As a homeschooler, it is kind of mind-boggling how many things I say no to in a given year. Opportunities for enrichment classes, field trips, social get-togethers, playdates, story times, book clubs, co-ops, hikes, campouts … (I could go on and on).
In recent weeks I have been immersed in the process of whittling down what activities we will be committing to this year. There are simply so many amazing educational opportunities for homeschoolers here in Portland. As a homeschooling mom it can feel a little like I’m at one of those conveyor belt sushi places – each small dish passes by and I have a few seconds to consider if I want that dish to be part of my family’s dinner.
Should we be outsourcing science? What about a second language? Is the art we’re doing at home sufficient or would an art class be a nice addition? What about physical education – shouldn’t we be doing swimming or gymnastics, or … ?
I always laugh at the “but what about socialization?” question because the truth is we have so many opportunities to see people socially it’s ridiculous. Like if I did an experiment and decided to say yes to every single opportunity that came up we would never be home.
But here’s the reality: I am only one person. And I am not only responsible for homeschooling my child, I am also parenting my three-year-old, growing another human, feeding my family three homemade meals a day, doing all of our laundry, caring for pets, keeping a house clean or from falling into total disarray, working part-time – why am I explaining this? You are a homeschooler too and you’re doing much of this and possibly more.
The easy answer is to “just say no.” To say no without regret. But there’s this thing I call “Homeschool FOMO.” FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” Because if we say no to this opportunity, what if people won’t ask us to participate in the future? What if this field trip never happens again? What if my kid doesn’t see so-and-so’s kid for months and they never form that beautiful friendship I thought they might form? What if my kid never gets invited to any birthday parties? What if my kid never learns to swim, do a cartwheel, (fill in the blank)?
The answer, I have found, is to have some rational assessment tools in place to evaluate opportunities as they come up. The key word there being “rational,” because FOMO is anything but.
First off, all of these opportunities have to be assessed through the lens of my family’s values. What may be a perfect fit for my family’s needs may be a commitment that would drive another family crazy.
For example, three of my highest priorities in my current stage of homeschooling are that 1) my oldest sees the same group of kids on a weekly basis in order to form real familiarity and hopefully friendship, 2) my oldest gets regular exposure to nature in all types of weather and 3) that I get a weekly break from being “on” as a homeschool parent. So – for me – a once-a-week, drop-off, Waldorf-inspired nature program for homeschoolers is a no-brainer, perfect fit for us. I move mountains to make that commitment work because it is in alignment with our values. Sometimes it’s a pain in the rear to get my kiddo ready and there on time, but we make it work because it matters to us.
It also helps for me to ask myself – is this something my kid is passionate about? It’s not about whether something will appease my guilt because I’m worried my kid is missing out on whatever. Does she light up when she talks about this activity? Does she look forward to this item on the calendar every week like she’s a teenager about to see her favorite band? For my kid, that activity is ballet. So we make it happen.
Another way I asses opportunities is I ask myself this question: is this a class/outing/what-have-you something that I would have sought out? Or am I just considering it because someone suggested it or because it popped up in my inbox? If all of the sudden I’m all obsessed about how we should really be doing a classics book club where we get together and the kids dress up like characters in the book, you can bet it’s because I saw some other awesome mom doing that on Instagram and not because I actually have a burning desire to start a classics book club and deal with logistics like costumes and themed snacks. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. In these cases it’s helpful to remember Amy Poehler’s credo – “Good for her! Not for me.”
A final assessment tool I use is very, very simple – how many activities are we committed to each week? I find that – in this season of life – two commitments a week is a good fit for us. Anything beyond that and other areas of life start suffering (i.e. no one has clean laundry). I don’t count one-off social outings or playdates in this number – this number represents stuff we’ve committed to for a season or a year, that we’re paying for, and that we really can’t/don’t want to miss.
Two activities! When you consider the seemingly endless array of opportunities for enrichment and education and fun outside the home, two seems like such a ridiculously small number. But I think it can be so easy to place a high value on learning that happens outside the home (I think even us homeschoolers can fall prey to that assumption) and too little value on the rich and varied learning that happens with hours of unscheduled time at home. I love this quote from John Holt about the value of home:
“What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.”
― John Holt
But going back to the sushi belt analogy – one of the beautiful things about the sushi conveyor belt and homeschooling opportunities is that they often circle back around a second and third time. If a yearlong commitment to a particular class isn’t going to work for my family this coming year, it will still be there next year. And the year after that.
We all miss out on things. No one human can experience everything or become an expert in all subjects. In fact, I’ve come to believe that scrambling around town trying to make it to a million and one activities causes us to miss out on the most important piece of homeschooling, which, to me, is home.