One of the biggest decisions we will make in regards to raising children is how to educate them. This post is not meant to proselytize you into homeschooling. Believe it or not, I DO NOT believe that homeschooling is for everyone. However, if this is the path God has for you and your children, I’d love to have you learn from my biggest homeschooling mistakes in the hopes that you can avoid the pain of repeating them.
Homeschooling has been, for our family, one of the biggest blessings we have received. But it wasn’t always easy. In fact, the early days brought on a lot of frustration for me as well as my little ones. When we started homeschooling, we didn’t know anyone else who homeschooled. I had NO ONE to guide me through, save the Susan Wise Bauer books that I checked out of the library. Unfortunately, I made more than my fair share of mistakes. But even with a rough start, I thankfully learned a few things quickly to make our life together more manageable. I hope this little confession of my biggest homeschooling mistakes helps you avoid similar pitfalls.
Expecting Too Much of Myself and My Child
While many people begin their homeschooling journey with fear and insecurity, others jump in with excitement and big plans. I fell into the second camp. While a healthy level enthusiasm is good, I fell into the trap of wanting to teach her EVERYTHING. RIGHT NOW. If this sounds familiar, can I encourage you to slow down and take a deep breath? Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint. If you set the bar too high for you and/or your children, you will have everyone feeling like a total failure when you start to lose steam. Pace yourself. You will have many weeks, months, and years to teach all that you want your children to know.
Buying Too Many Materials
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a prospecting homeschooler was to attend a homeschooling convention. At these conventions, you can visit the vendor hall and view curricula, books, and other materials before deciding what to invest in. The problem is, as a new homeschooler you really don’t know what you need. I easily justified in my mind the purchase of too many materials. You will not need every map, ruler, coloring book, or laminating machine that you come across. You can easily rack up a hefty total for these things if you don’t carefully consider whether you’ll actually use them. My advice is to take your time perusing the options. Look carefully at curricula and textbooks to decide what you really will need to teach your child. Avoid the temptation to make your dining room look like a traditional classroom, unless you really will be using the things that will cover the walls. Purchase only the basics, and make notes of what you might want to add in the future. Utilize FREE resources like your local library and educational apps and websites. Get your year started and spend some time learning how your child learns best. ALL THE THINGS might actually turn out to be a distraction for your student. Stick to the basics to begin with and add to your stash as needed.
Buying Only New Materials
New textbooks and materials can be very costly. It’s easy to feel like you need to buy everything at the homeschool convention, but using a little self-control can save you big money. When you find a new curriculum or textbook you want to use, look at eBay, your local library, or find a Facebook homeschooling buy/sell group. You can cut your book tab by over half by using used materials. Be careful, however, to ask about condition to be sure answers haven’t been filled in, etc. Also, be sure you know which pieces of a set are included and what you’ll need to purchase separately.
Sticking With a Curriculum That Doesn’t Work For Us
There are so many good choices in curricula, but not every book works for every child. Sometimes we make mistakes and purchase something that simply doesn’t work for us. While that can be costly in terms of money, not switching to a better fit can cost your child a love of learning. Try your best to purchase wisely, but don’t be too slow to make a change when something isn’t a good fit. There are too many good options out there to be miserable.
Giving Busy Work to Fill Our Day
Because you FEEL like school has to look a certain way and take up a certain amount of time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of filling up your day with busy work. Listen to me, mama: there is not one thing wrong with doing school for three hours, if that’s all it takes your child. Do not give into the urge to make your babies do worksheet after worksheet or project after project, just so you feel like you’ve done a complete school day. If it takes your child only a few math problems to get a concept down, stop giving more required work than they need. If your kid is a smarty pants who thrives on math work, then by all means, let him do his thing. But if they would rather have their nose buried in a book, let them move on to another activity that they enjoy. If they can’t wait to get outside and play, let them have that time, too. Children learn from doing all sorts of activities, even playing. Don’t give in to the temptation to fill a 8:00-3:00 day with book work. It usually isn’t necessary.
