What to Do When You Run Into “The Wall”
- 2008 18 Jun
Taken from the account of Balaam and his donkey:
"But the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side . . . and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left." - Numbers 22:24-26
You are tooling along in school, the children are working hard, you’ve done your research and planning, everything is on schedule when you run smack dab into “The Wall.” You haven’t planned for this, it isn’t on the agenda, you don’t want to panic, but panic sounds like the only feasible option. You can’t get over it, you can’t go around it; your nose is pressed against this immovable blockage, “forward” isn’t there and “reverse” doesn’t work. What’s a mother to do?
We just keep plodding along, hoping this will end. We do the work, correct the papers, put in the hours, and punch the time-clock, as it were. The passion is not there, the actions barely are. We literally put one foot in front of the other and wait it out. We just push through and do. And eventually it does lift. Not instantly, but we find that one day we do bounce out of bed with a spring in our steps. The sun is shining, and those sweet little faces are excited about school, and so are we! Through perseverance, we shall conquer. And we usually do.
Or we try to muster up the emotions; just make it work. Do or die. Force the smile, and teach the lessons while repeating to yourself, “I am enjoying this, I do love teaching my children, I can get through this.” A dispirited way to be, a piteous way to feel. This is different from plodding, because we are trying not only to do, but to feel. To have the action and the attitude. Many times in life we can muster the emotions, we can make ourselves feel “up” about something, and the heart response is synonymous, if not simultaneous. But, it seems to take all our energy. As leaven in the bread, this attitude seems to permeate our whole being, our very existence. It contagiously breathes dismay into the children, meals, housecleaning, our dreams. It makes us question our reasons for homeschooling, whispering, “Why am I doing this anyway? It takes too much out of me. I really can’t keep on like this. If this is what it’s like, if this is all there is, what it’s all about, then I’ll just quit!”
BUT THERE IS HOPE!
In twelve years of homeschooling, I have tried all sorts of solutions. I have plodded along hoping my emotions would follow suit. One year I decided to plan for this wall, and get mildly creative with little effort. Let me share some tips with you, learned from many years of running into that same old wall, and from watching how others successfully handled this in their lives.
Try something new for a week or two, or a month. Remember that change is the spice of life, and sometimes a little change is all we need to bring us back to the land of the living.
Do school in a different room, or weather permitting, outside, even if you have to bundle up in quilts. Just the change in locale can add a spark to a marriage . . . I mean a school. Different scenery, the sun shining from a different angle, a bit of excitement, a newness. If needed, change locations every few days. Finding new places is not that difficult, and it’s worth the time spent thinking. It rejuvenates the soul, and stimulates the dulled senses. It sparks the imagination.
Granted, you might not get as much done as if you were in the schoolroom, or it may take longer. But, if it’s a choice between plodding and this pleasure, I think I’d go for the latter. If it does indeed revitalize, invigorate, put the bounce back, then it is worth every second invested.
Choose a different subject matter. Study something new. It’s like buying a new dress to cheer yourself: it is almost indulgent, but greatly appreciated by all. Just a little time spent on the planning, and you can kiss the doldrums goodbye. Try something you’ve never studied before:
History: ancient architecture, the origination of origami, legends of your area, Robin Hood, study women’s dress during different time periods.
Math: the Japanese abacus, Roman numerals, estimating the number of birds in a flock (count those in a small area – say 10%, then multiply that number by 10, and you should have a rough estimate), count flowers in a field, or trees in the yard, estimate the number of trees in a given lot using the bird-flock method.
Home Economics: cooking and freezing meals, baking pies, perfecting your spaghetti sauce recipe through scientific analysis (batch #1 was made with these spices, and #2 with different ones. Which do you prefer?), finding a new hairstyle for you and your female offspring (what do you think they do in the public school Home Ec classes?).
Literature: read and write poetry, introduce the children to a book by one of your favorite authors, read Shakespeare, find a new (to you) author and read aloud to your children, or enact a play.
