What do you do when homeschooling is hard?
I once posed this question to my friend, a fellow homeschooler. She simply smiled and answered, “I cry.”
If you’re feeling the heat of homeschool burnout, I want to let you know that you’re not alone. During the ten years that I homeschooled my kiddos, I cried and cried and then cried some more. But I didn’t give up. Instead, I sought advice from other parents and developed strategies and specific techniques for dealing with difficult homeschool days.
This is what I’ve learned.
The 3 Main Reasons Why Homeschooling Is Hard
Here’s the first lesson that I learned as a stressed-out homeschool mom: homeschooling is hard! That may not sound like much of a lesson, but I discovered that I’d taken an important first step on the road to success by simply admitting to myself that homeschooling is difficult.
Here’s why homeschooling is hard:
1. Homeschooling can take a lot of work.
As a homeschooler, you’re a parent, a teacher, a student, a principal, a counselor, and a cook—sometimes all at once! One moment, you’re making a complete mess of the timeline song with your kids while stirring burnt-smelling pasta sauce, and the next, you’re trying to research college opportunities for your eldest when the youngest decides to play a game of bowling in the hallway using an assortment of table lamps and the family pet.
You’re responsible for preparing lessons, personalizing your curriculum, assessing your students, socializing your children, and managing your time—while still doing the hard work of parenting. You may find that the hardest part of homeschooling is balancing these various commitments.
Fortunately, there are strategies to reduce your workload. I’ll look at those in the next section.
2. Homeschooling can shake your confidence.
There’ll come times when you’ll wonder whether you truly have the expertise needed to educate your children at home. You may feel as though you don’t have the knowledge to teach subjects like Latin, mathematics, or science, or you may worry that you won’t meet expectations (whatever and whosever those expectations may be).
Everyone struggles with self-doubt, but self-doubt can become a problem when it turns into a feedback loop: self-doubt leads to stress, stress leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to self-doubt, until you reach the point of burnout.
Just remember: you’re more than capable. God trusts you with your children.
3. Homeschooling can test your patience.
I love my kids with every beat of my heart, but there were times when they tested my patience. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.
When you’re a homeschooler, you will spend a lot of time in close proximity with your family. And that’s a wonderful blessing! Our God intended the family to be a school of love and joy, and the time we receive with our children is a precious gift. In fact, that’s one of the many reasons why my husband and I chose to homeschool our kiddos. But close quarters lead to friction, and that friction can make homeschooling painful at times.
Persevere, however, and you’ll only grow in your love for your children.
What to Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
Homeschooling is challenging, but there are strategies that can help make homeschooling easier (or at least more manageable). Here’s what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed:
1. Set realistic expectations.
You can make homeschooling so much easier right now simply by setting realistic expectations.
First, you need to think about your child’s unique needs. Every expectation that you set should be informed by your child’s age, development, learning style, strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Don’t set goals for some other student; set goals for your student.
For example, you may discover that your student needs more time on one strand than another. That’s okay! Factor the extra time into your expectations, and take comfort in the knowledge that you’ve avoided panicked attempts in the future to cram everything into your schedule.
Second, think SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Vague goals, such as “I want to improve my child’s reading skills,” set us up for failure because they aren’t real goals—they’re wish lists. SMART goals, on the other hand, provide a ladder to success.
What does that look like in action? Take our vague goal from before: “I want to improve my child’s reading skills.” Let’s make it more specific and measurable: “I want my student to break each word in a sentence into phonemes with at least 70% accuracy.” And now, let’s make this goal time-bound: “I want my child to accomplish this goal by November 2023.”
This expectation is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Think one-room schoolhouse.
Third, remember that homeschooling is a joint effort. Adopt the one-room schoolhouse approach, where students are responsible for themselves as independent participants in their own learning. Think of your students as your very own teaching assistants.
You’ll also want the support of other homeschoolers, but more on that later.
Review and reflect.
Finally, review your expectations. Review your immediate expectations after they’ve been met, and reflect upon your efforts every year.
If your expectations aren’t being met, adjust your approach. If your expectations are being met, identify what works and continue to use those techniques.
2. Get organized, stay organized.
You’ll save time, effort, stress, headaches, and heartaches if you organize your home school. Now, this topic is really extensive, so I won’t provide step-by-step instructions in this blog post, but rather, I’ll identify some areas in your home school that will benefit from getting organized, and I’ll share some resources with you.
Organize your curriculum.
You’ll want to organize your curriculum. If you’re a Classical Conversations member, then you’re in luck—you have access to the CC Connected platform, which will help you keep your digital learning materials organized.
Organize your space and schedule.
You’ll also want to organize your homeschool space and schedule. We can easily avoid the stress of throwing together last-minute lessons and searching for necessary supplies and materials simply by planning ahead. Also, daily routines are just plain reassuring!
Manage your time.
Finally, you’ll want to practice thoughtful time management. The key to time management is the right mindset—respect time and make intentional choices.
3. Use available homeschooling resources.
This is what you don’t want to do: you don’t want to build your own curriculum from scratch, design your lessons out of nothing, or invent new activities every week.
