When Homeschool Isn’t The Right Fit

For many parents, homeschooling is an amazing solution to public school woes or funding issues with private schooling. Many home schooled children enjoy the slower pace and increased time with family that this option affords. But what happens when the home school environment becomes such an uphill struggle, that it’s too depressing and difficult to continue.
When I set out to home school my kindergarten daughter last fall, I knew it would be hard for several reasons: our matching personality strengths and weaknesses, her desire to turn everything into art and do things her own way, and the fact that I had a toddler son getting into everything while we tried to work. At first I tried work boxes with a hodge-pdge of materials I had accumulated to help her learn the basics of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic plus a lot of art. This was how my sister was doing it, but I started to feel scattered, and like I might not be doing it “right.”
So then I enrolled her in a charter school that gave us almost a thousand dollars of curriculum and a teacher that would come once a week to check on us. At first I was delighted with the huge box of books and supplies and checklists, then I was overwhelmed and felt unable to keep up. I was juggling a climbing two-year old who only wanted to take one nap, a newly launched online fitness studio, and a daughter who only wanted to play not do 4 hours of book work every day.
I began reading blogs by homeschooling moms that seemed to have it together, and there were so many pictures of happy kids doing their work and moms happily cleaning up the disasters of disarrayed art projects. Whenever I tried to take a picture of our projects, someone was always crying and I was yelling, “Smile!”
The teacher we were assigned lived over an hour away and kept missing scheduled check-ins, so I asked for a different teacher. The new one came for a visit and did her best to encourage me as I fought back tears, thinking about how I’ve been the assitant manager of a fitness club, I’ve ministered to the college and career group at my church, I’ve built a fitness business from scratch. I’ve always felt so confident, but homeschooling was rapidly unraveling me. I felt scrutinized, not helped. I felt like me and my child were falling behind the pack, not running ahead, maybe not even keeping up.
This new teacher’s advice was to focus on the basics but do twice as many lessons each week to catch up. Her advice nearly put me in the looney bin when I tried to follow it! So I did what any self-respecting home school mom does: I called my sister and my best friend, and I vented. I also called my favorite junior high teacher who happens to be the vice-principal of the private Christian school where my daughter did pre-K. All three of them said the same thing, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear: that maybe homeschooling wasn’t for me. I had tried it seven ways to Sunday, and nothing was working. I never expected it to be all fun and roses, but I did expect it to be fulfilling and bonding and educational. But at that point, I could barely stand to even go in the school room…
I called the principal of the charter school and told him it had been six months, and I had never connected with either of the teachers he sent me, their advice didn’t work, the situation was too stressful, and he admitted that homeschooling isn’t a good fit for everyone. He encouraged me to take my daughter back to the private school that we hadn’t been able to afford this year, so that she could sit and be reviewed by their 1st grade teacher.
Her conclusions about my daughter’s progress shocked me! She said my girl was right on track for 1st grade, that she is a bit behind on reading but her math was excellent, her speaking is perfect, her handwriting is nice … Mind you, I had asked the charter school to test her and they came in with this crazy timed test that included stuff for second graders “just to rule out geniuses” that left my daughter in tears and me feeling like a failure.
But maybe I wasn’t a failure? Maybe all the blood, sweat and tears did pay off? Maybe I had been too hard on myself? I resolved to finish out the year with our original work boxes, and we left her future school with a sense of peace. Left without such a huge burden of structure, me and my daughter once more settled into our own pace. I would rip out some pages every day and lay out some artwork for her, and she’ddo it. She naturally wanted to practice her own writing, and her love of horses led to a weight-lifter-sized pile of books from the library that she pours over ever night until she falls asleep.
But even though we appear to have finally found our rhythm, I have learned that I am not a child-educator. My daughter needs my calmness, and being her sole teacher nearly un-hinged me. Now that I have let go and accepted my own limitations, she seems more free to explore to be the adventurous learner that she was created to be.
I did my best, which maybe wasn’t as much as my sister or best friend did with their kids, but my best wasn’t good enough for her. It’s hard to admit that. But she needs me to be her mother, not her school teacher. And I’m finally okay with that, okay with teaching her many other things about God and life and love and truth … and if we stumble into some reading, writing and ‘rithmetic along the way, I’m okay with that, too.”
Bethany with her family at the park

Bethany Learn lives in Oregon with her husband and two small children. She heads up the MOMS group at her church, and she operates a resource site for aspiring writers called Ready to Publish. She is also the founder and main instructor of Fit2B Studio which features wholesome home workout videos for the whole family. Her site and blog “Fit2Bmama” are rapidly gaining popularity, and she enjoys a wide following on Twitter and Facebook, and she has been a guest on Get Fit Now Radio & The Organic View. Bethany’s hobbies include fixing up “The Shabin,” a rustic little shabby shed that she and her husband are converting into an off-grid sustainable cabin on their family’s land in Montana. She spends her downtime reading historical fiction and racing dragon boats with the Castaways.


