Avoid Home School Burnout

Home School Burnout is a subject that I have addressed at home school support group meetings – usually in January or February since the year is about half over, and many teachers (home school and classroom as well) need a little boost.  However, it recently occurred to me that if home educators receive advance warning, they might have an advantage and be equipped for a preemptive strike.  They might not feel overwhelmed mid-school year by the thoughts like “I’m used up, and the year is ONLY HALF OVER!”  I pray that these tips will help you avoid or successfully navigate the circumstances that can cause discouragement and burnout.

The term burnout has often been used to describe a phenomenon common in today’s fast-paced workplace.  The Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”  The Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition of “burn” includes “to burn out, to burn till the fuel is all consumed.”

I experienced burnout in our early years of homeschooling.  I would not have even noticed, but physical symptoms sent me to the doctor; he started asking questions about “stress” in my life.  I thought he had it all wrong but later started evaluating the pattern of my life at the time.  He was right, and my family started making changes.  Rather than sharing my whole burnout story, I will skip to the tips that helped bring me back to the land of the living from a dark, dark place.

First, I must say:  Seek the Lord in all you do.  He is good and faithful; He will equip His children for any appointed task.

The “Why” of Home Schooling

Maintaining the VisionWhere there is no vision, the people perish… Proverbs 29:18   Many home educators did not begin teaching their children at home out of conviction but out of necessity.  The available classroom situations were just not good!  I admit that this is how our home-school journey began.  However, a strange thing happened while we were in what I viewed as a temporary situation…we realized that home schooling was best for our children and for our family.  I could not send my children back to a life where peers were influencing and teachers were telling me who my kids were.  When we started homeschooling, I did not know what I was getting myself into!  It had turned into a conviction!  I think it is harder to persevere in home schooling when the reason to pursue it is a reaction to a bad situation rather than a conviction that it is the right thing to do.

We did know from the start that getting connected with others who were doing this same radical thing was crucial, so we joined a local support group.  From within this group valuable relationships – for me and for my children – were built.  I strongly recommend finding a group of like-minded home schoolers.  The friendships and support will be very important for the success of your venture!  They can help you keep hold of the vision!

Once I heard a sermon in which “burnout” was defined as losing one’s passion for that to which he has been called.  I will repeat:  If you know that God has called you to home schooling, also know that He will equip you for the calling.  Matthew 11:28-30 is an encouragement – “…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Pray first in order to determine God’s will for the education of your children.  Pray for His leading as you determine curriculum and method.  Pray for wisdom and strength as you daily walk through the process.  Pray daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment.   I have found the following verses encouraging:

General Encouragement – Philippians 4:6, 7Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Strength – Isaiah 40:31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Wisdom – James 1:5
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

James 3:17
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits…

Priorities must be set and kept.  You probably had priorities for your family before you started home schooling.  Most likely, these should not be diminished because of your added educational priority.

God should always be top priority.  Do not neglect your time with Him and in His Word.  Your children will begin to demand more of your time and attention, but your spouse should remain in the top-priority slot within the home.  Service to others – church, support group, friends, etc. – is important, but remember that when you married and started having children, you were given a built-in ministry, and it is pleasing to God.

While outside activities and ministries may feel more gratifying than home schooling, they should not be at the top of your priority list.  Organizing field trips, book fairs, support group meetings, etc., will gain you many a pat-on-the-back, but at what cost to you and your family?  When I was coordinating our local book fair, I received a lot of kudos but was MIA from homeschooling my children for about three months of the school year. (Never once did my children say, “Thanks Mom!  You did a great job of planning this lesson; you’ve done a great service to your family!”)  The praises of men can distract you from your top priority.

Take care of your temple.  This will sound like meddling, but I speak from the “been there, done that” point of view.  I will also confess that this is still a personal challenge.  In a nutshell: eat well, get enough rest, and…exercise. (There, I said it!)  If you “burn the candle at both ends,” you will eventually “burn out.”  You will physically not be able to do well the things that keep the candle burning.

The Least Stressful “Hows

Discipline of your children is critical; they must understand the fact that you are in authority over their young lives.  If children are disobedient and/or disrespectful, you will not be able to impart any truth through home schooling.  If this is an issue, start preparing before the school year begins.  Let your children know that God has placed you in a position of authority for their good and that you take that responsibility seriously.

