Do you have days when nothing seems to go right? Or maybe it’s a week where there are sick children, or you’re sick yourself. Perhaps there has been an unforeseen situation, such as a job loss, that has taken all your focus and energy.
There’s also the child who hates school to deal with. Or maybe you’re just burnt out and having a hard time being excited about school. Guess what? You’re not Superwoman! And you need to stop trying to be.
Each of these situations makes homeschooling difficult and every homeschool mom faces difficult years at one time or another. Figuring out what to do when homeschooling is hard is essential because life is going to happen. How you handle these situations can make or break you and your homeschool.
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A few years ago I had an beyond challenging year of homeschooling. My husband unexpectedly lost his job, and it turned our world upside down. Because he is not the tech savvy one in the family, I found myself rewriting a resume.
I had no idea resume formats had changed so much! It’s not just listing work history, education, and references anymore. We had to take a class to figure this all out so he would stand a chance at finding another job. Then there were the 24/7 job searches on the internet, along with filling out online applications and sending his resume to businesses. It became my full-time job.
Then in December, one by one my whole family started getting head colds. Everyone was miserable, and I was dealing with a sick husband and children while being sick myself. Then to top it off, a few days before Christmas, my son ended up going to the ER and had to his appendix removed. We spent several days in the hospital. That was a memorable Christmas!
Homeschooling had to take a back seat to all of these urgent situations going on in our life. If you can relate to any of these, I want to give you a list of things you can try, whether it be illness, boredom, a stressful situation you are going through, or even difficulty teaching certain subjects or children.
Expect It and Don’t Feel Guilty
When you are homeschooling, and difficulties come up, the tough part is that you can’t send your kids to school for eight hours so you can recover or get those important things taken care of. Homeschooling is wonderful but also a unique situation because you are responsible for children’s education while living life at the same time. They aren’t separate.
Things are going to happen. Some years will be harder than others. The sooner you accept the fact that interruptions and hiccups are normal, the easier it will be. There is no sense in feeling guilty about it, that’s just going to make matters worse. Believe it or not, your children will be just fine when things don’t go exactly as planned!
You are probably laughing right now thinking who in the world has time for self-care? I hear you! However, it really is essential for you to take a little bit of time to rest and refuel. As homeschool moms, we run full speed ahead and can wear ourselves out and be useless to everyone when they need us. This is also how burnout occurs. Getting a little rest is going to make a world of difference and help you keep going both mentally and physically.
If you have a husband with a flexible schedule and he’s willing to take over for you, let him! No matter what he does with the kids, they are going to enjoy having “Dad” time. Is everything going to be done the same way you do it? No. Could they end up eating food you normally wouldn’t serve? Yes. It’s okay!
I’m a little bit (well maybe a lot) of a control freak, and these are the kinds of things that I would worry about. Perhaps you’re more relaxed and have an easier time letting go. I wish I were you! For those of us that are not, you are going to have to have a little pep talk with yourself and appreciate the help and let it go.
If you don’t have someone who can take over for a while, here are a few suggestions that may help you find some way to rest:
- If your kids are younger and still take naps, sleep while they sleep. The messy house will still be there when you get up.
- Send everyone to their rooms for some quiet time. Set a timer and tell them they have to play quietly in there until the timer goes off your you say it’s time to come out. Teaching your kids to do this will benefit you in times like these. You can even train a toddler to play quietly on a blanket for a set amount of time.
- Hire a teen you know to come play with the kids for a few hours.
- Pop in a movie and let them watch it. (You do what you have to do!)
- Take them to the playground and let them run around while you sit on a park bench and relax.
- If you have older children who can watch the younger ones, let them do it.
- Sit down and have a cup of tea or coffee. Sometimes just sitting for a bit can make a huge difference.
Remove Things from Your Schedule
As homeschoolers, we tend to do a lot of outside activities. While this can be beneficial and a lot of fun, when life is stressful, it’s going to add to it. It’s better to remove anything you are able to and simplify your life. Maybe it’s a gym class you attend or a co-op you participate in. You may have to drop out for a while until life gets a little less crazy. If you are not able to drop out, try to find another homeschool family who can take your children for you. Or maybe try carpooling and switch off so you don’t have to do it every time.
