We’re turning the corner from summer into autumn here. The weather is delightfully crisp! Leaves have taken on rich hues that beckon us out of doors. We’re tucking gardens away, enjoying spiced tea, and gearing up for our annual leaf collection walk! Autumn days bring such delights!
The view toward the mountains out my window is steadfast and reassuring, even though the features – the shape and color – within my view change. The same mountains, the same trees, our little kitchen gardens and flower gardens – all give way to the changing seasons. Yet within their unique seasonal features, there is immense beauty – joy emerging in spring; abundance in summer; richness in autumn; and the bright, sleepy hope of what will be in winter. Beauty in every season.
As a wife, mother, and homeschooler I’ve been through my share of seasonal changes. Some years bring seasons that have been overwhelming, other seasons were painful and full of pruning, and there have been seasons full of great joy. Homeschooling through these seasons can be daunting, especially if we don’t gently adjust our homeschool plans with due consideration for the season God has gifted us. Because, while these seasons may seem to be an interruption of our normal life, and we may angst and seek to get back to whatever we consider “normal,” I suggest that there is far more value in the season God has gifted us in the supernatural sense than any spelling lesson, math quiz, or syllabus checklist we may have to let go. These seasons, many of which are painful and full of God’s tender pruning in our lives, bring growth in virtue and allow our children the opportunity to walk with us as we carry the cross. Seasons build saints.
So, stop for a moment, and consider your own season of life. Are you trying to homeschool toddlers to teens? I’m right there with you. Are you expecting a baby and facing down life-threatening sickness in order to nurture that child to life? I’ve been there. Maybe you carry the hidden stigmata of having given one of your infant children back to the Lord before you’ve had a chance to mother that little one. Been there, too. Is your home completely boxed while your basic possessions are shoved in corners and closets and you live and homeschool out of bags while your home is under construction? Yep, lived that season, too. Or maybe you face other crosses in this season – your husband’s job loss, lots of little children under the age of 8, taking care of an aging parent, or moving across the country. There are others.
And they’re each unique in the pruning and virtue building they provide.
They each require some shifting and brainstorming, and they each require a certain measure of rolling back – from our “normal” rhythm into something that accommodates our season of life, and makes way for a little sunshine. Open those windows, let in as much sun as you can, and let’s consider the seasons.
The 3 R’s – consistent in and out of season
ROUTINE – READING – REST
Over the years, and through some pretty intense seasons of suffering, I’ve found that there are some basic things that can be present in our days. These 3 R’s help me streamline and keep life simple and manageable when there may be a whirlwind of decisions, surgeries, procedures, meetings, construction, diapers, and disagreements. Feeling overwhelmed and caught in a vortex of confusion? Start here.
ROUTINE – and by this I mean a very basic version of your family routine – family prayer time, family dinner, a reasonable homeschool day, maybe you make Mass one day a week a priority. What is the skeleton version of your family routine? It’s ok to say no thank-you to extra outside the home classes and activities if your season of life is overwhelming or threatens your interior peace. These are wonderful extras, but not necessary, and should be the first to go when it’s time to get down to the business of suffering.
Included in basic routine are the good habits you’ll continue to work on throughout your season of life. Perhaps you’ve been working on good table manners, or potty training, or cheerful obedience? Keeping up with habit training takes tons of energy, but this is the place to funnel it, even if your energy supply is low. Trust me on this – you can ease back into everything else relatively easily when the time is right, but if you let go your gentle and firm hand on habit training and the good habits you’ve already established, you will have to backtrack to make up for lost ground, possibly taking extra time and more energy correcting bad habits that crept in, before you can even consider picking up your regular routine again.
READING – Most of us require a little time to wrap our heart and our head around whatever new season we may be facing. During that time, there is a grand temptation to…PANIC…and immediately overhaul every plan, every book, every piece of curriculum on the schedule. Don’t make big changes right now, but do give yourself time to adjust! Ensure that there are good and worthy books in your kids’ hands. Trust that everything will be ok right there while you consider where you are in this season, and where God wants you to be.
REST – anytime we face a new season, and especially if we’re facing something big – a large cross or suffering – there will be a need for extra rest, both in the form of sleep and also in finding and guarding time for quiet and leisure. Read that again. Moms, you need time for quiet and leisure. I know, you’re laughing at me (especially those of you with toddlers and babies), but I’m not talking about anything extravagant or overcomplicated! Simple ideas that are given priority will go a long way toward refreshing! We can’t meet any season of life with grace if our own tank is completely empty.
So, what exactly is simple in the way of rest? I’ll help you brainstorm! How about if you guard 15 minutes every day for some light reading? 30 minutes of reading your own book would be ambrosia, wouldn’t it! (I find it difficult to read meaty/heavy stuff when I’m suffering. Do you?) Make time for a date-night-at-home with your husband (maybe a chocolate milkshake after the kids are in bed, with a favorite movie). Subscribe to some great homeschooling podcasts and carve out part of an afternoon to enjoy one! The point is: as homeschooling moms living out the different seasons of life, we need to take a little time to nurture our heart and refresh our spirit! Find inspiration and something pretty and rest in that for a bit.
