7 dumb mistakes people make when homeschooling
We all make mistakes — especially in homeschooling. In fact one of the most satisfying pastimes is to listen to the tales that homeschool parents tell about the mistakes they have made along the way — and to realize that they not only survived, but are thriving. Just as they did, you can learn from their mistakes. I have been listening to these storytellers at homeschool Park Days for years and have assembled some of the most common mistakes in an effort to save you the trouble of making them yourself. Here they are:
- Unrealistic Expectations
New and veteran homeschoolers alike frequently start the homeschool year with unrealistic expectations. You’ll recognize the high achievers — they plan to cover the national curriculum standards for grades 4-8 by Christmas, and cover all 4 years of high school by June. (Any of you who have ever tried to get through a Saxon math textbook in 18 months will surely stand in awe.) Kids and parents in this marathon suffer from burnout often within weeks of the starting point.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t expect much at all — the under achievers. With no goal, no plan, no thought to developing a rich learning environment for their children — they start off the year wishful that learning will “just happen,” but find themselves frustrated and floundering in late October, when the kids are bored to tears, climbing the walls (literally), and mom is disappointed that the “homeschooling” just doesn’t seem to be working.
The key, of course, is balance. Work with your children to develop and maintain a realistic vision and plan for their learning adventures. With a practical goal and plan, you might actually avoid the next dumb mistake…
- Over Scheduling & Under Scheduling
In homeschooling there are things to do, places to go, and people to see. You could keep your calendar packed with field trips, co-op classes, and park days all week long — only to find after a few weeks of dragging the kids to every museum exhibit in town that they are begging you to stay home. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of field trips may be constitutional rights, but there is such a thing as doing too much. Conversely, activity deprivation can stunt growth and development. It is important to expose our kids to the bounty of life and a wealth of learning opportunities — but within reasonable limitations. Just as kids need varied and stimulating activities, they also need peaceful solitude and unstructured time to learn and grow.
- Ignoring Child Feedback
Your children are the best barometers of how the homeschooling is going. Trust me, they will give you lots of feedback. Listen to them. If your daughter throws the spelling workbook on the floor and tearfully screams, “I hate this – you can’t make me do it!” — I would say that’s a definite clue that the subject, the materials, the method -something – is wrong and isn’t working. Back off. Throw it away or put it away, but get rid of whatever is causing the misery. (By the way, this is standard practice among successful homeschool families who frequently discard materials that didn’t work at curriculum swaps.) On the other hand, if your son’s eyes sparkle with interest, enthusiasm, delight and happiness when he is working on a project or activity, that’s a clue that whatever he is doing is working. Keep it up!
Remember, kids don’t resist learning — they resist schooling. There is a difference between “schooling” and getting an education. Listening to feedback will go a long way to helping you determine the best learning style, method, approach, and materials to use with your child. Which leads me to the next point…
- Over Spending
When I began homeschooling I purchased several complete curriculum packages at about $400 a pop, in an attempt to find “the right” resources for my kids to use. While many would think this a gross indulgence (and a dumb one, at that) consider my perspective: I had opted out of private school and an annual tuition of $7,000 a year to homeschool. Spending $1,200 for curriculum seemed like a bargain! The real kicker was this — my kids hated every one of them! The rigidity of the structured texts and time simply did not appeal to my sons. That was not the optimum environment in which they learned best.
So, I took the advice of another homeschool mom. I ditched the curriculum, went to the library, and brought home books — mostly Newbery Award winners and historical fiction. I read to my kids for the rest of the year. Occasionally, we’d play math dice games, take in a free museum day, go for nature walks, and build impossible structures out of old boxes and packaging materials set aside for a rainy day. The cost? Free. (Okay, I paid about $49 in library fines that year — but you get my point.)
The compulsive obsession to purchase “good materials” so that our kids will get a “good education” can overtake the most penny-pinching of parents. The truth is, you cannot buy a good education. So guard your pocketbook. When you do spend money for curriculum products try to make sure that they support your educational philosophy, and are something your kids will truly use and enjoy.
