By Kyndra Steinmann
When we first began this homeschooling journey, I was very focused on making sure the children were “learning something and making progress” so we could “finish on time.” Our homeschool schedule of phonics and reading consisted of five, thirty-lesson units in the first year, and I was determined that we would do a lesson a day, five days a week. If we started in September and took a little break around Thanksgiving and a week or two at Christmas, we would be done in May. Perfect. Should only take about thirty minutes, and with another twenty to thirty minutes of math, we could be done with school in an hour.
HA! HA! HA!
I really should have known better. I was homeschooled, as were my four younger siblings, and I had already taught in a wide variety of settings. Whatever made me think that schooling was about the number of lessons accomplished? And how did I manage to completely ignore the “human factor” in my planning?
As you can imagine, those first couple of years were intensely frustrating! The children learned alright, but I had to do so much pushing! On Monday, they couldn’t remember what they’d learned last week; on Tuesday, readings and phonics went fine, but math was a disaster; on Wednesday, the baby had a blow-out diaper plus everyone had lost their ability to concentrate. By Thursday, I started to panic because we’d only done two lessons of phonics but three of reading—so now we were behind in phonics and out of sync with the reading book, so I pushed through another half-lesson, even though the children really weren’t learning much because their brains were tired. On Friday we did the other half-lesson and caught up, but at the cost of some of the joy in teaching and learning that I knew we should have been experiencing. Then on Saturday and Sunday we talked, and played, and read books, and the joy came back in time for me to attempt to harness it into my schedule again on Monday.
Of course, some weeks the learning went just fine, but we had doctor appointments or a stomach bug and some of the lessons didn’t happen. I was forever scratching out what I’d written in my planning book, and rejiggering things so that we could “catch up.”
It was wearing everyone out to do school this way, and I knew it.
Then I went to a homeschool blogger conference and heard Zan Tyler speak. She talked about how important it is to help our children to open their hearts and minds to learn, and I thought, “I agree—but how?” Then she started talking about resting in Christ and His grace—how we need to make our plans, turn them over to Him, and trust Him for the results—as we faithfully and kindly walk through the process with our children. And I thought, “Just relax. That’s it!”—and I’ve spent the years since discovering what being relaxed in spirit while still making progress in education looks like for us.
Relaxed in spirit:
- Committing each school year to God and trusting that He will ensure that we learn what we are supposed to
- Taking most of the dates out of my school planning, because missing deadlines (even self-imposed ones) makes me panicky
- Taking every seventh week off, and all of the month of December
- Making a point of keeping “white space” in our calendar and the daily schedule
- Keeping formal lesson time between eight and noon
Making progress in education:
- Completing successive levels of study in our basic subjects
- Adding new subjects as old ones are completed (for example: the 10-year-old finished his Handwriting book in December and began a writing class in January in that slot in our day)
- Looking for opportunities to learn more throughout the day
- Learning how to tell about and discuss at multiple levels the things we have been learning or thinking about
- Taking tests and receiving grades in academics as well as good work habits
Each year, I rethink things a bit and adjust as needed to accommodate new students, new interests, and new abilities. Throughout the school year I make small adjustments where I see that we could add something or are trying to cram too much into a lesson period.
We aim to be finished in May so that we are free to travel to Virginia for the HEAV Homeschool Convention , and beginning in April, some of the subjects will end for the year. When that happens, I will often add an additional lesson in subjects with more material or longer textbooks, or I may decide that we have achieved mastery of something and don’t need to finish the book. Occasionally, I remove something from a student’s lessons because they really aren’t ready for it, and we need to come back and start over in the fall.
I still get uptight about it from time to time. Some days no one seems to have a working brain, and I have to figure out whether we need a mental health day or a little incentive to work instead of daydreaming. Sometimes, I am sure I get that completely wrong. Still, most of the time we are able to enjoy our relaxed days while being sure that we are learning and progressing in education.