By Stephanie Oaks
The lives of many homeschooling parents are plagued with imbalance. The list of items to be kept up with on any given day is long and often fragmented, but there is hope for a balanced life, even while homeschooling. It begins with a balance within the daily household, and also within the homeschool itself. A balance in expectations, areas of study, experiences, exposures, and finances is critical for the family as a whole.
Balancing Expectations: Isn’t this the key to it all? As an eternally optimistic person, I wake up every morning ready to go with a mental list of tasks to be accomplished on our farm, in our house, and in our homeschool. Normally, this list has been forming since 4:30 AM. By 10:00 AM, interruptions and the realities of life, as well as others’ expectations for their own day, begin to unravel my plan. Reality sets in and I begin to choose which items on my mental list are most critical, and must be done by certain times of the day. How much easier it would be if I was able to set realistic expectations from the beginning. At 44 years of age, I am still learning.
This optimism for how much can be accomplished during the day spills over into my expectations of others, especially my children. “Of course we can cover six subjects in one day and keep up with chores on the farm and in our household!” This is where things begin to unravel, as homeschooling goes from a beautiful learning experience to a mad rush to accomplish before the day is done. So how do we keep our expectations in check?
- Determine which chores need to be done by each person on a daily or weekly basis, and calculate the time that those tasks realistically take. Do not sacrifice the opportunity for your children to have these responsibilities by doing everything for them, just so they can have more time for academics (or play.) Real life lessons are learned outside of books.
- Realize that if you are homeschooling all the way through, your children will be in school with you for 13 years. That is a lot of time to fit in a lot of subjects and experiences. It doesn’t all have to be done this year. Take the time to plan ahead so that you can do the subjects you have chosen for that year in an effective and meaningful way.
- Limit outside commitments and extracurricular activities. The opportunities are endless, but having too many areas to focus on does not allow your children to excel in anything. Have your children choose one or two activities each year and stick to those decisions. Besides, who wants to spend their entire day in the car?
- Recognize that just because other families are doing something, doesn’t mean that you have to. Take the time to think through what is best for your family’s personalities and goals.
Balancing Areas of Study: Creating a balance among areas of study such as academics, arts, reading, time outdoors, sports, culinary skills, carpentry, etc. builds not only a well-rounded person, but also someone who has a love for learning. Sitting day after day in front of worksheets, textbooks, and computer screens can quickly lead to boredom and a lack of desire to learn. Exploring (and working) outdoors, visiting museums and other parts of the country, experiencing varied literature, and enjoying the opportunity to help others opens opportunities for our children to decide who they want to become.
- Join a group. Joining a homeschool cooperative or tutorial can open up your students to new opportunities that would be difficult to replicate in the home. Art and music classes, sports teams, science labs, and drama productions are often offered in these communities of homeschooling families.
- Know your children’s learning styles. Recognizing the learning styles of your children and designing their education around that style will lead to a better learning experience for both of you.
- Play together. Don’t forget to have fun together! Go on family hikes. Play games together (even educational ones can be fun!). Find out what your kids love to do, and do it together.
Plan Your Day: Whether or not your personality creates a desire to organize, homeschooling multiple children and maintaining a household will require some level of organization.
- Create a meal plan. Planning out your meals makes grocery shopping more efficient, allows you to use food from your garden or pantry more efficiently, and allows you to be prepared with healthy, economical meals when the family is hungry. Ingredients for the next day’s meals can be prepped ahead of time to avoid last minute panicking, even if math is taking longer than planned!
- Create a school schedule for your students: Children who know what is expected of them for the day can take ownership of their day and can carry on with their work, even if you are interrupted and pulled away. This schedule also keeps subjects on track so that the subject can be completed within the school year, without cramming at the end of the year.
- Schedule family chores. In our household, there is rarely a day when we can set aside enough hours to clean the entire house thoroughly. Instead, areas of cleaning are divided up over the week. One day might be bathroom cleaning day, the next laundry day. Chores assigned to specific members of the family on specific days leads to a smooth running household that is relatively clean at all times (just in case an unexpected visitor stops by.)
Balancing Finances in the Home and Homeschool: Homeschooling can be expensive. Textbooks, online programs, art materials, piano lessons, memberships, and sports equipment can really add up, making homeschooling on a single income seem impossible, but there are ways to make homeschooling an inexpensive venture.
- Utilize the library. The library can be a source of books, DVD’s, specialized classes, opportunities for experiencing the arts and music, and a change of scenery from the home classroom.
- Purchase used books and curriculum. There is no reason to purchase new books and programs every year. Inquire with local homeschool support groups, used bookstores, and online markets before making any purchases.
- Find local free or discounted events. Many museums, science centers and theatres have discounted memberships and/or free days for homeschooling families. Plan your schedule to take advantage of those that relate to your areas of study for the year.
- Join a food co-op and grow your own food. Shopping at a traditional grocery store is expensive (and wasteful.) Changing how and where you source your food can save hundreds of dollars each month. Make your own cleaning supplies and toiletries. Start or expand your garden. The life lessons that are learned in growing your own food are never ending. Involve your children in every step. Not only are they learning budgeting, chemistry, biology, and nutrition, but they are learning life skills that they can carry with them into adulthood.
Homeschooling in a household with two working parents can be done, but makes for challenging days. Evaluating your situation each year (including calculating the costs of having a second parent work), and doing everything you can to cut back on expenses can lead to a much more peaceful and productive household.
Creating balance in a homeschool requires vision and planning. Be intentional about setting aside time alone to think and dream and plan. Your family will thank you for it.
Stephanie Oaks lives in Ashland City, TN where she and her husband own and operate No. 9 Farms, an organic farm that specializes in berries, herbs, fruits and vegetables, and Christmas trees. Stephanie spends the remainder of her time homeschooling their two teenage children and teaching classes on organic gardening and healthy cooking.