Leaning into the Flexibility of Homeschooling
“You should homeschool!” they said. “You’re already doing it anyway,” they said. Those were some of the life altering words I listened to from my family and friends a couple months ago. And, let me just say, my greatest challenge as an educator has been taking on the privilege of homeschooling my 2-year-old, Jasmine.
I have over 10 years of experience as an educator, with a background as a school leader, program developer, curriculum writer, and classroom teacher. Yet, I found myself feeling as inexperienced as I did my first year teaching. What my family and friends forgot to mention is that I would be taking this on while also caring for our 4-month-old daughter, Jayelle, and managing the virtual learning process for our oldest daughter, Juliana, who is in 3rdgrade. Not to mention this is all happening while building/managing my own business, being a wife, and the rest of the tasks that come with life. My struggles resulted in me feeling overwhelmed, stressed, constantly tired, and often feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough in the day. Worse, I felt Jasmine’s learning was constantly interrupted by me handling the many other tasks on my plate (nursing, tech support for Juliana, business meetings and calls, tummy time, lunch/snacks, etc.) and she wasn’t getting enough of my time or enough instruction. Needless to say, homeschooling wasn’t going as well as planned. Sound familiar?
After a couple of weeks, I took time to regroup, reflect, and repurpose my time. I believed that this balancing act of life could be accomplished if I could really consider the root of my struggles. I realized three things that brought about a stress-free, guilt-free sense of accomplishment. Rethinking how I plan lessons, reflecting on my time constraints, and reassessing my resources were the difference maker.
Being Consistent While Flexible
At the beginning of this journey, I knew it would be very important for me to gather curriculum materials and determine a daily schedule. I planned a half-day instructional schedule for her, that included learning about the arts, virtual classroom moments (for peer interaction), and physical fitness. In this daily schedule, she would have worked on all the basic subjects for Pre-K (reading, math, play time, etc.). I planned masterful lessons filled with sensory exploration, singing, painting, and even cooking. And this went well for the first week. By week two, the distractions, interruptions, and fatigue had set in. I was constantly stopping to tend to other matters and while I was preoccupied, sweet Jasmine was well…being a two year old. She was into everything…and I do mean everything.
Jasmine’s Daily Schedule Overview and Options
I didn’t want to break from my nicely color-coordinated schedule. This is what 10 years of experience told me will help her develop a sense of routine and focus while learning at home.
However, by keeping that mindset, I didn’t allow space for flexibility. Seriously, what is the daily goal for Jasmine? To complete her schedule every day? No. It is for her to have meaningful encounters with learning that allow her to grow, develop, and thrive. That my friends, doesn’t have to happen on a timed daily schedule by subject. After looking at the demands on my time, mixed with Jasmine’s typical time of focus, I realized that committing to the entire half-day schedule Monday-Friday, was simply infeasible and would pave a path to frustration. Some days, instruction would be much shorter and I had to focus on the principle of quality over quantity. I was already planning lessons based on themes (such as, fall, apples, letter of the week, etc.), so I began to use that as the basis for developing shorter (one to two hour) cross-curricular learning lessons on days when I can’t implement her full daily schedule. For example, if I know I only have two hours on Tuesdays, I make sure that the lessons on that day will include multiple areas of learning within the lesson. Some areas of her daily schedule, such as her morning meeting and moves & grooves, are included, but the rest of the schedule will be based on a short exploration-based lesson.
Jasmine’s Learning Explorations: Alphabet Appetite, French Vanilla Cocoa Mud Pie Facials, Pumpkin Casserole, and Imaginative Play
I also had to remember the hope of tomorrow. Since my newborn doesn’t tend to care about mommy’s color-coordinated schedule either, I have to be flexible with knowing what wasn’t completed today can be accomplished tomorrow. My original schedule was focused on having a letter a week. (I included lots of exciting activities connected to exploring with that letter!) However, with distractions, I struggled to complete what was planned. It’s important to keep time frames (as much as possible) to ensure lunch and nap time stay on course. So, if I don’t finish an activity, I have to be okay with either moving on or pushing it into the next day. Who says I have to cover a letter a week? Since I’m the one homeschooling, I can choose to take my time even into the next week or two to complete projects, if I choose. Not to mention, I can revisit topics in the next season and finish those activities the next time around.
Changing my schedule and being more flexible with what gets accomplished throughout the week brought more balance to my day. It helped me to reclaim time for business, household tasks, and even more, allowed Jasmine to still engage in meaningful educational moments.
Valuing the Power of a Well-Planned Lesson
I mentioned having to focus on quality over quantity. The value at play was recognizing, the power of one well-thought, quality lesson can be greater than implementing a multitude of daily mini lessons. So, what do these smaller lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays look like? How do you focus on quality of instruction when your time is limited? I tend to prefer to make these explorations science-based lessons because they are easy to incorporate literature, math, movement, etc. It includes vocabulary and our words of the week (sight words) for language development. I try to ensure it has real world connections and/or connections to nature. These lessons usually include experimenting and hands-on learning. Thursdays’ lessons are usually extensions of Tuesday’s Explorations. For example, if we read a book and did an experiment on Tuesday about “Heat can make things melt,” then Thursday’s lesson might be “cooling objects can make them freeze”. Connecting the two lessons allows me to have less topics to plan for across the week. It yields intentionality.
“The power of one well-thought, quality lesson can be greater than implementing a multitude of daily mini lessons.”
Exploration Day Science Activity: Heat Can Make Things Melt
Jasmine loves these days! She would do them every day if she could. Why don’t I? Well, this learning is great, but does not usually include phonemic awareness, phonics, number practice, etc. Those skills are still very important. Also, having her do her normal daily schedule will help her transition easily back into a school setting if/when that time comes. While still allowing Jasmine to follow her daily routine on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is fantastic, our Exploration Tuesdays and Thursdays allow me to ensure that on the days where I am busy, she is still getting a quality dose of balanced instruction.
Don’t Forget Your Handbag of Tricks
Earlier in the article I mentioned when I am busy, Jasmine is too…and two… So, if I shorten instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays, what exactly is she doing during the time when instruction is over? Here is where reassessing my resources came into play. I needed to look into my educational handbag. I had to think about what are the independent resources Jasmine could use while I was doing other things. I realized that our many independent learning games and puzzles, her virtual classes through Outschool.com, her subscription to ABCmouse.com, and her love for learning videos like CocoMelon were my friend! I even pulled out a few workbooks separate from her curriculum (such as Brain Quest) where I could tear out pages of sheets that included content I have covered with her. I added these sheets into dry erase page protectors so that the sheets could be used again. Having an arsenal of “Mommy, I’m finished” tasks is key to peace of mind.
This journey as a homeschooling mom has been an exciting ride! It is filled with successes and setbacks. The key to balancing homeschooling, work, and life is to constantly regroup, reflect, and repurpose. Be Flexible. Know Your Resources. Create Well-Planned Lessons. After all of that, celebrate the joys of spending this time with your child(ren).
Jasmine working independently with puzzles. Links to activities:
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