My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake
Last week we learned about Rembrandt during our Morning Time. I was feeling oddly ambitious and decided to paint self-portraits with my children, using the strong light and shadows technique that Rembrandt loved.
I know how to teach my children — I really do. I’ve had enough experience that I know the principles.
I knew that I should just set out the materials, including my own easel, and get everyone started, including myself. Once started, when my daughter’s face on her canvas looked crooked, I should have just told her to step back and squint at everything and evaluate her shapes and values.
Then I should have continued with my own painting, enjoyed my work, and let my daughter practice and evaluate and come to her own conclusions. The key was to let her figure it out.
I know that, because I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years now, and I know that learning is most effective when I let my children self-educate. And yet, when the painting goes wrong, I always want to step in with my own brush and fix her mistakes.
To be honest, she always wants me to as well. This time was no different. She begged me to fix her mistakes.
So I did. I stepped in and fixed everything and pretty much finished her painting, while mine sat neglected. My daughter didn’t think watching me paint her “self-portrait” was any fun and she wandered away. There is a good chance that she even felt disheartened, like maybe I didn’t have faith in her abilities.
Nor was I very happy, because it was past dinner time and the kitchen was covered with painting supplies and my own painting was still on my easel, barely touched. I really wanted to paint the subject I had painstakingly chosen and begun.
It’s no wonder nobody was happy.
The experience reminded me why I was reluctant to work on art. I’ve learned to apply sound educational principles to other subjects, but my need to control the outcome when it comes to art overrides my principles. I’m working on it.
The whole scenario made me really think and evaluate my homeschool and my role. I tend to do this primarily when a day has gone poorly, so at least there is some value to those bad days.
As I contemplated my mistakes, I was able to connect them to an overarching mistake — one I frequently make in all areas of my homeschooling. In fact, I think it’s my very biggest homeschooling mistake.
My Very Biggest Homeschooling Mistake
I frequently forget to consider my own desires and feelings.
My very biggest homeschooling mistake is not taking into account my needs in our homeschool and making it all about my children. I usually neglect to even question whether I’m excited (or not) about certain subjects or curriculum.
I make it all about my kids, and that’s a huge homeschooling mistake.
Aren’t we supposed to sacrifice our own needs at the holy altar of our children’s needs?
Don’t we carry and birth the babies?
And who sits up half the night nursing the baby and then feeds and chases little ones all day?
Who has to get up when little Suzy’s sock falls off in the middle of the night?
We get used to not thinking about ourselves and how we feel about things. Day in, day out we sacrifice our needs for others. Sometimes that’s necessary. I mean, how is a toddler going to bathe or soothe or feed himself? But when it comes to homeschooling your needs and happiness as the mom should be a priority.
What do my needs have to do with our homeschool?
There are really only two ways to homeschool. You can inspire your children to voluntarily choose to do the hard work necessary to get a great education, or you can require assignments and worksheets and tests.
Schools generally use requirements, but students forget the facts they’ve memorized immediately following the test. How much do you remember from school vs. things you learned on your own?
When children choose on their own what they want to learn and how, they learn deeper and more quickly, and they retain what they’ve learned. That’s why the best teachers go to great lengths to inspire their students to educate themselves.
If you’ve tried both methods in your own homeschool, I’m sure you’ll agree that inspiration is a little more work upfront than listing requirements and setting deadlines. You have to create an environment where kids ask questions, where you facilitate their interests and where you exemplify lifelong learning yourself.
This is where your needs come in.
What do I need?
Last week I needed to be able to create my own project and to be able to explore in a direction I enjoy. I should have honored that and given my daughter just two minutes of my time when she asked; just enough to tell her to step back and check her shapes and values.
Are those the same needs I have as we study math together? Science?
Do I always need to be able to create alongside my children, no matter what the subject, and explore in my own chosen direction?
It’s kind of a tough question to answer without a whole lot of introspection. And it’s probably different for everyone.
But I’d say the foundation of those needs is the same for everyone — happiness and joy. Every minute doesn’t need to be cotton candy and sunshine, but there needs to be a steady, secure, joyful underpinning.
After all, if you don’t enjoy learning, how will your children?
You set the tone.
How well will you be able to inspire a love of Calculus and Physics if you hate Calculus and Physics?
I’m not the right person to teach my children about snakes, because I’m terrified of them. Unfortunately, my children don’t want to learn about snakes either, because they’re all terrified of them. Guess why?
It’s sad, but true. Your children will inherit your attitudes and values. Okay, it’s not always sad. It’s half the reason I homeschool — I want to impart my attitudes and values to my children, just not all of them. I wish I didn’t impart my fears or prejudices or dislikes. Too bad we can’t pick and choose.
And that’s why it’s critical — I’m talking critical — to be able to LOVE your homeschool and the way you have it set up and the subjects you are learning together!
That is a lot of pressure!
I don’t want you to feel like you have to add more to your plate. I’m not saying that you have to pretend like you love everything (kids can see through phoniness!) or that you have to somehow, miraculously develop a love for everything.
I’m telling you to get rid of what you don’t love.
Seriously. If you don’t love it, you’re not doing anyone any favors by being a martyr. If anything, you could be imparting your own negative attitude to your children.
I can hear a lot of you asking, “What about math?”
Am I really telling you to get rid of math?
What about the subjects none of my family members love?
What about math?
If your child loves something that you don’t and never will, find him a mentor or online instruction or something that will work for both of you.
I would say that, best case scenario, you should probably learn to love things that you don’t. But life isn’t always best case scenario. We have babies and obligations and it’s really hard to learn things when you’re trying to function on four hours of sleep a night and all your brain cells are required just to keep the little people alive. I understand!
There will be a better season.
When you feel able, structure your homeschool and your life to include study time and creation time for yourself, and you’ll inspire your kids to do the same. Show your kids your own exuberance and excitement over learning, and you’ll inspire your kids to feel the same.
About math. I love it, so I certainly have a different perspective than a person who hates it. Math is my thing, and science is a close second. I just used math as an example because it seems to be the subject with the most haters.
My kids hate writing, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. But you can equate it to math or whatever subjects are your least favorite.
Starting out, I pursed a Classical style homeschooling method. Naturally, I expected my children to to write daily as part of their Language Arts curriculum. We used writing prompts, we journaled, we wrote science labs and history papers. Just kidding! I assigned those things and my kids (who were typically pretty happy and excited about learning and pretty much NEVER threw temper tantrum’s — not even over chores) laid on the floor and cried, kicked and screamed.
Guess who else hated it? Yep, me! I really hate checking writing assignments because it’s so subjective. Math is either right or wrong. My kids can’t argue with me about math.
What’s a mom to do?
I quit assigning them writing.
But I put forth a lot of effort to find a writing curriculum they’d be more amenable to. We tried Excellence In Writing, Easy Writing, Writing with a Purpose, Essentials in Writing, and pretty much everything Cathy Duffy recommended. No luck!
I sold all of my writing curricula at homeschool swaps and kissed the idea of writing goodbye.
But I felt guilty.
How would they ever learn to write?
It would for sure be my fault if they never did.
And then as each child turned 12, I’d sign them up for the local homeschool debate league. Their debate coach gave weekly challenges, like writing a two-minute speech in under 30 seconds, or writing and memorizing a ten-minute oratory.
Suddenly, my kids were writing!
Nobody corrected their speeches but them. Their coach would offer suggestions, and my kids would actually accept them! My children would work really hard to place at their monthly debate meets, and they’d actually ask me for suggestions.
There are two important things to learn here. First, the idea of the debate meet, giving a speech publicly and being judged lent their writing some real world application and gave it meaning. Second, a mentor who was excited about the subject made all the difference.
I could never have given my children what their debate coach did, because I was just dreading arguing over word choice and sentence structure.
If you hate math, and it’s causing contention in your homeschool, it might be time to look for an outside mentor.
Another possibility, ultimately more difficult but also more rewarding, is to learn to love the subject you dislike. Did I mention that I dislike checking and correcting writing? I still hate it. But I don’t hate writing and I never have. In fact, I quite enjoy writing. I just never wrote back when my oldest kids were young.
At the time, I didn’t have a blog. I was the old woman who lived in a shoe with so many children she didn’t know what to do, except that I was young. I barely had time to use the bathroom, let alone write anything.
Since starting my blog a couple of years ago, my younger children have begun to write books. Vountarily. Isn’t that incredible? I don’t check or correct them, but I do give suggestions and critiques when asked.
The reason my children are writing now is that I’m writing now. They see me writing daily.
Who knew? My kids want to be just like me. They want to do the things they see me doing. They love the things I love. I don’t have to love checking and correcting their writing. I don’t even do it. Thank goodness!
I just have to write.
The thing that has my children asking for direction and critiques is the possibility of selling their work and earning money. We’ve had several talks about passive income and how royalties from your creations — books, musical compositions, artwork, coded programs — can be earned even while you sleep.
So now my kiddos have a reason to write and they see me writing, and all the pieces have come together, and the younger half of my family are writing by choice. This goes both ways. I’ve also acquired interests from my children.
Ultimately, it’s more important that your homeschool be joyful than that you cover all the subjects. A love of learning will take your children farther long-term than will covering every subject.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself about your homeschool.
Do I love this?
Am I happy with the things we’re learning about and the ways in which we’re learning?
Am I excited to get started on school in the morning?
Or am I feeling burned out and exhausted?
Because if I’m not excited about what we’re doing, my kids sure as heck won’t be. I’ll be caught in the trap of assigning and requiring, and you can bet your britches it will feel like a trap. I can’t expect my children to love learning when learning looks like an angry, unhappy, stressed-out mom.
Here’s to happy homeschooling!
I am so thankful that I never quit homeschooling all the times I wanted to or convinced myself it would be for the best. I no longer feel like I have to grit my teeth and endure all the subjects, and neither do my kids. We can pick and choose the things we enjoy studying and actually want to learn about.
I give you permission (not that you need anyone’s permission, lol!) to set aside subjects and curriculum that aren’t working for you. Come back to them later, when you feel ready to look for a mentor or try something new, or don’t come back. It’s up to you. You know what your children need.
I’ve learned from this mistake and now I enjoy our homeschool as much (or more!) as my kids do. That’s not say everything is pink and sparkly. We have our good days and bad days.
But I can honestly say that I do get up each morning eager to begin our school, because I look forward to the things we’re studying. We do a lot more unit studies and interest-led learning, happily diving down rabbit holes together.
I’ve written about my best advice to new homeschooling moms in the hope that it can help others. I’ve also written all about My 10 Biggest Homeschooling Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them!) so hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and not have to make them yourself.
And here is some more about our experiences with child-led learning. Lazy Homeschoolers Raise Geniuses
Happy homeschooling, friends! Let’s all learn from our homeschooling mistakes!
Pin my biggest homeschooling mistake for later!
What is your biggest homeschooling mistake? I’d love for you to share in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.