Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is one that many homeschoolers often face about this time of year: How do you cope with feelings of “burnout” during the school year? What works best for you during these times, and what if anything do you change to breathe some life back into your days?
There are many reasons why homeschooling parents can experience burnout during the school year: It could be seasonal (a long winter), topical (curriculum feels stale), or more personal (family crisis, illness). It may even get to a point that you feel like throwing in the towel, as Simple Homeschool’s Editor Jamie Martin recently wrote about in her post, “For When You Want to Quit” — which includes some great advice for coping with this feeling.
However, burnout doesn’t have to lead to towel-throwing! There are lots of great ideas and suggestions from veteran homeschooling moms out there who’ve endured periods of burnout and survived to tell about it that can encourage us all. Here’s what the authors of NextGen Homeschool have to say about coping with homeschool burnout:
“In past years, I have suffered from homeschool burnout about this time of year. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I was also anxious that we weren’t going to get enough done before the summer break — and my girls really counted on a summer break. I would become tired of planning lessons and pushing the girls to finish them. At the same time, they would struggle to stay focused. Every year, the same feeling of impending failure — the “maybe I wasn’t cut out to be their teacher as well as their mother” feeling — would start to set in.
Then several years ago, Tulsa began hosting an annual homeschool convention in April. Oh, what a relief it is! I start looking forward to this conference as early as January. It isn’t just the workshops and the vendors hall: It is the whole atmosphere. It’s so refreshing to be surrounded by so many other homeschooling parents all there to be encouraged and learn new ways to do a better job.
This year has been difficult for me, but not so much in the homeschool arena. My daughter Virginia is a senior, and even though she can do her work fairly independently of me, she still needs direction, prodding and encouragement. Now it is March, and I am back to feeling like maybe we didn’t get enough done — and we have this graduation deadline looming. Which is totally ridiculous really, because she is only 16 and if we don’t finish everything, so what? We can just finish in the summer or fall.
Joel is in first grade and doing quite well, but I still feel this pressure (that I put on myself) to have him doing more seatwork. So much of how he learns is not done at the table, where it is easily analyzed and graded. I have to keep telling myself that his real world learning is so much better than anything he learns in his workbooks. He is a good reader, and his math skills are great. But he is above his grade level in so many other areas — areas that aren’t easily tested except through observation. He speaks articulately to people of all ages, although sometimes his innate shyness kicks in. He knows all about golfing. And his knowledge of our small business is astounding. I am constantly amazed at all he is learning just by being his dad’s sidekick.
All that to say this: The burnout I experience is because of the unnecessary pressure I put upon myself. I am so ready for that homeschool convention next month, and I am already planning next year’s curriculum, which I am very excited about!”
“When you’re feeling homeschool burnout, take it outside: Pack up the schoolwork and go somewhere else to do it. If it’s nice outside, you can hit the park — or even just your yard. Enjoy the birds chirping, do some earth science. If it’s cold, find a library. I’ve even taken the girls and my laptop to McDonalds on a rainy day, that way my youngest Cadence could play and the girls could do their workbooks while I got things done online.
Here are a few other suggestions for coping with burnout:
- Take a teacher’s day off — they do this in public school, and we should too. Take this time to read up and plan out new ideas.
- Plan and take a fun field trip.
- Read homeschool blogs and/or call other homeschooling parents that you are friends with and tell them how you’re feeling. They can uplift you and give you new ideas.
- Spend extra time in prayer for motivation.
- Go to a homeschool conference if possible. If not, buy some CDs or podcasts from a conference on topics that you need help in.
- Revise your goals: I get new ideas from looking at my past goals and setting new ones.
- Block out negative feeds, like comparing to that “one kid” who is doing so strangely well in public school.
- If you’re like me and have parents that homeschooled, or you know veteran homeschooling parents who did this without all the helpful tools we have today, take a moment to ask them for some burnout advice.
Not every family homeschools on a traditional school year schedule (we happen to do math and science through the summer), but if you do, then you’re in the home stretch. Hang in there!”
“We are in our second year of homeschooling, and although we did experience some burnout in our first year, this year has been different. Last year, the burnout was the result of our curriculum and lesson plan methodology simply not clicking with our family. That wasn’t so hard to fix: I took the books that came with our package and reworked the lesson plan to satisfy both my girls’ need to spend more time on topics they enjoyed and my need to have more flexibility in our days.
