Are you new to your homeschooling journey and eager to start off on the right foot? Are you a seasoned homeschool parent who is always looking to improve your children’s education? Read on for a nearly exhaustive list of mistakes to avoid when homeschooling your children.
I was homeschooled from birth until my high school graduation. I now have a Bachelor’s degree, a Master of Social Work, and licensure in an allied health profession. My success speaks to the fact that children can receive an excellent education at home, and graduate prepared to pursue higher education.
In addition to receiving a homeschool education, I also played a large role in helping to homeschool my younger sister.
I have worked as an educator for young adults with developmental disabilities and as a tutor for collegiate student athletes. Following graduate school, I was offered the opportunity to teach middle school special education through Teach for America in one of the largest school systems in America.
Through these experiences, I have gained a great deal of insight into how to make your homeschool successful and potential pitfalls to avoid.
1. Trying too hard for homeschooling to look the same as public school
Public schooling, from one-room, multi-grade school houses to industrial era public schools, are designed to educate large numbers of children at one time.
Therefore, strict scheduling and standardized expectations are utilized to coordinate the actions and movements of all of those humans. When you teach your children at home, this is no longer a concern.
Therefore, your homeschooling day should not look like a public school day. Rigidity and standardization are exhausting for children and parents to maintain.
Having the opportunity to be flexible and creative in designing your children’s education is part of the beauty of homeschool. A successful homeschool day usually looks wildly different than a typical day of standardized public education.
2. Not adjusting your homeschool routine to your family schedule
As a homeschooling family, you should adjust your school routine to what works best for your family. If your kids are not naturally morning people, a later start to the day will mean better focus, and happier children.
If a parent does not have a Monday through Friday nine to five schedule, maybe it makes sense to base your schooling time around the hours that will allow your children to spend more time with that parent.
Homeschooling is about nurturing the whole child, and scheduling that works best for your family is an important piece of optimizing your school time.
3. Not having a strong emphasis on reading and writing
If you can read and write well, you can teach yourself anything. As a successful adult who was homeschooled from birth until high school graduation, my strong reading and writing abilities are the most important tools that I gained during my education.
Strong reading and writing skills means being able to study effectively in college, learn new skills for employment, and explore new hobbies and pastimes.
It is important to put a strong focus on reading and writing because these are raw skills that guarantee that your child will be able to successfully process and apply information, no matter the context.
4. Not incorporating your child’s interests into the curriculum
There are basic subjects that you must teach your child to prepare them for life. However, as a homeschooling parent, you have the opportunity to convey these subjects through the lens of things that your children are interested in.
Your child is obsessed with dinosaurs? Why rigidly stick to boring reading curriculums when reading skills can be taught just as effectively by allowing them to read grade level appropriate books on dinosaurs? Your child will be more engaged if the material is interesting to them, which improves their learning.
5. Underutilizing your local library
Your library is a vast wealth of free resources. Libraries often have a wide variety of meaningful events and activities that provide a fun, educational outing for children.
The library also allows you to access print and digital materials on almost any subject, which gives you added flexibility in your curriculum without added cost.
6. Missing out on homeschooling days at local attractions
If you have not yet researched whether local museums have a homeschool day, which provides opportunities for homeschoolers to experience the attraction in a new way at a discounted rate, you are probably missing out on a hidden gem!
7. Not building a strong peer group for your children
One of the largest critiques of homeschooling is lack of socialization for children. This is a potential pitfall, but not guaranteed to occur.
Spending time with other children is an important part of child development and improves children’s peer relationships, problem solving skills, and self confidence.
It is important to find ways for children to socialize with peers other than siblings, whether through regular playdates with friends or organized activities.
8. Not finding fellow homeschool parents
Just like kids need a peer group, parents need support too. It is important to find and connect with other homeschooling parents, whether in real life or virtually.
By connecting with other parents who homeschool their children, you gain support, a sounding board, and friendship as you navigate teaching your child at home.
9. Not teaching life skills
There is an internet meme about public school that says, “I don’t know how to file my taxes, but thank goodness I know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”
Homeschooling is your opportunity to remedy this. In addition to teaching academic subjects, it is imperative that you teach your child real life skills such as budgeting, cooking, and caring for a home.
You can spend thousands of dollars a year on curriculum, or you can plan out a year that will utilize high quality, free web resources (Looking at you, Khan Academy!), the library, and a few strategic purchases that will last for multiple years or children.
You can provide the same quality education to your child without overspending on packaged curriculums or materials with limited usage.
11. Setting unrealistic expectations and spreading yourself too thin
You probably have an exhaustive mental list of subjects that you would like to teach your child. If you try to put them all into one year, you will burn yourself and your child out.
