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My Homeschooling Mistakes

Isabel Shaw

Parents who are new to homeschooling share certain characteristics. They want to provide a great education for their children, and they are willing to go that extra mile for them. However, they're also very uncertain — if not actually terrified — about the homeschooling road that lies ahead. I know from personal experience that this uncertainty can cause well-meaning parents to make mistakes. By sharing a few of the errors I've made myself, I hope to help others avoid repeating them.

Buying into the "What about socialization?" issue


As homeschoolers, we've all been asked, "But what about socialization?" Despite what we read every day about the problems schools face with bullying, peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, popularity wars, and promiscuous behavior, there is still a myth that "socialization" occurs only in school. Of course, this is false. In fact, many families choose home learning because they want to replace the type of socialization that occurs in today's schools with the socialization that occurs in the wider world.

I once believed the socialization myth. In the early years, I forged a plan to be certain that my kids would be socialized: We joined three homeschool groups, went on every field trip and activity the groups planned, and arranged play dates just about every day of the week. I realized how foolish I'd been when my daughter finally asked, "Can't we just stay home by ourselves for once?" Socialization occurs naturally as your kids interact each day with a range of people: a local merchant, a park ranger, a librarian, grandparents, siblings, folks in the community, church members, relatives, and friends.

In my experience, homeschoolers are likely to be well socialized because they are out and about in the real world every day, interacting with people of all ages. So, yes, be sure your child interacts with his peers, but don't waste your time and energy getting caught up in the socialization myth.

Comparing your child to other children


Years ago, nothing sent me into a tailspin quicker than hearing what other kids were learning in school. Each week at Girl Scouts, the parents would be discussing projects, homework, or tests. Science, history, social studies...how could they learn so much? It sounded like they were way ahead of us.

One day we were checking out some books on Native Americans from the library. My daughter's friend from Girl Scouts was with us.

"We studied all about Native Americans in school last fall," she announced.

"Great!" I replied. "Maybe you can help us out and tell us what you liked the best."

"Oh, I don't remember anything," she sighed. "I just memorized a bunch of stuff for the test, and then I forgot it all."

It became clear to me that temporary memorization of lots of different subject matter doesn't represent real learning. That's why kids reportedly forget 80 percent of what they've learned in school over summer vacation. Don't be fooled and don't try to compete with that model. Homeschoolers have the luxury of learning at their own pace and pursuing what interests them for as long as they want. The homeschoolers I know retain most of what they learn, because they have an interest in the subject they are studying.

Comparing your child to another child can raise doubts unnecessarily. Learn to recognize your child's accomplishments for what they are: unique to him or her. Know that your child can and will learn when she's ready, and that experience will be rich and rewarding.

Spending too much money on curriculum packages


Traditional teachers need to use an efficient method that conveys pre-determined blocks of information each day to groups of 20 or 30 students. A curriculum is vital in that setting. But at home, it's really not necessary.

When you're new to homeschooling, it's easy to fall into the trap of buying an entire curriculum package for your child (see Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum). What happen then is that you feel pressured to complete the suggested activities for all of the subjects each day, and worry excessively when you and your child fall behind. Reacting to your stress, your child may stop cooperating, and the problem escalates.

Using a curriculum package is not the only way to teach your child, but many parents don't realize that until they've spent hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. It's no wonder that you often see used curricula for sale at homeschool conferences or on homeschool email lists. The ad usually lists the curricula as being "like new" or "never used." Don't become one of these parents. Save your money and spend it on a nice family vacation, instead.

Not recognizing how your child learns best


Be open to all learning styles when you homeschool. My active child learned most of her lessons on the playground: counting, science, and sometimes even spelling (she loved to write in the sand). We learned about volume using empty containers in the bathtub, about height and distance when she climbed trees, and about measurements when she built a tree house. Never one to sit still, she loved it when I read to her while she danced and hopped around the floor.

My older daughter prefers to be left alone. We gather lots of books from the library, and she can spend days devouring the information. She gets interested in a subject and focuses on it for months, often learning a new skill in the process. Once she's mastered a topic, she quickly discovers a new passion and moves on.

Both my girls are learning, but in very different ways. There is no right or wrong way to homeschool, but there are methods that might not be right for your child. (See Learning Isn't One Size Fits All.) It can take some time and trial-and-error to determine what sort of homeschooling program best meets your child's needs, but the effort is worth it. You'll find that your child is excited about learning, and your homeschooling role will get much easier.

Trying to do too much


Trying to do too much is the one mistake I still find myself making. I'll put so much time and energy into the educational and social aspects of homeschooling that I end up neglecting myself or others whom I care about.

Micki Colfax, author of Homeschooling for Excellence, warns homeschoolers about this problem: "If you're feeling stressed, you're doing too much. Back off, change your plan; try something different, even if 'different' means doing nothing."

For many of us, that advice is the ticket we need to slow down, relax, and view the homeschooling experience as an exciting journey, rather than a difficult task or a chore.

Mistakes are often our best teachers. Parenting and homeschooling have given me the opportunity to make quite a few! However, it's my hope that you are now armed to avoid the mistakes I've outlined here.

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