Do you remember your first thoughts after making the decision to homeschool?
My oldest missed the kindergarten deadline by about a month, and was completely devastated. She could already read quite well and was more than ready for school academically, but when I took her over to the school to ask about making an exception to the deadline, the office staff held firm. There would be no exceptions.
The first day of school rolled around and my daughter cried as she watched all of her little friends climb on the bus, waving happily to their moms. In order to assuage her grief, I promised my daughter we’d have school at home.
That is how I accidentally, but serendipitously, began homeschooling. I didn’t really consider myself a homeschooler that first year because I assumed my daughter would start kindergarten the following year.
But when the next fall rolled around, she was learning her multiplication tables and writing in cursive, so she would have been bored out of her mind. And most importantly, we had enjoyed our learning time together WAY too much to give it up!
That’s when I officially became a homeschooler in my own mind, and when I began to frantically research all of the homeschooling methods and learning styles and curriculum.
I’ll be honest — I knew nothing about anything. The only coherent thought I could piece together was that I wanted to give my children a rigorous education. Academic rigor was the one phrase I could articulate. Reading the entire education section of the library (there were so few books on homeschooling available at the time that I also consumed the books about education and child development) sort of helped me to define and quantify academic rigor, though it was still pretty nebulous. The book that best matched my ideals was The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. So I bought enough curriculum to drown a scholar, created an adorable school room in my basement, and we dove into Latin, Physics, Chemistry, classical literature and all of the other recommended subjects.
Homeschooling at that point was equal parts fun, and hard, and downright frustrating. Okay, maybe not equal parts. None of my kids wanted to sit in their cute little desks and conjugate verbs or study Latin declensions. They cried over writing assignments. Physics was only exciting when we opened up the K’NEX Simple Machines kit, and we couldn’t do that all day every day. I was not living up to my own homeschool expectations.
Honestly, I felt like a complete failure, but I didn’t know what to change. All I knew was that I was in over my head and completely exhausted. It wasn’t just the fact that I had four kids ages six and under that kept us from being successful. It wasn’t just the fact that my four-year-old was an honest to goodness, bonafide, card-carrying monkey that kept us from being successful. It wasn’t just the fact that the hubs was working in Japan and was rarely home that kept us from being successful. It was a combination of those factors, but the very biggest factor that was keeping us from being successful at homeschooling was my mindset.
I had envisioned the way I thought an academically rigorous homeschool should look. In my vision we all wore cute uniforms and studied happily 8+ hours a day, ate organic lunches and then took our exercise, rowing on the lake out back.
The reality was more like diapers and spit-up, and play dough smushed into the carpets, and chocolate syrup for lunch, and trying to cram in a 15-minute lesson while the babies napped.
Where in the heck was the lake? It may sound silly. But how often do you envision incredible, beautiful, worthy ideas that you try to put into practice and they fall flat?
The problem isn’t with the visions and ideas themselves (let’s call them dreams and dreams are good). Expectations can be good. The problem lies in our reactions to the expectations. And that is what I want to talk with you about today.
I’ll be the first person to defend high expectations. I firmly believe that our children rise to our expectations and that we rise to our own expectations. Studies have been conducted, and it’s been proven that students who are treated as if they were brilliant learn more than students who are treated as average.
On the other hand, unmet expectations can lead to disappointment and ultimately rob you of joy. So how do you balance that? How do you maintain high expectations but not let them rob you of joy in the homeschooling journey? I have a few ideas for you:
1. Focus on daily, small improvements
Success is not an event. It’s not a one-and-done type thing. If I declared myself successful after losing 20 pounds, and then sat down to feast on pizza and ice cream, I’d undo all of my hard work.
Too often, we put pressure on ourselves to make humongous, earth-shattering achievements and then we feel like a failure for not. It’s so easy to underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
And yet over the years those small things add up to the big, life-changing things. One day you’re laboriously helping your brand-new reader sound out words letter by agonizing letter. You wonder if he’ll ever read. And the next day you’re watching his university commencement exercises.