Start with the standard subjects at first, and add further topics as they will work best for your child.
Recognize that it’s okay to sometimes have a day where “school” consists primarily of reading books, and watching educational videos.
Homeschooling is about the long game, and every day doesn’t have to look perfect for you to be able to provide a valuable overall education for your child.
12. Not incorporating play and real-world learning as school
Play and real life are excellent teachers. It is important to recognize when activities are providing educational value and may need to substitute for “doing school.”
Your second grader is playing store and counting fake money? Your tenth grader is outside with Dad learning to change the oil in the car?
Is it really worth stopping these engaging activities to sit down and learn about biology when they are learning valuable life skills through hands on experience?
13. Failing to think ahead to plans for transitioning through high school, graduation, and into college
While flexibility is wonderful, it is also important to keep the end goal in mind.
How do you want your child to complete their high school diploma and graduate? What is your plan for helping them learn algebra when you struggled through it yourself in school?
Planning for high school subjects is an important part of long range planning.
Will your child have the opportunity to earn college credits in high school, reducing their time and expense in college? Dual enrollment courses at a local college or self study for the AP/CLEP exams can significantly reduce time and expense in college.
It is also important to consider how your child will get their diploma. What are the state procedures for granting homeschoolers a high school diploma? Would taking the GED exam make more sense?
My family determined that taking the GED was the best option for me. I earned my GED at age sixteen, the summer after tenth grade.
I spent one year taking the ACT and doing online college classes. Four months after my seventeenth birthday, I moved into my own apartment, and began attending the most competitive public college in the state on a full scholarship.
Without a GED, I would have needed to provide extensive documentation to the university proving that my high school education was up to standards for admission. My GED removed these requirements and greatly simplified my admissions process.
Considering the admission requirements of likely college choices for your child is an important part of planning for your child’s graduation.
14. Not having a routine
While flexibility is wonderful, routine matters too! Routine provides structure and safety to children by helping them know what to expect.
A good way to think about homeschool routine is by considering it as a flow to the day. You don’t have to rigidly adhere to time structure, but by having a generally set order of events for the day, children know what to do, and what to expect.
15. Not asking for help
You can not do it all. It is important to recognize when to ask for help from other homeschooling parents, pre-packaged materials, and professionals.
You don’t have to be Einstein to homeschool your child, you just have to be resourceful and know how to recognize when it is time to ask for help.
Co-ops are a great way to do this! In a homeschool co-op, families come together for some variation of splitting the load of teaching the children. Maybe you are a great writer, but struggled in history in school.
If you can team up with another parent who loves history, you share the load of teaching, and both of you are able to provide a better education to your child.
16. Not listening to your child’s feedback
Your child will give you direct or indirect feedback on whether what you are doing is working. Homeschooling should not be a painful process.
Take cues from your child on whether to change or continue what you are doing. This helps the child to feel heard, provides a better education, and strengthens the parent/child relationship.
17. Failing to individualize each child’s lesson plans to their learning style
People learn in different ways. I learn things best when I can read about them. My sister learns best when she can engage with the material in a hands on way.
Customizing each child’s curriculum and schooling activities according to how they best absorb information means that they will be more invested in the schooling process, and retain more of the material.
18. Not incorporating lessons that can be enjoyed by children of varying grade levels
If you enjoy preparing and delivering lessons in a more traditional “teacher” fashion, save yourself work by making these work for multiple grade levels when possible.
When I taught young adults with developmental disabilities in graduate school, I had to deliver a brief lesson and then customize independent work for the needs of individuals on grade levels ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade.
If I taught about owls, one person might be capable of completing a comprehension worksheet on the topic, while another was best served by a simple owl word search.
You can save a lot of time and energy by preparing one “lecture”, and then customizing the follow up work according to the needs of each child instead of delivering multiple individual teaching sessions.
19. Expecting to “do school” for too many hours each day
Many parents start off homeschooling thinking that they need to have their children do school for the same number of hours a day as public school.
Think about how much time in school is not spent on instruction: moving between classes, classroom procedures, and waiting on other students to grasp the concept while your child has completed their work.
Homeschooling allows you to cut out all of this extra space, and use time more efficiently. Therefore, you can probably complete the same amount of schoolwork in just a couple hours that might take all day in a public school setting.
20. Skipping breaks and forgetting your child’s attention span
Remember that children have limited attention spans. Expecting them to sit still and learn for hours at a time is not realistic.
It can be helpful to incorporate several types of breaks into your day, including meals and snacks, chores, or time to play outside. Building proper breaks into your daily routine helps children to focus better.
