Home Education

The Schedule Only Works If I Do, Too

September 20, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

… redeeming the time, because the days are evil …
Ephesians 5:16

Things were going well, until they weren’t. I’m sure you know how this is. A child’s prank went badly and landed me in Urgent Care with orders for x-rays and a too-long-for-my-taste recovery time. (I’ve never been so thankful for Arnica in my life.)

Over the past ten days or so, we’ve stumbled around a bit. I had to drop a couple things for a couple days in order to teach well and manage my pain at the same time. The nice part about this still being early in the school year is that the temptation to sloth isn’t nearly what it is later in the year — I want to get back to our full schedule. While I dearly love my coffee and books, I’ve no desire to choose those things over lessons and consequently shortchange my children.

At the beginning of the school year, two things are in my favor: (1) Things are going well, and (2) I'm doing good. Only one of those things can I control.

Not long ago (before The Injury), I said to my friend, “It’s going so well, I feel like I forgot something.” It was true. This year started off so smoothly that I kept thinking I must have left something out. I checked and rechecked, but everything seemed to be in order.

Now, granted, my students are very independent compared to … oh … the past ten years. Instead of needing to read certain books aloud to my daughters, I was able to choose what I wanted to share with them. And my Year 3 son is able to read about half of his books. It’s amazing how much this lessens the overwhelm.

But still: teaching four children in four different grades is tough. Even when they are all fully reading on their own, there will still be math lessons, grammar lessons, Latin lessons and more — not to mention that we’re still averaging 16 narrations per day.

While I was feeling sorry for myself doing my best to recover from my injury last week, I got to thinking about homeschooling — about the tendency of the second half of the year to look pretty dingy compared to the first half. It dawned on me that in the beginning of the year, two things are in my favor:

  • Things are going well
  • I’m doing good

And only one of those things can I control.

What do I mean? Well, circumstances are usually good when we begin school. That’s not me — that’s just how life tends to work out for us. It’s God’s grace to us. I can’t control this part of the equation — things could just as easily go bad, because sometimes life happens that way, too.

But when I say “I’m doing good,” I don’t mean this as in, “I’m fine, thanks.” I mean this as in I’m actively doing good — I’m doing the things I’m supposed to be doing. These things are my duty, and at the beginning of the year, my duty seems shiny and new and so there is far less temptation to shirk it.

Here’s the truth: the beginning of the school year goes well because we are at the top of our games. We don’t let ourselves get distracted. We’re focused on testing and refining the schedules we’ve laid out and so we’re constantly looking at them and referring to them.

It’s easy for us to slip into bad habits during the second term, isn’t it? It all starts innocently enough. Usually, it starts with a cold. It captures one child at a time, rather than all at once, and so we’re adjusting the schedule for days, maybe even weeks. If Mom catches it, too, she usually catches it last. This means that when the children are ready to put it all back in high gear, we are capable of even less than what we did when they were sick.

The bad habits begin to compound. At this point, it’s been almost a month and we haven’t done a full school day most of the time. A lot of things that were slowly becoming hit and miss are now becoming very little hit and a whole lotta miss.

A month is a long time. Some people think that’s about how long it takes to build a habit. The decisions we make at this point are critical. We have to ask ourselves: what kind of homeschoolers do we really want to be? Because that’s what this moment is all about.

Am I going to be the kind who cuts everything back to the bare minimum?

We’re still recovering from those colds, remember? Reading some fiction at Circle Time sounds more fun right now than the picture study that was planned, and taking it easier with a cup of coffee seems more appealing than doing All The Things. The temptations, they are legion!

We have to fight the lazy mom inside. We have to resist shirking our duties.

We think this is some sort of unique circumstance, but it’s really not. The people who go to work each day have to fight the same battles we do. They are tempted to get on Facebook instead of spending their time on the clock with wisdom. The difference is that, when they use their time selfishly, they are squandering the company’s money.

