by Bethany Todd
These long winter days can be hard. Christmas break is over and getting back into the
homeschool routine can be difficult. We, as moms, can easily get bogged down in trying to
check all the boxes and become disheartened by feeling like we’re falling short. How can we
overcome burnout, bad attitudes, and discouragement to get back on track, especially during a
Fellow mom, Jenifer Kitchens, knows how it can be deep in the trenches of homeschooling. In
this interview with Jenifer, she answers specific questions from homeschooling parents,
bringing encouragement, wisdom, and great ideas to the table.
- Do you ever use these cold, gloomy days to break from the norm and do something out of
routine, like having a simple reading day or learning a new skill (typing, knitting, etc.)? Is it ok to
count activities like these as “school” for the day?
I haven't done this, but it sounds wonderful! This time of year, my kids have often gotten new
craft items for Christmas and there is often incentive to get work finished to work on a craft
I believe it is absolutely ok to count a day or two of these as a school day! The kids are learning
skills. Typing will assist them in other aspects of school, reading a pattern to apply the different
stitches of knitting is a synthesis of skills! I confess that I want to include more art into our
school work; there are YouTube videos that teach techniques that I can't teach. What a great
time to try them out together!
- How do you specifically encourage and/or challenge your kids when they’re having negative
attitudes toward their work? (These attitudes seem to be at an all-time-high when coming off
of breaks or when kids are stuck inside much of the time!)
I try to make a game or do it in a silly way. We might get up and chant and dance. When our
oldest and I had spent three days on long division and we were still running into a wall, I asked
her dad to try it with her. He is not an educator, but he connected with her. She got it that day.
A different perspective can help tremendously.
Also, they have to want it for themselves. You can't be the only one fighting for it. If you care so
much more about getting a spelling lesson or grammar exercise than they do you need to
change the status quo. You have other things to do. What incentive (not bribe) can you use? Is
there a carrot you can dangle in front of them to get them motivated? Maybe, "let's finish this
and take a break to go play a game of Uno with little brother" will light a fire under them.
I'm also learning to guard against busy work. Does my daughter really need to do 10 practice
problems when three carefully chosen ones show that she has mastered the new skill? Kids don't
like pointless monotony any more than we do.
- How can I make the core work that has to get done every day more fun and engaging?
This takes knowing your kids and what excites them. It also takes trying different things. It's
hard when one child responds well to something the other doesn't.
A change of scenery can help. So can adding variety. Once I wrote the subjects on slips of paper
and we took turns drawing a slip to find out what we would do next. We wouldn't move to the
next subject until both kids were finished. The lure of getting to find out what was next caused
them to be more diligent.
- What are some practical tips for homeschooling older kids while meeting the demands of my
toddlers/babies? It can be very overwhelming trying to juggle them all!
This is a challenge! I started homeschooling with a kindergartener and a 1-year-old. We took
advantage of nap time and I was strategic about what subjects could be only done while the
little one was asleep because of distraction.
Now, five years later, I have a fourth grader, Kindergartener, and a 6-month-old. I have found
that I can nurse and give two spelling tests simultaneously. I take advantage of the activity
center and bouncer. I make sure that the older kids have work that they can work on
independently while I am trying to get a little one down.
Both of our younger children have grown up with school happening in our home. That is all they
have ever known. Our 5-year-old looked forward to getting to join her big sister at the table. I
let her "practice school" as soon as she expressed interest by coloring, writing in cheap
workbooks from Dollar Tree, or working with stamps.
Older kids can also read to younger siblings. Little guys can draw a picture of what they hear
happening in a history lesson or color a picture printed from the internet that goes with the
Little guys are often more cooperative when they feel like they are a part.
- What family activities do you incorporate into your school day? (i.e., read-alouds)
I confess, I need to do more read-aloud.
We do Bible as a family which includes catechism and scripture memorization.
Exercising together has also become a favorite part. We have certain subjects that we complete
before getting outside or doing a workout video, depending on the weather. We come in, eat
lunch, then get back to it. Our day goes better with something to look forward to and after
using up some energy.
