by Molly Ashton
I wonder what your immediate reaction is to the word “home education”? Maybe it includes concepts such as fun, relationship, creativity, good stories, rambling nature walks, learning new skills, exciting projects, light bulb moments, adventuring together.
Or, maybe you feel some pressure to be coming up with those words, but in reality it’s hard work, it feels like you’re getting nowhere and you’re exhausted. While I hope most of us have experienced a good amount of the first, I’m guessing I’m not alone in having seasons of feeling overwhelmed by the second.
If this is currently your reality, what can you do about it? Is this the time to quit? Would your children be better off at school? For most of us, this is a resounding no, but I do want to qualify that; each child is unique, as is each family, and you must make the best decision for yourselves and if this is a tentative start at school then please don’t feel any false guilt.
However, the purpose of these few paragraphs is to encourage those of us who continue to home educate our children in those seasons of overwhelm. These thoughts are taken from an amalgamation of a few blog posts and a couple of conference spots, so if you’d like to dig in deeper, head over to https://motheringthroughtheseasons.com/
I’ve learnt that the best place to start is simply by acknowledging that life and home education are hard at particular times. This gives us permission to recognise that our feelings and struggles are valid, and to move forward with some practical steps. Acknowledging I am struggling has, for me, involved the painful realisation that I don’t have the capacity I aspire to, my circumstances aren’t as ideal as I’d like them to be and that I need to offload some of the expectations I have of myself or others. A useful picture of this is the Plimsoll line. During the Victorian era, ships would sometimes be overloaded with merchandise and this could cause them to sink at sea. So, a Bristol politician developed a concept to ensure vessels could only be filled to a safe capacity. A line was drawn along the hull of a ship to indicate its maximum load; if filled above this level, it was more likely to sink. I find this is an excellent analogy as to our own capacities. We can only carry a certain amount and when sudden and unwanted circumstances are landed on us, other things may have to be temporarily offloaded. We need to work out what our priorities are for that particular time; I’ve found that these change with each season.
It might be that we could avoid ‘home ed overwhelm’ during especially stretching seasons, if we can foresee them and plan accordingly. For example, welcoming a new baby of child into our family, moving house, a period of study or a planned hospital admission all allow us to plan ahead and ensure that our learning workload is manageable. When we moved house, we shelved much of our regular learning and instead threw ourselves into a fun American project. We still have the folders the older two children created and the enjoyment of our studies shines through. I can’t remember if much algebra or grammar was done, but none of them have suffered for it!
What might arguably be the hardest seasons are those which are unforeseen, unwelcome and have no end in sight. These could be gut wrenching anxieties over relationships, finances, or chronic ill health. It could be a difficult work situation or concern about a family member. It might be you are home educating a child with additional needs or a teen struggling with mental health issues. Maybe you feel so drained each morning that you have no capacity for creativity and simply have to fall back on your old habits and routines. You may look at other home educators and feel completely inadequate. I have felt just about all these during the eighteen years we’ve been home educating so let me assure you that you’re not alone and that you can not only get through, but find beauty and grow in strength during these tough seasons.
Finally, it might be that it’s not you, but your child who is struggling. You might feel you are constantly walking a tightrope, trying to balance education with the specific emotional or behavioural needs of your children. Can I assure you there is hope? It may involve a drastic rethink of your ideals and plans. It may involve stripping “regular” education to a bare minimum and focusing on doing life together, learning practical skills and laying solid foundations. For us as a family, these are the four R’s; building Relationship, developing Rhythms, habits and traditions, putting down Roots and growing in Resilience. If this is ‘all’ you can do, is it really enough? In my opinion, absolutely yes!
In conclusion, I have found this ancient piece of wisdom to be profoundly helpful as I consider how to move forward during tough seasons. It is from the book of Jeremiah, in the Bible. I’ve paraphrased it and hope it might help in your decision making, both big and small.
“Stand at the crossroads and look; seek out the ancient, tried and tested pathways, walk slowly and deliberately in them…you don’t need to run. And you will find rest for your weary soul.”