Thursday, February 16, 2012

20 Ways to have less stressful school days

Now this sounds like a contradiction in itself.  We all know how hard it is, how much effort it takes to home school every day.   It's only those who look from the outside, who would dare say it's easy.  Do I love it? Of course! (though sometimes not!)  There are lots of reasons that I home school and though the reasons are good, it doesn't mean that my life is a breeze.

However there are a few things that make life easier, bearable, manageable, and sometimes just really good, great, super and truly a memory moment.  They are small things, Mel things, my things - not your things.  But they might work.  They are tried and tested solutions in our household to making my day little easier.

1.  Food and More Food
This is an under-emphasised aspect of school.  Feed them cocoa pops and sugar pops and empty pops and crazy pops and you will have them popping all over the place.  And don't try and convince yourself that you're feeding them the good stuff just because it says whole grain or vitamin enriched.  That's only to cover a multitude of sins.  They all have sugar or additives or chemicals or words-that-you-cannot-pronounce-and-think-because-they-are-so-difficult-to-pronounce-it-must-be-good-words on the side of the box.

Now I would love to tell you that I am a fully fledged health conscientious buff but I would be lying and lying is not good and it doesn't reflect well on my image. And I wouldn't want to do that because maybe my pastor might find out and then... who knows, I might need to look for a different church.  So I'll confess, we do occasionally lower our health expectations and break out a box of instant cereal. (funny the children do not seem to suffer from the same internal struggles about whether or not they eat cereal - its devoured in minutes).  However I try as best as I can to keep the sugar intake to a minimum and ensure that breakfast is substantial and nutritious.

Breakfast, snacks, lunch and snacks again ensure that my children can concentrate combined with enough liquids too.  I have found that this can make an enormous difference in their day.  When they aren't getting enough to eat and drink I find that their concentration levels drop dramatically!  I am not suggesting huge meals the whole day, but frequent healthy snacks.

2.  Print the Night Before
Yes I know its a pain but its even more of a pain when you have children waiting for you "to quickly print off something".  This is when everything derails - the computer freezes, the printer runs out of ink or you forget where you saved the document - by this stage the children are climbing the walls.

3.  Time yourself
I love break time as much as the children - I need the breather, the time to get coffee or put a load of washing in.  The problem is that I enjoy it so much I forget how quickly the time passes and then before I know it the children have been on a break for more than an hour and now suddenly its lunch time! Oops.

4.  Don't let housework be the focus
Our children do chores every day - even Sundays (we all work hard).  We don't have a nanny, so we do everything and so its easy to start the day with chores and as you get busy - you "just want to do one more thing".  Which eventually takes time out of your learning time.

I do believe that chores is a learning opportunity but be careful of how much time you "justify" as learning time - unless you are being intentional and using specific housework activities to learn - for example gardening is a big one for us and we use it to illustrate biblical concepts, to study growth, insects, seedlings etc.  We draw in our nature study books and look up birds in our bird books. 

We have starting time and whether or not chores are finished, we start.  However tardiness or laziness is not allowed and so if one of my children is purposefully not doing their chores they will do it in their break time.

5.  Focused Attention 
All of my children need individual attention, not just the struggling ones or the little ones.  I ensure that I give individual attention to a specific child a day. (Eg Monday would be Declan, Tuesday - Ethan etc) The others may need my help but my attention is focused on one child (otherwise the eldest or most independent miss out on that one on one time which is just as important for them - even if just to connect with them and find out where they need help)

During this time, which by the way is not the whole day but more for their grade specific subjects, I will as best as I can ensure uninterrupted time - either by using something like Reading Eggs for their English, Rosetta Stone for their Mandarin or watching online educational videos for the other children if they cannot work independently from me.I also find putting my youngest right next to me also helps with behaviour and closer supervision.

