The Top Six Challenges of Homeschooling

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When you think of homeschooling your children, what sounds like the most difficult part?  Choosing curriculum?  Creating lesson plans?  Recalling long-forgotten skills like multiplying mixed fractions or balancing chemical equations?  While every homeschooling parent will have his or her own unique list of challenges, most will agree that the majority of the complications actually have little to do with academics.  Here is my list of the Top Six Challenges of Homeschooling, along with some possible solutions.

1. Parenting

Ask any veteran homeschooler, and they will probably tell you that parenting–instilling discipline and maintaining a loving and respectful relationship among family members– is actually the most difficult aspect of home education.  It is extremely tricky to achieve the ideal balance between being an authority figure and an inspiring mentor/educator; we need to be in charge while still supporting and encouraging our children in a positive way.

There are definitely some wonderful days when we and our children are in productive, cooperative moods, and we think to ourselves triumphantly, This is why we homeschool!

However, there are also many days when one ill-tempered person can throw the whole family dynamic off into an unpleasant tailspin.  School work becomes a drag, arguments ensue, and everyone begins to fantasize about a different, better option . . . like perhaps moving to Fiji and becoming professional beach bums.  (Okay, I admit that is a fantasy that I indulge in at least once a week).

While family togetherness is definitely one of the number one perks of homeschooling, people who spend several hours together each day, day after day, will inevitably see the worst of each other.  They will sometimes will get tired of all that “togetherness, ” start to rub each other the wrong way, and crave time apart.  Homeschooling moms and dads can feel particularly smothered at times because they don’t get to send their kids off to school for eight hours a day, five days a week.  On duty basically 24/7, many homeschooling parents enjoy less opportunities to relax, tune out from the stresses of parenting, engage in adult interaction, and pursue their own interests.  This can easily lead to parent burnout, which puts a strain on the parent/child relationship.

There are multiple remedies for these problems.  One is going outside, joining activities, and engaging with others.  Contrary to popular belief, most homeschoolers do not stay at home all the time, isolated within their family group.  Sports teams, clubs, volunteering, on-site classes, and play groups are some of the ways homeschoolers can interact with others and get some much-needed time apart.  Parents who are blessed enough to have support from friends and relatives will benefit greatly if they accept offers to watch their kids for a few hours so they can take up their passions and re-charge their own mental energy.  Togetherness is definitely a wonderful thing, but scheduling some time apart will also be of benefit to everyone.

Homeschooling spouses can work together to make the load more bearable and step in if they see each other floundering, emotionally or mentally.  Many homeschooling parents share the task of educating the kids, each spouse teaching the subjects he/she knows best.

2.  Effort. . . or lack thereof

 Another common difficulty is that children often do not want to put forth as much effort for their mom or dad as they would for a teacher who is not their parent.  This is especially true of kids who attended traditional school for a while and then transitioned into home education.  I was surprised and confused in the first weeks when my own children– who previously attended school for eight hours a day and completed one hour or more of homework each night– balked when I asked them to do the simplest of assignments.  They didn’t take me very seriously at first.  Or perhaps they didn’t take homeschooling very seriously.

When I asked several of my wise, veteran homeschooling friends for advice on how to get my kids to work for me, they chuckled.  “Oh, we’ve been there,” they told me.  Many of them recommended that we take several months “off” of school, to transition slowly into our new homeschooling lifestyle.  So, gone were worksheets, tests, quizzes, essays, and the typical trappings of school.  Instead, my kids and I spent a few months taking field trips, discussing our interests, exploring our new city (we had just moved), and most of all, reading.  We read separately, and we read together, out loud, lounging on the couch.  We had lively discussions about our favorite and least favorite characters.  We predicted what would happen next in the story, or imagined what the sequel might include.  We watched movies based on books and ranted and raved about how much the filmmakers altered the original storyline, and how much better books always are.

We also had conversations about what the kids wanted to study, now that their education was in their own hands. We made lists of their interests, went to the library at least once a week, and slowly, as my veteran homeschooling friends predicted, the education started happening naturally!  My children–like all kids–have natural curiosity, passions, talents, and interests.  When it stopped feeling forced, they hopped on board and became active participants in their education.  It was pretty magical.

Magical, but not perfect.  Another issue that often arises for homeschoolers is . . .

3.  Sibling Conflict

Brothers and sisters who are together for several hours a day, every day, tend to get on each other’s nerves.  They begin to compare, compete, argue, and bicker.  This is where excellent parenting skills are needed, and I will admit that I don’t always know the right way to handle recurring problems of sibling rivalry.  Nor do I always have the energy to mediate yet another battle.  The best solution for my family has been planning multiple activities with the kids’ close friends and allowing them to pursue their separate interests and spend time apart from each other.

Although sibling burnout is a drag, my kids’ close-knit relationship has taught them valuable lessons about getting along with others, compromise, family loyalty, and relating to the opposite gender.  Last summer, after spending two weeks apart, my son and daughter were so happy to see each other again that they were nearly inseparable for a few days . . . until the bickering started again, of course.

