It’s about that time of year again- the February and March lull- when you might be tempted to fantasize about the big yellow school bus chugging down the road to whisk the insanity out of your home. You love that you get to have your children home and you also love that you get to send them to school part of the week. But what do you do when you hit the mid-second semester blues and it feels like your home days have gone completely awry and everyone is frazzled? 

First, know that this is normal and it actually has nothing to do with the school model you chose for your family. Everyone everywhere hits this part of the year and gets tired and worn out. It’s also the time of the year where the weather starts to tease us, which almost makes it worse! There is a warmer, sunnier, beautiful day where your kids are outside, you are back to evening walks, and everyone is just happier. Then the next day, it’s snowing again. This would mentally throw off anyone! 

Second, we are at the part of the school year where we have potentially gotten into some home day habits as co-teachers that are starting to disturb the peace and stability of schoolwork time. The biggest culprit? Multi-tasking. Multi-tasking may be killing your home day. 

Moms are usually the primary co-teachers at our school, and as moms, we tend to think we have mastered multi-tasking and therefore can put our minds to multiple things at once. But what are we really doing? A homeschool mentor once told me something early on that I love and even wrote down, but often forget. “Multi-tasking is not actually something humans do. Instead, what we call multi-tasking is actually just switching back and forth between a bunch of tasks without really focusing on any of them.” The reality is that we are not multi-tasking at all. We are “task switching” and it’s proven that tasks take more time when we do them this way.

Stop and take an honest look at your home day. Task switching may be things like, running really quickly to switch the laundry, or cleaning the kitchen while the kids are doing school at the table, or answering emails while trying to listen to your second grader read. If you stop and pay attention to the amount of task switching you do, you will quickly find that the moments where you task switch is where your kids get grumpy, they lose motivation, you get impatient, you feel interrupted, and schoolwork begins to take longer than it should. 

While there is value in learning to work and learn as you go through normal rhythms of family life, more often than not, our constant task switching is not accomplishing this. The normal rhythms of family life mean that you set a time and place for things you have chosen to value as a family. In our home, we value being involved in our kids’ education, reading aloud to all of our kids, family time in the form of board games and family walks, and work. This means we carve out intentional time for those things, with no other simultaneous activities. This means time for school, and time for the kids to entertain themselves while their parents work their jobs, and time to sit and play a game. When we allow our minds to be consumed by everything at the same time, we are truly paying attention to nothing. 

I can almost guarantee that if you put away everything but the school task before you with your kids, you will begin to experience smoother and more productive days. Personally, I have found that the time it takes for my younger students to finish schoolwork is significantly diminished when I am fully focused on the task of their schoolwork. My mind may be screaming at me that I’m never going to be able to finish the things I need to do if I don’t “multi-task,” but I remind myself that focused attention here will actually give me more time later to focus solely on the other things I need to accomplish. 

When I task switch, I find myself snapping orders at my kids, or catching myself sighing when they aren’t understanding something as quickly as I wish they would. When I put everything else away, sit next to them and engage in school, I am much more patient, I smile more, often, our schoolwork is done for the day much quicker than it otherwise would have been. When I choose to fully turn my focus to my kids’ schoolwork, I find that building my own habit of attention to schoolwork starts to rub off on my child’s building of their habit of attention to their schoolwork. 

Our culture is full of constant input. We have so much coming at us everyday that it is hard to do anything without background noise in our minds and in front of our eyes. As much as we are working to train our own children in the habit of attention and giving their best to the task at hand, we too, need to retrain ourselves. This might mean we have to become disciplined about meal planning. It also might mean we spend significant time training our younger children to play independently without screens in order to allow everyone the capacity to focus solely on school. This might mean we silence our phones and wake up earlier than our kids to throw the laundry in and be done with our morning items before our kids sit down to school. It means saying no more often, usually to seemingly good things. 

We are not after perfect homeschool days because they do not exist. We live in a world that will constantly be frustrated by the effects of fallen humanity. But we are after being present where the Lord has placed us, and we are after joy in the process.