I try to put together my school plans by early June, because that’s when I shop our local homeschool used book sale. Once again I’m falling in love with 10,000 wonderful ideas, and once again, I’ve got to say no to most of them. I can’t have my fantasy homeschool. How to prioritize? Here are some of the trade-offs that seem to work for our family.

Fine Arts – Unschooled. I wish we had the time to do a formal art program. We just don’t. I stock the kids’ bookshelves with art books as I find them for free or cheap. We visit local museums when we can. I keep art supplies on hand for the kids to use. Some years, I put “art” as a checklist item on the kids’ weekly schedule, and let them choose any art activity that suits their interest.

Composition – Integrated into other subjects. Writing is important to me – I’m a writer, so of course I want my kids to write well. I learned the hard way that pushing the kids too much turns off the flow of ideas. Because writing is a subject I can teach easily, what I do is use each science, history, or literature report as a mini writing course. Some years I also have the kids do an anything-goes creative writing assignment once a week – these get silly, but that’s part of the fun.

Math – Computer-assisted. I have a math textbook series I like, but for the early-years, it’s a little more parent-intensive than I have time for. But I don’t want to ditch the whole program. I’ve found some free internet math games and practice pages, and we also collect computer games thanks to Grandma (nothing says Christmas like fun school supplies!) and friends who have outgrown their educational games. I have the littles do one fun or automated math assignment every day, and that helps us stay on track with the textbook without my having to do all the drill work myself.

Latin and Handwriting – Um, let’s not talk about that. Okay, I will: In both of these subjects, my aspirations exceed my time, talent, and attention span. The kids don’t love the work, so it’s not one we can just unschool. I stink at these, so I can’t wing it. You can’t do handwriting on the computer, and I don’t know of an affordable computer-based Latin program. (Any ideas, readers?)

So we just give it our best. We work in spurts more than I’d like to admit, and what we end up with is okay. Not fabulous. But okay. Sometimes I imagine the school on the corner has a brilliant Latin program (actual amount: zero), and an army of handwriting tutors to work our family’s non-existent fine motor skills into stunning artistry. No, actually they have a couple dozen over-worked teachers, a smattering of assistants, and classes of kids who make the best of what they’ve got. Eerily familiar, eh?

I can’t do everything, my corner public school can’t do everything, our city’s parochial schools can’t do everything. We prioritize, pull out whatever tricks we’ve got up our sleeve, and keep working on our weaknesses until we pass muster.

How about you? What subjects are your perennial challenges? What are your tricks for lightening the load, and for making the most of your limited time, cash, and energy?

Copyright 2012 Jennifer Fitz