You’ve read the title for this blog post. Are you wondering if I’m suggesting that happiness and homeschooling are mutually exclusive? Yep. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I’m thankful my friends Andy and Kendra Fletcher were the first to be honest about it, saying that homeschooling can be a buzz kill. It is possible to have a happy homeschool, but you need a homeschooling psychologist to tell you how.
Before I go any further, I have to address the controversial issue. Which controversial issue you ask? The use of the word happy in my title. In some Christian circles, happiness is treated like the pagan step-sister of the word joy. Don’t believe me? I was once asked by a conference organizer if I would be speaking about happiness rather than joy. Happiness was strictly forbidden. You can imagine how happy I was to have this person listening to my every word and verifying that no happiness talk was included.
It’s okay to be happy. Really.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the theological difference from joy, which is a fruit of the spirit and isn’t subject to circumstances, while happiness is a fleeting human emotion. But I also believe that God created us to seek happiness. Happiness is related to the release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine allows us to learn. Dopamine motivates us. Without happiness, we would all be the Hoho-eating, couch-dwelling bums we are often assumed to be. Seeking happiness isn’t evil, unless you are sinning or you’re a psychopath who enjoys inflicting pain on others. I’m going to leave that determination up to you and I will proceed.
A happy homeschool. How the two fit together.
I’m hoping all the psychopaths stopped reading. I also hope that I’ve established that being happy and seeking after it is a good thing. You can thank me later for absolving you of that guilt. But what I haven’t resolved is happiness and homeschooling. How do they fit together? The problem that most of us have is that we begin homeschooling, believing that it will make us happy. Well, maybe not homeschooling per se. Most of us believed that homeschooling was a path to well-behaved, godly children, who would one day win the national spelling bee.
If we really want to dig deep, and I do, we may admit that we thought homeschooling was a way to make ourselves look good as parents. Maybe we could prove to the naysayers that we actually know what we’re doing. The trouble with this is obvious. We had no idea what we were doing when we began homeschooling.
Homeschooling won’t make us happy.
And choosing to homeschool in order to be happy is an even bigger problem. Homeschooling can make us miserable. I met one of my now good friends when she had just begun homeschooling. She told me, “My son doesn’t want to follow my plan!” I just laughed. Our strong-willed kids never want to follow our plan. And even our submissive kids, if they had any sense, wouldn’t want to follow our plan. Our plan, when we are starting out, is nuts. We try to teach 15 subjects a day using 30 different books. And our schedules would make Navy Seal candidates turn and run. No human being can complete the obstacle course we call a schedule. Between being pregnant, nursing a baby, chasing a toddler, cleaning up after the preschooler, managing the tween’s attitude, and standing our ground with a rebellious teen, we have zero energy left to sew them matching outfits or grind the wheat for homemade bread. If you haven’t yet begun homeschooling, consider this episode your warning. Happiness is not ahead.
“I thought you said this was about how to be happy and homeschool too?” I know that’s what you’re thinking. I’m a psychologist, so I have that gift. I AM going to tell you how to be happy and homeschool too. But I had to make it clear that homeschooling won’t make us happy. I promise you, it won’t. If we want to be happy and homeschool too, we have to be happy first. I know some moms who want to homeschool and are unhappy. Perhaps they long for another child. Maybe their marriage could use a tuneup. Or maybe they aren’t happy working outside of their home. If you add homeschooling to your unhappiness, you’re highly likely to be miserable.
Get happy first.
Before you homeschool, you have to work on your happiness. Yes, happiness is work. It isn’t something that is bestowed on us by the happiness fairy. Happiness doesn’t come from getting married, having a baby, or getting an Instant Pot. (But in case you really want one, I’ll include a link.) Like physical fitness, happiness requires consistent attention. If you’re unhappy right now, keep reading. It gets worse.
Do things that make you happy.