When we do that, we’re squandering our children’s education.

The schedule I made for this year rocks. It’s doable, and it covers all the bases I want to cover. But I have to make it happen; it doesn’t happen on its own. And sometimes that is hard to do: it’s work. I have to make sure everything is ready on Monday morning. I have to execute Circle Time expeditiously. I have to start everyone off on the right foot and be where I need to be, when I said I’d be there. I need to pay full attention and not get distracted.

This is why I say that “the schedule doesn’t work unless I do, too.”

What I never like to admit, but what it true, is that if things start falling through those cracks in Term 3, the problem is me. The colds are gone, but I neglected to do what it takes to put my house back in order.

I know, I know. We’ve talked about this before.

But really, we can’t hear it enough, and anyhow, each year we want to make progress, right? This begins with taking responsibility: admitting when the problem is us and then making the necessary changes.

I don’t want life to be whittled down to such simplicity that the richness is gone. The key to a good life is being able to make the tough choices — to do the hard work — that allows us to be who we want to be.

I’m thinking about this more than ever because I only have three precious years left with my oldest. (A lot of people say that the senior year feels like it almost didn’t happen. So maybe only two years? Ugh.) I don’t want to look back with regret. I want to look back, confident that, whatever else I did wrong, squandering this precious time with these souls wasn’t one of them.

Twelve years of homeschooling at most, folks. That’s not as long as it seems. I remember when I was starting out. The end seemed a million years and a lifetime away, but I just signed E-Age-Fifteen up for the PSATs and he’s already started driver’s ed.

Let’s make the most of the time we’re given.


If you feel like you need extra help in this area, I highly recommend checking out Mystie’s Art of Homeschooling course, as well as her Work of Homeschooling course. It really gives the support we need to help us continue to cope and keep up over the long haul. 🙂

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27 Comments

  • Reply Thoughworthy | Afterthoughts September 13, 2019 at 2:40 am

    […] We have to ask ourselves: what kind of homeschoolers do we really want to be? I still believe this. […]

  • Reply Heidi April 17, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    I needed to hear this. Thank you so much for the kick in the pants!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 18, 2018 at 8:39 am

      He he. After my weekend travels, I needed to read it, too! 🙂 Sometimes I think of these posts as sermons to my future self. 😉

  • Reply Brenda September 23, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    I just signed my 15 year old up for the PSAT too, and I have mixed feelings about it…vacillating between not worrying about it and panicking! On the one hand, I feel like it could be good information to have, on the other, I am afraid that if she doesn’t do ok then she will be very discouraged, and I will be tempted to throw our current course out the window.
    I’d be interested to hear how you are viewing it and how you are preparing your son for it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 10, 2017 at 6:46 am

      I think I’m mainly viewing it as an experiment! We’ll see how he does.

      He’s tried some of the prep tests at Khan Academy. Have you looked at those? We find that even though he’s good at math, the new common core math doesn’t always make sense to him, so math is going to be his weakness on that test…

  • Reply Katrina September 23, 2017 at 6:25 am

    I normally read the emails you send out right away, but the one with this article sat in my inbox three days… I think because God knew I would need to read it at the end of this week. We started school and did it for a week, a really great week of me getting up on time and us starting school at 7:30 am and finishing mostly before lunch. But then, (those awful words) we went to my parent’s for a week to go hunting and even though we did school we started later and did only the basics and it’s like it turned my kids and I into complacent, unmotivated sloths. The first week, they were gung-ho to get things done and now they are back to the bad habits of last year and thinking they can play and not start school right away. So I am back to herding cats, and we all know it’s easier to drink tea and check your phone. So we have started late or not at all. But I decided this morning I was going to tidy up our school area, prep all of the pages and update the planners. And then I ran across this article and I think all the pieces have fallen into place. I will do the difficult things because I don’t want to “squander my children’s education.” Thank you for supporting us and getting us back on track!