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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. Its something that I am struggling with myself. I love homeschooling my girls but being a single mom and working a part time job and organizing a huge baby fair has really taken a toll on my abilities as a teacher this year. I am strongly considering sending my 7 year old to school this fall but I am terrified that she will be behind and that I have done a bad job over the last year. It makes me sad to think of sending her to traditional school and like I have failed her. I am just trying to tell myself that it might be the best thing for her and that it doesn’t have to be forever. Its nice to not feel like I am not the only homeschooling mom out their who might be struggling!

  2. It really sounds like your daughter would have thrived with unschooling….I am so sad that it wasn’t given a chance. However, you will always be her very first teacher.

    Blessings to you,


  3. You can still offer her some guidance even though she’ll be going to school. Thanks for posting this!

  4. Thank you for this article…. we did public preK last school year and have enrolled our now Kindergartner in an online school… I started the “summer camps” with her this week and am totally REthinking the decision to do this at home. It has me totally stressed out of my mind…. and these are the “fun” things like books and art!!! It was nice to see someone on the homeschool page that doesn’t make me feel like a complete failure as a mom for admitting this… perhaps I am not homeschool material? Praying I will make the right choice for our WHOLE family.

  5. I have to be honest that I would be willing to bet every home school mom/dad gets overwhelmed. There are days when my kiddos are struggling with a concept and they are not getting it, I want to pull my hair out. Times my son, who’s attention span is about two seconds, is already wiggling, or yaaaaawning, when he is “done” and we have not done one sheet of work. Every parent struggles with their kid in one way or another. I struggle to teach in the way my child will learn best rather than the way I want to teach.
    I am so lucky to have an amazing support group, first my husband is my biggest cheerleader. He has never criticised me for the house being a wreck, school books all over and happily eats corn dogs for supper, he asks what the kids are doing, where are they in their learning. I have a very dear friend that God, brought all the way from East Texas to West Texas so I could meet her, that had home schooled her boys up into high school,( my kids are little ). I also have my family, my 2 sisters home school, my dad was the only one that did not question his girls when we all went with home school.
    I also think about the reality of home school when the wiggles, the No’s, and I Don’t want to’s come, who is going to go on with your child in their learning experience, a momma with a few kiddo’s or a teacher with a bunch of other kids that need their attention also. Do not ever be fooled that HS moms have perfect homes, all the laundry done, 4 course meal for supper, and do a field trip every week. I hope we get a post about a “real” home school day, I would love to see what other moms days are like. I know that mine seems crazy more often than not, I loving look at all the planners and wish they would work for me. My days involve getting interrupted by a 3yr old, 4yr old and trying to make sure the 8yr old is doing what ever. …My science projects are a comedy of “Do not put that in your mouth, pleasssse” and getting the project done. The only mandatory thing I have in my house is Nap/Rest time, I do not care if you sleep/read/play quietly but you will stay in your room for 1 hour after lunch and let mom regroup. Best of luck to all moms, raising kids is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. I agree completely, it’s not for everyone and you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. I wish you and your daughter the best in finding the past that works best for YOU!

  7. Your daughter sounds like the A.C.E. curriculum would be really good for her! My kids got bored with it, but it is what I used when I was home educated and I loved it! It is self paced and very easy on the parents as well. Just a thought.

  8. I wish someone else had been there to hold your hand through the process. Twice the amount of lessons? Ah! I wish someone had been there to remind you that 100 years ago, kindergarten didn’t exist, that learning the basics waited until at least six while kids played. A dose of Charlotte Mason even , would have told you that play is the most important learning a child is doing at that age, and your expectations on yourself or your daughter needn’t have been so high, that it does take time to find your homeschool rhythm, and even then adjustments may need to be made. I’m sad it didn’t work out for you. I realize you’ve decided homeschooling isn’t for you, but I encourage you to see this as a season. Maybe the season will change. If it does, I encourage you to find others who can uphold you in wisdom.

  9. I have been homeschooling my 4 yr old this year doing Kindergarten. She seems to really love me being her “teacher”. She sees it all as a game. I pretend to be teacher she pretends to be the student. Sometimes I worry that I am not teaching her all that I should because I don’t structure things as much as I feel I should, but really I think the less I am making her sit at a table and we are out learning in an active and fun way the more she retains. I do worry that because of my active schedule and my own business that I won’t always be able to give her schooling the attention it deserves and that I may eventually have to send her to public school. But then I worry the opposite – I know she is getting a much more one on one learning at home and I fear she will go to school and be so ahead of her peers that she will be bored. At least in Texas they strongly discourage grade skipping and I would fear that she would lose interest all together.

