A Cyclical Homeschool Burnout

I have noticed a cyclical homeschool burnout for me at winter time. I am halfway through the year and my initial enthusiasm has dried up. I’m cold, sickness is going around and I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  Now I recognise this gloomy mood and don’t panic. I know that springtime invigorates and I will feel much better then.

“If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up.” Author Unknown

Homeschool Burnout is something more than just the blues, and most home educating mother’s experience it at some stage.

When we burn out we feel like failures. We tell our self we are a hopeless mother and that we are not cut out for homeschooling. We see school as our only option and give up homeschooling, even though we were so passionate about it.

I know this first hand because I’ve given up twice and put my kids in school.

The first time I put one child in grade 2 for a term. Ready to try again I recommenced homeschooling, changing little of my technique, and within one year had two children in school this time. During this time I did a lot of praying about what direction I should go. I still felt passionate about homeschooling but I knew sticking to the old method was not going to work. I was determined to do things differently and make it work. This was the turning point in my homeschool journey.

After one term the kids were more than happy to come home to try again. That was seven years ago and we are still homeschooling. I am more aware of what works for me and I have set up my homeschool in a way to avoid burnout.

What are the Symptoms of Homeschool Burnout

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • You start to feel disconnected from the children.
  • You feel emotionally exhausted with nothing to give; you might cry or be despondent.
  • You feel trapped with responsibilities of homeschool.
  • You feel zapped of energy.
  • You feel ineffectual and unable get the homeschool done properly.

How To Deal With Homeschool Burnout

Somethings Gotta Give!

Nourishing your mind, body and soul will aid with the demands of homeschooling.  Healthy homeschool habits will position you for a glorious take-off.

Here are a few tips to help you with that:

  • Start day with a relaxing routine such as; prayer, a devotion, a strong cup of tea with some journaling.
  • Nurture your relationships.  Finding a harmonious balance for the demands of family and friends can give a great sense of peace and happiness in our lives.
  • Look after your body. Healthy eating, exercise and good sleeping routines are well documented ways to improve our body’s general well being.
  • Find time for an activity, such as a hobby, that you enjoy that will give you something else to think about.
  • Work out what’s essential and what isn’t.
  • Identify unrealistic expectations
  • Realise there is never a perfect day.

Setting Boundaries

  • Learn to say no! We can’t do it all. Look seriously at your commitments and see what should stay and what should go.
  • Learn when to stop! Give yourself a break from homeschooling. If you finding that you are constantly dealing with lesson preparation etc, work out how you can cut back. Try to confine your school devotion to the task of “school work” to a set time and then leave it alone. Give yourself a knock off time.  I can only handle about 3 hours per day (spread out over the day)of focussed teaching. If I start doing more then I’m trying to work out a way to change it. Workboxes have worked well for us.

 Wishing For A Tidy Home

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” Proverbs 14:4

Homeschooling can be a messy business and for the meticulously clean this can be a great source of anxiety.

I know my neat husband found the ‘works in progress’, books half read and orphan items splattered about our home to be a source of irritation. But as the years have gone our children have become better at cleaning up and he has relaxed and found that that he can look through some of the mess. One of the strategies we adopted in our early years was to get a cleaner (it’s cheaper than private school). This for us was such an excellent solution. The cost did seem a luxury in some respects but the serenity I found in knowing that the ironing was done and my bathroom and floors were clean was worth it.

I know if you are a tidy person you will think, “but a cleaner won’t do it properly.” My advice would be give them something they can do like vacuum, iron or wash the floors. You can then have more time to do the other things. Neat homeschool mums tell me that good routines for housework are your best friend. Written down lists of what is expected each week gives them a peace of mind that the cleaning jobs will get done. Apart from daily jobs quite a few of my friend have one morning per week dedicated to chores.

Re-examine the Way You Homeschool

If what you are doing now is not working then you might like to re-look at how you homeschool.

Ray Moore, in the book Homeschool Burnout, believes that one of the biggest reasons many homeschooling mothers burn out is because they try to set up traditional school methods at home. Although their children are out of the school environment they set up this artificial system in their own home. They keep themselves and their children in the straight-jacket of conventional school, seated for 6 hours per day for 5 days a week, using boring textbooks, testing rigorously and adhering to strict timetables. On the days that they fail to follow this strict standard that they have set for themselves they feel like failures. Often these mothers can also spend a good deal of extra time planning and marking. He comments that teachers usually find it hardest to break free from this model.

I can certainly testify that this is one of the main reasons I felt like such a failure in my early years of homeschooling. When I changed my method to a more relaxed eclectic style we were all  a lot happier. Remember just as you treasure your freedom and ability to try different things so do your children.

Changing from a traditional approach to a non traditional approach induces a considerable amount of fear. How will I know if I’m covering everything?  Don’t just take my word for it read about the countless number of homeschoolers who have successfully home educated without using the traditional school method. We are not playing a cruel joke on you—it really does work. I am not suggesting that you do nothing but rather investigate styles that are more suitable to home teaching and your personality.

Finding the Charlotte Mason approach was like a breath of fresh air into my homeschool. Her method included lots of real books, out about in nature, hardly any textbooks, lots of art and notebooking.

How Much Time Should We Homeschool

At times our expectations for lesson times are unrealistic. Here are some thoughts on allocating homeschool lesson times.

Little Children and Homeschool Burnout

Homeschooling with little children is a challenge time. In fact it deserves a whole post but here are a few tips.

  • Don’t be unrealistic about what you are going to achieve.
  • Have a daily time out from the children. Time this with nap time if you have children still sleeping. 30 mins to 1 hour. Have the ones who don’t sleep go to their rooms and look at books or play quietly. If your children share rooms have them go to their bed to read or rest. For me that was also a cue to jump in bed for a rest also.
  • Remind yourself that they will grow up and things will get easier.

Get Organised

Planning realistically what you can achieve will help reduce anxiety. Don’t over plan. Make it simple. Encourage independent work in your children. Aim for a limited amount of seat work in your day and allow time for your children to explore. 

Join a Support Group

Get involved with other homeschool mothers. This will give you a sounding board for your worries and hopefully fill you with encouragement that you are not alone.

Special Challenges

Some families have special circumstances such as:

  • home businesses and their husband is at home for a lot of the homeschool day,
  • homeschooling when you are sick,
  • sickness of  family members that require extra time and hospital visits,
  • a newborn baby and a recovering mother .

These times can be very challenging to work around but for those who have gone through it the best advice is to go with the flow and work out a new routine that suits the new circumstances.

Should I Give Up Homeschooling ?

For some families the best option for you and your family might be school. This does not have to be because you are burnout, for that can be overcome. But if you are considering school please look seriously at why you are choosing school and ask yourself is this what I really want. See if any of these suggestions will help you homeschool without burning out. One of my four children attends a local private high school. He is their not because I was burnt out but rather because we thought it was the right thing for him. Two years down the track we are still happy with this decision.

A Homeschool Burnout Crisis

If you feel crippled by the demands of homeschooling, and you think you are going to snap, implementing these techniques might not be enough to get you out of the quagmire.  You need extra help. That may mean stopping homeschooling or taking a complete break from lessons. Please seek help from others who will understand and help you work through some solutions. Burnout is real and sometimes it can creep up on us slowly. For the majority of homeschoolers looking at what we are doing and making some changes can be enough to get us back on track with homeschooling and enjoying the journey.

First published July 2011 – Updated 2021

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