Dealing with Disappointments
- 2010 19 Apr
It's been "one of those days" in our homeschool, where nothing seems to be going right. There have been tears over assignments, poorly completed (and incomplete) work, interruptions, siblings with bad attitudes toward one another, and time wasted as children wait on me for help. It's as though our vessel is in the water, fully loaded, but we aren't moving. Or worse yet—as though our homeschool is slowly moving off course.
If this sounds similar to days in your family, you are one of many in this large homeschooling fleet. If you are new enough to homeschooling that you haven't yet experienced "one of those days," just wait a little longer. They're coming! The highs and the lows, the ups and the downs of homeschooling are inevitable.
The most obvious source of problems in our homeschool is often . . . me! I'm the main educator, so I've got to admit my own weaknesses and failures. Tough as it is to admit, poor planning on my part can be a big contributor to our struggles. If I don't wake up early enough, if I don't get books and schedules organized ahead of time, if I don't reserve necessary library materials, or if I don't pre-read the teacher's guides or purchase supplies we might need, I can be the number one cause of our struggles and lack of learning.
Another way I can add to our difficulties is by allowing interruptions to master us. When I answer unnecessary phone calls throughout the day, our school time can be squandered. I've learned to turn off the ringer during school hours or screen calls using our answering machine. In other seasons of our schooling, I've gotten carried away on the computer, doing Internet searches or e-mail instead of having the self-control to postpone those tasks. I can also add to our struggles by saying yes to too many outside activities. The result? We are harried and stressed out, gone from home too much to do our normal schoolwork.
Thank the Lord I'm not the only human source of disappointment in our homeschool! Other man-made issues can and do challenge our homeschooling. Sometimes equipment or electronics don't work; computers, DVD players, and printers can be a major thorn in my side! Science experiments don't always go according to plan either. Those are the sorts of things that require a joyful spirit and a flexible response from me. What a great chance for me to model Christlikeness to my children!
On other occasions, my disappointment in homeschooling stems from a curriculum that's not as challenging (or relaxed, or structured, or flexible, or fill-in-the-blank with your own adjective!) as I had hoped. When a curriculum is not meeting my expectations over weeks and months, I can lose heart. There are two possible solutions to the not-as-I-had-expected curriculum. One is to make a fresh start by dropping that curriculum. Yes, you'll eat the financial loss, but making a change now—not waiting until fall—can energize the rest of your school year and be an encouragement to both you and your child.
Many of us latched onto a curriculum early in our homeschooling days simply because another homeschooling mom recommended one that worked for her. But is that God's best for my family and my child? If not, no wonder I am discouraged! Learn about the vast number of curriculum options from the many ads in this issue of Home School Enrichment or the product reviews near the end. Or grab Cathy Duffy's helpful book, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child's Learning.
As I have studied each of my children and researched their God-given learning styles, I have made wiser curriculum choices, those which better suit their individual strengths. For example, at times I've steered the course of our science study away from books and worksheets (geared to a visual learner) toward experiments and building projects (suited to a kinesthetic learner) or Jonathan Park's creation science audio dramas (for an auditory learner). I have also played some of G.A. Henty's audiobooks as our primary history source for a while, meeting the need of one of my children and overcoming my frustrations with another, poorly suited text.
On the other hand, don't bail out your ship without good reason and clear direction from the Lord and your husband. While changing curriculum can be a good idea, homeschoolers too often believe that the "perfect" curriculum will solve all their problems. Sometimes moms steer a homeschool ship that never seems to be satisfied, and they constantly blame the books. That's looking to a book to satisfy us, rather than to Jesus!
There is a difference between the legitimate need for a different curriculum and curriculum hopping to the latest and greatest book or program. Constantly changing methods and curriculum can result in confusion for the children and lack of consistency in learning, and it subtly endorses an attitude of quitting when the storms come. Before you make a curriculum change, make sure the Lord is clearly leading you and your husband.
Comparison: The Greatest Struggle?
When one of my children isn't making great progress, I am tempted to be discouraged. However, sometimes this is nothing more than my own falling into the comparison trap. Is my li'l Johnny doing as well in his reading as my friend's li'l Jenna? Are we studying the same topics, and learning as much, as the public schoolers in our neighborhood? Or even, is my youngest child learning as quickly as his oldest brother did at his age? Comparison to other children, even within our own family, is a deadly trap. Inevitably, my child falls short in the comparison because there is always someone more talented than he.
If I compare us to the public schools or state standards, I must decide if I really care to align our homeschool with a century's worth of institutional implementation of philosopher John Dewey's goals: training kids to be compliant, productive, efficient workers for an industrial setting (a factory), not teaching kids to think or experience the joy of learning. Jesus' standards are vastly different: loving Him and loving others. Our homeschool should be moving each of our children in His direction.
Getting out of the comparison mode is an important step for all Christians and all homeschoolers. It really is a matter of renewing our minds. God has called us to homeschool only our own children, not others', so we need to keep our eyes within our own four walls. Jesus alone should set our goals. What are His expectations for your homeschool? If possible, look back at the goals and the schedule you set for yourself early in the fall. How can you get back to those basics?
God-Ordained Trials to Sharpen and Test Me
Friends of mine have gone through seasons when they've had an elderly parent to care for and have felt discouraged by the comparatively little time they could devote to homeschooling. I've had times dealing with medical issues or a newborn, and I've felt unproductive with our learning, disappointed in our progress. All these times are opportunities for me to grow in my trust of the Father. Whoever said "Homeschooling is potentially the greatest tool of God's refinement in a mother's life" was right on track. God uses these times for spiritual learning, if not book learning. Let your children see you grow in your Christian faith! That's more important for their lives than any head knowledge you can teach them.
Spiritual Battles in the Unseen Realms
Finally, realize that there is an Enemy who's out to destroy your homeschool efforts. Satan, the great deceiver, is out to steal, kill, and destroy, and he would like you to become so discouraged that you finally give up the ship. Because homeschooling is so vital, so redemptive in our culture, it's got to be one of Satan's key targets right now. It's a daily battle, so pray daily for Satan to be bound and for Jesus to triumph in your home. Ask God for wisdom, perseverance, and joy in this journey. Ask your husband and other homeschooling moms to pray for you if you are discouraged, holding up your weary arms like Moses' friends did for him.
As the main teacher and the one who has constant interaction with our children, my perspective during these struggles makes all the difference. Just knowing that the sources of discouragement are common to all of us homeschoolers can greatly reduce how long it takes me to right the ship. Dear moms, keep your eyes on Jesus, the anchor of our souls.
*This article first published April 19, 2010.
Melanie Hexter and her husband, Matthew, homeschool their five children, ages 5 to 15. Another li'l Hexter is due this spring. The Hexters help families get started homeschooling by offering an annual "Home School 101" workshop in central Ohio. In addition to writing this column, Melanie has written several boy-friendly unit studies, available at www.lemiloepublishing.com.
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Visit www.HSEmagazine.com today!