4.  Wearing too many hats

 Homeschooling parents often need to be multi-taskers, and the amount of items on their to-do lists can be overwhelming.  When you sit down to work on a science project and notice that the floors are dirty, the breakfast dishes are piled up, the house plants are wilting, and the kids’ dentist appointments need to be scheduled, it can be very hard to focus on the task at hand.  Homeschooling parents need to figure out a system to manage all the chores and errands that must be done so that these demands don’t encroach on school time.  Some parents turn off all devices for a few hours so they can focus on school work.  Some are fortunate enough to employ cleaners, gardeners, or babysitters to relieve them of some household tasks.  Most homeschoolers tag-team with their spouse to get the necessities accomplished.  Finally– and most important– veteran homeschoolers know a beautiful secret to getting the work get done: chores are educational!  Our children can do much of the work!

At first, bizarrely, I felt guilty having my kids sweep, mop, dust, babysit, and wash.  But how else will our sons and daughters learn necessary life skills of doing laundry, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, grocery shopping, vacuuming, and child care?  How many young adults move into their first apartment, home, or dorm room and realize they have no idea how to launder their clothes, prepare a meal, or iron a shirt for an interview?  How many first-time moms and dads don’t know how to change a diaper, burp a gassy baby, or calm an overwrought toddler?  Teaching our kids to perform these chores properly not only helps make our household run smoothly today,  but it also prepares our them for life on their own.  At the very least, their future spouses will thank us for teaching them to be so capable around the house.

5. Not being “smarter than a fifth grader”

Okay, not many of us remember all the facts we learned back when we were in school.  In fact, I would say we’ve forgotten the majority of things we memorized  without deep understanding or direct application.  Who won the War of 1812?  In what part of the Earth’s atmosphere is the ozone layer?  What is the largest city in Vietnam?  For many of us, there are thousands of pieces of information we have forgotten, dozens of skills that have gone unused, and entire parts of our brain that have been resting, dormant, since our own school days.  How can I teach my child if I don’t even know it myself?  a parent may well ask.

Don’t panic.  This is actually the easiest problem to solve.  First of all, information is at our fingertips, more easily accessible than ever before.  All the facts and figures we have forgotten can be found with the click of a mouse or a trip to the local library.  I say honestly that studying history and science, in particular — the same subjects I often groaned about as a child– is absolutely fascinating now.  I am wholeheartedly enjoying the process of re-learning alongside my kids and remembering so many things I used to know.

Of course, parents don’t have to be the only font of wisdom, even in homeschooling families.  Online tutorials and lessons can be downloaded for free, or for a fee.  In addition, there are many resources for homeschoolers through charter schools, community colleges, and community recreation and education centers.  If Physics isn’t your strength, for instance, chances are you can find a class for your child.  If a class cannot be found, tutors and teachers can be hired.  In other words, we can outsource our children’s education, whenever necessary.  Furthermore, depending on how you choose to homeschool, many educational supplies, curriculum, and classes might be funded by the State.  Our family is enrolled in a public charter school that caters to home educators.  In a nutshell, if we fulfill state requirements and charter requirements, we get a generous amount of funding to pay for approved classes, educational materials, and tutoring.  This makes it much easier for us to outsource anything we can’t manage ourselves.

6.  Babies and toddlers

For me, this is actually the hardest part of homeschooling, and one for which I have not found a satisfactory solution.  When you have needy babies and/or toddlers and you are trying to homeschool your older kids, it is extremely difficult.   Lessons are constantly interrupted by demanding little ones.  The parent/teacher gets frustrated from all the distractions, and so do the students.  When your preschoolers are at that difficult stage when they’re too young to play independently for more than a few minutes, unable to use the toilet or make a snack or fill their own sippy cup . . . the parent will be pulled in too many directions.  It is an enormous challenge for the stay-at-home parent to handle this “not-enough-of-me-to-go-around” situation.

The ideal solution would probably be to enlist the help of any available family or friends who can watch the tykes for a few hours a day while homeschooling takes place.  A spouse swap can also work–one spouse supervises the little ones while the other works with the older kids– but this, we must remember, is in addition to the spouses’ other duties.  Sometimes the spouses are too exhausted from their other work to help each other as much as needed.  Hiring a babysitter, nanny, or “mother’s helper” for a few hours a day would be a great solution, if financially feasible.

This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are additional, less pressing challenges that we encounter every day in our quest for family harmony and home education.  Other homeschoolers could surely write their own list of hurdles they must overcome.  Whatever the challenges, most home educators–teachers and students alike–will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties, making homeschooling an amazing and valuable experience for the whole family.

You can read Laura’s list of The Ten Things this Homeschooling Mom Does NOT Miss About Traditional School HERE

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When asked her job title, "Zookeeper" is what immediately comes to mind to Laura El Alam, homeschooling mother of four. The daily drama of raising two toddlers and two teens keeps Laura perpetually on her toes . . . and frequently on her last nerve. In her nonexistent free time, she is a writer for SISTERS magazine and a professional nap-taker.

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Andrea Shaw
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Amen sister. We homeschooled my oldest for Kindergarten and then decided to give public school a try for his 1st grade year.. I find that no matter what direction you take- parenting/educating your kids is tough work! We are going to homeschool the next school year..I will have a 2nd grader, K and a 3yr old and a 6 month old by that time and wow I know it’s going to be a challenge. Your post just reminds me that we are not alone in our challenges and sometimes that alone is helpful! Thanks for laying it all out.

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