It can be hard being a homeschooling parent. Kids bicker, messes seem never-ending, and the combination of isolation and the pressure to nearly single-handedly educate our children can make the days seem even longer. Here in Minnesota, that can be compounded by long winters and cabin fever.
This is one of those times when it’s absolutely true that “If Mama (or Papa) ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
(Or, to be grammatically correct but not nearly as catchy, “If Mother or Father is not happy, nobody will be happy”!)
Here are 20 ways to put some more joy in everybody’s homeschooling day:
- Unless it’s hailing or the wind chill is in the double digits, start the day with time outside. Yes, it can be a hassle getting everybody dressed. No, you probably won’t want to. The combination of sunshine (or at least fresh air), exercise and change of scenery will work wonders on how the rest of the day goes, though.
- Reach out and call someone. Even five minutes on the phone with a fun friend can make a big difference on your mood. Studies have also shown that this contact (even over the phone or via Twitter) can raise the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Connect with friends at least once a day, even just for a few minutes.
- Hug your kids — lots. Hugs, snuggling and other personal contact also raise those oxytocin levels for parents and kids alike. Hugs also just set a sweet mood in the house, help kids feel loved, lower stress and meet sensory needs.
- Rely on music. Music has a powerful effect on mood. Play cheerful, fast-paced music to help keep everybody upbeat and energized while cleaning the house. Classical music can be calming and favorite songs of any style are likely to put listeners in a better mood.
- Have a secret chocolate stash. Enough said.
- Find a way to get out more — or less. It can be tricky finding a balance between too much and too little when it comes to opportunities outside of the house. In Minnesota, some parents in the Twin Cities area complain of too many activities they’re taking part in, while others in rural areas have a hard time making connections. Other factors can lead to isolation too — not feeling a part of the local homeschooling community because of ideological differences, having kids with special needs, not having transportation and getting by on limited finances can make it difficult. That said, get creative about meeting your own social needs and those of your kids. Say no to activities that aren’t worth the hassle and find a way to say yes to those that are.
- Simplify. Whether it’s breakfast or craft time, find ways to make your life easier. For instance, challenge the kids (and yourself!) to the Six Items or Less Clothing Challenge and put away all the rest of your clothes for the month. Watch how easy laundry alone gets with this system! (You can read one mom’s success with the challenge here.) Likewise, pack all but a few toys away for a while. Streamline lunch to simple, healthy basics. And so on.
- Invite over fun homeschoolers. It just makes everything easier. If you don’t know any, make it a goal to find some. House too messy? Arrange to meet in the park. (But honestly, they won’t care.)
- Get your art on. We often set up art projects for our kids and then go clean the refrigerator. The fact is, art can be a really fabulous activity for grown-ups too. It’s an outlet for creativity and emotions, and it’s also just plain fun. In addition, time spent creating alongside the kids is the epitome of quality time for everybody involved. Look into altered books and artist trading cards for some great open-ended projects that all ages can dive into.
- Teach what you want to learn about. Child-led homeschooling is great, and so is curriculum-led. However you homeschool, make sure there’s a good blend of parent-led content thrown in too. It will keep you interested and your passion for the subject will generally wear off on the kids. Whether it’s rose gardening, the Romans or 50’s musicals, you can make anything educational if you do it right. It will also teach the kids that we should never outgrow our love of learning new things.
- Use the TV. If you have a TV in your home, utilize it at least once a day. PBS can be your friend! There are some really wonderful shows out there (Cyber Chase, Between the Lions and Word World have been favorites here), and they can get you some much deserved down-time. Don’t you dare use the time to scrub the bathroom. Soak in the bath with a magazine, curl up in a corner with a fabulous library book, scrapbook or do something else you “never have time to do.” Great educational shows on Netflix or video can work well, too.
- Focus on the beautiful — literally. Give yourself a daily challenge to photograph at least 3 joyful things that sum up something about each day. You can blog them, put them in a Flickr group or simply save them on your computer in a special folder, but find a way to not only take the time to look for beauty but also to revisit it later. The images can be anything — rain boots drying by the door, kids cuddled reading books, a flower passed on a neighborhood walk, a silly drawing, a sleeping toddler, a finished lapbook, a LEGO robot… Think of this as a visual gratitude journal.
- Give the kids more responsibility. Part of preparing our kids for adulthood is teaching them how to help keep a home running. Gradually increase the jobs you give your children in order to make your own days easier and set them up for easier transitions into adulthood. Kids are often happy to take on extra responsibilities that meet their interests (such as cooking lunch, leading crafts with younger siblings or watering the garden). Kids can also take on many basic chores to help out, such as helping with laundry and vacuuming. There really is something to the saying that many hands make light work, and it frees up time for everybody to have more fun.
- Make a list. If you feel that you’re consistently failing to meet your own expectations for what you want to teach your children, figure out what your biggest priorities are and post them as a list where you’ll see them daily. Keep it basic (you can always do more). Your daily must-do list might include reading aloud, math time, some sort of exercise, one alternate (science, history, etc.), time with nature and something fun, for instance. Seeing the concrete and simple list, (such as: read, math, move, nature, fun, other) can make everything seem less overwhelming. Each time you pass the list, pick something and act on it.
- Daydream. If you feel like something is missing and find yourself imagining life with your kids off at school, let yourself go there. What would your days look like if you had those hours to yourself? What would you do with your time? What are you missing? Now see if you can add those things into your life as it is now.
- Introduce silliness. If you’re all planning on staying home all day, why not make it funny hat day? Cultivate silliness and watch how it spreads. Hide really corny jokes around the house. Ask wacky questions at lunch time. Make faces.
- Remember that learning truly is fun. If your homeschool routine feels like drudgery to everyone involved, find a new routine! A good curriculum will feed your child’s passion for the subject. Experiment together with new ways of learning and look for resources to spark everybody’s interests.
- Make the library a regular part of your routine. Truly, there’s no better resource anywhere for homeschoolers. Aim for weekly visits and don’t be stingy about how many books you let the kids check out. Grab piles of colorful, fun books on all sorts of subjects and be sure they’re in view at home. Also look for other materials you can check out. Some libraries have backpacks of science-themed goodies, computer games or even fun-shaped cake pans you can check out. Grab lots of fun items for yourself too!
- Play together. Make sure the days are filled with plenty of play — for you and the kids. Play tag or badminton in the back yard, shoot hoops in the driveway or park, play Uno, rotate the board games, you name it. Lots of games are educational, while others provide exercise and others just help keep the days interesting. Parenthood is also a great excuse to play those things we ourselves loved as children. Whether it’s LEGOs, paper dolls, marbles or matchbox cars, playing together can make everybody smile.
- Imagine your perfect homeschooling life — and then take steps to bring it closer. What elements are missing? Maybe you can never have the three-story mansion in the woods with the endless supply of Waldorf art supplies and the ever-smiling children, but you can still incorporate those things that speak to you. Start small but think big.
Every homeschooling parent has rough days. If more of your days are rough than fun, take it as a sign that you need to make some changes.
Mary Oliver once famously asked :
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
The same can be said for our homeschools. We have a blessed opportunity as homeschooling parents. We can pretty much make the journey into whatever we like, for ourselves and our children.
Here’s to making it a joyful one. (And to secret stashes of chocolate.)