When Homeschooling Focus is Hard

(null)My living room looks like some disorganized, second-rate library. I haven’t counted, but I’m sure there are no less than 1,136 half-read books stacked on the end tables, bookshelf, bench, and usually one or two on an armrest. My kids are usually each reading four at a time and have tossed them everywhere. A friend makes a raving suggestion and I’m off into a glorious new rabbit hole. Or I make the dreaded mistake of walking into Barnes & Noble and inevitably leave with six books, each of which I want to read immediately. Everything else gets put on the “Currently Reading, Will Finish Eventually” shelf.

Focus is hard.

It’s half way through February already, so most of us already have a failed New Year’s resolution by now. Don’t worry, I’ll make you feel better about your plan to run 3x/week. I’m still working on my resolution for 2013, which puts me on the third year of a two-year Bible reading plan—and I’m only in the Psalms. Apparently my bookish flitting around has affected my ability to focus on a front-to-back Bible reading plan.

Long-term focus is really hard.

Homeschooling requires long-term focus.

The benefit of still being stuck in the Psalms is that I’m stuck in the Psalms. They’re like a down comforter when it’s freezing at 5am, and I just can’t bring myself to get up. It’s so cozy in here.

Here’s what I’ve been ruminating on lately, from Psalm 127:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Maybe maintaining long-term homeschooling focus is so hard because we so frequently try to build the house ourselves. One of my favorite bloggers, Edie Wadsworth, put it this way,

[Homeschooling is] by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

And to quote Simcha, ” It wasn’t the hard work that wore me out; it was the crappy job I did, and the worrying about it. That’s what was so exhausting.”

Ouch. And if I’m honest, that’s the same thing that wears me out. Worrying about it all. Did we do enough? Why can’t she remember 12×9? Why am I not more patient and kind and prepared?

What homeschooling mom hasn’t asked herself questions like these?

  • Am I messing up my kids for life? Will I ruin them if I change our math curriculum mid-year?
  • What are we missing? What holes do they have in their education?
  • Can I make it to the end of the school year–or the end of the week?

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil

Trying to build the house ourselves is actually a symptom of insanity, I think. Of course it’s hard to be patient, kind, and prepared when we’re either trying to shove a checklist of assignments at our kids so we can “stay on track” for the year, or flailing everywhere, trying to touch on every possible academic subject so our kids are “well-rounded.” Our little people would like nothing better than to focus on one thing, specifically LEGOs, so neither of these plans is a recipe for success or peace in our households.

But there’s something else going on here.

Being stuck in the Psalms doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything else in the Bible on a regular basis–lest you think I’m a heathen. I’m sure it means I have that unfortunate human inability to finish things once started, on-time and under-budget. But hopefully it also denotes a willingness to be led by something other than the daily readings checklist in the front of my study Bible.

Being a slave to the looming list of to-dos is not the better choice over flitting between 16 subjects and learning only a little bit of anything in any of them.

Education is Like Spiritual Formation

Education, like spiritual formation, is a path, but not an unflinchingly direct highway with no exits. Nor is it like driving around a parking lot for hours, pulling into one spot, only to choose a different spot thirty seconds later. The one costs a great amount of energy, with no real joy along the way. The other accomplishes nothing under the guise of constant activity. On the path of education there are side roads to be explored, sights to see, and rests to take along the journey, but in the end you do actually get somewhere.

John Kleinig, in his book Grace Upon Grace describes Christian meditation this way:

We concentrate on the Word and attend to it; we speak it to ourselves again and again; we read and reread it; we compare what it says in one place with what is said abut it elsewhere in the Bible; we chew at it in order to digest it; we rub at it, like a herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed; we take it in physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that it reaches our hearts, our core, the very center of our being (Kleinig, 18).

What if we took this idea and applied it to chemistry or grammar?

We place this artificial pressure on ourselves as homeschooling parents to follow the order of lessons exactly. Like following a Bible reading plan, we bust through the day’s lesson, glossing over all the really interesting stuff along the way or stopping just when it was starting to get good. We check the item off the list.

Most of us, having been educated on the industrial model, have no idea what it’s like to spend our K-12 years exploring, ruminating, and diving deep. When was the last time you spent a day contemplating? A few hours?

Kleinig describes a different methodology that can as easily be applied to the homeschool as it is to the devotional life:

As we read the set passage for the day, we watch out for something that is relevant to me personally, a word from God for the day, a word of promise or instruction, a word of rebuke or correction. When something in the text strikes us mentally or spiritually, emotionally or imaginatively, we should let it speak to us and receive what it gives us (Kleinig, 148).

Stick to the path, the checklist, the lesson plan, but slow down and veer down the interesting, confusing, or particularly applicable side street. And, for goodness’ sake, don’t quit just when it’s getting interesting just so you can move on to the next subject.

Treating our homeschool like an exercise in meditation sure can make it easier stay focused when we’re having trouble.

Nurture Yourself

We’re trying to give our children an education unlike the one we received. We have to expect “tension.” Okay, some days it feels like we’ve jumped into the deep end of the crazy pool.

When overwhelm creeps in and we ask again, “Why did I take this all on? Um, what was I thinking exactly?” it helps to remember we’re not really building the house alone and that we weren’t formed by our Creator’s loving hands in order to submit ourselves to an arbitrary list of assignments.

Christ is building the house. Christ, the Word made flesh, is Wisdom incarnate, and wisdom is what we’re trying to give our kids, not just a high school diploma. He, of course, is infinitely more capable, knowledgeable, and patient than we poor, frightened homeschooling mamas. He will bless us even when we have trouble focusing on a looming list of to-dos.

In order for me to have that much more to give, though, I’ve had to nourish my own spirit a little more purposefully lately. Here are some resources I’ve found nourishing. I hope you find them helpful too.

  • Edie’s new podcast, Grace Talks, particularly episode 7, A Life of Service.

  • A good fiction audiobook is always queued up on my iPhone for when I’m folding laundry or doing dishes. The Two Towers and Pride and Prejudice are two of my favorites, but the point is, I always feel good about getting high quality literature into my ears. It’s amazing how nourishing and relaxing good stories are. These two links are to the Audible versions I own and love, but you can find a lot of good classics for free on LibriVox or at your library.

  • My most recent non-fiction audiobook is 1776 by David McCullough. Since Bubba’s studying that period in history, getting this in through audiobook while I get household chores done is a major load off–reducing the stress of needing to stay ahead of him in whatever he’s studying. This links to the abridged version, though there’s an unabridged audio version as well.

  • Luther’s Large Catechism from CPH’s Reader’s Edition (a very friendly translation). Martin Luther has a way of stating biblical truths in a way that makes them so fresh. I find his writing can be both hilarious and biting.

  • John Kleinig’s book, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today

How do you make it through homeschool seasons when you find it difficult to focus?

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