I do not think it necessary to expound on why we want to avoid overwhelm in our homeschools. Overwhelm equals stress, chaos, and uncertainty, none of which complement a healthy lifestyle. Overwhelm can be a rather quiet beast, creeping in gradually until one day you just CAN’T.
I find keeping overwhelm at bay starts with intention. We first need to believe it is important and recognize that it will take life-long effort. In our homeschools, our children are constantly growing and changing, and so we must adapt. Avoiding overwhelm on a practical level may look completely different from one year to the next. The important thing is that you have go-to tools to help you avoid it, and if it hits, pull life back into balance.
On the inside, we need to recognize some practical implications of avoiding overwhelm. Choosing not to plan to do too much can be hard. I think sometimes our refusal to plan is rooted in exactly this, we think is we refuse to plan, we will have the freedom to do all the things. But we won’t, we will get less done while enduring the constant frustration that comes from not completing goals set in delusion. If we refuse to write down our plans, we don’t have to face our own delusions head-on.
There are so many good things and we want to do them all. Sometimes we convince ourselves we have to do them all. Sometimes we even tell ourselves our children will endure future suffering if we don’t do them all. After all, we are forming their souls and minds and bodies. Yes, we have to nourish all these areas. However, planning to do too many things, however good they are, is damaging to both us and our children. It fosters a feeling of not-good-enough. It causes us to constantly fail. High expectations are only helpful and inspiring if they are also within the realm of reality. Reality is 24 hours in the day. Some of these hours must be dedicated to things like sleep and food. Some to play and freedom. Some to stories and music. What is leftover you can fill with academics. It may not feel like much at first, but it is enough. The real gold here is that you feel peaceful and confident in your daily decisions and this rubs off on your kids.
Inside of peace and confidence, your kids have room to grow into themselves. As my kids have gotten older I am getting more and more compliments about how each of my kids is so obviously their own self. Their personalities are so different. They are clearly defined. Although they are all very different, they all share a common trait, strength in their own personality. They are strongly and clearly themselves. This is, I think, the highest compliment I can receive as a mother who cares so much about freedom. To me, homeschooling is the place where children should be able to discover themselves in a more complete and deep way than is experienced in much of our cookie-cutter culture. I share this not to brag, but because I think the purposeful peace I have created for them is what allowed them to become themselves so early and so strongly. I want people to stop thinking peace within their own souls and own homes is optional. It is a bare necessity and crazily neglected in our culture of more is better.
Make a Schedule
One of my favorite go-to tools for avoiding overwhelm is a spreadsheet-style schedule. Mom and every child get a column. The rows are chunks of time, the fields are where you input what each person is doing when. It may seem like overkill, but forcing your ideals into the 24 hour day is one of the most powerful weapons against overwhelm. You may not have to do this every year. As your children grow and become more independent learners, you may be able to just write up (or have them write-up) a schedule. But you still have to make sure that three different kids are not all expecting you to be able to help them at the same time. For example, if you have new readers, and an older child still needs help and guidance daily with math, do not let that child schedule their math time during the time you are doing a reading lesson with the little one.
Creating structures allows our days to flow smoothly even within the chaos of life.
Multiply by 3
I always plan more time than I think will be needed for a task. Will this take 5 minutes? Schedule 15. I thought this was a crazy thing to do, but one day when I mentioned it to my husband he said he does the same thing at work. He plans projects to take 3 times the amount of time he thinks he will need. This keeps you on schedule because you are planning for all of life’s little interruptions and not-so-smooth moments.
Rewrite Schedule as Needed
How often you have to re-write this schedule depends where you and your children are in life. Looking back I would tell my younger self to redo the schedule every 3 months. When you have really little ones things change and grow so fast, you can’t expect your schedule to be relevant longer than that.
Now that they are older I only need to figure out the schedule once a year. I do like to have them write up their own desired schedules starting around 4th or 5th grade, but all schedules to have to gauged against mom’s schedule and adjusted to fit my schedule. My schedule is the most important because I run everything, I am the leader and I have to approve and adjust the individual schedules to make sure everything is going to run smoothly.
Put Outside Activities in a Box
This means a few things, first, it means they have to have a box in your schedule. If you have a co-op or regular playdates you have to include that in your schedule. What subjects can you do 4 days instead of 5? You have to make room somehow, and it is better to erase on purpose than always be trying to do too much, and whatever is skipped is half-hazard and unintentional.
This includes medical appointments. Put them in a box. If you don’t have many, you could put them in a box called “week-off”, this is especially effective if you take a week off from school every 4-6 weeks. This is pretty easy to do and still get in your 36 weeks and have a longer chunk at Christmas and summer. This week-off can be used to get six kids through their dental check-ups, tackle some detail level house cleaning, and have a little extra time for play.
If you have weekly appointments I suggest you pick a day of the week where you want to put those. If you have an even heavier appointment schedule, pick a time of day where appointments go, and if you don’t have an appointment then it is bonus relaxation time. If you have appointments more than once a week I am absolutely sure you need the bonus relaxation time. Relaxation doesn’t mean you have to sit around doing nothing, it means you can do that thing that you wish you had more time for. The thing that fills you up and energizes you.
Have a Bare Minimum Plan
This idea came to me gradually over the years as I battled with my own have-to-do-everything demons. It developed more completely as I dealt with several months of intense pain and fatigue do to chronic illness issues. I had to keep my kids learning. But it could not be in the teacher intense way I was used to, at the time I searched and searched for posts of people dealing with homeschooling through illness, but they were usually short-term solutions for acute issues.
What if you wake up each day and don’t know what your level of capability will be? What if you have a lot of random church events? What if you work part-time and your schedule is sporadic?
There is still so much to be said for the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic. I encourage you that everything else is optional. These alone will give a child the firm foundation they need to be able to learn whatever they like as they get older. Don’t be afraid to drop it down to these subjects for however long is needed.
These days I keep a light schedule and normal schedule. If we want to be done by a certain time, or mom is having a flare-up we can use this light-day schedule to keep on track for learning the basics. I focus here on skills, not content. The three R’s are skills we need. Science and history are content, we can pick that up, catch that up, whatever, easily, when we have good days. These are not typically studied 5 days a week in the classroom and we don’t need to stress if we don’t hit them every day.
A light schedule is also a great tool for kids sick days. If your kids are just a little under the weather, you can have them do just the light schedule. If they are down and out for a few days, you can ask them to make-up just for the subjects you keep on the light days. They are generally things we have to do 5 days a week to get to the end of the curriculum or to maximize progress.
My light day looks different for each child and age because they have very different needs. But it is comprehensive and pre-planned, in other words, I don’t cut work randomly. I have a complete plan, and this keeps me from having to think about what is important on the days I need an easier than usual plan, these are also the days my brain will be in a giant fog and I certainly will not have the mental energy to figure out what exactly it is that we need to accomplish.
Having a light-day schedule saves massive amounts of mental energy because I make it once a year and it answers a myriad of different needs and demands throughout the year.
Your toolbox is:
- Your mindset
- A schedule,
- Multiplying by 3
- Rewriting your schedule as needed
- Putting outside activities in a box on the schedule
- A light-day plan.
The more clear your vision becomes, the more flexible you can be, following this system allows me the flexibility I need to avoid overwhelm.