Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.

3 tips to brighten your homeschool blues

ideas to recharge | homeschool blues | homeschool discouragement |

January and February are the toughest months to homeschool. Just about everyone will tell you that. I’m not sure if it’s holiday hangover or the dreary winter weather or just the fact that the newness has worn off. Whatever it is, the “homeschool blues” are in full swing this time of year. If that’s you, you are not alone. 

Our first week back to school at the beginning of the month was rough. After a month off, no one was really feeling like buckling back into the structure of daily school, least of all me. But each week, it’s gotten progressively better. My daughter’s dyslexia gave us some major challenges in that first week, but a few adjustments had her motivated and excited again. So, how do I battle the homeschool blues when they hit?

Here are a few ideas to recharge your year and get back on track.

3 tips to brighten your homeschool blues

  • Recharge with something new. Add a new subject or unity study. Purchase some fresh school supplies, even if it’s just fresh crayons or a new notebook. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive, but adding anything new gives you all something to be excited about. For my daughter, I picked up a couple of new dyslexia apps for her to use and a new pack of colored pencils. She’s raring to go now. That’s all it took. Other years, I’ve purchased new binders and organizing supplies. Work within your budget, but just a little spark can add a lot of energy.
  • Bring back an oldie-but-goodie. Pull out a favorite book you haven’t read together in a while. Play a favorite game, educational or not. Spread a favorite blanket on the floor and do school on it. Take your school work to a favorite location you haven’t been to in a while. Take advantage of those fond memories. The energy connected with that fun memory can recharge everyone as you make new memories.
  • Shake things up. Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Maybe you need a new schedule or a new order of doing things. Maybe you just plan to do a few things “out of the norm” for you: a pajama day, backwards day, or star wars day. Let them dress up and do school as their favorite superhero or sports figure. Have a tea party for reading time and play legos for history. I think a lot of the “blues” comes from just needing to air out. Change the scenery. Do school at your local library one day, or at Barnes and Noble, or at the mall Food Court. Anything to surprise your kids and add a sense of adventure.

And here’s a bonus: do something that recharges you!  “Secure your oxygen mask before assisting others”—kind of thing. This is not the same for all of us. I can tell you how I recharge, but that may do absolutely nothing for you. Maybe cleaning and organizing your school area will do the trick. Add a new Bible study, exercise routine, or arts & crafts time. Or perhaps, schedule some time alone with a cup of coffee and a good book at Barnes and Noble. In other words, let’s take care of ourselves. We can’t fill cups from an empty pitcher.

In my small group at church, we are going through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study, and I’m journaling through Ephesians. I’m reading Uninvited by Lisa Terkheurst (my favorite author) and Craving Connections by (in)courage. And I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. I write to empty my head and shush those thousands of voices. But I’m muddling through, too. My dishes are behind, I just finally put away Christmas, and there’s a thick layer of dust and dog hair on everything it seems. I’m behind in so many areas of life. I’ve survived the holidays with no energy left for this next lap. But I know one thing: it get’s better. Yes, this lap is hard, but I’ve pushed through before and the sun does shine again. The energy does return. In the meantime, God’s strength and grace is sufficient, if I’m willing to receive it.

Hang in there, friend. If you are already feeling discouraged and burned out, don’t make recharging your homeschool something intimidating or overwhelming. Pick a few small changes to bring a little sunshine back to your day. Just a little light can go along way in brightening those homeschool blues.

Overcoming Together

There are definitely challenges to homeschooling. There are days when no matter how you explain it, your child just won’t understand. There are days when tears seem unavoidable. There are days when you never get to the fun art projects and learning games you had intended for the day. There are days when all of us can’t wait for lunch.

I try my best to make learning fun, but I also try not to deceive myself by thinking that every day will be a fun day in the school room. Some days, I can’t wait to send my kids outside to play.

But I’m learning (and I by no means have this lesson down yet) that I have two choices on those hard days. I can either fight against my child and force-feed each lesson, or I can come alongside and overcome with him.

Our battles will either be “me against my child” or “us against the problem.”

 

It seems such an obvious choice, but so many times I find myself on the wrong side of the battle. “I don’t know why you can’t understand this.” “Look at the word. Just sound out the letters you see.” “You added this together just yesterday. Why can’t you get it today?”  The look in their eyes reproaches me, and I realize that I’m not helping. Suddenly, I am the firing squad instead of the general coming alongside his troops. Even if we do figure out our issue, there is no joy—only a sense of relief.

Then, there are the moments when, in God’s grace, I’m where I’m supposed to be, alongside my child with encouragement. “I’m not sure what you aren’t understanding. Let’s try it this way instead.” I patiently ask questions to find out what they do or do not know. I walk them through time and time again, assuring them that it’s okay to get it wrong. We pause and pray, realizing that God is the giver of wisdom and knowledge. I get out more manipulatives or a wipe board. I give hugs, smile a lot, and wink encouragement, intentionally swallowing the heavy sighs I may be feeling inside. And then when the epiphany happens and we break through the barrier, there is such joy! Not merely relief, but joy and a bond. We did it together. My child and I can share the victory and enjoy the moment. It becomes a lesson, not in math or reading, but in character and the grace of God, a journey we can be thankful for.

Honestly, when I think of homeschooling my kids, this concept makes the top of the list. It’s not the dreamy days of art and smiles and a brilliantly sun-lit school room that I envision. Instead it’s the hard days when my children learn that their parents, and ultimately God, are beside them in the difficulty helping them through rather than on the sidelines critiquing their performance.

Life is tough, and I’m okay with some of our school days reflecting that. But I’m not okay with my sinful flesh turning a moment of camaraderie into a moment of combat. Sometimes, God has bigger lessons than addition and subtraction on our planner, if I’m only willing to consult His curriculum instead of mine.