There are two questions that often get asked in homeschooling: “How do I know if I’m doing enough?” and “How do I know if I’m doing too much?” Homeschooling—and really, life in general—is a wide spectrum, and it’s easy to swing to the two extremes: doing too much or doing too little. The sweet spot is staying somewhere in between, giving your student an excellent education and an enjoyable childhood, providing opportunities for her to learn and grow now and preparing her for life as an adult. It can be a balancing act.

I’ve already touched on “Am I Doing Enough?” in another post, so check that one out if you would like to explore that question. Today, let’s discuss “Am I Doing Too Much?”

The trick with both of those questions is that there is no one solid answer that applies to everybody. We all have unique situations. Each child is an individual. Each family is different. It would be foolish for me to try to give you one model and say, “This is exactly what you should be doing.” That doesn’t work in real life.

We all have unique situations. Each child is an individual. Each family is different.

But what I can do is give you some areas to consider. These are areas that can provide insight into what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and those key points can reveal a lot about whether your homeschooling is in balance. So here are five things to think about.

1. Your lessons

Let’s start with a simple, concrete, visible area of homeschooling. Let’s look at your lessons; specifically, the number of books you are assigning your student to read and narrate. I think this is one area in which it’s easy to go overboard. 

Since living books and narration are a hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education, it’s easy to think “the more, the better.” But that’s not the case. If you look at Charlotte’s schedules, you’ll see balance. I’m not saying you need to duplicate her schedules exactly, but I do think it is wise to understand the principles behind her schedules. 

Here’s what I’m talking about. In grades 1 through 3, the number of books that the students were reading (or listening to the teacher read) and narrating was two per day, some days it was three. That’s it. The rest of the lessons involved movement, listening, looking, talking, and working with objects and math concepts. Only two or three book lessons per day.

In grades 4 though 6, that number went to a solid three read-and-narrate books each day. And in grades 7–9, it increased to about four book lessons per day. 

Again, you don’t have to do exactly as Charlotte outlined in her schedule, but the principle is important: more is not necessarily better when it comes to the number of books you are requiring your student to read and narrate each day.

Consider that area of homeschooling to help you determine whether you’re doing too much.

2. Your calendar

The second area I want to mention is your calendar, how you are spending the moments of life. This area includes your homeschooling schedule but also much more. I think we all want to live “well,” not just busy. And in order to help us live well, we need to stop at times and take stock of how we are spending our days.

I would venture to say that the activities you are involved in are probably good. I doubt that any of you would knowingly add something bad to your weekly schedule. Yet it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Just as we saw with living books and read-and-narrate lessons, we have to be careful that we don’t cross the line into overload. 

Where is that line for you? I can’t tell you that. Some people thrive on lots of outside activities and time with others in a co-op or sports or art events; other people thrive on just a few. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself, considering your own personality and your child’s. 

But I will urge you to take a look at the margin in your life. How much margin you need may be a judgment call, but you do need margin. Margin is the space between where you are now and where you are completely maxed out. It’s the distance between where you are operating now and where the edge of the cliff is, whether that cliff is emotional, financial, whatever. It’s the point at which you fall off the edge and feel completely out of control. 

Margin is the space between where you are now and where you are completely maxed out.

How do you know if your calendar is overloaded? Take a look at the past few weeks. Do you see time for both you and your student to think and process—to discuss and learn from life as it happens—or do you just see a flurry of activity? Do you feel like you are entering each school day prepared for the lessons, or are you so busy doing other things that you find yourself winging it more often than not? The answer to those questions might help you know whether you are doing too much.

3. Your motivation

A third area you can consider is your own motivation. What is driving you to do school and life the way you are doing it? Some types of motivation can contribute toward a tendency to overload and doing too much. 

So think through: Are you operating from a place of fear? Are you afraid that your child’s education might have gaps? Let me reassure you right now: it will have gaps. You can’t teach your child all about everything. That is physically impossible. Every teacher has to make choices about what he will teach during the limited time he has with a student. Don’t let fear make those choices. Fear is not a good decision-maker.

