Best of Afterthoughts, Home Education, Mother's Education

I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will, OR: Do the Work of Homeschooling

August 19, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

Is this your first week of homeschooling for the year? It is for me. I always start our new homeschool year the week of my youngest child’s birthday because <cough> I really enjoy adding that kind of stress to the first week of school.

Charlotte Mason's motto for homeschool moms -- another pep talk written to myself.

Whether the stress in your homeschool week is normal life stuff, like birthdays or long to-do lists, or abnormal life stuff, like surprises and emergencies, the fact remains that homeschooling isn’t always easy. It just isn’t. This is because homeschooling is just like anything else: it’s work, and you have to actually Do It.

I spent the latter part of the summer doing extensive planning. I have learned this fact about myself: if I do not plan it, it is highly unlikely that it will be done. I’m not spontaneous, I don’t think well on my feet when it comes to stuff that should actually happen in the physical world, and I’m usually tired. This is not a good recipe for action, nor effectiveness.

It’s good to know things like this about ourselves so that we can search for a remedy. For me, the remedy has always been summer planning — the more thorough, the better. There is nothing romantic about it; it simply works for me.

With that said, plans are great and all, but they need to be executed, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

Charlotte Mason’s Motto for Homeschool Moms

Dawn recently published a free ebook called I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will: Charlotte Mason’s Motto Explained for Upper Elementary Students. It’s awesome, and you should go grab your copy! I’ve been reading through it and pondering how I’m going to incorporate it into our Circle Time, and in the midst of that, I’m remembering that this motto isn’t just for students — in fact, it’s the key to successful homeschooling, when you really think about it.

Perimeter School uses this little poem:

I am a child of God.
I ought to do His Will.
I can do what He tells me.
By Grace alone I will.

The order is a little different — I’ve seen the motto both ways. That detail isn’t terribly important. The key lies in the content.

Here’s the deal: it is really easy to think that we made these grand plans for the year, and now they are going to “just happen.” But lots of times, they don’t happen, and we’re left holding our scraps of plans wondering where we went wrong.

Sometimes, it isn’t us that went wrong. Life went wrong, and it took us along for the ride. While usually something is wrong if we find ourselves permanently in survival mode, survival mode is necessary for all of us, sometimes. This is where grace comes in.

Other times, what went wrong was actually in the plans. We planned too much, and we were destined to fail at the outset. We added that extra book over here, and that extra activity over there, and we didn’t realize we were adding the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. We need grace here, too — grace, and the realization that education does not mean that we have to do everything.

Those times — where life went wrong or our plans went wrong? That’s not what this post is about.

When the Problem is Us

Yes, I said it. Sometimes the problem is actually us. We were raised in an age when it was said that we were “strong-willed” if we did whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, to the great dismay of adults instructing us to do otherwise. But there is nothing strong at all about a gelatinous will that oozes with the passions and has no self-control. When we use the word “strong,” we imply the use of a muscle, and there is absolutely no muscle involved when a child throws a tantrum because he does not want to leave the playground/put away his shoes/do his chores. In that moment, he’s taking the easy road.

The hard road — the road requiring strength — is the one where he uses his will to submit himself to what he ought to be doing.

So, if I’m five, and I’m at the park, and my mom says it’s time to go — it’s 100 degrees and we still haven’t eaten lunch and my baby brother needs a nap soon, and anyhow, God did put my mother in authority over me — the weak will throws the tantrum, but the strong will sucks it up and goes home without a fight because it’s the right thing to do.

And if I’m thirty-five, and it’s a homeschool morning — oh, and I stayed up too late the night before, and now I’m tired and unmotivated, and the kids are crabby, and the house is a mess, and I would rather just drink my coffee in silence and read a blog or something — the weak will throws in the towel and sends the kids out to play (tomorrow will be better), but the strong will sucks it up and starts lessons, game face on and cup of coffee in hand.

