7 Dumb Mistakes
Smart People Make
When They Homeschool
7 Dumb Mistakes Smart People
Make When They Homeschool
And How to Avoid Them
By Diane Flynn Keith, Editor of Homefires, Author of
We all make mistakes — especially in homeschooling. In fact one of the
most satisfying pastimes is to listen to the tales that homeschool parents
tell about the mistakes they have made along the way — and to realize
that they not only survived, but are thriving. Just as they did, you can
learn from their mistakes. I have been listening to these storytellers
at homeschool Park Days for years and have assembled some of the most
common mistakes in an effort to save you the trouble of making them yourself.
Here they are:
New and veteran homeschoolers alike frequently start the homeschool year
with unrealistic expectations. You'll recognize the high achievers —
they plan to cover the national curriculum standards for grades 4-8 by
Christmas, and cover all 4 years of high school by June. (Any of you who
have ever tried to get through a Saxon math textbook in 18 months will
surely stand in awe.) Kids and parents in this marathon suffer from burnout
often within weeks of the starting point.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who don't expect much at all
— the under achievers. With no goal, no plan, no thought to developing
a rich learning environment for their children -- they start off the year
wishful that learning will "just happen," but find themselves
frustrated and floundering in late October, when the kids are bored to
tears, climbing the walls (literally), and mom is disappointed that the
"homeschooling" just doesn't seem to be working.
The key, of course, is balance. Work with your children to develop and
maintain a realistic vision and plan for their learning adventures. With
a practical goal and plan, you might actually avoid the next dumb mistake
Over Scheduling & Under Scheduling
In homeschooling there are things to do, places to go, and people to see.
You could keep your calendar packed with field trips, co-op classes, and
park days all week long -- only to find after a few weeks of dragging
the kids to every museum exhibit in town that they are begging you to
stay home. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of field trips may be constitutional
rights, but there is such a thing as doing too much. Conversely, activity
deprivation can stunt growth and development. It is important to expose
our kids to the bounty of life and a wealth of learning opportunities
— but within reasonable limitations. Just as kids need varied and stimulating
activities, they also need peaceful solitude and unstructured time to
learn and grow.
Ignoring Child Feedback
Your children are the best barometers of how the homeschooling is going.
Trust me, they will give you lots of feedback. Listen to them. If your
daughter throws the spelling workbook on the floor and tearfully screams,
"I hate this - you can't make me do it!" — I would say that's
a definite clue that the subject, the materials, the method -something
- is wrong and isn't working. Back off. Throw it away or put it away,
but get rid of whatever is causing the misery. (By the way, this is standard
practice among successful homeschool families who frequently discard materials
that didn't work at curriculum swaps.)
On the other hand, if your son's eyes sparkle with interest, enthusiasm,
delight and happiness when he is working on a project or activity, that's
a clue that whatever he is doing is working. Keep it up!
Remember, kids don't resist learning — they resist schooling. There
is a difference between "schooling" and getting an education.
Listening to feedback will go a long way to helping you determine the
best learning style, method, approach, and materials to use with your
child. Which leads me to the next point
When I began homeschooling I purchased several complete curriculum packages
at about $400 a pop, in an attempt to find "the right" resources
for my kids to use. While many would think this a gross indulgence (and
a dumb one, at that) consider my perspective: I had opted out of private
school and an annual tuition of $7,000 a year to homeschool. Spending
$1,200 for curriculum seemed like a bargain! The real kicker was this
— my kids hated every one of them! The rigidity of the structured texts
and time simply did not appeal to my sons. That was not the optimum environment
in which they learned best.
So, I took the advice of another homeschool mom. I ditched the curriculum,
went to the library, and brought home books — mostly Newbery Award winners
and historical fiction. I read to my kids for the rest of the year. Occasionally,
we'd play math dice games, take in a free museum day, go for nature walks,
and build impossible structures out of old boxes and packaging materials
set aside for a rainy day. The cost? Free. (Okay, I paid about $49 in
library fines that year — but you get my point.)
The compulsive obsession to purchase "good materials" so that
our kids will get a "good education" can overtake the most penny-pinching
of parents. The truth is, you cannot buy a good education. So guard your
pocketbook. When you do spend money for curriculum products try to make
sure that they support your educational philosophy, and are something
your kids will truly use and enjoy.
