Slowing Down


                 As we became a homeschooling family we dove headfirst and completely submerged ourselves in our new lifestyle.  We joined all kinds of groups and signed up for extracurricular activities.  I didn’t want my children to miss the social aspects of public school or be left out of opportunities to develop their talents.  We soon found ourselves involved in dance lessons, play groups, book club, science classes, art classes, sports teams, guitar lessons, and the like.  Just typing this list makes my head spin.  Somehow we managed to keep our heads just above water.

                 One night my husband made a startling comment as we sat down to family dinner, “This is a novelty,” he remarked.  I quickly realized that he was right.  Family dinners had become few and far between, family home evening was even going by the wayside as I made justifications that we were getting plenty of family time, after all, we homeschool!  Our weekends were filled with all kinds of activities and I was really starting to wear out. 

                My littlest kids were spending hours in the car each week as we sat in traffic to drop kids of at their “enriching” activities.  After the third or fourth week in a row of relentless activity I had finally had enough.  I now longer cared about looking like a flake or a quitter.  I started weeding things out left and right to clear some space into our schedule.  One by one I cancelled activities and I began to feel lighter.  That next week, I had carved four free days into our schedule. 

              Suddenly, we had the gift of time!  I made a point to have family dinner.  I read an article posted recently on The Sentinel about making family home evening a priority.  We held family home evening that week.  Guess what?  I was starting to find my center.  I was amazed at how many enriching activities we could actually do at home when we were not sitting in traffic trying to get from one activity to another.  I can’t believe I was almost robbed of one of the most precious gifts of homeschooling, simplicity. 

                The adversary wants us to be completely distracted.  He wants us to be rushing from one activity to another so that we cannot hear the one resounding truth that we are enough.   Our young children especially need their Mothers and they need family time at home to learn and to play and explore.  Our children need us to really SEE and HEAR them.  While I believe that it is important for kids to be involved in extracurricular activities so that they can socialize and develop their talents, these activities cannot replace that crucial time spent in the home.  As homeschoolers, we are blessed to create our own schedules and choose our priorities for the most part.  I am grateful for the wise counsel of former General Relief Society President, Julie B. Beck in the following quote:

Mothers Who Know Do Less

                "Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord’s kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power."

                  I hope to be able to guard and protect our most precious commodity – time.  I hope to have the discipline to choose only the best things and the confidence that I am making the right decision not to choose it all.   

Something's Got To Give...

It was almost with a sense of glee that I erased events off my calendar when my children all came down with the flu this winter. I only felt the tiniest bit of guilt as I thought about how great it was going to be to just sit around and read books and watch movies together and not go anywhere. It crossed my mind that those feelings might be an indication that we were over-scheduled, but it wasn’t until sometime in December that I realized we really had a problem. In between an insane amount of running around, I was spending more time daydreaming about having a mental breakdown than I was enjoying the Christmas season. When the thought of losing your mind, so you can get out of your commitments, seems like a good idea, you know something’s got to give!

Everyone kept telling me, you need to learn to say “no”. Saying “no” wasn’t the problem; I could say no to lots of things: I said “no” to my exercise time; I said “no” to sitting down and eating a healthy breakfast; I said “no” to sleep; I said “no” to my visiting teachers when I didn’t have time for their visit; I said “no” to devotional when our morning was just too crazy; and I even said “no” to the sign-up sheet at church asking us to make center pieces for the ward party.

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t say “no”, it was that I kept saying “yes” to my kids: “yes” you can take dance lessons, yoga and piano; “yes” I will drive you to swim team, theater practice, robotics, book club, and scouts; “yes” you can get another new pet, and I will drive to the pet store every week to get it fresh crickets; “yes” I will spend hours every week volunteering at your co-ops; “yes”, my little one, you can crawl into my bed in the wee hours of the morning; and “yes”, my teenagers, you can keep me up talking half the night.

I want to give my kids everything. I want them to have access to every educational opportunity, to be exposed to great ideas and great people, to have friends and time to socialize with other kids.  I want them to feel that my time and attention is always at their disposal. I also want them to have a mother who is sane, one who doesn’t wish illness on them so she can have two minutes to breathe.

So, we started to cut things out. It was a painful process for all of us. We dropped out of dance lessons, book club, theater and one of our co-ops. I’m working on enforcing how early and late my kids can demand my attention. Overall, life has been much more peaceful and mom has been a lot less grumpy, but I still alternate between feeling grateful for the space on the day’s schedule and feeling like there’s enough room to squeeze something else in. I just have to remind myself that every commitment I make is taking away opportunities for spontaneous activities, family bonding and peaceful reflection. I need quiet time in my life to be the mother who can say “yes” to the most important things in life.

Eliminating Muda

I wasn’t expecting to find sage homeschooling advice when I read Natural Capitalism, a book written by folks who founded an environmental think tank.  There I was reading along about corporations interacting with the environment, when chapter 7 called out to me:  “Pay attention, homeschooling moms!”  That chapter is titled "Muda, Service and Flow.”  I don’t speak Japanese and couldn’t find “muda” in any online translators, so I’m taking the authors’ word for the translation and passing it on to you. 

