With all of the ideas and resources available to homeschoolers today, it can be really hard to resist the urge to do all the things. One hour on Pinterest and you can rack up a pretty hefty list of crafts to do, unit studies to execute, math games to try, and field trips to plan. Sometimes these fit in seamlessly with our existing plans. Sometimes, they forcefully wedge into them like linebackers, tackling any sense of rhythm we’ve worked so hard to establish and leaving everyone in a cloud of chaos. And sometimes it doesn’t even take an espresso-fueled, down-the-rabbit-hole session online to feel overwhelmed and disoriented. That’s just the nature of homeschool (and normal school, actually.) Not everything gets done, every day.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to check everything off by the end of the day, this can be maddening. Especially for the homeschooling parent, who understands the weight of their responsibility to educate their child, it can be disconcerting and disheartening when we don’t finish everything we intended to while drafting our plans.
I was that parent. When I started homeschooling, I had neatly organized tasks and lessons laid out by day, by time, and by color in my planner. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was massively behind, panicky even, as days would pass and boxes remained unchecked. I felt depressed, like I was failing my girls, and hugely incompetent. How could I serve them down the road if I was falling short so early in the game? Then Julie Bogart, and the Brave Writer lifestyle, fell into my Facebook feed one day.
There are a lot of things I have learned from reading Julie’s blog, listening to her podcasts, and using her curriculum materials, but the most significant message I received was this:
“Your child needs your patience, not your urgency.” – Julie Bogart
This one little phrase nestled into my heart and took root. How can I give my children patience, how can I instill a lifelong love of learning, how can I nurture joy and wonder, if I am scrambling over a carefully prescribed, stress-inducing plan of action every single day? How can I tell them to indulge in their natural curiosity in one breath while uttering “c’mon baby let’s just get this over with already” in the next?
I decided what had to change was not necessarily the curriculum or the philosophy we were using, but my definition of a successful day of homeschooling. What would that feel like? What mattered most to me, what were the non-negotiables, and what could be pushed back without any fretting if the day took an unexpected turn?
After letting this sink in for awhile, I came up with the three non-negotiables of our homeschool day. If these three things were accomplished, it was a good day. If we managed these things, then I was satisfied no matter what else happened. They might shift or change in the next few years, as my daughters get older and their education intensifies. But for now, the three non-negotiables are:
Go Outside, Every Single Day
Every day–rain or shine, fussy or happy, inspired or bored–we go outside. I know there will be the occasional Colorado days when this is dangerous, but it would take a honest-to-goodness blizzard to make me break this rule. They need it, I need it, and it’s almost always the best part of our day. All the juiciest learning happens when we’re outside, or once we come back in with treasures or questions to look up in our field guides. If it’s one of those days when absolutely nothing is getting accomplished on our list, but we get outside for half an hour, it’s still a victory day as far as I’m concerned.
Read Together, Every Single Day
One day, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me out of the clear-blue sky that not a single day had passed in my daughter’s young lives that I had not read to them. Okay, maybe when I was in the hospital post-C-section with Brice, but really the number of days I didn’t read to them could be counted on one hand. From the time when these girls were newborns, we’ve built reading into the regular rhythm of our days and nights. Bedtime means reading, and it would feel bizarre without it. Car rides mean audio books, no matter how short. Snuggling on the coach almost always involves stacks of books. Reading is just part of our lives together. I think if I get nothing else right, at least I’ve done that.
Wonder, Ask Questions, Find Answers, and Learn Together
I am really committed to my role as teacher for my daughters. I take it very seriously. But someday they will grow up, and they will be their own teacher. I think one of the most important things I can do as mom and as teacher is to foster both a love for learning and the tools to pursue it independently. If I teach my daughters to trust their curiosity–to ask questions, to wonder about things without inhibitions, to experiment, seek guidance, find answers, dig deeper–then I will have done my job. If they grow up knowing that questions are wonderful and should be asked often, and that they can learn more about anything they want, then I will have succeeded as a parent and an educator. I really believe that the ultimate education is the one that puts that power in the hands of the student–the power to learn. So my final non-negotiable is that if we had questions, if we wondered about something, then we read or consulted a documentary or tried an experiment or asked an expert about it. If that means the day’s math or copywork got postponed for a later time, so be it.
Since I declared these non-negotiables to myself, things have gotten a lot smoother around here. I don’t feel that pressure to be perfect anymore, or to finish the massive checklist that’s always there (and is always going to be there.) I just do my best every day, and honor the commitments I made to these three things above all else in our homeschool journey.
What are the non-negotiables in your homeschool day? Please share in the comments! 🙂
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