6.  Go to bed early - TV is not worth it!
I love telly - there I said it.  I like to watch, I love thrillers and mysteries.  I like intrigue and espionage.  The problem is that a lot of telly happens too late, and then everything is too much of an effort the next day.  Tiredness and irritability do not bode well for any school day.

7.  Get up before they do
Whether its for a quiet time, your time, read time, coffee time or husband time - just do it.  You need the time to wake up in peace without having to meet anyone's demands but just prepare yourself for your day.  I often wake up, check my emails, have a quiet time and wait for the children to drift in as they wake up.  I know you are probably thinking how can she read emails before she reads the word of God?  I know my halo is slipping.

However I quickly discovered that praying and reading the word before I was fully awake often had me dose off on the couch because I was just  a little too comfortable. But by the time I have spent half and hour sorting through my mail and had a cup of coffee, I am awake and ready to spend time reading my word and praying.  I also prefer to have my children find me reading the word than sitting on a computer. 

8.  Move the Classroom
You have to bake for a ladies meeting, supper is going to be one of those long ones where you need to peel endless veggies and chop them into teeny weeny pieces and you still need to clean.  How do you do this without interrupting school or ensuring that the children are being supervised so that they don't get distracted or dawdle?

Move the classroom.

If I am in the kitchen the children sit at the dining room (open plan), if I am in the garden they sit outside around the patio tab;e.  Children love change and if it enables you to answer questions or to be more flexible then do it.  I wouldn't do it everyday but remember life happens and homeschooling should be part of life.

9.  Stay away from telephones and emails
Oh yes don't let them whisper in your ear that they are so important.  They aren't.  Leave the phone to take a message and don't allow your emails or Facebook to suck you into that dark void of time wasting.  Remember you are also setting an example to your children about how you use your time.

10.  Do less well
Don't try and be anyone else, or work at anyone else's speed or do someone else's program. A lot of energy and effort can be wasted copying others.  I don't believe in wasting time but when I try and do too much in a day, I find my children don't cope with the pressure and I get frustrated because I can't tick off my list of things done. 

11. Take a break when they do
I used to try and do my chores that I hadn't finished in the morning, when the children took their break - but I need a break too.  I have now stopped doing chores during that time and instead I take out a book, go online or just lie down for a bit.  I find that I feel far more refreshed and am able to face the next part of the day with enthusiasm (that's if I haven't fallen asleep:)
 12.  Get help if you can
We have gone through stages of having help in our house, and times when we couldn't afford to.  I won't lie to you - I love having help in my house.  School is easier, life is easier - it brings such freedom.  But I have also been content during the times where, as a family, we have been responsible for everything!  Don't live beyond your means but if you can afford to, get help.  Even if only once a week.  Its good for you, good for your husband, good for your house and good for your children. But make sure your children help you, no matter how small - every little bit helps!

13. Join a co-op or start one
Besides the opportunity to get together and meet new families and build new friendships, it gives you a break.  If the lesson is rotated amongst your group it means that though you might have to prepare a lesson and present it, you will still have the opportunity to have a bit of a break while your children are still learning.  You may not be able to leave, as most co-ops require moms to still be hands-on, however it takes the pressure off you to do all the preparation and your children will learn lots, because its been presented by someone else.

14.  Get rid of the mess
Displays of beach finds, art projects and other topics of interest are great, but make sure that your learning area and house is tidy. Nothing is more exhausting than a mess.  We do a a full learning area cleanup once a week and make sure that the children pack everything away before the end of each day.  Mess is exhausting.  Your house doesn't need to be spotless but try and keep things under control.
 15.  Cook BIG
Prepare double or triple if you can.  If I make mince, I might prepare some for cottage pie and some for spaghetti.  One in the deep freeze and one for supper.  I have found this one of the most effective time saving activities.  It means that I get one night free every couple of days because the meal is already made which helps on days when we have sports or excursions.

