Don’t Become a Homeschool Dropout by Making This Single Mistake

frustrated 200Nearing the end of my active homeschooling career, I’ve been thinking about what advice I could pass on to new homeschoolers or those who have hit a bump in the road. I had some ideas based on talks I’ve done for new homeschoolers before but I thought I would look to see what other people have discovered to see if I was missing anything important.

That started me surfing researching the web for advice by other homeschoolers on what not to do. As I read page after page of mistake lists, there were some that were obviously repeated regardless of homeschooling philosophy or background. And they were pretty much included in my own list. Great, I thought, I’ll just focus on these specific mistakes.

But there was this nagging little sensation in the back of my mind that there was a commonality shared by all the mistakes, even those that seemed unique, meaning they only showed up one list. And in all cases, these uncommon mistakes, had the same “feel” of the other mistakes that the author would list. There was something more there but it took me a while to get it.

Then I got it.

There’s not 10 common mistakes or 6 critical mistakes or 12 and a half newbie mistakes that homeschoolers make–there is only one. Yup, only one. The one mistake from which all others are derived is the mistake of acting like school is the same thing as learning, in other words, recreating school at home.  Really, just think about it.

The Curriculum Mystique

One mistake found in some form on most lists has something to do with staying with a curriculum that isn’t working. Homeschoolers today can choose from a variety of packaged curriculums that will provide text, lesson plans, tests, and other material for all subjects for the entire grade. So it ends up being just like when you child was in school and the teacher had already selected the books and had written out her lesson plans for the year.

This is what we see in the public school and for most of us, is how we experienced school. But teachers do this in schools because they have to, it’s a necessity, not a choice for them. They can’t decide to switch text books in the middle of the year because they think that most of the students aren’t getting anything from it. They can’t decide to put off fractions for a year and work on spelling instead. They have to soldier through hoping that most of the students will make out of the grade and pass whatever high stakes test required.

Homeschoolers don’t have to soldier through. In fact, many decide to homeschool because their child was one of those who wasn’t making it with the status quo curriculum. Homeschoolers can change their curriculum anytime they want. Of course, it makes more sense to change it any time it is needed but you get the picture.

Unfortunately, many new homeschoolers don’t. They think the curriculum is the education. How often have you heard someone ask if the curriculum is accredited?  Curriculum isn’t accredited, those who use the curriculum are accredited. Anyway, be not “delivering” the curriculum correctly or on time, homeschoolers feels that they are failing in teaching when it’s actually a problem with the curriculum. Changing curriculum is not an option for school classrooms but it is for homeschoolers.

Who Was President After Grant?

The curriculum trap leads to other common homeschooling mistakes. Parent worry that if they don’t follow a curriculum they miss teaching “something” that they were supposed to. They don’t remember in school how often they turned in their textbook at the end of the year unfinished or spent the first six weeks of the new school year reviewing material from the previous year. And what is required in one school district or state isn’t required in another. Or sometimes it’s taught in fourth grade in one place and sixth grade in another.

You aren’t going to cover everything that is covered in your local school and your local school won’t be covering everything you decide to teach in your homeschool. You need to decide what subjects you’re children need to learn. Why leave it up to some curriculum designed by someone who doesn’t know your kids, your family, or your situation?

Testing Your Child to Meet Other People’s Standards

Of course, parents are worried about missing something because curriculums are designed to meet some set of defined standards and if there are standards, there must be standardized testing, and if there is testing, there must be comparing your child’s grades to others or, at the very least, the average test score.

What am I talking about? If you haven’t had a family member show what book their little darlings are reading in the fifth grade you might have had the neighbor who quizzes your kids on their multiplication tables that everyone in school has learned. You know-standards, often referred to being on grade level.

This is a frequent fear of new homeschoolers since they are usually worried about their children not learning and having to put them back in school. Heck, this is a concern among experienced homeschoolers. There was a period that I would be so frustrated with my son that I would download the old state TAKS tests for his grade and make him take it. I think I did it to more to motivate him but he didn’t really cared and it just added to my fears that homeschooling might not be working.

It was. It just wasn’t working according to the generally expected plan of school system. Very few homeschoolers are at one particular grade level. Most are above in some subjects and below in others. This is not a big deal like it would be in school since your kids don’t have to learn a specific set of facts in nine months to pass to the next grade.

