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Homeschooling Checklists: Pros, Cautions, and Special Situations

I love homeschooling checklists but have learned over the years that they have their negative aspects as well.  One must be cautious using them, especially in certain situations.

Benefits of Homeschooling Checklists

Homeschooling checklists have kept us on track for years.  I’d plan the year out far in advance, dividing the planned schoolwork up by the available weeks.  I would set goals for various check points throughout the year and make detailed plans for each week.  By knowing exactly what we needed to do each week, we were more likely to actually do it.  Finally, daily checklists helped make this all practical.

We used all sorts of formats—tables and lists of all varieties, individualized for each child and adjusted week by week—usually made in Word and printed out a week at a time.  As the children grew older, they sometimes requested different styles of charts—some teens work well with detailed expectations, some want to be able to list just what they got done in large empty boxes.

This worked well, on the whole.  After all, “Plan your work and work your plan,” is good advice that is basic to most human endeavors.

Dangers of Homeschooling Checklists

After many years of struggling we also learned about the dangers of checklists, especially if they are not realistic or flexible.  They can cause enormous discouragement if they constantly point out when someone is behind.  If there is no way to ever feel on top of things, if every morning comes with the certainty that today one will get yet further behind, checklists are horrible taskmasters.  They can harm children and teens and also affect moms and relationships.

So, when you set up checklists, ensure that when Monday is over its uncompleted tasks do not carry over and get added to Tuesday’s.  Let Tuesday be a fresh start unless there will be a realistic opportunity to catch up.  If necessary, reduce the expectations mirrored on the check list so that each day the student will be able to succeed.

This, of course, means that if you have a month by month plan you must be willing to let it go if necessary.  Do not worry about being behind if you are behind for valid reasons; just focus on doing each day’s work as well possible.  Of course, if being behind is mom’s fault due to laziness or disorganization, realizing that is the first step to fixing the problem.   In that case, be strong and courageous and get to work, thankful for the opportunity to change.

It also means that you should not let your children be burdened by the monthly expectations; some children will be more sensitive to this than others.

In fact, it may mean that you need to learn to airily brush off your child’s worries about not finishing the year “properly” (whatever that means).   You may need to learn to tell your children encouraging things like, “There’s always next year,” and “You’ve learned so much and I’m very happy with that,” and “Public schools usually don’t finish the textbook either,” and “You’ve worked diligently and that is what counts,” and “God blesses what you were able to do, not what was not possible for you to do.”  You may also need to convince yourself of these things and be gentle with yourself if it was your fault.

And if you are like me, you will need to learn to consciously reduce your expectations at the beginning of each year.  No one can learn it all, no one can experience it all, and no one needs to. Gaps are inevitable because we are all finite; only God can know everything.

If you recognize yourself and your failings here, repent but be gentle with yourself as well as with your kids.  Ask for forgiveness and determine how you can fix this problem but do not beat yourself up, because that is both counterproductive and un-Christian.

Homeschooling Checklists in Unusual Situations

There’s one more thing to consider:  In unusual situations checklists can be more of a hindrance than a help.  If there is illness or injury or a major time commitment (e.g. moving, a new baby), a rigid checklist can lead to discouragement.  If concussion healing is slow, for example, there is no benefit to be gained in remembering that this is the month in which chapter 8 of the science book was to be completed.  In fact, there can be considerable health benefits in purposely taking a gap month or even a gap semester or year, because reducing the stress of being ‘behind’ (which can be enormous) will contribute towards allowing the body to heal.

Is it pleasant to say farewell to long-cherished plans and timing assumptions?  Of course not.  It’s hard for teens as well as for moms.  But we confess that God is in control and arranges all for the good of those who love him, and we must learn to believe it with our hearts as well as our minds.  As I wrote once, God can send gentle encouragement in the most unexpected ways.

“Recently I was reminded that extracurricular activities can even take the place of all formal learning if necessary. When one of our teens needed to take a gap semester due to multiple concussions and chronic pain, someone on her medical team calmed my education worries by saying, “Surely, as a homeschooler you know that learning can happen in many ways!”   So, when your teen or child cannot focus, just deal with the issues at hand and let them have the gift of slow time as they heal. They will be able to explore the world in ways that book learning can never duplicate, and all the trouble could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”

In such situations, it is best to just record work that is done, letting a struggling teen/child do whatever they can whenever they can.  Some teens will want to keep these records themselves; in other cases, mom will need to do so unobtrusively.

Note that such situations require love, compassion, encouragement, and perseverance.  One also needs to assume that the child/teen is not purposely avoiding schoolwork, so much wisdom and prayer is required here for both student and mom.  It is also helpful for mom to regularly ponder 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and prayerfully consider what, practically, it means for her to love her child that day.  (How I wish I had been doing that decades ago, but again, beating oneself up about the past is not a Christian response, nor is it helpful.)

And then, instead of using checklists, one could aim to simply do every day’s work every day, knowing that might mean multiple daily decisions.  It can be helpful to have priorities—do this first if possible, but if it’s a bad day try that instead, and if it’s a terrible day just focus on being patient and learning to suffer well.

Finally, even if the student cannot use checklists, Mom might need to use them for herself to ensure that flexibility and compassion do not degenerate into laziness and lack of focus on her part.

So, use checklists when you can, but do not let them abuse you or your children.  They are excellent servants but cruel masters.

May God bless you and your family as you head into the upcoming school year!

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