Happiness isn’t a passive activity. Because happiness is a human emotion that is short-lived and tied to our circumstances, we have to pursue it regularly. One of the biggest mistakes we make with respect to happiness in our homeschooling is we stop doing the activities that used to make us happy. When I began staying home with my first child, I lost a considerable amount of income. Without consulting my husband, I decided that I would not spend any money. I didn’t feel I had earned the right to spend. I was not only living very frugally, but I had no social contacts. The relationships I had were all at work. It didn’t take long for me to become very depressed. If that’s you, I encourage you to listen to the episode I did on depression for Homeschooling in Real Life.
Here’s how I got my happy back. I started a Bible study with other stay-at-home moms at my church. We started going out occasionally to eat as a group, away from our husbands and children. Gasp! I spent money. I left my husband and my children at home. I did and I’m proud of it because it saved my sanity. I also started scrapbooking regularly with my friends. I had a hobby that I spent time and money on. It made me happy.
If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you have to do things you used to enjoy. Depressed people do fewer and fewer pleasurable things. The solution can be as simple as pursuing those pleasurable activities once again. I can hear you making excuses right now. That’s another of my psychological skills. “I can’t afford to do the things I used to do.” My response? You can’t afford not to. You could spend a modest amount of money on the hobby or the social activities you used to enjoy or you can spend 5 to 10 times as much on treatment for your depression. You choose.
The fun is just beginning. If you want to be happy and homeschool too, you must do things you enjoy. You also must exercise. If you don’t have time to exercise, you don’t have time to homeschool. My opinion is that exercise is more important than homeschooling. How can I speak this heresy? Because in a homeschool, you are the most valuable player. Without you functioning well, your homeschool will fall apart. Your marriage will fall apart.
I think of a homeschooling mom like a thoroughbred. I don’t know much about horses, but I know that I would never race a horse that had had no workouts. Every day in the life of a homeschooling mom is a race. In order to be at our best, we have to exercise. Exercise is the most powerful drug we have. It can treat depression, anxiety, and it can prevent a host of physical illnesses. Best of all, it’s free and has very few side effects if it’s done correctly. Exercise releases endorphins that make us happy in the moment, but happier all day long. It doesn’t have to take long. A recent study demonstrated that three vigorous ten-minute walks were more effective than a longer walking session at a moderate pace. Take the kids with you. Get them dancing with you to Christian Zumba or on Wii Zance Party. Or get really crazy and go to the gym without them. To quote Nike, just do it.
Get enough sleep. Or even more.
If you are spending time doing things you enjoy, and you’re getting regular exercise , you are ready for step number three to make you happy. After racing my thoroughbred, I would not ask it to teach long division or correct papers late into the night. I’m going to give it adequate rest.
To be happy as homeschooling moms, we have to get enough sleep, even more than enough sleep. If you believe that you’re getting enough sleep, but you’re not that happy, add an extra half hour of sleep to your schedule and see what happens. Sleep deprivation makes us cranky. It’s produces fatigue, which makes running our homeschooling race so much harder. As moms we recognize our kids need for sleep. Let’s recognize our own. As I have gotten older, and more specifically hormonal, I need more sleep. I get it, even if doing so means I can’t keep up with my Navy Seals schedule.
I can hear you again, and you’re saying you don’t have time to sleep. You have a baby, a toddler, or a teen waking you up at night. Then take a nap. A short nap of 20 minutes can do wonders in restoring your energy and your mood. Have a nap while your kids are napping. Ask an older child to supervise a younger while you nap. Put on a video. Allow the kids to play a beloved game. Yes, I mean a video game. Or hire a mother’s helper so you can nap. It’s all worth it to be happy.
It IS possible to have a happy homeschool.
I could give you more ideas (I just did above!), but these three (pleasurable activities, exercise, and sleep) are enough to get you started. When you are working to achieve happiness, you can be happy and homeschool too. In fact, with a happiness foundation in place, you can find yourself being even happier in your homeschooling than you ever dreamed. Homeschooling can be a buzzkill. But it can also be one of the most rewarding careers a mother can have. I have been homeschooling for 19 years. I have enjoyed a closeness in my relationships with my kids that thrills me. I marvel at the closeness my kids enjoy with their father and with one another. And the blessing of learning together is an experience not to be missed. But these blessings come after we are already happy.
