By Marla Szwast of Jump Into Genius
Homeschool freedom can be a double-edged sword. The freedom we have as homeschoolers is both one of our greatest assets and sometimes our own worst enemy.
I love the freedom that suddenly becomes available to us when we choose to homeschool our kids.
It is a breath of fresh air. Freedom is one of the primary reasons I homeschool my kids.
But, if you don’t know how to wield the enormous power of freedom, it can crush you in your tracks.
Every little thing now must be decided BY YOU! Decision overload anyone?
No one is telling you either what to do or how to do it. And if they are, they have no authority over you, so you are completely free to ignore them!
It can be overwhelming, with all the choices you need to make. The planning. The buying. The scheduling. The doing.
Sometimes we just want to duplicate school at home, buy a big-boxed curriculum and do whatever it tells us to because freedom can be scary. (I am not saying using boxed curricula is terrible, but doing it out of fear of freedom is not good.)
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We Can Learn How to Wield the Sword of Homeschool Freedom
But if we embrace the freedom we have, it can be so rewarding for both our kids and us.
Life needs structure and embracing our freedom does not mean we need to embrace chaos. It means we get to decide what the structure of our lives is going to look like.
We often obligate ourselves to expectations, ourselves or others, and often run ourselves into the ground trying to do too many things. No one is there to tell us we are doing too much. But just because we are free to cram a million things into one itty-bitty day, doesn’t mean we should. If you want peace in our days we have to create it on purpose; it is not a magical side-effect of having freedom.
There are those of us who are checkbox lovers and checkbox haters, but guess what? You are free to use or not use checkboxes. The main thing, though, is that you need to write your own boxes.
Even if you use a boxed curriculum, there are usually decisions, since curriculum developers think it makes their product better if they give us more to do than can be crammed into a year.
They are being helpful, supportive, giving us options. What they don’t get is that if we wanted options, we would just be piecing stuff together that we love, not buying their box. What they don’t understand is that a LOT of us will feel compelled to do ALL THE SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES.
But if we just let go, we can sit back and play a game of Monopoly with our kids. And the game can check a lot of boxes for us.
- Counting – check
- Socialization – check
- Adding – check
- Subtracting – check
- Percentages – check
- Strategic Thinking – check
- How to lose gracefully – check
- How to win graciously – check
It’s good to know the boxes you want to check, even if you don’t feel the need to write them down and check them off. Just a list (even if it is only in your head) of what you want your kids to learn this year. Don’t keep it to academics, just brainstorm what matters to you.
Then think about usual daily stuff. The basics. How many of the things on your list can be covered without doing ‘curricula’? It is good to know this. It helps to balance our days. It keeps us from going nuts trying to spoon feed new content to our kids all day and our kids from hating ‘school’ time (because even toddlers hate it when someone tries to cram things in their mouth with a spoon.)
We have the freedom to make learning an amazing journey. But we get in the way. We get in our kids’ way.
We shut it down with more to-do’s than we can fit into a day.
To be free of the overwhelm that so often comes with freedom, we need to have the courage to write our own days.
These days need to include things like free-time, outside time, game time, moving time, eating time, cleaning time, etc.
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The Sword Gives Us the Power to Cut
The most freeing thing you can do is write a schedule to include everything you wish to accomplish in a day. Once you see it on paper, you realize how unrealistic your expectations are of what fits in a day. Too often this means we lose the very freedom we initially sought because we constantly feel like we are not doing enough.
Once you write it all down, you see how much it really is, and hopefully, this empowers you to relax. THROW THE SCHEDULE AWAY AFTER YOU WRITE IT. Once you know all your plans fit into a 24 hour day you can just set up a routine to follow.
For more about how to write a realistic schedule/create a realistic routine for your days check out this post: Avoiding Overwhelm From the Inside Out
Let’s get out of our own way. Embracing freedom means having the courage, the smarts, and the audacity to CUT THINGS OUT OF OUR PLANS.
It means we can DO LESS.
It means we can DO IT IN A WAY THAT IS SO FUN OUR KIDS DON’T KNOW THEY ARE LEARNING.
The Sword of Freedom Lets us Carve a Lifestyle of Learning
Several years ago, towards spring, my dad was visiting (he is an avid fan of my homeschooling adventures) and asked the kids what they were studying in history.
In my head, I am thinking…just wait for it, they are thinking.
But then, “I don’t think we did history this year.”
Me, aloud this time, “WHAT?”
We had covered A LOT of history that year. The thing is, the kids didn’t know it. We were living life, reading books, doing crafts and recipes. It’s not that they didn’t learn anything, they just didn’t know it was “studying history” or even that is was part of our school day.
As I grew into an older homeschool mother, I realized what a win that was for me. At the time it seemed frustrating that my kids could not articulate what they were learning. But I learned to prompt them with more specific questions or bring up a book they had read and could relate to their grandparents.
It is wonderful for my kids to have people who want them to share what they are learning. It is not a quiz show, it is a conversation starter. A connection, an opportunity to review without the formality of a worksheet. A time to bond by sharing knowledge with people who value both knowledge and you.
Now if you had hidden a camera in my house, and watched how hard my kids work, how much they learn in a day, how much history we went through that particular year, you would be shocked that my kids had such a response.
You might think I went overboard and did too much. But you can do a lot when you do it the right way. The right way is engaging, interesting, in-depth, fun, and at the right level for the child. The right way might be a read-aloud, a card game, an art project, a lap book, or a cooking project. The right way shifts from child to child and day to day and year to year and from family to family. The right way is not static.
You have to trust your intuition to keep getting it right because getting it right means change and discernment and demands creative thinking from you, the educational designer.
Academic excellence is not as hard as we think it is, it does not require seven subjects a day, five days a week. I learned a lot this past year when we put our oldest into public school for one semester. The school is known for excellent academics.
My child was bored to death. He could have done those classes in 6th grade. He is not academic or studious by nature; he is my creative explorer, full of energy and enthusiasm.
I say this to calm you down, if my attention-challenged creative is that far above the bar, you don’t need to worry about the bar.
Don’t Use the Sword to Cut out Basic Needs
When you plan your days and years, don’t forget the four big needs of the brain: Oxygen (acquired through intense physical movement, the kind that makes you sweat), nutrition (acquired with real food), information (this is where academics fit in), and love.
If you have a relaxed style of schooling, but fill disjointed, like you need some plan, but the planners out there just don’t work, check out my article: Planning for Chaos
Use the Sword to Carve the Life you Want
Our homes can have whatever tone we want them too. But we have to intentionally pick our atmosphere and craft our daily life to match that tone. We can have a frenzied life, a relaxed life, a boring life, or a busy life. But if we don’t do the work to figure out how that tone translates into our daily lives, and continue to tweak as needed, we won’t have the life we want.
I prefer a busy and relaxed lifestyle. And yes, you can be both busy and relaxed, because being busy does not mean you have to be stressed. You can be quite busy doing all the things you and your kids’ love, you can be exhausted at the end of every day, and you can be happy and relaxed because you are living the life you want.
We think working kids hard will turn them off learning but it won’t. What turns them off is giving them things that are too easy, too hard, or just plain boring.
A child’s brain craves information. They will learn, no matter what it is they are doing.
Our job, then, is to make sure our daily life is teaching them the things that we want to make sure they know before they jump the nest. And to give them all the things they need right now.