Homeschool burnout: 10 [easy] things to try when everything is hard


Written by Caitlin Curley of My Little Poppies

Sometimes you can feel the burnout coming on, just as you can tell your body is fighting a cold.

“Uh-oh,” you think to yourself, and then you quickly snap into prep mode.

With this type of burnout, you have a little wiggle room. You can try to fight it off … and also prepare in case you lose the battle.

Other times, burnout stops you in your tracks. More like the flu, it sneaks up on you on a clear blue day and knocks you to your knees without any warning.

Out of nowhere, you suddenly feel horrible. Physically and emotionally exhausted, you are left wondering what on earth just happened.

Burnout is always tricky, but sneaky burnout is the trickiest. 

This homeschool mama gig did not come with sick days, or vacation days, or a substitute teacher. And that’s the worst part of burnout. You’re on your own. You must put one foot in front of the other, don a smile, and muddle through until the fog lifts.

Unfortunately sometimes, for whatever reason, burnout is harder to shake. All of the usual strategies don’t work and you just feel … stuck.

If you are feeling this way, please know that you are not alone. Some homeschool seasons are harder than others. 

In fact, I am right there with you.

Last week, I finally emerged from the throes of sneaky burnout. I’m still scratching my head, wondering what happened. We had a great winter and we made it through February with nary a hiccup.

Then March hit and the kids bounced random illnesses back and forth and the world was gray and cold and wet. The month felt like an eternity and yet I cannot tell you what we did. When the kids were finally feeling better, I was utterly exhausted.

Everything felt harder, even the simple things. Even the things that should be fun.

I tried all the usual strategies:

  • We took some time off
  • I made sure we were all getting eating well and enough sleep
  • I sprinkled in more “fun” activities and events

And still… nothing. No matter how hard I tried, something was missing. And that something had been missing all month.

You know you are suffering from sneaky burnout when the joy is gone. 

So, how did I come out the other side?

First, I did what I always do when anxiety swells: a brain dump. I made a list of activities that usually make us happy… and I made sure they were easy.

Then, I resolved to do as many as I could each day.

But here’s the most important part: I set aside the homeschool to-do list. I promised I would stop worrying about math until this phase had passed.

Our one and only goal was to find the joy.

Today, I’m sharing that brain dump with you all. Here are ten easy things to try when homeschooling is hard:

1. Nature

I promise you that it will help even when you don’t feel like going outside. Make yourself get out there for twenty minutes and see what happens. Your children will benefit, too. If you don’t believe me, read this book. It’s science!

10 Easy Things When Everything is Hard

2. Exercise

I know you don’t feel like it. (I didn’t either.) But, again, this is science. You don’t have to run a marathon, but resolve to move. You could go for a leisurely walk with the kids…

5 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

… or you could do a yoga DVD together. Consider it phys ed class – you’ll all feel better when you are finished!

10 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

3. Music

Music is my go-to cheer up strategy. When the going gets rough, we turn on [my] favorite songs and dance in the kitchen. Acting silly together and singing at top volume can turn a bad day around.

4. Books

One of our family’s most treasured homeschool routines emerged during a time of homeschool burnout. It was never planned, I just did the easiest thing while muddling through.

When things feel hard, grab a good book and read aloud. This is arguably the most important thing you can do for your child!

5 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

5. Play

We are a family of gameschoolers… but we didn’t always consider games part of our curriculum. Several years ago, we started a Gameschool Challenge to help our family survive February. We witnessed such remarkable learning during these challenges that we decided to use games daily!

5 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

6. Art

Art is a wonderful way to calm down and there are a wealth of art resources on the internet. Grab a sheet of paper and create alongside your children. You’ll be so happy you did!

5 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

7. Movies

Let’s face it: sometimes it’s a struggle to get off the couch. On these days, turn on a favorite movie and create memories with your children. Watch a documentary, an old classic, or study musicals and count it as learning because it is.

8. Rabbit Holes

If you are struggling to plan your homeschool, stop. Ask your kids what they want to learn about and let them have at it. Maybe it’s origami, or magic, or baking. Rabbit holes can help children discover passions!

