When I first started homeschooling, I had a clear idea of what I thought it should look like. The kids would do cute little crafts, play games, quietly work on assignments (without complaint), and go outside at scheduled times for recess. They would be fed at designated snack and lunch times. We would start on time and end on time, and it would be wonderful.
I was going to be the perfect homeschool mom.
As we head into our fourth year of home education, I’ve lost much of my arrogance. Homeschooling has a beautiful way of showing me just how much I have to learn. In fact, I feel like I know less now than when I started, and I’m glad.
Although I’m still a work in progress, I’ve compiled a list of ten mistakes that I’ve made and what I’ve learned from them:
Mistake #1: I Tried to mimic school at home.
What I did: When I first started homeschooling, I was worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to recreate the school experience for my daughter. I tried really hard to “compensate” for the fact that she was home by mimicking not only what was being taught at school, but how it was taught. And if that wasn’t enough, I turned my dining room into a school room, with art work, educational posters, ABC banners, and number lines taped to the walls.
What I learned: Homeschooling is not school at home. It’s a revolutionary form of education that is flexible and tailored to each family’s situation and needs. There is no need to try to recreate craft time, recess, story time, work time, etc. (unless you really want to). These things are not vital to success. Also, I’m much more comfortable when my home looks like a home (or a hybrid home/school) rather than an institution.
If school at home is your thing, go for it. But if it’s not? Don’t be afraid to do what works for you.
Mistake #2: I Bought all the things.
What I did: I used to purchase every single shiny new thing that caught my eye. I wanted my children to have the best education possible. I thought that filling our home with books, science kits, hands-on activities, programs and curriculum—even though we couldn’t afford it—would ensure that they didn’t miss out on anything.
What I learned: Two years ago, I listened to a talk by Louise House, owner of The Learning House, and she said something that changed my life. She said that if all you had was a Bible, it would be enough to homeschool your children. A friend of mine gave a talk at a meeting recently, and she said that the reason we homeschool is to connect with our children and to connect them with God. That doesn’t mean that we neglect reading, writing and arithmetic. However, my focus on shiny, new things was evidence of misplaced priorities.
You don’t need to break the bank in order to educate your children at home. Buying used curriculum is a great way to save money. Using a library card and free programs (such as Ambleside Online or TGTB Language Arts if they are a good fit) is another way. Evaluate your priorities. It is possible to homeschool well in a small space and on a small budget.
Mistake #3: I Assumed that all children learn the same.
What I did: Teaching my oldest child to read was easy, and I honestly thought that was because I was an amazing teacher. I mean, she read The Hobbit in grade one (and understood it). But my second daughter? Thankfully, she took me down a peg or two. She learns very differently, I discovered. She is a whiz at math but needed a completely different approach when it came to reading.
What I learned: Not every child learns the same way. My second daughter is an extremely tactile learner. We saw a dramatic difference in her ability to learn to read when we began using tactile objects in our reading lessons.
It’s important to know your child’s learning style. The Learning Style Assessment Quiz is a wonderful tool to help you determine how your child learns.
Mistake #4: I didn’t take my teaching style into account.
What I did: Oh, there are so many beautiful homeschool programs out there! And there are so many that I’ve tried, desperately wishing that they would work out. I’ve tried beautiful, teacher-intensive, boxed curricula and I’ve tried programs that cover one theme in depth for an entire year. And although I tried, I just wasn’t able to stick with them.
What I learned: Just like every child is unique, every teacher is unique. My homeschool style is a combination of the Charlotte Mason style, unit studies, and several other approaches. We call this “eclectic homeschooling“.
Knowing your teaching style is extremely helpful when choosing your child’s program of study. If you have zero interest in memorising Latin, for example, a classical education is probably not the right choice for your family. There is a wonderful quiz (here) that helps determine teaching style. When choosing curriculum, choose something that not only fits your child’s learning style, but also fits your teaching style.
Mistake #5: I Stuck with a curriculum that wasn’t working because “we’re not quitters”.
What I did: I made my child hate math. Honestly, I did. When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she cried every time we pulled out her math books. She was learning concepts that, in other programs, weren’t covered until second grade. But because I decided that we weren’t quitters, I forced her to complete a full year of a program that wasn’t working for either of us. All for the sake of proving a point.
It took almost two years to undo the damage.
What I learned: School isn’t always going to be fun—it requires discipline—but if something genuinely isn’t working, you’re not building anyone’s character by sticking it out. The whole point of homeschooling is to find what works for your family. Sometimes, it’s okay to quit.