Why would you? That’s a lot of work to reinvent the wheel.
Instead, seek out and use existing resources. Find a premade homeschool curriculum or program that works for you and also offers an abundance of ready-to-use lessons, activities, and materials. (Naturally, I’d recommend Classical Conversations’ programs.)
You’ll also want to use available resources for assessment when the time comes for your student to prepare for college entrance exams.
4. Join a community.
I know that I wouldn’t have successfully graduated my kiddos without the invaluable support of my community. There were so many times when I just wanted to quit, only to find myself renewed by a quiet word of encouragement. I learned so much from my peers over the years—honestly, I can’t imagine homeschooling without that guidance.
Can you homeschool without community? Yes, and sometimes, life circumstances prevent us from joining a community. But I wouldn’t recommend going it alone!
You can find a community near you here.
How to Reduce Your Homeschooling Stress
The will to succeed is within each one of us. God has given us homeschooling parents a passion and a desire to be the ones to raise up our children. Our journey together is sharpening us, purifying us, and refining us into His image for His glory.
He is calling us to let our light shine (Matthew 5:16).
These techniques will help you manage your stress levels while homeschooling so that your light can shine all the brighter.
Prayer should be our first impulse and our last. God will strengthen your heart (Psalm 10:17), offer you peace (John 14:27), and never forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:8).
This technique may seem the most obvious, but it’s also the easiest to forget. Just breathe! Whenever you’re feeling stressed out, take a deep breath, relax your body, and then count to ten. This technique’s a classic for a reason!
3. Start small.
One of my friends suggested that I read The Slight Edge. In this book, Jeff Olson discusses how our choices, positive or negative, have a compounding effect on our life’s trajectory.
My friend would always start with something small. Whenever homeschooling grew difficult, her first small decision was to stop and pause instead of pushing everyone to the point of tears.
In that way, every decision that came after her first small decision came from a place of calm.
4. Learn together.
Whenever you feel lost, whenever you feel frustrated, or whenever you make a mistake, remember that you’re learning alongside your student. You’re not supposed to know everything, but if you’re willing to learn, you’ll find that mistakes, conflicts, and instances of ignorance instead become opportunities for growth.
5. Ditch Plan B.
Plan B is holding you back and stressing you out.
Yes, homeschooling is hard. However, it’s important to do the hard until the hard becomes easy (or at least easier). Remember your why for homeschooling and let that motivate you to carry on.
Now that I’m on the other side of my journey and graduating two kiddos, I can confidently say that homeschooling was worth every minute!
6. Step outside.
I once asked a friend the same question I’d asked my other friend: “What do you do when homeschooling is hard?”
She said, “I step outside and take a breather.”
7. Be flexible.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in our plans and our expectations that we make ourselves sick with stress. But why? If a lesson isn’t progressing as fast as you’d anticipated, don’t worry. You can’t rush your student’s growth. Let everything unfold in its own time.
Likewise, if everything you do seems to fail, switch tracks. Don’t beat your head against a wall. Let everything unfold in its own way.
8. Have fun.
When you first pictured your life as a homeschooler, what did you imagine? If you’re like me, you probably knew there would be tough times, but you probably also pictured fun times.
Don’t lose that picture!
If you’re feeling stressed out, take a break and play a game with your kids. Share a laugh or two. If you’re bored, supercharge your lessons with stimulating activities, or change the scenery—learn outside or visit the library.
And the same applies if your kiddos are feeling bored, stressed, or restless!
9. Read together.
You know the old saying: the family that reads together, succeeds together.
If you’re feeling stressed out, get a book that everyone in your family enjoys and read together. Read aloud to your youngest children. Act out scenes from the book with your older children. Don’t make this reading time an academic exercise. Simply enjoy yourselves.
10. Embrace wonder.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that life is “a kind of eccentric privilege.”
We are witness to such marvels, but we’re also easily jaded and wrapped up in our concerns. Take the time to wonder and contemplate your world with awe. The right frame of mind will put your worries and troubles into perspective.
11. Give grace.
You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself, learn from them, and move forward.
Likewise, other people will make mistakes. Forgive them, learn from them, and move forward.
12. Write a letter.
One of my friends shared the idea of writing a letter to yourself. Writing captures our thoughts, feelings, and experiences better than our inner monologue, which is mutable and ephemeral. When we’ve captured our mental states, we can better reflect upon them later.
Writing is also cathartic. The act of writing makes us feel better in the moment and gives us a measuring stick for the future.
13. Find support.
Another way to get through the rough patches of homeschooling is to lock arms with a friend. Finding friends and mentors along this journey is imperative so that you’ll not only finish strong but walk the journey in abundant joy.
When Homeschooling is Hard: Be a LIGHT to Your Child
When you find it hard to homeschool, my hope is that you will incorporate a few of the practical tips mentioned in this blog. Most importantly, remember to act as a LIGHT to your child:
Keep these goals in mind, and you will succeed even when the going gets tough.