I belong to several Facebook homeschool pages and, even when people are only a month or a few weeks into the year, I have read so many stories from parents whose homeschool journey is not going as planned. I have even read some heart-wrenching accounts of moms who are prepared to send their kids back to the brick-and-mortar schools that just last year were not working out for them.
For everyone out there who is in the midst of their homeschool journey, and for those who are thinking about homeschooling, I find that one of the most frequently-voiced reasons for not beginning or continuing homeschooling is that the homeschooling parent lacks patience.
These are often the same parents who had the patience to complete their own education, hold down jobs, volunteer at the church or school, and help manage their kids’ little league team: they are obviously capable of exercising patience in some areas of their lives.
When people think about educating their children, they often imagine a Norman Rockewell-esqe scene where:
The kids are all sitting at their desks (or the kitchen table), diligently working on their lessons. A smiling, doting mother is nearby, offering assistance and words of encouragement, knowing exactly how to teach each of her children. She is organized and had time to put on make-up, fix her hair, and put on a cute outfit. She always uses her inside voice because her children always respond the first time she gives direction. She never yells. She’s happy every day. And to top that off, her house is clean and dinner is simmering away in the crock pot.
When you have this kind of image on your head about what homeschooling should look like, it’s only natural that the idea of homeschooling can be intimidating. I’m now going to share with you where I started my homeschool journey with my then-5 and 3½ year old. Keep in mind that I had been a corporate attorney of 18 years when I began this adventure.
After months of research, I had selected the perfect curriculum. I had the days blocked off in 15-minute increments. Our school day would begin at 8:00 and end at noon, at which point we would go to the park for lunch and play time. My 3-year-old was still napping at that point, so we would be back at the house in time for her to nap and I would even have the 5-year-old lie down for an hour to give myself a break. The kids had come from Montessori school and I had acquired tons of Montessori materials for the 3-year-old to work on, but the 5-year-old was to work primarily in kindergarten workbooks. In short, we would be doing school at home for the kindergartener. We were to confine all schooling activities to the homeschool room. The house would stay picked up between housekeeper visits and I always cooked anyway, so that wouldn’t be a problem because I was “at home all day anyway!” Since we would be done with everything by 2:00, I would have plenty of time to work out and relax. This was going to be a piece of cake! This is what my homeschool room used to look like:
That was a lovely fairy tale. Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned. Here are a few things I learned during my first year of homeschooling.
- My son cannot sit for hours and hours, but my daughter can.
- My son does not learn well doing straight workbooks, but my daughter loves workbooks.
- My younger child requires much more review and repetition than my oldest on pretty much every subject.
- My kids have totally different personalities and learning styles.
- Teaching my son writing at age 5 was futile. So I quit trying.
- Most of the curricula I had chosen for the year did not work.
- Setting up a block schedule does not work for a 4- and 5-year-old.
I think the most important lesson I learned during that first year is that it’s OK to stop and smell the roses. Literally. I had never been an outdoor person, but I found the outdoors to be refreshing and rejuvenating for both the kids and me. If we hit a wall during school, we would go to the park or take a walk through the woods and look at the plants and flowers and insects.
Understand that I did not learn all my lessons in a calm and sedate mood. There was yelling, frustration, and anger. There were some tears. Because I am not the most patient person. There. I said it. I am sarcastic, cynical at times, and a perfectionist. Or at least, I was. Four years of homeschooling will make anybody mellow out.
I have now adjusted my expectations. That is the number one piece of advice that I can give anyone who is considering, or having difficulty, homeschooling. Keep in mind that adjusting expectations does not mean lowering your standards. It just means coming to terms with changing the route to your destination.