10 Easy Things for When Homeschooling is Hard

9. Field Trips

Sometimes you need a break in the monotony. Stop by your local library and pick up some museum passes or enjoy a virtual field trip together.

10. Outsource

From Khan Academy to Smartick to SKYbrary to CuriosityStream to BrainPop, there are amazing learning opportunities at your fingertips. Let someone else teach for a little bit, while you recharge.

10 [Easy] Things to Try When Homeschooling is Hard

And speaking of that…

Don’t forget to feed your soul, mama.

What makes you happy? Find time to do that. For me, books help. Here are a few that have filled my soul over the years:

Homeschooling is a journey, not a race.

Burnout happens to everyone. This too shall pass, I promise.

While you are muddling through, look at those little people in front of you.

5 Easy Things When Everything Feels Hard | Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Simple Homeschool

They are learning all the time, regardless of your planning and prepping. So much learning happens in the space between. Focus on your children, your relationship, and the conversations and connection.

Before you know it, your joy will return.

Have you experienced sneaky homeschool burnout? How do you find your joy when burnout hits? Share here.

This post contains affiliate links, which means Simple Homeschool gets commissions for purchases made through some of the links. Thanks for your support!

About Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Cait is a school psychologist, mom to three amazing children, and an unexpected homeschooler. She loves nature, good books, board games, strong coffee, and dancing in her kitchen. You can read about all of these things and more at My Little Poppies. You can also find her hanging out with Kara at The Homeschool Sisters Podcast.

Comments

  1. Great ideas here!! Gonna share this post with some of my homeschool mama friends who have had sick kids most of the winter! I KNOW this will encourage them..

  2. Great and simple reminders of sticking with what feels like the basics but can still have huge impacts. Also great to fall back on when decision fatigue hits.

  3. Ugh, here I thought there was something wrong with me. We did fine in January, then February hit and all my drive was gone. Here it is April and I’m still struggling. I’m so glad to pop in here and go, Oh, wait, I’m just having terrible burnout! We moved at the end of October, and it screwed up my school mojo. I’ve just never gotten back into the groove. Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. Yesterday one of their friends showed my kids prodigygame dot come (not trying to link it!), which is basically a fantasy RPG that makes you do math in order to fight monsters. The kids are in love with it. I might cave and let them play that today.

  4. Love this! It’s usually what I do too when I feel burnout; find fun, get OUT of the house– field trips or outside (preferably both!), and add in lots of extras like art, music, and baking. Pinned and shared!
    Mother of 3’s latest post: 5 Lies That Homeschoolers Believe

  5. SO good, Cait! Just sat down to take notes and I’m planning to implement some of these this week. My current burnout is calling for aborting the original plan of rigorous end-of-the-year projects and for a lot more casual learning. Just so burned out this spring. Thank you!
    Alicia Hutchinson’s latest post: 31 FUN THINGS TO DO IN APRIL

  6. These are honestly some of the best ideas I have seen for helping work through burnout! I do think that just getting outside is such a big one. Fresh air and a relaxed schedule can do wonders for the soul. <3

  7. I always enjoy reading your posts and how real you are about the struggles of homeschooling. I haven’t heard of half the books you listed for feeding your soul – adding to the book list now. 🙂
    June’s latest post: Why we don’t use “school” to teach hard work

  8. Yes, this is a great list. I’m always surprised at how much better I feel after I’ve had a chance to spend time outside, whether it is a long walk, gardening, or just enjoying watching my kids play.

  9. Thanks for sharing these great ideas! The most effective thing for us is instead of pushing forward, we pull back. Slowing the pace and becoming more flexible with our schooling usually restores energy and excitement for our family. I also have no problems outsourcing their learning once in awhile and a few of those sites are new to me. I look forward to checking out those resources.

  10. Thanks for the ideas! I have been dealing with burnout for the last month and it’s just not going away this time. As an introvert the thing I really need most is harder to come by though – more time alone. However, as the weather grows warmer my kids will naturally go outside more and I’m sure I will have more time soon!

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