So many times we feel that after a season or summer of planning for lessons for a school year, that we can sit back and let the rest of the year drive itself. We put thought into those plans, or we spent money purchasing lesson plans and they look perfect on paper. But, homeschooling is like any other worthwhile investment – it requires maintenance and attention. Reality will often dictate a different pace than the one you had in mind and a book or a plan that you thought would be great isn’t. This isn’t a reason to stop planning or putting great thought into the year over the summer, but it is only the beginning!
I always begin a new year with fresh expectations. And reality always tells me something different. I learned long ago that it takes about a month for a good rhythm to settle out. It doesn’t take long once you start lessons and working through your plan to find books, curriculums, and ideas that aren’t working for a particular child or even for the whole family. Children balk at the resumption of routines that have been relaxed over summer months necessitating the need for discipline and consistency. Re-thinking plans and books while restoring a gentle routine to the day is enough to send any mom into a frenzy of thoughts re-assessing the whole idea of homeschooling – wondering, “what was I thinking!”
Back off the idea of perfection. Open your heart to the reality of your home, your children, your limitations, and sit down with a cup of tea. It’s time to re-assess. Give yourself permission to spend the entire first month in re-assess mode. Gently ease into your plans with the knowledge that something here isn’t going to work. You’re in the dressing room so to speak. Some things will fit, some won’t.
Work through your plans day by day making notes. If a particular subject is causing great angst consider the book, the manner in which you are presenting, the environment, your child’s abilities, your limitations. Don’t be afraid to put something on the shelf after using it for 2 days! It’s about setting your child up for success – not in a way that cheats them of work, but in a way that allows them to achieve it. If they learn visually, and you have provided an oral, lecture based manner of learning you haven’t given that child the tools he needs to learn best. If a child learns by doing, by relating, and you have provided only workbooks and memorization opportunities that child is not going to own any of the information. There will be frustration, angst, tears. It will be obvious that an adjustment needs to be made. Have heart. You know your child best. You are the best person to make this adjustment. Putting something on the shelf doesn’t mean that this might not fit at a later time, or with a different child, or with just a little more thought into how it is presented, but for now it is causing unrest, a lack of peace, clutter in your day. Give yourself permission to move on and search again. I devote an entire month to this dance. When I enter the year knowing that I will need to do this, I am not set up for failure. I know I will need to make adjustments, and I allow myself the time to do this. Easing into the year gently and with many non-variables like nature walks and read-alouds allows for a measure of success and peace that is a comfort in the beginning days.
Books and plans aren’t the only area that will need to be re-evaluated, your environment will as well. Every summer I rearrange the learning room. It makes for a pleasant change when we begin and though the tables, trashcans, shelves and pencil sharpeners are still the same, somehow the new placement of them denotes a freshness and a sense of new beginning, new wineskins that motivates us to begin the year anew. Still, I always find that something that is ill placed. This year because of space constraints I split up my geography center with maps on one side of the room and globes and resource materials on the other. I knew I didn’t like it, but I left it that way and we started. It was clear from the get-go that there would need to be a change. There were books that were set out too high, and some that were set out too low. Some shelves needed re-arranging. In short, not everything was intuitively placed. I need the environment our family works in to work for us, not against us. I don’t have the time to hunt for half the things I might need during the day. Another consideration for me is that if materials aren’t placed in logical areas, they don’t get used. Part of being a good steward of the materials we have and that my husband has provided means making use of what we have. If it gets lost and isn’t used, I’ve wasted something and been a poor steward. I consider this a very necessary part of that first month of tweaking – optimal placement of materials and ordering of the environment in a beautiful and practical way.
Tweaking doesn’t stop there though. Seasons of life change – crisis is inevitable…someone gets sick, you find yourself needing to spend more time out of the home for a time, a discipline issue arises requiring more of your concentrated time, a member of the family needs therapy, you find yourself joyfully pregnant (with all of the challenges that presents)…this list is endless. For this reason, I set aside the first day of the month for maintenance. It is a teacher day for myself. There are no lessons on this day, it is a day set aside. I find I need to tweak throughout the schoolyear to accomodate the various seasons and crises that arise. On this teacher day I tidy the shelves, arrange the books nicely again, refresh seasonal displays and Feast table displays, assess my Montessori shelves, gather my Montessori presentations for the upcoming month and file them, review my lesson plans with an eye to any changes needed, refresh supplies set out for the children. Things move along much smoother if I allow for maintenance throughout the year rather than thinking that I can accomplish all the planning and account for every variable over the summer.
Hopefully, there is a time when the year begins to hum along at a rhythmical pace, but always there is a need for tweaking and adjusting to fit the growing and changing needs of a family in the domestic monastery.