by Karen D. Koch

For a few weeks now I’ve noticed two frequent-flyer birds in my yard. Just little sparrows chittering away–nothing special. It occurred to me a few days ago that they probably have a nest nearby, so I started watching more carefully.

Four Little Mouths
My desk is downstairs, below our deck and by a window, so I have a clear view of our backyard and the rock retaining wall. Last year I found a nest there in the overgrown wall that some neighborhood cat found, unfortunately before the chicks were full-grown. So I started my search there. Yesterday I found a hidden niche behind some overhanging plants. A tiny nest. I pushed aside the dangling overgrowth and was met with four large mouths, open wide for food.

I feel blessed with this gift outside my window. A tiny nest, four little beaks, industrious parent birds bringing insect gifts to nourish their little ones.  I texted my husband this photo and he texted back and replied, “Cool photo. Love how you celebrate God’s little gifts. Love you.”

But in year’s past, I have often forgotten to celebrate God’s little gifts. I had a pretty bad case of “Life and Homeschool Burnout” for awhile.

When I began homeschooling my own little chicks 16 years ago, I remember my intense drive to learn everything, read everything, make sure I did this homeschool thing right because it’s a good thing, a true thing to choose to home educate your kids. But two kids became three, then four. Then came several moves, my mom’s unexpected death, my husband’s loss of a job, losing our home, three miscarriages in a two-year period, and frankly, some depression. During that time I felt I was doing the bare minimum to survive. We weren’t the glowing homeschool family you see on magazine covers, although we did keep dutifully plodding along.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Matthew 6:26 

We got through the worst of all that, but then the oldest two boys were in high school with all that entails, and I was exhausted but content, knowing I was helped them navigate through it. Six years of homeschooling high school wrapped up in the spring of 2016, with the high school graduation of my second son and a few months later the early college graduation of my oldest son.  I breathed a sigh of relief and decided I had best take a mental break from some of our over-busy-ness. I felt I hadn’t taken the time to notice or enjoy the little things, like birds’ nest, in a long time.

The word sabbatical has at its root “Sabbath.” With no one in high school this past year, I decided that we would take a rest, and simplify our lives considerably for the 2016-17 school year. No PSAT or SAT, no driver’s ed or practice driving, no college applications/visits or NCAA paperwork or high school transcripts, etc. My remaining two children in homeschool just completed 8th grade and 3rd grade last month, and we had a good, solid school year. Nothing spectacular, but very satisfying. We survived quite nicely without all the bells and whistles.

At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, we had a major “first” in homeschool. Child #2 moved away to college. The first out of the nest, so to speak, as #1 was able to do college while living at home. This alone was enough to give me pause. How in the world did those 18 years go so quickly?

I stopped volunteering for things (mostly). We skipped nearly every field trip offered by our wonderful homeschool co-op, and did just a half day there instead of a possible full day. We slept late often. We eliminated a lot of our evening activities.  We opted out of a lot of things. And a funny thing happened in our “quiet/restful” year: We read probably double what we normally read aloud. We worked in our garden and planted flowers and vegetables. We rode our bikes. We had more people over for dinner. We made s’mores around our fire pit more often. I played chess with my son instead of saying, “Later.” The kids took swimming lessons. I took an overnight surprise trip with my daughter to celebrate her 13th birthday. We visited their big brother at college (and I dropped literally everything when he called or wanted to FaceTime). I was more patient in general. My daughter built things with my husband. We played more board games. We took more photos. We visited some National Parks. My daughter went on her first mission trip just last week.

By just removing a lot of the time-squeezers and by saying “no” to obligations and activities that were good but not necessary, we found time to do more fulfilling and rewarding things. And these things were restful and enjoyable. Oddly enough, a lot of those things were educational. Sometimes less is more.

My daughter begins high school in the fall, and I’m ready and kind of excited for the activities to increase again. I think I’m ready to tackle that because we’ve had some rest, and I’ve remembered to take time to look for bird’s nests and to watch the flowers grow.

Karen Koch is enjoying her morning coffee, her bird nest, hydrangeas, roses, sunflowers, and feeding her own four not-so-little chicks, as they are all home this summer. She serves as CHEA’s editor and has been homeschooling for 16 years.  All photos are from Karen’s yard.

CHEA’s high school resources
The High School Handbook
34th Annual Convention: Teen Convention July 13-15, 2017
FREE Mini-Conference for New Homeschoolers July 13