Friday, September 12, 2014

Productive, Not Perfect

When I first began homeschooling 5 years ago, I was a "freak-out homeschool mom" who wanted
to do everything right.  So, I did all of the typical things that FOHMs do: 
I tried to do public school at home.
I took on too much, researched curriculum constantly, and worried too much about whether or not my daughter was on track. 
I also allowed perfectionism to dictate my homeschool day. 
It's been said that if a perfectionist can't do it absolutely perfectly, then they won't do it
at all.  That was me!  I had this picture in my head of how our homeschooling day should go.  I pictured mannerly children saying the Pledge of Allegiance and listening to lengthy devotionals with rapt attention.  I could see us singing hymns together, reading the Little House Books while snuggled up together on the couch, and my kids cheerfully tracing the alphabet.
What I didn't count on was homeschooling in the midst of continual chaos.  Instead of being a chipper and energetic mom with a totally organized homeschool area, I was a tired mama who had been up all night with a fussy baby, was battling post-partum depression, and had 4 kids 5 and under.  Instead of having smiling children, I had a toddler who got into the markers and decorated the walls....again.  There were diaper blow-outs, cold viruses, stomach bugs, and potty-training accidents.  There was screaming, crying, and whining and a strong-willed child who challenged me on everything.  My little children often fought while I read aloud.
Even on the better days, if I couldn't do things "in a certain order" I would feel like a failure, even if we had gotten most of our work done.  I had a hard time counting our day as a school day if I didn't do everything on my checklist.  If life interrupted, which it did frequently, we would forget about doing any school because it couldn't be done perfectly.  I was drowning in my life and wondering why homeschooling was so opposite of what I had expected.
However, in order to have "perfect school days" I would have to be a perfect person and my children would have to be flawless.  Perfect school days are a figment of the imagination.  Let me repeat that for those of you who are new to homeschooling:  they don't exist!  Perfect school days don't exist in any school, whether public, private, Christian, charter, preschool, etc.
I have had to let go of perfectionism in order to be a successful homeschooler.  Over the years, I have learned that you can be consistent (Milk the cow!) without having perfection.  I may not always wake up before my kids, be able to start our school day at 9 a.m. sharp, get to everything on our list, or feel energized and alert, but we can still work hard and learn a lot during the day.
Because I have simplified our homeschooling, through Classical Conversations and through learning to say "no" to the good things so that I can say "yes" to the best things, we can accomplish most things on our list each day.  I still make goals and strive for great school days.  But if I happen to sleep in late, have grumpy kids, or have an unexpected interruption to my day, we roll with it and keep on doing what schoolwork we can do for that day instead of cancelling school.  If we don't hit everything on the list, the world doesn't fall apart! 
I have a list in my mind of things that are non-negotiables.  If we have a really stressful or unpredictable day, we can throw the extras out of the window and just get these basic school tasks done.  Your non-negotiables might look different from mine and that's okay!  Every family is different!
My Top 8
1.  Read from the Bible (Josiah does this one at bedtime)
2.  Boys practice reading (I use The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading)
3.  Math booklets (Justus does 1 page, Jer does 2, and Ali does 3)
4.  Review Grammar for the week (takes 5-10 minutes)
5.  Read-aloud together (The Children's Book of America, Story of the World)
6.  Prescripts Cursive writing (Ali and Jer each do 1 page a day)
7.  Explode the Code (Jer does 2 pages a day)
8.  Ali works on Essentials tasks (tracing charts, making keyword outlines, etc.)
Most days we can also get to reading a devotional lesson together, map tracing, working on presentations, singing our Bible memory work song, playing a review game, doing math flashcards, Justus and Katri tracing alphabet worksheets, doing an English lesson for the boys, doing calendar time with Justus, puzzles or playdough for Katri, Classical notebooks, singing the Timeline or United States song, and journaling or writing exercises for boys, but if we don't that's okay!
Simplifying our days and letting go of perfectionism has caused me to LOVE homeschooling!  Though our days aren't perfect they are productive!