Nike was Right

I have said this before, and I repeat it often, because it works so well for me: Just Do It is the way things get done. Or, as Carol puts it, “do the next right thing.” (Carol’s saying is the better one when it comes to embodying Charlotte Mason’s motto, I think.)

I am

a homeschool mom, with the responsibility for educating my children Christianly. This is my chosen vocation, and it is my calling.

I ought…

to do right by my children in this area. I can hire helpof course, but I don’t have the right to drop the ball in regard to their education.

I can…

do this, for I believe the Lord equips those whom He calls. (That doesn’t mean perfection, though, people.)

I will…

do the work. Every day, I will get up, and deny my desire for leisure and comfort and Do the Work.

The strong will chooses the ought — it chooses what it knows to be right in defiance of big temptations like another cup of coffee and another page of a novel. This is the sort of situation in which we can apply the words of the Apostle Paul, who said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave.”

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

I’m writing this post because it is the post I need to read. I try to start the year off right because I never know what the future will hold. It’s possible my plans aren’t as well-made as I think they are, or it’s possible that Life will take us for a ride. I know this. That’s why it is such a big deal to be diligent, to Do the Work on every day that I can, because I do not know what tomorrow will be like.

You know that saying, make hay while the sun shines? Have you ever been around hay-making before? Hay can be ruined by a cloudy, humid, or rainy day. It’ll spoil. Moldy hay can mean death to the flock it’s feeding. It’s a serious thing. Good hay requires optimum weather. That is why we make hay while the sun shines. Because tomorrow might be cloudy, and then where will we be?

Homeschooling is like that. Tomorrow might have bad weather. The neighbor’s husky might break down the fence (this actually happened to us on Monday, folks), or someone might do that of which we do not speak (it involves the stomach flu — that is your only hint). But, today the weather is fine. So make the hay — Do the Work.

Listen to the audio version of this post, courtesy of The Homeschool Solutions Show!

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70 Comments

  • Reply Penny September 20, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    I know this is not the main point of the article…but it felt like when you were talking about kids and obeying they’re parents, that it’s all simply about “will.” I would submit that most of the time it’s not and there is a deeper issue. You say the “weak will throws a tantrum” but I would say a kid with other things going on (even minor issues) throws a tantrum. Maybe they’re hungry or maybe they’re fighting medical, mental or emotional issues that cause them to melt down and be unable to behave appropriately. My son, for example. has had lifelong sleep apnea which causes him a whole host of issues. It might appear to the outside world that he’s a defiant and “weak” willed child. But he’s tired 24/7 and common sense and reasoning with him goes out the window! His behavior issues are because he’s tired, not that he has a weak will to be conquered. I don’t mean to overthink one small paragraph of your article (for I agree with the rest—This mama just needs to DO school!) but when people start talking about kids and will, it reminds me of those who think a child’s will is to be broken, and I totally disagree with that!!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 28, 2019 at 10:04 am

      Understood. Passing comments can always be dangerous. 😉 I’ve written a lot on this subject, but perhaps the best (just so you can see I agree with you) is The Lifeblood of a Successful Education: 10 Tips for Brain Health, which was written by my husband (who has a graduate degree in holistic nutrition).

      With that said, as someone who has been sick all my life (likely born with congenital Lyme, though it’s hard to say that because I wasn’t diagnosed until I was a teenager), the best thing my parents ever did for me was help me learn to have self-control even when life was extremely hard. My years of sickness gave my more opportunities for will development than more children, and for that I’m grateful because I see how it helps me as a mom. In my case, at least, it was true that I was in extreme pain and also very tire — but it was also true that I did not have to be a slave to that situation, that I could rise above it. It was very humanizing.

      In a Charlotte Mason education, there is a great focus on strengthening the will, but NEVER breaking. Those two activities are not even in the same category. A broken will can never be strong.

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  • Reply Jolie April 18, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    This was well written! A great challenge, yet not legalistic. You speak what is good and right in grace. Thanks! I need this.

