Holding On For Dear Life

I think seahorses might be my spirit animal.  I recently found out that they don’t really swim all that well.  Which seems ironic, given that they’re marine critters.  No, instead of swimming around joyously, they prefer to find the nearest support and wrap their tails around it so that the current doesn’t flop them around.  In other words, hanging on for dear life!  Like me.

It’s hard trying to homeschool.  Trying to homeschool gifted?  It’s like a cross between an amusement park and a maximum security prison.  Some of it’s fun and amazing.  Some of it’s a swooping rollercoaster ride of awesomeness.  And then, some of it is locked down and more rigid than a 2×4.  Not to mention that your kid might act like one of the inmates at times.

These are the days that I start looking longingly at the school bus that stops at our corner.  I watch the kids trudge home, and I sigh.  I can’t dump the Engineer to be someone else’s problem because that will only be harmful to him.  I think that’s the hardest part: feeling trapped.  I don’t feel like we have a choice.  We have to homeschool the Engineer because he’s twice exceptional and can’t function in a brick and mortar school.

Because he’s twice exceptional with ADHD, SPD, anxiety, and massive defiance issues, homeschooling is…difficult.  Add in gifted, and it gets downright scary.  There is no way we can pick an all-in-one curriculum and stick with it: he’ll lose his mind.  Then I’ll lose my mind.  For us, homeschooling can become a drag quickly: a day.  A month.  That’s my signal to change things up and try something new.

So, what do I do when I start feeling trapped and frustrated?  Here are a few tips that work for us when things start getting stale and boring.  The Engineer is 5.5, but these ideas work for all ages.  I pulled some of the ideas from my homeschooling past as a high schooler struggling with boooorrrrring college prep work.

1. Schedule some fun

Homeschoolers tend to load the schedule with book work, particularly new homeschoolers.  After all, in public school you send your kid off on the bus early and don’t get to see them until late, right? (my state has full-day kindergarten, so they leave around 8:30am and don’t get home until around 4.)  Stop and think.  How much of that time is actually instructional time?  Then think – how much of that instructional time is actually spent on your child versus the whole class?

My state lists the kindergarten requirements as 180 days of attendance, or 450 hours of actual instructional time.  Break that down, it’s 2.5 hours a day.  Then subtract time wasted because kids don’t listen, the kids are changing stations, plus set-up and clean-up time.  I’m guessing less than an hour of true learning.  If that.

All that to say: you don’t need to do school the entire day.  In fact, if your kid is under 10, I doubt you need more than a few hours!  Assuming they’re understanding the concepts, of course.

Plan for at least 1 day a week of something different.  Maybe more than one.  Set up a class for one day, do some free play learning, or go spend some time in the woods.  Make one day museum day.  It doesn’t matter if you re-visit a museum – focus on one section per visit.  Make one day P.E. day and go indoor rock climbing, bike riding, or something crazy that you wouldn’t usually do.

When I was in middle and high school, we had one scheduled day per week that was our “out” day.  We delivered meals for our local Meals-on-Wheels charity.  Afterwards we had a picnic, and then headed to piano lessons.  It was a break – a day we could routinely count on to break up the monotony of math problems and frustrating spelling lists.  Sure, we did other things like field trips and classes, but this was our reliable, scheduled break every week.  It mattered.

2. Break things up

If your kid hates one subject, do it in little bits.  Do less.  When they prove mastery, let them move on without completing the entire section of problems.  Practice helps cement the concept, but busy work creates subject hate.  If my kid gets the concept, then the next few pages of practice are ditched in favor of something new.  We’ll review in little bits as we go.

Don’t pressure yourself thinking that they have to learn this subject RIGHT NOW or their future will be ruined.  Sure, they need to learn, but sometimes they just need more time.  Spread it out.  Break up one textbook into a 2 year session if your kid is struggling.  Take the time to make sure they understand the concepts.

I’m cynical like that – I believe that curriculum manufacturers feel like they need to justify the price.  They load the student workbooks up with way more than they need to do.  It’s ok to do half the book.  Just like it’s ok to spend more time on something if your kid is having trouble with it.

3. Give up

Not for good.  Just take a break: let both of you catch a breath and re-evaluate why things aren’t going well.  Do you need to switch curriculum?  Do less?  Try a different learning style?  If it’s not working, try something different.  And don’t be afraid to simply drop it for a month.  Come back to the problem refreshed and you might find that your kid just needed a little extra time.

