A few things I need to remember this school year

August 7, 2013 | 49 comments

Fall is just around the corner! I’m starting to think about the upcoming school year, and I’m actually feeling pretty good about it. Compared to the epic saga that was our Spring semester, this should be no sweat.

I realize, though, that I need to make the most of these moments when I’m feeling positive and clear-headed. Right now we’re still having lazy summer days where there are few opportunities for me to fail since the bar is so unbelievably low, and I’m not overwhelmed by the crushing weight of parent meetings and mandatory bake sales and long afternoon sports practice sessions. I’ve been trying to have Peppy August Jen do some motivating self-talk to Exhausted Mid-School-Year Jen, and thought I’d write it all down so that Joe can just send it to me when he gets the bi-annual “I can’t do this anymore!!!” call in a few months.

So, Future Jen, here are a few things that I, August Jen, would like for you to keep in mind as the 2013-14 school year lurches forward:

1. You’re starting to feel guilty about your schooling choices for the kids? Welcome to your life. You were all worried about their education when they went to public school, and you’re still all worried about their education now that you homeschool. If you’re looking for the perfect system of schooling that has no downside and guarantees that all of your kids will grow up to be Thomas Aquinas, let me save you some time: it doesn’t exist. You’ve chosen a good path for your family, you can re-evaluate it at the end of the year, and in the meantime, stop feeling guilty.

2. The parent volunteer requests have undoubtedly begun to flood in, so start rehearsing this word with lots of conviction: “No.” When you’re ready to take it to the next level, try saying “I’m sorry, I simply don’t have room in my schedule to commit to that right now” — without adding “…unless you really need me to!”


3. Okay, since your family is not currently undergoing a major crisis, you might legitimately feel an obligation to step up when activity leaders say they need volunteers. Good for you. But before you raise your hand at any meetings, remember the magic life-saving formula: estimate the number of hours per month that you think this commitment will require, multiply it by 100, and plan your schedule accordingly.

4. Don’t feel like you have to pretend that homeschooling is perfect just because a lot of people think it’s crazy. Honestly acknowledging the challenges that come with this system of education is key to addressing them.

5. Every education has its gaps. Remember how you never had a grammar class because you moved in the 7th grade, and how you managed to get through high school without ever taking biology? (Awesome move, by the way.) That’s why God gave us Amazon.com. You can go get a book about that stuff if you feel like you need to know it. The same goes for your kids. Stop freaking out because your friend devoted an entire third-grade semester to 17th-century French poetry and your kids just asked you if France is in Texas. They’ll figure it out.

6. Prepare yourself for the November Nervous Breakdown, the February Funk, and Maybe-It’s-Time-to-Give-Up-on-Life May. It happens every year, and it’s just a sign that you need a break.

7. Taking a break is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign that you’re smart enough to know when you need to recharge your batteries.

Repeat after me: "Failing miserably at craft time is not a reflection of my worth as a human being."

Repeat after me: “Failing miserably at craft time is not a reflection of my worth as a human being.”

8. Oddly, when you’re in need of a break, you tend to get stuck in this downward spiral where you throw your hands up in disgust and let the kids watch TV all day while you send Hallieย a bunch of texts about how you’re failing at life. Unless there’s a good reason to be in survival mode, I’ll allow you one day of this. After that, it’s time to be more strategic about your breaks. Re-read that post Rebecca wrote. If nothing else, make it an opportunity to foster the kids’ love of reading. Set out the most boring math lesson that you can find, then “spontaneously” announce, “Hey, who wants to do reading time instead of long division?” You’ll get the rest you need, and you’ll have children who think reading is the best thing ever.

9. Don’t get all frustrated because your big plans for the life science unit that involved weekly trips to the pond fell apart. I see that draft email to Joe ranting about how your children’s educations are now doomed. Delete it. This isn’t that big of a deal. Congratulate yourself for trying something new, take a look at why it didn’t work out so that you can learn something from it, and move on to the next idea.

10. Yes, it would be a terrible idea to try to make the kids’ Halloween costumes. Step away from Pinterest and stop thinking about it.

During Advent we learn that the melted candles are a reminder of our fallen world and why we yearn for heaven

During Advent, we learn that the melted candles are a symbol that we live in a fallen world.

