Homeschooling in Hard Times: Doing More With Less

Homeschooling on a shoestring budget
The economic downturn has had an impact on virtually every segment of society, and the homeschool community is no exception. In fact, because many homeschooling families rely on a single income, they may even be more susceptible to the effects of unemployment or reduced earnings than the average household. And while we’re generally a pretty frugal crowd anyway, perhaps if we pool our knowledge we can come up with additional ways to trim costs, expand options, and remain faithful to our calling in spite of hardships. With that thought in mind, here are a few of my own random ideas on the matter.

Product Options

Apologia Biology Does textbook edition matter? Sometimes quite a lot, other times, not so much. For instance, the differences between the 1st edition and 2nd edition of Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Biology are largely related to cosmetics and convenience. Our family has used both, and we feel confident that either one would provide comprehensive, up-to-date instruction in the subject.

Conversely, the difference between the 2nd and 3rd editions of Saxon Math 8/7 are drastic. The former basically provided a holding pattern/continuation of the arithmetic found in Math 7/6 for students who were not intellectually prepared to move on to Algebra. The updated 3rd edition has been completely revamped to include significant pre-algebra instruction and greater challenge overall. Either one may fit well with your family’s goals, but it’s important to know the difference.

If a used older edition will work just as well at a fraction of the cost, the money you save can be spent in areas where there’s less flexibility with options. Homeschool message boards are a good place to get the scoop on edition differences. Homeschoolers are notoriously generous with their expertise, so asking for opinions on an active board will likely yield valuable information. Publishers and retailers are also usually willing to share insights. At Finders-Keepers, we often chat with customers who are just trying to get a feel for their options before they make a purchase.

One word of caution about old editions: Try to purchase the essential elements all at once. Otherwise, you may end up with a fabulous textbook for which answer keys or student workbooks are impossible to find.

Vintage materials– Nobody loves a vintage textbook more than me. But let’s face it–if you use an antiquated curriculum for certain subjects, there will be problems later on. Some “heritage” resources provide high quality content that is truly timeless. Others are decidedly obsolete, no matter how charming. Such resources are better reserved for a supplementary glimpse into the past rather than a source of primary instruction. For example, we used and enjoyed A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer, but our copy of A Child’s Geography of the World by the same author was relegated to novelty status.

Sourcing Options – Purchasing

Buying Used – For most of us, the first line of cost cutting measures is buying used curricula. Online swap boards at sites such as VegSource, The Well Trained Mind, Homeschool Classifieds, HSLDA, and Homeschool Christian, can be a gold mine for bargain hunters. Ebay is still a good option, but is somewhat less lucrative since they outlawed teacher’s manuals. (This policy was recently reversed.) Some regional homeschool groups sponsor used book sales in conjunction with their homeschool conventions, and local associations may provide an avenue for impromptu transactions or newsletter classifieds.

Discount suppliers are the usually the next line of homeschool fiscal defense. Many are quite good, but watch out for shopping surprises like jacked up shipping costs, undisclosed sales tax expenses, shipping delays/inconsistent availability, or non-existent customer service. We’ve been on the buying end of all these issues at one time or another, and we know they can quickly turn a bargain buy into a regrettable fiasco. A special word of caution is in order for Rosetta Stone language software: The marketplace is absolutely flooded with pirated copies. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! If you’re in doubt about a potential purchase, take a quick look at this Rosetta Stone Safe & Smart Buying Guide.

If buying new is your only option, you can sometimes squeeze out a bit of extra savings by utilizing or even stacking consumer incentives. Rewards credit cards can sometimes be coupled with benefits such as Bing Cashback, Ebates, Big Crumbs, etc. to shave off a few more dollars. Of course, it’s always important to focus on the final delivered price when comparison shopping.