Have you thought about teaching sign language in your homeschool? I asked Rochelle Barlow some questions about why and how to get started. You can listen to our conversation on the podcast or read a summary of the interview below. Either way, you’ll be blessed!
Rochelle is an ASL teacher with more than 14 years of experience. She’s been an ASL interpreter for 18 years and runs a popular YouTube channel and website, ASL Rochelle, filled with fun and challenging ASL resources and lessons.
What got you interested in teaching sign language, Rochelle?
Reading the book Koko’s Kitten inspired me as a child. I’ve always loved sign language.
How can sign language help younger kids communicate?
Most people have heard of baby sign language using a smaller vocabulary. I’ve used it with all of my kids, but I signed the most with my oldest ecause of chronic ear infections.
Why should we teach sign language in our homeschools?
It’s a true foreign language with its own community and culture. It’s powerful, beautiful, and visual, using facial expressions. You can tell a story with one sign using your face and intensity. I recommend teaching ASL (American Sign Language).
Sign language can be a secret family language that bonds you. I’ve used it with my kids in church, for example.
Finger spelling words teaching spelling and learning words clarifies vocabulary and concepts.
You can teach sign language with other subjects. Signing is a way of making science processes more tangible, for example.
What’s the easiest way to get started learning sign language?
Use an ASL dictionary. I recommend the Gallaudet children’s dictionary. Dive in and make a list of words you want to learn.
You can also choose a topic and find the signs for that topic.
Next, look for YouTube videos and free classes in sign language.
Once we’ve learned the signs, how can we maintain the learning?
Review signs during morning time. Create your own flash cards as creating them will be review as well. Use a daily activity to cue you to review your signs.
What resources do you make available to help homeschoolers learn sign language?
The Learn ASL in 31 Days course is available on the front page of ASLRochelle.com. I also offer vocabulary videos with categories like ocean, holidays, and grammar. I have other free courses like one on finger spelling.
For students who want to learn more, I offer a fluency and vocabulary course, a practice, retention, and memory course, and a grammar course. My courses can take a student to a level-three college equivalent in sign language.
I offer a four-week summer camp in ASL and Facebook groups, where I give monthly challenges and offer feedback to students.
Thank you, Rochelle!
After I interviewed Rochelle, I was inspired to continue our sign language studies. I know you will be too.
Spring motivates me to get things done. I think it’s the return of the sun. Whatever it is, I’m glad! These are six sources of inspiration for me now. To receive the fabulous, time-sensitive sanity savers that I share with friends, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter.
#1 Spring bucket list
Bucket lists inspire me to do the things that matter most. I love this bucket list that is part of The Organized Homeschool Life Planner, now shipping in print to the US. Grab your copy of the bucket list (no opt-in required) and start adding activities like planting flowers, visiting a botanical garden, a zoo trip, flying a kite, or nature walks.
Most of my readers are homeschooling mothers. Some of them left careers behind to homeschool. But we don’t have to leave our skills and talents behind. This classic book will give you a fresh perspective on your calling at home.
#6 A Million Little Ways
Emily Freeman’s book is a new look on this topic that can make work seem like play. And isn’t that what we all need this spring?
Want more productiviy inspiration? Check out the last list of sanity savers here.
What’s on your spring bucket list? Comment and let me know.
Sometimes it isn’t about a new app to increase your productivity. Sometimes we just need a little shot of inspiration. That’s what this week’s list of sanity savers is all about. To get access to time-limited sanity savers, be sure to subscribe.
#1 Live to your potential
I’m a fan of Jordan Peterson’s and this video about how much time we waste and how we could live instead is worth watching and rewatching.
