an open letter to a homeschooling mother

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Dear mother,

I’ve been thinking lately about the looming school year and also about this oppressive heat, how every living thing seems to wither under it. “And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles,” my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Evidence poem. And I can relate, as a woman, as a parent, as a homeschooling mother. In August, the air will buzz with talk of school supplies and routines again. Beautifully organized school rooms and books and curriculum will appear everywhere again––in our texts, emails, social medias, and blog feeds. Perhaps at this point, you know which books and methods your own family will be working through, or how you will schedule (or un-schedule) your days. Perhaps you feel incredibly confident in your decision to keep you children home and confident in how you want to learn together. Or perhaps you haven’t a clue what lies beyond August or even how you’re going to do it all. Perhaps you doubt your decision and question your ability to teach them at home altogether. Where ever you find yourself on that line, it’s okay. I’ve been there, too. Take a deep breath and be encouraged: you are not alone.

I’ve learned over the years that after surveying what others are doing it is possible to feel at once both inspired and insufficient. I can admire someone else’s space and ideas, while also picking apart my own, wondering what I need to do differently or better. I can feel excitement about our own choices, and yet also question it in the context of other options. So before you open your Pinterest boards or favorite Instagram accounts or talk with friends, do this: make it a quest this month to be gentle with yourself. It is after all something new, and should be treated as such. Regardless of how much previous experience you’ve had on this journey of parenting or homeschooling, you have yet experienced this new one. Some parts will feel familiar, and some will be entirely different. Your circumstances will change, and what wisdom you hold from the past will shift you a little. Your children will also be in a new place, whether practicing school at  home for the first time or learning/experiencing new material or even physical growth and change. But first, before opening your inspirations, open your eyes and heart to see yourself and your home in a fresh way. Open your planner and books, not with someone else’s home in mind, but first with your own. For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your family, your home, your current resources at hand, and give thanks for all of it. What is best for them? What great adventure awaits you this year?

I will repeat again to you what I have to regularly tell myself: it is impossible to do everything, but it is possible to do a few things really well. Like most everything else, this is simpler written on paper than it is practiced. I spent my first few years of homeschooling trying to do everything, organizing elaborate lesson plans and fully scheduled days, and I can assure you it left me exhausted and buried with the feeling of not measuring up. I felt inconsistent, because I tried to have a school experience at home. It took me a few years to realize although order and some structure is really good for our home, I needed some time untethered. So I encourage you, regardless of your curriculum choice or love of schedules: leave some blank space in your day, or as stated again in Evidence, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” If you are a planner and prefer to label different hours in your day (raises hand), reserve and label one part of each day as “the unimaginable” and everyone in your home might be happier.

I know there are more things to say to you on these topics, more that I have also been processing about this new year that are still forming. But I will give you a hint of my educational philosophy here in a simple list, not because yours should be the same, but to share the ways that homeschooling (and planning) ought to be simplified and allowed room to breathe:

pray and read together

read, write, and draw/paint a little something everyday

practice with numbers

play outside

work with your hands

talk about ideas and happenings in the world

leave some room for the unimaginable

When I feel overwhelmed or like our week or plans are too full, I will return here to this list, and to these words that although written to you are also written to myself. Perhaps you will remember this letter, too, not for the list above, but simply to remember you’re not alone, to remember to be gentle with yourself and your children, to remember the freedom of unwritten scripts on this journey is joy, not enslavement. I will leave you with one final thought from this same poem, “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–your life–what would do for you?” The year is fresh, and there is still so much enchantment in this adventure. How will this one look for you?

Warmest wishes,

Bethany

15 replies
  1. Krystle @ Color Transformed Family
    Krystle @ Color Transformed Family says:

    Thank you for this. My body was actually just stressing out because I hopped into a homeschool forum for a moment and read what some of the other moms were doing in addition to the instructor’s guides. It’s important to remember we haven’t epically failed as an educator if we don’t do everything every one else is doing. Thank you for this reminder.

    Reply
  2. Desiree
    Desiree says:

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now. This will be our first year of homeschooling and I’m on the cusp of “yayyyyy!” and “omgcanievendothis”. I will keep this list in mind! <3

    Reply
  3. Kaylie
    Kaylie says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! Today was the beginning of our second week of homeschool for this first time homeschooling momma. I’m feeling like I’m on a rollercoaster with the constant feeling good about this decision and then not so good.

    Reply
  4. Candace
    Candace says:

    I’m also a planner and was exhausted last year with all we tried to get done. This year we’ll be slowing down a lot and incorporating a lot of the simple movements you mentioned above. I liked how you wrote about considering changes in the children in preparation for the year too. Different seasons they enjoy different things or are facing different challenges. So that’s really important. I enjoyed this post!

    Reply
  5. Erin
    Erin says:

    Thank you for this Bethany. Even though I am not a homeschooling mother – I spend a lot of time at home with my four little ones and rely on inspiration from your site often. Your simple list that begins with “pray and read together…” will come in handy as September rolls around with all of the rhythms and responsibilities of the seasons that seem to happen so swiftly

    Reply
  6. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    This is perfect!
    We started our new schooling year this week.
    Veeery loose plans, easing into it all…
    Our imaginations are running wild today as we just discovered today is Beatrix Potter’s 150th Birthday. Our plans are totally changed and I am excited instead of worrying I’ll be behind!
    We’re doing a big BP themed Tea Party/Luncheon this afternoon using just what we have on hand and can pull together today. Now, because I am a tea lover, it’ll be possibly a bit more than some would do, but this is joy for us and lots of different learning today as well.

    Reply
  7. Angie
    Angie says:

    Thank you, Bethany! This encouragement is so timely. As a scheduler and list maker I fail, many times, in allowing the unimaginable take place. My calendar is already purchased and I have already filled in most of the time slots with things I feel we must be doing. Thank you for the reminder to plan (unplan) for moments where life can be lived to the fullest; free of expectations and to-do lists!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here. […]

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