Looking for Balance in our Homeschool Lives
© Beverley Paine
In almost twenty years of homeschooling I never really felt like I found a balance between all the things we were busy doing and all the things we wanted to do. New projects robbed us of time enjoying projects and activities we previously enjoyed as we threw ourselves into the new learning. Immersion, it's called, and it doesn't leave much time for doing anything else!
I'm still looking for that balance. Busyness is a trap that all too easy to fall into. We are still trying to do as much as we can because it's all so enticing and exciting. In our early years of homeschooling I called it the 'smorgasbord approach.' If you fall prey to this way of thinking it's almost impossible to find your way out!
What I used to do when life became overwhelming was to go with the flow. I'd put the history resources where I could see them and be reminded that it's something we're going to get back too, and then plough headlong into the latest 'must do' project. But now I think a more saner approach would have been to meter out the activities each day, week, month and year: an hour or so of gardening, half hour reading from our history project, a couple of hours 'making' or 'free time' for the kids, and then focus on the family chores. That just about takes care of a homeschooling day, doesn't it? Perhaps we should add reading and playing games together and a little bookwork. There are probably other important daily homeschooling tasks, such as prayer - a lot will depend on your family culture.
Most of us have regular routines that are embedded into our days, even though some of us, like me, fail to recognise them. I used to think that I wasn't the kind of person that could work with routines. Then one day I took a good hard look at our daily life and recognised that not only do I do the same things in the same way at the same time every day but there were definite patterns throughout the week, and even annually! Without acknowledging or realising it I was a creature used to routines with definite habits.
I like the way our family, because we were home together most of the time, wove our individual routines into a kind of cooperative dance, where we managed to almost magically get the maximum output for what seemed to be minimum input. That's the permaculture way. Once again, it wasn't until I took the time to observe and reflect upon these patterns of behaviour - routines - that I felt reassured we were actually achieving most of our goals.
Our routines gave me confidence to know that the activities we set aside to pursue our latest passionate interests were nearly always returned to... Sometimes it seemed impossible to add anything else to our busy lives, but we always managed, if we were really interested. On the other hand, gardening is like food preparation - it's a task that needs daily attention. I like adding in things like pets - which are great for permaculture as they create manure and their bedding makes great compost - but mostly because they need daily attention and that gets us outside. Guinea pigs are great incentives to weed, as is a compost 'tea' barrel in which you plonk the weeds with obnoxious seeds, or kikuyu or couch grass, or rose clippings (hate finding those thorns in the compost!)
I mostly grow salad greens and broccoli and silver beet - low maintenance, easy to take care of plants that I need to harvest daily. And flowers. Flowers naturally draw me outside...
What I'm trying to say is that we need to build extra incentives into daily chores, to make them pleasant and enjoyable. I used to listen to classical music (loud!) when vacuuming and almost waltz my way around the house. With no carpets in our house now we don't vacuum... It's not the same with a broom for some reason. And I've been known to clean the shower while showering... I leave the bath until I'm ready for a good long soak - the promise of bath crystals, candles and leisurely soak make the task worth while. And I'm about to instigate a stop at the coffee shop, with my notebook for creative jottings, for shopping trips. I reckon we all need a shopping trip at least once a week or fortnight without the family in tow. Or a fishing trip... whatever!
We can do the same for our children. Chidlren respond well to routine. Habits don't take long to establish and it's best to establish in an orderly and conscious fashion - this helps to establish the habits we desire rather than the ones we don't! It isn't difficult to make chores pleasant taks. Notice what you children like and don't like and then add these (or detract them) from the action of doing the chore. Make time and space in regular way to complete chores. Be assertive about this, don't let temptation sway you more than once or twice a week, for example.
It can take a while to build a sense of balance into our busy homeschooling lives. Elsewhere I've written about the power of recording our daily lives to help build and maintain this balance, which really does lead to feeling a lot more confident about teaching our children at home.
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Since 1989 Beverley Paine has steadfastly promoted and supported home education as an educational choice for Australia families. Her books and websites aim to demystify education, gently deschooling families so that they may meet their children's individual and unique educational and developmental needs. Her honesty, insights and wealth of experience continues to bring hope, reassurance and confidence to families. Beverley publishes her recent articles, tips and links to resources in her quarterly magazine, Homeschool Unschool