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When Homeschooling Focus is Hard

When Homeschooling Focus is Hard

My living room looks like some disorganized, second-rate library. I haven’t counted, but I’m sure there are no less than 1,136 half-read books stacked on the end tables, bookshelf, bench, and usually one or two on an armrest. My kids are usually each reading four at a time and have tossed them everywhere. A friend makes a raving suggestion and I’m off into a glorious new rabbit hole. Or I make the dreaded mistake of walking into Barnes & Noble and inevitably leave with six books, each of which I want to read immediately. Everything else gets put on the “Currently Reading, Will Finish Eventually” shelf.

Focus is hard.

It’s half way through February already, so most of us already have a failed New Year’s resolution by now. Don’t worry, I’ll make you feel better about your plan to run 3x/week. I’m still working on my resolution for 2013, which puts me on the third year of a two-year Bible reading plan—and I’m only in the Psalms. Apparently my bookish flitting around has affected my ability to focus on a front-to-back Bible reading plan.

Long-term focus is really hard.

Homeschooling requires long-term focus.

The benefit of still being stuck in the Psalms is that I’m stuck in the Psalms. They’re like a down comforter when it’s freezing at 5am, and I just can’t bring myself to get up. It’s so cozy in here.

Here’s what I’ve been ruminating on lately, from Psalm 127:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Maybe maintaining long-term homeschooling focus is so hard because we so frequently try to build the house ourselves. Edie Wadsworth, put it this way,

[Homeschooling is] by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

And to quote Simcha, ” It wasn’t the hard work that wore me out; it was the crappy job I did, and the worrying about it. That’s what was so exhausting.”

Ouch. And if I’m honest, that’s the same thing that wears me out. Worrying about it all. Did we do enough? Why can’t she remember 12×9? Why am I not more patient and kind and prepared?

What homeschooling mom hasn’t asked herself questions like these?

  • Am I messing up my kids for life? Will I ruin them if I change our math curriculum mid-year?
  • What are we missing? What holes do they have in their education?
  • Can I make it to the end of the school year–or the end of the week?

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil

Trying to build the house ourselves is actually a symptom of insanity, I think. Of course it’s hard to be patient, kind, and prepared when we’re either trying to shove a checklist of assignments at our kids so we can “stay on track” for the year, or flailing everywhere, trying to touch on every possible academic subject so our kids are “well-rounded.” Our little people would like nothing better than to focus on one thing, specifically LEGOs, so neither of these plans is a recipe for success or peace in our households.

But there’s something else going on here.

Being stuck in the Psalms doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything else in the Bible on a regular basis–lest you think I’m a heathen. I’m sure it means I have that unfortunate human inability to finish things once started, on-time and under-budget. But hopefully it also denotes a willingness to be led by something other than the daily readings checklist in the front of my study Bible.

Being a slave to the looming list of to-dos is not the better choice over flitting between 16 subjects and learning only a little bit of anything in any of them.

Education is Like Spiritual Formation

Education, like spiritual formation, is a path, but not an unflinchingly direct highway with no exits. Nor is it like driving around a parking lot for hours, pulling into one spot, only to choose a different spot thirty seconds later. The one costs a great amount of energy, with no real joy along the way. The other accomplishes nothing under the guise of constant activity. On the path of education there are side roads to be explored, sights to see, and rests to take along the journey, but in the end you do actually get somewhere.

John Kleinig, in his book Grace Upon Grace describes Christian meditation this way:

We concentrate on the Word and attend to it; we speak it to ourselves again and again; we read and reread it; we compare what it says in one place with what is said abut it elsewhere in the Bible; we chew at it in order to digest it; we rub at it, like a herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed; we take it in physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that it reaches our hearts, our core, the very center of our being (Kleinig, 18).

What if we took this idea and applied it to chemistry or grammar?

We place this artificial pressure on ourselves as homeschooling parents to follow the order of lessons exactly. Like following a Bible reading plan, we bust through the day’s lesson, glossing over all the really interesting stuff along the way or stopping just when it was starting to get good. We check the item off the list.

Most of us, having been educated on the industrial model, have no idea what it’s like to spend our K-12 years exploring, ruminating, and diving deep. When was the last time you spent a day contemplating? A few hours?

