I have always been one of life’s planners. It’s taken me a long while to learn that plans should only be there to guide us, not to hold us steadfast in their grasp.
Whilst pregnant, I distinctly remember a conversation with a work colleague about how I would follow Gina Ford’s scheme for getting new babies to sleep through the night. I also remember his rye smile at my innocent plans (he was already a parent!). With the naivety of a new mum, I was convinced my baby would slot nicely into a neat little routine.
How wrong was I?
Rosie arrived and promptly shook my world upside down. There was no way this independent little girl was going to fall into any plans I had for her. And yet I persisted, and she resisted, which made for a fairly stressful new experience of motherhood. By the time Harry came along, I’d started to accept that I needed to release control.
The Start of Our Homeschool Journey
Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a slow learner. When we started our home ed journey, I approached it in much the same way I had motherhood. I had reams of exciting plans and schedules for us to follow. I was clear on what I thought they should learn and by when. Although I’m ashamed to admit this, I even validated our plan against the UK’s National Curriculum to make sure they’d be on track…
With the benefit of hindsight, having seen first-hand how children learn best, I can see the ludicrousness of this approach. But back then, I couldn’t. Initially, I found myself getting stressed if they didn’t finish the lessons I’d planned for them. I grasped onto those plans like a lifeline. Our success was defined by how well we achieved them.
But slowly, over time, I’ve come to learn the following. Although there is a huge benefit to having overarching plans, true success comes from using them only as a guide. They are there to help but not control. Deviating from them, taking up new and exciting opportunities, following new passions/interests, or just simply taking time out to reflect is just as, if not more, beneficial than resolutely sticking to your schedule.
Our Current Homeschool Status Quo
2022 has taken this embracing-of-ambiguity to a whole new level. This year’s reality has looked nothing like what I had predicted. And yet we’re all in a happy place, having learned a great deal.
Firstly, we took advantage of the lifting of restrictions to go on two exciting trips to Iceland and Costa Rica. Secondly, we jumped on opportunities at home. For example, the week-long National Youth Theatre acting course Rosie attended whilst Harry and I explored London.
Thirdly Harry, inspired by one of his writing assignments, asked to spend more time composing his story. We also carved out more time on his schedule for exploring his engineering interests.
And Acting, Acting and More Acting!
Next, and probably most significantly, Rosie’s acting opportunities have increased. In fact, I would go as far to say that you cannot thrive in this industry without a) having thick skin and b) being relaxed in the knowledge that you will have no idea what you’ll be doing when.
Every time a self-tape request comes through, our normal plans must be completely abandoned. In each case, several scenes need to be filmed to a tight deadline. And these are never easy. In one she had to showcase a whole gamut of emotions, flipping from a light-hearted dancing scene to full-on crying her heart out. Others have required her to master accents, such as American and German, within 24 hours.
Extra work she did for a film have meant long road trips for costume fittings or overnights in hotels so that she can be on set on time. Even local opportunities, such as the play she’s performing in with her theatre group, have taken up large chunks of her time.
She has LOVED every single one of these opportunities. Each is enhancing her acting skills, which will hopefully help her achieve her lifelong dream of being an actress.
But none of them were on the schedule.
At one point, I couldn’t even plan one day ahead given the number of unknowns.
And now Harry has managed to badly cut his hand. His writing hand… He’ll need to keep it completely still for a couple of weeks whilst it heals, so we’ll have to get creative with his learning plan during that time.
Welcoming the Unexpected
Although the years of home educating had been preparing me for this level of change, it was hard. That was until I complained to a friend (you know who you are!) of feeling like my life was one rollercoaster of madness, which was constantly being derailed.
His answer, “But Debbie, you were clearly not meant to be on those rails in the first place. It’s not that you’ve been derailed, you were trying to stick to the wrong ones.”
And he was so very right. I was trying desperately to hold us on a traditional path but as home educators, we’re not living a traditional life. His push was for me to start embracing this world outside the norms, an exceptional one in its most literal sense.
Because the truth of the matter is that although our academics didn’t look like what I’d planned, the most important things had been covered. And on top of that, the children’s minds have been opened through travel and abundant opportunities to pursue their passions and interests.
And I learned the wisdom of using plans to guide us but not control our every move.
What Can I Do To Better Embrace Spontaneity?
If, like me, you are one of life’s planners, it’s not easy to relinquish control from your schedule. And I’m certainly not advocating not planning at all. But not being flexible within the schemes you’ve designed can be very limiting. Here are some ideas for how to feel more comfortable embracing spontaneity.
Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing?
Get used to challenging the status quo. If things are going smoothly, fantastic. If you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle to stay on track, perhaps something is not right. Refer to your overarching long-term goals for your children’s education. Is your plan helping achieve this or could it be accomplished a different way?
Schedule in exploration/reflection days
This may sound like an oxymoron but factoring in space on the schedule just to explore, think, be creative and find your inspiration is hugely beneficial. For both you and your children. As a society, we value much more highly the achievement of something tangible than the process of reflecting itself. And yet how are we to progress if we don’t give ourselves the time and space to think with no specified outcome? To see where our thinking might take us. What new doors it might open up?
Try letting go
For a time, don’t measure your success on your ability to follow to a pre-defined plan. Accept only that the one thing you can be sure of is that you won’t stick to the schedule. And then look back and see how far your children have come in that time.
Say yes to opportunities…
Even if they scare you. Try new things. Jump on last minute openings. Take advantage of good weather. Seek out novel possibilities. Channel your inner curious child. Travel. Go on adventures. Welcome in the unexpected.
And see where it all takes you 😊