11. DO NOT GET YOURSELF OVERBOOKED FOR DECEMBER. You do this every year. The kids are starting to think that the Christmas holiday is primarily a darwinian contest of endurance in which only the fittest mommies survive. Try to do most of your shopping in November, protect your December calendar ruthlessly, and let your kids have a few memories of sitting in front of the fireplace with nothing to do but clean up the hot cocoa that was just spilled all over the floor.

12. Read those inspirational mom blogs if you’re in a good place and could use a boost.

13. …But don’t read them on “angry low self-esteem homeschooler” days. First you’ll feel like a failure, then you’ll grumble that it’s the fault of those blogs that you feel like a failure. The women who write those blogs are gifted in certain areas and are generous enough to share their insights with the rest of us — if you can’t appreciate that, it’s time to step away from the internet.

14. Keep doing that “traditional schooling for the core subjects, unschooling for the rest of it” thing you’ve been doing. Maybe we’ll move to all traditional schooling when the oldest hits junior high, but right now it’s pretty sweet to have the kids poring over the encyclopedia while you surf Pinterest.

15. I hereby ban you from thinking “WHY AREN’T WE DOING THAT?!?!” every time you hear of some neat activity or lesson that another family is doing. You’ve made your plan for the year. It’s good. It’s right for you. You need to put your energy into executing it, not second-guessing it.

16. Keep a sheet of paper titled Things to Consider for Next Semester. This is where you will dump all your angst when you hear of other families doing enrichment activities that you’re not. Having this list will allow you to review the possibilities calmly, once you’ve had some time to think about them (i.e. it will prevent you from racing down to the craft store to BUY ALL THE THINGS because that lady on the homeschool list made a scale replica of the Hagia Sophia with her kids).

Entomology is a breeze at the Fulwiler house.

Entomology is a breeze at the Fulwiler house.

17. Get up early. No. Seriously. Do not say you’ll do your best. You really need to get up at least a half hour before the big kids so that you can stay ahead of the curve.

18. Meal times get stressful once the school year is in full swing. There are all these noisy people in your house and they all have places to go and you’re running late and suddenly it occurs to you that they might need food. Nightmare. Make a list of easy meals that don’t involve potato chips as a main course.

19. Take a couple of hours each weekend to review your calendar, plan meals, and think through the coming week. Remember, you’re like the wreck diversย — there is no flying by the seat of your pants in this phase of life. If you don’t head into the week with a clear plan, you’ll die.

20. If things get overwhelming, scale back, focus on math and reading, and plan to regroup at winter or spring break. Don’t let your entire semester get thrown off track because you’re trying to keep up with an ancient history curriculum that’s ruining your life.

21. Look, all this school stuff is really not that complicated. If you do your best to raise the kids to be truth-seeking people who love God and love learning and know the joy of losing themselves in a great book, you will have succeeded with flying colors.

22. One day you will look back on these years as some of the best days of your life. Now, stop agonizing about the little things, and go have some fun.


  1. Kris Chatfield

    This is EXACTLY what I needed, as we’re starting back on Monday. Yeek! I’m down to two, as my next one went off to high school this morning (we opt for our PHENOMENAL Catholic high school starting in 9th grade). And I’m SO with you on the art-fail! All my friends invite my poor, poor art deprived children to their houses for craft time, because I can’t even tell you how lame I am in that department. And I HATE Halloween. And the All Saints Party. Because I am also a costume-fail (see “art-fail” mentioned above)! And having gotten two into high school, you are so, so right on the things you mentioned involving focusing on the core subjects and letting the rest go, or do through reading, or unschooling. They get all the history and science they need in high school – any younger, and it’s just about exposing them to the concepts.

  2. suburbancorrespondent

    I’d like to be the lone voice crying in the wilderness that advocates against Christmas shopping in November. I used to do that, and by the time Christmas rolled around, I was heartily sick of the whole thing (because, believe me, there is always some shopping/prep that drags on into December). I HAVE LIVED THIS NIGHTMARE.

