Accepting your limitations takes a very practical form when it comes to making decisions about curriculum and co-ops. I say this a lot, but I’ll say it again: homeschooling is a marathon. This has a lot of implications, and one is that we have to take a long view — of the day, of the week, of the month, of all the many years.
I don’t run on purpose pretty much ever, but I hear that if you start off a marathon with a sprint, things tend to go badly. In sprinting, there is so much energy output in such a short amount of time that the pace simply cannot be maintained.
The same is true in homeschooling. A day can wreck a week when you’re a low-energy mom. We need to pace ourselves properly and make sure there are reserves left. This is going to look different for each of us. So let’s discuss some guiding principles that will help.
Have a philosophy.
Remember when we talked about decision fatigue? Well, the first way curriculum and co-ops can kill you is through the slow and painful death of decision fatigue. Once upon a time there were 3.5 homeschool curricula to choose from, but no longer. We now have more choices than energy, and that puts us at a definite disadvantage.
I talk a lot about educational philosophy around here, and you can check out the talks in my shop if you want to think more deeply about that, but for now I just want to say that having a philosophy — a basic framework of what you think about education — can be your friend. (Whether you agree with my philosophy is beside the point.)
But also, when you are sick, you cannot make all of your decisions based upon your philosophical ideals alone — respecting your own limits might mean respecting the fact that you cannot embody the ideal. Still, a philosophy can help narrow your possible choices down to a more manageable number.
For example, my philosophy tells me that a living book is to be preferred over a textbook. Awesome. I no longer have to dig through a pile of history or science textbooks that I would never use anyhow. This is a huge time and energy saver.
My advice on educational philosophy is: have one.
Consider a prepared curriculum.
When my oldest was five, I discovered AmblesideOnline, a curriculum that closely fits my philosophy. When he was six, we began with Year One. He is now finishing up Year Eight.
You know what I have never done? Agonized over books and curriculum.
I don’t design my own curriculum, you see, and I also rarely switch curricula.
There is a distinct advantage to choosing a curriculum, especially when you are low-energy. Yes, some people really enjoy putting together each year of school for each individual child. If that is you, you have my blessing, especially if you find that type of activity energizing! But if you’re experiencing an energy drain just thinking about school planning, it might be time to consider a prepared curriculum.
Be Wary of Changing Curricula.
I’m not saying never change curricula because I once changed math programs and totally agree that sometimes changes need to be made. I’m simply saying be wary.
Because each curriculum has its own learning curve, and learning curves drain energy.
It’s easy to ride a bike. It’s hard to learn to ride one.
Even if the new curriculum is similar to the old one, you’ll still have a learning curve. When we changed math curricula, for example, it took me about a year to finally feel like I understood and could easily execute the new curriculum. It took a year for the lessons to become habitual, meaning they required lower levels of energy.
And that is the point.
Do you really need to change your math curriculum/Latin curriculum/writing curriculum/etc.? You might. But then again you might not. Count the cost before you make the switch; try to determine if it’ll really be worth it.
Well-Chosen Video Curricula Might Be Your Friend
I say might because I’m a firm believer that, for most subjects, there is no way around the fact that knowledge comes from books (see above: philosophy). But, with that said, we have used a couple video curricula, we have friends who have used others, and they are useful.
I would have liked to, for example, learn Latin and then teach my child, but he can learn a language faster than I can — his brain is more plastic and he also isn’t homeschooling four children while trying to run a household and business. That is reality.
The two video curricula I have used in the past (and will be using again in the future with my younger children when they reach the appropriate ages) are Visual Latin and Grammar of Poetry. I haven’t tried Teaching Textbooks for math, but I have a number of friends who have and love it.
I’m going to do a separate post on getting help and delegating, but this can really be thought of as a low level of delegation. You can even sit in on the lessons (like I have done a lot of the time), if that makes you feel better.
Choose Co-ops Wisely
I cannot tell you whether or not to join a co-op. I have had seasons where I’ve done co-ops, and seasons where I didn’t, and both seasons had their good and bad points — everything is a trade off, after all.
If you are so sick or low-energy that getting out of the house is an impossibility, then doing a co-op is not for you, unless you have someone who is going to take your place in the sense of getting the children there, bringing them home, and whatever else is expected. I have done this for a friend before, so don’t rule that out, but just consider the point.
Co-ops might be draining for you. You might be expected to teach and be on your feet. You might be drained by the social aspect. You might be called upon to bring supplies and, sister, believe me, I know when you say that even gathering the simplest of supplies feels like an insurmountable task.
I. have. been. there.
On the other hand, co-ops can give you a life beyond the daily grind. Beyond the depression of feeling badly all the time. They can get your mind off you and your problems and that is a very good thing. They can give you a chance to see friends or make friends during the week. They build community. You may find that while you teach only once, a number of things are taken off your plate by the other moms. And so on and so forth.
Co-ops can be wonderful.
So, again, count the cost. They might be for you, and they might not be. I once talked to a gal who had a chance to join a co-op at the end of the year, and I actually thought that was perfect. It was a chance to commit for a very short period of time, and after that she’d be able to make a much more informed decision about continuing the next year.
All of this is a balancing act. You want what is best for you children, of course. But what is “best” for them isn’t literally best for them if it causing them to have a non-functioning mother. Therefore we have to make choices. We can use our philosophy to help limit our choices, but ultimately we must also be wise as we try to navigate our commitments to curricula and co-ops. There are pros and cons to every single one, so pray for wisdom. And then make a decision. Remember that decisions deplete you, so don’t let that stage take forever — make a call. You’ll be glad you did.
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