21. Comparing yourself to other homeschooling families
One family adheres strictly to an all in one, boxed curriculum. One family chooses a “classical education” model and decides that learning Latin and playing a musical instrument are important aspects of their child’s education.
Another family prefers a mostly “unschooled” model, placing heavy emphasis on hands-on learning and foundational life skills.
If the children are happy, healthy, and receiving a quality education, none of these families are doing things in the wrong way.
Comparison is the thief of happiness, and it is important to avoid unhelpful comparison with other homeschooling families who choose different methods.
22. Lack of organization
Organization is important for your sanity and for your children’s feelings of security. It is important to plan ahead for the year and for the long term plans of your child’s education.
An organized, clutter free space in which your children can “do school” also improves their focus and will improve everyone’s mood.
23. Not delegating
Once again, you can not do it all. Delegate tasks to lighten your burden.
Whether it is asking your spouse to work with a child on a challenging subject or it is assigning age appropriate chores to your children, asking others for help will help with your stress levels, and reduce your likelihood of reaching burn out.
24. Not clearing away distractions
It is important to clear away distractions as much as possible when schooling your child.
Whether you have to clear the kitchen table to only contain school items or you need to require that the television be turned off during school time, clearing away distractions ensures that your child can better focus on the task at hand.
25. Choosing boring curriculum
A curriculum that is rigorous but boring is not going to be effective. In order to keep your child’s attention, select materials that are both challenging and engaging.
Forcing them to interact with a boring curriculum day after day will not be worth your headache or their resentment.
26. Over-adherence to boxed curriculum
Premade digital or print curriculums can be a wonderful resource for homeschooling families. However, it is important to view them as a guide, and not sacred.
Maybe the curriculum continues to reiterate a topic that your child has grasped, or maybe you need to provide supplemental materials for additional practice in an area that your child finds difficult.
Remember that premade curriculums are a tool for you, but you are not obligated to follow them meticulously.
27. Not being aware of local regulations and rights
Before you start homeschooling, it is important to be aware of state and local laws and regulations that apply to you. States have very different expectations for homeschoolers.
A foundational understanding of the legalities of homeschooling in your area is important to ensure that you are compliant with regulations, avoid legal trouble, and your children are able to graduate high school and continue on to their next goal.
28. Not being flexible and adaptable
Flexibility and adaptability are key to homeschool success. What works one year may not work the next; what helps one child may not be right for their sibling.
Trying to stick to rigid, pre-formed expectations robs your family of the opportunity to develop the engaging, exciting educational routine that will best fit your child.
29. Not teaching study skills and how to learn
In addition to teaching content, teach your children how to learn, study, and teach themselves.
I struggled in transitioning to in-person college because I had never been in a traditional classroom setting with tests and thus did not really know how to study for exams. I learned to take notes in class from taking notes during the sermons in church!
Dedicating time to teaching your children general study techniques and how to apply them is a helpful skill that they will need when they transition back to a “normal” classroom setting.
30. Overfocus on grades
Grades are not everything. Teach for mastery. Keeping transcripts in high school is important for college.
However, allowing your children to continue to engage with material until they master it instead of giving one chance to earn a grade improves their comprehension and retention.
31. Not rewarding good behavior
Public school does have some built in reinforcers, such as good grades or classroom economies. It is important not just to identify what children are struggling with, but also to reward what they are doing right.
From a sticker on a successful worksheet to taking time to intentionally praise their efforts to planning a special outing to celebrate a school-related milestone, reinforcing what children are doing well is key in building their self esteem and encouraging them to continue to do their best.
32. Not teaching soft skills
Soft skills like problem solving and communication are extremely important to today’s employers.
Helping your child learn to solve problems, communicate effectively, lead others, and have a good work ethic is just as important for their future as teaching them math and reading.
Soft skills can be taught through everyday scenarios, and there are also resources on the internet for more focused lessons on these topics.
33. Expecting kids to be on the same grade level in everything
In public school, children are generally expected to be on the same grade level in all subjects.
This is not necessary in homeschooling. Maybe your child is exceptional at math and is best challenged with a math curriculum that is two years above “grade level.”
Meanwhile, maybe he struggles with grammar and needs to spend extra time on each concept, meaning that it takes two years to complete what would normally be a one year curriculum.
Homeschooling allows you to teach for mastery instead of standardization, and this often involves adapting curriculum to cater to their strengths and address their weak areas without religious adherence to grade levels.
Ultimately, the beauty of homeschooling is flexibility, both in routine and in customizing the curriculum for your child’s individual needs.
Don’t make the mistake of believing that rigidity and standardization, hallmarks of a system intended to instruct mass quantities of children, has to be a part of your homeschooling routine.
Everyone’s homeschooling process needs to look a little bit different because every child is unique.