#2 Making Oprah podcast
Oprah Winfrey is one of the people featured in the above video as living their potential. Whatever you think of her philosophy on life, you have to admit that her accomplishments are amazing. I listened to the short-series Making Oprah podcast about her rise to fame and was particularly moved by episode #3, which discusses the famous car giveaway episode. She insisted that the giveaway have intention. I want to live with intention too.
If you have a blog or business, you’ll love the Brilliant Business Mom podcast. My favorite episodes are interviews with moms who have succeeded as entrepreneurs. The podcast inspires me to persevere as a business woman.
#5 Pre-Game Routine
James Clear describes a pre-game routine as how we can get motivated to do important things: start the homeschool day, write your book, or manage your finances. In reading it I realized that I often change my routine, making it difficult to enjoy the motivational benefits.
In thinking about a pre-game routine, I remembered that exercise used to be mine. I worked out before starting my writing for the day. Now I’m working out in the afternoons with my daughter and my pre-game routine has been willy nilly. I tried ReFit at a women’s retreat recently and enjoyed it. I tried doing these dance exercises to Christian music before I started my writing routine and it worked! I did another song after my writing session to get the blood pumping again. This is something you could do with the kids.
I was given free access to the premium version of a chore management app and was compensated for my time. All opinions are my own.
We all want our kids to be responsible people who can care for themselves as adults. One of the best ways to teach responsibility is to require chores. That’s simple enough. You create a list of chores that must be done around your home to keep it functioning and you assign them to children who are old enough to complete them. Your children now have responsibilities that will not only make your life easier but will make them better people.
The Trouble with Teaching Accountability with Chores
If only it were so simple! Giving children chores or responsibilities is meaningless without accountability. There must be some way of determining that the chores are complete. As the saying goes, “You must inspect what you expect.” If you have one child whose sole chore is to feed the dog, it’s easy to check that it’s been done. But accountability becomes much more complex when a child has multiple chores assigned at various times of day in addition to independent school work. When you have multiple children with these responsibilities, teaching accountability with chores becomes PAINFUL.
As a mother of six (three of whom who are grown men living at home at least part of the time), I can tell you how painful it can be to inspect what I expect. I feel like I’m running another small business with six employees who are slacking. I don’t discover until the next day that the trash wasn’t taken out on time. I realize only after a guest has used our bathroom that the toilet hasn’t been cleaned. The failure to complete chores is invariably blamed on another child, who may or may not be available to defend himself. When my husband discovers an incomplete chore, there is a lot of analog communication (aka yelling) to determine who didn’t do what they were supposed to do.
I have used multiple approaches to assigning chores to my kids. All of them work when it comes to determining who is to do what. None of them has helped me with the accountability piece. I don’t have the time or patience to inspect every person’s chores and neither does my husband.
How the Homey App is Teaching My Kids Accountability with Chores
I jumped at the chance to try the Homey App, a chore and allowance app available for iOS and Android. My kids are older now (12 and up) and all of them have mobile devices they use daily. An app for managing chores makes perfect sense for them.
Homey has you set up a family account. I added my husband to it as well. Everyone can see from their mobile device who is supposed to do what. If the chore hasn’t been completed, instead of shouting for them to please come do it, we use the family chat feature. Everyone in the family sees the message, allowing them to respond to any blame shifting.
Homey allows your child to provide proof of completion. I am so happy about this benefit of using the Homey App, I could cry. In the past, my child would say, “Yes, I cleaned my room.” Later I would see what looked like a Hoarders before episode going on. As soon as your child marks a chore complete (and you’ve set it up to require photo proof), their device’s camera opens. When it comes to the bathrooms, I am going to start asking my kids for a close-up of the toilet. I receive notifications of their completed chores and the photo proof on my phone. I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and run up a flight of steps ten times to make sure the kids are being accountable with their chores.
Homey allows you to connect an allowance to chores and jobs. I have always given my kids an allowance that isn’t connected to their chores. I require them to use that money to purchase things they want. I deduct money for offenses and incomplete chores. It has been an excellent disciplinary strategy. I had an app I used to manage their money that was discontinued. I started using Penney Owl but never liked it as well as the old app. When I realized that I could transfer the kids’ money to Homey, I was ecstatic. Instead of deducting money for individual chores not being done (which I rarely remembered to do), Homey allows me to set a percentage of chore completion required before the allowance is granted. I can still deduct money for other infractions without having to use multiple apps.