From that future vantage point it’s easy to see the impact of daily small improvements — the minutes of learning each day that added up to hundreds of hours each year and thousands of hours over a childhood. But the perspective from the trenches where we homeschool moms live every day can seem bleak. It can be hard to feel like you’ve accomplished any real learning when it happens in five-minutes-here and ten-minutes-there snatches.
2. You are not responsible for all the learning
I laugh about this now, but going into homeschooling I legit thought I was going to be the teacher and my kids were going to be the students. I thought I would educate them.
I even wondered how I would teach the things I didn’t know. Little did I know! The best learning happens when kids choose it and earn it. Learning is internalized when it’s voluntary and sought after.
My kids don’t need me to teach them school subjects! They need me to help them make healthy choices, like choosing learning over video games and vegetables over candy. I also suggest great literature and make sure we have the necessary science and art supplies.
I do help them daily with math, but the onus is still on them. They just ask me questions instead of reading the explanation from the textbook, because both they and I enjoy our math discussions. Plus we play lots of math games. But the crux of it all is that our children are responsible for their own educations.
3. Embrace failure as a learning experience
When we fail to reach the high goals that we set for ourselves, we often feel depressed or anxious about our failure. We forget how much we learned and accomplished while working toward those expectations. That isn’t failure! It’s growth!
Even if you only make it halfway through a curriculum, or if you only study science on Tuesdays, or if you neglect to make your kiddos write a single sentence all year (writing is the biggest hurdle in my homeschool), your children have still learned and are farther along they would be if you had no expectations at all.
If you have high expectations and you want to remain happy, you can’t think in terms of success and failure. Instead, you have to look at things in terms of growth.
4. Practice gratitude
Why did you start homeschooling in the first place?
I started (in earnest) after “playing school” for a year and enjoying it immensely. The thought of sending my children away to let someone else enjoy all of their firsts made me sad.
I want to homeschool. I want to be home with my children. I want to read with them and cuddle them and experiment with them and play math games with them. I feel grateful for this beautiful lifestyle and the opportunities homeschooling provides.
When I take a minute to think about how much I really love homeschooling deep down inside, I remember what a blessing it is and how grateful I am. It puts the difficulties I’ve brought upon myself with my outlandish expectations into perspective.
In fact, gratitude even helps me see that the reasons for my failure to meet my initial expectations — the difficult pregnancies, absentee husband, health trials and behavioral problems — are precisely what have blessed me beyond measure. They showed me a more relaxed way of homeschooling which fit my family better and was ultimately more enjoyable and rewarding.
Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.
~ Karl Barth
Choose Joy in your Homeschooling Journey
If you, too, have had trouble living up to your homeschool mom expectations, remember that those difficulties were a lesson, not a life-sentence.
Don’t let your past define you. Your children and family are constantly learning and growing and changing, and so are you. Of course your methods and style of homeschooling will change to keep up. Don’t be afraid to adjust your expectations.
Why hold yourself to an idea, or expectations, that you formulated for yourself years ago? You know more now than you did then. Use your expectations as a tool to work for you, rather than something you have to live up to. Set them aside completely if you need to.
I’ll just briefly tell you how things ended up for us. My oldest is graduating university this spring and going straight into her master’s program. My second and third are both at prestigious universities on full scholarships. So far, my four oldest have earned near-perfect scores on the ACT. All of my kids have begun college during high school and earned associates degrees before they would have graduated high school (all have been homeschooled).
Those expectations I set for myself early on and failed to achieve? Yeah, they didn’t matter. Not one little, tiny bit. What really mattered in the end was that we carried on and made progress every day. We all claimed responsibility for our own learning. We embraced failure. And we are grateful for the blessing of homeschooling. And you know what? We’re all happier.
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Amy blogs at Orison Orchards (named after the farm/orchards the Saunders family owns) where she helps homeschooling mama’s find the confidence to educate their children using a child-led approach, and live life to the fullest without breaking the bank.
She has homeschooled all eight of her children exclusively. Her oldest three are attending their universities of choice (on full scholarships) and her youngest is 6-years old.
Amy advocates sunshine, pinches pennies, and is the Chief Idea Officer of the Saunders family. If she were ever offered a superpower, she would choose ‘Entropy Annihilation’. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.