    • Reply Sumer September 7, 2018 at 9:40 am

      Katrina, this sounds just like my life this year! (Maybe all the years?) This was perfect timing for this article in my life as well!

  • Reply Shanna September 22, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Thanks Brandy. All day co-op on Thursday throws me for a loop. I ran up and got dressed, even perfume, and I’m ready to tackle these children and this day. Reclaiming Friday is one of my goals this year, after all the kids just spent a whole day with friends and completed a week’s “assignments”, Friday should feel like a fresh clean Monday!

    *Please nobody throw up in the next 5 minutes*

  • Reply Sharron September 21, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Ain’t it the truth?! (Sorry, my roots are in E. Tennessee) That was the first phrase that came to mind while reading this! LOL This is the first year with my youngest where I am seeing real fruit and I know part of the reason is because I’m finally not trying to be all “artsy, spontaneous and creative”. That worked okay for my oldest, but this child needs more continuity and discipline from me! And I have to admit, my oldest probably could have used more also, but she was more eager to learn in general, so I didn’t see the need. Thank you for being honest, yet gentle with the truth!!

  • Reply Andrea C September 20, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I absolutely love this. I just signed up for a lettermelater account and copied and pasted this post into an email to auto-send to myself every month until 2035. Then it turned out I could only do five at a time without upgrading to a paid account. So I chose five dates about six weeks apart for this school year as a start 🙂 So thanks SO much for this awesome and incredibly TRUE post, and thanks also in advance for those other five reminders — LOL!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 20, 2017 at 7:45 pm

      For a small fee, I also nag in person. Just ask my husband. 😉

      • Reply Andrea C September 26, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        Haha! 🙂

  • Reply Cameron September 20, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Good post!. Maybe you can repost this a few months from now when the fatigue sets in. I’ll need to hear it again then, I am sure. We are just getting started and it is so true that it is running smoothly, in part, because I am fully engaged and prepared. It is hard to keep up that level of engagement all year, but I know I should. Here’s a verse that is helpful for me.

    “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 20, 2017 at 7:46 pm

      Yes — I write these things before I need to hear them, then stumble across them later when I need them most. Preaching to myself in advance! ♥

      And I LOVE that Galatians verse. Such a good reminder ever time.

  • Reply Karen September 20, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Brandy, you have no idea how much I needed this today. Thank you for posting this. Everything you said I could have said myself, just not as eloquently as you…. Now to get off the computer and teach spelling and grammar to my girl.

  • Reply tess September 20, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for posting this, Brandy. I’m in a similar boat, starting my fourth week of recovering from pneumonia. I had such a great plan, and then I lost September.

    I’m trying to figure out the bare minimum of healed I need to be in order to be a good teacher. I’m still at the homeschooling point that my ability to respond wisely is severely compromised when I’m ill.

    Do you have any insights on this? My kids still need almost everything read aloud, and my oldest is a heel-dragger on his independent work. It’s hard for me not to react in frustration when he and I have bad days on the same day.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 20, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Oh, Tess! That is so hard! Have you tried using some audio books? I think reading aloud is so exhausting when you have anything like pneumonia — probably because you’re lower on oxygen! I also wonder if, for this term, you can just combine some more things? Like maybe choose one literature book and do it with all of them? You can use the others as read alouds later, when you feel better?

      With your oldest, I wonder if a timer would help? Go do this for X minutes and then let me check your work? Something like that?

      • Reply tess September 20, 2017 at 11:06 am

        LOL– he’s a timer-panicker. If I give him a time limit, he gets so anxious that he can’t even see the page in front of him. I know there are probably great blessings we’ve been given because he can be so difficult, but that doesn’t make it any easier to help him. 🙂 Luckily my other children are about 100 times as cooperative.

        I’ve been trying to phase in audio books a little bit, but we’ve typically used them rarely (I enjoy reading aloud tremendously), and the kids seem to space out more. Do you think I should just keep going, and they’ll start to pick it up more?

