Giving Up My Perfect Start-of-the-Year Plans


On the other side of the world from us, homeschoolers are ‘going back to school’.


Catalogues have been browsed; curricula, resources, and books have been bought; plans have been drawn up; and hope and excitement are in the air.

When I was a fairly new homeschooling mother, I had similar feelings of excitement and anticipation at the start of the new school year. After weeks of preparation, I was ready. I had a stack of perfect must-have resources. I’d written the perfect plan. I got up on the first morning of the new school year thinking, “This is going to be a good year! This time I’ve got it all worked out.” I hoped that the excitement I was feeling wouldn’t quickly disappear.

But I soon discovered I didn’t have everything worked out perfectly after all. Sometimes we hit a crisis on the very first day of term. Other times we made it to the end of the first week before a melt-down occurred. What was the problem? My children didn’t seem to appreciate my well thought out plans or my must-have resources. They wouldn’t cooperate.

“But why do we have to do that, Mum?” they moaned.

“Because it’s in the plan.”

After my children had moaned and groaned some more at these senseless words, I’d add something like, “It’s good for you to do things you don’t like doing. It will teach you to persevere when the going gets tough. Life isn’t all fun and games you know. Some things you need to know whether you want to learn them or not. Now sit down and do what you’re told.”

It usually didn’t take me very long to cave in and abandon my ‘perfect’ plan. I couldn’t take the stress. Instead I returned to my default ‘plan’ of making things up as we went along, following the interests of my children and concentrating on enjoying both my children and the learning adventure.  But, although we were much happier homeschooling this way, some worrisome thoughts lingered in the back of my mind:

Was I encouraging my children to be self-centred and lazy by not insisting they complete the work I’d planned for them? Had I given in to them when I should have stood firm? And aren’t there some things that every child has to know? Would there be gaps in their education if I didn’t make them stick to my plan that covered what I considered essential areas of knowledge? How would they ever get into university?

And so I made another plan and tried to enforce learning again, and failed, and then I tried again… But one day I broke the cycle. I managed to banish all those worrisome thoughts. I was beginning to understand how children learn…

Children are naturally curious and love learning (until adults start to interfere). This self-motivated learning is much more valuable than that which results from an external motivator, such as a determined mother armed with her ‘perfect’ plan. It’s the type of learning that will be retained and enjoyed for its own sake. Children aren’t lazy. They will choose to learn about all kinds of things, even those that are very challenging. They will learn everything they need to know, including things mothers consider essential. They can even get into university if that’s what they want.

There is another reason I gave up forcing my own plans upon my children. It can be hard work making a child learn something she just doesn’t want to know. Tears and anger can result as both mother and child get frustrated. To me, such frustration is just not worth it. It gets in the way of good relationships. “Yes, there might be tears today, but your kids will thank you later,” someone might say. But what if they don’t? I prefer not to take a risk. Instead I am relying on love.

So I decided to abandon my perfect plans once and for all.

Of course, it’s not the start of the new school year here in Australia. Our school year began months ago, in February. We are heading towards the end of the third term of the year. There’s only one more term until the long summer break.

“It’s only a couple of weeks until the holidays,” I tell my youngest daughter, Gemma-Rose.

She screws up her face and sighs loudly, and then asks, “Why are the school terms so short? It feels like only three weeks since the last holiday.”

“You don’t want holidays?” I ask.

“I prefer term time. The holidays aren’t nearly so interesting.”

“We won’t have time to do our usual activities but Dad will be home for a couple of weeks,” I say. “We could go on a few outings and picnics…” (My husband Andy is a school teacher.)

Gemma-Rose smiles. Maybe holidays aren’t so bad after all.
I’m looking forward to the holidays. I won’t have so much time for my own activities and I’ll miss helping the girls with theirs, but I will be able to spend lots of time with my husband. And I’m not going to waste a single moment of that time writing a complicated homeschooling plan for next term.