  10. Kudos to you for making a tough decision that was right for your family! thank you for sharing. 🙂 I was blessed by this post!

  11. If you get a chance stop by my blog and read my lastest article on “The SuperMom Myth”. I loved your honesty and I am glad to here you and your little girl have found “YOUR” groove not anyone elses. Homeschooling is an extension of the home. You are the mother so homeschooling is an extension of your Mothering not you assuming the roll of “teacher” in the literal school at home sense. You do teach and she does learn but you define the terms of what education looks like for you and your child. Not someone out side of the home.

  12. Your honesty about homeschooling is refreshing. I too wonder about the myth of homeschooling perfection perpetuated by many homeschool bloggers. I recently came across a thread on a homeschooling board where the poster, knowing the family personally, questioned her obligation to disclose the truth about this homeschooling family. The concern was this family, because of their remarkableness as a traveling homeschool family, was to be the subject of an article in a homeschool magazine. The family in question hosted a glowing blog that the original poster knew to be made up of fictional content.
    My family is not perfect. Neither my kids or I would be considered poster children for homeschooling. We have horrible days homeschooling, days when I deeply questioned if homeschooling is the right choice for my kids, my family and me. Few people willingly write about the darker side of homeschooling. At times I think there is an unfounded righteousness and chauvinism in the homeschool community toward homeschooling as the “right” way to educate. Thanks for your honesty.

  13. Wow, ladies! Thanks for all your support. This article was tough to write, and it’s comforting to hear others affirm my choice yet still encourage me to not give up entirely. We are actually doing an “unschooling” format through the summer. I have things in a pile that are available to her, and she’s also a normal, healthy, inquisitive child who asks 134 questions every day 🙂 Just this morning, my toddler was asking about spiders because he saw one, and soon we were all on my computer looking up native spiders and sounding out their names. Secretly (secretly) I still find myself praying for the ability to keep doing this. Yet the choice to NOT do it has brought so much calm….

  14. this was very GOOD, HONEST writing. thanks for sharing. plus, the comments were also wonderful. i especially like the “season” advice. i’m so sorry you hit so many road blocks. you showed how dedicated and flexible you are to her well-being, including your current decision.

    now, i’d like to share some of my experience. it is my hope that sharing this can show you that it isn’t always pretty, successful, tidy, working, etc.
    i homeschooled my first grader this past year. she had already gone to public all day K and was successful there, but also developed a severe stutter. this and other reasons motivated me to homeschool her for first grade. i loved planning it all, reading the blogs, reading books, organizing our goals. i was excited–espec at the beginning!
    and then there were the days/weeks i didn’t get done what i planned. and the days when she was obstinate. and i’ll be honest–i would yell at her. sit up! put your feet down! look at me! we have to get this finished NOW! i will take away your barbies if you don’t cooperate!! etc. was it pretty? no. was it effective. maybe.
    sometimes to move off the yucky place we did unit studies–of her choice. for example, we studied france for a week and even went to Paris (the hotel! we live in Vegas). another fun one during winter break was a unit on chocolate. this included older sister too and a taste test. big hit! i also did online learning with her b/c she responded positively to that system. another strategy was to schedule some extra field trips, even just to the makeup store. 🙂
    we did not have a homeschool group that worked for us this year. mainly b/c of speech therapy + little bro’s schedule.
    but i was committed to doing it for one year. and my husband fully supported that. we knew we’d assess at the end.
    my house was not sparkling clean. and i didn’t exercise nearly as much as i would have liked. and i didn’t cook dinner as often as i should have. and the laundry piled up. and i cried. and i yelled. and i napped. and i started over. again.
    we got to June and she FINISHED all her scheduled learning for the year. her speech is SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVED. that big goal was met. did we cover everything? nope. but that’s ok. that is also a part of homeschooling.

    i would definitely continue homeschooling—but she has indicated that she wants more time to be with more people thruout the day. she had extracurriculars this past year, but it wasn’t enough for this girl who wants LOTS of friends. so, she is enrolled in the public school for next year. yes, there are homeschool groups, but sending her back to school seemed the better fit. FOR NOW. if it doesn’t work out, i can always bring her back home. and KNOW that i can do this homeschooling gig. 🙂
    plus, i have my son to homeschool (i use the word very loosely cuz he is 4.5) this next year. so he has a turn at getting lots of mommy attention w/o sisters around.

