There are so many things to worry about when you start homeschooling (or when you have been homeschooling for years). I have put together a list of 5 pitfalls that you HAVE TO AVOID in homeschooling if you are going to be successful. Here they are:
5 Things Homeschool Parents HAVE to Avoid
5. Don’t Feel Pressured to Follow a Certain Curriculum Exactly
So often the pressure for a new homeschool parent is “what will I teach my child” when it comes to math, science, etc. This was a huge pressure for my wife to find the “right” curriculum for each subject. It seemed like every method of homeschool suggested a different approach to teaching and therefore required a different list of books. Over the last few years, we have settled into several books that we like and that work for our system. You will eventually find ones that fit your personality and help you accomplish your goals. Many of you are homeschooling so that you can bring God back to the center of your child’s education—well there are going to be several science books that you want to avoid. On the other hand, you may want to give your child the latest secular views on the creation of the world without the creationist approach.
What I am saying is that whatever your approach is to education, you will eventually settle into a system and a curriculum that fits your personality and purposes for homeschooling. So don’t get uptight or freak out when you begin homeschooling. That is the time for you to just go through a detox period with your children—especially if they are coming from the public school system. They have been trained by the system that learning takes place from 8:00 to 3:00 and that you study one subject at a time and that learning should be something you dread. You will need to help your children overcome that programming. Spend time having fun with them during the day. It will feel strange to your child. You will probably hear them say things like: “Aren’t we suppose to be doing school?” or “Shouldn’t I be studying something?”
Relax and let these things fall into place. Don’t stress out if you don’t have a specific curriculum chosen when you bring your child home. Have fun and focus on the relationship for a while. Don’t be afraid to try some different approaches and let your child give you honest feedback about the structure and your choice of books or methodology.
4. Don’t Try to Replicate the Public School System
This is a very easy trap to fall into—especially if you came through the public school system. There are several ways we can try to duplicate the system that is struggling to adequately educate our children. For example, you might try to create a “classroom” environment where your child sits in a desk and you have a chalkboard (or whatever your equivalent to these are in your house) and you expect them to sit still and stay focused for hours at a time with one or two “recess” breaks. That learning style fits very few children. Don’t be afraid to break the mold and let your child study on the floor or give them a break every 30 minutes. Let them bounce around from subject to subject instead of making them focus on one subject for 60 minutes.
Another way parents sometimes succumb to the public school mold is by following the schedule. Don’t feel like you have to hold school for 7 or 8 hours. The truth is, you will probably accomplish more in 3 or 4 hours with your children than a public school teacher can get done in 7—plus your child will not be have 1 to 2 hours of homework at the end of the day. This speaks more to the fact that you have one to five children compared to the 25 to 30 children in a public school classroom.
Take advantage of the opportunity to really let your child learn in a way that fits their learning style. In a public classroom, the teacher has to standardize the educational flow in the class because of the number of students. That means that a majority of the students will be required to learn in a manner that is contrary to their personal learning style. IF you simply replicate the public system in your home, then you will miss out on the powerful potential of home education. Do your own things. Create your own schedule. Let your child tell you how they like to learn and then give them the flexibility to try it. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You do not have to get it perfect the first time or even the fiftieth time. Just keep adjusting how you teach and you will know when you have found something that works for your child.
3. Don’t Panic About State Standards
So many parents freak out about the fact that their child is not reading at “grade-level.” First, lets talk about what grade level is and what it is not. Grade level is a standard set by your state board of education (or a national board of education) that describes a minimal number of words that a child can read in a minute and the difficulty level of that reading. Please do not think I am advocating a generation of illiterate students.
READING IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY in the educational process of EVERY subject. However, there are two flaws—in my mind—with this approach. It happens every time you jumble a bunch of children into an average number: individual strengths and weaknesses are not taken into account. Additionally, there is no room for individual developmental rates. Tragically, and this may be the single biggest flaw in our school system, a student that is not reading “at grade level” in first or second grade is often labeled as a slow reader and may never break from that label.
