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Getting It All Done: How to Streamline Homeschool Lessons

“I hate Tuesdays.”

Irene sighed and slumped in her chair, a downcast look on her face, completely out of character for this normally prim and proper woman.

“Why?” I asked in surprise.

Turns out Tuesdays were Ironing Day for my coworker, and she loathed the time it took, especially for sheets and pillowcases.

Wait, what?

That’s right: Irene spent a couple hours each week ironing bedding. Somehow she had convinced herself it needed to be done. Every. Tuesday.

One December another gal I know brought stacks of boxes wrapped in brown paper bags to our local gym. Claire sat on the ground behind the treadmills, furiously drawing clever cartoons all over them.

The previous Christmas, in lieu of wrapping paper, Claire had used her art skills to decorate a few gifts for her nieces and nephews. It was such a hit that her entire family clamored for more. So now she felt stressed and obligated to decorate every present for every person. It never occurred to her that one apiece would have sufficed, and she could have reclaimed her time and joy.

Not so obvious

As in the examples of Irene and Claire, sometimes the obvious isn’t so obvious. My husband likes to call it “missing the tree for the leaves.” You can be so involved in an issue that you don’t realize the bigger picture and hence, the better solution.

I fell into this trap my first year of homeschooling. I faithfully followed the curricula lessons, determined that my first-grader wouldn’t fall behind academically. When life happened and interrupted my carefully planned plans, I stressed out.

Like many new homeschoolers, I thought I had to follow every single lesson in every textbook. Otherwise, my daughter might fail, I reasoned.


Word to the wise: Don’t become a slave to your curriculum. This can lead to extremes, like the seventh grader I know who regularly spent eight hours a day on schoolwork. Talk about overload.

There’s no rule saying Thou shalt teach everything in thy textbook. Come to find out, you can skip chapters or parts of chapters. You can even supplement with other books, or games, or crafts, or whatever takes your fancy. And your child won’t fail. In fact, she’ll probably do better with the more personalized lessons.

Homeschool is education tailored to the individual. Curriculum is a tool, not a taskmaster. Not every curriculum fits every student. If a course isn’t working for your child, tweak it. Or chuck it and use something else. The goal should be your child grasping the subject, not necessarily finishing the book.


One way I tweaked lessons was by skipping to the next point once my son or daughter caught onto a concept. Get it? Got it. Good. Move on.

I also had my kids complete only the even-numbered questions or all the odds in math. If they got some equations wrong, I’d have them do a couple more similar problems to make sure they understood the topic.

We used another adaptation when my daughter took high school biology. Much of the material overlapped with physical science and chemistry, which she’d already done via co-op classes. So we made an agreement: She would read the biology textbook on her own. After completing each chapter, she’d tell me what she learned. Then I would leaf through the chapter and orally quiz her on the terms and concepts.

It worked beautifully. Autumn felt more relaxed. She loved not wasting time rehashing facts she already knew. She went through the textbook much faster on her own (compared to taking a class) and learned new information. We must have done something right; Autumn is now a college honors student majoring in science.

Start with the end in mind

If you’re feeling weighed down, ask yourself these questions:

· What’s the actual goal?

· Is each activity really necessary?

· Is there another way to achieve my desired result?

For example, perhaps your child takes a loooong time on handwriting. Or perhaps he’s a perfectionist who tosses his work in the trash if it’s not exactly right, and then starts over.

It can drive a parent nuts.

It’s especially maddening when it means your child regularly doesn’t have enough time to finish his schoolwork. That can lead to less time for non-homeschool responsibilities, like grocery shopping, and having to bump those to another day (again!). It can also rush the rest of the family schedule, making it stressful to get to ballet lessons or soccer practice on time.

How to manage: Review your homeschool goals. Ask yourself what’s most important: legible handwriting? Finishing one lesson? Sticking to your schedule?

A friend of mine in this situation realized all these items were important. She decided adhering to her homeschool schedule topped the list because it affected her family’s whole day, not just the school part.

With that in mind, she made it a point to stop each subject on time, even though her perfectionist daughter usually wasn’t finished. She adhered to “10 o’clock is 10 o’clock and it’s time to start the next subject.” Her daughter had to complete any unfinished schoolwork in the evening instead of watching TV.

It was a win-win. My friend felt happier. She no longer nagged. Things got done on time. Her daughter learned natural consequences and kept up with her lessons.

So if you’re feeling burdened, think about the outcome you’d like to attain. Consider whether your current actions are contributing to or detracting from that goal. Run it by a friend for a fresh outlook. Changing course doesn’t have to involve drastic measures. Sometimes renewed success is only a small step away.

(Photo by Luis Villasmil, Unsplash)


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