Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Few Strategies for Coping as Home Educators

Rose asked:
"How do you refresh yourself after being with all the kids all day, all week? How do you make yourself stronger and happier to cope better?"

After a very long time battling chronic ill health which included depression and unpredictable mood swings I settled on a fairly basic discipline which I describe in my Motivation booklet. Although aimed at helping understand children's seeming lack of motivation and what to do about it, it goes to the heart of what I think has happened when we become or feel overwhelmed.

For me, the number one thing I must do is adhere to early nights. Every night after 10pm progressively wears me down and leaves me vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed. Another thing I should do and am slowly putting into practice is giving me permission to 'do nothing', something the children taught me was essential and enhanced their capacity for learning but which I didn't think to apply to myself! Although in hindsight I recognise that in those early years of homeschooling ill health forced me into the position where I did nothing for hours or days on end – during which time my children miraculously continued to learn an amazing array of skills and knowledge!

'Doing nothing' time is misnamed - while 'doing nothing' we give ourselves time to relax. What we are not doing is being overtly productive... We might be playing a card or board game for fun, mucking about telling jokes or sharing imaginative 'what if' scenarios. We might be sitting on the garden swing or on the veranda or the couch, quietly thinking. Or flipping through a magazine, maybe even reading a chapter or two of our book. It's tiny to short segments of 'time out' where we do something that is relaxing.

Meditation, prayer, gentle stretching exercises, Tai Chi... anything that leaves you refreshed after doing it.

As home educators we gift ourselves an enormous amount of time to enjoy our children and family life. Instead of capitalising on this though we cram it full of busy work, both for ourselves and them. We are in such a hurry to achieve our goals and objectives, with one eye always looking over our shoulder to make sure other people are satisfied with our progress. Chill out! We have until our children become adults to set the foundations for life learning. Stop thinking about the enormous body of knowledge and skills those people over your shoulder say you have to instill in your children and think instead about the basic essential learning tools you can help them explore and learn how to use.

In my Natural Learning booklet I advise parents against creating a ‘smorgasbord’ approach to home education driven by the need to teach them ‘everything they need to know’ (as one home education officer from our state  authority put it). Doing a little bit of this or dipping your toes into that subject is the way schools approach much of the curriculum. Children will happily immerse themselves for hours, days and sometimes weeks on end in projects that engage their attention and answer a fairly immediate need within them to know and understand. Why interrupt such active learning to expose them to a topic that someone who doesn’t even know your child thinks should be learned – not only learned but in a particular way, using particular materials and a particular age? If there are things that you think the child should know, but all means teach those things, but don’t try to teach everything.

And don’t think that just because your children are not at school you have to be the only teaching resource in your home education program – make use of people in your local community that offer group activities, classes and lessons for children. These may be held after school, on the weekend or during the school holidays and can easily be built into your homeschool schedule. Quality textbooks and workbooks, the type that guide the learning process, can also lift some of the ‘teaching’ burden from your shoulders. As a home educating mum I found my main role was finding resources and activity ideas, recording my children’s learning and subtly guiding it in the direction I felt was best for each child.

And finally (although I can and have written so much on this topic!), eat well and drink lots of water. Pretty basic stuff but it is easy to overlook. I indulge myself when I am feeling low and eat a lot of food that my body doesn’t like and causes the symptoms of my illnesses to flare. So it is important that I interrupt the downward spiral as soon as I recognise it happening. I have a ‘nurturing Beverley’ plan that focuses on bringing balance into my life and regularly read through it as a reminder.

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