4-Day Homeschool Schedule
Most families homeschool 5 days a week. Switching to a 4-day schedule can free up a day for you to take care of pressing things that need to be done. Most families who do this schedule all the time choose to take Friday off, but it doesn’t have to be the same day every week. If it’s only for a short time, varying days is not going to matter. If something pops up on a Tuesday that requires your attention, take that day off. You can be flexible and choose the day that would be best each week.
You might be wondering how to do a 4-day a week schedule. If you plan on doing this for a limited time, you don’t need to get into all the specifics.
Most families who do this use that extra day as a catch-up day for unfinished work or field trips, volunteering, playtime with friends, and so forth. For your particular situation, you are using it to have extra time to deal with what is going on in your life right now.
In order to make this happen, you may want to double up on subjects. Tha’t’s not as hard as it sounds, This can be done a little each day.
For example, on Monday, have your child do some extra reading and spelling. On Tuesday some additional math and science. Continue doing a little extra in two subjects per day for the four days until everything gets done. Make sure you don’t double up on two time-consuming or challenging subjects in one day. Also, take small breaks and space them apart.
If you are interested in a 4-day schedule for long-term, check out this post by Raising Arrows.
Give Your Kids the Day Off
Give yourself permission to take the day off. It’s okay to do this from time to time when necessary. Think about all the extra days the public school kids take off that you don’t like snow days, smaller holidays, election days, and teacher in-service days. Chances are good there’s room in your schedule to do this.
This frees up an entire day to help you rest or get caught up. If you are dealing with medical issues, try to schedule all your appointments on that one day so you are able to get everything taken care of. If it’s housework that desperately needs to be done, have everyone pitch in and work together to get the house back in order. By taking the day off, you don’t have to go crazy squeezing school in while trying to do other things at the same time.
Learning Is Still Happening
If you are in a situation where you are not able to do school or have had to cut back, remember that learning is still happening. When my son was in the hospital, we had to cut our week short and just start our break early because I was sleeping at the hospital. However, my children were still learning.
They learned things like where the appendix is and that no one has really figured out what purpose it serves in the body. They learned about infections and how antibiotics can help stop them. My children also got to see what happens in a hospital and observe the many friends who took time out of their busy schedules to come visit my son. I could go on and on with examples, but trust me, children are always learning and these times are not wasted.
The months following my husband’s job loss were tough and extremely busy for me. It was also a roller coaster of emotions. However, seven months later, my 18-year-old son wrote me a note telling me what all he had learned during that time. He realized the importance of trusting God and that money isn’t everything.
Wow! I was so busy being stressed out that I hadn’t really stopped to think about how my children were seeing us in that situation and how it would impact them. Your children may not be learning math or science during those time, but they ARE learning. And it’s probably things that are even more important in the long run.
Stop to Appreciate the Little Things
We live in a very fast-paced world, and sometimes our homeschooling is included. We are so busy trying to make sure we complete everything that we forget to stop and enjoy the everyday things happening around us. Our kids grow up fast. It seems like yesterday my son was starting Kindergarten and now he’s graduated and beginning the adult phase of his life. Looking back, I wish I would have slowed down a little more and not worried so much about the completing every lesson plan or gotten frustrated with him while learning algebra and instead spent more time just enjoying his company and the process of learning itself.
I know their education is important, but we have to be careful not to ruin relationships over math. Treasure things like the little drawings and notes they make on their papers instead of doing their work. When a toddler is calling for help from the bathroom and interrupting your history lesson, just remember that all too soon, that child isn’t going to need you anymore. This is easier said than done when you’re in the middle of it, but from someone on the other side, I can tell you these days aren’t going to last long.
Our day doesn’t have to be as stressful as we make it when we learn to relax and realize if they weren’t home with us, we would be missing out on all of these moments (good and bad). It helps to give you a new perspective when things aren’t going as planned and your day is crazy, or everyone is sick.
