Written by: Danni Lusk
Search “maintaining focus in homeschooling” on Google and you’ll get three solid pages of results about how to keep your kids focused, but not a single one about us as parents. Juggling the many responsibilities of educating our children, maintaining a household, and, for some, working outside the home can be tricky, and, at times, downright difficult to maintain any sort of focus in the many directions we are pulled. Here are a few skills and practices that have helped me personally over the years:
Find Your Lane and Stay In It
Having clearly defined roles in your life makes it easier to understand what your responsibility is and what isn’t. Who handles maintaining the budget and paying bills in your home? Who is responsible for meal planning and grocery shopping? Which parent handles the lawn maintenance? Which parent handles dishes on a daily basis? Do you have regular activities that your kids know which parent they can expect help from with writing assignments or which parent is most likely to help them build that 762-piece LEGO set? Assigning responsibilities/areas of care in your home within your marriage and your parenting life makes it easier for everyone to know their job and lessens the likelihood that there will be confusion as to what you’re supposed to be doing. It also allows us to make a more positive impact in those specific areas, instead of spreading ourselves thin among many different areas
Author Matthew Kelly said it best in his book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, when he said, “Focus on affecting what you can affect and you will have the most effect.”
Write It Down
Hang a calendar on the wall in a central location of your home and put a cup of multi-colored pens next to it. Put together a pretty binder with flowery tab dividers and fancy planner stickers. Colorize your reminders on your Google calendar. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, create for yourself and your family a central location where all pertinent information about who needs to be where at what time goes. Everything from dentist appointments to out-of-the-ordinary work hour changes go on there, and give everyone a different color so there’s no confusion.
Spiral notebooks make a great place to jot down menu plans, grocery lists, checklists for what needs to be gathered up for tax time, books you need to pick up on your next library trip, etc. I personally keep a couple notebooks at a time where I jot down business-related notes in one and grocery lists/menu plans/kid-related notes in the other, and usually both of them can be found on our kitchen table on any given day so they are right there at my fingertips when I need to write something down.
Focus on the Short Term
I tend to only focus on things 2-3 weeks at a time when it comes to lesson plans or day-to-day activities. Anything beyond that time frame can be overwhelming to focus on all at once. This is also why you’ll never see an entire month’s worth of lessons planned out for everyone in my notebook. Things change, people’s attitudes suck sometimes, and we all have days when we just need to spend an afternoon getting emergency milkshakes from Sonic.
Planning ahead for vacations, putting dates on the calendar for this semester’s science labs or club meetings is totally okay. But you won’t find me focusing any mental energy on May’s club meeting until the second week of April.
Give Yourself Mile Markers
We’re running a marathon as homeschool parents, so it’s important to give ourselves mile markers along the way. Plan a trampoline park day at the end of a long science unit. Put a field trip to a museum you’ve never been to on the calendar where your kids can see it and then work on lessons leading up to that trip that relate to what they will see there. Treat the family to a $5 Tuesday movie at the local theatre when everyone’s had a productive week. Plan the family vacation months in advance and do a countdown with the family. Whatever it is, GET EXCITED about it and make it something that you all use as an incentive to work through what you need to in order to get there. This is also just as important in your marriage. Plan a date or a weekend getaway with your spouse. Take that time to remember why you’re best friends and just have fun together, without the weight that comes with being mom and dad too for a little while.
Have a Finish Line
Similar to giving yourself mile markers along this journey through the year, you also need to have a finish line. Set a date to end your school year and stick to it, no matter what. The beauty of us homeschooling is that we have the freedom to pick up where we left off, if need be, after that summer break. I made the mistake as a first-time homeschooler several years ago of thinking that my kid had to make it through every last chapter of the curriculum in order to be finished. But what I didn’t know was that even when he was in public school, the teachers there picked and chose which chapters to cover and skipped over others. This nugget of knowledge changed my world that second year of homeschooling, and made it a lot easier for me to let go of the guilt of not necessarily finishing the entire book by the end of our year.
Don’t Be Afraid to Let Things Go
You guys. Sometimes it’s just not gonna work. If you’re doing something in your life or your school that is causing anxiety, making you feel less than what you or your children are worth, or is dragging your family down emotionally or financially… LET IT GO. There is definitely a difference between letting something go that is toxic to you or your children and quitting an activity mid-stream that might actually build character (you know, that thing your mom called “stick-to-it-iveness”). Our kids don’t quit a sport mid-season because they decided it’s not as fun as they thought it would be. I don’t quit making a quilt halfway through because I hate the colors after all. I’m talking about things that are causing strife and worry, that are making your kids feel like they are less than what they truly are worth, or that are causing unnecessary stress in your marriage or your household.
Don’t Be Afraid to Change Things Up
In this last half of the school year, especially, it’s getting hard to maintain that momentum (and, let’s be honest, excitement) that we had back in August. For the second half of your year, don’t be afraid to change things up in order to reignite that excitement. Play a board game like Sequence Letters or Scrabble for the reading lesson one day a week. Let your middle schooler make a YouTube video for his argumentative essay this time (with a written script, of course). Load those wild Indians up in the car and don’t tell them where you’re going… then go to the science center, zoo, or the Tennessee State Museum (which is FREE by the way) for a hands on learning day, complete with picnic lunch.
Be Anything, Not Everything
In a country where we and our children have the freedom to be anything we want to be, do not misconstrue that message to be, “You have to be everything.” Each of us has been uniquely and carefully designed by our Creator to have strengths and weaknesses in many different areas. It is our job to find those gifts and recognize those weaknesses and then tailor our lives and schools accordingly. One mother might be excellent at teaching Bible study every single morning over homemade blueberry muffins and fruit smoothies, and another mother might be more suited to do all of the experiments in the science textbook and make the best dadgum fried bologna sandwich you’ve ever had. It’s okay to not be both of those mothers. We are each unique and wonderful in our own ways, and it’s important that we teach our children that they are made in the same fashion. Be anything you want to be, without the self-imposed expectation that you have to be everything.