When we begin homeschooling, most of us do so with certain expectations: beliefs of what it will be like, how a day will unfold, how our children will react and progress, what style will work best for our families.
Inevitably, there are things that meet our assumptions and things that do not. Like everything else in life and parenting, there is a great deal of the process that is discovered by feeling around in the dark and experimenting to find what works with a particular child — only to discover that it may not work with the next child.
Everyone stumbles. Everyone messes things up. Everyone works to tweak their system and try to find what may work better. Everyone struggles with a particular child, or learning style, or challenge that is more difficult than we anticipated. I asked dozens of homeschooling parents what their early stumbles were and how they overcame them. This is what they said:
I wish I'd learned my son's learning style sooner than I did — it would have saved us both a lot of heartache. I wish I'd known sooner to have more confidence in myself as my son's primary teacher. After all, I've been homeschooling him since birth! I wish I'd known sooner how much my heart would swell when I’d see in my son's eyes and face that he "gets it.” I wish I'd not worried so much about the dreaded "socialization" issue. We haven't had a problem yet!
I wish I'd let go of my Catholic school and public school experiences sooner and not tried to replicate [them] in the first few years of homeschooling. We are in year six of homeschooling and using an eclectic/classical approach to our son's learning, which has done wonders for all of us!
One regret — I work full time, and I wish I had more time with my son. But the time he and his dad have during the day is great for both of them to build a strong bond with each other. In the evening, we switch gears, and my husband goes to work and I come home. I get to spend homeschool evenings with our son. The time our family spends homeschooling is so precious, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
My biggest stumble was trying to do way too much in the beginning, thinking I had to do everything — every activity, party, sport — and also buying way more curricular materials than is physically possible to do.
It just doesn't take much to give a child a great education: A sketch pad; real books written by the original author (I'm pretty fanatical about that one. Even little kids can love Shakespeare.); a good math book that is worked on a little bit everyday, and nature. It really is that simple.
I wish I knew that at the get-go. My kids taught me that learning happens all the time. Not just when you’re "doing school." The very best things I did were read great stories out loud and take epic road trips with them.
When I first started, I thought I had to have the perfect curriculum. I tried to do the unit studies because I thought that those would be easiest with so many kids. Not so much. It totally went against my personality and organization type. Plus, we didn't have any money to do ... the crafts or activities associated with any of the studies, so it was a flop.
I used to think that whichever new thing looked interesting would be the best thing to try and that it would magically work. Not so much.
One thing I learned after a few years was that I didn't know what would work, and needed to try a few different styles to get a feel for what would work for me and the kids.
Another thing I learned ... you don't actually have to go to the homeschool conventions — gasp.
A really stubborn child who balls up and cries every time you start lessons could be struggling with a learning difference, and this behavior may not be explained by his personality. Stephen was in fourth grade before we considered this possibility. We realized it when my aunt was going through the same situation with my cousin, and I finally recognized the similarities. He is a stubborn, bullheaded boy, but he also struggles with dyslexia when it comes to school.
My biggest stumble was in comparing my kids to each other. I have one who is a reader, and things come easier to her. My next one struggles. I try to be so careful when I am talking about it to other homeschooling moms because I don't want the kids to hear me comparing them.
Also, don't make assumptions. I have a squirrelly son coming up on 5 right now, and I assumed that he would have a difficult time with letters like my second daughter. Not so! He is already starting to read basic words and sentences! Every child is different!
It pains me to admit it, but ... with my two oldest kids, we placed them in the same grade when we started homeschooling, despite them being 364 days apart. I just lumped them together and expected everything to work exactly the same with both of them. Needless to say, it didn't. It caused a lot of stress and frustration for all of us.
Also, don't discount a method until you've tried it. Before, I was not a fan of unschooling, but I am starting to change my opinion a bit. I've been very hands-off with the twins, and somehow they are really starting to pick up on things.
I wish I wouldn’t have pushed my boys to read so quickly. They've been reading since they were five and hate to read for pleasure now. My 8- and 6-year-old girls are just now grasping reading, but love it. I used to be against unschooling, but I've realized it can really work for some folks.
What about you?
Do you homeschool? What were your struggles early on? What do you wish you had known? What did you have to learn the hard way? What are your success stories? Share them in a comment, and let's encourage one another!