Sourcing Options – Borrowing

Public Library – Yes, this is obvious. But if you’re like me, you may have had previous experience with an under-funded, inconvenient, and poorly stocked library that was more trouble than it was worth. I recently became reacquainted with our county library and was pleasantly surprised at how far it had come. The entire catalog is available online, books can be perused, reserved, or renewed online, and the interlibrary and intralibrary loan procedures have been streamlined. Furthermore, the shelves have been stocked up, so quality materials are always readily available.

Homeschool Lending Library – Many homeschool groups have lending libraries that offer curricula to members free of charge. Though our own association is of modest size, our lending library is impressive, and a family could definitely make do with its resources in a pinch.

Alternating Grade Swaps – Seek out likeminded local homeschooling families who have kids a year older and/or a year younger than yours, and work out an arrangement to swap out materials from one year to the next. Some of our loyal Shurley, Saxon, and Apologia customers do this, and it works out quite well. One family buys the odd grade level kits, the other picks up the evens, and they switch out non-consumable components every year.

Put Out the Word – If you are plugged in to your local homeschool community, let people know that your budget is stretched to its limit and you’d be grateful for the opportunity to borrow materials. You may even be able to work out a bartering arrangement with services such as babysitting or tutoring to help earn used books.

Public School Materials – This would not be a first choice for most of us, and administration hostility toward homeschoolers makes it an impossibility for many, but if you’re in a school district that’s homeschool friendly you may be able to borrow textbooks from the system. Obviously great care is warranted when considering such materials, but some extra effort spent editing and enhancing a public school text may be just the investment that enables you to continue homeschooling when times are lean.

Sourcing Options – Do It Yourself

Unit Study – I’ll never forget the day I figured out that teaching young children isn’t rocket science, and that putting together a unit study could actually be fun. That was many years ago. I’m working on a unit study for my grandkids right now, and though it does require a good bit of time and energy, it allows me to custom-fit a lesson plan that is precisely suited to their needs. And did I mention? It’s cheap!

Borrowing From a Table of Contents – The prospect of striking out on your own may be intimidating because of an over-abundance of material rather than a lack thereof. Borrowing guidelines from a Scope and Sequence or Table of Contents for a quality course can offer a template for appropriate instruction using free online materials. Honing in on what to study and in what order can simplify the planning process and prevent excessive, unfocused rabbit chasing.

4-H as a Spine – 4-H is an outstanding resource, and I don’t know why homeschoolers don’t talk about it more. The cost is absolutely minimal. If you want to join a 4-H club, you’ll have access to guided instruction from the leader as well as group learning opportunities. But I’m more excited about their printed resources than club activities. 4-H Curriculum Publications span a wide variety of subjects and age groups, can be ordered online, and they’re dirt cheap. They don’t include all the direct instruction you’ll need, but they do provide a structured lesson path, some direct instruction, worksheets, and activity/project suggestions. By adding a quality text or two from the library you can have everything you need to study anything from entomology to wind energy.

Exciting Enrichments

Apprenticeships – At a time when labor costs are crushing businesses and education expenses are straining families, the apprenticeship arrangement is more practical than ever. An expert in a particular field can exchange his time spent training for the free labor of a trustworthy student. It can be an informal, short term situation, or something more substantial. Put away your preconceived notions about which trades might be well suited for an apprentice and imagine the possibilities.

Contests –It’s amazing how many student contests are going on at any given time, in virtually every subject area. You could really beef up a school year just by having your students prepare and submit entries. And who knows? They might even win some cash and prizes! Some contests provide lesson plans and teaching scripts for student projects. For instance, last year’s “Invention Dimension” contest offered a complete Educator’s Guide and Workbook, both of which were available to download free online. I was so impressed with these particular resources that I saved copies to adapt for use in future school projects. And of course, the Finders-Keepers Facebook Page has drawings for free homeschool curriculum materials on a regular basis.

BotballBotball is an outstanding opportunity for students who are interested in technology:

“The Botball Educational Robotics Program gives students skills, experience, and opportunities to succeed as they work in teams to design, build and program a pair of autonomous robots for regional and international competitions.”