My son struggled with reading and spelling in the first grade. Quite frankly, the school’s chosen system for spelling and reading did not fit my son’s learning style. So we sent him to school for seven hours and then he came home with an hour of homework (IN THE FIRST GRADE?????) and it was a chicken-scratching contest to get him to do what the school expected. Then we had to try and find a way to teach the same principles in a way that he would understand. We visited with his teacher. She was awesome and could see that the curriculum chosen by the school board did not fit our son’s needs, but, in her own words, her hands were tied. AS A PARENT I WAS FLOORED. She knew my son was slipping behind and she knew why, but the organization of the school board and the local administration refused to let her individualize the approach so that my son could succeed.
We pulled him out of the public setting and my wife took over. She did not get any special curriculum. She just started reading with him. My son is a very kinesthetic learner. Studies have shown that kinesthetic learners develop their motor skills first and their reading and other cognitive skills later. My son would have been put into a “special ed” reading program with other slow readers. The expectations would have been lowered and he may have never caught up. Instead, after a year with my wife, he is reading well beyond what the state expects from children his age.
Don’t get uptight about meeting state standards at a given age. If your child comes to a point and they realize that they need to learn something, they will learn it. Give them the tools to read and give them a love of learning and things will fall into place. If we get caught up in specific goal posts at specific ages, then we end up having to label our children and those labels are difficult to remove. Instead, focus on giving them skills that can be used to acquire knowledge and when they need the knowledge they will get it. And you will not have to pull teeth to get there.
2. Don’t Try to Teach Everything
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with all of the options in homeschooling. As a parent you can become swamped with the things to do every day and that stress will reveal itself to your children and they will start to stress out. Learning should be fun. There are going to be days that it happens quickly. But, there will be other days that seem to move through sludge and you get very little done. That is life. It does not matter what you are doing you will have those days.
If you are stuck in the effort of trying to do everything every day, you will experience a serious amount of anxiety associated with homeschool. You will wake up and dread the day. Instead, give yourself some leeway. Give yourself some free time each day where you children can either catch up on past projects or subjects or, if they are caught up, they can take a break and go jump on the trampoline. Those little breaks will be life-savers for your nerves.
Another problem with trying to teach everything is what happens to the relationship when your children are not progressing as quickly as you expected. You will find yourself getting frustrated because you have a schedule to keep. How is your eight year old ever going to get to algebra this year if he spends two days figuring out additional with three digit numbers?
1. Don’t Forget to Build Relationships
One of the most significant opportunities available to homeschool families is the additional time together. In today’s world, our children are constantly getting taken from us to practices, school, and other “extra” things that demand more and more time. Many of these things are good, but the time away from family can create a division within the family. Without question, my wife’s favorite thing about homeschooling is the time with out children.
What good is that time together if we fail to take advantage of the opportunity? We have to intentionally build relationships with our children. If we don’t intentionally plan relationship-building activities into our homeschool, it will not happen by itself. I used to think that no matter what we did, the relationships would form. That is not true. Consider the girls that I liked in college before I met my wife. There were a couple that I thought, “If we just spend enough time together, then the relationship will just happen.” Well, by the time I met my wife, I realized how wrong I had been. None of those previous relationships developed and when I met Jessica, I realized that I had to take a more pro-active approach and intentionally seek to build a relationship and now fifteen years (and six children) later, the proof is in the puddin’ so to speak.
Relationships take intentional effort on the part of both parties. One of the things I hope to provide through this website and the podcast is practical suggestions on how to incorporate relationship building activities into your day-to-day homeschool experiences. I hope that as you help your child navigate their educational journey, you find that you have built a relationship so that when they are twenty-five, you have discovered they are more than just students, but your children have become your best friends. They have become someone that you love to talk with and counsel with. Your children are individuals that you enjoy going to lunch with. That won’t happen automatically. Sadly, I have met some parents that only focused on the school and learning side of home education and assumed the relationship would happen automatically and instead the relationship deteriorated and they found that their child resented being homeschooled and did not enjoy the extra time with their parents.
If you have not already, subscribe to our podcast and get every idea about how you can build stronger relationships with your children through the homeschool journey.