This year, the curriculum and lesson plan changes I made as a result of last year have been working out quite well. The girls are enjoying the unit study approach, and I see them really stretching creatively and demonstrating a high level of understanding of the subjects we’re covering. The lesson plan has also been flexible enough to handle typical schedule interruptions like family visits, extracurricular activities, impromptu ski days, etc.
But I still experienced burnout. This time, it was personal. In January, I experienced a medical situation that threw me into a tailspin. For a Type A personality like me, feeling out of control the way I did during this time was extremely hard to cope with. I kept telling myself everything would be fine, and I found a way to muddle through the days that followed. But my joy and excitement for our schoolwork faded, and my physical energy seemed to vanish as well.
The first thing I had to do was face the reality of my feelings head-on and take them to the only one who could truly heal me body, mind and spirit: My Heavenly Father. I spent lots of time in prayer, reading His Word daily (along with a few books that provided further spiritual encouragement), and seeking the counsel of Godly women I could trust to fill me with their wisdom and prayer support. Praise God for His amazing grace in my life and how He has answered my prayers: He has been restoring me day by day — and I am deeply grateful to Him for my recovery!
During this time, I also had to figure out how to keep school moving forward without stressing myself out. The one thing I made sure of is that we kept our foundation intact: Our morning family devotion time. That time was especially precious to me, because as we put the Lord first in our day as a family, it gave me more confidence that no matter what we were able to get accomplished later, it would be OK! God was in control of our day — and that gave me peace.
On days when I was feeling overwhelmed, I dropped things back to the basics: The girls worked on the math and language arts workbooks for their grade level mostly on their own, with help from me when necessary. I also made sure the “book basket” was filled with library books for them to read, as well as educational DVDs on the topics we’re covering, so that they had plenty of learning activities to do without me.
I also started asking my girls what projects they wanted to do — and just let them run with it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much they will throw themselves into a project that they have initiated. For example, my 11-year-old Audrey decided to create a lapbook on the state of Colorado. She picked her own resources from the library, did Web research, drew some original art, and turned out an amazing lapbook report on a topic that’s not even in our lesson plan for this year! This also relieved me of the burden of feeling like I had to come up with a cool project for every lesson on the agenda.
Lastly, I think it’s really important to recognize when you simply must take a break. We took an “early” spring break in February to see my family in California and go to a friend’s wedding, and it was such a refreshing time for all of us. The beauty of homeschooling is that you’re not tied down to the traditional school year, so don’t be afraid of taking time off when your family needs a break. You can make up the required hours (if your state tracks them) later, when you and your family are re-energized and running at full speed again.”
“Sickness, family in town, over scheduling, bad communication week with the husband… these are just a few of the things that set our homeschooling days back. I’ve had my pity parties about it and rewritten my agendas accordingly. But it never seems to fail that “life happens” at least once a month.
So what do we do? We just go with it. We read a books, watch Leapfrog videos streaming on Netflix, play with Legos, spend extra time on things I usually just brush over (like piano), clean the kids room really good, do coloring pages… anything that is productive (in a way) and will keep me from losing it because of whatever is going on.
Since I usually have to crack down at some point, because I have to turn in work samples to my CT (Certified Teacher via charter school), I plan to do one great lesson with one assignment of whatever it is my six-year-old son Elijah needs to cover that month (such as birds, American symbols, etc.) before I see her. Then voila, we’re done, and I move on to the next month and hope it’s going to be less crazy.
I guess I’m learning that it is good to have a schedule, because you need a “home base” to get back to when days are smooth and easy. But there is plenty of grace to take the time that is needed to attend to “life” as it happens. Our children are watching our responses to our circumstances and learning more than we’ll ever know by how we respond. So rather than fall apart because we’re falling behind, I find the joy in the teaching moments that we do have and look to tomorrow, or next week, or even next month, to start fresh.”
How do you cope with burnout? What changes (if any) do you make to breathe life back into your days? We’d love to hear what you think!
We are also taking NEW questions for upcoming “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” features. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them as comments to this article (and let us know if it’s OK to quote you if we use your question). We look forward to responding to your homeschooling questions!