Our son (who is now a computer programmer) was very active in Botball, and it would be hard to overstate the impact this experience had on him. Under the leadership of a local computer science professor, he learned about project management, time management, proper documentation, the importance of teamwork and good sportsmanship, and, oh yeah…programming.

Website Resources – There seems to be no limit to the number of websites offering quality instruction for students—both in terms of printable resources and online instruction & activities.

Commercial, government, and non-profit organizations all seem to be scrambling to reach this internet-oriented generation, and many of the pages are quite good. Of course, this vast realm of information can be overwhelming, so I prefer to think first about what I need to teach, and then consider what agency or company might be a trustworthy authority on the matter and go from there. For instance, for family preparedness, you could visit the FEMA website and utilize their FEMA for Kids activities. The USDA Youth Resources are helpful for nutrition instruction, as is some of the information in the Kraft Foods Kids’ section. The National Digital Science Library is a clearinghouse of information, featuring links to all sorts of science-related websites. (Just watch out for worldview bias.)

Thinking outside the box – Sometimes all you really need is some time to think about how to teach a particular concept creatively. I was recently trying to come up with a good way for my grandson to learn about the different types of rooster combs. After a great deal of fruitless searching online, I decided to step away from my computer and just think about it for a few minutes. Within moments the idea of “Mr. Egg Head” came to mind, in which he could mold the various comb shapes using an egg as his model chicken head. It was a minor thing, but it reminded me how important a bit of intentional contemplation can be to the creative process.

Concurrent Enrollment – This is only an option if you are located near a homeschool-friendly college or university, and it can be very expensive. However, some institutions—including the one nearest our family—offer partial scholarships for concurrent enrollment students. The cost isn’t exactly peanuts, but for a mature student it’s a more economical option for studying subjects that would otherwise require a major investment in specialized equipment and instructional materials.

Cooperative Extension Service – These ”county agent” offices provide instructional publications on subjects related to health & nutrition, home & garden, natural resources, agriculture, and more. While the content is geared toward adults, it would be appropriate for use with upper level students, and would be practical preparation for running their own households someday.

Master Gardener Course – This is actually part of the Cooperative Extension Service, but it’s such a great opportunity that it deserves a mention of its own. In exchange for a reasonable notebook fee and 40 hours of volunteer gardening labor (still more training!) over the course of the subsequent year, you can gain access to intensive horticultural instruction that’s taught by experts and specifically geared toward your climate. My youngest daughter and I completed Master Gardener training when she was in 11th grade, and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the program.

This is just a handful of ideas to consider. Hopefully as families discover new ways to achieve their goals without breaking their banks, the homeschool community will be marked by insightful exchanges, heartfelt encouragement, and a victorious view of the future.

Strategies for Sanity in the Schoolroom: The Dad Cam

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this in a place as public and as permanent as the internet, but things haven’t always been sweetness and light in our schoolroom. (What? You already knew our lives weren’t perfect?) Most days were great, but when you’re living, working, studying, eating, playing, etc. in such close proximity, the minor conflicts of normal life can be magnified, and they can easily get out of control if left unchecked.

I was determined to address problems as quickly and fairly as possible, but as my darling little cherubs grew into clever little debaters, I found myself spending a lot time trying sorting out who said what to whom, what their tone of voice and facial expressions were like, what happened just before and just after, who had initial possession of any items involved…you get the picture. And after all that, it still often came down to a he said/she said situation. If the offense was more serious and required some counsel from Dad, the play-by-play had to be repeated several hours later, adding to the opportunity for misrepresentation.

It finally hit me one day that what I needed was instant replay—just like in a sporting event. This was long before the days of web cams or cell phones that captured video, so it was an off the wall concept at the time. I got out our old clunky camcorder and set it up in a place that offered the perfect blend of scope and detail. I told the kids my plan, then pressed “RECORD”. The Dad Cam was in operation.