    Instead, and I know you will shake your head at this, make a resolution to prepare for Christmas the way you used to when you were young and it was fun. Start around December 20. You know, the date after finals were over and you and your college friends could relax and enjoy the season? Go to the mall and pick up silly gifts, whatever was left? Head to the grocery store and grab a turkey? And it was fun, because you hadn’t been thinking/planning/preparing for it for over a month?

    Seriously, I have done this for 4 years straight now (and yes, I do have children – 6 of them). Here’s what happens – when you plan to do all your gift shopping in November, you still feel as though you have to get the right gift. The perfect gift. The gift with the personal touch. When you start on December 20, that bar has been lowered. The pressure and stress are actually less, because you aren’t subject to the plague of holiday perfectionism (or, as I call it, Martha Stewart syndrome) at that point. And think – Amazon runs a one-month free promotion for Amazon Prime with (and this is key) 2-DAY SHIPPING. It really only takes 2 days, people. I know this, because one year we had a blizzard on the 19th and the local stores closed down that weekend. Christmas still happened.

    So sign up, sit at the computer with that cup of cocoa, and shop away. Make a visit to Target for little things, stocking stuffers and such. Plan an easy Christmas dinner (we just repeat Thanksgiving, we like it so much). Try it. I dare you.

    • sheorobin

      I agree! I have eight kids, and this is increasingly the way I approach things. Less stress, more excitement and fun. Great advice – not just for Christmas.

    • Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

      How many times have I purchased the “perfect” Christmas present in Nov. for one of my kids (you know, the one they have been asking for the whole year), only to have them see a commercial 2 weeks before Christmas and fall in love with a different one. Shopping later would solve that issue. I suppose teaching my children to not focus so much on what toys they receive would work too…but shopping later is definitely easier (especially while doing it all from home)!

    • Patty

      That will work, except if you wait until December 20th to do all your preparations and then you get sick. Maybe your whole family comes down with a horrible flu. That has happened to me, not specifically at Christmas, but leaving something else important to the last possible day and then getting sick.

      I think it’s much better to have things bought, wrapped, and hidden away for at least a few weeks, for me anyway. It saves me a lot of stress. Just because I shop early doesn’t mean I agonize over finding the “perfect” gift. I don’t. But I do prepare ahead of time, thus lessening my stress level. I agree that shopping online is a fantastic idea. I just don’t wait till December 20th.

    • priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

      we are pretty low-key with Christmas gifts (cousins get one cousin to gift, etc)…I keep a large bin where I collect gifts or our finished crafts throughout the year (my kids don’t snoop)- and I strive to have all done before Advent (for Byzantine Catholics, that is always November 15th with ‘Philip’s Fast)…if I don’t do this, we don’t even make Christmas cookies!

  3. Loretta S.


    A comment about the meal thing…I have four kids 6, 4, 2, and a newborn and we are in crisis management mode here. And we will be until the youngest is about 15 months old or so (so experience tells me.) I just came across this http://www.modernparentsmessykids.com/freezy-peasy-freezer-cooking-made-easy. I bought the book and intend to start using it next week and I have a feeling that it is about to make meal planning/cooking a whole lot easier for me. Thought you may want to take a look at it…

  4. Kather

    ๐Ÿ˜€ I love all of this, and I don’t even have school-aged kids yet. It puts life into perspective even now. Thanks!

  5. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    When I read stuff like this, it pushes my on to the “I can do that!” side of the fence I am constantly balancing on.

    And, just so you have a good visual, I am reading this post with one child staring at my chest with hungry eyes, one child who is meowing in her crib while she is supposed to be napping, and me gnawing on a cold, leftover steak without a knife because that is too much work and I just want to get it in my belly!

  6. Claire

    I love this so much. The first one hits home – we all feel guilty or anxious or worried about our kids’ education (about our kids’ everything, if we’re honest). I was worried about it when my oldest was in public school. I worry about it now that we homeschool. Sure, knowing the buck not only stops here, but starts here too, can add to my stress level. But you’re right, there is no perfect system that will ensure a perfect education. We’re doing what’s best for our family right now, and that’s the best we can do.

