Do you ever stop and wonder WHY you do what you do? If what you're doing is worth your time? If your kids are actually going to benefit from the education you're giving them? Do you ever feel like you're just talking into the wind, or burning up your time and energy on things that won't matter? If all your efforts at homeschooling are going to count for something in the end? I have asked these questions over and over again. Sometimes in exasperation, sometimes in exhaustion, sometimes in sadness. I have gone to my husband in tears (more than once!) with these questions. And I am blessed to have a husband who doesn't grow weary of comforting them.
Any of you who have homeschooled for any amount of time know that it's a lot of work. When we start out, we have this beautiful vision of our families sitting together on the couch, snuggled up, reading wonderful books while everyone (including the toddler!) listens with rapt attention for hours. At least that was my vision. Maybe your vision was of kids who would excel in math, win competitions, and go to college when they were 11. Or perhaps you dreamed of doing art projects and science experiments all day, where nobody spilled the paint or caught anything on fire. And then...reality sets in. The vision you had for your homeschool isn't coming to fruition. Days, weeks, months...you feel defeated because you just can't seem to make it happen.
So what do we do then? How do we homeschool moms avoid the discouragement and burnout that seems so inevitable in our imperfect homeschool reality? Well, obviously the first step is to accept your life as it is, with all the imperfections and messes. But what I have come to believe really fuels us to keep going for the long haul is feeding our own minds. It's pretty hard to be an enthusiastic teacher without being excited about learning something yourself. I have found that the times when we have been most effective and excited about our homeschool were the times when I was also nourishing my own mind with learning and reading new things. With that in mind, here are a few tips for feeding your own mind:
Set time aside every day.
Even if it's just 20 minutes to read. The inspiration and refreshment you can gain in 20 minutes is pretty great. It's sort of like a power nap for your mind! You get to step away from all the everyday busy-ness for a few minutes and catch a mental breath. I like to read and study in the mornings after my devotions...but that hasn't always been the case! I am definitely a reluctant morning person, but it is the only time that I have found when I can consistently make personal study time happen. Feel free to choose whatever time works for you: mornings, baby's naptime, sitting in the car at soccer practice...make the best use of the time you've got!
Make a plan.
Nourishing your own mind won't happen on its own just because you want it to. Once you've decided that you need to do this for yourself, sit down and decide when and how you're going to do it and what you want to read. Then stick to your plan to the best of your ability, while being gracious with yourself if things don't always work out. There will be mornings when you simply have to sleep in because your baby was up all night, or unexpected issues come up during your day that prevent you from accomplishing what you had hoped. It's okay. Just pick up where you left off tomorrow!
Choose the right books.
I like to read from a variety of genres at the same time - what Charlotte Mason referred to over and over as a "full and generous" feast of ideas (in case you hadn't noticed, this is where my blog title comes from!). I used to feel guilty for having numerous books going at the same time instead of finishing one and then starting the next. But when you have several streams of thought going simultaneously, you are able to make connections between ideas and fit those ideas into the greater framework of things. So what books to read? There are numerous "great books" lists out there, but I have found Susan Wise Bauer's book The Well Educated Mind to be very helpful.
Her book lists are not overwhelmingly long, she provides a good, brief introduction to each one, and divides the great books list into different genres, so you could choose one from each area to work through slowly at the same time. Another idea is to follow the Ambleside Online curriculum for yourself. You could start all the way at the beginning with year 1 (there are some fascinating reads there even though they are "kids' books"!), or start with year 7 since the sequence sort of "starts over" at year 7 at a higher level. Which leads us to...
Read the books your kids are reading.
When we dove into Ambleside Online full time one year ago, I committed to reading along with my oldest son through year 7. It's been great to know what he's reading so that we can talk about the books in greater depth and "compare notes," so to speak. Soon we'll be diving into year 8 and I can't wait to find new treasures there! Not every book has been my favorite, but all have been thought provoking and mind-nourishing!
Keep a commonplace journal.
The "commonplace" is a centuries-old journaling tradition where you write down quotes or passages worth remembering as you read. No paraphrasing, no summarizing; just the exact words of the author. I find this beneficial for several reasons: first, it frees me from always having to add my own notes or come up with a summary right at the moment. When I come across a passage that seems especially important, I just write it down and move on. Second, it helps me to assimilate the writing style of excellent authors. And lastly, I find that I read more carefully when I am "on the lookout" for the most important key passages. Some folks get fancy with their commonplace methods, having different notebooks for different genres, or color-coding their entries...but I just keep mine simple. Blank book, date at the top of the page.
Learn in good company.
When possible, I love to participate in a good online book discussion group. It adds so much to my understanding, and it's really fun to hear other people's perspectives. Everyone brings something different to the conversation! Of course, I don't have time to do that for every book I read, but I like to have one going all the time. Currently I am following along with the Norms and Nobility book study on the Ambleside Online Forums. I would highly recommend joining a book discussion group there - the conversations are always gracious, intelligent, and lively. And it's comforting to know that everyone else is a busy homeschool mom too, so if you fall behind or are absent for a while, there's no shame, everyone understands!
I also have found listening to podcasts a great supplement to my own learning process (and excellent company when folding laundry!) My current favorites are:
The Mason Jar (with the wonderful Cindy Rollins!)
Don't feel guilty!
There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about spending some time nourishing your own mind. Trust me, everyone will benefit when you are fulfilled and growing. It does take some planning and self-discipline, but the more you grow in this area the more exciting it becomes!
So, how did you do with your examen practice for "the mind"? I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment below! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, make sure to check out the last two posts that explain what we're doing for the month of January, and enter your email in the sidebar to join us and receive your free workbook. For myself...once again my theme for this year is consistent habits. I've been getting better at getting up earlier in the morning, but I need to keep working on it. I find that my attitude is much, much better on the days when I get up early and spend time on my devotions and personal study.
What about you? What habits are you going to incorporate this year to help you nourish your mind? What resources are you going to utilize to help you along the way? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Other posts in this series: