Homeschooling is NOT easy, especially when you’re a first timer. After working with homeschoolers for more than a decade, I have identified five mistakes that I consistently see with brand new homeschoolers (and some veterans as well).
1. Expecting too much
New homeschoolers expect a lot out of their kids. They tend to overestimate their student’s background knowledge, skills, attention level, and dedication to the homeschool process. They often don’t know exactly what their kids already know (and subsequently, don’t know), and aren’t yet comfortable assessing their student/s to determine this “background knowledge.” They may also have unrealistic expectations for how long their child will be able to do an activity or sustain their attention. Is it normal for a 5 year-old to get the wiggles after 5 minutes of a paper-pencil task? Yes! Is it normal for a seventh grader to struggle with time management? Absolutely!
Solution: Meet your kid (and YOURSELF) where you are at. You are both new to the homeschool game. Take time to figure out your starting point. You aren’t expected to master lesson planning, educational philosophy, teaching strategies, and assessment in the first month. Your child needs to be given reasonable, age-appropriate tasks in order to succeed. Give yourself and your child some time and grace. Build upon small wins.
2. Winging it
Many parents dream of following their children’s passions and interests as they homeschool. Homeschoolers love the idea of waking up and seeing where the day takes them. If a spider appears in the corner of the room, let’s learn about spiders that day, and let’s read Charlotte’s Web and let’s work on multiples of 8 and let’s investigate which spiders live in our area and on and on and on. Sounds awesome, right?
Well, the problem with winging it, is that new homeschool parents and students NEED structure. Children are just starting to learn what this homeschool thing is all about. When there is no routine or structure, chaos tends to ensue. In addition, winging it can sometimes result in very little learning. Mom decides to shoo the spider outside where the kids have a blast looking at it for a few minutes and then get distracted by other activities. Meanwhile, mom decides to do a load of laundry, put away breakfast dishes, and start reading through a pile of mail. A day with the best intentions can turn into a non-school day, leaving mom with an extra dose of homeschool-guilt, and leaving the kid/s confused. Is being homeschooled really a code for extra vacation days? Hmm…
This isn’t to say that homeschool should be rigid and inflexible. There are GREAT times and reasons to wing it, and we’ll explore those in future posts. But when you are first starting out as a homeschooler, provide structure and support. It’s much easier to loosen the reins later on.
Solution: Make plans for the day, week, month, and school year based on goals you want to accomplish. Your plans WILL need tweaking. But they’re a start. Your students may move slowly through material you thought would be a breeze. They may pick up a new concept quickly, leaving you to adjust the difficulty level or content of their future lessons. It is FAR easier to tweak and adjust homeschool plans than it is to “wing it.”
3. Confusing learning with work production
A child completes a month’s worth of work – worksheets, notes, essays, projects. Awesome, right? Well, that depends. Did the kid LEARN from the worksheets, notes, essays, and projects? Can the child talk to you about what they learned? Retain the information over time? Completing an entire workbook does NOT mean the child learned the material. A homeschool parent’s focus should always be on the learning, not simply the output of paperwork and projects. This means that the parent must constantly assess and make adjustments to their homeschool program. If the child is not learning, they are simply completing busy work.
I once had a child complete an elaborate fourth grade California Mission project. It was gorgeous and so detailed, truly a work of art. It was clear that the student and her parents had spent a lot of time on the project. But when the questions came, “What was the purpose of the missions?” and “What did they do at the missions?” – the student was completely stumped. She didn’t have a basic understanding of the reason the missions existed or what people did there. In other words, she was so focused on making something beautiful, that she completely missed the point of the entire project.
Solution: Make sure that the homeschool activities your child completes are meaningful and actually help them learn the material. This can mean something different for all kids, so it’s important to check in often with your child to see if real learning is taking place. If it’s not, the child may need more practice, a different explanation, more scaffolding, or different types of activities that better align with their learning style.
4. Trying to do it alone
I’ve seen all types of homeschool families struggle when they attempt to homeschool without support. I get it – it is hard to ask for help. For example, homeschool parents may feel like they should be able to do X, Y, and Z on their own – after all, they passed second grade, so why is teaching writing (science, comprehension, etc.) to their second grader so difficult? Well to start, most homeschool parents aren’t teachers by trade. They didn’t go to “teacher school” and spend years honing their craft. Homeschoolers may not realize that classroom teachers talk to other classroom teachers ALL THE TIME to share strategies, ideas, resources, etc. In fact, the most successful homeschool families are those who are honest with their experience and limitations, and seek out support.
Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that any parent would be capable of teaching all subjects from K-12. I am a veteran teacher and homeschool consultant with years of experience, and there is no way I would attempt to teach high school chemistry on my own. Asking for help is one of the best things you can do as a homeschool parent.
Solution: Reach out. Co-ops are a great place to meet other homeschool parents and offer support to each other. Some states have homeschool programs where you can meet with a credentialed educator frequently to get help (materials, lesson plans, etc.). Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor. Instead of struggling to teach a subject that is difficult for you, OUTSOURCE! You can learn all about homeschooling outsourcing in this blog post. You can get help and ideas online through blogs, Facebook groups, articles, etc. Help is out there as long as you are willing to put forth the effort to find it.
5. Assuming your child learns like YOU do
This one is tough. Parents, like kids, walk into the homeschooling game with all sorts of prior experiences. They may have loved their own schooling experience. They may have hated it. Maybe they loved reading, but hated math when they were in school. When parents have learning preferences that are so ingrained, it is only natural that they expect their child to learn the same way and prefer the same subjects.
It’s hard to say this, but put YOUR talents, interests, and preferences aside while you homeschool your child. Start by recognizing the way/s your child learns best, and teach to that. If you are great at telling stories and terrible at drawing, but your kid is a visual learner, then draw your terrible drawings. It’s okay! Actually, it’s more than okay! Your student will learn MUCH more from you teaching to his/her style, than if you stick in your safe zone. While this definitely doesn’t come naturally, it is well worth the effort.
Solution: Step one – figure out your child’s learning style and preferences. To learn more about this important topic, we recommend reading this blog post and incorporating some of the strategies mentioned with your child/ren. You can also use a book like Discover Your Child’s Learning Style, or conduct a brief survey through our Learning Observation form. Step two – teach to your child’s learning style and preferences. Step three – watch magic happen.
Lastly, learning how to homeschool is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen alone. Give yourself the time, opportunity, and resources to learn and improve your homeschool game. In the end, your kiddos will thank you for it!