One of the most challenging aspects of being a homeschooling parent is figuring out how to get everything done in a day. Not only do teaching and lesson planning have to happen, but time must be found for meal planning, laundry, housekeeping, laundry, bill paying, laundry, grocery shopping and – did I mention laundry? – much, much more. For parents who hold down jobs as well as homeschool, this balancing act is even more complex. It simply never feels like there are enough hours in a day, and it is easy to let important tasks slip through the cracks as you struggle to juggle the ones directly in front of you.
After four years of homeschooling, I have come up with a few tricks to help me feel less overwhelmed with all there is to do:
- I prioritize exercise for myself. This might seem completely extraneous and not at all aligned with getting stuff done, but if I’ve had a good run first thing in the morning, I can approach the rest of the day with a smile. I either get up before the kids to exercise or do it when my toddler naps. The result is that I am a much more patient, focused and happy homeschooling parent because I feel physically and mentally balanced.
- I include my kids in the housework and meal preparation whenever possible. They have become young experts in meal planning and cleaning. My son, who is five, started a cleaning business recently and he happily carries around a handheld vacuum and cleans up stray messes in exchange for “jewels” – little glass beads that my kids collect for completing extra chores. They use these to “pay” for ipad use, an extra dessert night, or some little extra special thing.We also use a cleaning program called “Zone Cleaning for Kids” for family cleaning day. It is a straightforward, super kid-friendly program that teaches children how to thoroughly clean each room of the house. As for cooking and meal planning, my daughter – who is eight – has her own cookbooks and routinely chooses meals she wants to cook for the family. I printed her out some simple weekly meal plan pages and she often fills these out before we go grocery shopping. Having my kids’ help with these must-do tasks is tremendous – I feel far less overwhelmed when regular chores become homeschool activities.
- I schedule in bill paying. On the first and fifteenth of every month, I set aside time to pay bills and go over monthly finances. I have experimented with many different methods of bill paying over the years (autopay, pay as the bills arrive, pay everything once a month, etc.) and this works best for me. Having two evenings scheduled in advance to devote entirely to money management gives me the time and space I need to keep track of our budget.
- I don’t over-plan our homeschool lessons. We do “traditional” school in our household, by which I mean that I use curriculum and my kids and I sit down at a table and do lessons together, but I don’t do traditional lesson planning. I have found that advance lesson planning causes unnecessary stress and ends up costing more time in the long run. Inevitably plans change throughout the year, and finding the time to erase and update a detailed planner can be challenging! Instead, I photocopy the tables of contents from all of the books we are using and I put these in a binder. I check off topics on the tables of contents as we go, allowing me to quickly see where we are in each subject. I also put homemade planning pages in the binder – one for each week of our school year. But rather than filling out the planning pages in advance, I fill in topics after we have covered them. This method allows me to always feel successful – I can quickly see what we’ve accomplished in a day / week / month rather than regularly feeling like I’m falling behind because I haven’t gotten to planned topics yet.
- I throw out all of the clothes regularly so that I don’t have to do laundry. Haha, if only there were a way to instantly have ALL of the laundry washed and folded!! This is truly the task that is the most daunting to me – although I do a couple of loads of laundry daily, I still struggle to find the time to sit down and fold it. Invariably, there are always baskets of clean laundry sitting in the corners of bedrooms waiting to be put away. One solution I tried was to have the kids fold it. I did this for awhile and my kids were enthusiastic (and they earned lots of jewels!), but their interest in creative laundry folding (napkins folded in triangles, towels folded as small as possible, etc.) justifiably faded over time. I also don’t think they need to regularly waste beautiful days of their childhood folding the laundry when they can be creatively playing instead. I have simply had to make peace with having waiting laundry baskets nagging at me from the bedrooms. Which brings me to my next point …
- I’ve relaxed my standards. I have learned – and continue to learn – how to remain calm and relaxed in the midst of chaos. As someone who likes a sparkling clean house, crisply made beds, and mental focus, it can be challenging to serenely navigate the constant pushes and pulls of three homeschooled children and a house full of waiting chores. But ultimately, my serenity means more to me than a constantly clean house, and I remind myself of this when the overwhelm creeps in. Instead of staying up late scrubbing the kitchen counters – which is tempting! – I go to bed on time, get up early to run, and tackle the dirty kitchen with a rested psyche at my little one’s next naptime.
- I’ve stepped away from social media. With more and more social communities forming online, walking away from social media may not be practical or desirable for everyone. But I personally realized last year that my online time was draining, not restoring, me. With that in my mind, I canceled my facebook and instagram accounts and began to limit my online “social” time to the meetup groups I organize and this website. The improvement to my mental state has been incredible. I am less distracted, less stressed out, more well-rested (no more scanning facebook before bed), and am reading books again. I may very well return to social networking in the future, but for now I am enjoying the extra time I’ve created by stepping away from the internet.
- I schedule fewer social events into our week. When I first began homeschooling, our weekly schedule was FULL of events outside of the house. Classes, meetups, and playdates easily filled up our days, and they were all wonderful and fun. There wasn’t much harm in doing this in those early years because my eldest child was so young. But now that she is in third grade, our school weeks are much more productive and enjoyable when we have plenty of time at home. With this in mind, I aim for three days a week with no activities outside of the house. I have also limited the Homeschool PDX events I organize to approximately one per month. We socialize with small groups of friends about once a week and that, combined with classes, more than covers our collective social needs.
Of course, home / school balance is a constant work in progress. Just as children’s stages change constantly, so do the methods we use to accomplish … well, everything. And invariably a little letting go comes into play. During these precious years with our kids, does the house have to look just-so? Not really. Nor does every meal have to be perfectly cooked from scratch, etc.
I would love to hear how you balance homeschool management with managing your home, and what shortcuts you’ve discovered to make it all run more smoothly!