Avoiding Crash and Burn

Today's post brought to you from the LDS-NHA archives.  

Avoiding “Crash-and-Burn” Syndrome

by Michelle Duker

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It happens all the time:  Parents decide that they need to bring their children home to homeschool. They study, prepare, buy books and curricula, and jump into this new experience with both feet. Soon, however, many parents begin to worry that they have made a mistake. “This just isn’t working.” “She wants to go back to school.” “Maybe I can’t do this after all.” We have all heard of the “burnout” that can afflict home school moms; let’s call this form that crops up in the first year the “crash-and-burn syndrome.” It causes untold frustration and often leads to children re-entering the school system.

     Today’s new home school parents, thanks to the rapid growth of home schooling, know quite a bit about the technical aspects of home schooling; they've read articles, books, websites, browsed at home school fairs. But most of them are unprepared for the tremendous change in lifestyle that homeschooling entails, for both parents and children. It is important to allow plenty of adjustment time to avoid a “crash-and-burn” experience.

     Many parents are unprepared for the practical effects of moving to the “all-children, all the time” channel. Both parents and children had previous routines and habits, but the new reality of being at home all day, and being in the company of parents and siblings all day, can put stress on existing relationships.  Impatience and quarreling abound; mothers try to keep houses at pre-homeschool levels of order; some children have never really learned the principle of obedience and everyone ends up frustrated.

The prescription: proactive teaching, and time to allow relationships to grow and adjust to the new demands.

     The entire family needs to “catch the vision” of this new endeavor. Homeschooling is intensely relational; at times what is learned can be almost totally dependent upon the quality of relationships in the home. Parents can teach a strong, scriptural vision of the family, with cooperating, serving parents, and obedient, learning children, growing in love and unity, placing family relationships solidly in front of outside relationships.

     A period of “detoxification” from public school can help children adjust to a new daily routine, new expectations, new levels of interaction with Mom and siblings. Some writers suggest at least one month of “detox” for each year the child has been in the school system. Don’t stress formal learning too much in this period. Instead, this is a good time to set daily routines; establish or strengthen the habit of obedience, spend time rediscovering each other, find out what makes each child “tick," explore informal learning experiences, and pray.

     Many times, we mothers, in our single-minded pursuit of the best for our children, bring home “too much school” right away.

     Homeschooling is a new way of life. If we wanted to teach a child to swim, we wouldn't drop him in the deep end of the pool and come back five hours later. Some of our children may feel like this when, after a short break, we plop them down at the kitchen table with a list of eleven subjects! Try prioritizing. Choose a couple of challenging subjects, and a couple of fun ones. Then, when the children are successfully doing this, we can add other subjects. Do remember--you do not have to do it all the first year!

     Try also to keep fathers as involved as possible. Homeschooling is going to change all of Dad’s relationships too, even if he isn't doing the teaching. Take time to find out his expectations, work together as a team, and make sure he feels involved.

     How can we strengthen family relationships in the stressful period after pulling the children out of school?

     Make family worship a priority, especially daily prayer and scripture study. Seek the guidance of the Spirit, at home and in the temple. Spend time connecting, re-connecting, getting to know each other’s habits, preferences, and pet peeves. Meet discipline issues head-on. Spell out the necessary obedience and respect that will be needed in making this transition work.

     Adjust expectations. "Hannah Homeschooler-Forever" may appear to have perfect children, perfect house, perfect everything. You will not. (She doesn't really either). Get used to it. The kids will squabble, the laundry will never get done, you’ll forget to put dinner in the crock-pot, your mother-in-law will insist on calling in the middle of spelling. The children can, and will, learn anyway.

     The first year of bringing the children home to learn will be full of challenges and difficulties. But facing the necessary adjustments with patience and faith will help the entire family to make a successful transition to a new lifestyle. One day, your new-homeschooler friends will be looking to you as an example. And you’ll be ready to pass the torch to them.