Kleinig describes a different methodology that can as easily be applied to the homeschool as it is to the devotional life:

As we read the set passage for the day, we watch out for something that is relevant to me personally, a word from God for the day, a word of promise or instruction, a word of rebuke or correction. When something in the text strikes us mentally or spiritually, emotionally or imaginatively, we should let it speak to us and receive what it gives us (Kleinig, 148).

Stick to the path, the checklist, the lesson plan, but slow down and veer down the interesting, confusing, or particularly applicable side street. And, for goodness’ sake, don’t quit just when it’s getting interesting just so you can move on to the next subject.

Treating our homeschool like an exercise in meditation sure can make it easier stay focused when we’re having trouble.

Nurture Yourself

We’re trying to give our children an education unlike the one we received. We have to expect “tension.” Okay, some days it feels like we’ve jumped into the deep end of the crazy pool.

When overwhelm creeps in and we ask again, “Why did I take this all on? What was I thinking exactly?” it helps to remember we’re not really building the house alone and that we weren’t formed by our Creator’s loving hands in order to submit ourselves to an arbitrary list of assignments.

Christ is building the house. Christ, the Word made flesh, is Wisdom incarnate, and wisdom is what we’re trying to give our kids, not just a high school diploma. He, of course, is infinitely more capable, knowledgeable, and patient than we poor, frightened homeschooling mamas. He will bless us even when we have trouble focusing on a looming list of to-dos.

In order for me to have that much more to give, though, I’ve had to nourish my own spirit a little more purposefully lately. Here are some resources I’ve found nourishing. I hope you find them helpful too.

  • A good fiction audiobook is always queued up on my iPhone for when I’m folding laundry or doing dishes. The Two Towers and Pride and Prejudice are two of my favorites, but the point is, I always feel good about getting high quality literature into my ears. It’s amazing how nourishing and relaxing good stories are. These two links are to the Audible versions I own and love, but you can find a lot of good classics for free on LibriVox or at your library.
  • My most recent non-fiction audiobook is 1776 by David McCullough. Since Bubba’s studying that period in history, getting this in through audiobook while I get household chores done is a major load off–reducing the stress of needing to stay ahead of him in whatever he’s studying. This links to the abridged version, though there’s an unabridged audio version as well.
  • Luther’s Large Catechism from CPH’s Reader’s Edition (a very friendly translation). Martin Luther has a way of stating biblical truths in a way that makes them so fresh. I find his writing can be both hilarious and biting.
  • John Kleinig’s book, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today

How do you make it through homeschool seasons when you find it difficult to focus?

Rhiannon Kutzer

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Nice to meet you!

I’m Rhiannon.

You can call me Rhi for short (as in “rejoice”). I’m a fiercely independent homeschooling mom of five, a Navy wife of 13 years, and a creator of various things: articles, a semi-regular newsletter, quilts, furniture, and the occasional knitted scarf. This is the site where I write about our homeschool journey and news and happenings in the homeschool world. more about me.

Rhiannon

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Need a shot in the arm for your homeschool? Get Thrive Together, a monthly email that brings you:

--the best of the homeschool blogosphere,
--current homeschool news,
--and great quotes that will refresh your homeschool mama mind.

