Outside of our house the azaleas are in full bloom, the tulips have come up, and the warm weather beckons my children to study and play outside. It’s spring. Yay! And so it’s that time of year when I begin to plan next year’s curriculum. Double Yay! Planning curriculum is one of my favorite things to do. That’s when I dream of all the wonderful things my children will learn and all the delightful books we will read aloud together. Eight years of homeschooling has not dimmed my enthusiasm for planning and curriculum. But they have taught me some hard-learned lessons which keep me grounded in reality even while I dream of all the promise and potential that a new school year holds.
The lesson I want to share with you today is to keep your expectations realistic. We need to understand what each of our children are capable of and start our planning from there. When I push my children to do assignments that they are not yet ready for, they become frustrated and demotivated. Conversely, when the work is too easy, my children become bored. So while I generally follow the grade-level guidelines of curriculum providers, I have learned to trust my intuition. I have also learned that I can not expect my boys to work as quickly or efficiently as Big Sis. I have to expect and plan for a ceratin amount of fidgeting, dawdling, and yes, bickering. Furthermore, if I think it should take All-Star forty minutes to complete his math lesson, I need to add on another twenty minutes for all the disruptions and distractions that are an inevitable part of homeschooling a lively crew of kids. When we have realistic expectations of our children, we minimize the amount of frustration and pressure that can leave us discouraged at the end of each day.
Yes, we need to be realistic about our children’s abilities and where they are developmentally and temperamentally. But we also need to be realistic about ourselves, and this is something we moms tend to overlook. We need to know our own limitations, especially with regards to time, energy, and patience. I bet you try to ensure that the amount of school work you give your children is reasonable. But do you do the same for yourself? Do you look at amount of teaching, grading, child-rearing, cleaning, cooking, driving, and other tasks you set out to do and consider whether or not you can manage it all without depriving yourself of necessary rest? For we need to attend to our own needs, in particular our need for refreshment and recreation, friendship, especially with our spouse, and above all, our need for prayer. I know it’s hard, but we must make time to pray, for this is the source of the grace and strength we need to live out our vocations with joy and love.
Very often, being realistic about ourselves will mean humbly accepting the fact that our curriculum will not be as engaging, thorough, or enriched as we would like it to be. I would love to use a hands-on science program and do neat experiments with my children. But for now my kids do science independently, simply reading the textbook and answering the questions. I would love to do fabulous art projects with my children, but the best I can do for the time being is give my children books that teach them how to draw and tell them to try their best…
Here is Big-Sis’ best. Can you guess who it is?
When we accept our limitations and our less-than-perfect curriculum with trust in God’s providence, we give Our Lord the chance to fill in the gaps. And He does an amazing job. Time and time again, my children have flourished and excelled in ways I never imagined, and I can only point to God’s grace as the cause.
With Pentecost coming up, it’s the perfect time to intercede to the Holy Spirit for His guidance in planning our curriculum. Praying for His wisdom will give us the confidence of knowing that those gaps are actually a part of God’s plan, and not just the gaps but the entire curriculum. What seems imperfect to us may be just what Our Lord desires for our children. St. Joseph must have felt that the stable in Bethlehem was a very poor place for Christ to be born. How humbling it must have been to know that this shabby and destitute place was the best he could find for his family. And yet this was God’s will. Our Lord loves to dwell in imperfect places and perfect them with His grace.
So as you plan your curriculum, keep your expectations realistic for your children and for yourself. You do not need to burn yourself out trying to give your children a top-notch education. Simply do your best within your limitations and make room for daily prayer. Let Our Lord guide and inspire your homeschool. Let Him be the center and focus of your day. And then all your limitations and your imperfect curriculum will be blessed because He is there dwelling in your home and your heart.
On a practical note, have you seen this Homeschool Shopping List? It’s a great way to organize your purchases for the upcoming school year.