  7. Jennifer

    Thank you so much for this! I am going away ALONE this weekend and leaving the 4 kiddos (9, 7,5 and 4) with my hubby, so that I can plan our homeschooling year and buy books and such (as well as try to recharge and get motivated again). I always feel so much pressure at this time of year. I tell myself that THIS year I will get it right, we will do everything I plan for us to do, I won’t fall apart mid-year, etc. That usually lasts for about one month – maybe till mid-October if I’m lucky. I really needed this reminder that it won’t ever be perfect, and that’s ok, and that I need to stop second guessing my every decision while still being wiling to let things go if they just don’t work. The world will not end if my children’s education/nutrition/activities schedule is not perfect! Amen!

  8. Katherine

    We began our school year this week and it is the first time I’m teaching two more serious grades. with an addtional pre-schooler. And a very challenging toddler. And a 7 month old breastfeeding infant. Yeah, so, we’re still adjusting and finding our groove. But I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this post. Well, I haven’t actually finished reading the whole thing (no caffeine all morning = head hurts) but I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reminder that mothers of kids in public or private school are just as much responsible for their kids’ education as homeschooling mothers and I would worry just as much if not more if my kids were in “school”. And the fact that every education is going to have gaps is another reason to calm down, stop crying in panicked horror and try to enjoy myself.

  9. elizabethe

    Thank you. I have another one for your list.

    23: Do the lessons/subjects that energize YOU — even if they aren’t the most important things in the grand scheme of themes. I happen to be super excited about teaching my kids history and keeping up with the history lessons and showing them maps is something I enjoy. Even when they are not the most excited about it, even when I know that everyone says they SHOULD be focusing on math or reading as the building blocks, if I can only do one thing in a day, I do the history.

    I am also a craft fail mom, which annoys me because I love art and I have an artistic bent. I sew and I have dabbled in drawing and painting and my son loves to draw. I have a theory I’m testing out this year. My theory is that I fail at the typical craft because they are, to my bizarre mind, pointless. What is the end result? I mean really, what in the world do you do with a sloppily glued together catipiller (Oh, wow, I can’t spell catepillar) made out of cut up egg cartons and pipe cleaners? Or a cotton ball snowman? Throw it away? I’m not going to DISPLAY it, I already have enough visual clutter in my house that is making it hard for me to cope with life. I mean, if you are good at this sort of activity then great. I mean really GREAT!

    Even crafts that are tied into the history stuff that I love are an epic fail for me. Don’t even ask me about the time we tried to make a replica of the Great Lighthouse with a Pringles can, cardstock and crayon.

    So this year I’m going to try to do art that teaches art principles instead of art that is focused on making some random cute thing/drawing. I’m starting out with the color wheel and color mixing for primary and secondary colors. And even if they just blend all the colors together, at least the lesson will have served some kind of a purpose. After that, I’ll tackle the concepts of value and tone. And after that maybe watercolor techniques. I’m excited about this assignment because I actually want to do it, too. And I hope the kids will like this excitement.

    If anyone knows and art books that systematically go through ways to teach art and painting principles to young children, please share. Most art books I’ve found just have a list of random projects that seem to be geared more towards making something cool than explaining techniques.

    • Kristen Nelson

      Hi Elizabethe,

      Take a look at this site:


      It features art history lessons for kids (with easy talking points) and related art projects. Art is so important and I know it’s often difficult to talk to kids about it and facilitate projects. The talking points and steps make it easy for you. Let me know what you think.

      Art History Mom

    • Patty

      Take a look at Artistic Pursuits. Basic art techniques, composition, color, etc., are taught along with art history. I first learned about it from an artist friend of mine who homeschooled her own children. You can find it at christianbook.com. Here are some reviews:


      You can Google Artistic Pursuits reviews for more, even one on youtube. Their own website is artisticpursuits.com.

      Hope that helps.

  10. Katharine

    Thank you for the reminders of why I do not homeschool anymore. I nearly had a panic attack reading this! Honestly, being very open to life and having the pressure to homeschool to raise ” a holy family” is just too much for the average mom. Having continual melt downs is no way to live.

    • Kendra Tierney

      For me this was a reminder of why I DO homeschool, I love the flexibility of it. If things aren’t working out at a traditional school, you’re just stuck with it. But at MY school, I can make the necessary adjustments. It works for our family, but I know it’s not for everyone (and it’s certainly NOT required, good Catholic kids come from all types of families).

      Thanks for this Jen. I especially like number 16. That’s an excellent idea.

