Co-ops, park days, Bible studies, extracurricular lessons, scouting, 4-H, and field trips—the list of activities that lure home school families away from home is endless. All of the above activities have their merits and places within a home school schedule, but perhaps not all in the same school year and perhaps, some years not at all.
Having homeschooled for ten years, I have participated in most of the activities I listed. We spent two years enjoying the benefits of an academic co-op. I was a Cub Scout den leader. I am a 4-H activity leader. I have led support groups for new home schoolers and Mom’s Night Out. I belong to a field trip co-op too.
As a support group leader, I see the stress, anxiety, and burnout that accompany too many activities—especially for new home school moms. Fewer people seem to stay home to work with their students, believing instead that more activities help their home school measure up to what the public or private schools are doing.
Over the years, many home schooling moms have shared their stories of how all these “good” activities have impacted their families. One mom told me that at least two days a week she spends the entire day out taking her child to lessons, and the child in this case is only eight years old. Another mother joined an academic co-op in her first year of home schooling with a five-year-old, a four-year-old, and a new baby. Mothers tell me how they struggle to get the house cleaned, meals cooked, laundry washed, and schooling completed due to dance, Awana, Girl Scouts, or music lessons. One mother told me that her child fell asleep on the way to soccer practice and cried when awakened to play with his team.
I commend the intention of these parents to provide the highest quality educational experiences for their children by providing extracurricular activities and lessons. I began my home school career with the same mindset, but the Lord had other ideas that took me a while to understand and implement.
Our first year of home schooling began with the Lord confirming through my husband that we were to homeschool our children. God very clearly told me that I was to stay home. I then heard about an academic co-op that met a short distance from my home. I requested an application for this co-op, completed it, and mailed it. Shortly thereafter I realized that the queasy feeling I had begun to have day and night was a new baby on the way and that I would not be able to fulfill my responsibilities to the co-op after all. I should have understood at this point that I was to stay home, but I did not.
A few months later as I was feeling better, I heard that my church was going to have a ladies’ Bible study. My plans to register for it ended when my husband’s work schedule changed, making having the car on that day impossible. At last I grasped that God wanted me to stay home. It was hard to understand why God would not want me to attend a Bible study or join a co-op.
Slowly I began to see the fruit of God’s plan for my family as we stayed home learning together. We read God’s Word daily; what precious Bible studies those were. We made crafts, played games, cooked meals, and learned new skills in cooperation with each other, which brought more fruit than any co-op we might have joined ever could. My children had the time at home to share their hopes, interests, and desires with me.
I believe that the rushing around that often accompanies extracurricular activities causes stress for both parent and child. It is hard work getting young children ready to leave the house, which makes for difficulties in getting places on time. When thinking of the outside activities your family does, do you look forward to them or dread them? If dread is your reaction, reevaluating the worth of the activities may be in order.
Just because something is good does not mean it is God’s plan for your students. Even if everyone you know has registered his or her second grader for Spanish, it may not be what God wants for yours. We fall into trouble when we compare ourselves, our students, and our schools to others’. We may find ourselves doing something that is not benefiting our families because of fear about what we might be missing.
What do we gain by being at home? Foremost is the opportunity to implement good routines for our days. Routines conserve energy because they become automatic and thereby lessen time needed to determine what to do and when to do it. When our children have routines, we do not find ourselves constantly reminding them of what they need to do. We may find that we have more peace in our homes.
Another benefit to being at home more is having the time for money-saving activities such as cooking meals from scratch, sewing, doing home repairs, making gifts, etc. When we are out –and about too much, we find ourselves buying convenience foods, hiring people to do what we could do ourselves, and spending money for things that we could make if we only had the time.
A principle I use for my family is trying to limit out-of-the-house activities to one day of the week. I find it more productive to have one day lost to activities and errands than a portion of each day. I also find that I do not want to go anywhere else after having such a full day! In addition, I do not leave home unless my house is in order. This accomplishes several things: (1) I am at home more to keep up the house, (2) my house is presentable most of the time, and (3) I get to enjoy coming home to a clean, neat house too!
Another guideline I have for my children is to limit outside classes just to the older children. They are not as likely to be upset by differences in their daily routines as younger children are. They may not be as affected by someone else’s attitude or behavior as a younger, more impressionable child would be. The high school years are a time when upper-level classes may require you to find a tutor or class to supplement when you feel ill equipped in a subject.
More time spent at home allows time for our students to really delve into their studies. We will not be losing those teachable moments simply because they were not penciled in our Day-Timer®. If Johnny finds a snail in the yard, you will have time to look up information about it, set up a home for it, and observe it. This is difficult to do if you are always away for meetings or lessons.
Being home more often unleashes creativity in your children. When children have too many scheduled activities, they often lose the ability to be creative. Having open periods of time to be bored and to overcome boredom propels children to find out what interests they have and to pursue them. My children often spend their time making crafts and inventions or playing elaborate scenarios they have devised together. They have time to just think and be—without the pressure of always adhering to a preplanned event.
I challenge you to seek the Lord as to whether you need to stay home more this coming school year. You may just find your school, your students, and yourself becoming what you had always wished.