The Homeschool Parent’s Learning Curve is part of a How to Start Homeschooling series. If you would like to have more help getting started with homeschooling, check out How to Start Homeschooling, a comprehensive guide to establishing your homeschool.
When we think of homeschooling, we so often think of parents teaching children. Teaching them Algebra I, how to write an essay, and a unit on the skeletal system. Teaching them good manners and how to think critically. Teaching them to have strong moral fiber. Teaching them how to be patient and constructive and kind.
What we might not realize when we first start homeschooling is that we probably have just as much to learn as the kids, if not more.
Homeschooling is trial by fire.
You go into this thing passionate, opinionated, and anxious as all get out. (Or maybe that was just me?)
At first everything seems picturesque. You’ve completed your academic work for the day and shared a poetry teatime as a family. After doing chores, you send the kids outside to burn off their energy, and you smile a self-satisfied smile. I knew homeschooling was the right choice, you think to yourself.
But then two days later your middle child wakes up too early, and starts off the day as a grump. By mid-morning, the sleep-deprived child is refusing to do her handwriting, and the toddler is pulling the folded laundry out of the basket while you try to coax your worn-out little angel to do her work. The lesson unravels faster than a cat can pull a ball of yarn, and you’re left in frustrated tears.
I can’t do this, you whisper into your cupped hands.
Two months into the year, your eldest is struggling with writing and you start to wonder if you’re falling behind. I knew this was a mistake. I knew I should have left it to the qualified teachers.
There’s no two ways about it: homeschooling can be hard.
I’m not going to sugar coat it for you. When you first start homeschooling, you just don’t know how hard it’s going to be. You can’t foresee the challenges that you will face, and the things you don’t know you don’t know. (Side note: the same can be said for classroom teachers. #Solidarity.)
But, that being said, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a wonderful journey. Homeschooling can be hard, yes, but it can also be a beautiful way to learn and to grow as a parent, and as a family.
Get ready for the homeschool parent’s learning curve.
Know that you are going to go through a parent’s learning curve. You’ll need to find your footing with so many different things when you first start homeschooling:
- The dynamics of being both parent and teacher.
- Creating a sustainable routine.
- Dealing with behavioral issues.
- Figuring out how to fit in school, work, eating, and sleeping.
- Parenting 24/7 with little reprieve.
- Choosing and working with a curriculum that fits your family.
- Determining what to do with younger siblings while working with your older ones.
Etc., etc., etc… This home education adventure will present its fair share of obstacles and adversity. Take heart! You can learn. You can open your heart and mind to the fact that this will be a transformation for you– even more so than for the child.
While everyone’s challenges may be different, there are a few guiding principles that have helped me to deal with the learning curve of homeschooling.
Lesson One: Let things go.
Are you a perfectionist?
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Whoops, where were we?
As parents, some of us (not calling any names here but cough, maybe me) struggle with perfectionism. We want to do everything right, make sure our kids graduate and go on to a successful career, and prove to the world that homeschooling is awesome.
Sometimes our internal alarms start to go off when our kids don’t look like the model students we hope they will be. WARNING. WARNING. UNBRUSHED TEETH AND INSUFFICIENT MULTIPLICATION RECITATION. WARNING. WARNING. HOMESCHOOL IS ABOUT TO SELF-DESTRUCT.
Your mind starts screaming, I am a perfectly inadequate mother and I should never have homeschooled, not ever. We let all those imperfections conglomerate into a terrifying monster that threatens our self-confidence and sanity.
It’s okay to not be perfect.
Let’s be honest. There’s a whole lot you’re going to have to learn to let go of. Things like:
- Your beautiful lesson plans.
- That benchmark your child “should” be at.
- How wiggly your child is during “school.”
- Eating food on the couch instead of at the table.
- A kid who hasn’t brushed her hair all day.
- The preteen who screamed at you in a hormonal flurry.
- The dinner plan that you started too late. (Here’s looking at you, cereal.)
- The meltdown you had at 9 a.m.
- The mess of a kitchen you’re sitting in.
I’m sure you can think of more examples.
The point is this: You could pine for the way things should be, and worry when you don’t meet those standards. Or, you could ask yourself this: In 5 years, will I still be worried about this thing?
If the answer is “no” or “probably not,” then make like Elsa and put on your glitter gown. That perfect girl is gone, and we don’t need to invite her into our homeschool anymore.
Lesson Two: Relationship First.
It doesn’t matter how many workbooks you finished if your relationship with your kid is miserable.
One of the biggest challenges for new homeschool parents is figuring out how to “do school” without constantly butting heads.
They refuse to learn from me.
I don’t have the patience to deal with these kids all day.
My kids hate school and I think they hate me.
Before we go any further I want you to know that I can 100% identify with these feelings, and I think if we’re being honest, most homeschool parents experience these kinds of grievances at some point in their journey.
Remember that this is new for both you and your kids. All those relationship dynamics the two of you have? They don’t suddenly go away when you start to do school work. Unfortunately, there’s no Mary Poppins button to press, and no magic unicorns for your kids either.
People don’t always get along. Parents nag. Kids fight. It’s the way of life, and homeschooling doesn’t change that. If anything, it amplifies it.
The good news is that homeschooling also affords lots of opportunities to work on your relationship with your kids. You can choose to prioritize moments of connection rather than focusing on the negative.
Snuggle in close while you’re practicing phonics. Speak to your teen’s heart with their favorite snack. Listen to an audiobook over tea or while you’re driving. Take just 5 minutes to have an earnest conversation with them.
When there’s a fight, take a break if you need to. It’s okay. But come back around eventually to apologize, or forgive freely. Or don’t even mention it- just be genuinely interested in them and meet them where they’re at.
Keep relationship a high priority and it will pay off over the years.
Lesson Three: You’ll learn as you go.
You don’t need to be a perfect teacher or know the right curriculum for your child right away.
Just like “real” teachers, you will do a lot of learning on the job. You will try things, fail, adjust, and try again. Some days will be hard, and others will be wonderful. The learning curve is just something that you have to go through.
If you go into homeschooling knowing that there will be a learning curve, and look at the whole thing with the long run in mind, then it’s easier to bear with the ups and downs of every day life.
You’ll find over the years that you do learn as you go. You find what does and doesn’t work for you. Things- in some senses- get easier. Some of those worries you had two years ago are no longer a problem. You may have new worries, but you will find a way to work through them as a family as well.
Keep the long run in mind.
The parent’s learning curve is steep at first, and gradually eases- until the next challenge arises. Try (and I speak to myself here too) to accept these challenges as part of the growing process for everyone.
What advice would you give to new homeschoolers experiencing the parent’s learning curve?