Your first response to this idea might be, “Sure, anybody will be on good behavior if they know they’re being taped.” Uh, yeah. It was kind of nice.

But that can only last so long, and our Dad Cam stuck around for quite some time. It served several purposes:

1. If there was a minor conflict that just required a quick sorting out of fact from fiction, I’d say, “Let’s go to tape.” We’d gather ’round the VCR, and the truth would be plain for all to see in a matter of moments. Those who were mistaken or downright deceitful had an immediate opportunity to make things right. Those who were wrongly accused were vindicated.

2. If an opinion from Dad was in order, he could simply watch the video to see what really happened instead of trying to sort out the facts from several perspectives.

3. It gave me—the mom—a chance to see how I really looked and sounded. Sometimes I was harsher than I should have been. Sometimes a little more patience was in order. Sometimes a more watchful eye could have kept things in check.

4. If something wonderfully extraordinary happened in the course of a school day, we had a record of the event. On many occasions, the Dad Cam played a part in letting others get a glimpse of an amusing or profound moment in our homeschool.

These days, access to video is cheaper, faster, and easier than ever before, and even constant streaming is an option for regular folks. It’s the perfect time to bring the Dad Cam into a new era. If you’re looking for ways to keep the peace, keep Dad in the loop, and keep tabs on your day, you may want to give the Dad Cam a try.

Doodle4Google Homeschool Student Finalist—Please vote and help spread the word!

Hannah Newsom is a homeschooled student who has been selected as one of 40 finalists in Google’s Doodle4Google competition. (She also happens to be from my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas!) In addition to being a lovely work of art, her entry expresses a wish for others to “glimpse the beauty of the Maker”. We received information about this contestant at a homeschool convention this weekend, and we’d love to see the homeschool community rally around to help her win!

The following information is excerpted from a VegSource post:

Since Hannah is a homeschool student she doesn’t have the backing of a large
school like many of the other contestants. So, we hope you will be her school
and vote for her and help us get the word out to your friends, family, co-
workers, etc.

Voting is going on now and closes at noon on Tuesday, 25th. Takes just a
couple of minutes to vote.

How to Vote –
Go to
click “Vote Now”
click “grade 10-12”
click “Region 7”
Hannah’s doodle come up “Dawn of Hope”
click “vote for this doodle”

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Have some good clean fun on Ivory Soap’s anniversary: Carve it, mold it, blow it up in the microwave.

The floating icon of American purity is over 100 years old and still going strong. The legend of its “accidental” creation is an interesting tale of invention and discovery, but the soap itself has much to offer the curious and creative. If you and the kids need a little break from the everyday school routine, why not have some good clean fun with these ideas:

Learn about solids, liquids, and gasses with this VERY COOL Ivory Soap Microwave Experiment. If you’re not up to conducting the actual experiment, you can just watch the video.

Take time out to develop your soap carving skills. (I prefer a potato peeler and a inkless ball point pen as carving tools for kids.) Don’t forget to put your shavings to good use!

The decorative guest soaps made in this kid friendly craft project would make interesting Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gifts.

Happy Birthday, Robert Frost! We’ve created a FREE study guide for “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” to celebrate.

One of the best known works in American poetry, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” offers a great opportunity for a quick & pleasant lesson in literary appreciation.  We’ve created a FREE Study Guide for this purpose, which can be printed or downloaded HERE.

“Give me liberty or give me death!” A study guide, a clip, and an appeal to parents.

The anniversary of Patrick Henry’s famous speech could not come at a more appropriate time.  As political lines are drawn and ideological fervor escalates, Americans are reexamining what liberty really means and which issues are worth contending over.  Politicians are scrambling to save their own hides, and citizens are uniting to ferret out untrustworthy leadership.  Regardless of our position on the political spectrum, recollection of Henry’s stirring appeal on the eve of revolution offers a much needed recalibration of our expectations of political leaders. 

