Homeschooling through a Rough Start

rough start to homeschool | homeschooling rough starts and failures

In spite of well-laid plans and brand new supplies, the beginning of each new homeschool year seems to bring it’s own unique challenges. Ours is no exception. Our first year of homeschooling, I shut the whole thing down after our first month to revamp everything that wasn’t working. One year, everyone caught the flu on “start week.” Another year, we moved across country, arriving in our new home in September. With all of these challenges and changes, both good and bad, I’ve learned that there is something to say for “soft starts” to a new year and easing in. There’s also nothing wrong with homeschooling through a rough start.

Because we have a few of those unique challenges this year as well, I started a couple of weeks earlier than normal to allow ourselves the opportunity to ease in and break for life’s surprises. Our first day was beautiful! The picture-perfect day of happy kids elbow-deep in clay and learning.

homeschool first day

The next day, I went head-to-head with one of my kiddos, repeating for the millionth time that conversation of “it’s against the law for you to not do school, so you better work with me here.” Day three was somewhat better, and the week slowly improved. Our second week has been up and down as well, and I’ve already decided our math curriculum might not be working out. We’re off and running to our usual rough start.

But experience has shown me, we will get through it, and the year will run its course of smooth turns and rough patches. My friend, that’s life! That’s parenting! That’s definitely homeschooling. We always have visions of the ideal, but we have to remember that rough starts aren’t failures— they are simply rough starts.

3 things to remember if you are homeschooling through a rough start:

  1. A rough start does not characterize your year. Every good book opens with a conflict. Every good story involves overcoming challenges. The fact that your year may be off to a rough start does not mean you are going to have a terrible year. But it may help you to understand the challenges, the conflict, that will be part of your homeschool story this year. And just like a good book has twists and turns, ups and downs, your homeschool year will, too. The greatest stories are about those who overcome the challenges. Your rough start is merely chapter 1 of a great adventure.
  2. A rough start does not define you (or your child). It’s easy to let those difficult moments define us, to think a failed attempt means that we are failures. But that isn’t the case. Often, we can see that in everyone’s life but our own. Your rough start doesn’t mean that you aren’t cut out for this. Your child’s rough start doesn’t mean she will be impossible for you to teach or even that she will always be this challenging (though it sometimes feels like it). Accept God’s grace each day, for yourself and for your child. I’ve had some rough patches with my kids, but we love this journey together. And each year, we make great memories. The challenges are often part of those good memories, as we learn to overcome together. 
  3. A rough start is sometimes part of gaining momentum. Remember when you were first learning to ride a bike how difficult the first few pedals were? You wobble along trying to keep your balance until that momentum picks up, and then you are off! Sometimes, a homeschool year has that wobble at the start. You push and push and push. Then, the momentum of learning picks up and things get a little easier. Each time we stop for a break, there is that wobble of beginning again. But just like learning to ride the bike, you hang in there, knowing that if you push past those first few ungraceful moments, you’ll make it.

Are there exceptions? Are there rough starts that just aren’t meant to be? Of course, everyone’s story is different. But as a friend who’s been there a few times, let me say that if you are homeschooling through a rough start, take heart. Chances are, it’s only the beginning.

Acknowledging my limits: Super Woman doesn’t live here

Super Woman doesn't live here

I’ve been busy here. Very busy. I’ve been busy learning exactly what all I cannot do, what is beyond me, what I don’t have time for, what needs to change. What a start to the new year! While most are acknowledging their potential, I’m starting the year by acknowledging my limits.

On one particularly hair-raising day, I was loading the dishwasher and trying to catch up in the kitchen while wrestling Littlest out of the dishwasher and answering one of Oldest’s “how does this work” questions. My daughter came into the chaos with a broken toy she wanted me to fix but which was beyond fixing. When I broke the news to her, she asked me why I couldn’t fix it. And in exasperation I exclaimed, “Because I’m not SuperWoman, believe it or not!”

To which my ever-so-knowledgeable-almost-seven-year-old replied, “I think it’s WonderWoman, Mom.”

Yeah, I’m not her either.

I’m openly acknowledging my limits here, folks. There are things I simply can’t do. There are things I’m failing at. There are things that will just have to wait.

One of the things I tried and then quit over the Christmas break was potty-training Littlest. The other two were trained by 18 months, so in my mind I’ve really felt guilty and “behind” for not having even started with Littlest while his 2 year birthday looms only a month and a half away. So we gave it a try with one week to get it going before I headed back into our homeschool routine. Big mistake. Totally set myself up to fail. And by our first day of trying to homeschool and potty train, I knew it, too. I acknowledged my limits and put the Little Stinker back into his diaper—with a huge sigh of relief from both of us.

Our homeschool curricula and schedule is another area I’m acknowledging my limits. (More details to come.) But suffice it to say that I’m not SuperWoman, or WonderWoman, or whoever she is. I’m only human after all. And I suppose, it’s about time I realized it.


A Successful Lesson in Failure

“By allowing my child to fail, I was teaching him about success.”

I actually confronted the issue of failure recently with my kindergartener. In our second year of homeschooling, he hadn’t really had to face any degree of failure before.

Then, we started to struggle with addition, and my default-plan of letting my son choose his best papers to show his father wasn’t giving my husband a complete picture of how we were really doing. As I talked over our struggles with my husband, he was a little confused; after all, he saw only success and mastery. I decided I’d better make some changes to my default-plan. And that’s what led to my discovery that I was failing to truly teach about failure.

The next day, my son worked a math sheet and missed several addition problems. Together we talked through the right answers to the problems that I had checked. He reworked the problems with me and then I broke the news to him: “We’re going to show Daddy this page, because he needs to know what we have trouble with as well as what we’re doing well in.” Immediately my son burst into tears. Suddenly, I understood the unintentional lesson I was teaching my son.

Inadvertently, I was teaching him that only success brought reward, that only perfection brought the attention that he wanted. I wasn’t giving my husband the opportunity to praise my son for determination or perseverance; my son was only receiving his daddy’s praise for perfect papers. It wasn’t a lesson either my husband or I had planned to teach, and it definitely wasn’t our view of success. But regardless, my son had already shaped the idea in his head that approval was gained through perfection.

Daddy came home that day, and my son sheepishly showed him the marked-up paper. And the most beautiful lesson unfolded: a lesson of love despite imperfection, a lesson of approval for a best effort, and a lesson of praise for character rather than performance. As I watched my husband and my son interact, I couldn’t help but wonder at how close I came to missing out on this moment.

What if I had chosen to show the paper to my husband without my son’s knowledge? What if I had caved to my son’s tears and decided not to show that paper at all? What if I had continued with our trend of only showing off the best?

My son would probably not have been scarred for life had we not addressed the issue of failure in this way; but then again, he might very well have developed an attitude of success vs. failure that would begin to shape his future.

By allowing my child to fail, I was teaching him about success. (<Tweet This)
It was a valuable lesson for all of us, and not one I would have ever thought to pencil into the curriculum or schedule into my lesson planner.