  11. Amy @ Consecrated Housewife

    Loving this post, and the pic of the failed advent candles, priceless (and also why I don’t do candles in my house). I needed to hear the advice (again) about deciding on the homeschooling curriculum and just sticking with it, there is no “perfect” way of educating your kids, whether at home or not. Also, about not overbooking our family on all the great choices there are out there (and volunteering for way too much and then crashing and burning). A burnt out homeschooling mom is not a fun person to live with!

  12. Amelia Bentrup (@OneCatholicMama)

    I love number 15 and number 16…they are so true. I would add a number 23
    (learned from experience.)
    23. Don’t try to save money at the expense of your sanity…if it saves times and hassle by buying the lesson plans or ready-made notebooks, or books off amazon instead of getting them from the library, than do it. Your time and sanity is worht something.

    This is very timely for me, because I’ve been thinking about homeschooling and just posted about how my philosopy has changed over time.

    • Amelia Bentrup (@OneCatholicMama)

      Also, I really love number 5. That is very reassuring to me. Whenever I second guess myself, I remember that in 12 years of public school (and I went through the same system..so no gaps due to moving around), I never took a single class in geography…and can’t label a map to save my life. I also never learned the states/capitols (my kids know them better than me) and the names of all the Presidents and a whole bunch of other things, yet I still got a master’s degree and if I really need to know geography stuff, I know how to look it up, so it’s all good.

  13. Valerie

    Thank you so much for compiling this list for me! I will favorite it and look back to it so often this school year, I am sure! I will be homeschooling a 3rd grader, 1st grader, and kindergartner, while trying to keep a three year old and (newly crawling) 9 month old out of trouble. I loved them all, but #21 and #22 really were my favorites! If I can just try to achieve those two, I would feel successful! God bless you and your family!

  14. Amy

    Oh, I just love this. So far I only homeschool preschoolers, but I just started to get all stressed out about trying to figure out how to add in religion to their “curriculum,” (I use that term loosely) since I’m so new to it. Then I found Catholic Icing and now I’m set. She gives full scripts and crafts and everything for the religious piece of it. Except I still need to learn how to talk about things like what the Bible is and why we learn about saints and well, everything else. This post is a good reminder of perspective! And I love that I never feel guilty when reading your blog ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Laura

    I would like to say a big AMEN to all 22 of these points!!! I’ve graduated three from homeschool so far and have four more to go and each and every one of these is so true! Each time I read one I’d think, “Yes, this one is the most important.” and then I would read the next and think the same thing! Great list ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. melody

    Yes. Thank you.

  17. Vicki

    Oh dear, was that a scorpion on the microscope slide?

  18. Carrie

    THANK YOU I laughed and related to most of these points. I’m feeling pretty exited And confident right now and I keep thinking it will last all year. Not!

  19. Christina

    Thomas was locked in a tower for two years. You know, if it worked for him…

    (technically a castle and he was 19 at the time – but might still be good practice for teens right?)

  20. Danielle

    While I’m not exactly homeschooling as I only have one, and he’s not quite 4 months, I loved this post!! It makes me want to write a list of my own, a reminder of how good life is with a little one when the going gets rough ( and when I have another little on my hands!) Maybe it’s a good idea for another link-up ๐Ÿ˜‰ We all know you’re a sucker for a good link-up (I know I sure am!!)

  21. Cynthia

    I love these ! As a teacher, I actually write notes to my future self… in my plan book. Its very helpful to find a post it that reads “Don’t panic if…” or “Remember that you wanted to…”
    You should write some of these in the planner or calendar you use ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Kristen/Art History Mom

    I really enjoyed reading this blog and the comments.

    I hope you art-challenged homeschool moms will consider incorporating Art History Mom into your curriculum. There are fun (yes, fun!) art history lessons and related art projects. I feel very passionate about exposing kids to beautiful images that uplift their hearts and minds.

    May God bless your homeschooling efforts!

    • Gretchen


      I’m so glad you commented here because I’d seen your awesome Art History site weeks ago and LOVED it, but I wasn’t in school planning mode right then and it dropped off my radar.

