Thursday, September 12, 2013

More or less perfect planning

Perfectionism can be paralysing.  Just ask me.  We started a unit study on Astronomy earlier this year.  It might have been ok if I just planned to use Apologia, on it's own with a handful of library books.  BUT as I often do, I got carried away.  I collected a pile of terrific supplementary books and resources, like the Intelligo unit study, Magic School Bus lapbook, and bookmarked a dozen online activities and video clips.  I put all the physical resources in a box ready to use, and moved on to planning the next subject.  That was my first mistake.  I LOVE planning, but to stay sane I need to organise my thoughts on paper.  I rarely follow a plan, but I like to know there is a plan.

I thought I was prepared.  We jumped in and enjoyed the first few weeks, dipping into the books, loosely following Apologia's index as a sequence.  It was all fun, until we made the planets.  There's nothing wrong with our planets.  The trouble is, I didn't know where to hang them.  So they sat on a tray in a corner of the room.  In the weeks that followed every time I thought about Astronomy, I saw those planets waiting for me.  We did some more reading but I had lost my spark.  It seems ridiculous, but they were like a big pause button that had jammed and stopped the show.

It took me a few months to realise perfectionism was to blame for my procrastination.  Thankfully, we worked out what to do about the planets.  A solution that didn't involve holes in walls or ceilings.

We got back into Astronomy last week, and it's come alive again.  I've also figured out some principles to help me move forward even when I feel stuck.  Take a simple step.  Do the next thing.  If we miss something great, we can look at it later.  Playful enthusiasm is probably more worthwhile than a dozen wonderful things we 'could' do but never get to for fear of not doing them right or in order.  That makes me sound really stunted and regimented but actually I'm an ideas person who gets stuck now and then when too many ideas collide and get tangled.

Must I insist on everything being an eclectic feast of epic proportions?  
Enrichment is great but I think I take it too far sometimes.  

Perfectly Imperfect ...

It's not just astronomy.  I did this last year with The Human Body, and our Trip Around the World.  We stayed in Kenya for a term because it was so interesting, but then I felt bad that we wouldn't have time to visit other countries.  "So what?" says the voice of reason, "Be grateful that you had a wonderful time in Kenya."

Then after we explored Egypt for a while the "shoulds" barged in and stole my joy again ... we should do Egypt 'properly' ... there is so much we could read about, make, play, watch.  I got carried away researching possibilities.  And I started judging the value of what we did by how much we hadn't done, not by the great things we actually did.

Tell me I'm not the only one who sometimes drowns in possibilities?  

Speed is one solution to perfectionism ... I work best when I ad lib, when I quickly grab a few ideas and books and light a warm, cosy campfire to chat around.  Give me too long to to plan, and collect tonnes of firewood but loose the spark.  Like it or not, I get paralysed by perfectionism. 

I need to get back to the spark of an idea and provide just enough fuel for a crackling bonfire ... cosy books, lively conversations, experiences and games.

My planning needs to be MORE perfect ...
-  feverish collecting is fun but I need to save some spark for doing.
-  write up simple plans instead of trying to juggle ten exciting subjects in my head.
-  eclectic homeschooling and freedom are great, but sometimes it helps to have a map.
-  prepare ahead of time, but don't stress if we decide to miss some good things in favour of others.
-  like it or not (not), time is a finite resource;  enjoy the freedom to skim the surface or dive deep.
-  accept that all choices have a price tag;  don't get caught up in wishes and what ifs.
-  stick with the plan, at least some of the time.
-  use momentum to avoid getting paralysed by perfectionism.
-  if the kids know the plan includes melting chocolate with a magnifying glass, they will keep you accountable!
-  although our inspectors don't want to see detailed plans for everything we do, sometimes a unit study plan can help collate and condense an excellent, impossibly huge plan into an enjoyable, doable plan.

and LESS perfect ...
-  use a few simple resources well, rather than drown in a bucketful of brilliant possibilities.
-  it doesn't matter if it's perfect, it matters that we do something and have fun doing it.
-  finish each step if possible, but ...
-  if that's too hard, move on confidently, without regret.

Failing all that, ditch the plan!  I knew why we left Egypt only half explored last year, and where we went instead (we needed to go home).  We were there long enough to get a couple of snapshots, and we really enjoyed flying along the course of the Nile.  We didn't see everything, and that's ok.  We will probably go there again 'one day.'

We'll never be perfect ... not this side of heaven at least ... we're just enjoying being here, imperfectly but joyfully learning.  As to WHAT we're learning, well that's actually pretty exciting.  I will tell you all about it soon!

P.S. As a reward for anyone who read to the very end ... here's a link to another blog with some terrific tips for releasing yourself from the trap of perfection.  Enjoy!


  1. Great post Vanessa. Yes, I too struggle with perfectionism (in many areas, not just homeschooling) and sometimes speed and having a deadline is the best thing for me. Thanks for the ideas! (And great job on the planets - they look fantastic!)

  2. Thanks, Kez. You always have something encouraging to say! I feel so stilted writing about this kind of thing but it helps me sort out the issue.

  3. You are so articulate Vanessa, I really admire that about you both on your blog and on the AHS forum! I think reading Charlotte Mason's stuff helped me and I'll paraphrase it here....she said it's better for children to really be immersed in one topic than skim the surface of lots of things. This has really helped me in our homeschool journey:) It's helped me realise that I don't need to teach Rebekah everything as long as we do the things we do well and she has a love of learning, as learning is a life long adventure. Anyway, I just wanted to encourage you that your kids have probably learned far more than you realise even if you didn't get to all the plans you had:)

    1. Thanks so much! Your kind words and encouragement really mean a lot to me. I agree with the perspective you shared. It's really a delightful life!


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