I absolutely love the High tide/Low tide concept that Heather Boorman (of the Fringy Bit) mentioned in one of her posts.  You don’t have to be go-go-go! all the time.  Gear up, do it for a while, then take a break.  Then do it again.  My personality favors periods of intense activity interspersed with periods of blatant laziness.  Perhaps your child is similar.  I never could understand people who felt compelled to stay on a strict homeschooling schedule.  It’s so foreign to me.  We work with a large-scale schedule: in months, or even years, and plan to revisit concepts, history, or science over and over.

Make sure that you understand your child’s learning style.  Are you trying to force a visual learner to study dry textbooks?  Does your student need to bounce on a trampoline while reciting math facts?  Sometimes we’re so close into the problem that we can’t see the solution.  Give yourself the time – and perspective – to figure out the problem.

4. Hand the problem to someone else

This is going to be a huge life-saver for us, because the Engineer just doesn’t want to listen to me explain stuff sometimes.  I’m already planning to sign him up for classes or a co-op when we hit a block.  With all the local classes and internet options, it’s almost impossible not to find what your kid needs.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  You might struggle with a subject yourself and have difficulty teaching it.  Your kid may be so advanced that you feel shaky trying to understand it, let alone teach it.  That’s ok!  That’s normal.  We can’t be great at everything.  Take that considerable ingenuity and those problem solving skills you’ve developed from parenting a gifted kid and apply it to finding someone who can help.  A tutor, an online class, a co-op, or a graduate student willing to earn a bit extra.

Having someone else do some of the work makes it much easier on student and teacher.  It also gives you, the teacher, the energy and focus to deal with everything else.  It’s a break.  And we need a break or we wouldn’t be at this point, right?

5. Give them the lead

If you’re not already doing it, try Project Based Homeschooling or Child-Led Learning for a while.  You don’t have to completely switch things up, just loosen the reins for a bit and see if the kids will surprise you.  Let them take control of their education for a little while.

It’s amazing how much of the required subjects you can work into a child-led project.  Is your child interested in dinosaurs?  Then look at timelines (history) write names and eras (history and language arts) read books about dinosaurs (reading) and make dinosaur tracks out of mud and plaster (science.)  For the older child, researching how they lived, what they ate, what they looked like, and writing papers about all of it is great practice.   The possibilities are endless.  Spend some time with your kid putting together a Pinterest board of websites for them to research.  Craft ideas.  Online games.  Anything they’re interested in.

That’s the key: their interests.  If you try to steer them they might fight back.  Suggest, advise, expose them to new stuff, but don’t plop something down in front of them and tell them it’s their project.  That’s the fastest way to boredom.  Give them freedom, and you might love the results so much that you stick with it.


As always, what works for us might not work for your family.  Homeschooling is all about customizing concepts to your student’s needs.  Don’t be afraid to do just that!  Toss the “school” myth aside and grasp learning by its sharp, pointy horns: it doesn’t matter what it looks like if they’re learning.  Have fun!


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This post is part of the Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum Blog Hop: When Homeschooling Your Gifted Child Becomes A Drag.  Drop by the website to read more posts on the subject of gifted homeschool fatigue, and get even more ideas on how to deal with it.




  1. Great post and some creative tips on how to deal with the doldrums of homeschooling. Sometimes you can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall and getting no where. On those bad days, it can be beneficial to take a time out. Other times, follow the child’s interests. Also, I have a similar child and it is very hard work. The defiance nearly killed me at times. I can’t even recall how many of those parenting books (on defiance, explosive child, strong-willed child, etc.) I read and tried to follow their advice but I know it was a lot. The defiance can improve over time and with maturity, though that can seem to take an eternity with 2e boys. Take heart.


    • Thank you! It’s always wonderful to hear from people who’ve made it past the stage we’re in right now. Thanks for commenting!


  2. I hear you! Schedule some fun! That’s what my post was all about too. And definitely give them the lead and, YES, hand the problem to someone else! Wish I could do more of the latter without the “homework” part – which I have to be around to facilitate. 🙂


    • I’m hoping to hand things off – but it will have to wait until he’s older. We’ll see! Thanks for commenting!


  3. This made me laugh out loud in places! (In a good way.) I wish I’d known all this when my kids were younger. Your wisdom as a second generation homeschooler must be sooo useful! I was also thinking, great if your eldest can do co-ops. My son has never been able to tolerate groups. Yay 😐


    • My experience helps and hinders in a lot of ways – I have no freaking clue on dealing with 2e! And like your son, mine can’t tolerate groups. Yet. Hoping things will change for that, especially as we hit the teen years. Thanks for commenting!


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