        I’ve been toying with the idea of just doing “The Book of Virtues” this semester (I know it’s not on the AO list, but it has a variety of reading selections of different lengths). Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget to invest in audio versions of all the texts I had planned. :-/

        • Reply Brandy Vencel September 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

          I really do think it’s okay, when things go this badly, to do what it takes to rescue your term. 🙂 And I agree — zoning out happens more with audio books. Have you ever looked at the AO Help plan? It might give you an idea of what an emergency response plan looks like and yes I think the Book of Virtues might fit in just fine. 🙂

          • tess September 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm

            Oh, wow! Considering the hours I’ve spent on AO, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen it.

            Thank you for being so validating, and sharing such a useful and validating resource. I’m starting to not feel so guilty about my Book of Virtues plan, lol.

            Also, I’m so glad to hear my kids aren’t the only ones who zone out to audio books! Phew, at least that’s one way we aren’t entirely bizarre! 😉

        • Reply Tara September 23, 2017 at 9:32 pm

          Hi Tess, have you considered getting audio books without purchasing them? I don’t know which books you’d be looking for, but you might try your local library (ours can get things from other area libraries as well and I’m sure yours can too), or other online borrowing options like Overdrive, Hoopla (through the library), Librivox, etc. Also, for an in-person read aloud instead of an audio book, do you perhaps have another adult who’d be willing to help with reading aloud to the kids? A grandparent, friend, nice lady at church, someone whose homeschooled kids are older or graduated already, etc? Just thinking outside of the box a little bit. 🙂 Have you considered using a homeopathic remedy to help you get over the rest of your pneumonia?

          • tess September 24, 2017 at 10:30 am

            Hi, Tara! Thanks for your kind response. 🙂 Yes, our library has a huge selection— but not most of the items I would have picked. And I hate to admit it, but I’m really hit-or-miss with Librivox— my kids and even I have difficulty understanding many of the readers. Our county system is still implementing Overdrive, so I haven’t had ANY success with it yet. But hopefully soon!

            And rest assured, we have a great chiropractor who has given me some pretty awesome homeopathic remedies. 🙂 I think this might be one of those illnesses where God is trying to beat a lesson down from my head into my heart…

  • Reply Rachel September 20, 2017 at 5:41 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I intentionally visited your blog to get encouraged, and this was what I needed!

    • Reply Sherrylynne September 20, 2017 at 10:28 am

      There are obstacles that plague the end of our year that do not visit the beginning of our year and that is significant religious observations and practices. We “do” Lent, fasts and abstinence included, Ember Days, Palm Sunday to the Triduum Masses and then the Week of Easter. This leaves one, as the British would say, a little ‘fagged out.’ A long Minnesota winter is mixed in that but the hope at the end of the tunnel is finishing a bit earlier in May than our public school counterparts.

      The beginning of our school year has high school and middle school mountain biking races through the local school system. It is a demanding schedule of practices and traveling every weekend to pre-rides and races usually several hours away from home. We live our weeks Mon-Thrus and finish up quickly on Friday to prepare for traveling. Tight turns of focus make the high school years seem to move more quickly and intensely. Building in social time is a big thing as well and being a good example and a watchful parent to gently keep the child’s head on straight can make a parent tired.

      You are right! Be GOOD! The active sense of the word “to be”. St. Ignatius says it well, “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.”

      • Reply Brandy Vencel September 20, 2017 at 7:52 pm

        There’s so much to consider and prepare for, isn’t there? ♥

    • Reply HC September 21, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Oh me too, I needed something to make me take rational accountability, sometimes I’m too hard on myself, and then guilt makes me lose focus. I’ve been *so* slow preparing my schedule this year, I’m too embarrassed to even mention how long I’ve been meaning to just at least *get started* and only yesterday did i make some headway ?. Poor kids have been really let down, I can only blame myself for all their bickering (down to boredom) so yes, this was really timely. Thanks Brandy.

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