- How do you keep up with homeschooling when half - or all! - the members of your household
are sick? What about when Mom is sick? Any suggestions for how to keep school rolling along
without her involvement?
Oh! Sickness in the family is not fun! When one of my three kids are too sick for school, I am
usually busy trying to meet needs, trying to quarantine to keep it from others, and doing laundry
and other cleaning to keep it from spreading. That being the case, no one has school. It also
makes keeping track of how many days of school much easier. Everyone is on the same day of
When mom is sick ... Well, it's like a t-shirt I saw that said, "Homeschooling. There is no
substitute!" We can't call in sick!
I've handled my sick days a couple of different ways.
*Once I found videos that went with our history and we did some free reading. (That day, we
watched a neat video that was based on the David Maculay book Cathedral.)
*There was one time when the kids and I all had the flu. I had bronchitis and they both had
strep. (Not the souvenirs we wanted to bring home from Disney!) We took several days off, but
they bounced back more quickly than did I. They needed structure and routine, so I bit the bullet.
I found things that I didn't have to exert much energy to teach, and we did school on the couch
instead of at the table. We didn't get everything in, but we did some school. Then they found
supplemental activities to go with school, like an art video or sewing.
*If I have to go into the doctor, like for a throat swab, I have just called the whole day off.
*When I was pregnant last summer, our due date was August 8. We started school a month
early so that I could take off time when the baby was born. We took two weeks, and I had no
guilt because we needed the time to get used to being a family of five. We lingered longer in the
morning and enjoyed more snuggles and cuddles. I wish we had taken more time, but the girls
were needing structure.
- How do I realistically make time for myself? I know self-care is important, but what priority
should it really take in light of everyone else’s needs?
I think that it's important to define self-care. We have to be sure that self-care is not a trendy,
politically correct name for worshipping ourselves which is idolatry.
That being said, even Jesus made time to get alone and be by Himself with His Father.
I've recently found that when I get up in the morning before the kids and head to the living
room, and they wake up to find me in the Word, it sets a tremendous pattern for the day. My
older two even grab their Bibles and join me.
Also, know what you need and communicate it to your husband. Don't expect him to read your
mind. Ask him to work with you to carve out some time. For you, this might mean getting to sip
on a latte while doing family grocery shopping all alone. It could mean asking him to fix
breakfast for everyone while you go outside for a run. (That is my favorite!) I am amazed by
single parents who work to provide and homeschool. Find people to support you. Maybe you
can work with a friend to swap babysitting so you can each get pampered with a pedicure.
Just like our kids learn best when they are rested, we teach best when we are rested. It is then
that we can teach from overflow instead of teaching from an empty cup.
Again, we have to be careful, though, that we are not trying to fill our need for our Savior with
other people and things.
- What are some of the most important things I can do to keep myself from personally getting
Homeschooling can be hard and lonely. It's so easy to get discouraged, especially in these
dreary, cold months when we are all getting a bit stir crazy. This time of year, I feel like we are
trying to get back into routine after the busy holiday season. Since kids have extra energy that
winds up in their behavior, I feel like I'm correcting attitude and behavior issues more than
normal. I'm already thinking about next year and evaluating curriculum, wondering, "Does this
work?" And "Do I need to change programs?" I start to wonder if this is the best thing for our
kids and for my own sanity.
I have to stop and take inventory. What do I see in my kids? How are they growing? What
successes have you seen? Look academics, yes, but look also at their character. Maybe she is
still struggling with math, but her attitude is better going into it. Maybe he has finally found
books that he likes and actually picked up a book to read without being asked to.
Also, check yourself. Are you eating right? Do you need to find opportunity to move your body?
(Endorphins help attitude so much!) Are you creating room for margin in your life? This includes
both rest and clutter. Are you spending time in the word? Do you need to connect with friends
who breathe life into you? Are you serving others around you? Is a break from social media
Jenifer Kitchens graduated from Union University, then spent more than 11 years in Classical Christian schools before beginning to homeschool. She is a passionate writer and teacher of Bible studies for women and desires to bring glory to God in everything she does. Jenifer, her husband Jacob, and their three kids live in Lawrenceburg, TN. You can read more