Layer It In

Here’s the best advice I’ve ever heard about homeschooling, especially as it pertains to homeschooling using a particular method: “layer it in.”

I’m not sure where I first heard or read that phrase but it is homeschooling gold.

When my oldest was little and we arrived at the decision to homeschool her, I felt it was necessary to immediately know what “type” of homeschoolers we were going to be and to immediately implement that methodology completely. She was three. Yes, that’s embarrassing to admit.

I found myself drawn to Waldorf education and Charlotte Mason’s ideas on home education. Both schools of thought were rich with ideas on savoring a slow childhood, plenty of time spent outdoors, reading from living books and deeply meaningful fairy tales, handicrafts like knitting both for mama and child. There was so much to incorporate: creating a home rhythm, implementing a circle time, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, teaching my child how to help around the house and the list goes on and on and on.

I had no idea where to begin. In fits and starts I made various random attempts at incorporating whatever I had read about most recently and after a few months of this I realized I wasn’t much closer to my ideal than when I had started. I was trying to do too much, and doing none of it well.

Somewhere in there I came across this idea of layering it in. The general idea? Start where you are. Choose one thing, and implement it completely. Once you have this new element solidly incorporated and it’s an effortless part of your day, then you can consider the next thing you’d like to layer in.

We spent the entire year my oldest was four going on a morning walk every weekday. I had a new baby that year and it was a monumental effort for us to get out every day, no matter the weather, but it was my top priority and so I put the majority of my focus there. By the end of the year it was just a part of our life. The year she was five, I layered in a morning circle time. The year she was six we moved and had another baby so I really didn’t layer in anything and that’s OK. This year, she is seven and we are layering in a main lesson, which means three mornings a week we do a formal lesson. Now that we have five months of main lessons under our belts, I’m starting to think about what I want to incorporate next.

Here’s a wonderful perspective on this concept:

“If you have time to do the laundry, prepare the meals, do the dishes, clean up after, sleep adequately and go outside everyday and still have time leftover, then take up the celebrations. Otherwise, just light a candle with meals and celebrate being together, being sane and having quiet moments.”

– Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie

Which is to say, please don’t berate yourself over skipping making homemade Valentine’s with your kids if it means they don’t get a home-cooked meal that night. (Unless making Valentine’s fills your soul and making dinner does not! Then by all means make it a pizza night.) The point is, there is only so much time in the day.

Life with small children is FULL to the brim oftentimes. A mother’s day can be spent completely focused on the small tasks of running a house and raising babies. I think that as mothers – homeschool mothers in particular maybe – we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the laundry, dishes, read-alouds, meals, butt wiping, hand washing, cookie making, mess cleaning, doctor’s appointments and more that fills our days. The reality is that I don’t have a lot of open space in my days to layer things into. So I choose carefully what to bring in next. And as things become automatic … like a habit of reading aloud before an afternoon quiet time … it frees up time and energy to focus on adding something else.

One thing to remember about ‘layering it in’ is that because I focus on one thing at a time, there are plenty of elements that I would love to add to our homeschool, but which just haven’t happened yet. We have been homeschooling inspired by Waldorf methods for over four years now and we just added wet-on-wet watercolor painting to our weekly rhythm this month, for example.

Another example: even though I have been enamored with the idea of poetry teatime, I used to look at other mother’s photos of lovely tables filled with tea and baked goods and poetry books and snort/laugh at how utterly impossible that felt in my life at the moment. Then suddenly something shifted and it did seem possible. So we layered it in. And it’s been lovely. It’s OK to mull something over for a very long time before introducing it to your homeschool. No one is missing out, and you will be richly rewarded by adding in the right thing at the right time (and that timing has to be right for mama too!).

When I feel bad about the things I have not yet been able to offer my children, I must remind myself that I am not a school, I am a mother. I don’t have unlimited resources (energetic, financial or otherwise).

Another beautiful gift of homeschooling is that I know I will still have my kids with me next year, and the year after that. There will be time enough to layer in all of the elements that I deem to be most important. As my kids get older and more independent, and the demands of these early years with a baby and preschooler at home ease up, this will only get easier. This homeschool gig is a marathon, not a sprint.

This little nugget of advice has helped me to go slow, be purposeful and take care when curating my homeschool. I hope it helps you to do the same!

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