We all know that nothing could be as consistently rosy as the way magazine photo-spreads try to paint homeschooling or as unfailingly cheerful as the above-average homeschooler’s daily blog entries.
For those who are genuinely investigating homeschooling for their children’s education, I would be remiss if I did not caution you in advance about the uglier moments of homeschooling: the dark days that inevitably occur and that no one wants to confess. Forewarned is forearmed, as the old saying goes, so take this list to heart and prepare yourselves as much as possible to prevent these stumbling blocks from stopping you in your tracks.
10. Sibling warfare. It will happen, and it will happen when you least expect it and are least prepared for it. From making faces at each other to kicking under the table, from stealing pencils to full-on hurling books… or worse. It may be momentary or it could be an on-going problem. Even in the calmest of families, even in the most serene households, even between the best of friends-as-siblings. It’s a consequence of the day in, day out continuous routine that causes boredom, weariness, restlessness, and disillusionment. A closely related side-issue is whether or not students will cooperate with a parent-teacher and a mixed-ages homeschooling atmosphere, particularly if these students have previously attended “real” school.
Coping strategies: Take breaks as often as necessary to break the negative patterns before they gain a firm foothold and to refresh everyone’s heart, mind, and body. Use multiple study areas, if possible, giving your students enough physical separation to allow each one to focus on his own work. (Siblings as Best Friends offers a more in-depth look at conquering this trouble spot. Also be sure to check out Respect Must Be Earned, Disrespectful Kids, and Troublesome Students.) Chores can be interspersed with learning to provide quick exercise breaks while maintaining productivity. This can be extremely helpful for separating restless siblings — send one off to do a chore or two while the others continue to work at lessons. A strategically chosen task can make sitting down to a lesson much more attractive! And while we’re on the subject of chores…
9. Chores. Taking out the trash, cleaning the bathrooms, tidying the living areas. Feeding the dog, sweeping the floor, shoveling the front walk. Did you remember to do your job? Did you finish every step? Whose sock is that? Did you brush your teeth? Did you make your bed? Whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher?
Coping strategies: Use reminder lists or charts to teach your children the responsibility of getting things done without prompting. Mom, you have more important things to do with your time than constantly reminding your children to do their jobs. My rule-of-thumb was to save my energies for the higher skilled jobs that only Mom could do, and get over my perfectionist tendencies … relax my standards so that anyone else could do the lower skilled jobs. Use The Biblical Model of Discipleship to ensure each person knows how to do their chores, then walk away, and let them handle it. Tell yourself as often as necessary: it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done.
8. Housework. Cook, clean, wash, iron. Meals, dishes, laundry, vacuuming. Buy the food, freeze the food, thaw the food, cook the food. Gather the dirty laundry, shuffle the loads through the laundry process, restock the cleaned laundry. When is there time to teach? Plan a lesson? I’m supposed to plan lessons???
Coping strategies: Lower your Suzy Perfect Homemaker standards enough to allow your family members to help with all of the daily work. Treat yourselves to quick, easy meals on paper plates when your schedule gets crazy. Spread out the responsibility for chores and share the duties (re-read #9 above). Lessons don’t need to be planned down to the tiniest, word-for-word details. Spontaneous lessons will often be the most memorable ones. (Using Your Household Staff contains practical tips for squeezing more out of your busy, busy day. A Day Without Lessons shows how education lurks in the most unlikely places.)
7. Clutter. Books, books, and more books. Workbooks, worksheets, test papers, and writing assignments. Textbooks, teacher’s manuals, reading books, reference books. (When you envisioned your ideal homeschooling set-up, you didn’t picture this extensive home library, did you?) Pencils, erasers, scissors, rulers, markers, crayons. Art supplies, craft supplies, math manipulatives, maps, charts, and posters. Where can you possibly put it all, and how will you find what you’ve got when you need it?
Coping strategies: We started with a “cigar” box for each student’s personal writing supplies (my pencils, etc.). We purchased build-it-yourself bookcases and storage cupboards as our needs (and budget) increased. We added a few inexpensive plastic multi-drawer units to help control the growing collection of arts-and-crafts supplies. Basically, you’ll want to adapt each year as your needs change. I found a week at the start of summer to be a good time for sorting out what we wanted to keep from the past year and a day or two at the end of summer to be a good time for re-evaluating our needs for the upcoming year. The kids and I worked together to sort and toss and discuss what we had all learned, then rearrange and make plans and get prepared and excited for what would come next. Working together was key for us: the kids often had great ideas to try in our small porch-turned-schoolroom. Plus, the longer we were away from the public school atmosphere, the less we felt the need to separate his things from her things, and the more we felt the community, teamwork, and sharing spirit of family. (See Homeschool Gadgets: An Investment in Your future or a Waste of Money? for a unique look at what you do or don’t need.)
6. More clutter. Salt dough castles, vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, and eggshell mosaics. Oatmeal and salt box drum sets, tin can telephones, and paper plate clocks. Butterfly and moth specimens, leaf and wildflower collections, and rock and mineral displays. The educational value is undeniable, but does it need to occupy the entire kitchen table?