      I just checked it out again and activated my email subscription. Yay! As a former art history fanatic and currently maxed-out-planning-everything-else homeschool mom I’m thrilled to find a beautiful site that has done the planning for me.

      Thanks! I can’t wait!

  23. Smoochagator

    I’m bookmarking this so I can read it when I’m ready to homeschool ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Karen C

    Love this! Will love it even more when I really need a boost – like 2 weeks after school starts ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Momma Ley

    I should send myself a copy of this list when it comes times to have a meltdown. Thanks for this.

  26. NancyPants

    You should look into reginacaeli.org! It is a catholic hybrid (homeschool 3 days, trad school 2 days) model and one just opened in Austin. Our family is part of the one in CT. An answer to our prayers, here! Good luck and God bless!

  27. Heather@Mama Knows, Honeychild

    “Stop freaking out because your friend devoted an entire third-grade semester to 17th-century French poetry and your kids just asked you if France is in Texas.”
    I laughed so so hard at this!!! It’s so dang true! I mean, God bless the ladies who do this stuff – they are amazing!- but we’s just tryina memrize our street name ovah here, nah mean?!?!?! LOL
    Oh GLORY.
    Awesome list, Jen. I am totally printing this out to read on the regular!
    PS I have tried to post this comment THREE seperate times and now I’m raging a little bit.

  28. Dorian Speed

    Stapling this to my face so I won’t forget.

  29. Theresa@OrdinaryLovely

    Amen to No.’s 15 and 22. Probably going to print them out and stick them to my forehead so I’m guaranteed to see them at least once a day when I glance in the mirror!

  30. Theresa

    I was thinking, scorpions are arachnids, not insects! Does entomology include arachnids too? Jen with all her studying of scorpions should know this.

    Ends up according to wikipedia, historically, the study of entomology did include the study of arachnids. Which makes sense so it might be quasi-correct to include their study in your entomology lessons as long as you make the distinction clear however it still makes me as a scientist cringe a little.

    I like how you have a link to your husband’s bankruptcy webpage at the bottom of your blog. Do you think your readers need that info?

    • Emily Davis

      Actually, they are in the same animal family, Arthropods. Scorpions are not insects because they have 8 legs, not six. However, it is a very common misconception that scorpions are insects. But not worth pointing out in the manner you did, I suspect.

    • Beth

      So, as a scientist, your going to Wikipedia for your research?

  31. Emily Davis

    #15 is what gets me into trouble.
    I have only one child. And we do a lot.
    I don’t need to add just one more thing.
    Now I’ll say “well Jennifer says I’m banned from doing it”. Take that. ha!

    Love your blog lady.

  32. Chris Carter

    I am SO glad I found you!! What a BRILLIANT and GENUINE piece… and I can relate to so much of it!!! My favorite line?? #6: “Prepare yourself for the November Nervous Breakdown, the February Funk, and Maybe-Itโ€™s-Time-to-Give-Up-on-Life May. It happens every year, and itโ€™s just a sign that you need a break.”

    LOVE you already and just met you!!! Can’t wait to read more… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  33. Kiasa

    I LOVE this. Seriously. I laughed AND cried. You are so unbelievably awesome and hilarious. Thank you! p.s. I found this via Pinterest. ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. Amy Caroline

    You have many, many comments here, but I just had to add my AMEN and THANK YOU.

  35. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    yes….homeschooling is crazy….we moms are having more kids than average with husbands (hopefully) that are the sole breadwinners…and we are TRYING TO DO IT ALL….my mama (I LOVE her!) sent me off to school with a kiss…the bus took me to and from, breakfast and lunch was provided….my parents would make sure I did my homework…but that was about it

    I have an idea for homeschooling moms…calculate how much a Catholic parish school education would cost for the k-12 kids in your family. (OUCH! Aren’t you glad that you actually WANT to homeschool?)For us, it would be over $25,000. Take 10% of your total- then spend that money on a math tutor, museum membership, weekly housekeeper, money to pay big kids to mow the lawn, gas to go to a special activity, cookies to get other kids at park day to come say hi to your kids and get out of their cliche, community college class for big kids, park and rec classes- whatever is needed for a successful year and a healthy mama

  36. priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

    and also- get a good list of on-line resources- Starfall for little kids….Khan Academy for big kids…

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