If your children have already been in a classroom environment, they may question your abilities:  “Mrs. Smith didn’t do it that way!”  “Mr. Jones said we don’t have to show our work on the math problems!”  For the sake of a peaceful resolution, point out that each change of teachers (different grade level or changing classes at the bell) in the school system provided different requirements.  This year the teacher is Mom and/or Dad, and this change should be no different for them.

Organization with reasonable expectations for mom and children will be of great benefit for all.  One of the things that came to mind when I started assessing my home school was the fact that I thought I had to “do it all.” In addition to being wife and mom, I cooked, I cleaned, I planned lessons, I taught, I kept business/household records, and I did our tax returns (without benefit of a PC).  Before my body forced me to see the doctor, I had reached a point of just going through the motions of what had to be done.  I would sit on our couch sometimes and see that the kitchen floor really needed attention, and I did not really care.  I had reached an emotional straight-line.  I needed help!

Train – not just tell – your children to do the chores that fit their maturity levels.  I had to realize that I was not a “superwoman” and that I needed help.  I also realized that I had been guilty of telling my kids to achieve that for which I had not clearly expressed what I expected or thoroughly trained them to succeed in the orders I gave.  This gave birth to the “Maids’ Apprenticeship Program” one summer at our house.  I started by reading 401 Ways to Get Your Kids to Work at Home by Bonnie Runyan McCollough.  This book has a list of many, many household tasks and evaluates the approximate ages at which children are ready to develop these skills. I pulled many of the chore ideas from the book.

I made a big chart on poster board that had a list of chores with skill levels for each.  Throughout the chart some squares were covered with construction paper under which was a small reward (gum, a ride in the glass elevator at the pyramid building, trip to a favorite, local {cheap} spot). There were three chores to be mastered on each row.  At the end of the row there were letters that stayed covered till the row was completed.  When all the letters were uncovered, they revealed the name of the ultimate reward for mastery of all the chores.  Both of my boys completed the program and were rewarded.

Later, when I was recovering from getting up too soon after a spinal tap (killer week-long headache!), my boys, who were still pretty young, took care of what needed to be done around the house and stayed current with their schoolwork.  The training program was well worth it.

Set reasonable goals – for your home and your school.  Prepare yourself for the fact that, unless you have a paid maid, your home might not look like a picture from “House Beautiful.”  We finished homeschooling in 1999, and my home still stays in a comfortable state of clutter!

Curriculum – ideal vs. practical – The “perfect curriculum” is not perfect unless you and your children can make it work.  I once read a line from a respected home-schooling expert that conveyed the fact that the curriculum should be your servant rather that the teacher being a slave to the curriculum.  If you find the perfect program but stumble while jumping through the academic hoops, see if there is a modification you might make in order to use the perfect curriculum in a way that is tailored and perfect for your home school.

I was and am a firm believer that unit studies are the very best way to teach in a way that is interesting and is, therefore, retained.  The problem for me was that I was not able to pull it all together.  In fact, I had a very discouraging episode over one of the fun projects.  It may be that my failure was due to poor timing – near the end of my downward spiral – but the point is that, whatever the reason, if you cannot make the perfect work, settle for what is practical for your family. I suppose that would make it practically perfect!

If you find that you just cannot use the book or program you selected, do not be afraid to change.  Our first year of home schooling (1985), I only knew about Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s books on home schooling, so I registered with their foundation and followed their recommendations to the letter.  I realized that first year that there were some things that did not really fit our needs, so I BOLDLY DARED to choose something else!  By the end of our home schooling, each year was a patchwork of books and resources from different suppliers.

Have a Blessed Year

It is important for the parents to be unified in this effort.  It is a good thing when both participate in the decision-making process.  As the saying goes, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

Dad, be sensitive to the mood of the home.   Often setting the spirit of the home falls under the responsibilities of the wife/mother.  The downward spiral does not necessarily manifest itself as “sadness.”

Mom, you are not super-human!  If you need help, whether it is more prayer, direction, a night out, or something else, do not hold your husband responsible for mind-reading sensitivity!  My husband is a very kind and gentle man, always willing to make my life easier; but he did not pick up on what was happening.  I had not because I asked not.  I have learned to ask.

I hope these ideas will serve to keep you from experiencing Home School Burnout!  Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran, there will be seasons of the soul, different from the seasons of life, as there is no expected time frame.  It is my prayer that you will be armed and equipped, ready each year for a great year of home schooling!