Coping strategies: Remember that a photo can be kept in a much smaller space than the actual salt-dough castle took up (or stashed invisibly in a computer file). My children were much more willing to take apart their fantastic K’Nex creations once we had taken photos of them. Digital cameras were not a part of our early days of homeschooling; now they seem like must-have equipment! Above all else, remind yourselves that the learning is the most important part of education, not the meaningless handprint art, not the endless worksheets filled with twaddle, not the vapid writing assignments given solely for the purpose of creating time-consuming busywork. Some lessons are learned at the first reading or the first explanation, freeing both student and teacher to move on to the next thing with no further ado. (People LIVE in This House offers encouragement to those of us who do not live inside magazine pictures! I Give One Grade: 100%–But You Get to Keep Trying Until You Get It points out that learning is learning, no matter how long it takes.)
5. Most clutter. Mounds of clean socks and underwear that haven’t yet been sorted. Last season’s clothing that needs a place to live until the weather changes back again. Outgrown clothing and that nagging pile of mending.
Coping strategies: I used my own chores as times to wean my students off of my constant attention and teach them to teach themselves. You work on this lesson while I go sew these buttons back on your shirts, and I’ll come check on you when I’m done. Kids can learn to do most household chores and be able to help out when needed — remember, many hands lighten the load. As for storing out-of-season items, you may want to consider adding storage shelves in the basement or garage, or evaluating which things really need to be kept. Teaching my children to donate good, usable items to thrift shops created a habit they have continued as adults. (Teach Your Students to Teach Themselves will give them more confidence and independence in their own lessons and give you a bit more time for switching laundry, starting supper, or visiting the bathroom… alone!)
4. Desperation. There will come a day around February or March when every member of the family has coughed, hacked, and sniffled his or her way right out of your heart. And that may also have been accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Mother Teresa herself would have been ready to throw in the towel, if it meant she could escape your home’s infirmary to a peaceful oasis free of sticky dishes, stinky laundry, smelly diapers, and drippy noses, even for a mere eight hour shift of answering someone else’s telephone, shuffling someone else’s papers, and just plain dealing with someone else’s dilemmas.
Coping strategies: Calling off school for a few days or a week can give everyone a blessed relief as you all try to recuperate. Get your strength back before you try to pick up the books again. Even if the latest virus is not to blame for your collective malaise, a day or two away from lessons can perk up spirits. Do a little spring cleaning, indulge in some retail therapy, declare a family game day, or call for a video marathon – whatever it takes to clear your heads and jump-start the enjoyment again. (See Reschedule, Refocus, Regroup for tips on perking up your schedule. Sick Days, Snow Days, and Other Interruptions offers welcome relief from the nagging feeling that you can’t stay home from homeschooling.)
3. Regrets. I shouldn’t have yelled. I should have been there. I should have left earlier. I shouldn’t have grounded him. I should have done a better job. I really should go. I should have taken them a casserole. I should have called her. I didn’t do enough. I did too much.
Coping strategies: Remind yourself that no one is perfect, then Do the Best Job You Can and Pray for God to Clean Up the Rest. Giving yourself a few moments to think before you make each decision can really improve the quality of those decisions and help you on the way toward Living Your Life with No Regrets.
2. Isolation. The other side of the socialization coin has to be endless days of seeing no one but your own family members. Tempers will flare without warning, boredom will soar to new heights, and lessons that seemed relatively simple will go misunderstood for no apparent reason. You will find yourselves waiting eagerly for a glimpse of the letter carrier’s face, delightedly anticipating a trip to the grocery store, and chatting like a giddy madman with total strangers in check-out lanes, just because you are amazingly grateful for the sound of another human voice and a new face to gaze upon, if only for a few seconds.
Coping strategies: You may need some fresh lesson ideas. See 10 Ways to Improve a Lesson and Back to Homeschool with New Ideas. Or it may be time to recognize The Value of Supplemental Activities. If you are forcing yourselves into isolation because you think you are required to spend every school day from 8am to 3pm indoors with your noses in books, please read “Why Aren’t You in SCHOOL?”
And finally, the absolute worst, most discouraging facet to homeschooling—
1. Lack of guidance. Parents who remove their children from institutional schools will feel this more acutely than any others. How do I learn how to homeschool? What do my children already know? What do they not know? How can I tell the difference? Which math program is best? How well does he read? What about grammar? Should I teach history chronologically, geographically, or alphabetically?
Coping strategies: No one can (or should) give you a blanket summary of buy this program and it will fulfill all of your educational needs forever, since each of your children is different from the others, and they each have varied learning needs and academic interests which may change somewhat over time. Careful observation and good Mommy-instincts should tell you when a student is struggling to understand and when he is just plain bored and ready to move on because he already understands this material and it contains no challenge for him. Simple supplemental activities can adapt your present curriculum to your students’ learning styles, enabling each student to learn the lessons through his unique processing abilities. Answers to all other questions (well, many of them anyway) can be found here at Guilt-Free Homeschooling. Start with these articles:
So You Think You’re Not Smart Enough to Homeschool
Questions from a First-time Homeschooler
Surviving the First Year of Homeschooling After Leaving Public School
Curriculum Choices and Shoe Shopping, an Analogy
Meatball Education: Filling in the Potholes of Public School
Every Day Is a Learning Day, and Life Is Our Classroom
10 Ways to Ease into Homeschooling
Despite these downside aspects, homeschooling is absolutely the best thing you will ever do for your family! The intense contact of homeschooling will not just benefit your children, it can strengthen the entire family unit. Don’t let a few negative things keep you from trying the biggest positive of all, putting your children’s education on the right track.