Picture this: It’s Park Day. A homeschool mom packs her 1991 mini-van with lunch, snacks, water, sodas, sports equipment, a lawn chair, a picnic blanket, a book to read, Pokémon paraphernalia, a sewing project, a box of used books and curriculum to loan to other homeschoolers, and depending on the weather and activities taking place before, during, and after park day (spontaneous or planned) — a change of clothes for each and every one of her three kids. She loads the kids in the van, drives 40 minutes to the Park, and unloads the van. A few hours later she reloads the van and drives home in commuter traffic. She performs this migration from home to park and back again week after week. What is wrong with this woman? What compels such odd behavior? The answer is socialization. Take a look at some of the benefits her family receives from performing this ritual:
- Her children have the opportunity to meet and play with other homeschooled kids. Friendships develop which lead to other socialization opportunities. Also, the kids don’t feel “weird” or self-conscious about homeschooling when they have frequent contact with other homeschoolers.
- She meets other parents. Friendships are forged. Sometimes a new friend will become a mentor who provides information, resources, support and an all-important sounding board to discuss concerns with — and share successes.
Attending Park Days and Support Group Meetings deflects the feeling of isolation — the kiss of death in homeschooling. You need support and encouragement from like-minded individuals. For rare families whose circumstances truly prevent support group and park day participation, I would suggest the following:
- Subscribe to several homeschooling publications.
- Attend a homeschool conference annually.
- Get a homeschool pen pal.
- Participate in homeschool chats and email communication via the Internet.
- Thinking You Can Do It All
The short answer is — you can’t, so don’t try. The longer version goes something like this… There are more important things than laundry, housework, paying bills, grocery shopping, and all of the other mundane tasks that interfere with homeschooling. If these things are critically important to you then you better follow the advice of homeschool icon Micki Colfax, “lower your standards.”
First of all, homeschoolers spend lots of time at home. They are not out of the house all day. The place is going to look — to put it gently — lived in. The kitchen counters will be transformed into a science lab, the walls will be plastered with maps, time lines, posters of presidents and the periodic table of elements, and books will be stacked everywhere. When friends visit just unapologetically clear a path through the toys and games on the living room floor.(If they are homeschooling friends, they will understand.) One mom told me that when it gets to be too much, and she just can’t stand looking at the mess, she packs up her kids and visits her sister for a day or two. When she comes home she has a fresh perspective and can begin to clean the house — at least, she can imagine a place to start.
In my house, it’s the laundry. I’ve trained the boys to put a load in the washer, transfer it to the dryer, and then take it to the couch for folding. Unfortunately they haven’t got the hang of that folding part yet — so the clothes often remain in a pile until ready for use. As a result, my kids have that linen-look-rumpled-thing going on even when they wear wrinkle-free clothing. When company comes we just shove the clothes on the couch back into the dryer — and return them to the couch when the company leaves.
All homeschooling families establish their priorities and set parameters for what they can and can’t live with. Most of us develop a quirky solution or two (that our mothers would never approve of) to ease the demands on our time.
You have convinced yourself that home-schooling is the way to go — and now you want to convince everyone else. Sorry, but homeschooling is not for everyone. If you insist on confrontations and defensive posturing with every friend and relative who says, “What are you, nuts?” when you tell them you homeschool, you will alienate them all.
One homeschool dad told me that his sister (a schoolteacher) came unglued when he announced he would be homeschooling the kids. Rather than debate the merits and pitfalls of homeschooling, he simply said, “I know it’s not the choice you would make — and I know it’s not the right choice for everyone. But for us, in this situation, it’s an option we are going to try for awhile — to see if it works. If it doesn’t, we will try school again.” Do you see what he did? He diffused the predicament. He didn’t try to sell her on the idea, and he didn’t bad-mouth schools and teachers. With a few simple words he allowed her some dignity, while claiming his own.
The real proof is in the pudding. Your kids will undoubtedly prove to nay-sayers that homeschooling is working just by being themselves. Their positive attitudes and intelligent conversations will win over the most curmudgeonly homeschool opponent. You don’t need to be a homeschool zealot. Peaceful demonstration will help you win friends and influence people every time.
All of the dumb mistakes described above can be avoided, but it is more than likely that you will experience one or two of them on your own. It is my sincerest wish that if you hit a pothole along the homeschool road, you will do what thousands of others have done before you — pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and continue the journey — arriving at your destination will make it all worthwhile.