Push Through It
It’s common for homeschool moms to get burnt out after homeschooling for a number of years. You are not the first one to feel this way. I have been at this for 15 years now, and I have to tell you, there are mornings where I have to force myself to show up at the table with a smile on my face (and occasionally without- let’s keep it real). My oldest has graduated, but my youngest is in early elementary school. That means I have a LONG way to go! (I don’t want to talk about how old I will be when she graduates. Gasp!)
On the days when I’m not feeling it, I have to fake it and keep moving. Once we get going, I can usually get into the swing of things, and it gets better. I think you will find that it’s the same for you. Just realize it’s normal, and we all go through this.
Have a Schedule
If you are someone who cringes at the word schedule, please keep reading. Having some sort of routine in place does make your day run smoother. If time management makes homeschooling a struggle, then you need to get some sort of system in place. I don’t mean you need to write in what happens every minute of the day. However, children and adults do crave order. We naturally want to know what is going to happen next.
If your family works well mapping out every minute of the day, then by all means, go for it. If you are a more relaxed family, try using a block or trigger method instead. The block method is simply listing the order in which you want things to occur during the day. There is no specific time set for them. You could set up a schedule that looks something like this:
- morning school subjects
- afternoon subjects
- afternoon chores
- free time
With the trigger method, when one thing happens, it triggers you to do the next. For example, getting up in the morning triggers you to do your morning routine of using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, and taking a shower. Setting up triggers to run your day can be an easy way for everyone to get into a routine automatically. You can set up mini routines that trigger another routine to start.
An example morning routine for the kids may be to get up, change their clothes, brush their teeth, comb their hair, and eat breakfast. Once that routine is done, it can trigger the next routine, which may be to clean up the kitchen table, get their school books out, and start working on a subject they can do independently or the younger ones go and play quietly until you are ready to work with them.
Do you see how creating little routines that become habits can make your day easier because your children will automatically know what to do? This isn’t going to happen overnight, but with consistent practice, it will happen, and it has a big payoff.
I used to implement routines in my classroom when I taught. We spent the first 9 weeks of school practicing them over and over again. My class became a well-oiled machine where a substitute could come in, and my students kept going as if I was there. I don’t want you to think they were little robots and couldn’t think for themselves. That’s not the goal here. I just mean they knew what had to be done and it was rehearsed so many times that it became natural for them to come in and start their work without having to be told. When they were done, they knew where to put their finished work and what to do next.
Little obstacles like having to tell your child where to put his work or him leaving a messy area all the time can be frustrating and make your day harder than it needs to be. When your children have a routine, you can be sick, and things will keep going. They may not be perfect, but you’ll be surprised what they can do.
I have been really sick before and not able to get out of bed. Later in the day, I was thrilled to see my children had gotten up and gone through their morning routines as always and were doing their work by themselves. It was a huge blessing!
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Writing in a journal all the things you are grateful for is a useful tool. It forces you to stop and find the good moments that happened in your day. You will realize that it wasn’t all bad. Going back and reading it when times are tough helps you to see that the good times far outweigh the bad and this too shall pass.
If you like pretty journals, here’s a great gratitude journal you might like you use.
However, you don’t have to keep anything fancy. It can just be a spiral notebook that you jot down a few things at the end of each school-day that went well, were funny, or even something your child has struggled with that he finally got. Not only will it help during the tough times, but you will also appreciate this when they are older.
Read an Encouraging Homeschool Book
There are a lot of great homeschool books out there to help you on this journey. Some are great for encouragement, some are humorous and can give you a laugh to cheer you up. Others just help you figure out how to lighten your load or realize it’s okay to relax and enjoy the ride.
You are not alone in this and reading about others who have experienced these same situations can be very validating. The following is a list of a few books you may find helpful:
Teaching From Rest
Grace for the Homeschool Mom
Homeschooling for the Smart…
No Sweat Homeschooling
Homeschooling on the Couch
Sometimes just moving to a new environment can change the whole attitude of your school. Cuddling up together on the couch to read a good book is a fantastic way to have a relaxed atmosphere and still have some learning take place.
In the instance where one of us is sick, we often school from the couch if we aren’t on our death bed. The kids (or adult) can lay and still get a few things done. I think the children like the extra attention of someone hanging out with them as well.