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  • Reply Donna Koch June 21, 2018 at 7:53 am

    I really needed to hear that. I love that you applied the CM motto to moms. We need to apply it just as much as they do.

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  • Reply Patty Wheeler November 5, 2017 at 1:07 am

    Thank you!

  • Reply Joyce July 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Love, Love, Love!
    Thank you!

  • Reply Robin Mureiko May 19, 2017 at 6:04 am

    Excellent! Thank you!

  • Reply Lisa February 18, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Thank you!! I really needed this. ❤️ I have been the weak homeschool mom I need to just suck it up and get over my fears and insecurities and make it work.

  • Reply Patty January 14, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Not very original, but I really, really needed this. Those summer plans you speak of, never happened. Everything going wrong is my fault.
    Thank you!

  • Reply Kim December 7, 2016 at 4:43 am

    Thank you – I needed this. Also reminded me of Elisabeth Elliot quoting an old saxon poem
    Old Saxon poem:

    Do it immediately;

    Do it with prayer;

    Do it reliantly,

    casting all care;

    Do it with reverence,

    Tracing His Hand,

    Who placed it before thee with

    Earnest command.

    Stayed on Omnipotence,

    Safe ‘neath His wing,

    Leave all resultings,

    DO THE NEXT THING.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 8, 2016 at 10:17 am

      I love this, Kim. Thank you for sharing it! ♥

  • Reply Crystal Dearden November 25, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I listened to this through the podcast a few weeks ago, and I want you to know you have changed my life! I have a “strong-willed” child (4 of them actually) and it has been incredible to teach them, and myself, to DO the work actually takes a strong will. There is so much I could say, but I’ll end with THANK YOU!!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 26, 2016 at 7:59 am

      Oh, I am so happy to hear this! ♥ You are so very welcome … it was life changing for me, too, when I first learned it. 🙂

  • Reply Megan Hillegass October 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Heard your post thru the HS Solutions podcast and LOVED it. Thanks!

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  • Reply Tiana August 19, 2016 at 5:59 am

    I’m reading this again, a year later, thanks to Facebook memories. It was so encouraging back then, but I had no idea just how much I’d have to “make hay while the sun shines” this year! I had a baby in October, and while I had prepared for that reasonably when I planned my school schedule, I did not plan for major birth complications, an emergency cesarean, and a month long NICU stay. When we finally came out from underwater (sometime in January), I had to get my head right. If all I could do was fret about how behind we were, I was never going to accomplish anything, and my children were going to resent my negative attitude.

    So I finally said, “Okay my dears, here’s the deal. I am going to stop ranting and raving about how far ‘behind’ we are, and in exchange, when I say it’s time to do school, you aren’t going to whine and complain. We’re just going to do the work.” That didn’t lead to instant harmonious perfection in our homeschool, but it did set a new tone.

    Coming up on a year later–baby’s healthy, I’m healthy, and I’m feeling as though I came out from under a thick cloud. Time to do the work.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 19, 2016 at 6:31 am

      Oh, Tiana! That is such a powerful thing. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And yes: emergency C-sections are a major disruption! We did NICU with our firstborn, and I remember being in awe of the parents who were doing it with other children at home — I asked my husband all the time how he thought they managed that! I’m so glad you’re over and on the other side of that difficult hill to climb. ♥

  • Reply Phyllis July 20, 2016 at 10:18 am

    I just read 1 Chronicles 28 and thought of this post when I came across the phrase “be strong and do the work” that repeats there. 🙂

  • Reply Ruth July 2, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    So true and so well worded. This has touched my heart and mind deeply. Thank you.

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  • Reply Beth September 15, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    What wonderful timing, at least in my reading it today. My oldest just started dictation today and we used CM’s motto for his passage. We talked about it and how it pertains to him and then I read this post and how it pertains to me. So very wonderful. Now I ditto all those who have said that they need to print this out and post it all over the house!

    Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Bonnie September 6, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply Katrina September 5, 2015 at 6:12 am

    I think I am going to post this on my fridge, and my mirror and probably my computer screen… Oh and a tiny one for my phone! And if you could call me every morning and remind me, that would be great. ;D I think this is the key to my homeschooling mom success. We are already lagging a little after two weeks. Not starting on time, letting things slide a little, not being as thorough. I was thinking I needed to re-evaluate my curriculum but I don’t think it’s really the curriculum. I think it’s me. “And if I’m thirty-five, and it’s a homeschool morning — oh, and I stayed up too late the night before, and now I’m tired and unmotivated, and the kids are crabby, and the house is a mess, and I would rather just drink my coffee in silence and read a blog or something — the weak will throws in the towel and sends the kids out to play {tomorrow will be better}, but the strong will sucks it up and starts lessons, game face on and cup of coffee in hand.”

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  • Reply Jeana August 22, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Thank you, thank you!! That is just what I needed to hear. I plan to copy the detailed I am, I ought, I can, I will part down as a positive reminder of my job as a homeschooling mom.

  • Reply Carol August 20, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    “oh, and I stayed up too late the night before, and now I’m tired and unmotivated” – yes, I did, but it ‘s all your fault, Brandy – had our Start Here book club last night & I didn’t get to bed till midnight. This is where Elisabeth Elliot’s nudge of doing the next right thing comes to my aid…it just gets done a bit slower than normal.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      Ha! I did the same thing last night — I was up too late discussing Vol. 2 with a friend. 🙂 I tried to suck it up and start the day anyhow. I try not to burn the candle at both ends very often, but sometimes it is TOTALLY worth it. 🙂

  • Reply Lavonne August 20, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I needed to hear this today. I am sure I will need to hear it many more times. Thank you for writing and sharing this nudge/prod/push/shove to “just DO it”. It has meaning for me on so many levels. Blessings as you begin your school year.

  • Reply Tanya Stone August 20, 2015 at 6:18 am

    I’m seriously trying to decide where is best to keep this so I can always be kicked in the butt by it when I need to be. Thank you for saying the hard thing. I think a lot of homeschool blogs/articles try to say “There there” and encourage us to let it go. While we need to give ourselves grace sometimes, I think like in most things we humans swing too far one way then another. There’s a balance. Let it go too often and that’s when it gets away from you. Unless something truly life altering throws a wrench at your day, JUST DO IT!! I’m the world’s best/worst procrastinator so I NEED this!!! Thank you again!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      I am tempted to procrastinate a lot, too, Tanya! That is why I have to write posts like this at least twice per year. 😉

    • Reply Carol August 20, 2015 at 5:28 pm

      Tanya, I think that’s a really important point – balance & grace when needed & a kick so we don’t allow things to slide too often.

  • Reply Jamie August 20, 2015 at 5:46 am

    I loved this! Thanks for this encouraging read!

  • Reply Claire August 20, 2015 at 3:10 am

    So I’m reading this while procrastinating from other (non-homeschooling) things I need to get done. I *will* get up and make that phone call. And a hot drink.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

      I have to apply this to phone calls, Claire??? You’re killing me!! 😉

  • Reply Joy August 19, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    I absolutely needed to read this today. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      You’re welcome, Joy. And I hope your pants are okay. 😉

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol August 19, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Yes, exactly!

    I personally encourage myself when confronted by something I don’t want to do by saying, “Don’t be lazy!” It isn’t a positive aphorism by any stretch, but I find it works better than phrases stated in a more pleasing fashion. I just have to be careful that I’m discerning correctly when it is an issue of the will and when it is baby-induced exhaustion or illness so I’m not just expecting too much and beating myself up.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      I totally understand what you mean, Amber, about the need for discernment. I think that especially for those of us with chronic health issues, that can be hard to unwind sometimes…

  • Reply slvenn August 19, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Very motivating. I will save it to read over and over when I’m feeling weak. Thank you.