Perhaps you are being motivated by competition. How does my child measure up to ______? You fill in the blank: How does my child measure up to my friend’s child? to what the grandparents expect? to his older sibling? Comparison and competition can drive you into overload.

Another driving motivation is ambition. Your hopes and dreams for that child’s future can result in pushing too hard and doing too much. Sometimes the child herself is driven by ambition. In that case, yes, help her to achieve her goals, but also help her to learn the good habits of living well, which will set her up for a successful, balanced life.

There’s one more motivation that can sneak up on us sometimes, and that is enthusiasm. You might have a real love for a certain subject; it might be math or literature or foreign language or music or art, any number of things. Enthusiasm is good as long as it doesn’t grow out of proportion. Sometimes we can inadvertently allow our enthusiasm for a subject to push it to a prominent place in the curriculum line up. We spend more time on that favored subject because we tend to wax eloquent about it or we find ways of weaving it into every other subject. I’m not saying lose your enthusiasm. I’m just saying be careful that your passion for a subject doesn’t drive you to overload in that aspect of your child’s education. Keep things in proportion.

Charlotte said,

But education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child’s mind should deal with.

A Philosophy of Education, p. 231

4. Your student

A fourth area that you can look at is your student. Overload can exhibit telltale signs. Consider whether your student is acting challenged or frustrated. Challenge is good, but frustration often springs from a helpless feeling of being overloaded and not able to do what is expected of you. If you’re seeing tears and frustration, there’s a good chance that your student is feeling overloaded. 

Check to see whether it’s one particular subject that is the cause; in which case, you may need to take a couple of steps backward to where your student feels confident and then work forward again from there. But also check whether it’s an overall feeling of frustration with homeschooling and life in general. It could be that your student needs more margin in her schedule. What you’re seeing might be that student falling over the edge of the cliff and feeling out of control because something has become too much. 

Pray about it. Talk to your child. Talk with your spouse or a trusted friend. Then don’t be afraid to scale down and add more margin if needed. It can make a huge difference.

5. Your goal

The fifth area that I would encourage you to look at is to revisit what your goal is. In educating your child, what is your goal? If there is one thing that can push you into overload faster than anything else it’s having a goal of conveying information—trying to cover all necessary information before your student graduates. A goal like that can easily drive you to include so much in your school lessons that it becomes too much to process. 

Such a goal is not the Charlotte Mason way. Charlotte would remind us, 

It cannot be too often said that information is not education.

School Education, p. 169

Rather, in a Charlotte Mason education, your goal is not to finish something but to begin something. That sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s true. Your goal is not to finish conveying a body of information to your student’s brain, then checking it off that he is educated. That’s all. It’s done. That’s not the Charlotte Mason way. 

Instead, your goal is to help your student begin to form relationships that will continue throughout his life—relationships with people, both past and present; with God; with the things that God has made; and even with himself. This type of education is a beginning. It is starting the student on a lifelong pursuit of enhancing and deepening those relationships. It is the beginning of a life of learning, of growing, … of living!

Charlotte described it this way:

We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking—the strain would be too great—but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,—how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education—but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

School Education, pp. 170, 171

When you look at it that way—as a beginning rather than a completion—it puts a whole different perspective on what you’re trying to accomplish. Trying to finish transferring of a huge body of information to your student’s brain can push you into doing too much. But simply trying to start and encourage ongoing relationships removes that stress, the pressure fades. That doesn’t mean we get careless and lazy and do too little, and it also doesn’t mean that we get stressed out and anxious and do too much. 

I think that keeping your sight fixed on the right goal—a relationship-focused education—can play a big role in helping you keep that important balance and not sway to either extreme.

Are you doing too much? I can’t tell you that, but hopefully these ideas can guide you to look at key areas of your life and answer that question for yourself and for your student.

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