Sometimes I get so discouraged when I read an encouraging book about homeschooling. The ideas for this or that unit study or discipline technique and the other creative blending of subjects and age level all sound so easy on paper, and a quick look at the well-groomed family in the picture on the back of the book seems to prove that homeschooling is manageable and produces instant results.
Reality sets in, however, when on one of my worst days I step back and look at my brood of children, wearing stained clothing, tussling to get elbow-room at the table, and whining about the assignment at hand, and I begin to wonder what it is these authors have over me. Pondering this one day, I came to the conclusion that it’s not that the authors are trying to hide anything; it’s just that people don’t tend to write down their experiences when they’re failing.
Therefore, I would like to go on record with my confession that our homeschool is frequently not all that it could be. I fail regularly to keep my children on a schedule that will ensure they cover all the subjects they are studying. They lose their schoolbooks. There are days when I get on the Internet determined to print out a couple of workbook pages and emerge from the office an hour later to discover that the kids have scattered and schoolwork is the last thing on their minds.
Now at this point many would argue that the worst day being homeschooled is still better for a child than the best day in an institutional classroom setting. But the fact remains that, to be perfectly honest, there are days when I could do better.
There are times when I know what to do and yet find myself shrugging and saying, “Eh, but I don’t want to.” And there are times when I flat-out, unequivocally, fail. I cringe even as I write the word. I am well-trained by a society that worships success, therefore it is natural to fear failure. Why is it that I try to hide my failure? Why do excuses spring so readily to my lips to explain the inevitable shortcomings of my children? I think we homeschoolers feel that we have to defend what we’re doing to society at large, and that makes us afraid to admit that we can make mistakes. We fear a chink in the armor will be turned into a weapon by suspicious relatives (the ones who greet our children at family gatherings with pop quizzes to make sure they haven’t been too badly damaged).
Let’s face it: nothing works perfectly all the time. At least, nothing involving humans does, because it’s our nature to make mistakes. And therein lies the beauty of homeschooling. Although we should each strive to do our best, we can use even our failures to teach our children. I’d be the first to say mine know more about that particular lesson than they do about the Civil War.
When things go terribly wrong at our house, the first thing we do (after mopping up the tears) is to examine the situation and figure out what went wrong so we can learn to do it differently. I constantly remind my children that they are supposed to make mistakes in their schoolwork—it’s part of the learning process. Just because you feel like a failure doesn’t mean you are. If I could only turn the words around and listen to them myself, I think I wouldn’t get so easily discouraged. Homeschooling is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done (ranks right up there with childbirth, but it lasts longer), so why do I beat myself up when I’m less than perfect at it?
There are three main ways that I get help when I’m feeling overwhelmed with failure.
Write It Down
I regularly write down the things that are bothering me and then address each one separately. I pretend I’m a homeschooling consultant hired to solve someone else’s problems. Some problems turn out to be a simple matter of planning ahead; others are more complex and deep-rooted and will take time to work through; but if I can solve even one or two of my problems, I’ll have more room on my plate for the tougher ones and won’t feel so overwhelmed.
Ask For Help
The first place I go to ask for help is on my knees. For the first few years that I homeschooled, I was operating under the mistaken assumption that it was my job to do the homeschooling, and with whatever time I had left over (!), the Lord would use me for ministry. One day I finally realized that homeschooling is the ministry in which He is using me. Rather than just doing my job “as unto the Lord,” I was doing everything, from phonics to science experiments, “in His name.” I was running a long-term, intensive discipling program for four precious children.
At first this realization made the task more daunting, until I remembered that He said, in John 14:14, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” What a relief it was to realize that “anything” included help with phonics, learning disabilities, and discipline! I now ask for help in every area of my homeschooling, beginning each day on my knees asking specifically for guidance, wisdom and energy. Even if I only manage to get five minutes with the Lord by locking myself in the bathroom, I make sure I bow my heart before Him rather than jumping into the day on my own steam. And when a crisis hits during the day, I turn first to the Lord for wisdom and guidance (and, more often than I like to admit, for simple self-control).
I also remind myself that I’m not alone in this endeavor. I talk things over with my husband and get his perspective and wisdom. I can also reach out to my fellow homeschoolers. We joined a homeschooling academy years ago, but it took a few years before I realized that there were many resources available at my disposal there, from curriculum counseling to networking with other homeschoolers. I can get strength back in my spine just by listening to other homeschooling moms admit that they struggle as much as I do. I have also found many online forums about homeschooling that have proved to be a great source of information and encouragement.
Read All About It
Of course, there is an overwhelming array of encouraging books, magazines and Web sites available to homeschoolers. Once I have identified the roots of my problems by writing them down, taking them before the Lord, and talking them over with others, I have a better idea what to look for. This makes it easier to glean the information I need from resources without feeling that I don’t measure up with what sounds like the author’s perfect homeschool. I also keep firmly in mind that first of all, the author would probably be the first to admit she doesn’t do everything right all the time, and secondly, I’m not her. I excel in other areas, which is why I’m looking for help in this one. Homeschooling is a tough endeavor, and I’m doing a good job at it, failures and mistakes notwithstanding.
Despite my shortcomings, my children are learning, even when I don’t present material to them perfectly in neatly wrapped packages. In fact, I suspect they may be learning so well because I don’t present material to them in neatly wrapped packages. Since I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m not perfect, I find it easier to deal with the things I do wrong. Instead of trying to solve everything at once, I’m treating homeschooling like juggling, adding one ball at a time, getting practiced at what’s in my hand before I add another ball. One of these days I’m sure I’ll have all my balls in the air, all my ducks in a row, and be a certified expert at homeschooling. I’m equally sure that at that point, the needs of my children will change and I’ll be digging frantically through all my homeschooling resources looking for the answer to the next set of challenges. In fact, I’ll probably come across this article and wonder why the author seems to be so on top of things.
Julia Schmidt has been homeschooling her four children for nine years, 15 minutes at a time.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://homeschoolenrichment.com/