3 Homeschooling Strategies for a Peaceful Year
How to prepare for a successful new year of prayer and learning, while keeping yourself sane
Back-to-school is a stressful time of year. About 50 million kids are finishing up summer reading that should have been done back in June, parents are adjusting work schedules to account for bus drop-offs and pick-ups, and everyone is both nervous and excited about the next 10 months.
That’s the public and private school norm for the last two generations. But what about the million-plus American kids who are going to be homeschooled this coming year? If there’s one thing the pandemic made clear, it’s that many families see another option besides changing their entire lives around for a school system that produces mediocre results while promoting morally problematic values and (at times) denying parents the right to make key decisions for their children.
But homeschooling has its own challenges. You have to keep the younger kids engaged (or at least out of your hair), design a schedule that can last more than a few days, keep the house reasonably clean, and keep yourself showered and sane.
I grew up homeschooling and saw my mom go through every normal homeschool challenge, but teaching my Irish twins first grade while wrangling a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old has shown me that I’m no pro. But I’ve learned a lot, and shared some of what works for us on my podcast. The keys are:
- cultivating strategies for patience (candles for fragrance, sugar-free gum for destressing, and coffee to stay alert),
- entertaining younger kids (sensory items and trading off older kids as babysitters),
- keeping the house clean (boxes are your friends), and
- using a prayer box.
Read on for tips on how to accomplish these goals.
The bedrock of Catholic homeschooling is teaching children to pray. It probably can’t be terribly long due to kids’ attention spans, but it must be incorporated into your schedule or it’ll slip through your fingers like dinner in a toddler’s hands.
Every morning, we take down the prayer box — our family’s twist on a prayer altar — to make prayer time special for the kids. It has holy water, candles, a statue of Jesus, rosaries, saint dolls and other items the kids can hold and handle. I often let them pick their own items and favorite prayers to help them take ownership of this time. Once we’re done, the box goes back on the shelf.
I know of other families that pray the noon Angelus prayer or a Divine Mercy chaplet at 3 o’clock. Perhaps you start your day with a Rosary — or at least a decade. I always try to incorporate a hymn, Latin chant (my kids often insist on the Salve Regina) or a children’s song like “Jesus Loves Me.” The most important thing is to read where the kids are that day and do your best to help them foster a connection to their faith.
This might be the hardest part of homeschooling. Two of my kids are “in school,” but that doesn’t keep the younger ones from getting in the way and also wanting to learn. We find ourselves in a season without synchronized naptime, so my first tactic is timing homeschooling for when one of them is napping.
Keeping sensory material around has been a boon for me. My 2-year-old runs her hands through a box of beans with little scoops and buckets, or “cleans” toy animals with a bit of soapy water and a sponge. This keeps her entertained and contained so I can teach both older kids. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have one of the older kids spend time with her while I teach the other child, and then they will switch.
I’ve also discovered that holding my 2-year-old on my lap and imitating the same actions as I’m doing with the older ones — such as running my finger along the page of the book — keeps everything on track. Kids want to feel included, so I try to make that happen when circumstances allow.
Keeping yourself sane is all about prioritizing self-care. Think about it in multiple steps:
First, have a core strategy. For me, this starts with the prayer and kid prep and continues with a candle that has a nice fragrance.
Second, have backup plans. This means understanding how I react to stress and how I should handle it. It includes options like tearing apart a piece of sugar-free gum instead of tearing out my hair, and resetting by savoring a warm cup of coffee.
Third, pull the emergency cord. When you’re stressed or exhausted, it’s okay to have classes in a different environment — think the backyard instead of the basement — or to truncate a day’s classes and opt for outside time. If we really can’t make it through our lessons, I rely on my husband’s help in the evenings or weekends to finish up.
Fourth, try to network within your community to have teenage or preteen homeschoolers available for childcare on days when you need to finish lessons, run errands or get a nap in.
Homeschooling Is Tough — Be Prepared
Homeschooling is hard. Parents with kids in public or private schools know they have six to 10 hours (accounting for after-school activities) of time for greater self-care, running errands, etc. Homeschooling cuts into that. Being prepared is the only way to ensure that your kids get the value necessary to thrive in, but not be of, the world.
A former Broadway touring actress who also starred in Lifetime’s The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Stacey Sumereau is a nationally recognized Catholic speaker and host of the Called and Caffeinated podcast.