Teaching for Tests
I set out as a homeschool mom to teach my children to love learning. I just knew that if I could help them fall in love with learning, they would never stop learning. Sounds good, right? It was and is a good approach, but somewhere along the way we fell into teaching so that they could pass tests. It was an easy transition, so I didn’t see it coming. We didn’t test at first because I thought my little student was retaining everything I taught her. But after a few months I realized she couldn’t remember half of what we’d learned. I decided to give tests to give her some accountability for listening and retaining information. She began to remember more of what we studied. I felt like we were winning. Somewhere along the way, though, she began learning just enough to pass the tests and then forgetting it all when the test was over. She’s a sly one. We had to learn a new approach that included not only listening with wonder and excitement, but also remembering longer than testing lasted. For us, that meant reviewing more often and helping her connect the dots on why this material was important. When we know our “why” our “how” and “what” become easier.
Not Plugging in Socially
It’s no secret that socialization is one of the hot topics of homeschooling. How will they ever learn to behave around their peers? Most homeschooling parents quickly learn that their children will do just fine socially as long as they are still involved in field trips, church activities, sports, or other extra-curricular activities. What I failed to realize, however, is MY need for socializing. It is super easy to slide down the slippery slope of thinking you’re fine at home, doing the thing God has called you to. You click along, doing your daily school routine, not realizing the isolation that creeps in. One day you look up and realize you haven’t left the house in days and haven’t been in touch with friends in far too long. And now that your children are home with you all day, how could you do any of that stuff anyway? Mamas, I want to encourage you to make time with friends happen. Make date nights with your husband happen. Make beach weekends with your sisters happen. Go to that ladies night out with your church friends. You need it. You cannot keep pouring into your children without being filled up. That well will soon run dry. Get over the guilt and realize that you are a better homeschooling mom when you take time to engage with people who do not live in your house. Isolation=desperation. Nip that in the bud.
Expecting My Home to Stay Neat
Since we were home all day, I mistakenly assumed that our home would stay cleaner. Not true. We lived in that home all day, every day, and it stayed messy! Not unclean, mind you, but messy. Sure, the dishes were done, the floor scrubbed, and the laundry clean, but our tables and counters constantly held stacks of papers, buckets of art supplies, and open lesson plan books. Nothing was neat. There were always projects in process. I could either be constantly frustrated at the mess or learn to look at it as a beautiful sign of the homeschooling way of life. I wish I could say that my mind changed instantly. It didn’t. It took me lots of months and even years to accept that being home meant being disorderly. However, over time I learned to accept more messiness and my family learned to keep things neater. We meet in the middle.
Defending My Decision To Homeschool
Not everyone will be as excited about your decision to homeschool as you are. Not everyone will hear from God on this subject like you have. People will not get why you don’t do things the way everyone else does. While homeschooling is becoming increasingly more common, you will still face tension. You might face questions, and even criticism, from friends or family who don’t understand your decision. You will, no doubt, hear retellings of every homeschooling-gone-wrong story that has ever been told. Usually a simple explanation of your desire to homeschool will ease the tension. However, sometimes that isn’t the case. It’s easy to feel the need to defend yourself and your students to anyone who doesn’t agree with your choice to homeschool. Don’t fall into the trap of needing the approval of other people. You can really send yourself into a tailspin by needing other people to accept and agree with your decision, because you simply won’t get that from everyone. As long as you and your spouse are in agreement, and you feel like God is leading you to it, don’t concern yourself with the acceptance of everyone else. Sometimes you have to lead your family into unchartered territory to experience great blessing. Peter had to get out of the boat to walk on water, but he is the only one who got to experience Jesus in the storm.
You will, no doubt, experience mistakes of your own when beginning your homeschooling journey. Try as you might to gain wisdom from others who have gone before you, you will find that you too have blown it a time or two. I sincerely hope that you can avoid some of the things I have mentioned, but just in case… learn to give yourself grace.
Peace to you and your family as you make the homeschooling journey!