On the first day of next term, Andy will return to school and we’ll just slide quietly into our usual term time routine. Charlotte, my high schooler will return to the many activities that absorb her, sharing with me from time to time. My younger girls will happily reclaim both my time and attention. With my mind swirling with ideas, children who have ideas of their own, a world full of interesting things to discover, and a keen love of learning, I just know it will be a good, productive and enjoyable term.

There is a feeling of excitement in the air. It’s not a huge loud attention-grabbing kind of excitement. It has nothing to do with ‘going back to school’. I know it won’t suddenly disappear, seizing my hope as it departs.

Instead, this excitement is quiet and gentle. It hovers over every unschooling day. It is accompanied by peace and love. And it makes me glad I was able to let go of my own ‘perfect’ plans.
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Comments

    • Carol
    • September 8, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Sue, came via the Homeschool Highschool link. Just wanted to say hi to a fellow Aussie. Enjoyed reading about your perfect plans:)

    1. Reply

      Carol,

      Thank you for reading my post. You aren't in the middle of back to school excitement either being an Aussie! I guess there are many homeschooling high schoolers over here who are more concerned with their university applications at the moment, rather than thinking about the new school year. I really enjoyed reading about your own children's successful applications to uni. Very encouraging!

  1. Reply

    I've always called us semi-eclectic unschoolers because we do use some resources. This year my daughter will be taking online courses with Time4Learning's new high school offerings. We also use Drive Thru History and then supplement with various life skills and whatever else she wants to learn more about.

    I must say I am in awe of you. I have an only so homeschooling only one child is not too hard. I can't imagine trying to homeschool several, although I can honestly say I think it might be more fun. When my daughter was younger she often wished for a sibling to homeschool with. It's not always fun having Mom as your partner. 🙂

    I also want to thank you for linking up this month and I look forward to reading your post next month.

    Joyfully,
    Jackie
    Let's Homeschool High School Team Member

    1. Reply

      Jackie,

      I've heard some good things about Time4Learning. It seems there are many people who use it and find it very helpful. It's good when we find something that works for us.

      I found homeschooling my first few children much more difficult than the last few. I no longer have babies competing for my attention, and I'm much more relaxed now that I'm an older experienced mother! I do appreciate your kind words though!

      My girls love having siblings, especially sisters near to them in age, to share with. Maybe your daughter has more friends than mine. I don't tend to make as much of an effort to get out and socialise as I would if I was homeschooling only one child. My children probably miss out here, because friends can be very special too.

      I enjoyed thinking about this topic and writing my post. Thank you for the opportunity to link up with other bloggers. And thank you for visiting my blog again!

    • Chris
    • September 8, 2013
    Reply

    Sue, your daughter Gemma sums up how perfectly and beautifully your school year is moving and how much she enjoys learning by her comment!
    Good for you for setting an example of how learning really works —– the best laid plans are often replaced by a whim that is brought up by our kids that we then follow!
    It took me a long time to even acknowledge that. It's still hard for me to do, but I'm getting better at it!

    I love how the calendar stacks up in Australia! It makes much more sense to begin the schl year at the beginning of the calendar year! So do you break for Christmas for a month or two and then start fresh in Feb? I can't imagine Christmas in shorts and warm weather, wow. But then again, you probably hear that all the time! And how perfect that you are "done" and you can celebrate Christmas with a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the school year! I'd love that/.

    Thanks for the pep talk, even tho you probably didn't realize you even gave one! It was very helpful to me~! Now to get back to the algebra. I need to stay a little ahead of my kev so this week runs smoothly!

    Be well and I'll see you around this week!

    1. Reply

      Chris,

      Sometimes our children's words warm our hearts, don't they? I'm pleased Gemma-Rose really enjoys our homeschooling days.

      Oh it is hard sometimes to lay aside our own plans! It can happen in any aspect of our lives. I might have laid aside all those homeschooling plans but I still get caught out when other much anticipated plans don't come to fruition. Always so much to improve on!

