That first-time learning curve is a killer.  The kid who's a good swimmer enters his first real swim meet and disqualifies in every event.  The girl in her first real tennis tournament almost misses her game.  The siblings who try to play a duet at music contest, get nervous, forget to count, and throw each other off the song.  The first time a child takes a standardized test, the complete package may come with a few tears from a student who's never before encountered those bubbles and a number two pencil.

The lessons taught in those first time learning curves last a lifetime.  Do we quit and choose never to try again?  Or do we pick ourselves up, dust off our backsides, fix what we did wrong, and try again?  A mom recently commented to me that her kids usually did badly the first time they did something new.  But once they got over that initial learning curve, their performance improved.

We learn as much if not more from our failures than we do our successes.  In sixth grade, I got a second on a French horn solo at contest.  I was the only one in my grade who got a second at contest, and my band teacher knocked my grade down a letter because I didn't earn a first.  He was livid that I broke his streak of having all his students earn firsts at contest. After the contest, I sat crying in frustration because I did so badly.  My mom told me that how I learned to handle losing something that mattered to me was the hardest lesson I would ever face.  The next year, I did better.

If you try something new with your kids and it doesn't go well, try again. Keep plugging and try to figure out if there is something in the environment you can change to make it go smoother.

Yesterday, my husband and I sat talking with another homeschool couple about how we started on this journey.  We debated it for a few years, and I was afraid to try it.  I was convinced that I was incapable of teaching a child to read.  I never took an education class, and I had no idea how a child could learn to read. Consequently, my plan was to send the kids to school long enough to learn to read - and then homeschool them.

Then my daughter learned to read short vowel words.  We enrolled her in a private kindergarten.  She returned from her first day of kindergarten and announced to us, "I am the only one in the class who reads.  If the other kids can't read, I won't either."  After 3 days, we decided to keep her home.  It made more sense to keep her home and not pay tuition than it did to pay tuition to send her to school so she would stop reading.

As our friends heard our story, they asked how our daughter learned to read or what method I used.  I answered, "I have no idea.  It just sort of happened."

The other dad observed, "That's how more of our education works than we realize.  We try one method and hope it works.  If it doesn't, we try something else.  We don't quit working until we accomplish our goal.  If you keep trying, keep working, and don't quit, eventually something will work."

My son did not learn to read by osmosis.  His reading came as a result of a combination of early Abeka readers, Saxon phonics, and Dr. Seuss books.

Think of ourselves as the Little (or in my case Big) Homeschool Mom Who Could. Every day, chug just a little bit down the track.   I think I can.  I think I can.  I thought I could.  I thought I could.  I did it!

And as we chug, and plug, and keep trying, we teach our children the most important lesson of perseverance.  The swimmer can do well at the next swim meet.  The girl may win the tennis tournament.  The siblings finally realize why it's important to count when they play music.  And the standardized test becomes a challenge instead of an exercise in standardized torture.

Mary Biever, a homeschool mother of two, serves as the secretary for Southwestern Indiana Home Educators. Check out http://www.swihe.org