16.  Keep it handy
I try and keep water close at hand and small, non messy snacks (like sliced carrots, raisins, dried fruit), a small rubbish bin, toilet paper or tissues - all the little things the children seem to need all day.  I think its a good idea for children to move so that they can stretch but I find that these little things are often excuses to disappear down the corridor and get distracted with things they find along the way.  Keeping these sorts of things close at hand helps lots!

17.  What else is happening below the surface?
My youngest children often malfunction when they need some time and attention - normally it's a sign of a deeper need.  Stop and pay attention, hold and cuddle, sit on the couch and read together.  If you don't the attention seeking behaviour can get worse.  If you can't do it during learning time, go on a "date" with that child - one on one time.  This is especially a need in big families when they are always sharing your attention.

18.  Computer Compromises
After I published this article I realised that I only had 15 points and so as someone who is never at a lack of something to say, I started writing some more points.  A friend of mine who shall remain nameless as I wouldn't want to embarrass her, mentioned that Computer work late at night is as bad for you if not worse than TV because we tell ourselves that the reason we are doing it is for a good cause.  Try these and see which one applies to you:
* I just need to check facebook to see how my friends and family are doing?
*  If I don't facebook people might think that there is something wrong
* What will happen to my blog is I don't write a post tonight - they'll all bail on me and find a better and bigger blog to read and forget all about me
*  I want to research this topic properly - I know that tomorrow I will be so exhausted I won't even use it but just in case... you never know when you will need it
*  I have to check my emails, there might be something important that cannot wait until tomorrow

I might not have mentioned your specific excuse but we all have one don't we?  And then tomorrow comes and our children feel the consequences of this behaviour.

19.Get that loving feeling
I am the most joyful, inspired person when I spend time with my husband and feel loved.  Maybe some of the dryness and stress of your day is  because adjustments need to be made in your marriage - are you making time to love and be loved - or is it all work, school, chores and running around?  Take time to have a coffee together - even for 30 minutes, hold hands, turn the telly off and talk.  Go to bed early.  Maybe I am the only one like this but my love tank needs to be filled by God and by my husband.  If either of these are not happening - you might as well prepare my broomstick!

 20. Pray with your man
I don't share space easily in prayer with others, I like the solitude - being able to be honest before God without worrying about what others are thinking - baring my soul.  But recently Sean and I have started spending just 10 minutes praying together.  We sit down and pray for our day.  What we are doing is a ministry. Yes it is!  Anything that God has tasked you to do to fulfill His will is a ministry and it is as important as any other ministry.  It requires prayer, preparation, dedication and sacrifice.  We would never expect our pastor to come to church unprepared or having not prayed.  Yet we will approach our day like this. We have an amazing opportunity to mentor, guide and lead our children - to reach others as a family - to change the world. Pray with your husband, pray with your friend - but pray - and watch what God can do! 

So that's probably a good start with a few things that might simplify or help you during your school day.  I would love to hear from you and what techniques you use to take the stress out of your homeschooling day.


  1. What a great list. I don't have small kids anymore but so many of these still apply to me!

  2. All so very useful and often convicting. Such good information. The email/facebook is a sinkhole that's for sure. I have other homeschool friends who tell me that I need to pick up knitting or something like that to use up my spare minutes when my kids are working on their own. Getting involved in anything online does detract from the day. Thanks for such a well thought out post. I found you at Raising Mighty Arrows.

    1. Michelle I love your idea of knitting! It ensures you stay away from the computer and it gives you a chance to do something that is meaningful. I think I might just do that! Thanks for visiting.

  3. I just had a good chuckle at your post ;-) Love your honesty!! Thanks for the reminders and helpful hints x lol Shelley

    1. I have to keep honest, otherwise you won't come back! Thanks for always reading and comment - keeps me writing:)

  4. Thanks Mel xxxxxxx yes, a keeper!! Just LOVED No. 20 but No. 19 is me tooo (loved the broomstick bit, hehe)!!! Ditto for everything else xx


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