Try a different method of study. If you live in textbooks and workbooks, stretch a little and try making something with your hands. Let it include math, if you want, but let it be something that touches the soul. If you’ve always wanted to make a quilt, then this is the chance. Let the children figure the calculations, or get one of those “Quilt in a Day” booklets, and let them cut out and sew the various pieces, but do let it be something that you work on together.
If unit studies are your method of choice, you’re convinced that the children learn best when the majority of their academics are based on one topic, give yourself a rest and try a workbook for a while. Take off the pressure to perform, and trust that you really aren’t harming your offspring. They just might learn something new while you take a rest from the constant planning. Remember this isn’t forever. It is fun for a change and you can use it as a plumb-line to measure their academic levels in certain areas.
Take a field trip Let it relate to your schooling or not. Prepare for it in gentle ways: just talk about it, read what’s on hand, ask others for their experiences and knowledge on the matter. Don’t make it a high-pressure research project; rather let the focus be on the experience. Let it just be FUN!
Ideas could include the following: perhaps a local ski slope or fabric store, chocolate factory or agricultural nursery, orange groves or a local farm. Just having something to look forward to sparks our interest and brings life back to the weariness. It helps the children, too. Be creative, and try to plan something appealing to you, also. Remember, the children might not be in the same slump as you are, but your attitude makes or breaks the school, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” So, benefit the whole family by doing something that elevates mom’s spirits, too.
Co-oping, or teaching with one or more other families, sometimes brings life to the situation. Being held accountable for lesson plans spurs us into action. Working for other children, not just our own, adds a new dimension, zest, vitality. Grab your best friend and tell her it’s a matter of life and death that she give you one or two days a week to teach her children along with your own. Or plan it every morning for a brief time-span. Or take turns with teaching all the children, and give you and your friend alternating days off. Having a short distance to travel helps this arrangement, so pick someone who lives close by. Or choose someone who is new to your support group, and co-op with them. You might find a new friend, and you just might be the answer to their doldrums and prayers. In reaching out, we often find our own spirits revived.
Or begin a physical activity. Plan time to take a walk daily. Build it into the schedule. Make it part of the routine. Take the children along, or if they are old enough to watch themselves, or you have a willing neighbor or husband to watch, go alone. This is therapeutic, and it beats money spent on a therapist. If you do take your youngsters along, remember the goal is the walking, not getting back home. Just enjoy being outside.
Or begin an exercise program with the children. Put on some peppy music and teach the children how to do jumping jacks, leg lifts, sit-ups, pushups, forward rolls. Dig up those long-lost memories of PE in high school, and teach the skills to your children. Ride bikes, play tennis, run in place, or up and down the stairs. Make it a game: time how long it takes to go a certain distance, then beat the clock tomorrow. Make a timeslot to do this daily for three weeks (that’s how long it takes to form a new habit). Or teach the children how to play Tag Football, and use hankies hanging from their waistbands as the tag. During exercise, the body produces endorphins which elevate the mood. Create as much as you can.
As Balaam’s donkey knew not to go past the angel and the wall, we need to take heed of the walls in our lives. We probably won’t be struck dead as the angel threatened Balaam, but sometimes the living seems to lack the life. Take heed to your cycles. Don’t ignore them because they won’t go away. Plan for them. Let them be the catalyst bringing a spark of life to your whole family. Look for small ways to have fun, and budget your time to accommodate them. Ultimately, as Christians, we need to turn to the Lord when we encounter our walls. As Balaam listened, so must we. The answer I most often hear is, “Relax, slow down, spend time enjoying the children.” Change is the spice of life, and when the road gets weary, and the oatmeal old, spicy change can be just what the angel commands and the doctor ordered.
Mark & Kym Wright have homeschooled since the mid-80s. They have 8 children, having graduated 3. Kym pens the “Learn and Do” unit studies. She is also a speaker for homeschool groups and state conventions.
You can visit her websites at: www.KymWright.com and www.Learn-and-Do.com.