Confession is good for the soul, right? Well as much as I would love to tell you what a great homeschooling mom I am and how many things I’ve done right all along the way in my homeschooling journey, the fact is, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, too.
A lot of mistakes.
Now I’ve tried to learn from each and every one of them. In that sense, mistakes can be valuable. And really, they can even be fortunate when they drive us to make changes, do things differently, and do them better. And if I can also share an experience that helps prevent someone else from making the same error? That makes my mistake doubly worthwhile!
Now I won’t bother you with the minor mistakes here because those could go on forever. (You know, like buying Disney princess pencils over Ticonderogas. Never, ever again.) Instead let me just tell you the four BIGGEST mistakes I have made since I began homeschooling:
Mistake #1: Trying very hard to make homeschool look like public school
Dumb, DUMB thing to do.
I realize this now, but I didn’t at first: when all you’ve ever known is public school, ridding yourself of that PS thinking can be really, really hard. Now, I wasn’t so crazy as to implement a bell system or demand my kids carry a hall pass to the bathroom, but I still thought very much in public school terms:
Learning was about structure, structure, structure. Kids were supposed to be doing the same things in the same way at the same age. Tests were really the only proper way to evaluate a child’s learning. Reading and answering questions and memorizing were the best ways to learn. Period.
There was just one problem. All of that was thoroughly, fundamentally WRONG for my kids and our homeschool learning experience. Also, we had decided against public school, so why should I try to recreate it at home? It took awhile for me to realize it, but putting homeschooling in a “public school box” limits learning potential in some unbelievable ways. I only wish I could have thrown off some of my public school inhibitions sooner!
Mistake #2: Putting far too much confidence in a curriculum
Now you have to understand how this one particular curriculum had been touted to me. I had listened to a few homeschoolers praise it as the be-all, end-all homeschooling curriculum, (even though none of them had ever tried anything else, I found out later) and they insisted I would see remarkable progress in my children if I would just use this curriculum!
And then, (looking back to mistake #1 for a minute here,) I glanced over the curriculum myself and found it very structured and very similar to what I had encountered in public school. So it was perfect, right?
WRONG. I hated it. My children hated it. It was such a miserable fit for our family and a disastrous starting place for a child I would later learn was dyslexic. By the time I suffered through that curriculum I was ready to quit homeschooling altogether. I mean, if I couldn’t make such a fabulous curriculum work, then obviously I wasn’t fit to homeschool, right?
Of course, with time I learned there is not a homeschooling curriculum in the world that is perfect for every child or every mom or every learning style. I only wish I had recognized our struggles and been willing to make changes sooner. There is no miracle curriculum. And -while I realize you can’t change curricula like you change your socks- if something isn’t working, sometimes you have to be willing to make adjustments. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how “fabulous” the curriculum is supposed to be, who else uses it, or how much you paid for it. What matters is how well it works for you and your kids.
Mistake #3: Pushing my kids too early
I think deep inside me there was this prideful little monster who wanted my children reading Shakespeare individually at age 3 or doing trigonometry at age 5. Not that any kid really needs to read Shakespeare at 3 or do trig at 5, mind you, but sometimes we’re looking for a little ego boost, and an academically advanced child can provide that.
And I think I gave into other pressures, too. I mean, several of my friends had kids who were excelling academically, not to mention the fact I was new to homeschooling and felt the need to validate myself as a capable teacher.
But I pushed my kids, (my dyslexic daughter in particular–God forgive me,) to learn things they weren’t ready for and weren’t interested in. In doing so, I actually did more to delay learning than to really encourage it. When I stopped pushing and allowed my kids to progress at their own pace, I found they learned more quickly, retained things more fully, and enjoyed the learning process far more.
Mistake #4: Expecting my kids to learn like I learn
Fortunately, this was a mistake that I was able to learn from fairly quickly. In fact, at the very outset I probably would have told you that I already knew that my kids would never learn just like I learn. Yet, for some reason I found it so frustrating when they didn’t!
I wish my kids could share my interests and absorb information the same way I do. That would definitely make homeschooling easier for me. Instead I’ve had to use resources and approaches that don’t necessarily appeal to my own way of thinking, and I’ve had to learn to twist my own thought processes to find new ways to help me drive home information.
The awesome thing about the whole experience of making these four big mistakes was that I was ultimately able to overcome each of them. Now, okay, I definitely wish I had overcome them sooner. However, if I hadn’t made these mistakes then I may not have discovered some of the wonderful aspects of homeschooling that I love today. And that’s probably true for most of us, as homeschooling moms. Our mistakes are good overall, because they lead us to better things!