I don’t want to tip my hand, but my wife and I are in the beginning stages of world domination. If you study the history of ancient civilizations, you will discover that every successful dynasty—the Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Inca, Mayans—all of them began with some guy and his wife who had nine children. This is a little-known fact that has been suppressed for some reason by all major textbook publishers. My heart, however, tells me it is true.
We already have the nine children. Next, we’ll buy our own remote island somewhere, where we can exert taxes and duties on any unsuspecting victim who happens to wash up, post-shipwreck, on a piece of driftwood. But for now, while we await our future global exploits, we are just trying to keep our house from falling apart and stay on some kind of a decent academic schedule. Perhaps you find yourself in the same boat.
We’re all familiar with the line from the old nursery rhyme, written in 1794, that goes: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.”
It evokes a mental image of a woman at her wit’s end. She is so frazzled and overwhelmed that she may very well respond badly to those within her care (as the rest of the story goes on to indicate).
Not much has changed in 200+ years. If anything, it seems that life today is far more complicated. Technology, which is supposed to simplify our lives and make things easier, seems instead to offer us a myriad of ways to be distracted from truly important things and to create a continuous and monotonous cycle of repair and maintenance.
Most of us live with very little margin in our lives. Even as homeschoolers, we often book our every spare minute full of activities. Today more than ever before, there are endless social options for our students. Co-op classes, field trips, church activities, civic events, advanced study classes, seminars, conferences, camps, retreats, and more are extended to us as a way to supplement and improve our family relationships and the advancement of our children’s education.
None of these options are bad in and of themselves. The problem is in the excess. Sometimes we just don’t know how to say no, and we overcommit.
Much of the frenzy, in my view, is based in a fear of failing our children. We believe that our children may miss some important skill or life lesson and therefore grow up educationally malnourished. If they do, it will be all our fault. We have scary visions of our children sleeping under the overpass and spending their days on a street corner with a sign that says “Will work for food!” All of this because we neglected to enroll them in that special Constitutional Law class being offered by the local co-op. So we run here and there, endlessly trying to cram it all in before our children graduate and the door of all future learning slams shut on them.
Homeschooling the Herd
As I mentioned, my wife and I currently have nine children. That is considered a lot. At least, that is what I’ve surmised from the expressions I see on the faces of those we meet at the grocery store, and the question, “Are these all yours?!”
“No, I only have five with me today. The other four are at home.”
This is met with predictable responses: choking, clearing the throat, raised eyebrows, low whistles, and comments such as “Have you figured out what causes it?” or “Are you trying to start a baseball team?”
Whether you are homeschooling one or two children or an entire baseball team full of future world conquerors like we are, you are likely battling stress, and in many cases anger, as you try to keep your head above water.
Thankfully, there are many good ways to survive—and even thrive. Here are a few.
Tips for Survival
We’ve found the following survival tips useful when we find ourselves drowning in life and homeschooling.
1. Have a regular date night.
Okay. We aren’t actually very good at this. But we try. For us, going out regularly to dinner isn’t very practical, so we’ve taken to going for evening walks around the neighborhood. As parents, we need the exercise and fresh air, and it gives us a chance to reconnect and talk about what we are doing well and what we are doing poorly. If you are a single parent, schedule time to meet up with a homeschooling friend and compare notes. You need to constantly reassess your progress and make sure you are on course with your goals.
2. When possible, teach multiple grades at once.
If you are teaching the older ones about the Revolutionary War, find a way to incorporate videos, books that you read aloud as a family, and field trips for the younger ones as well. It is true that the little ones won’t remember much, but they are being introduced to the topic, and it will lay a foundation for them that will be helpful when you cycle back around in their later studies. The main thing is that everyone is learning something and you are doing life together.
3. Never lose sight of the big picture.
Never forget WHY you are homeschooling. It is because you want your children to know, love, and serve God, and to love and serve others. All of the teaching and instructing you are doing is for that end purpose.
We are definitely not good at this! But we are getting better. We have found that massive inefficiency happens in our lives because we just own too much stuff for our living space. We spend more time hunting for things than we should, we own things that don’t get used, and our things are more likely to be broken, all because we just have too much stuff. We are in a massive downscaling effort right now. Sell it, give it, donate it, repurpose it . . . but don’t just store it. If you don’t use it, get rid of it! Decluttering is essential to sanity.
5. Create a schedule and stick to it.
Once again, this is a challenge for us. But we find that we all do better (especially our children) when we have some structure and routine to our day. When our children are drifting, not knowing what to do, they find their own ways to entertain themselves, and that always goes badly! Even playtime needs to have some structure and time parameters. At least, this is what we have found works best for our family. Getting enough rest is also critically important. Even if “early to bed, early to rise” doesn’t make you “healthy, wealth and wise,” as Benjamin Franklin predicted, it will generally lead to better focus and happier attitudes throughout the day.
6. Don’t be a slave to your curriculum.
Part of the wisdom portion of parenting is knowing when your curriculum is serving you well and when it has become a tyrant. If your curriculum isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to sell it and start over. Get the tools that are right for your family. Maybe what you bought works great for your friend at the co-op or was applauded in the online review you read. But your child is unique, and your family isn’t like anyone else’s. Be willing to think outside the box and do what you believe will work best for your children.
7. Nurture relationships.
Don’t forget to have fun in the process of parenting. If you have made parenting all about work, study, chores, and rules, you will drive your children away from you. You need to make sure that you are scheduling plenty of family enjoyment time as well. Have fun just for the sake of having fun. When schooling creates tension in your family relationships, work on the relationships, and then cycle back to the schooling.
Remember, you aren’t the first person on the planet to walk this road. Thousands of other parents have gone before you and have successfully homeschooled their children, even with meager incomes, crowded spaces, limited resources, and health struggles. It can be done! You just need to have clearly outlined goals, a willingness to make changes as needed, and a tenacious commitment to stay the course and do what is best for your child.
Instead of being a tragic story, the woman in the shoe can be a picture of great contentment and the happiness of fulfilling an eternal calling.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table. (Psalm 128:3)
The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. (Psalm 16:5–6).
Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker. He is a cofounder of Family Renewal (www.FamilyRenewal.org) and is site editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net. He is the author of the books Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview, Full-Time Parenting: A Guide to Family-Based Discipleship, Questions God Asks, Questions Jesus Asks, and Pitchin’ a Fit: Overcoming Angry and Stressed-Out Parenting. He and his wife Brook are both homeschool graduates, and they are homeschooling their nine children in SW Michigan.