The kids have been tucked in, later than I anticipated of course. Why the nine year old doesn’t turn philosophical until 8:30 at night, I will never understand. But the problems of the world have been solved for now, and I am about to sit down with tomorrow’s muddled ideas for learning beginning to coagulate in my head. A caffeinated treat usually helps focus my thoughts, or so I tell myself. I grab my guilty pleasure and the school books, and I begin to evaluate our day.
Today was one of the “good” days. They don’t happen as often as I would wish. More often than not, I wake up with visions of well-groomed, bright-eyed pupils eagerly devouring the encyclopedia until evening and, within the hour, find instead rumpled and irritable combatants devouring Cheez-Its before breakfast.
But today was good.
A Good Day
We enjoyed our Bible study together and got through math without engaging in World War III. I worked on formatting an essay with the eighth grader, learned about monocots and dicots with the fourth and fifth graders, supervised violin and piano practice, and got in fifteen minutes of reading instruction with the first grader, which is always a major victory. Pretty good, don’t you think? I can hear your applause!
What was it that made today an effective and successful homeschool day?
Was it my rock star kids? Well, they are pretty fantastic, in my humble opinion, but…no. I still spent my fair share of the day deflecting the fiery darts of whininess, outlawing laziness, and playing mediator in arguments like whose turn it is to eat with the crooked-pronged fork.
Was it because I got plenty of sleep last night? That certainly never hurts (and almost never happens).
Could it be that I finally pulled the magic curriculum out of a hat? Your experience may be different, but in all our years of homeschooling, no teacher’s manual has ever jumped out of a box and taught itself perfectly from start to finish while I sat on the couch with a mug of mocha and box of bonbons.
You know, when I began this homeschool journey, I did not expect it to be easy. I did have many expectations that were never fulfilled, but the expectation that it would be difficult was never disappointed. Isn’t this what we teach our children, though? That the things most worth doing in life are often the most challenging? The first year that we started homeschooling, I spent hours researching styles of homeschooling, talking to veteran homeschoolers, and browsing curricula that would fit my child and myself. I read every word of my teacher manuals and sat down every night to prepare lessons and materials for the next day. I thought about the best and most engaging way to teach concepts and made it my life’s goal that my kids would grow to love learning. It was right there as a homeschool novice when I discovered the homeschool resource that makes the difference in our homeschool days.
This powerful resource that energizes our days is time.
My time is precious. It is costly. It is most assuredly a limited resource, and it requires great intentionality to use it well. Using it well often requires me to prioritize others above myself. But the hours I invest in cultivating the development of my children are the seeds of sacrifice that will reap a bountiful harvest in due time.
I’ve found that the amount of time and thought I invest in our homeschool days is almost always directly related to the amount of success we experience. We all enjoy the idea of an “open and go” curriculum. After all, we are responsible for much more than homeschooling our kids, and there are never enough hours in the day to get it all done.
However, the fact remains that when I take the time to look ahead to what each child will be doing the next day, prepare my materials, and form a plan in my head for how our day will go, the day always goes much more smoothly. Investing my time in implementing that plan the next day ensures that the learning is effective and that the discipline problems are kept to a minimum.
How to Use Your Time Effectively
Here are a few strategies that help our homeschool when I am careful to follow them:
- Spend time with your curriculum and lesson plans without your children. Carve out time on a daily or weekly basis to peruse the topics and concepts that are coming up. When our topics of study are rolling around in my brain ahead of time, I will often think of a fun extra I’d like to try, a field trip I’d like to take, or maybe a book I’ve run across that I’d like to read with the kids. It gives me time to get excited about what we will be studying and consider how to organize my time. Especially when homeschooling multiple children, it helps to ponder what your day will look like. When will each child need your individual help? What subjects can you conquer as a family unit? What can your little ones be doing so that you are free to help an older child? Recruiting help from your husband, older children, or a babysitter (even Netflix) can free up some valuable time for you to plan alone so that you can string two thoughts together without being interrupted!
- Spend time organizing books and materials so that you can easily find what you need when you need it. My husband and kids think I’m a little over the top on my book organization, but my earth science books, life science books, American history novels, easy reader books, and countless other categories all have their own little shelf homes and they are not allowed to cohabit with any other genre! We make an attempt to keep craft supplies organized as well in various labeled containers to make projects easy and avoid frustration. If you know you have an activity scheduled for the week that includes a variety of supplies, prepare them beforehand, putting materials in resealable bags for each child, especially young ones. This helps even non-crafty moms find some joy in crafting!
- Spend time with each of your children during the school day, even the older ones. This is often a strength of homeschool moms. So many of you invest incredible amounts of time in each of your children. But we are pulled in many directions, and we get tired. Many of us must work outside the home, and all of us are still responsible for housework, laundry, meals, babies, toddlers, and service-oriented roles. It is often easiest to grab a pile of workbooks, put together checklists of pages to be done for the day, and send the children off to their rooms to complete them. There is nothing inherently wrong with this system. I have utilized it myself when life became so overwhelming that it was the only method of survival.
- I also recognize the value of teaching our children to be independent learners over time. However, the benefits of family interaction should not be taken for granted. Your children can learn so much more from listening to your wisdom, asking questions, considering each other’s viewpoints and insights, and sharing their own ideas and observations while receiving feedback in a safe environment. We don’t want to miss out on the connections and relationships that can be built this way. Even our older ones crave our time and attention, whether they will admit it or not. I strongly encourage you to try to spend focused time with each child for the benefit of learning and relationship building.
- Spend time developing strong character, not just strong brains. Let’s face it. On occasion, the time we put into training our children’s character outweighs the time we spend on academics in a day. So be it! On those days, your child’s academic learning needs to be the lesser of the two priorities. Building a strong foundation of respect, diligence, faith, and compassion will benefit our children far beyond what your day’s lesson plans may record. We can catch up on gaps in our children’s academic learning much more easily than we can backtrack and rebuild flaws in their character.
The Gift of Time
After almost a decade of homeschooling, I wish I could say that I have it all figured out, that I know exactly how to run my home and my school well, and that every day is a joyful success. I can’t tell you that, and maybe those words will never be able to spill honestly from my mouth. But I can say, with all truthfulness, that I don’t regret a moment of the time I have spent thinking about, planning for, investing in, educating, and enjoying my children. Time is a precious gift. No more of it can be purchased when it runs out. As you begin your preparations for the coming school year, poring over curriculum catalogs and browsing convention exhibit halls, don’t overlook the essential element that brings those ideas to life in your home. It is the valuable investment of your time.
Sara Butt is a former elementary school teacher who left the teaching profession to become a stay-at-home mom to four beautiful daughters. She lives with her family in Dayton, Tennessee, where she assists her husband, Keath, in youth ministry, and homeschools her girls while developing curriculum for the Trail Guide to Learnings series.
Her heart is to inspire young people to become lifelong learners and discover their God-given passions and talents that will enable them to fulfill His plan for their lives. Her other loves include music, photography, reading, and learning something new.