Our children have much to learn from great Americans such as Patrick Henry, so we are appealing to parents to take a few minutes to introduce him to your students if you’ve not already done so.  Younger students may only be ready for a few basic facts, but older students can compare and contrast the political standards of the past with those of the present. To help start the conversation, we have created a brief study guide as well as a document featuring the text of the original speech.

They can be printed out at the following links:  STUDY GUIDE      SPEECH

Please pass this along to friends and family—especially those with children in public schools.  Patrick Henry’s legacy has slowly been chiseled out of many school textbooks, and they may not have another opportunity to get to know this key figure in America’s history.

Feeling ambitious?  Why not have your students stage a dramatic reenactment of the speech?  You could even capture a video clip and post it on Facebook or YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, they offer several audio renditions of this speech for those who prefer to listen.  Here are a couple of examples:

Daffodils Class of 2010

Each year, a section of our yard is transformed from boring to brilliant as the daffodils emerge and burst into bloom. The scene seems almost miraculous, given the fact that the only attention they get from us is a few weeks of appreciation and a good mowing when they finally start to look desperately pathetic.

Last week as my daughter and I strolled among them enjoying the fragrance and taking some snapshots, she recited this poem, and I thought it would be a very nice selection to recommend for a springtime memorization assignment.

The Daffodils
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: –
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

Breaking News: eBay Repeals Ban on Teacher’s Manuals! Please help spread the word!

As many of you know, about four years ago eBay adopted a policy prohibiting the sale of teacher’s manuals.  The rationale was that public school students could potentially gain access to materials that would aid them in cheating in the classroom. The net effect was that homeschoolers—a significant presence in the eBay marketplace—were deprived of the ability to buy and sell many of their favorite curriculum items.  The policy change was not widely communicated, and many sellers (including Finders-Keepers) did not find out about it until listings were canceled and violation notifications were received from eBay.

Ever since that time, we have made regular appeals to anyone at eBay willing to lend an ear, as have many others.  As it turns out, what we thought was a lost cause wasn’t lost at all.  Today our eBay account manager informed us that the policy has been reversed, and teacher’s manuals are once again welcome at the world’s largest marketplace.  This afternoon we created a test listing featuring a teacher’s manual, and it was submitted to eBay’s Trust and Safety department for their review.  They confirmed that all was well, and we were even encouraged to include the words “Teacher’s Manual” in our titles.

Please help us spread the word!  This is great news for the homeschooling community, but information about the reversal is even more obscure than information about the original policy.  While many people have continued to sell teacher’s manuals unaware of the prohibition and undetected by the watch dogs, many others have withdrawn from the venue altogether. 

We are very thankful that just when many families are trimming their budgets to the bone, eBay is once again a happy hunting ground for the homeschool bargain shopper.

You can check out the Finders-Keepers eBay Store by clicking HERE.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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Homeschool Burnout: Causes and Coping Strategies

Attitudes are contagious. Mine might kill you.

Whenever homeschooling moms get together for more than a few minutes, the subject of burnout is likely to come up in one way or another.  Whether it’s the frustration of dealing with toddler potty training or addressing the changing moods of adolescents, having so much responsibility so much of the time is extraordinarily challenging.  These situations usually work themselves out, but sometimes a closer look and a new plan of action is called for.  This article examines the signs and causes of homeschool burnout, and offers specific strategies for getting things back on track.

Signs of Homeschool Burnout

The signs of homeschool burnout vary, but these are among the most common:

  • Feelings of envy toward non-homeschooling moms
  • Bitterness about the level of responsibility
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lack of patience
  • Crying or lashing out easily
  • Change in appetite (Food is a major source of pleasure, or holds no interest at all.)
  • Leaving simple, routine tasks undone
  • Apathy or despondency about family life
  • Feelings of failure

Common Causes of Homeschool Burnout

Unrealistic Expectations. Oh, it all sounded so perfect in theory, didn’t it?  And the catalog covers reinforced this vision of neatly groomed children gathered ‘round the kitchen table, cheerfully completing their school work.  When they finish, they’ll probably thank Mom for her sacrifice and devotion and offer to help with the laundry.