Cut Back on the Amount of Work
Cutting back on some work is an easy way to simplify. Only do the essentials for a while or do the core subject and rotate through the others with a loop schedule. Check out my article called Learn How to Start Homeschool Today and click on the section called Homeschool Schedule to learn more about loop scheduling.
Put Fun Things in Your Schedule
If you are dealing with boredom in your school-day or a child who is resistant, adding some fun things into your schedule can perk everyone up.
Here’s a list of fun activities you can do:
- Field Trips
- Go explore in the woods
- Invite homeschool friends over to do some extracurricular subjects together
- Play board games
- Do some real life schooling- go to a grocery store and give your child $5-10 and see if he can purchase everything needed to make dinner. Have him cook it or learn to cook it when you get home.
- Watch some fun, educational videos or shows about a topic your student is interested in.
- Have your child be the teacher for the day
- Use a smartphone or camera and let your child make a video about something he has learned.
- Let them get physically involved in the learning process. Some examples are:
- Using a fly swatter to smack the correct answer on the table
- Set up index cards on the floor with the answers written on them and your child must jump on the correct one
- Set up a small basketball hoop on the back of a door and he gets to make a shot each time he gets an answer right
Look on Pinterest or Homeschool Blogs for Inspiration
I know when I am bored with school, finding something new to teach really gets me motivated again. Some great places to look are on a favorite blog or Pinterest. Adding some supplemental activities to your regular curriculum can bring new life to what feels like boring material, and it will spark some excitement in your students as well.
In addition, if you are dealing with illness or some other circumstance, this is a great way to find something temporary your child can do on his own (depending on the age).
Change How You Homeschool
Homeschooling can be challenging when you have a child who does not respond well to sitting at a table to learn and that is your preferred style of teaching. Remember that we all learn differently. Using a natural learning approach or even unschooling can be the answer. These children usually thrive in an environment that allows them to explore and discover things on their own. Being forced to sit and look at textbooks every day kills their desire to learn and makes them miserable, which makes homeschooling tough!
This may not be easy at first if this method doesn’t come naturally to you, but once you see your child’s desire to learn come back to life, you will realize it’s worth the extra effort. If homeschooling is hard because your child has a different learning style, you should definitely give this a try. Have an open mind about it and if you are worried about his education, just try it for one 9-weeks period and see if it makes a difference.
Here is a video where the mom gives an example of what natural learning can look like.
It’s okay to ask for help when you need it. If you are not able to teach something, find someone who can. Homeschool co-ops are great because they can often provide classes for your child that you would not want or be able to teach yourself.
Sometimes you can find another homeschool mom or dad who has a degree in a specific area who is willing to teach a course for your child or a small group. It’s an area they know well and are comfortable teaching. This can especially be useful at the middle/high school level. If you can’t find someone local, there are lots of curricula online that have videos to teach your child. Just because you don’t feel qualified to teach a subject, doesn’t mean you have to stop homeschooling.
Is It Worth It?
Homeschooling is a journey, and you will continue to grow and evolve over the years. As you gain experience through trial and error, you will find out what works and what doesn’t. There will be bumps in the road and even detours. You will learn to focus on what’s really important and see that it’s a way of life and not something you do separately from everything else.
You will discover more about your children than you ever would have if they were away from you for eight hours a day. As you have already figured out, not every day will be rosy. But I think if you spend time adjusting your homeschool style to meet your families needs, you will find it gets easier as time goes on and you don’t need to be Superwoman to have a successful homeschool. (I’d rather be the Bionic Woman anyways!)
Make the best of those bad days because I can tell you, even when homeschooling is hard, it’s totally worth it!
Have you had some rough days, weeks, or even years? What did you do that helped you get through it? I’d love to hear from you. Your comments can help others.
Hi I'm Heidi. I'm a former teacher turned homeschool mom of three. I've homeschooled from the beginning and my oldest is now graduated. I believe your home doesn't have to be chaotic just because you homeschool. When you join The Unexpected Homeschooler's community, you'll learn how to have a more organized, efficient, and productive homeschool, and I’ll send you this Daily Assignment Sheet tool as a gift to teach your students to work independently and free up your time.