Picture this: It's Park Day. A homeschool mom packs her 1991 mini-van
with lunch, snacks, water, sodas, sports equipment, a lawn chair, a picnic
blanket, a book to read, Pokémon paraphernalia, a sewing project,
a box of used books and curriculum to loan to other homeschoolers, and
depending on the weather and activities taking place before, during, and
after park day (spontaneous or planned) — a change of clothes for each
and every one of her three kids. She loads the kids in the van, drives
40 minutes to the Park, and unloads the van. A few hours later she reloads
the van and drives home in commuter traffic. She performs this migration
from home to park and back again week after week. What is wrong with this
woman? What compels such odd behavior? The answer is socialization. Take
a look at some of the benefits her family receives from performing this
- Her children have the opportunity to meet and play with other
homeschooled kids. Friendships develop which lead to other socialization
opportunities. Also, the kids don't feel "weird" or self-conscious
about homeschooling when they have frequent contact with other homeschoolers.
- She meets other parents. Friendships are forged. Sometimes a
new friend will become a mentor who provides information, resources, support
and an all-important sounding board to discuss concerns with — and share
Attending Park Days and Support Group Meetings deflects the feeling of
isolation — the kiss of death in homeschooling. You need support and
encouragement from like-minded individuals. For rare families whose circumstances
truly prevent support group and park day participation, I would suggest
- Subscribe to several homeschooling publications.
- Attend a homeschool conference annually.
- Get a homeschool pen pal.
- Participate in homeschool chats and email communication via the Internet.
Thinking You Can Do It All
The short answer is — you can't, so don't try. The longer version goes
something like this
There are more important things than laundry,
housework, paying bills, grocery shopping, and all of the other mundane
tasks that interfere with homeschooling. If these things are critically
important to you then you better follow the advice of homeschool icon
Micki Colfax, "lower your standards."
First of all, homeschoolers spend lots of time at home. They are not
out of the house all day. The place is going to look — to put it gently
— lived in. The kitchen counters will be transformed into a science lab,
the walls will be plastered with maps, time lines, posters of presidents
and the periodic table of elements, and books will be stacked everywhere.
When friends visit just unapologetically clear a path through the toys
and games on the living room floor.(If they are homeschooling friends,
they will understand.) One mom told me that when it gets to be too much,
and she just can't stand looking at the mess, she packs up her kids and
visits her sister for a day or two. When she comes home she has a fresh
perspective and can begin to clean the house — at least, she can imagine
a place to start.
In my house, it's the laundry. I've trained the boys to put a load in
the washer, transfer it to the dryer, and then take it to the couch for
folding. Unfortunately they haven't got the hang of that folding part
yet — so the clothes often remain in a pile until ready for use. As a
result, my kids have that linen-look-rumpled-thing going on even when
they wear wrinkle-free clothing. When company comes we just shove the
clothes on the couch back into the dryer — and return them to the couch
when the company leaves.
All homeschooling families establish their priorities and set parameters
for what they can and can't live with. Most of us develop a quirky solution
or two (that our mothers would never approve of) to ease the demands on
You have convinced yourself that home-schooling is the way to go — and
now you want to convince everyone else. Sorry, but homeschooling is not
for everyone. If you insist on confrontations and defensive posturing
with every friend and relative who says, "What are you, nuts?"
when you tell them you homeschool, you will alienate them all.
One homeschool dad told me that his sister (a schoolteacher) came unglued
when he announced he would be homeschooling the kids. Rather than debate
the merits and pitfalls of homeschooling, he simply said, "I know
it's not the choice you would make — and I know it's not the right choice
for everyone. But for us, in this situation, it's an option we are going
to try for awhile — to see if it works. If it doesn't, we will try school
again." Do you see what he did? He diffused the predicament. He didn't
try to sell her on the idea, and he didn't bad-mouth schools and teachers.
With a few simple words he allowed her some dignity, while claiming his
The real proof is in the pudding. Your kids will undoubtedly prove to
nay-sayers that homeschooling is working just by being themselves. Their
positive attitudes and intelligent conversations will win over the most
curmudgeonly homeschool opponent. You don't need to be a homeschool zealot.
Peaceful demonstration will help you win friends and influence people
All of the dumb mistakes described above can be avoided, but it is more
than likely that you will experience one or two of them on your own. It
is my sincerest wish that if you hit a pothole along the homeschool road,
you will do what thousands of others have done before you — pick yourself
up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and continue the journey
— arriving at your destination will make it all worthwhile.
About Diane Flynn Keith ...
Diane Flynn Keith is a veteran homeschool parent and an internationally
recognized voice in education outside the traditional classroom walls.
Diane coaches and encourages thousands of homeschool families
through her website, Homefires.com and through her popular speaking engagements. She has
contributed to 5 books on homeschooling and is the author of the best-selling book,
"Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time."