Homey allows me to assign jobs as well. These are responsibilities with a salary that may or may not be ongoing. In the spring, my son will start mowing again and he is paid for that. When my husband says it needs to be done, I’ll assign it to him in Homey and he’ll be paid when it’s complete. If your child has a checking account in the U.S., you can connect Homey with it and make an actual transfer of money, rather than a virtual one.
Other Reasons I Love the Homey App and You Will Too
Homey automatically rotates chores. My kids hate to be assigned the same chore all the time. They want the chores to be rotated. Homey is hands down, the easiest way to assign rotating chores. It’s not a college-level logic puzzle!
Homey makes it quick to create chores. Homey has built-in chore packs, so you don’t have to come up with them from scratch. You can even save your own list of chores as a pack. Have a chore that is shared or you want assigned as an individual chore to multiple kids? It’s crazy easy to do.
Homey allows you to add school assignments too. While it wouldn’t make sense to schedule a year’s worth of lessons in the Homey app, you can create an assignment as a job with no pay. Here is how I used it. I read the kids their history lesson and then took a picture of the assignment that went with it. I assigned it as a job to each student. The only adjustment you have to make, depending on the age of your child and your preferences, is giving your child permission to complete a job before chores and permission to complete it after it’s due.
Homey helps me stay accountable too. I have assigned myself the clean room task (with photo proof!) and have the task of prayer and Bible time with the rest of the family. I love getting the reminders. This feature can be used for establishing any habit.
Homey provides you with a weekly chore list you can print for younger children and other family members not hip on using mobile devices. This print-out could be highlighted or marked with a star by the little helpers.
Homey allows you to teach financial responsibility. Your child can set up a savings goal and can add money to a spend, save, or give jar. I was taking out a giving amount for my kids automatically. Homey will allow them to decide how much to give on their own. I love that!
Download the Homey App Today!
The basic Homey app is free for families with up to three accounts. Homey Unlimited allows the addition of unlimited family members, connection of banking accounts in the U.S. and customizing the app for each child. Homey Unlimited is just $4.99 a month or even less if you pay annually ($49.99). Try out Homey Unlimited free for a week! Be sure to enter to win a year’s subscription to Homey Unlimited below.
In the meantime, follow Homey on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to learn more tips for teaching accountability with chores.
No doubt you’ve heard some of the horrifying details about the Turpin family in California. This mother and father of 13 children ranging in age from 29 to 2 are accused of starving, abusing, and holding them captive in deplorable conditions. Honestly, the case has given me nightmares. I want to say in no uncertain terms that I am mortified that their registration as a homeschooling family may have been used to allow them to continue abusing their minor and adult children. I am praying for the children and also praying that we can prevent the abuse of more than 600,000 children in the U.S.
I want to share my background with you before I launch into the topic. I am a clinical psychologist, not currently practicing. As a mandated reporter of abuse, I am familiar with the definition and signs of abuse. What I am also familiar with in this case is how to evaluate research and statistics. I have the added experience of having homeschooled my children for 19 years.
However, I understand their perception that the problem is widespread. The details of these cases are disturbing and heart-rending. It’s their passion to protect these children that fuels their mission. Even one incidence of this type of severe abuse of a homeschooled child feels like too many. That being said, I still object to their use of the phrase “widespread problem.” It implies that it’s commonplace for homeschoolers to torture their children when there’s no evidence of that.
To protect homeschooled children from potential abuse, Coleman and Brightbill argue that states should require academic assessments and medical exams. They insist that lack of contact with mandated reporters is what creates the possibility for families like the Turpins to torture and severely abuse. When considering their recommendation, these are the concerns I have.
First, would this increased supervision of all homeschooling families prevent child abuse?
