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Do you really need that awesome educational resource in your homeschool?

By Beverley Paine

The sheer volume of quality educational resources available online and from book and toy stores can be overwhelming. I found myself thinking that I could never get enough, driven by the belief that if I didn't have this or that or make it available to my children they'd miss out on some critical or important learning opportunity. I fell prey to the 'smorgasbord' approach to education. and quickly my home started to look like a kindergarten on steroids!

Don't let this happen to you! Why? Because it clutters your mind and distracts you from the main game, which is being available to help your children learn when they need you most. I became so busy hunting down and finding that one essential resource for teaching that all-important skill I forgot to notice the many ways in which my children were already learning it - without that precious resource!

Taking on the role of teacher was fun and enjoyable - I had a great time writing up lesson plans and creating or buying resources we could use. I felt fulfilled: having added educator to mother meant I was a busy productive person doing a great job. Except I felt frustrated that my children weren't interested in the activities I had planned and provided, as well as riddled with guilt that I was so busy researching and setting up those activities I'd missed spending time playing with my children, especially as I needed to work overtime to catch up on the essential everyday chores of life.

Every item we bring into our lives is an investment in time, energy, emotion and effort. These items need maintenance, storing, cleaning. And money and time that is spent on these items is money and time that can't be spent on something we'd actually value more. It is possible and sensible to change and to switch our focus to something that is truly important to us. I did this by beginning to understand the motivating factors that drove me to build my collection of resources in the first place.

I hope these few tips I picked up and used along the way to bring sanity back into my home educating life might work for you too.

Do you REALLY need it?

I can't count the number of times I hesitated and didn't buy something because although I thought I truly wanted it, having asked the simple question, "Do I really need it?" I walked away from the temptation to purchase. I'd argue with myself for minutes, setting out pros and cons. Sometimes I knew I'd kick myself later - either for buying or not buying. But mostly we never missed not having the resource. We made do with something else, usually something that had been sitting on the shelf for ages unused. Or we created it ourselves. Making stuff is one of those activities that develop skills and knowledge across the curriculum, a real short cut when it comes to covering learning objectives!

Slowing the flow of educational resources coming into our home slowly eased the pressure I felt to teach this or that because of clever marketing campaigns, or because my friends' children loved a particular resource or were doing great things with it. And anything that eased my performance anxiety as a home educator meant I more able to be fully present to tune into my children's individual learning needs, not what others thought they should be learning by whatever age. Being attentive meant my children felt listened to and their preferences and interests acknowledged, which led to less stress all round and the development of a cooperative and peaceful learning environment.

And it's not just at the point of purchase that the question "Do we really need it?" cropped up. Long before we decided we'd home educate our children I'd already started cluttering my home with 'essential' educational resources. Some were rarely used but occupied considerable space and had become visual and mental clutter. I'd see them on the shelf and think "I must use that soon, get the children to do blah blah", mostly out of guilt because of the money I'd spent on it or the time I'd put into creating it. I collected and stored things for years for when my children would be 'ready' to use them.

The urge to hold on to things because they'll be useful one day was really hard to overcome. I had to examine thoroughly what the need I thought the item would serve actually was, and if it was real or imagined. In addition I had to work out if it was my need, the children's need or driven by need to satisfy others' expectations of what we should be doing. I'd brought many things into our home and lives that looked good and might one day be useful, but weren't contributing at all to our immediate sense of well-being and happiness or the functionality of our home educating lives.

It's hard giving up things we've cherished for whatever reason as important and necessary in our lives, even when there is no longer any need to keep them.

"Do I really need it?" helped me slowly learn to let go of the clutter, one thing at a time, every other day. Spring cleans were cathartic but stressful: I'd often end up tossing out half a dozen things and then start worrying, finally giving in, unable to make rational decisions about what to keep and what to give away or toss. And that's okay. I'd promise myself that if we didn't use the resource over the next year it would go with the next spring clean. Eventually I realised that it is much easier to clear the clutter day by day, one item at a time. As I came across it I'd ask the question, "Do we really need this?" and be guided by my response.

Letting go of the easy stuff first is a must. And the more we clear this unneeded and unwanted stuff the easier it gets to make those decisions about the 'quality' items. Better still, don't invite or bring that stuff into our homes in the first place! It's so tempting to buy that on sale, cheap, special item, and it's really hard to say no to anything that's free, especially if it has that 'educational' tag on it. "Do we really need it?" helped me turn away.

Often the decision came down to how I'd dispose of the resource: my need to not waste anything useful used to mean I'd put it back on the shelf, even if there wasn't any hope we'd ever use it! Finding homes for our stuff became a creative endeavour. Thank goodness for Freecycle! Our local op shop regularly receives a box of stuff, and anything we can turn into cash gets put online on Gumtree. I'd love to give some of my stuff to friends but I'm reluctant to encourage them on the clutter-your-home-with-stuff-we-don't-need path! And eventually I began to question the nature of the gifts I gave - an issue I'm still working on now I have grandchildren. Spending time and enjoying experiences together is replacing the urge to buy items that will surely end up as clutter in my children's homes.

The trickiest stuff to move on are those things family members or friends have given us or our children as gifts. Even if these have never been used we feel obliged to have them on display, a visual reminder that we are thankful for the gift and care about the person who gifted them. It took me a long time to let go of the unnecessary guilt and remind myself that a gift given belongs to the recipient and it is okay for them to do what they want with it. Attaching strings to the gift is a problem that belongs to the person gifting it, not the recipient.

It's really important to remember that as parents we need to consult our children about our de-cluttering desires: if something belongs to the child because we or someone else has purchased it or given it to them the decision to let it go must be theirs.

As home educators it makes sense to share resources. Many of us already make good use of our local library and toy library. Joining or creating home educating support groups and learning cooperatives offers opportunities to make the most of resources that are invaluable or expensive but rarely used or from which the benefit is obtained from the first use. If there isn't one happening where you live, consider setting one up. It's an excellent way to meet fellow home educators and make friends.

Decluttering our home educating lives isn't easy. We tend to collect and use way more stuff than most families. Our busy, constructive and productive lives make sure of this! Getting and keeping a handle on the amount of stuff will alleviate a considerable amount of unnecessary stress in our lives. I was surprised by the unintended side effects - real, tangible bonuses - that arose because of this simple question, "Do we really need it?" Life felt saner, we seemed happier, we had more time for each other, and generally felt less stressed. And all that translates into greater opportunity for successful learning experiences and outcomes!

See also Letting Go of Possessions - Part of the Decluttering Process for more ideas from Beverley as well as How I Got Rid of the Mess in my Life

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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