    my point in all this—there are stuggles. that is a part of it all. if you decide to try it again, you’ll be that much more able to do it. and if you decide never to do it again, that’s ok too. we all have different skills/interests/talents/gifts and finding that your gift to her is a calm mommy is an important discovery. so, congratulations on all your efforts and know that there are MANY moms who support you either which way. 🙂

  15. Thanks for writing this article! I can imagine that it was tough to be so honest and transparent. Homeschooling is a challenge. It is hard to try to make sure you are getting “it” right for your kids. It can be tough in a lot of ways. Our struggle is financial. My DH loves the idea that we homeschool and I love him for that, but its tough. I’m not sure we will be able to continue beyond 2012 and I am thankful for moms who can share their journey of redirection. It is an encouragement to let go and find the peace knowing that my kids and I will be better for it. Thank you so much.

  16. Thanks for your honesty! I have kids in PS (I know gasp right? 🙂 However, this year I am pulling my oldest son home who will be 4th grade. It will be our 1st year of homeschooling. My other 3 will still remain in PS because for THIS year it IS the best decision for them and our family.
    I know how hard your decision must have been. I want to encourage you with this. THIS decision is not your forever. For some reason it feels like that when we are making it. When my oldest started K we weren’t 100% comfortable sending him to PS. However we prayed and knew that was where God wanted him. Throughout the next 4 years I wrestled with HSing. I wanted to, but yet I KNEW it was not what God wanted for our family. I prayed that he would make it obvious if and when were were to start that journey. And he did. So I go into it with it in peace now . You may find yourself HSing again 4 years down the road!!
    To all of the HSing moms…let me encourage you with this. My kids are gone at school all day and come home and sooo many nights at homework time I am having the EXACT same fights you have during your school day. I share that only because sending your kids to school will not eliminate all the problems you have in homeschooling:)
    So I look forward to dancing in both worlds this fall:)

  17. I’ve been homeschooling my 2 daughters and they are now 8 and 10. When I think back to when they were in Kindergarten and all the stuff I did with them I now realize that most of it was not necessary. I signed them up for classes that they don’t even remember:) I think the most important thing for a mom to do (especially if you are starting with a 4-5 year old) is spend the first half of the year just reading to your child. Also, it is very important to find a support group. You should plan your life around a playgroup or some kind of coop classes that meet with other homeschoolers. If you can’t find one then start one. These groups have been more important for my peace of mind than for the kids social needs. You can chat with other moms about what they know or are learning. You can have parties together, go on field trips together, etc. I really like what that last commenter said about having the same fights with schooled kids that you do with unschooled kids. And I agree with everyone that I appreciate the post and the honesty. I hope that other parents see that setting the wrong standards for you kids is very problematic and damaging. I also hope that parents see that homeschooling can be done by anyone but not everyone has to do it! Good job for sticking with it and finding a rhythm and finishing the year. Wishing your family the best for the next season of schooling!

  18. This is really inspiring in combination with reading those “perfect homeschooling” posts. I think this is the kind of post that will be meaningful to so many people. My favorite quote from your post is: “But she needs me to be her mother, not her school teacher.” Some people are both; but children always need their parents, first and foremost, and apart from any academic teaching. A good reminder for me.

  19. Thanks so much for your heartfelt post, Bethany! It’s true that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. I am glad you’re trying unschooling this summer. You might also want to consider Montessori and/or unit studies.

    I homeschooled my two kids through high school and wouldn’t have done well with those charter school teachers, either! We definitely fit into the relaxed homeschooler category. We used Montessori education and unit studies which worked well for multi-age learning and had a lot of freedom and following the child’s interests. Wishing you many blessings in finding the right path for your unique family.

  20. Just thought you’d all like to know where I’m at now, a couple years later. After taking a year off, and putting my daughter in private school for a bit, we have now been homeschooling again through a homelink program that allows her to take a couple classes in the community with other homeschooled kids. And I got teacher support! We are now in Washington (before we were in Oregon) and I enjoyed the support I got and the feeling of not having to “do it all myself.” I’m now looking at my third year as a homeschooler and definitely thinking about going for it, and my son will be kindergarten this coming year. Thanks for being my sounding board. Many of your comments have still been bouncing around in my head (especially the uplifting, understanding ones) Blessings!

  21. Maybe I missed something…. but you were homeschooling your kindergartner and she was at a 1st grade level? Isn’t that success? not failure? And they were even looking at how she would do in 2nd grade stuff?
    I understand that yes you need to be a Mom first and foremost.
    However, if she wanted to draw most of the time…. she is going to hate public school, because they will not let her do that.
    I am not a homeschooling Mom… I am looking into it…. Thanks for your honesty. But I think you should give yourself more credit. sounds like you did a great job…. just try to relax a little more. 🙂

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