  1. This is my third year homeschooling. I actually had the "almost perfect" school year my first year of homeschooling. I had one child and it was AMAZING. It was everything you described. We worked hard accomplished SO much and cherished all those wonderful moments. The following year (this past school year) I decided to take my special needs daughter out of public school. I had to start over with curriculum choices with her three times. After having been in public school her behavior was outrageous! I had to add occupational, physical and speech therapy to our day. I spent so much time de-schooling this child that my first one got left behind. We never got through her math for last year. The one thing that kept me from feeling like a complete failure was that in the midst of the chaos my oldest made memory master. I would get stressed out because we had not done a math lesson or her grammar lesson and she would say, "but mommy, we did do grammar. We just covered all the pronouns. And I did do math, remember? We skip counted and I did the formulas." Finally, it sunk in. I did not take these kids out of the school system just to replicate it at home. My 2nd grader learned more from the CC memory work than all her peers in public school. We may not have finished that math book but she learned math. I thank God for CC and for the Classical model. But mostly I thank God that my children hear from Him. And are able to bring goodness, truth and beauty to my perfectionist mind.

  2. Thank you for sharing your lovely story Silvana! It is sooooo true that even with simplifying school, our kids learn such an incredible amount of information with the CC memory work; far more than I ever learned even with a college degree! I wish you the best in your journey to homeschool a special needs child too!

  3. I have really simplified this year as well. After last year, I was absolutely and completely burnt out. I dreaded starting school this year and have really struggled with having the desire to homeschool anymore, period. But simplifying our lives and our school days has helped. We are still a long ways from having "arrived" for sure, but in order to preserve my sanctity and sanity, these things have changed for us this year:

    1. I made the difficult (for me) decision to put Jonah, 17 months, in daycare 2-3 mornings a week. I have really struggled with the mom-guilt on this one because it forced me to admit that I can't do it all, even though I feel like I should be able to. I feel like it was our decision to have 4 children, to have the younger two spaced close together, and to in essence, "I made my bed, I have to sleep in it", right?! But I have struggled so much that I had become stressed out, burnt out, and far from being the wife and mother I need to be. So, having Jonah out of the house for a few mornings a week will allow us to really concentrate on accomplishing our work without the constant needy-ness of a one year old in our midst.

    2. I scaled back on our schoolwork. I am no longer doing MFW either. I am trying to cover the basics, and focusing on covering them well. No frills, no fuss. Our non-negotiables for each child are:

    Individual Chores - each day
    Bible - Awana book and Apologia's "Who Is God" lesson each day
    Math - 1 lesson each day
    Grammar - 1 lesson each day
    Reading - 20 min individual reading, 1 read-aloud chapter together
    Spelling - 1 lesson each day
    ND History - 3x a week
    Science - 2x a week

    3. We have said "no" to many extracurricular activities. We told our kids to pick the 1-2 activities that are the most important to them, and that's all we were doing. So they are both in a Tae Kwon Do class this year, twice a week, and they will also go to Awana weekly. It is so freeing knowing that we won't be constantly running from activity to activity, and never having time at home.

    I'm hoping these will be positive changes in our school year, but we're only on week 2, so stay tuned. :-)

  4. Thank you so much for sharing Kristin! I am proud of you for admitting you needed help. I think it is FINE for homeschooling mamas to seek help, whether that is in the form of daycare, nannies, mother's helpers, preschool, grandmas, etc. Tonight I left the house for a couple of hours just to get some quiet time. I didn't even feel guilty because I knew after spending 12 hours with the kids, I needed a break to be a better mom!

    I'm glad you have simplified so much. Cutting down is essential for sanity when you have 4 children! It's great to hear what you've been doing and how you've made your days more manageable. I wish you the best this school year. You are a precious friend, a wonderful person, a superb wife and mama and I admire you!

  5. I was wondering if you had any new updates on your friends who had the house fire? My kids still pray for them every night, and last night they asked if I knew how they were doing? I told them I'd check in with you. Thanks!