Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Busy-ness and balance

I find that one of the biggest challenges in homeschooling is learning to how to say "no" to many of the wonderful opportunities that come our way. The sheer number of things available for homeschoolers to do, frequently for prices that are a fraction of the cost that the rest of the world pays, is almost uncountable. (I know this, because I tried to count them. A while ago, thinking it would be a handy thing if our area had a website that kept track of everything that's going on in the local homeschool world, I tried to make a listing of all the institutions, museums and people that offer homeschool classes. I had well over 300 organizations on the list, and was nowhere near finished, when I realized that I was never going to get the site up and running before the arrival of Baby Number Three!)

I had always consciously tried to make sure we had plenty of free time in our schedule. Or at least, that's what I thought I was doing. After all, look how many amazing activities I had decided against doing! Just look at how empty our schedule seemed, compared to the calendars of kids who are in school all day, and then have afterschool and weekend activities!

And yet, somehow, our schedule didn't feel very open. It always seemed that adding just one or two extra playdates would make us too busy, so that we kept finding ourselves in rushing-out-the-door mode. ("Where are your shoes? Quick, could you run and grab some more socks for the baby? You go fill the water bottles while I brush your sister's hair. You're not finished eating yet?!?" Whew! I don't know how school families manage it!)

But it wasn't until a few months ago that I really found the balance that works for us. Until then, we had been spending most of two days at a nearby indoor playspace. (Well, we were there from 10am-2:30pm, which counts as "most of the day" in my world!) Our co-op met there one day a week, and I had organized a homeschool meet-up there on a second day, with sports classes, free play, board games, etc. My kids loved that place, and I could check off all kinds of mental check-boxes by spending time there. Lots of physical activity? Check. Opportunities to practice being brave and daring? Check. Plenty of unstructured social time with good friends? Check. Classes that they enjoyed and that I could afford? Check. A chance for me to spend time with other homeschool moms? Check! What's not to like? And we are (mostly) unschoolers, after all. It's not as if we had stacks of curriculum to wade through, demanding hours of time at home.

But then suddenly - poof! - the space went out of business. Just like that, we had blank days all over our schedule. And it was wonderful!

The rushing stopped. Stressful mornings no longer set the tone for the day. Even more importantly, I found that my kids were doing all kinds of interesting things with their new free time at home. When they could work at something for several hours at a stretch, and pick it up again the following day to keep doing more, they started undertaking more complicated projects, and seeking new kinds of challenges. My five-year-old, for example, spent many hours over several days designing, cutting out, and sewing a tiny and fiddly party dress for her doll. At the same time, her writing suddenly took off, as she started writing all kinds of signs, lists, labels and emails. My seven-year-old started writing two long stories, and picked up an old interest in rainbow-loom crafting. Suddenly, she was not just following tutorials, but creating her own designs, and making video tutorials of her own.

I enjoyed our new freedom so much that I've actually managed to stick to it, planning no more than two busy, out-of-the-house days in the week. On Monday mornings, we still have co-op, and I try to schedule any extra playdates on Monday afternoons. On Fridays, we spend the morning rock-climbing and swimming, and then head to a board-games meet-up at a nearby library. But on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I try not to schedule anything before 2pm. We have a leisurely breakfast, followed by plenty of time for the girls to work in the project room, a snack, and then a few minutes of Arabic and math while the baby naps. Then lunch. Only after all of that do we head out into the world, for a late-afternoon playdate, a trip to the playground or the library, or activities like Kunafa's daisy scouts or Basbusa's dance lesson.

As I keep reminding myself, this change has made a huge difference to the pace of our lives and to the quality of the girls' learning. I keep reminding myself, as I pry my fingers away from the "send" button, which would have registered my kids for a fantastic outdoor survival and exploration class in our local arboretum. I keep reminding myself, as I listen to enthusiastic recommendations for a free theater class being held at a library only ten minutes away. I still can't quite repress a wistful sigh... until Basbusa runs to the kitchen, showing me the miniature, pose-able princess-doll (complete with several outfits, and comb-able hair) which she has just made for her doll. And which she has tucked up beside her doll, in the bed she built for them both out of wood, under the blanket she knitted for them, on the mattress and pillow she sewed and stuffed for them.

It's good to be home.

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