It’s December already, and that means the dreaded J-word is just around the corner: January. For those who are new to homeschooling, January is the Month of Homeschooling Doom. A month or two of holiday craziness, followed by cold, dark, bleak weather, and a curriculum that had all the new and shiny worn off by mid-October – it’s a deadly combination. You might not be able to think straight about school decisions until April. Which means that right now, in early December, is the time to get all Advent-y with your self-examinations, and take a close look at your school.
What’s working? By now a few obvious problems have reared their heads, and it’s easy to get distracted by the bad guys and forget that you’ve got some good things going on as well. Make a list of your homeschool successes this fall, and tuck them away in a January love-letter to yourself. You’ve uncovered a few good things. What are they?
What are your pretty-wells? These are the little school or parenting habits you do pretty well. Sure you lose focus from time to time. (Holidays? Sick kids? House guests?) Maybe when you’re thrown off track, these baby successes end up stuffed in the closet for later. But whenever you get back on the program, sure enough you’re always glad to be started again with these solid performers.
Write ’em down. Right now. When you’re floundering, these are the tools you want to dig out to get yourself restarted.
Now list your problems, but know that you’re going to throw away over half your list before you’re done. So make it a long list on a separate sheet of paper: Everything that bugs you about your homeschool. Your seventh grader who doesn’t know his division facts. Your whiny four-year-old. The fact that you only make a decent dinner once a week, and even that involves too much ketchup and frozen mystery vegetables. The part about how you need more exercise, or a haircut, or new sneakers, and you can’t seem to squeeze them in. Whatever it is, write it down.
Now go through your list, and if you’re brave, invite your spouse to go through the problem list with you. What really matters? What are the most pressing problems? The ones that have to be dealt with this week, or this school year? Circle those.
All the rest are going to have to wait. You can come back to them in three, six, or nine months from now. Maybe by working on your highest priority items, you’ll end up clearing up some of the smaller stuff without realizing it.
Brainstorm some solutions. You probably aren’t feeling like spending a ton of money on new curriculum just now, though if you truly need it, there’s no law against asking Santa to bring a math book. But think big-picture. If you need more one-on-one time with your 10th grader, what’s something you can do to occupy the littles so that you get your thirty minutes of sanity? Last year I was having trouble with my pre-teen being sluggish in the morning. I moved his desk from his north-facing bedroom to a sunny window in the living room. A small, easy change that made a huge difference.
Develop a plan for the new year. Remember you’re going to hold onto your successes, and you’re going to try to put those pretty-wells to work as much as you can. Now take a few of your brainstormed solutions, and see if you can work them into a rebooted plan for the spring semester. Toy around with your schedule, your curriculum, your parenting skills, and your personal needs, until you’ve got something that looks, on paper, like it just might work.
The only way to know is to try. Next year isn’t going to be a perfect year. Don’t sweat it. You’ve gotten this far with a few successes, a few odds and ends you want to build on, and an idea of what direction you need to take next. That’s enough. Give yourself permission to be a pretty good parent. Come April or May, you’ll do this again. And it won’t be a sign that you’re a failure! It’ll be a sign that you’re on top of your game, assessing your changing needs, and finding ways to keep getting a little bit better at this homeschooling thing. Have a great New Year!