Re-Energize Your Homeschool: Coping with “Burnout” and Sparking New Ideas
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Burnout is usually a result of trying to do too much or trying to stick to an old format. It can be a sure sign that it’s time to try something different, to broaden your horizons, to make changes not only in your homeschool, but in your lifestyle. Change can help us keep growing and lead to many happy years of exciting, rewarding homeschool experiences.
Encouragement for Your Homeschool Journey
Burnout can occur after ten years of homeschooling or after two years. Parents may feel that they have exhausted all the ideas that once seemed so fabulous and endless. After a few years of homeschooling, the kids might not be as excited about the homeschool experience as they were in the beginning. Trying to get them to open a book or finish an assignment seems like a losing battle. But it needn’t be a battle — not with the kids and not within yourself.
Stress is one of the main causes of burnout. Parents may find themselves trying to fill two full-time roles in the home: as a parent and as a “schoolteacher”, which adds unnecessary stress to their lives. As we've noted in previous articles, learning is a natural part of living, and homeschooling should be a natural part of your family’s lifestyle. You needn’t turn it into “school at home” or make it more difficult than it should be. Teaching your children is simply a part of parenting your children.
Burnout also comes from setting expectations too high, then trying to reach them, day after day, and finding yourself falling short. Your expectations may be emotional ones, intricately interwoven with how well your children are learning. If you feel you’d be a “better teacher” if your children were ready for learning every morning at 8:00 A.M., dove into their lessons with glee each day, stayed on task throughout the morning and afternoon, achieved 100% on all their papers, and were able to deliver the Gettysburg Address over dinner, then you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Occasionally, a day may work out this way, but it’d be a miracle for nearly any teacher to experience such success.
If you, on the other hand, feel you’re accomplishing your goals when your children enjoy most of their lessons, like to delve into things that interest them, are learning new information and skills each week, and can deliver the Gettysburg Address by the end of a school year, then you and your kids are probably enjoying the homeschool process, and you won’t be as likely to burn out.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Lower your expectations for yourself and for your children, and you will lower your feelings of stress and chances of burnout. It’s true that you’ll want your children to attain certain goals, so you naturally have some expectations of them. Just remember that you have an entire year to reach those goals. And then there’s next year, too, and the year after that.
When you begin to get that nagging feeling that maybe you’re not doing enough in your homeschool, or read or hear about the fantastic adventures of other homeschool families, take some moments to step back and look at your own family. Consider the happiness and well-being of your own children. Consider how much they’ve grown, how much they’ve learned since you began homeschooling.
If your children are exhibiting signs of boredom, then they may not be challenged enough. Set the learning rail a little higher for them—just enough to entice them to try a little harder. But not so high that they become frustrated, which will lead to feelings of frustration and burnout for everyone.
Less Structure and More Flexibility
Remember that childhood is a time for being a child, not for squeezing hundreds of exotic lessons or extracurricular activities into their lives. Remind yourself that childhood is a time for being curious and explorative, for daydreaming and thinking, playing and learning, having fun and being happy. The child who has plenty of time for these simple activities will grow into a curious, thinking, happy adult who enjoys the freedom and fun of learning.
Rekindling the Fire
If you’ve gone from burning with enthusiasm to “burnout” in your homeschool, it’s time to rekindle that fire. Try to determine what has lost its appeal. Are you bogged down by record-keeping and constant updating of learning logs? If your children are old enough to print, hand that duty over to them. You may need to spend a few days helping them record their activities, but they’ll quickly get the hang of it. As you’re preparing the next lesson or activity, they can update their learning logs and reading lists.
Streamline Record Keeping
If your children are unable to handle the updating of the learning logs, streamline the record-keeping process. You’re no doubt keeping records because your state requires it, or because you want documented proof that your child has covered certain materials. But this doesn’t mean you must write daily essays on your child’s homeschool experiences. Imagine a teacher writing descriptive analyses for each of her thirty children every day!
Simply write the chapter or page numbers of textbooks you used that day in social studies, jot down the Cuisenaire Rods math lesson, the Super Spellicopter spelling game in language arts, the nature walk in science. If you want to write a more detailed description of your homeschool days, you can do so on the weekend when you have more time.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Keep your camera handy and snap photos of ongoing lessons, activities, and projects. These can reduce the need for in-depth documentation in the learning log, remind you of projects you’ve done, and be placed in your child’s portfolio. It may also inspire your children to take up photography as a hobby.