      Our school year is certainly neat and tidy, beginning and ending with the calendar year! Schools finish a week or so before Christmas and return 6 weeks later, at the end of January. We usually change our routine at the start of December, concentrating on our Christmas activities. By the time Andy goes back to school we are more than ready to slip back into the new school year.

      Many people here say that the summer break gets consumed by Christmas. It's busy, busy, busy for a few weeks, and then just as the Christmas season ends and we feel the need to relax, the holidays are just about over! I guess we are never happy! I don't mind Christmas and the summer holidays coinciding. It's what we're used to. We find it strange to receive and send Christmas cards with snowy scenes and snowmen on them. It's not at all like that for us. Christmas can be very hot. I do like how the temperature is pleasant when we go to Midnight Mass. It is refreshing to be out at night after the heat of the day.

      I saw on your blog that you're doing algebra at the moment. There's a good ( and humorous) section about algebra in one of the Murderous Maths books. Sophie understood what it was all about after reading that. I hope Kev (and you) are enjoying algebra!

    • Willa
    • September 8, 2013
    Reply

    "Instead this excitement is quiet and gentle. It hovers over every unschooling day. It is accompanied by peace and love. And it makes me glad I was able to let go of my own 'perfect' plans."

    I love that! I am trying to see each day as an adventure, too — whether "doing school" or not, it seems to be the moments unique to our family that carry the best memories and the most learning.

    1. Reply

      Willa,

      I am associating the word adventure more and more with our homeschooling. I love getting up each day and wondering what adventures the day will bring. Much better than the old days when I sometimes dreaded facing the day!

      'moments unique to our family' There is something very special about belonging to a particular family. I think every child should feel glad they have a place in their own particular family with its special moments and memories. That's where they really learn to be the people they are meant to be. Of course, the same applies to parents. My family has taught me so much! Best memories and most learning… I agree!

      It is always so good to chat with you, Willa. Thank you for stopping to say hello!

  2. Reply

    Sigh. I LOVE this SO much…but I think you know that already. ;-).

    1. Reply

      Elizabeth,

      This topic has been on my mind since we were last chatting together. When I saw the topic for this month's blog hop, I felt drawn to write a proper story about the thoughts we were discussing. I'm so glad you visited and shared. I's good to have friends to ponder life with. Thank you!

  3. Reply

    Hello Sue Elvis,
    I am commenting back via our blog & HSHS Blog Hop. Thank you for visiting our blog and commenting. I commented back to your comment on our blog. I am now a follower of your blog. I hope to chat more with you.
    God bless you and your family. I love Australia but have never visited. I have friends that live all over Australia.

    1. Reply

      Thank you so much for your comment and for following my blog! I love chatting and making new friends. I hope you will stop by again soon. Maybe one day you will get to come to Australia and meet all your friends!

      God bless!

  4. Hello Sue,
    Your post dropped into my inbox at the perfect time.
    English schools started back last week so in my head today was the first day when my "no more school time" intention would be put into practice. (That sounds strange but I hope it makes sense!)
    I have had a wonderful summer NOT planning for the new school year and getting excited about moving closer to unschooling. Then last night – for the very first time – I had a few butterflies about what we are embarking on … and your beautiful, loving, inspiring post arrived, and eased all my fears.
    We had a lovely day today. We all learned lots, and I feel more relaxed about "school" than I have done in a very long time.
    Thank you! Lucinda

    1. Reply

      Lucinda,

      I am so glad you found my post helpful. I love how we can encourage each other along, learn from each other and form good friendships as we homeschool our children.

      The blogosphere is packed with posts about 'back to school' at the moment. So many people are posting about their impressive plans and curricula. It can be hard not to get caught up in all that. I thought I'd write an alternate 'back to school' post. It *IS* possible to do things a different way!

      Lucinda, I hope those butterflies are gone and you're now feeling excited about the coming year. You're going to have so much fun! I'm looking forward to reading all about your unschooling days. This reminds me: I have a post or two to catch up with on your blog. I will be over to visit very soon!

      God bless!

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