Winter Blues

As a contact person for Kinza Academy in Southern California, I’ve recently received a few phone calls and emails regarding giving up on homeschooling and I’ve been thinking a lot about this coincidence.Three unrelated moms called and met with me at different times with the same problem. They have all been homeschooling for a while, different aged kids and different demographics, but all of them are going through what I will call “homeschooling winter burnout”.
They want to give up on homeschooling and look at other options. They are afraid that they may not be doing enough, or doing the right thing for their kids! After all, “I’m not a teacher!” says a mom of four who has been homeschooling for three years now. “What do I do now that my child is older? How can I really teach him? My child seems to be sinking into a social black hole and shies away from everyone . What will happen to my sharp, outgoing child? How will he learn social skills without friends?” These are not new questions for us and we have found answers to them in ways that suit our families, so, why now do they rise again?
I believe that it’s a healthy discussion to have with ourselves every now and then so as to renew our commitment to homeschooling. Every summer, families get ready for a wonderful year of schooling. The sales and  the abundance of schooling resources available in August tell us that it will be a great year! Excitement about all that we have planned to accomplish races throughout minds as we gear up to teach with enthusiasm and energy. O yes, the energy; let’s not forget the immense energy we have in Aug! The crisp fall air, the apple harvest, the freshly sharpened pencils, the new notebooks waiting to be written in, all nostalgically transport us into an ideal school world where each student is at his best and each teacher is at her prime. But something happens come mid year.  It is as if the cold winter freezes our brains and stifles our enthusiasm.  We begin to feel incompetent. We question our choices, our authority, even our accomplishments.We check our progress and fear its not fast enough or good enough. All the “what ifs” that shaytan can sneakily slip into our mind, get seated there and fester. Once again though, I ask, why now?
We all know homeschooling is not easy. It was never meant to be. That’s why some call homeschooling the modern jIhad. But we know why we homeschool. We put in every ounce of energy and thought we have left to make this experience a great one, while our kids learn to love learning. As one veteran homeschooling mom said to me, “It’s not about the knowledge, its about the love for it.”
Each homeschooling year unfolds its own mysteries and challenges. Our planning may have to take a break for the surprise lessons that come up and the detours our families may take. Field trips may not happen as planned and classes may be full or cancelled. In fact, if any of your kids are like mine, my academic plan has to be filled in alongside the kids so as to ensure smooth sailing into the rest of the academic year. Then why, with all this planning and knowledge in place, does one question their ability and intention mid school year?
My own rickety scheduled homeschooling life may shed some light on this issue. Unlike many organized, efficiently run home schools, mine is one that just runs. With three home schoolers of different ages and a toddler who wants his siblings’ attention all day long, homeschooling in my home is not a scheduled affair! We learn anywhere and everywhere. We do what we have to when we can. Every room in the house is for learning and every thing that happens is a learning experience. From the emergency doctor’s office visit to the unplugging of the toilet to the resetting of the home phone, to the cooking of dinner, every act is a learning experience for my kids and myself. Since I don’t have the luxury of a well planned homeschooling day, the loss of one doesn’t disappoint me. I don’t test my kids, so I can’t worry about how they fare or how far behind they are. We don’t stop learning because it’s winter break or President ‘s day just like we don’t start learning because its 8 am Monday morning. I know I can’t answer all my kids’ questions and so when they ask me something I don’t know, we all sit down and find the answers. Perhaps these are just some of the blessings of being disorganized! Perhaps this laid back attitude is what keeps me going without breaking down.
I checked with a few public and private school teachers, if they witness or experience, burnout as well. I got a resounding “Yes, of course we do!” That’s why the public school year is set up with so many breaks in between. Long weekends, staff trainings and seasonal/religious holidays give teachers and students the respite they need to rejuvenate and come back to work. But most interesting was one teachers insight. “ It’s all done after the CST’s”. To public school teachers, the State Tests are what ends the school year and teaching. March rolls to an end so does teaching and learning! Keeping in mind how much time we as home schoolers spend teaching our kids, its no wonder that we feel some burnout earlier than that!
This school year I too followed the “Tiger Mom” hype for curiosity as to what my own kids will be up against in the future. I thought for a short while if my leniency with my children will lead to their failure and I tried to see things the way Amy Chua and many others do, but rather than make me question my teaching style, their arguments made me more firm in my decision to homeschool! IF I want my children to be anxious about something, I’d rather it be their deen and akhira. After all, isn’t preservation of their deen one reason why we all homeschool?
So to those moms who called me for advise, and for those who feel this way but are too afraid to express themselves, here is my response. Yes, we all feel burnout. We all question ourselves and some parents that I know even go through drastic decisions like putting their kids into school mid year out of fear and anxiety, only to pull them out later. One thing that has kept me going is realizing that I am not in charge and that I cannot make anything happen. I can only do my part of the work and pray to Allah that He grants us all tawfiq. Making this a daily realization and taking it a bit easy so we all enjoy the spirit of homeschooling will InshaAllah, lead to a love of learning for the kids and a love of homeschooling for us.

