The moment you step into the realm of home education, the whole world opens up to you. You are, in essence, presented with a blank sheet of paper – gifted with all the time and freedom to do whatever you want to do. The choices of how you could spend your time are infinite.
Alongside this freedom comes the responsibility for helping your most precious people achieve their potential.
Add into the mix a new dynamic in which we are daily (if we allow it) bombarded with insights, albeit superficial ones, into others’ lives through the world of social media. We see people’s joy (I’m as guilty as the next person for this), but not necessarily the difficult parts of their journey.
This combination of total freedom of choice, responsibility and an inauthentic method of comparison can, at times, be crippling.
What is the best option for my family? Am I making the right choices? Should I be doing more or less of x, y or z.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot recently now we’re a good way into the new term, sufficiently to test the choices we’ve made, and I’ve realised that it’s all about the balance. And by this, I mean looking at the holistic requirements of the family as a whole and making sure we’re amply meeting each of those needs.
So, more specifically:
Are we all getting enough rest and recovery?
Are our minds being stretched sufficiently? This doesn’t necessarily mean a balance across the subjects. We could be solely and deeply focused on one area and still be sufficiently challenged.
And how about our bodies? Have we factored in enough time to exercise and eat healthily?
Creatively, do we feel fulfilled? Have we factored in abundant space for inspiration?
Are we getting plenty of time outside?
Do we have ample time to practice the skills we need to follow our passions?
Are our social requirements being met?
And do we make enough time for our spiritual needs?
There are no wrong or right choices with homeschooling. You also can’t do everything. But aiming for a balance across these areas over the year will undoubtedly allow your family to thrive.
Circumstances or your own choice may well dictate that one of the areas is prioritised over others for a period of time, but consciously remembering to redress the balance when you can, leads to a happy and fulfilled life for everyone. And that is surely the aim.
Here are a few ideas that have helped us with this balance:
1. Keep Front of Mind Your End Goal
If you create an image in your mind of your little learners at the point they’re due to leave the nest and move onto either further education or the world of work, what do you hope to see? What does success look and feel like for you?
For us, success would look like two happy, healthy and kind children, confident in their own skin, who still have a zest for learning, going off to follow their passions and dreams. They would have the foundational skills and knowledge in place (along with any qualifications needed) to allow them to pursue any career they set their mind to.
Take some time to work out what success looks and feels like for your family and remember always to keep it front of mind – maybe even print it out and stick it on your fridge door if it helps!
And then if that is what you’re aiming for, how does it translate to the day-to-day? If someone could watch over your homeschool life over the whole year, warts and all, what would you want them to see and hear? How would it make them feel?
This should help you see whether you have the balance right. For example, are we too focused on the foundational skills and not enough on pursuing their interests or fuelling their love of learning by sharing fascinating stories together or visiting museums? Or vice versa? Do we need to spend a little more time on the basics?
The whole year picture is important as undoubtedly you will have seasons where the weather is beautiful, and you are out and about exploring the world and other times where you spend more time indoors with noses in books. But overall, have you got the balance right?
Trust Your Instincts, but Reflect on Improvements
Once you’ve decided on a course of action, be that following a structured academic plan or focusing solely on their interests, give it plenty of time and space to succeed. Don’t make the mistake of comparing your journey to others – thinking they are doing it better than you and trying to emulate them. You know your family and all its beautiful uniqueness the very best. Instinctively it’s highly likely you’ve chosen the best options for your children. Trust those instincts and over time you will reap the rewards. It may not be today or tomorrow, but success will come.
Although I would caution against whole scale changes if you haven’t given your initial option sufficient time to assess its effectiveness, if you feel that something is very clearly not working, don’t be afraid to tweak your approach.
This school year for example, I have changed things up slightly and have allocated half or whole days to one subject, rather than doing a bit of everything across the week. So, for example, on Tuesdays, Bean12 spends the whole day studying biology with me as she’s fascinated by this subject. Meanwhile, Bean10 has a Spanish focus on Tuesdays (with a bit of sport and music thrown in too), which thanks to our new, excellent Spanish tutor, is less labour/time intensive for me, allowing my focus to be on Bean12 for this day.
Academically, the new approach is working well, but on reflection I realised that I hadn’t allocated enough time for socialising into our week (for the kids or me). So, I’ve adapted our schedule to ensure we factor in plenty of opportunity for playing with friends either outside in the fresh air, enjoying drama days or visiting museums/going on days trips together.
And I’ve made more of an effort to catch up with friends in the evenings too. It may be a busy season of life and some days after ferrying the kids around to their various classes, the last thing I want to do is go out again but making the effort can really refresh my soul!
Information Gather with Your Eyes Open
As homeschool mums, we’re information gatherers – anything from which books our littles should be reading to the best style of home educating to what maths curriculum to use. We’re also living at a time when information has never been more abundantly available or easy to access. With contentious issues, often advice can be conflicting, meaning you could easily find a persuasive argument to support either side of the picture.
Added to this, everyone seems to have an opinion and whilst it’s very helpful to find out what has worked for others, it’s important not to confuse this with fact. What works for one family may be a disaster for your own.
My advice here (and this is only my opinion so it might not work for you 😉) is to open your net wide when you’re at the information gathering stage. See things from different perspectives, but the moment you start to feel overwhelm creep in, stop, pull back and make a decision based on your gut instinct. If it doesn’t work, you can always change your approach.
To give you an example, there are many articles espousing the problems of overscheduling your children with too many after school classes. And I do see their point if it means they’re not getting enough time to play and relax. But what if those extracurriculars are their passions? What if that time is relaxing and playful for them?
Bean10 is very sporty. Although cricket is his true passion and will always be his priority, he loves each and every kind of sport that he’s tried. Cricket and hockey are already on the schedule, but he’s also asked to try rugby, golf, tennis, basketball, skiing and even fencing! I’d been reluctant to him committing to too many different sports for fear of overwhelming him (and MrJ and me!). But then I read several articles and happened to talk to sports coaches about the importance of cross training. Finally, I acquiesced to his wishes, and we’ve started weaving a few more sports into his schedule. It may be too much, and we may need to pull back, but for now, we’re testing the waters and doing what I think is right for our family.
My last two pointers for trying to maintain a good level of balance in your homeschool are firstly to listen to your family – are they happy with the status quo or do things need to change? – and secondly to aim for growth not perfection. This is something I learned through the excellent Introverted Moms group, and it’s become an important mantra for this type A perfectionist! We’re never going to get it all right, but as long as we’re growing on our homeschool journey, that’s all anyone can ask for!