Reduce Lesson Planning Time
Are you spending too much time preparing lessons? This can cut deeply into the best part of homeschooling: the fun, interactive learning activities you do with your children, or that you observe your children doing together. You really shouldn’t have to keep a lesson plan book AND a daily learning log. If you keep a lesson plan book, but don’t get around to that lesson, erase it and move it to another day. If you do something in place of that lesson, jot that down.
Rather than developing in-depth lesson plans, note what you hope to cover and what you plan to use to cover it. The point of a lesson plan book is to help you be prepared, saving time over the long run. Use an hour or two on the weekend to glance ahead in any textbooks and note the topics and their page numbers. On your next “field trip” to the library, which probably occurs every week or two, check out books that help convey lessons and subjects in fun, colorful ways. Jot them down in your lesson plan book, too. Skim through your homeschool ideas books and your favorite Web sites on the Internet for supporting activities and experiments. Jot them down, and you’re ready for the week ahead—plus you’ve got your learning log filled out in advance!
Staying Motivated and Inspired
When you stay genuinely motivated and enthusiastic about homeschool, your children will stay motivated and enthusiastic, too. However, the time may come when the wind has gone out of your sails and you begin slowing down and not billowing with as much enthusiasm as before. Your children are quick to pick up on this.
When learning has meaning and is enjoyable, your child will be inspired to continue learning. Here are some strategies to help motivate your children to learn:
Allow children to choose topics they’d like to study and ways in which they’d like to learn.
Have children think of new ways to promote learning, using games, arts and crafts, hands-on projects, recreational pursuits, field trips.
Be sure that learning activities have real meaning to your children and are genuinely interesting to them.
Provide plenty of free time for children to become deeply involved in the learning activities that interest them.
Pursue family hobbies or studies you might never have considered as a way to stimulate new interest and goals.
Encourage children to follow those areas of interest that branch off from the path they’re currently traveling.
Praise children for specific skills they’ve developed, information they’ve learned, and efforts they have made.
If learning is an enjoyable activity, the level of motivation and enthusiasm for learning rises dramatically. When a child enjoys the learning process and has the desire to learn, very little can hold her back. Her curiosity will abound, her knowledge will increase, and her desire to continue learning will expand. This desire to learn is a form of self-motivation. Because there is something that she wants to learn, she will learn. Motivation and enthusiasm are key ingredients in successful learning.
Avoid using reward systems that focus on end results, that is, reading to appease a parent, completing an assignment as quickly as possible, striving to get the best grades on a test. For a child, or adult, to remain enthusiastic about learning and education, they must enjoy the process of learning. When they enjoy the learning process, the good grades and successful achievements naturally follow. The end result is the reward.
Reconsidering Curriculum Choices
If you’ve been using a certain type of curriculum or teaching style, but you’ve noticed a lack of interest in your child or an obvious resistance to homeschooling, it’s time to make a change. Try unit studies for a while (these are lots of fun for everyone) or explore the concepts of unschooling (a wonderfully natural way of living and learning). Your children will love you for it, and they’ll be bubbling over with excitement once again.
It can be difficult to release your hold on a curriculum (whether it’s one you designed or a prepackaged plan) and adopt an unschooling form of education. It can be difficult to trust your children to learn in their own way. I know, because I’ve been there, as have countless other families. Having removed my child from public school, I initially felt compelled to follow a national curriculum guideline. It didn’t take long to look over the guidelines and ascertain how repetitive they are, year after year. If one followed them stringently, with little variety and spice, one would eventually be bored out of one’s mind.
Loosen up. Be flexible. Be adventurous. Enjoy fun, learning activities and hands-on projects. Take advantage of the simple pleasures and learning possibilities that each day naturally provides. Remember that homeschooling is not "school at home." Try the fun weekly lessons and activities right here on our site, which kids enjoy and remember!
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Article to be continued. Excerpted from The Everything Homeschooling Book by Sherri Linsenbach, www.EverythingHomeschooling.com. For more on making homeschooling more enjoyable and educational, check back here next week.