Homeschooling — unschooling, online, classical, eclectic — these are all different ways to educate your child at home, and no single model is inherently better than another.
Indeed, one of the strengths of homeschooling is that you are able to use any of these approaches, singly or in combination, to tailor your child’s education precisely to her and your family’s needs.
That said, there are several common stumbling blocks many homeschooling families —mine included— have fallen into. These are four of the most common mistakes to avoid:
1. Lofty Goals and Over-Commitments
Like many parents, a new homeschooler may place undue pressure on herself as she strives to do the best for her child, providing exceptional educational experiences at every turn. But in pursuit of this goal, many of us overtax ourselves and may, in time, abandon homeschooling in favor of traditional schooling.
The extensive range of choices available to homeschooling families, moreover, makes the trap of trying to “do it all” that much easier to fall into. Who wouldn’t want to partake of these opportunities if our child will be the beneficiary of so many wonderful offerings, we may ask. Trying to give your child an unparalleled education by diving into every option available can easily backfire. Stress, frustration, and repeated small failures may quickly become a part of your homeschool life, and can undermine the benefits you set out to provide.
When I began homeschooling, I fell prey to this mistake by purchasing more curricula than we had time to use and signing my child up for nearly every available homeschool class, team, group, activity, and club we could possibly fit into our schedule. In that first year, I put 35,000 miles on my vehicle driving from one activity to another. By the time I paused to look back, I was frazzled and discouraged, and it showed in our family, too.
Rather than over-committing at the outset, select a few activities with your child and one or two curricula to try out. You can always add others as you go. The fact is that a great homeschooling education can be accomplished with little expense and a carefully curated selection of activities. Indeed, there are many free offerings from museums, cultural organizations, local libraries, and activities organized with other homeschooling families to choose from — you just don’t have to do them all.
2. Reproducing Traditional Classrooms and Materials
As a former public school teacher, I began my foray into homeschooling by trying to replicate a traditional school education in my home. Today, when I think of how I transformed our dining room table into my son’s school desk, set up a dry-erase board in front of the china cabinet, and stood before it with a pointer in my hand as I taught him — well, I can only laugh and feel grateful that the setup didn’t last long.
In brick-and-mortar schools, teachers are necessarily focused on educating a large group of same-aged children at a relatively uniform pace using a single curriculum. By contrast, such teacher-led standardization is unlikely to be beneficial or effective in a homeschool setting.
Grade-level materials, lessons, tests, and assessments can all be redesigned to meet your child’s learning needs and your family’s lifestyle. Schooling on weekends, having your fifth grader work on sixth-grade math, learning addition facts while playing hopscotch, or skipping a chapter or two in a textbook — these can all work if they meet your child’s learning needs and your approach to homeschooling.
3. Following a Predetermined Schedule
Your homeschool schedule needn’t resemble a traditional 10-month, 5-days-per-week school calendar. You have the freedom to organize your time in any way that works for your family — whether that is schooling in the summers and taking an extended break in the winter, or continuing your homeschooling year-round.
Depending on the homeschooling curriculum or program you choose (if any!), there may be suggested timeframes to follow in order to accomplish the goals it lays out. That said, adapting a structured curriculum is possible — arguably even preferable. The key is that the plan conform to your child’s and family’s needs, not to predetermined schedules and timelines established by a curriculum publisher.
Here are four scheduling areas in which you can create flexibility:
Determining your child’s grade-level work by age:
If your kindergarten-aged child is reading at a second grade level, then buy or develop a second grade reading program for her. If your 14-year-old is struggling with pre-algebra and algebra, go back to review seventh grade math concepts. Nothing about homeschooling, apart from her interest and readiness, need dictate the age at which your child learns particular skills.
Following a prescribed timeframe for covering educational material:
You can cover two grade levels of nearly any subject, such as science and math in a single year if your child is motivated to do so. Similarly, if you need to take two weeks on a particularly difficult spelling list, this too is acceptable.
Scheduling your child’s homeschool day to run for 6–7 hours:
The work that schools accomplish in a typical 7-hour school day can easily be tackled in 3–4 hours at home. Clearly, there are efficiencies that accompany educating a smaller number of students, but homeschooling families also note that their efforts require less time because the learning is precisely tailored to their children’s interests and needs.
Structuring a standard school day with an institutional schedule:
I’ve often spent an entire day teaching science alone, or devoted a week to a literacy study. These structures allowed my son to be fully immersed in a single topic for an extended period of time. And when we needed to, it was simple enough to catch up on other subjects later, since the flexibility was in our hands.
4. Continuing to Use a Resource Just Because You Bought It
While it’s important to give a new program or curriculum a fair shake — and to encourage your child to as well — once you see that the resource isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make a change. Many families (mine included!) have been tempted to continue using materials we bought or to pay for a subscription to a homeschooling website because it was highly recommended — even though these resources weren’t providing what our children needed.
But here’s the silver lining: Traditional schools can’t generally switch textbooks or programs midstream, but you, as a homeschooler, can. So, use this flexibility to your advantage!
Homeschooling is an educational option whose boundaries are largely in your hands. In many districts (though not all), officials will not intrude into your education plan — the choices and stumbles are yours to make. But with a little advice from experienced homeschooling families, you’ll learn to steer clear of common pitfalls and how to provide your child with an extraordinary education.
Shaw, I. (n.d.). Avoiding homeschool burnout. Retrieved October 19, 2015, from FamilyEducation.