They say that "muda" is a Japanese word for "waste," "futility," or "purposelessness."    Taiichi Ohno, "the father of the Toyota Production System," abhorred waste, and defined it as "any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value."  Natural Capitalism discusses muda/waste/futility/ purposelessness in terms of business models. But the Ohno quote, about waste being "any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value," struck me as an important idea for me as a homeschooling mom to consider.

The resources my family and I devote to home education include the obvious--money--plus time and energy.  Our homeschool lifestyle absorbs all three of those resources.  So the question is, are there some "human activities" using those resources, yet not really creating any value? Perhaps it would be wise to regularly make a list of all our homeschooling activities which consume resources, then evaluate each one to see if it is muda, or if it is truly worthwhile.  In making my list, I discovered some lessons:

1. Take a good look at old habits.

 Buying curriculum is a habitual thing for me.  I’m always alert to tools that might engage the kids intellectually.  But the first obvious bits of muda I saw in our home were shelves of curriculum we've never used.  It looked so helpful at the curriculum fair or in the Rainbow Resource catalog, yet it didn’t actually fit into our goals.  Another conspicuous waste was the curriculum we at least tried, but didn't enjoy or learn very much from—things I forced onto the kids simply because I spent money on them. Then I remembered classes and activities for the kids that took time, money, and energy--all three--yet didn't really offer much of value.

So sometimes I don't find out that something is muda until it is too late!  The commitment is already made, and the money already paid.   But at least as soon as I recognize a wasteful situation, I can look for the closest opportunity to reduce that waste, re-selling the curriculum or leaving a sports team at the end of the season.

2. Continual adjustment is needed.

An activity may be muda at one point in time, but when circumstances change, it might become more valuable. Or it could be the opposite, where the activity starts out with value then loses its significance.

An example:  for several years, we met weekly with two other homeschooling families.  We did an occasional organized activity, but most of the time, we just "got together." 

The kids simply played while we moms talked and talked and talked.  This weekly time offered a huge amount of value to our family:  the kids--and more surprisingly, the moms--became best friends.  Having close friends who shared our lifestyle was sanity-saving and it brought happiness and completion to our lives.

Then things began to change.  The kids got older, and two new families joined our little group, bringing new social dynamics to the gathering.  In addition, the kids in all the families developed disparate interests, causing some of them to grow apart.  When it was time for our weekly meeting, I had to practically drag our two youngest kids out of the house; they just didn't want to go.  The value of the activity had obviously decreased. 

Gradually and congenially, our group disbanded.  I do miss that regular therapy time with my friends, but the resources it took to meet every week (time and energy) didn't give us a big enough value anymore.  So the right choice, eliminating muda, was to stop doing that activity.

3. Expect the unexpected.

Sometimes activities surprise me by how valuable they are.  Pokemon League and Tae Kwon Do classes are things I would generally consider muda.  They consumed fair amounts of money, time, and energy.  But because these activities gave our two sons joint interests, giving them reasons to practice at home together, the classes turned out to be quite valuable.  The boys' togetherness for these activities deepened their friendship, which was something we parents had been hoping and praying for.

4. A little muda may be necessary.

Sadly, sometimes an activity has been muda, but because it was associated with church, we felt we needed to keep it anyway.  Hopefully this will turn out to be worth it in the end, if the kids learn lessons in being loyal to the church without expecting perfection from the church members.

5. Defining muda depends upon the family and on each individual.

Each family needs to consider its own ideas of value versus waste.  In our family, teaching everyone to play the piano is extremely valuable.  In most families, playing the piano is muda and not worth the trouble. 

As another example, a few years ago, two of my friends put together a wonderful class for homeschoolers on politics for an exciting election season.  This was a worthwhile learning opportunity for their kids.  But for our family, an elections class would be muda.  We discuss, analyze, and debate politics all the time as a normal part of life.  We don't need to spend time or energy going to an additional class each week about something we do naturally.

In addition, an activity might be muda for one person in the family, but very important for another person. 

So muda is subjective.  It's just one more example of how we as homeschooling parents have the terrific opportunity to choose what's best for our own families, and for each of our kids as individuals.  Aren't we lucky?

6.  Regularly ask, “What is going well in our homeschool?”

Certain types of activities have always been valuable for us:  some that quickly come to mind are family vacations, reading aloud, playing board games, making music, listening to music, family scripture reading, and spending time with each child individually before bedtime.  It’s so important for us to recognize these things and consciously choose to continue them so that items of lesser value don’t take over.

This theme of muda comes from a book about corporations.  But success in our families is surely more important than success in any moneymaking project. We even get support for the idea of eliminating muda in 2 Nephi 9: 51: “Do not spend money [or time or energy] for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.”

Do we have muda to eliminate?  Have we invested in things of true value to replace that muda?  This is a topic I personally need to revisit on a regular basis. Yet I’ve already learned enough from the exercise to become sure of this:  it is definitely not muda to take time to evaluate where our family resources are going, and if those resources are being spent in truly beneficial ways.