We’re six weeks in to the school year and it seemed as good a time as any to think about how things are going. I find that like my students I’m often relearning the same material over and over (“You CAPTITALIZE the first word in a sentence”, “7 x 8 is still 56 and always will be”, “It’s and its are not the same thing. And neither are too and to. Not to mention two.”). But for me the lessons are more about expectations.
You will not finish everything, learn everything or do everything that you want to.
Note I don’t say “you might not finish…”. You WILL not. And yet every year somehow I end up feeling stressed that we aren’t going to “finish” or that we left some things on the to-do list.
Recently, I’ve been in discussions with some parents of younger kids who are concerned that their kids are not learning enough in preschool. It’s tough not to roll my eyes at this. Or to give them a lecture about not worrying so much about what their 2 or 3 year old is learning. From my lofty perch of 7 years down the road, I realize that whether they learn their shapes and colors and letters this year or next will really not matter in the big scheme of things.
However, I was also recently confronted with my own ridiculous worries about “missing something” when I was reading an article that mentioned the Cuban Missile crisis and my first thought was, “Oh, no! I haven’t really covered that with John! He doesn’t know much about the Cuban Missile crisis.” At which point I had to roll my eyes at myself (tough to do even on a good day) and remind myself that he’s in 6th grade and we can probably manage to squeeze it in before graduation. I’m not sure this worry about something left unsaid/untaught/undone ever goes away for parents, and particularly for homeschooling parents. A good friend of mine who has a daughter who is a senior in high school has confessed to me that she has to fight against a desire to “stuff” all the knowledge she can in her daughter this one last year at home.
So here’s the bad news: you can’t do it. You can’t teach it all. You can’t even teach most of it. You can’t do every project. You won’t finish a lot of the curriculum. You will leave out good things, things that are worthwhile. Things that you will be sad that you left out.
But here’s the good news: You can’t do it all. You can’t ever “finish” learning. And really as a homeschooler, that should be part of what underlies our very existence. No, we don’t know everything about birds or Roman mythology or car engines or butterflies. We will forget to teach certain dates in history. Heck, we might leave out entire historical periods. There isn’t enough time in the day to cover every subject, even shallowly. But what we can do is teach them skills and teach them how to learn. And perhaps most importantly, we can model a life of learning. We can show them that butterflies and Roman mythology and car engines are all cool things to be interested in. We can glory in the “I don’t know”. We can enjoy it when they teach us something that we “left out” but they learned elsewhere.
Focus on the yearly goals rather than the daily checklist.
This one is sort of related to #1 but it seems slightly different to me. Often in the course of the homeschooling day, something will happen that causes our school day to come to a grinding halt. It might be a kid who is struggling with a concept I thought he already understood. It might be a kindergartener who needs a little extra attention and so is choosing to get it by annoying her brother in every way possible. It might be a lesson that takes much much longer than I expected or budgeted for in my plan for the day. So I try and tell myself it’s ok. It’s ok if we don’t finish everything I wanted to that day. Or week. Or month. Or year.
And that’s true. We won’t finish everything. But it also helps me to realize that the more important goals are ones that we are reaching and “crossing” off our list. Maybe we have to take a few days (or weeks) to sloooooow way down in math and make sure a concept is really cemented. So we might not finish that curriculum in the time-frame we hoped for. But the bigger goal, to understand math, is being met.
Sometimes the goals are even less checklisty (it should be a word). With my sixth grader many of our goals this year (and for middle school) are difficult to put on a list. Learning to work independently. Time-management. Being able to clearly express himself in writing and orally. Managing classes away from home. Sometimes I realize that a particular goal is being met even when smaller tasks aren’t being done perfectly or as I imagined them.
A lot of times I realize that the real thing we are working on isn’t academic at all. It’s patience or kindness or perseverance or a cheerful heart or forgiveness. I say that as someone who primarily homeschools for academic reasons. That may be true, but on a particular day working with one child on his need to learn to forgive or another child on developing a better attitude when faced with a difficult task might be the primary goal for that day. I wouldn’t count it a success if we end the year with patient, kind, hard-working, cheerful kids who can’t read or multiply. But I also wouldn’t count it a success if we end the year with kids who can read and do math and know lots about lots of things but who are unkind, impatient, and mean to their siblings.