So, you’ve got your plan and you’re working through it. What next? How do you remind yourself things are actually working when you’re in the midst of a day when nothing is going right? Or spot that something is causing ongoing friction and needs to change?
The secret is in noticing. You need to take some time to look back on what’s been going on from a wider perspective. Here are some ways you can do that.
Stop and look
Just that. Particularly when the children are busy with something that doesn’t involve you. Notice how they’re focusing on their Lego build, negotiating how old everyone is in the game they’re playing, judging risk as they climb a tree, learning social relationships chatting with their friends, trying a new technique while drawing, or facing a challenging level on their tablet. Really think about the levels of learning that are going on, and notice what they choose to do and where their strengths are. A couple of minutes is fine. Or you could make a few notes at the end of the day.
For the next level of this approach, start making notes, somewhere you’ll be able to find them again (could be a dedicated notebook, a notes app on your phone, or voice messages that you email and keep in a folder). Tag them with a subject or a theme if you want. Just keep it somewhere so you can look back on it. I take photos – lots of them, and not just the Instagram stuff, but just everyday. The boys sitting together reading a comic. A drawing I found lying around. The latest Lego build. It seems like you’ll remember at the time, but trust me, a few days/weeks/years down the line, you probably won’t.
This is an idea I mostly got from Julie Bogart, in her Homeschool Alliance, although I’d been doing a form of it myself anyway. Every now and again – I aim for once a month, and actually manage it somewhat less than that – really pay attention. Make notes for a whole day, and write that down (or make a voice recording, or a quick video of yourself talking). The good, the bad, the mundane details, the vague worries, the moment of joy and the horrible sibling fights. Subscribers can see some of my narrations in the resource library.
A narration day might help on its own – you may notice what’s going right a bit more than usual, or spot flashpoints you can work on – but it really shines over time, as you look back and notice longer term themes. Did the worry about reading readiness just sort itself out? Has reluctance to write been a problem for one particular child for a long time now? Had you forgotten how much they all enjoy hands on projects? When you thought you were failing at parenthood and probably life did it turn out you just had a twelve-year-old?
Dividing your time up into bigger chunks gives you a better perspective on the overall way things are going. We all have bad days – or amazing ones – but you can’t tell if that’s a one-off or the overall trajectory from the midst of it. Call them blocks, terms, intervals, months, units, seasons… the key is that you have a longer time frame to think about, and set aside some time at the end of it for review and planning ahead. Mystie Winkler at Simply Convivial has much more about this idea.
I work in blocks, and divide our year up into usually five blocks of 6-8 weeks each, with a prep week inbetween and longer unscheduled periods in December and June. For us, that also matches up with some of our more formal learning (though not all – online classes have their own timetables), but it doesn’t have to. Learning is always happening, with the unscheduled parts just as important – if not more so – than the scheduled ones.
I do use blocks to change up some aspects – it’s when we move between artists, and electives for instance – but mainly it’s there to provide a good time frame to stop and reflect. Six weeks is a decent time period to try out something new and see if it’s working; it’s enough time to smooth out the daily bumps and see the larger progress; it’s a check point on whether that maths books is really going to get done this year at our current pace, and time to think about whether that matters and if so, what to do about it.
One thing I always try to do (and mostly manage) as part of a prep week is to write out a list of what happened last block. At first it feels like nothing, but a look back through the calendar and my photos, and thinking through all the different things we do in turn always tells a different story. This includes the ‘obvious’ points of where we got to in the maths book, what level of reading book we’re on, what elective children chose, the family readalouds, badges and grades and any of those achievements. It also includes the big events – days out, sleepovers, social groups, meals made, shows put on, films watched. It’s a record of what they’re interested in and achieved during unscheduled time – the den they built, the recurring themes of role play games, big Minecraft builds, planting seeds, the current YouTube favourites. It’s also the place to reflect on the more intangible changes – the child who jumped in the pool after being scared of water for years, the easing of tensions between a pair of siblings, a first independent trip to town.
It’s important to include the challenges too. If you’re worried about a lack of reading, reluctance to write, prevalence of screens, attitudes to work or between siblings, your own dissatisfaction with a lack of free time, or noticing you’re a bit bored and scrolling too much to hide from it – make a note. You don’t have to show anyone else, and you don’t necessarily have to do anything about it (though you might choose to). But if you note it down, it’s there to look back on and either marvel at how it changed, or realise it’s an ongoing issue that you do need to tackle.
As a bonus, if you have to report on your home education to anyone else, you’ve got a handy summary to look back on.
Photo albums – the highlights reel
You know how everyone says social media is just a highlights reel, and life isn’t always like that? Well, that’s true enough, but there’s a reason for it – focusing on the positives helps you recognise them. And I think pretty much everyone does better when they think of themselves and their family in a positive light. It doesn’t mean ignoring the problems, it means holding on to the image of your family at its best.
So, make your own highlights reel. Pick out the photos and videos of when the children were happy, or proud of the thing they made, or of the essay they worked hard on. Print it out in a photobook for the year if you’re feeling fancy. Keep it as an album on your phone or your Facebook if not. Do a one-second everyday video. Recognise your own highlights.
What do you do to recognise your progress and achievements?