I recently read a description of one of the Turpins’ daughters attending school in the third grade. The filth of her clothes, the body odor she had, and her use of a candy bar wrapper as a hair band suggest that she was being neglected at the very least while attending school. Details are emerging, but I have read nothing which suggests the Turpins were previously investigated for child abuse while at least one of their children was in school. The LA Times further reports that none of the children had seen a doctor in four years. Were any of the children seen by a physician four years ago and yet not reported as being victims of abuse? My point is that mandated testing and physicals may not have protected the Turpins and may not protect other children. Couldn’t these families also move as the Turpins did and avoid mandatory evaluations?
I don’t think we have an answer to the question of whether increased supervision of all homeschooling families would prevent child abuse.
My second question is whether the potential benefit of required supervision offsets the infringement of all homeschooling families’ rights.
It’s possible that mandated testing and medical exams could create a new category of victims — children inappropriately forced to attend public school or removed from their homes and put into a foster care system that could truly victimize them.
What if a homeschooled child has special needs and is actually doing well in a homeschool setting but doesn’t test at an average or above level on standardized tests? Will these children be required to enroll in public school? If so, will they be released to their homes if their scores decline? I think we know the answer to that. Will the same policy be applied to private school students who aren’t scoring as well as the government deems acceptable? If not, why not? There are many small, private schools where educational neglect could be hidden.
The Atlantic reports: “Since 2008, the number of referrals to child protective service agencies…has increased by 8.3 percent, even as overall rates of actual child victimization declined by 3.3 percent during the same period. There is no system that can totally avoid putting parents who don’t deserve it through investigations, despite the fact that even the best moms and dads would regard the ordeal as nightmarish. Over time, however, the number of undeserving parents so burdened seems to be increasing–and the number is large.”
I’m concerned about legally required oversight of homeschoolers and I don’t think my concerns are unfounded.
The third issue I want to discuss with respect to child abuse and homeschooling is children’s safety at school.
The assumption of Coleman and Brightbill appears to be that homeschooled children have a better chance of avoiding abuse if they can be exposed to mandated reporters of abuse, teachers being one class of them. I understand this view. Parents who torture their children want to isolate them. Teachers could recognize signs of abuse and neglect and could contact Child Protective Services.
How I think we should respond to the Turpin case and child abuse.
I don’t want any child to be abused or bullied. Like Coleman and Brightbill, I want to protect children. I believe they are precious to Jesus. The challenge is how to do that without victimizing even more people.
These are some steps I feel confident in advocating:
If you believe a child is in danger, make a report to Child Protective Services. You will not be held responsible if your report is determined to be unfounded. Professionals like psychologists are mandated reporters, but we should all consider ourselves mandated reporters when a child is at risk of serious harm. Here are signs to look for.
Get to know your neighbors as a homeschooler. In the aftermath of the Turpin case, people who don’t know us well may be suspicious of homeschoolers who are very private. If you are a Christian as I am, you are to be serving your neighbors anyway. People need to see that our kids are healthy and well-adjusted. Talk about what you’re doing in your homeschool. Many still don’t understand that most homeschoolers have a great deal of social contact through various activities and classes. We want to advocate for homeschooling instead of living in fear of being reported for doing so. Joining HSLDA is a good step to protect yourself from unwarranted reports of neglect. You can relax and be open about your family’s educational choice.
Get help. If you are having trouble disciplining your children without being harsh or your mental or physical health is keeping you from educating your children, reach out for help. Yes, you may have to make a different educational choice while you are getting help, but it’s worth the sacrifice for your kids’ sake. There are many options available to you and it doesn’t mean you can’t resume homeschooling in the future.
These abusive parents often are not homeschooling but they claim to be, creating an association with homeschoolers that is a problem for genuine, caring homeschooling parents. While I can see the potential for a teacher making an unfounded report of abuse that then makes homeschooling onerous for a good family, I believe the benefits for children and even the homeschool community may outweigh that risk.
What’s your response to the Turpin case? Let me know in the comments.