In Part I, I gave an overview of our homeschooling lives. In Part II, I provided information about the materials we use and how we chose them. In this post, I tackle the thorny issue of maintaining balance while the kids are learning at home.
One of the biggest difficulties I have with homeschooling is balance.
There’s the balance between child-led activities and parent-led activities. There’s the balance between the time I spend with my daughter and the time I spend with my son. There’s the balance between education and play. And then there’s the oft-neglected balance between the time I spend with my children and the time I spend meeting my own needs. Some of these are easier for me to manage than others.
Child-led vs Parent-led Learning
Child-led versus parent-led is one about which I feel fairly confident at the moment. At my daughter’s age, things are naturally more parent-led, and my daughter makes this fairly easy. She’s enthusiastic about learning, and while she has subjects that she prefers to other subjects, so far she accepts that they’re all part of the package. I provide the basic structure and clear expectations, and my daughter has her wiggle room within that basic structure. I encourage her to give me feedback on and input about subjects and materials, but I avoid changing things too quickly. When she doesn’t really like something, I encourage her to stay with it long enough that she can distinguish between an actual dislike or lack of fit and the natural ebb and flow of her interest and enthusiasm. Sometimes we can’t rely on our initial reaction to a new experience and need to give it some time to grow familiar before we can judge whether it’s a good fit for us or not. I try to encourage this type of reflection in my daughter. It’s like when she or her brother tries a new food: I tell them to try three small tastes before declaring it “yucky.” I have them take these three tastes every time they try that food, too. I want my children to be flexible and to allow themselves to respond to change in their own tastes and preferences. This is also my primary goal in balancing child-led and parent-led activities and education.
Son-Time vs Daughter-Time
The balance between son-time and daughter-time is more difficult. Ideally, I would like both of my children to feel like only children in regards to the time they spend with me and their father while at the same time experiencing the benefits of a sibling relationship. This is, I realize, unrealistic. If one has one-on-one time with me during the day, the other one is going to be on his or her own during that time. Most days, this means that my son has a lot of time to play by himself while I do instruction with my daughter.
For a while I was using each evening to plan activities for my son to do the following day. For a while I tried to follow the weekly activities in June Oberlander’s Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, mixed with ideas for independent activities from parent blogs (like Hands On: As We Grow) and Montessori resources. I would set up an activity (for example, tongs + pompoms + muffin tin, or painters tape shape outlines on the floor + cars and farm animal toys) so he could “play school” at the same time I worked with his sister.
This, however, proved too labor-intensive for me to do regularly. Now I occasionally set up a project, but mostly I just let him do his own thing. He’s much better at entertaining himself than his sister was at the same age. His imaginative play is rich and varied, and he can occupy himself for stretches of time that aren’t incredibly long but which are usually long enough that I can get through a subject with his sister before he needs anything really involved from me. Still, I run back and forth between helping my daughter with math or Latin and helping my son with a fire truck puzzle or with a phonics activity he’s requested. Sometimes this back-and-forth frazzles my nerves…and sometimes I pay for a quiet moment by later cleaning paint off of the walls or mourning the toys that have been permanently personalized with a Sharpie pen, but it’s all part of the price of homeschooling, I suppose.
On Mondays, however, this is different. On Mondays, a friend from church comes over and acts as a stand-in grandma, playing with my son so my daughter and I can focus on our lessons. This allows me to devote my attention to my daughter for a couple of hours. It’s so much fun for my son, and I love that we’re all deepening our relationship with a trusted member of our community (and a very fun person to be around). It’s a huge help, and really reduces the pressure I feel to be more to my children than I am.
Kid-Time vs Mom-Time
And then there’s the toughest one: the balance between kid-time and mom-time. I used to have this kind of figured out. When we were in Utah, we had a lovely young woman come over and watch the kids for two three-hour stretches each week. I would run errands, work out, or just go to the library or a cafe and write. And then we moved, and I’ve not been able to find someone to do this same regular babysitting for me. We’ve tried to arrange for Mommy Time on the weekends, but even that has fallen by the wayside as our weekends have become busier and busier. Saturdays are now Daddy-son and Mommy-daughter time, which is fun, but which doesn’t meet my need for balance.
What I’ve been doing that helps to a degree is getting up early and exercising each morning. I had been meditating, but I’m less likely to fall asleep while exercising, and it gives me an endorphin boost to get me through the morning. I get up and immediately put on my workout clothes, have a drink of water, and head down to the basement to do a 30- to 60-minute exercise video. It’s not as nice as getting out for a long walk in the woods would be, but it helps keep me sane.
I’m also active in several church activities. I sing in the choir each week, and I facilitate a small discussion group that meets once a month. This month, I hope to try out a local mothers’ group. It’s not ideal because it’s yet another evening activity, but I hope it might yield a stronger sense of connection and community.
I also get in some alone time by staying up until 1:30 or 2:00 a.m each night. However, I do not recommend this technique. It’s fine in the short term, but it’s not sustainable, especially when I’m getting up at 6:00 a.m. or earlier to be able to exercise before my spouse goes to work and leaves me at the mercy of our children. After several consecutive nights of this, I need two or more nights on which I fall asleep with my son between 6:30 and 7:00 in the evening.
Balance, it seems, is a moving target.
What do you do to maintain balance, whether it’s between parenting and alone time or between work and personal time or between time for a spouse or partner and time for yourself?