One of the great benefits of being an independent homeschooler is that we get to develop an approach and a curriculum that is exactly suited to the needs of our children. We get to decide on our priorities, choose the materials that are a good fit, set our own schedules, and work out the details.
This approach is not without its challenges, however. With nearly unlimited freedom comes infinite choices. It is easy to second-guess the things we are doing, and when our days start to fall apart, we have countless levers and buttons that we can adjust when trying to set things right. It is not always clear where problems lie or how to fix them.
Over the years, I have developed a set of guiding principles that help me to refocus when things are not working. Generally, when something is not quite right, I can trace the problem to my neglect of one or more of the following:
Teach the Child in Front of You
If things are unsettled or a little “off,” I question whether the things I am asking my children to do are appropriate for their abilities and dispositions right now. If they are not, we need to make changes. It is important to teach the children we have today, not the children we once had or the children we hope they will become. Just because something worked well once doesn’t mean it will work now.
Safeguard Your Child’s Will to Learn
If the kids are struggling, I ask whether or not the struggle is productive or destructive. Productive struggles help kids grow. They discover that they are capable of more than they might have thought, and once they push through, they find themselves able to do more complex, interesting work. Destructive struggles that arise from being asked to do things that are too hard, too easy, or irrelevant kill their will to learn. Our first responsibility is to make sure that our children always embrace the process of learning. Once their desire to learn has been extinguished, it is extraordinarily difficult to rekindle.
The Best Curriculum Is the One That Gets Done
If I have a subject or project that we never seem to get to, I ask whether or not we actually need to do it. Do we have enough other things going on in our days? What would the kids be missing if we skipped it altogether? If I want to fit it in, I need to prioritize the time to do so, and find something that will fit easily into our days.
In addition, we need to make sure we have a core of things that get done with great regularity. For some, that might be math, reading, and writing. For others, the core could include music, a foreign language, and math. On our busiest or most chaotic days, we do these core subjects only.
Do Not Try to Fix Things That Are Not Broken
If I find something that looks fun and that everyone else seems to love, I sometimes second-guess what we are doing. Is this shiny new thing actually better, in some tangible way, than what we have now? It is always easy to imagine that the grass is greener, but if we have something that is working, we should stick with it. If we reach a point where it is no longer working, only then should we consider making changes.
Expenditures of Time and Effort Pay Dividends
If I get off track, I go back to my plans. I do a lot of planning during the spring and summer and usually work out detailed schedules, but I do not always follow them. Do I need to revise my plans to be more or less precise? Have we changed direction enough to necessitate new plans?
Days can only be easy and seem effortless when you have put in the time and effort to make sure they are so. Time we put into curating an organized environment in our homes, working out a flexible and functional schedule, selecting appropriate materials, learning the materials we will be teaching, and preparing activities in advance will make our days flow smoothly.
Evaluate and Assess Regularly
I routinely try to evaluate what is working and what is not working. Even though it is important to make plans, I try not to plan too far ahead. We need to leave some flexibility in our schedules so we can follow our students’ interests and accommodate unexpected interruptions.
Make Changes and Employ Exit Strategies When Needed
When something significant is not working, be it a curriculum, subject, extracurricular activity, or homeschooling itself, I weigh the available options and choose a new course. We need to remember that few thoughtfully-made choices regarding the education of our children are permanent and irreversible. We all learn a lot when we are willing to experiment and try new things.
Take Time Off
When all else fails, maybe it is time for a full stop. I used to resist taking weeks or months off completely, but I have learned that they are vital if we want to stay sane. After some time away, we all tend to be more clear-minded, relaxed, and ready to build on knowledge already learned.
Be Intentional and Thoughtful in Determining Your Path
Every year, I take time to remember and to articulate why we are homeschooling and what we hope to accomplish. I don’t have a written mission statement or a neat list of goals for each child, but I do try to define what we are doing and why.
When we are intentional and thoughtful in determining our own goals, curriculum, and schedule, we are less inclined to envy another homeschooler’s path.
Enjoy the Journey
Sometimes, we simply need to adjust our attitudes. This is a path we have chosen, and one that we can change should should the need or desire arise. As long as we choose to continue, we should embrace it, enjoy it, and appreciate its many delights and challenges.