When people imagine a homeschooling mom, the image is very rarely a black woman. Certainly not a single black woman. Yet we exist and as usual there is freedom in the margins. I recognize that I am fortunate enough to work from home; otherwise homeschooling would not be possible for us.
One year in the game and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to balance work, education and family time. Self-care is certainly more of a work in progress. I certainly have not learned all there is to learn but I have come a long way. My three main takeaways have been:
- Teaching time is not always quality time. I started my journey thinking the time I spent teaching him would be the vast majority of the quality time that we needed. Two birds with one stone. WRONG. Sure some activities can pass as quality time. Art and nature exploration mostly. Then there are the games that go along with learning. Fraction Bingo and Story Cubes were a tremendous success. But my personal philosophy about education means that I am intentional about not making every unit a game. I do a lot of instructing, this is the Distributive Property of Multiplication and this is how it works. This type of learning NEVER gets confused for quality time.
- Work hours are for practice. I decided to fight the battle against electronics during work hours. Eight hours is just to long to sit in front of a screen. Two hours makes me feel nervous because my son defaults to watching shows on Youtube. I encourage him to find how-to videos for simple machines and experiments but he rarely listens. I have to work, which means I need to focus. Getting my son to understand that has been an uphill battle. We have instituted a system that works well for us. Work hours are for practicing/reviewing past lessons, reading and creation. I have seen tremendous improvements in his reading and math because that is what he spends most of his day doing on most school days. He is also much more engaged with his inventions and LEGO builds when there is a prompt/challenge. This inverted method makes our days more productive and our nights more focused.
- A system for attention. There is no way a child is going to work independently for eight hours. I needed to create a system for giving him attention so he does not make up ways/reasons to get it or feel isolated when I am busy with a deadline. Here is what we have so far:
- Unlimited hugs: at some point I realized that for my son this was VERY important. It seems like this is a check in for him. I can't say I fully understand why this works so well but it does. It's just what he needs.
- A thumbs up or funny face: same explanation as above.
- Timers: When I need undivided attention I put on a timer. This lets him know how long he has to wait to tell me whatever interesting fact he just learned or picture he drew. We are still getting used to this system but I like it.
- Set times for meals: He eats a lot and I get wrapped up in my tasks so this is big. I few prepping food a break not a chore intentionally so I don't get annoyed when I have to stop what I am doing and cook. It is a time for us to reconnect and relax. He often helps me make food or reads to me while I prepare the food. Honestly this is the time that means the most to me, no matter what we are doing.
The only way I can manage to be centered enough is to make time to clean daily. That is certainly not always the case, which is the difficulty of being the only adult in a home. If you don't do it it's probably not going to get done. When I feel overwhelmed I rely on mindful meditation and gratitude to realign me.
Ever once in a while someone will suggest that it would be easier for me if my son just went to a traditional school. Why take all that on when you are already a singe parent? First, I don't view single parenting as the great tragedy of my life and traditional school is a whole different type of stress that in Chicago I found unproductive and detrimental for both of us. I know some homeschoolers go into all this research to support their decision; I have decided to stop doing that for the most part because the bottom line is my decision is what works best for us at this time. Some days it's stressful and I am a mess but I never have to feel weird about it at pick-up.