Every family’s homeschooling journey is a little different, from the wide range of schooling styles to the various curriculums to choose from.
But there’s one aspect that many homeschooling families can probably agree on: the inevitable ups and downs. It’s not surprising that many families report feeling the homeschool “slump” in November and again in February, says Tarla Gernert, founder and executive director of Homeschool Connections.
“It’s exciting whenever you get started,” whether it’s the start of the school year in the fall or after a break around the holidays. “The first month you’re going full steam and everything’s good. I think part of it is that it’s hard to maintain a level of intensity all the time.”
For some it’s just the natural ebb and flow of homeschooling, Gernert says, but other parents can get in a rut and end up feeling bad about their own teaching performance.
“I think we start feeling like we’re failing. We’re not getting everything done we’re supposed to be doing,” she says. “I think that what’s really important is to realize that learning takes place outside of curriculum. Your kids are learning all the time and learning can look much different than, ‘Did they complete these pages in their workbook?’ or ‘Did they get through this chapter in their textbook?'”
With that in mind, consider this list of 10 tips to help families get past the dreaded homeschool slump.
1. Change things up
When you’re losing steam, it might be time for a change. Try making your lessons more hands-on for a while, Gernert suggests.
“I’m always in favor of doing hands-on learning. Go to the library, get some videos about whatever their topic is and do something different during that time,” she says. “Do some more hands-on, fun activities during that time instead of a lot of intense book work.”
2. Use the holidays to your advantage
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can feel like a distraction with all the shopping, preparing for family get-togethers and meal planning. Work it to your homeschooling advantage, Gernert recommends.
“Focus on traditions, what do we do, what are our family traditions?” she says. “Letting the preparations for the holidays be part of the education instead of just on top of the education.”
3. Independent work is OK
Oftentimes it’s the homeschooling parent feeling the slump more than the kids. If that’s the case, don’t feel guilty about planning a bit more independent work for your kids to allow yourself time to reboot.
“You’ve had two months of getting into the rhythm of things. Now it might be the time to say, ‘OK, I want you to do this next section yourself,'” Gernert says.
It takes a fully charged parent to keep the homeschool train moving, after all.
“Their energy is what carries the day sometimes,” she says. “I think it’s very important to help kids understand that they do some things on their own and mom and dad have their own time.”
4. Take a break
Give everyone a day off every so often and spend some quality time together. You could even snuggle up, watch a movie related to a current lesson and talk about it afterward.
“Then they can go do projects,” Gernert recommends.
5. Connect with other families
Feeling a homeschool slump could be the perfect reminder to get out and meet some other homeschooling families. That’s been a big help for Mount Clemens mom Stephanie Henneberry, who homeschools her kids ages 8, 6 and 3. First she joined a co-op for extracurricular activities and now she’s part of a group where families work on the same curriculum.
“There are tons of locally-based homeschool groups, communities and co-ops. It’s important to know the needs of yourself and your kids so you can compare those needs to what the different co-ops offer,” Henneberry says. “For me, I needed a program with accountability to help me keep going during the rough times. I also decided to do year-round schooling and schedule more breaks.”
Gernert agrees that connecting with other families is key. It’s also a way to get involved in educational field trips and plan outings with other families.
“First of all it’s just fun,” she says. “It’s something to look forward to and sometimes you can do projects together that you might not be able to do by yourself.”
6. Follow your child’s lead
When the kids feel in a rut with homeschooling, offer them some control by letting them choose their next topic to learn about.
Tell your child, “You can know anything you want to know, what do you want to know?”
“So we can have some delight in learning again and then get back to what we have to know or what our goals are for this year,” Gernert explains. “Make those the months that you do some really fun learning or learning on things that you really want to know about it.”
7. Make time for home
The flexibility to be on the go is one of the benefits of homeschooling, but you might feel burnt out if you don’t get enough time at home – especially around the holidays.
“Take some days that are just at-home days where there’s nothing,” Gernert suggests. “These are our days where it’s just going to be at home. Let’s focus all of our academics on these one or two days so we can go and enjoy all the festivities and the planning.”
8. Go outside
Yep, even in the winter. “Especially in that February time, getting as much sunshine as possible even if it means taking a walk when it’s really, really cold out. I think getting outside is important,” she says.
9. Help somebody
The holidays are a great time for volunteering – a wonderful way to help others with the added bonus of giving your spirit a boost. Contact your local nursing home to see if they’d be open to visitors, for example, then have your kids prepare a simple concert or skit.
“That would be really fun to do with a couple families too. It’s not like you have to be professionals for the kids to benefit from it and them to appreciate it,” Gernert says.
10. Get physical
We’ve all heard it before and the advice applies here, too: a little physical activity can go a long way. “It’s just really important to get some kind of physical activity,” Gernert says. “Everybody hits such a slump but it’s really important to get out and do some kind of physical activity.”
Look for homeschool ski clubs, sports groups and other recreational activities offered throughout the year, including at places like Homeschool Connections.
“Doing some kind of activity with other people and outside is very, very important. That helps with that slump,” she says.
The bottom line? Just keep on trying new things until you’re through the slump.
“Don’t feel like you’re a failure if you don’t get everything done during those very stressful times,” Gernert says. “It’s better to stop, step back, do something different and come back to it. Keep hammering it out when it’s not working.”