Mistake #6: I Planned the whole year at once.
What I did: One summer, I spent hours scheduling the entire year. I meticulously wrote the first several months down in my planner. (In pen, if I remember correctly.) It was going to be amazing. Except that things never look the same in real life as they do on paper, and it didn’t take me long to realise how foolish I’d been. In a matter of weeks, we were so far off schedule that there was no catching up to where I wanted to be.
What I learned: Life happens. Sickness happens, appointments happen, field trips happen and kids happen. It can get pretty darn discouraging when you’re four days behind schedule … and you’ve only been homeschooling for five. I have an entire post on scheduling in the works, but in short, I’ve learned that it’s best to schedule smaller increments at a time. Figure out how much you need to get done in a week in order to complete the year. Give yourself lots of room to breathe. And don’t be afraid to re-evaluate where you’re at, tweak things, or change them up entirely.
Mistake #7: I Didn’t schedule enough time for myself.
What I did: Wintertime is always difficult for me. The cold weather and lack of sunlight wreak havoc on my emotions. I need to take time out for myself. If I don’t, everyone suffers.
What I learned: Something as simple as a bubble bath, a steaming cup of tea, some soft music, a good book, a scented candle or any combination of these can go a long way towards changing the mood. My husband is wonderful, and he knows more than anyone just how much I need time to regroup, so he does what he can to make sure it happens.
No one benefits if mom is burnt out. Figure out what refreshes you and find a way to make it happen. Enlist the help of a family member or friend. Do what you need to do to calm your heart and rekindle your energy.
Mistake #8: I left the “home” out of homeschool.
What I did: I have to be completely honest. I’m not very domestic. I try really hard and I’ve improved (a lot!) but I still have a long way to go. My husband reminded me recently that cleaning, laundry and cooking can all be integrated into a comprehensive home education. In other words, the kids can help.
What I learned: I’m a work in progress. However, scheduling time for housework during the homeschool day is a great idea. Include the children in the process. Folding and putting away laundry, sweeping, dusting, and wiping windows are all tasks in which it’s easy to involve the kids. Baking and cooking are not only important, but they are wonderful ways to teach math and science.
Start small. One sweet homeschool mom shared that she sets a fifteen-minute timer, and everyone cleans as much as they can before the timer ends. Another mom shared that she assigns one chore for the month to each of her children, and that chore must be done daily (in addition to their personal responsibilities). Both of these are absolutely brilliant ideas that I would like to try to implement.
“Home” is an important part of “homeschool.”
Mistake #9: I Scheduled too much social time.
What I did: As home educators, we often hear the question, “What about socialisation?” A lack of socialisation has never been an issue for our family. On the contrary, the real issue is too much socialisation.
What do I mean by that?
In my quest to provide the perfect homeschool education, I have signed my kids up for field trips, extracurriculars, classes, play dates, and anything else that I thought would “fill in the gaps” in their education. But it’s impossible to sit down and learn when you’re always running from one thing to the next.
What I learned: I’ve learned that it’s okay to scale back. In fact, sometimes, it’s necessary. As much as we want to provide our children with opportunities to try new things and meet new people, it’s okay to say no. There is something to be said for the security of consistency and the beautiful ritual of quiet mornings together.
Mistake #10: I Compared myself to others.
What I did: They say that comparison is the thief of joy. They’re right. When I compare myself to someone and find myself lacking, the result is deep insecurity. When I compare myself to someone and find them lacking, the result is arrogance. Both of those forms of comparison prevent me from becoming all that God has called me to be.
What I learned: I’m learning to be me. If God wanted us to all be the same, He would have used a cookie cutter when He created us. But He didn’t. He created us unique because He has a unique purpose for each one of us. We all have different gifts and abilities, and as soon as we start trying to be someone we’re not, we’re unable to fulfil God’s design for our lives.
Embrace the things that make you unique. Embrace the person God has created you to be—the wife, the friend, the mom, the homeschooler.
If your children needed someone else, God would have given them someone else. But He didn’t. He gave them you.
But mostly? Give yourself grace. You will make mistakes. You will make lots of mistakes. There will be days that you will seriously question whether you have what it takes. But the God who called you to this task has equipped you for it.
And He is with you every single step of the way.
(If you’re new to home education, check out my article, “Dear Homeschool Mom who is Just Starting Out“.)