When my children were very young, they hardly slept at all! They weren’t daytime nappers, and only occasionally dozed off briefly in a car or stroller. If that wasn’t enough, they were light nighttime sleepers who would wake at almost any sound.
Those were priceless years, but sleepless years for my husband and I. He worked outside the home and thankfully managed to hold it together on his own. My days, however, revolved around 15-minute or 30-minute chunks of time when one of the babies or toddlers dozed off — or if I was lucky, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time. Nights yielded slightly longer periods of sleep, though not much more. It was a joyous yet very exhausting season of my life, to say the least.
I called my physical and mental state of mind back then, “The Mommy Zone” — I was eternally tired, and sometimes cranky and frustrated, too.
Sound familiar? I hear this from many of you, too. It’s a question I receive a lot from new homeschoolers and parents of the very young.
How are moms supposed to homeschool and take care of the home and family when stressed and fatigued? Is enrolling the children in school or preschool the only answer to regaining sanity and catching a wink of sleep?
Are you there right now?
Looking back, there were many things I did “right” about homeschooling my kids during the Mommy Zone years. Homeschooling provided the freedom to enjoy my children and the togetherness of our family, and gave me the flexibility I needed to allow learning happen differently each and every day. But I made some mistakes, too. Looking back, I guess I got smarter with every new child and experience, but I sure wish someone had told me how to get it right the first time!
In this post and the next, I’ll share some of my best tips for homeschooling when sleepless and weary. I hope these can help you move through those years more easily, and spare you some of the frustrations I experienced after making some incorrect choices.
1. First and foremost, avoid rigid or very structured curriculum and methods for your homeschooling. Placing too many demands on any family member is stressful enough — try adding failure to meet daily milestones to the mix. When mom is already performing a balancing act and is tired to boot, not getting enough done quickly turns from disappointment to failure. Using lots and lots of books, unit studies, any type of relaxed kind of homeschooling approach, and taking advantage of unschooling strategies is extremely helpful when children are very young and moms are stretched to the limits. Getting creative with road-schooling activities in the car and on trips to and from errands, and wasting no time counting all of the education that happens unexpectedly in the record books, helps too. Learning will still take place by leaps and bounds, but the sense of completion will come more from having a good day than how many questions were answered on a test or worksheet — and that’s worthwhile, too.
2. Next, take advantage of store-bought materials during those years whenever you can. Though it will temporarily squelch any dreams you had of creating your own fully-customized and homemade homeschool materials, there is nothing wrong with not doing everything 100% yourself the first few years (or ever!). Use packaged homeschool products; allow children to benefit from quality television, audio and video games; purchase educational toys and games at department store or online; fill the house with books or e-readers; and freely download games and activities on your computer completely guilt-free. Moms who come into homeschooling with a “Super Mom Complex” thinking they’ll develop everything themselves and keep up with their friends are most at risk for early homeschool burnout; but, anyone can fall into the trap of feeling inadequate when tired and stretched too thin.
3. Third, prepare your home environment for the demands of homeschooling with little ones around. Think carefully about the homeschool, organizational and comfort items you need to improve functionality and reduce chaos throughout your day. This may take some time and money, but the payoff on the other end is priceless. Study what other moms do and implement ideas that may work in your home. Talk to moms of littles and those with large families and model behaviors you really like. One thing that helped tremendously for me was creating “safe places” for children in every room of my home. I placed play yards, gates, spare cribs, and even extra car seats in strategic locations all around my home (including the bathrooms) so that I always had a safe spot to place an infant or toddler when I needed a moment to myself. I set bins full of activities and toys within easy reach of children in every room of the house, and I used lower cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and office to do the same. I stocked my vehicle and outdoor spaces (including my garage where I might re-enter with a sleeping child in a stroller) with supplies I might need, should I find myself with a few moments to balance a checkbook or catch a nap for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. I was rewarded for my efforts by being able to accomplish small tasks everywhere I moved about the house, plus an occasional nap if everyone happened to be quiet at the very same time.
4. Finally, though it may seem unrelated to homeschooling, practicing exercise and good nutrition has everything to do with maintaining a happy, healthy homeschool environment for the family. Doing whatever it takes to absorb replenishing sunlight every day, eat fresh produce and whole grains, and find ways to be active (through movement and exercise) and/or peaceful (through spiritual practice or meditation) every day goes a long way when energy stores are very low and the world seems out of control. At the very least, these efforts work to help moms avoid illness and emotional duress, but more likely the whole family will benefit from more energetic and productive mom as well.
Look for the next post with additional tips and please add yours in the COMMENT area below.
Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is a college professor who traded in her tenure to become a homeschool mom 20+ years ago. A homeschooling pioneer and the founder of many groups and organizations, she works to advance home education, and is an outspoken supporter of education reform coast to coast. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, is industry-acclaimed as it illustrates how homeschooling can rescue children and families from the public school system, and how anyone can begin homeschooling within a limited time-frame, with no teaching background whatsoever. A writer, a homeschool leader, and a women’s life coach, Marie-Claire mentors in a variety of areas that impact health, education and lifestyle. A conference speaker, she has appeared at FPEA, H.E.R.I., Home Education Council of America, The Luminous Mind, Vintage Homeschool Moms, iHomeschool Network, and many other events. Her articles have appeared in and on Holistic Parenting, CONNECT,Homefires, Homemaking Cottage, Kiwi, Circle of Moms, and hundreds of sites and blogs nationwide. Marie-Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.