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  • One of the things I most love about #homeschooling is the freedom it allows us to love books. It is 9:30am. We just finished breakfast after getting up late because last night we had troop meetings for our scouting groups. The kids are all well-fed and well-rested. But before we start on reading the books I’ve assigned them, we’re taking some time to read our own choices.
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When I was a kid, we had plenty of books in the house, but I never really read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that my mom was a librarian and teacher. I wanted to be outside. I thought reading was for school hours and school work.
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I carried these thoughts through high school and college, where I read a lot of really great books, but not many that I chose for myself.
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My kids will have a totally different experience. Not saying mine was bad, but I am saying that I missed out on worlds or great books and thoughts from great authors in my younger years that I am only discovering now as an adult: the middle books of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Arthur Conan Doyle, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, Harry Potter, and many more.
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My kids have the TIME FREEDOM to get to know the thoughts of authors they CHOOSE. I don’t care how you school, all kids deserve this opportunity. All kids DESERVE to believe that books can be FUN and INTERESTING and MYSTERIOUS and LOVELY.
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What can you do today as a homeschooling/private schooling/public schooling parent to help your kids love reading? Make no mistake: if ALL our kids take from their educations is a habit of reading widely and enjoying it, they will stand a great chance of becoming great adult humans.
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#amreading #readaloudrevival #bravewriterlifestyle #homeschool #schoolchoice #charlottemasonirl
  • FINALLY! Everyone is well (enough) that we are back to school. No one is in bed with a fever #winning . Instead, we get to spend our morning with the Scottish Play. I 💛 me some Shakespeare and #MorningTime !
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#homeschool #homeschooling #family #amreading #shakespeare #bravewriterlifestyle
  • Fact: The #Navy wife life will kill you if you don’t find support somehow.
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Fact: That support will almost 100% of the time be the females around you.
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Fact: Our whole family got the flu literally THE DAY Jake’s boat pulled out.
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Fact: This little @theglorioustable ditty about crashing our proverbial banana trucks posted the same day. God has a sense of humor. Link also in profile. (https://theglorioustable.com/2020/01/banana-truck-out-of-control-devotional/)
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The fact that I am just now getting around to posting about it tells you the extent to which the flu knocked me on my ass. I was in bed for three days straight. I am NEVER this sick.
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Fact: If it weren’t for strong, kind, generous WOMEN around me, I probably would have ended up in the hospital and my kids may or may not be alive. The menfolk care too, they just weren’t here. Couldn’t support. Had their own work to do. The mission does not stop for sick families.
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Find yourself a tribe if you want to survive. You HAVE to have someone to call. Even if, like me, it’s your mom (who will--wisely--tell you to ask for local help even though you don’t want to be a bother.) I needed prayers, sure, but more than that, I needed local people to literally come to my house and feed my kids and put food in my fridge, be here while I went to the doctor, and put my kids to bed when I was too sick to stay awake a minute longer. A virtual community CANNOT do those things. It can try, but a local community has power a virtual community will never have.
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Another post on this topic here: (https://theglorioustable.com/2019/05/how-to-build-a-tangible-community/)
#community #Navywifelife #momlife #sisterhood
  • Happy New Year and all, but more importantly, today we got to watch our @wyo_football win the Arizona Bowl. (With a freshman QB starting for the 1st time ever, btw 😮😮😮💪🏻) Way to go Pokes! #theWorldNeedsMoreCowboys #OneWyoming #GoWyo
  • We always have so much fun doing projects from @artforkidshub #homeschool #trynewthings #watercolor
  • Morning Time Details! E. (12), S. (almost 8), and L. (6). Our Morning Time morphs as the kids grow and change. It usually includes a combination of memory work and reading aloud. We try to cover a WHOLE LOT of things: Shakespeare, Bible, poetry, catechism, hymns, timeline, art study, composer study, and Ambleside selections for nature study, tales, and church history. This term I’m adding Plutarch.
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The hard part is figuring out where I want to aim, with the 5-year gap between E. and S., and then L. being a newbie to full-on school. Having moved twice in 2019, I nixed MT and just focused on individual work. That came with costs. Shakespeare, Plutarch, art study, and composer study suffered. Memory work barely happened at all. I was BUSY. We missed out on discussing things together. Now that we’re settled, it’s time to restart MT.
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This term I’ve decided to aim Shakespeare and Plutarch at the oldest, while the girls listen in and do handwriting/drawing/fine motor. I won’t ask them for much narration. Our reading schedule for these is AMBITIOUS. Maybe crazy. Then we’ll do all the memory & read aloud stuff that suits everyone. These lessons are SHORT. Then E. will go do his individual work while I read aloud w/ just the girls.
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Also, “Morning Time” is a misnomer, considering we break it up throughout the day. It should really be called Morning/Lunch/Nap Time. I need a new name. Circle Time? Except we don’t sit in a circle. Together school? Except we’re together doing school all day. I don’t think English has the word I’m looking for. Maybe Tertulia or Salon?
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Our actual coursework is: the Scottish Play, Plutarch is Alexander the Great’s life, our artist is Gustave Courbet, composer is Paganini, Bible memory is Psalm 46, Hymn is Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, read alouds will rotate from Burgess Bird Book, Trial and Triumph, Blue Fairy Book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Vanderbeekers, & picture books. Timeline is from Classical Conversations. Poems are Charge of the Light Brigade, Winter Night by Teasdale, and The Land of Nod.
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Whew! It’s gonna be a fun term! What do you guys do for Morning Time?

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