I have not actually met this family yet, but I’ve seen moms with the vision.  Sadly, they have one of the highest homeschool dropout rates in our area.  At homeschool conventions, I’ve chatted with many idealistic first timers as they browse through the candy store of curriculum options, envisioning the delights of home education.  I’ve tried to walk a thin line in these conversations, offering both heartfelt encouragement and a word of caution. Yes, you can do it!  Yes, the rewards are many!  But homeschooling is not easy.  You and your children have a sin nature that will not magically evaporate on the first day of homeschool.  You have preferences and desires that will not always match up.   Some days, only you and the Lord will know what you’ve been through.  If you understand this in advance, it will not come as a complete surprise or a devastating blow.

Lack of Organization. The shoot-from-the-hip approach to household management that many of us got by with pre-homeschool simply will not work when we’re in the trenches.  Everything from dinner prep to library trips to science experiments must be considered in advance and thoughtfully brought into the framework of a complex lifestyle.  One of the smartest things my husband ever did was present me with a Franklin planner and a copy of The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management.  He explained that in his opinion, my job was at least as important and as complicated as that of any business executive, and having the right tools for the job only made sense. These two items revolutionized not only my daily household management, but also my thinking about how each day should be approached.  There are many excellent resources on the market for organization and time management, some of which were specifically created for homeschooling families.  A friend of mine made a very impressive custom planner using only Microsoft Word and a three-hole punch. And some moms do quite well with just the free calendar obtained from the local funeral home.  The main thing is to find a system that works for your family, and then use it diligently.

Fatigue or stress from too much activity. Can you really do it all?  Maybe.  But not well.  And not at the same time.  Editing the daily schedule may be one of the greatest gifts you can give your family. Focus on the things that are really important and scratch the rest off your list without guilt.  Perhaps this isn’t the year for horseback riding lessons.  And if sending out Christmas cards is more of a chore than a joy, try bowing out for a year and see if it leaves a significant void in the season.

Change of Condition. Everything was going along just fine, and then (fill in the blank) happened.  A child becomes seriously ill.  An elderly parent needs care.  A job change creates financial stress for the family.  Any number of things can cause tremors of trouble in a landscape that was previously stable and pleasant.  Give yourself some time to regroup and adapt to your new circumstances, and be realistic.  In times of crisis, a bare bones approach to homeschooling may be called for.  You can always pick the Latin or Art Appreciation back up when things simmer down.

Pride, Laziness, or Other Unrepentant Sin. I’m afraid I have to hang my head and raise my hand on this one.  Nothing can damage your day or your family like the harboring of secret sin.  How many of our confrontations with our children are exacerbated by pride?  How many of our unfinished tasks are truly a result of laziness?  How much of the perceived lack of support from our husbands is a result of our own disrespect for their positions and disregard for their opinions?  Rooting out besetting sin is painful and humiliating, but incomparably liberating.  The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace was instrumental in helping me identify unbiblical thought patterns and behaviors in my own life, and I highly recommend it to anyone dealing with these issues.

Diagnosing the Core Problem

Until you know the source of the trouble, you will not be able to take effective corrective action.  Here are some strategies for figuring out where things are going wrong.

Keep a stress diary for a couple of days. When you find yourself in the midst of distress or despair, make note of the specific circumstances.  What is going on that may have triggered these feelings?  What time of day is it?  Who is present? Where are you?  What activity are you engaged in?  Look for patterns.  If you discover that doing math with your oldest daughter in the family room just after lunch is always a bummer, you have identified some specific things you can try to adjust.

