Some Pitfalls to Avoid for the New, and not so new, Homeschooler
(Or How to Want to Give Up On Homeschooling Before Your First Year is Over)
1. The SUPER Homeschooler (or How to perfect going nuts)
It's such a pretty dream, isn't it. All the children are clean, obedient, bubbling in their matching outfits as they carefully recreate Martin Luther's 95 theses, in play dough, in Latin.
Relax, the Super Homeschooler is a myth. So is the perfect home school. Instead focus on diligently accomplishing the next tasks at hand for each child. Set reasonable goals. Be flexible. Leave the Super to Him.
2. The Perfect Curriculum (or Thy neighbor's educated ox)
There is no such thing as THE "perfect" curriculum. As our favorite homeschooling pundit put it, all curriculum works if the teacher does. The goal is to find the best fitting curriculum that does not require you or your child to work needlessly in a direction you do not wish to devote energy.
Constantly changing curriculum is confusing and costly. Sometimes all you need to do is hang on a little longer to see the fruit, or tweak a little here, or there, so it works better for you.
Resist the temptation to constantly compare your curriculum to your home schooling neighbor's curriculum...and coveting their accomplishments. It will only frustrate your homeschool and drive you and your children crazy.
3. Weak Disciplinary Control (or Help…my kids are holding me hostage and I can't get out!)
Many moms bail because their little darlings are running wild, refusing to do their work in a thousand irritating, teacher-derailing, foot-dragging ways.
First you must make sure you are organized and consistent in your expectations. Then, you must be willing to enforce clear boundaries for your child if you are going to keep them on track. Natural consequences can help reinforce good or bad decisions. (We recommend Kevin Leman's "Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.") Dad can be a big help in this area as he can be another person the child reports accomplishments to at the end of the day to give a sense of accountability.
Please remember to think discipline in the positive sense too. Much of childhood dawdling is simply immaturity rather than rank rebellion. Reward systems are excellent motivators for the sluggish child, such as "store dollars" (adjusted to a reasonable exchange rate) given for certain levels of performance to be exchanged at a weekly time for small toys or items in the homeschool "store." Our kids, by the way, also learned a lot of economics from this method. Just sayin'.
4. But We MUST ALWAYS finish ALL of it (or Page after page, as the home school churns)
You'll know who you are when beads of sweat break out on your forehead at the mere thought that maybe, just maybe, little Johnny doesn't need to do all 100 problems on the 2's times table since he knows them thoroughly even though the workbook page includes them.
While repetition can be beneficial, and seat work can be a good tool, please don't feel compelled to finish every problem, read every page, do every quiz, finish every supplemental book and additional worksheet, etc., etc., ad infinauseum.
Publishers purposely sell a lot of stuff because that's how they make money. Also, they are offering options for teachers to pick and choose from for that extra seat work to keep the masses quiet. Remember to make the curriculum work for you. Focus upon your child's mastery. If she's truly mastered a subject feel free to dump the excess pages and move on!
5. Why are you always so squirrely and whiny about your work! (or That square little peg resisting the round hole)
Most children, especially in kindergarten and the primary grades (1 to 3) need hands on activity to help focus both their mental and physical energy. Children learn while their hands are busy. Try adding coloring books or crafts that create visuals for your lessons. Often older children need a clear application for the lesson to make sense.
Every child is "wired" differently, and their brains mature at different times and in different ways. Not every child is meant to master Algebra in 7th grade (many need more time to mature).
Tapping into your child's learning style can help prevent a lot of frustration for both parent and child. (We recommend reading Cynthia Tobias' The Way They Learn.)
6. The All-Consuming Homeschool (or Is this schooling ever going to end?)
You'll recognize it. The children wince when today's promised family-time, a fun walk in the park, once again has to become a nature lesson, this time on the migratory patterns of yellow finches.
