This is our fourth year homeschooling and I can really look back and say that I blew it in several areas as I was starting out. Our homeschool is so much better now .
What is a better homeschool? In this case it’s one where everyone is happier. We’re progressing towards goals we value and that brings greater satisfaction to kids and more peace of mind to Mom.
So where did I go wrong? Oh so many places… in fact, a big part of me wants to go back and delete all my early blog posts on homeschooling lest some poor unsuspecting prospective homeschooler follow my former self into the same pitfalls. Maybe I’ll add a big red disclaimer to the top of them: CAUTION! A HOMESCHOOLING NEWB WROTE THIS!
All dramatics aside, I do think that many bumps in the homeschooling road (curriculum changes and frustration, scheduling tweaks, calendar overhauling, unscheduled teacher inservice days, etc.) are all part of the journey to becoming a comfortable, competent homeschooling parent and I’m sure there are many yet ahead of me. As I tell my kids when they goof up on their drawing or a new math concept: “Of course you aren’t excellent at it yet! Messing up is part of learning something new. ”
I Didn’t Make the Worst Mistake
Is there a wrong way to homeschool? There are certainly lots of different ways to do it right. I suppose the only really truly wrong way to homeschool is to have a bad attitude about learning (or, worse, a bad attitude about your kids). That’s a mistake I’ve never made, and I think that’s reflected in the fact that we’d enjoyed every year together so far and we’ve learned lots.
That being said, I had clear several missteps along the way.
Ten of My Early Homeschooling Mistakes
1 . I am an information hound and I naively thought that by doing plenty of research at the beginning, I could choose a path and keep with it pretty well, adding kids along the way. I didn’t want to invest money in any books we wouldn’t continue to use for years to come and I wanted to reap the benefits of planning out each year by using those same plans for future students. One of my mantras in life is “begin the way you mean to go on” and another is “consistency wins.” But now here I am, admitting that while my thinking and reading early on definitely helped, being flexible and open to different approaches along the way has significantly improved the way I run our homeschool. And hey, it’s helped to improve our day-to-day consistency as well, even if the year-to-year changes have been big.
I’ve had to eat humble pie along the way, particularly after blogging so much of our early homeschool efforts. That is why I’m now committed to only blogging at the end of a homeschool year rather than blogging about our plans…
Now I’m better about embracing the idea of something working well “for now” or “for this child” or “for this year” and I learning to enjoy the challenge of adjusting along the way. I’ve sold some of the books that turned out to be duds and I’ve found better ways to acquire promising books inexpensively. It’s actually refreshing to mix things up for a season or for a year. Aside from subjects that do need to be learned sequentially, I envision myself spreading a feast for my kids. It’s so liberating!
2. I way overdid things our first year and my daughter and I both burned out. I had heard and read a dozen times not to hurry my oldest child into academics but since she was avid reader and math came easily to her, I launched right into a full morning of structured learning (with a toddler and a baby in tow). It was, for us, unnecessary and sort of exhausting.
Our younger kids learn to read early but beyond that I just keep an eye on their interest level and needs as I start incorporating them into our school day. They often do way more than I expect in some areas and less in others, but I no longer feel any rush about it. That is SO hard to do with your oldest when you’re excited to homeschool!
3. I managed to under plan our third year and although my kids still progressed in meaningful ways, I was left feeling a bit dissatisfied with my own effort.
This series by Pam Barnhill on homeschool year planning was immensely helpful and has really anchored our homeschool year. I now identify very specific areas that I’d like to work on with each child so I don’t have those vague unsettling feelings that I’m not doing “enough” or not doing the right things. The truth is there isn’t usually a universal “right” thing. You have to choose it for your own child.
4. I read a book on homeschooling that resonated with me and I pretty much followed it to a “T”. It took several years to fully realize that although the underlying philosophy was one I agreed with, the application of that philosophy didn’t work well for our family. Also, the author was very focused on writing and history, and much less focused on science and math. So it should have come as no surprise that when I took her recommendations for science and math, I regretted nearly all of them.
I am now slower to change the way I do things, evaluating the source and my own reasons for seeking a change. The solution is not simply adopting someone else’s approach 100%, because I’m not that person and I don’t have her kids and life. It felt safer to copy someone else, but I’m confident enough now to take bits and pieces that fit for my family and set the rest aside.
5. I paid more attention to homeschool methods, philosophies and curriculum than I did to my own kids. This post by Sarah Mackenzie explains this pitfall much better than I can. It’s an excellent read.
6. I didn’t trust in myself as the best teacher for my kids. In the future I’m sure we’ll outsource some teaching to other people passionate about a topic, fluent in a language, or proficient in a skill that my kids are interested in. But I have felt way too much angst along the way just comparing myself to other homeschool moms. Our school room is the kitchen table. Nothing is color coordinated and there is no timeline on the wall. That’s A-OK as long as it doesn’t make me second guess all the great stuff we’re doing that suits my own strengths better.
My rule now is if it’s not broken, I don’t go looking at what everyone else is doing. I steer clear of Pinterest, blogs, etc. for topics unless I am actively looking for a solution to a current problem. Otherwise I limit nearly all my homeschool planning and idea-finding for the chunk of time in which I plan the coming school year. At some point I stop planning and just focus on executing the plan. (See #1, about me being an information junkie. This requires self-control but the payoff is peace.)
7. I underestimated how much my relationship with my kids impacted their ability to learn from me. Tweaking the schedule or switching to a different curriculum won’t fix a heart problem.
Now I do a full stop and address any relationship issues first, before challenging my kids academically. Often that means scheduling one-on-one time with that child doing things they choose. Sometimes that means I need to be more aware of my speech towards that child and focus on being positive with them and not nitpicking. Sometimes that means we need to take a few days off school and find ways to laugh and play together to strengthen connection. It’s that connection that eliminates friction around assignments I give them. It is that connection that helps my kids feel safe enough to take academic risks.
8. I only scheduled my student(s) and not my younger child(ren) when I planned my day. When I read this book on scheduling, the biggest takeaway was that homeschooling is a family endeavor. If I don’t consider what my 2 year old is doing while I’m teaching my 8 year old long division, there is a good chance the 2 year old will throw a human hand grenade into the middle of that math lesson in the form of a tantrum or a mess.
I wrote much more about the specifics of creating a great schedule previously. After some time applying those principles, I don’t have to do it quite as explicitly now unless I reach what feels like an impasse.
9. I didn’t schedule in breaks. I loved the idea of learning as a way of life, so I pretty much just planned on homeschooling five days a week unless something came up. Even though my kids and I enjoy school, I have to admit this approach was not a good fit for us.
Now we do 6 weeks on, 1 week off year-round, taking a week off at Thanksgiving, one at Easter, and an extra week off at Christmas time and between school years. Mystie Winckler has a great post on year-round homeschooling that helped me wrap my mind around it. I love being able to plan my year in 6 week intervals, including my personal and home goals in addition to homeschooling.
10. I far overestimated the number of glue sticks we’d use and far underestimated the number of pencils we’d lose. I’m not crafty (remember?) and my couches eat pencils like they’re popcorn.