About Soulful Studies

Home schooling consultant, home educator and mother of 4, blogger
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8 Responses to Winter Blues

  1. Umm Ayodele says:

    hey, I like this blog. I think that people overrate social skills. My kids have suffered from to much exposure to society. They have lost a lot of their compassion and confidence. They have suffered in academics and they doubt me more and more. I can’t have it go down like this. I don’t want to lose their trust. If I put them in an environment where they suffer they blame me. This manifest itself in many different ways.

    I am planning to go back to homeschooling. However, you shouldn’t feel bad either way. Whether you leave it or get back into homeschooling, you’ll never truly what choice is best for your family until you experience. After a dip in the ocean of society though be supportive and stay involved in your child’s life and always be enthusiastic about their experiences. That has helped me.

  2. Hina Khan-Mukhtar says:

    So true, Shaheen! This is an important topic you bring up. As a participant in a homeschooling co-op (which takes a lot of time and energy and commitment), I can tell you that every year around springtime, I start to think of “throwing in the towel” and just going back to AT-HOME homeschooling with my three boys. How’s that for irony? Sleeping in, setting my own schedule, choosing my own curricula, focusing on teaching only my children all starts to look very attractive. I think “burnout” is a phenomena that occurs no matter what type of schooling situation you are in. There’s just something about coming out of the long, cold months of winter and having given it your “all” for for the past 6 or 7 months that makes us especially susceptible come March and April. People should consider taking a break from their regular schedule and routine, but it’s probably not wise to make any long-term decisions when you are in this state. I wish everyone everywhere the best of luck!

  3. aysha says:

    Aaslam u alikum Shaheen
    So good to hear from you. We still miss your family’s presence in the Bay Area. Inshallah the shared homeschooling encouragement is very helpful. We all need it at one time or other.

  4. Homaira says:

    Salaams Shaheen,

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Burnout is a natural part of the teaching experience whether you are a homeschooling parent or a classroom teacher. I think the hard part of teaching at home is knowing that there is an alternative and the “school” word that was not even an option in the beginning of the school year suddenly starts to sound good! But ultimately once you have taught your children at home or in the case of co-ops, have had a huge influence in what they learn, it’s hard to go back.

    I’m so glad you are sharing your experiences and it’s great to stay in touch through your blog.


  5. Leila says:

    Assalamu Alaykum Shaheen,
    Jazaka llahu khayr for sharing this. We too miss your family in the Bay Area. Just when the boys started to build a relationship off you all went! Alhamdulillah Allah knows best, and we do not.

    MashaAllah! Many words of wisdom in your article. I could relate to what you said. I too wanted to “throw in the towel” myself last year and this year especially now that my kids are older and going through their own changes inwardly and outwardly. Winter always has been a time for turning to Allah day in and day out thinking to myself, why in the world am I doing this? By April I start see the light, start remembering if my kids are learning something, they enjoy learning, they are reading Quran, learning Arabic & their deen, what am I complaining about? I can’t say I am not stressed at times, but at the so-called end of the school year I realize how much Allah has blessed us. He opens doors and closes doors it’s just us being content with it or not that makes the difference.

    I don’t know what is in store for us for High School (which is around the corner), but I do know Allah is there guiding us. It would be nice to hear from other moms who have homeschooled the high school years. Give some advice to those of us who approaching those years.

    Again thanks a million for sharing this Shaheen and do keep in touch!!! May Allah shower His tawfiq to all the families out there trying to educate their children!!!


    • Walaykum Saalam Leila,

      You have no idea how much my boys miss their good friends from the Bay and how much I miss the wonderful company of your son on them. InshaAllah you will do a great job with high school as you have your heart and mind fully into it, and most of all high school will be run by your bright kids! We are all here for support and to learn from you and yes, if anyone has homeschooled through high school, please chime in at any time.
      Tawfiq, inshAllah.

  6. Megan says:

    Masha’Allah I think this article came at a great time for me AND some of my friends I’m conversing with!!

    Thanks for pouring your thoughts out. I think this part I related to the most because this too is my current homeschooling method.

    “Since I don’t have the luxury of a well planned homeschooling day, the loss of one doesn’t disappoint me. I don’t test my kids, so I can’t worry about how they fare or how far behind they are. We don’t stop learning because it’s winter break or President ‘s day just like we don’t start learning because its 8 am Monday morning. I know I can’t answer all my kids’ questions and so when they ask me something I don’t know, we all sit down and find the answers. Perhaps these are just some of the blessings of being disorganized! Perhaps this laid back attitude is what keeps me going without breaking down.” (END QUOTE)

    I think the difference between a homeschooling parent and sending to school is it’s so much easier to trust a “system” or blame one for a child’s education than it is oneself.

    As with all things in life, we can’t make decisions based upon fear, but rather, should make decisions, whether for our kids or ourselves, based upon the goal and outcome we are seeking. The only way to measure success of anything is know what success looks like in tangible terms for yourself, and that is different for every person and every family. Without knowing what success looks like, it’s easy to think one is also failing and never doing enough.

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