Write yourself a letter detailing your own complaints and frustrations. Putting things in writing can be extraordinarily helpful in clarifying issues. You may even want to set the letter aside for a couple of days and then write a response as if you were counseling a friend.  Often times we know the right thing to do and just need to take the time to think it through.

Ask your husband for an honest assessment of how he sees things. The unspoken thoughts of a homeschooling father could save many families a lot of grief. Perhaps he sees that you are struggling and has some valuable insight, but wants to spare you embarrassment and stress.  Pray for a tender heart and humble spirit, and then open yourself up to scrutiny.  Even in the unlikely event that nothing practical comes of this exercise, you will be blessed for your demonstration of humility.

Ask your children for their opinions. Yes, this can be a bit of a Pandora’s Box, but it can also be genuinely enlightening.  Admitting that things in the school room are not all they could be may come as a great relief to your kids, and asking for their input may generate therapeutic conversation and practical solutions.

Prioritize Changes. Maybe you’ve got the problems figured out, but you’re overwhelmed at the thought of addressing them.  Converting the garage to a school room is a major project that may need to wait.  Letting all phone calls go to voice mail during school hours can be implemented immediately.  Don’t get bogged down by focusing too much of your attention on broad, sweeping changes.  Just do what you can to make things better today, and make plans to implement change methodically in the weeks to come.

Strategies for Long-term Success

Live a Life of Balance. Try to find a balance between routine and variety.  It would be impractical to have Bible lessons outside during a picnic every day, but it might be nice every once in a while.  Likewise, creative incentives in the classroom can keep things fresh and fun, but it’s important not to go overboard. If we do, we may end up with kids who expect treats for every effort or accomplishment.  Homeschoolers also need to walk a fine line between time at home and interaction elsewhere.  Many of us joke about car schooling, and it’s only humorous because it’s true.  In the quest to provide a rich diversity of educational experiences, it’s easy to lose the plot.  So every once in a while, stand back and take a look at how things are going overall.  Any practices that are throwing off equilibrium should be adjusted.

Train Your Children:

  • To work independently. Some activities require direct, uninterrupted parental involvement.  Others do not.  We should expect an appropriate degree of independence from our children.  Excessive “What do I do, I don’t understand, I need your help” moments can ruin the school day for the entire family.  Some kids figure out how to use cries of helplessness as a form of manipulation. (Remember that sin nature?)  Others have simply never been trained to get on task and stay there without constant oversight.  The time and energy invested in training children to show initiative and work well on their own will yield a terrific return during the school years and well into the student’s adult life.
  • To be responsible and accountable. The default mindset on task completion should be “Get it done, no excuses.”  If extenuating circumstances are a daily occurrence, something isn’t right.
  • To lighten your load. Virtually every homeschooling mom I’ve met embraces the concept of children being responsible for household chores.  But the wheels often fall off the machine when it comes to implementation and accountability.  Choose tasks that you know they’re capable of completing.  Train them in the specifics of a job well done.  Follow up with quality assurance checks. (Doorposts has some wonderful resources for training boys and girls in household responsibilities.) For accountability, we implemented a rather unusual strategy with our kids.  We came up with a base weekly allowance (money) for each child that we felt was reasonable.  When they completed their chores each day, we inspected their work and gave them a percentage grade on their performance.  At the end of the week, we calculated an average, and that was the percentage of their allowance that was paid.  If they wanted 100% of their allowance, they needed to complete 100% of their chores to specification.
  • To be pleasant and respectful. Let’s be honest. Some kids are a joy to be around.  Some kids aren’t.  If I’m going to spend the bulk of my day with children, I want them to belong to the former group.  One of the pitfalls of homeschooling is that, in our quest to teach the paths of righteousness, we sometimes end up with precocious children who lack respect and discretion. Training your kids to be the kind of people others want to be around will benefit them in countless ways, not the least of which is greater happiness in the home.

