spreadsheet and put it in each kids' morning time binder so they all knew what was happening when. That being said, we keep our schedule simple: we do morning time, math, and language arts in the morning, then lunch, and science 2-3 afternoons per week, and we use tea time for American history. I found that it was easier for me to stick to our ideal week than write out all of our schedules in a lesson planner. I also wanted to freedom to speed up and do a couple of lessons in one day or slow down and make sure we have one lesson down before we moved on. So no lesson planner for this planner nerd! If I have something I want to add to morning time, I stick a post-it in our A Gentle Feast morning time book to remind me, or I'll jot something down in my everything planner.
Simplicity and Grace
I really just knew I needed to keep it simple so we could stick to it. I purposely left off important things like a foreign language and typing because my priorities of relationships, outside time, and reading aloud didn't allow time for those things. Next year, we'll have more capacity and will fit them in. And I had to extend grace to myself that one year without typing is not going to ruin them.
How does Dad fit in with this? Josh has been supportive of whatever I want to do in our homeschool and has thoroughly enjoyed when we save some of our reading for when he is home. In the future, we may tuck some school in where we'd normally have family time just to include him and show them you never stop learning. He's amazing at speaking grace into my life when I need an extra boost, and keeping it simple allows him to jump in and teach one day without the overwhelm of too many subjects.
We're almost a year in, and I feel like we've hit a sweet stride, one I'm thankful for every day. I find myself telling the kids, "I can't wait to hang out with you tomorrow!" when they go to bed. I don't want to paint myself as a horrible person or like I didn't love my kids, but that was not how I felt pre-March 2020. I've learned new things about myself as well as the thirteen colonies. I've learned about my kids' learning styles and the life cycle of the ladybug. I've learned that having a posture of grace is more important than a clipboard full of checklists. God has done a thing and I don't feel like I've adequately journaled how He's changed me and changed our family, so I'll keep telling this story as it comes up.
Thank you so much for following along! Now I need you to fill me in on your hacks, tips, and tricks for homeschooling as a working mom, so comment or shoot me an email and let's have a chat about it.