Once you’ve prayerfully considered your routine, provided some good reading, and are committed to resting and refilling your tank during this season of life, you may find that a judicious adjusting of your homeschool plan is in order.
Adjust your homeschool plans
Sometimes, simple little adjustments can be made without altering your basic schedule. This is preferable because it helps to provide one of those important 3 R’s – routine. Moving with a slightly adjusted schedule keeps your routine similar and that is comforting both for you and the kids! Only you will know what you can handle with your season, energy level, and time – be brutally honest in brainstorming this one.
If you work with a homeschool curriculum provider, you will likely find the provider to be a tremendous resource in knowing what to gently peel away so that there is room for you to breathe and live out the season.
But, what if you design your own curriculum? If you, like me, design your own homeschool curriculum around good books, you may need a little more perspective to help you know what to cut and for which child. My husband has been a great sounding board over the years, along with my mom, but an experienced homeschool mom can be a great mentor, too. Arrange to meet for a cup of coffee, bring your planner, share some details of what’s going on, and be open enough to hear hard things. I’ll give you a running start with a few ideas that work well as priorities:
- Live the liturgical seasons of the Church in simple ways. Get to Mass as often as you can. Keep some common time in your homeschool day rooted in prayer and staying aware of the rich life of the Church in the liturgical year. Add in something simple – maybe a short story from the Treasure Box books for your littles, or a story from Father Brennan’s Angel Food for Boys and Girls. These books are treasures here, and their short stories make them ideal since they are easier to read in difficult seasons. Brainstorm how to get a basket of a few good read-aloud books wherever you are during the day and allow the life of the church and the examples of the saints to provide small windows of hope and joy.
- Reading is something that has already been mentioned, but make no mistake, there is great value in a worthy book and a spot of sunshine! Engage your children, ask them what they read today, and value those simple, relationship-building moments. Ask questions and value this time! For record-keeping, keep a list of what each child is reading in a simple notebook (or better yet, have one of your older children keep the list and work as the family librarian!) – you can transform these notes into something more organized later.
- Math – look for something open-and-go (I like the inexpensive, download-and-print Math Mammoth series for my younger kids, but there are many great options here). For older students, consider something self-propelled or assisted. We use Saxon math for 4th grade and older students (even through difficult seasons, the consistent slow-and-steady approach with this program has yielded great fruit!), and I’ve found Mr. Art Reed’s DVD instructions and teaching of each lesson to be excellent and so helpful! And…you (or your student) can email Mr. Reed with questions from lessons and he’ll help! This is a great tool for older math students!
- Get outside as often as possible. You don’t have to go anywhere – stay in your own yard! Challenge yourself to see something new. Look with your child’s eyes. Appreciate the littlest of creatures. Wonder aloud at the tiny and mysterious hole in the ground. Allow the sunshine to refresh you! Be a child again and splash in a puddle. Getting outside brings us in direct contact with God’s creation and that is always humbling and delightful.
- Make use of the good tools of technology – grab some wonderful audio books and educational programs! Librivox and Audible are fantastic for audio books, and I really enjoy Leap Frog DVDs, Liberty’s Kids and Drive Thru History programs, but there are so many great educational programs out there! These can be fantastic for filling in!
Brainstorm your challenges
These are unique to every different season. The mom of 5 littles under the ages of 8 will have different challenges in her season than the older mom who has two middle-schoolers and is taking care of her aging dad. What are the unique challenges you face in this season of life? Sometimes, these are opportunities to pray, “I don’t understand, Lord, but I trust,” and sometimes these are opportunities to be diligent and brainstorm. They’re rarely black and white, so spend some time prayerfully considering the challenges you face! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when looking for solutions! If you find yourself stuck and unable to come up with any ideas, find an experienced homeschool mom and ask her to help you brainstorm. Chances are, she’s been where you are.
And finally…make time to see the little things
If there is one thing I recognize from different seasons of suffering or stress, it is that life tends to take on a momentum that is confusing and unsettling. This has a truly detrimental effect on children, and it most certainly wreaks havoc with our own interior peace. Keep enough margin in your day so that you have time to walk with your preschooler and marvel at the beetle walking across the sidewalk, or the new buds springing up in the garden. It is in beholding the littlest of God’s creation that we find moments of gratitude that see us through our season of life.
I have something for you, and I don’t mean to imply with this printable that everything can be reduced to a list on a piece of paper…but…when you’ve been handed a particularly heavy cross, you spin. Inside. Outside. Upside down. Perspective shifts and it’s difficult to regain balance when you’re in that spot so that you can put one foot forward in humility and prayerfully eek out, “Your will be done, Lord.” In those times, it’s helpful to have a little map, something very small that says, “start here.” So, with all my prayers for you, I offer a humble little map that might be a starting point for considering…your season.
Whatever your season of life, remember you’re right where God wants you to be at this moment. Out of all time and eternity, He chose you for this moment, for these children, for His plan. It’s hard to argue with that. Stay close to the Sacraments of the Church. Don’t be afraid to adjust your homeschool schedule to accommodate the valuable lessons God is providing in this season of life. And let the sunshine in – wherever the sunny windows are in your home, pull up a chair, grab a pretty mug, and fill it with something warm and inviting. This prayerfully considered season that you are living has more beauty than you know.