Here are some examples of how you can adjust your expectations to make your life run more smoothly:
|My child should be reading by kindergarten||Despite the parents who will tell you that their kids taught themselves to read by age 4, most kids learn to read between ages 5–9. If you can accept that, your level of frustration will greatly decrease.|
|My child should be writing by kindergarten||Some kids have fine motor skill delays and simply need time for them to develop. They should catch up by age 7 or 8.|
|Homeschooling should be fun||The truth is that some days are good and some are bad. You may even have a bad couple of weeks following a great 6 months when everything is falling into place. This is all normal. As in life, work, and relationships with people who love us, things will get better.|
|I should be doing everything at home that the school is doing||The great thing is that even if you live in a state that has this requirement, you can complete the work in a fraction of the time that the school accomplished the work. In most cases, only the very oldest students will have to work close to the number of hours that brick-and-mortar schools work.|
|I don’t have time to cover everything||We often have so many projects and plans that we overwhelm ourselves. I am totally guilty of this. Take a step back, decide what you have to do, and then supplement where you can.|
|I don’t think I can be around my kids all day. I need a break!!||The older your kids are, the more flexibility you have with getting away. If they can stay home by themselves, you can just leave. If they are littles, pop on a DVD and call it a day. The world will not end if those babies watch Little Einstein for 2 hours. I promise. If they are middle aged, send them to a friend or relative’s house. Also, you can enroll them in classes so you have that standing time every week to recharge.|
And now, I’ll show you what my homeschool room looks like these days, in my 5th year of homeschooling. It’s basically all over the house, where ever we find it comfortable to work that day. The designated “homeschool room” is simply a place to hold most of our homeschool stuff. And where the cat lives. The housekeeper is long gone and we are all pitching in on housework.
You get the point. Life is so much better now. Just breathe.
Patience is defined as one’s ability to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. We all can cultivate the ability to do this.
It is also human nature to lack the capacity to exercise patience at times. No one expects you to go through life exercising the patience of Job. And while we should always thrive for patience, we should also give ourselves grace when we lose that patience.
I get annoyed and lose my patience sometimes, but the kids and I get along without incident most of the time. In fact, we can go days where everything is clicking and then my son decides that he would rather be doing anything other than his school work. While those days can be unpleasant, they are the minority.
I’ve found that, after adjusting my expectations, I have the patience to deal with a child’s inability to understand their assignment. At those times, I take responsibility for finding ways to present the lesson in a way that the child can understand. For example, I have learned that my younger child learns differently than my older child, and I have to approach lessons in a way that she can understand. I often have to consult teacher’s manuals and the internet to figure out how best to reach her. And that’s OK because I love seeing the light turn on in her eyes when she “gets it.” Before I adjusted my expectations regarding her education, I absolutely was short on patience with her.
Where I lack patience is in dealing with poor attitudes and unwillingness to try to do an assignment. But what I have found is that the poor attitude is often tied to my reluctance to admit that they need help or don’t understand.
So when you are thinking about whether you have the patience to homeschool your kids, think in terms of percentages. In the course of a normal day, what percentage of impatience will you allow yourself? Twenty percent? Thirty percent? Is it enough that, over the course of a week, you were patient seventy to eighty percent of the time? And when you lost your patience, how soon afterwards were you able to get a kiss or snuggle and move on with your day, like only a loving parent can do?
You see, that is the advantage you have when you homeschool. You can surround your children with love. Children know their parents love them. When we discipline them, most kids understand it is done in love. As parents, we can model how to deal with frustration. We can model what to say and do after we lose our temper. And we can model how to move past our frustration. These are all life skills that our kids need in order to cope with life and are not necessarily bad. The world isn’t going to be sunshine-and-roses all the time.
If you are considering homeschooling, do you lack patience all of the time? Not likely. Do you lack patience primarily during homework time? Of course you do. Your kid has been up since 6:30 AM, has been in school, sitting still, and not talking all day, and now you want them to do more school work? And you’ve been up all day, doing what you do, and now you have dinner and evening activities to coordinate. And you’re all tired. All that together is a recipe for tears and a battle of wills. I ask that you do not base your perceptions of homeschooling on these experiences, because you will typically begin homeschooling when the child is fresh from a good night’s sleep and will be done long before either of you has reached your limit.
If you are already homeschooling but are questioning your level of patience, take some time to figure out what you can do differently. How can you adjust your expectations in a way that offers fewer opportunities for frustration? By finding fewer “problems” in your homeschool and making more adjustments, you may reduce the need to exercise patience.