  • Reply Ann-Marie August 19, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Brandy,
    I want to thank you SO much for everything you have shared this summer. All of the planning posts have made things so much easier for me! This post especially is very timely for me and spoke to my heart when I need it. Love the Perimeter School poem too and am planning on making that part of our memory work for the year! Good reminder for us all 🙂
    Thank you for being such a blessing!

    Now off to get Dawn’s ebook 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      I added the poem into our memory work, too, Ann-Marie! I almost forgot about it, but Dawn’s book reminded me. 🙂

  • Reply Amy Morehead August 19, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Thank you so much for this, it touched my heart 🙂 Blessings ~ amy

  • Reply Herbwifemama August 19, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Hear hear! 🙂

  • Reply Kathy W. August 19, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Yes, Ma’am! I need to print this out and hang it up. This is going to be a year where I don’t have the luxury of procrastination and I don’t have the luxury of leaving my dd’s character to “work itself out.”

  • Reply Missy August 19, 2015 at 7:45 am

    You have no idea how badly I needed to hear this message today. I now must get to doing the things I should be doing. I really needed the pep talk and reminder about what should be happening around here. Thanks!!!!!

  • Reply Mystie August 19, 2015 at 7:20 am

    “it’s a homeschool morning — oh, and I stayed up too late the night before, and now I’m tired and unmotivated, and the kids are crabby, and the house is a mess, and I would rather just drink my coffee in silence and read a blog or something”…

    You’ve been spying on me. 😉

    I used to do that quite a bit, but I’ve been working, slowly and steadily, and strengthening and exercising my will. Uses est magister optimus – I’ve been saying this to the kids all the time lately – Practice is the best teacher. Also, now I have more children and higher grades, and I definitely can’t wing it or fake it like I used to.

    You’re spot on.

    • Reply dawn August 19, 2015 at 7:24 am

      Sometimes, Mystie, I wish you weren’t so right (or honest) but I’m feeling some of those same feelings with a rising fifth grader. Like it’s time to be the grownup now.

      • Reply Sharron August 19, 2015 at 7:45 am

        Ouch! But I don’t want to be the grown up anymore! Wahhhh! Going to print out your ebook right now.

        • Reply dawn August 19, 2015 at 7:47 am

          Me either!

          I hope the eBook is a blessing to your family 🙂

      • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        Yeah, I don’t feel like being the grown up sometimes, either. For me, seventh grade was a big awakening — I felt like I really had to get serious if I was going to do this all the way through high school. I don’t know if the upper years really *are* less forgiving, but they feel that way to me.

        • Reply Lisa V in BC August 21, 2015 at 7:27 am

          This is where I am right now – 8th grade with Year 7 – my mind is a whirl and I am busy procrastinating here… I was looking for the planning post with the video for planning Year 8 and got side-tracked.

          Anyhoo, Brandi, you speak to my heart and inspire me 🙂
          thanks for your many words of wisdom!

  • Reply Sharron August 19, 2015 at 5:54 am

    Thank you!!! The battle in my mind has been Fierce this summer. I don’t want to start school next week, or next month for that matter. But, I will. And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!

  • Reply Amy Marie August 19, 2015 at 5:45 am

    Just. So. Excellent. Thank you! Bookmarking this to read in February. 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 20, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Ha. I will probably have to write myself another reprimand by February, Amy Marie. 😉

  • Reply dawn August 19, 2015 at 4:59 am

    I feel like that toddler who doesn’t want to leave the park much of the time, only mine is the not want to put down the mobile device or book. I was so very convicted while studying the motto from a Biblical framework – especially in the I oughts and I wills. Thank you for showing how our vocations can be fit in, step by step too.

  • Reply Heather August 19, 2015 at 4:24 am

    LOVED this- thank you!!! And I’ll just add that Dawn’s ebook is so good (& it’s awesome that I actually know her in person!). It’s FREEE so everyone should grab a copy!

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