By Rhonda Barfield
If you’ve read my previous article, “Things I Did Right as a Homeschooler,” you may have gotten the impression that throughout twenty years of teaching and homeschooling kids, I managed to be Supermom. Was I? Nope. Not even close. I did learn how to homeschool children but it was a long journey full of mistakes and successes.
In fact, while thinking about all the things I did right, I realized many of them were tied to my homeschooling mistakes. That’s why you may notice that the headings in both articles are similar. For example:
I never loved my children as much as I thought I should.
One of our area homeschool leaders often wrote in her newsletter about typical days at her house. Candy cooked gourmet meals. I wanted to get in and out of the kitchen as fast as possible. Candy scrutinized every book her children read so she could avoid exposing them to bad influences. That seldom happened in my house. Candy did crafts with her kids and decorated the house for every holiday. I totally lacked these skills.
One day I read a quote that mothers who worry about their inadequacies are usually the most caring, concerned moms. I hope that’s true, because reading Candy’s newsletters always made me fret that I needed to love my children more fully than I did.
I often waited too long before I turned them over to my husband, the family principal, when they needed discipline.
Sometimes I let things go because I knew my husband would be strict, especially with the boys. I have learned, since then, that guys respect this. Christian and his dad had many conflicts, and occasionally he would “work me” by confiding that his dad didn’t understand him.
Instead of sending him to his father, so they could resolve this man-to-man, I sometimes tried to protect his bad attitudes, which made the situation worse. Christian’s resentment toward his dad escalated because of the lack of discussion, and Michael had no clue as to what was happening. This was a homeschooling mistake that seeped into our family life.
I worked too hard to make the curriculum fun.
For a while we tried a Friday Game Day. I thought the kids could play Monopoly, for example, instead of working in their math books. I had forgotten how much Eric and Christian hated to lose. Before long, the games deteriorated into name-calling disasters of “You cheated!” “No I didn’t! What’s wrong with you?!” “You’re all against me!” One day the argument became so heated that Michael banned the kids from playing Monopoly for a year.
Another time, I purchased these cool states and capitals cards. On one side, a drawing showed a depiction of the “sounds like” version, with the answer on the back. The one I remember was the most difficult one in the pack: “Does the hairy bug with the pain you?” (Or something similar, I forget), which was supposed to remind students of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We struggled with learning these cards for about two weeks. One day Lisa asked, “Mom, could we just have a half hour to memorize the list of states and capitals? That would be a lot easier.” So much for my “fun curriculum.”
There should have been more accountability in their school work.
For many years, all five of us spent Thursday mornings and afternoons at a homeschool fine arts center. On the drive there, I asked my kids to narrate oral book reports. Granted, I was often a bit distracted with driving, but I was still shocked to learn, years later, that Mary had seldom read entire books because she had a reading disability. Instead, she usually skimmed a few sections, plus the back cover, to get a general idea of the contents. She based her reports on these fragments.
Discovering this fact made me feel like the worst homeschool mom ever. I should have paid closer attention and required more accountability. That would have helped me to recognize Mary’s problem much sooner.
I taught them how to learn on their own, which made it challenging for them to fit into traditional educational and career models.
Because of our emphasis on life-learning, narration, and unit studies, my kids were not always prepared to take traditional assessment tests. Christian scored poorly on a couple, even though he’s quite intelligent, because of a disability. For some time he partially blamed me for this, and he may have been right.
Lisa’s best friend is pursuing her doctorate, and will likely teach at a prestigious university someday. Could Lisa have followed this path? Probably, but I made the judgment call, early on, that it would be better to focus on “real-life learning” rather than test-taking. Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake.
When I look back on twenty years, I have my homeschooling mistakes and regrets. I often doubted my ability to love my kids as best I could. I gave into them sometimes when I should have sent them to the principal. My “fun” curriculum and planning sometimes proved disastrous, and my lack of requiring accountability caused me to overlook some serious problems. Although all four children learned how to learn, my approach to homeschooling may have hindered them from pursuing certain educational opportunities or careers. In the end I learned how to homeschool.
And so, though I consider my homeschooling journey an overall success, I admit my defeats and weaknesses, too. However, I also take heart in this scripture from Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
I did make some homeschooling mistakes, but with the help of God, I did a lot right, too.
Rhonda Barfield is a professional homemaker, wife to Michael, former homeschool teacher—for twenty years—and mother of four children. She’s authored five books including, Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (Fireside/Simon & Schuster), and Feed Your Family for $12 a Day. She has also written numerous articles. In addition, Rhonda coaches writing students for WriteAtHome.com.