You’ll often hear from homeschoolers that one of the advantages is that you can focus on one subject for a while and then catch up on another subject later. This is true but doesn’t necessarily make you feel better when it’s your kid not reading at grade level. Just remember, even if you are following a more set curriculum where junior is testing at below grade level in math, if he starts to rapidly catch on, are you going to tell him he can’t learn fractions because that’s for next year?

There are times to be concerned when a child not only seems to be far behind but isn’t making any progress. But as long as you see she is making progress, don’t let some state standard, nosey relative, or precocious playmate undermine the value of that progress.

Is it the Child or the Teacher?

Another problem of trying to homeschool like school is not paying attention to the child to see if the curriculum is working. In school, the assumption is that the curriculum is working so that any failure to learn lays with the child and/or their parents. Yet these same schools are filled with teachers who learned all about multiple intelligences and the various ways children learning while taking their education classes. Can any one curriculum truly address the variety of learning styles in one classroom? The teacher’s guides always provide little suggestions on how to approach the subject in different ways to acknowledge these differences but how many teachers have the time and inclination to teach a subject five different ways?

And there is always the possibility that the way you like to learn is not the way your child likes to learn. Did you really pull your child out of school so that you can fight over getting her to do the work at home the way the curriculum asks? With all of the education resources available, there is no reason to stick with a curriculum or education philosophy that isn’t working.

Socialization for the Teacher

One way to avoid these problems is to make sure that as the homeschooling parent, you aren’t isolated. It’s normal for teachers to be by themselves in the classroom day after day without getting any feedback or ideas from other teachers. I didn’t say this was good, I said it was normal. As the homeschooling parent, it is doubly dangerous for you to follow this example because it limits your opportunities for social interaction as well.

Just being able to talk to another homeschooler who understands the problems your facing can be a tremendous help. Knowing that other people’s kids seem to deliberately drag out assignments or that other people had problems using a specific textbook means that you’re less likely to see your struggles as failures.

Even if you aren’t the coop type, joining field trips or other activities can give you a break as well as an opportunity to see how other people approach homeschooling.  Such encounters can give you new ideas to try or actually reaffirm that you’re doing the right thing for your family. At one point my son was no longer interested in attending a weekly park day but I certainly needed the face time with other adults. Rather than drag him kicking and screaming, I went by myself-much to the amusement of the other parents.

Other Mistakes

Of course, these aren’t the only mistakes that homeschoolers make but I think that they are the ones most likely to damaging effects that families can’t recover from. The other mistakes that people list seem to me to often depend on your own family’s goals and values than specifically about homeschooling. It’s kind of like how families differ in how they pay their bills and deal with their finances. There is more than one way to do it and what works for one family wouldn’t for another. The two mistakes I would include in this category are over-scheduling and organization or lack there of. One person’s failure to plan is another person’s unschooling.

Then there are the homeschool characteristics mistakes.  These are issues that tend to be exacerbated by homeschooling. There is probably a disproportionate number of homeschoolers who think their children are geniuses or gifted. Ultimately, this may be wonderful for their self-esteem but they tend to react negatively towards parents who make the mistake of talking about the problems in dealing with their truly gifted children.

What’s in a Name?

There are also homeschoolers who are over-protective of their children and don’t give them the opportunity to learn and explore situations on their own. Some homeschoolers will allow their children to behave rudely towards other children and even adults based on their own homeschooling beliefs and philosophies.

I would attribute none of these mistakes as the result of trying to homeschool like school and I don’t think they are as likely to sink you’re attempt to homeschool as the like school mistakes. And ultimately, you have to wonder if this mistake isn’t inevitable given that we call it “homeschooling.” We talk about the need to “de-school” the students but it seems to me that it is just as important to “de-school” the parents. Maybe part of that process is by welcoming newcomers as home educators or home learners. Of course, there is the fact that much of the learning doesn’t occur at home. Perhaps it should be independent educators or family learners.

I have to admit that I really don’t see the term disappearing and there’s good reasons for it not to. The word “school” is so loaded with cultural definitions including meaning the same thing as “education” as well as where the education occurs. Therefore, by combining it with “home,” you are actually making a very powerful statement–we aren’t in school, we are learning at home. In fact, it’s a rejection of school and its control over education which is why the first homeschoolers (relatively speaking-yes everyone was a homeschooler before there were schools) were considered rebels and radicals. Today, the term at best suggests an oddity, at worst, a marketing segment–yeah, we’ve come a long way baby. But hopefully, the same forces that made homeschooling so acceptable and accessible will also provide new homeschoolers with the information about options they need to make it a success.

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