A long time ago I ran a marathon. In Alaska. At the base of Mt. McKinley.
Seriously, in my current fitness state that idea feels ridiculous now. It sounded like a good idea at the time. My husband to be and I were newly engaged and it felt like the perfect way to prepare for a lifetime together. What better metaphor for marriage could there be than training for the long haul of a marathon? Or something like that. I’ll blame it on my head-over-heels-in-love state.
One of the first things we learned about training for a marathon is to “start slow.” The tendency of newbie marathoners is to get completely caught up in the excitement and frenzy of the marathon and start off at a pace that ultimately wears them out too soon. Standing on that starting line on a beautiful summer solstice day in June with thousands of runners, I felt like I was ready to conquer the world. But, in reality, by mile nineteen or twenty, I only wanted to find a way to finish. Somehow.
The idea is to go slower than you know you are capable of at the start. That way, you can always have the energy in your tank to go faster as your momentum builds. This can be a helpful way to think about the start of the homeschooling year. Starting slow feels like a kinder, gentler way to move into the school year.
After all, our schedules are going from the beautiful, relaxing pace of the summer season to the overfull calendars of academics, sports, lessons, activities and more. It’s important to go slow and pace yourself, realizing this time of transition can be hard for everyone— you and your kids.
So how can we “start slow” and pace ourselves for the school year? What can we do to make it all the way to the finish line? How can we enjoy the journey? Here’s a few lessons from my marathon training that are great reminders for the homeschooling year ahead.
1. Start with a plan.
You may need to go slowly in organizing your day and setting up systems at first with your kids. Work together with your children to organize calendars, schedule the day, and figure out a system for how to make the day flow best. You are setting up your process and they are learning how to move towards becoming independent workers. Start well so that kids learn good systems right from the start.
2. Watch your time.
Getting into the habit of working diligently throughout the school day can be tough coming off of the freestyle flow of summer. In our home, we’ve found that we can focus for thirty to forty minutes before our brains need a break. Set a timer, work hard, and then get up, move around, change rooms, do a chore. It can also be helpful to make time visible with a wall calendar to show what time is available to study and when activities during the day are scheduled.
3. Fuel yourself well.
Think about how you can make it easy for you and your family to fuel yourself well. Some ideas might include: make healthy snacks ready and visible; fill up your water bottles and have them ready to put on your desk; plan downtime and rest as part of your days.
4. Build rest time into your training.
When I was running the marathon, I decided I would walk and hydrate during the water stops every five miles. Planning rest in your school day is also a great idea to fuel your week. Consider something fun to look forward to during your week like a park day with friends to celebrate the end of the week or a game night with family. My son collaborated with friends for a movie night where they took turns hosting it at different houses. He loved getting his work done so that he could relax and enjoy time with friends after a hard week.
5. Stay positive and cheer others on.
All along the race route, people were clapping and cheering us on—we felt like celebrities. Just when I felt like I couldn’t go much longer, there would be positive faces or encouragers to say “you got this!” or “only half a mile to the next water station.” If you start to get down on your homeschooling day, turn it around by finding ways to stay positive. Look for anything good to cheer about. There is always something to celebrate if you look for it. Even if it’s “no one cried today!” or “we didn’t argue during math!”—find goodness where you can. On hard days, definitely seek encouragement from friends who are running the race with you, and remember to encourage those other mamas in your community as well.
6. Remember this is hard. Give yourself grace.
After the ease of summer, school schedules and workload can feel really hard. In fact, it can be a bit depressing coming off of summer into the busy, full season of school. Know that it is hard and give yourself (and your children!) permission to feel what you feel. Pray for God’s grace to cover your family; ask for energy, enthusiasm, and wisdom on how to walk it out. Remember that this may be hard for a few weeks as you establish new rhythms at home. Give yourself permission to know that this is difficult and it is absolutely okay to feel this way. It will get better as things fall into place and everyone gets used to the new schedule.
7. God is faithful.
When I was training for the marathon, I held before me the vision I had of my husband and I crossing the finish line together. And we did. We held hands and loped exhaustedly across that line to a stadium full of cheering fans. We had done it and God had seen us through. I cling to a similar vision for homeschooling—that God will be faithful again. If I am faithful in the small everyday tasks of doing all I can with the day I am given, God will be faithful for the results in seeing us through to the finish line.
Keeping the finish line in your heart
What vision are you holding in your heart for the homeschooling year? This is the Scripture I have on my desk to remind me how I see our homeschooling marathon ending up:
“You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14 NIV).
I can’t wait to celebrate holding hands with my family as we cross the homeschooling finish line. Until then, I’m going to focus on how I can enjoy the journey. It will not be easy and there will be difficult days and challenges ahead. But I know God will see us through. God will be faithful. I will work to stay positive and look for glimpses of Him around every turn in the road. I will seek His goodness in the journey.