Train Yourself:

  • To be disciplined. Maintaining the physical and spiritual disciplines that contribute to a healthy life is vitally important for homeschooling moms.  Spend time with the Lord daily and memorize scripture.  Get regular exercise, eat right, and groom yourself in a way that makes you feel human.  Don’t let the housework or the paper grading get too far behind.  If you need accountability, set it up.  (The Fly Lady is a there for you.)
  • To be restrained. If you call upon your husband to help maintain discipline in your homeschool, just stand back and let him take care of it without interference from you.  If you feel your children pushing you to the edge of sanity, take a moment to gain control before you speak or act. Don’t let excesses and indulgences creep in and gain a foothold in your life.  A friend of mine actually had her husband uninstall solitaire from her computer because it had become a source of struggle.  I really respected her for addressing the concern head-on.

Take advantage of outside resources. We live in an age of unprecedented access to information, and homeschoolers have never been presented with more options.  Teaching DVDs and CDs, co-op classes, and online tutorial services can bring unique expertise into our classrooms.  Concurrent enrollment classes at local colleges offer older students dual credit and access to specialized equipment and instruction.  Tutoring from older students at church or in the neighborhood can help out with everything from Calculus to computer programming, and special learning opportunities with family friends or relatives can expose students to a variety of vocational options.

Plan for an Imperfect Existence

  • If a curriculum isn’t working, scrap it. I’m pretty frugal, so I don’t offer this advice lightly.  But here’s the thing: you can always earn more money to make up for the cost of a curriculum, but you can never do anything to regain a wasted year.  Furthermore, a course that’s not going well is probably souring the student on the subject matter anyway.  Many of our loyal Shurley customers were in precisely this situation.  Their children hated English until they encountered a program that put success within their reach.
  • Devise strategies for dealing with preschoolers. Plan to spend nap times working on the most intensive subjects with your older children.  Put together a box of “school time only” toys that will engage little ones without creating a disturbance.  If possible, plan activities for younger children that coordinate well with what the rest of the kids are working on.  Position mirrors throughout your house so you can keep an eye on things from a variety of angles without having to get up and investigate.
  • Give yourself a few “Get Out of School Free” cards at the beginning of each semester. You know you’re going to need them, so why not plan in advance?  When an unexpected situation arises, you can take the day off without guilt, knowing that it won’t interfere with your overall schedule.
  • Always have an emergency dinner in the pantry. We all have days when the roast didn’t quite thaw, we forgot to turn on the crock pot, or a science experiment went into overtime.  Having a recipe and ingredients for a quick, easy “go to” meal can save the day.

Sharpen the Saw. To borrow a concept from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, if you don’t take the time to stop your work and sharpen the saw every once in a while, you will become progressively less productive. As homeschooling moms we are called to live lives of sacrifice, but we mustn’t become so child oriented that we cease to be individuals.  Maintain your personhood and share it with your children so they can enjoy who you really are.  Keep developing your skills and learning new things.  Celebrate the creative imprint of our Heavenly Father by practicing hidden arts.  (See Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)  Seek out the fellowship and encouragement of other homeschoolers.  And continually work to maintain a strong marriage.  It is, after all, a representation of Christ’s relationship to the Church—an image that your children need to see.

Redefine Success. So you’re rounding the bend toward the final stretch, and you realize you haven’t run a very good race this year.  How do you get from here to the end of the school year?  First, set realistic year-end goals.  Take a look at where you are right now, and determine how far you can go.  Adjust your objectives, adjust your schedule, and keep right on going.  Don’t wallow in the guilt of not having met your own expectations—it wastes valuable energy!  When the semester is over, celebrate what you and your children have accomplished, perhaps with a year-end family assembly.

Remember that the Lord is Sovereign. We are responsible for living lives of obedience, but ultimately the outcome is in His hands.  Challenging times present a unique opportunity to express our faith in God’s ability to care for us.  If our children learn to trust in the Lord with all their hearts, the time will not have been wasted.