Or, when your husband plaintively wonders, if he gives you a month's notice, do you think possibly you could go out to coffee with him? And you can't remember the last time you studied your Bible for you rather than coordinating a lesson plan for the kids?
Remember balance. You are a family first, and then you homeschool. Trust me, it will still get done (remember homeschool is more efficient!).
7. Lack of Vision and Conviction (or What was I doing again?)
There are two sides to this issue, but both are rooted in lack of purpose and vision.
On one side of this issue, many homeschoolers don't so much as give up as they just drift away due to lack of vision and conviction. Then regretfully wonder why they don't still homeschool. First, they never really knew why they were homeschooling, or their reasons, honestly, were pretty shallow. It will take deep commitment and prayerful diligence for yourself and your spouse to homeschool faithfully year after year. Ask God to clearly show you why you are doing this. Write it down, so you can refer to it again in times of discouragement or ambivalence.
On the other side of this issue, while most homeschoolers, by nature, tend to over achieve, we are beginning to meet more who under achieve because of a lack of vision While they see the benefit of the homeschooling lifestyle, their lack of goals do not reflect a standard unto the Lord. While homeschooling is wonderfully more relaxed and flexible, don't be tempted into shoddy workmanship because "it doesn't really matter in the eternal picture" or "we aren't interested in what the world thinks anyway."
While that lesson topic may not be earth-shattering or bring hundreds to Christ, the work ethic reflected will be important, and your child does need to become a capable adult. If the lesson is worth taking the time to teach, teach it with purpose and expect it to be executed by the student to a standard that you wouldn't be ashamed to admit under closer scrutiny.
8. Help, I've fallen behind and I can't catch up! (or a 1000 distractions does not make a homeschool)
Homeschooling is a lifestyle, and it is flexible, and important lessons can be learned outside the schoolroom. But there is a difference between flexibility and continuous, uncontrolled chaos.
If you become overly committed even with really "good" ministries and activities, soon you may find yourself shoving homeschooling so far into the back while juggling it with so many other things that honestly you are not getting important work done.
Homeschooling will require a constant watch on your priorities and a constant effort to make it a main priority. Learn to say "no" and put the answering machine on and the cell phone off.
9. The Robinson Crusoe Homeschool (or who needs people?)
Please remember to reach out and encourage one another as homeschoolers. Homeschooling is an individual, family decision, and the torch we carry we must carry ourselves. However, no homeschooling family is an island. Don't forget to bless others while you homeschool.
Also, homeschooling is not meant to be a way to cloister your family away from this evil world. You have to come out sometime, even if only for groceries. More importantly, a parent's duty is to fully prepare their children to become wholly capable adults, able to live wisely in the times.
Trust us, you'll receive way more than you give when you reach out, and you will steward relationship skills in your children as you demonstrate them to others.
10. The Constantly Discouraged and Fretful Homeschooler (or gloom, despair, and agony on me!)
Every homeschooler will experience uncertainty from time to time, and we all have seasons that are more difficult, but we must learn to not give ourselves over to constant worry and discouragement.
You'll recognize this pattern because the fretful homeschooler is always second-guessing their decisions. They zig this way and then that, never landing long on any method or curriculum or schooling choice for that matter. And all the while driven by guilt that they are not measuring up.
Often too much isolation and overly high expectations breeds imbalance as we focus on our own troubles. Over commitment causes fatigue. Fear of failure or envy of another's success robs us of our peace.
When we become fearful until indecisiveness takes root, emotions can swing madly like a roller coaster while tempers flare until children are despairing as we jag this way and then that way. For our suggestions to real issues that may be perplexing you, please see our Real World Solutions.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will direct your paths.
Ask Him for His guidance, and then trust Him to answer. Rest in His peace for your homeschool and family, and know that what He has called you to do, He will enable you to do.
the CHOC Board
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(Permission is given to print for personal use or link to this article as long as credit is given to Tammy R. Arp at the CHOC Board and our website address is shown.)