10 Challenges With Homeschooling

OK, while I am trying very hard to stay positive and live in the moment I did kind of promise yesterday that I'd go over my miseries or challenges of homeschooling.  These are, for the most part, very similar to my 10-challenges-to-unschooling with just a few minor variations. 

While sometimes my life feels like a nice vacation from reality with lots of day trips, smiles and fun times with the boys; other times it can feel like one long never ending battle.

 On those days, I dream of sending them back to school and locking myself in the house to enjoy the peace and quiet all day while they are gone, learning who knows what, with a "trained" teacher.

I dream of curling up on the couch with full possession of the remote control so that I don't have to look at anything resembling a cartoon.

Luckily, I know these days are just days (and sometimes only part of a day) and they will soon pass.

 But these are my biggest challenges of homeschooling: 

1.  We're together all the time.  Yes, I know I had this as a gift of homeschooling but I did warn you that it can also be a misery.  With three boys so close in age it's not unusual for them all to fight, bicker, and be nasty to one another for no real reason.  Sometimes I feel like I play referee all day.  Sometimes I feel like I spend the whole day trying to tune them out so I don't have to listen to the bickering.  I know they get sick of one another.  I (gasp, should I admit it?) get sick of them too-- on occasion!  They drive me up the wall sometimes and know what buttons to push.  We've had to learn to take breaks from one another when needed and to get out of the house whenever we can.

 2.  We can learn about whatever we want.  Again this is one of those double edged sword things.  We love having the freedom to pursue whatever interests us but it can be really overwhelming to realize we can learn about anything we want.  There is so much information out there and so many things to learn about that it can be daunting.  For now I follow the kids interests and try to pull all the subjects into view for each of them through those few things that they are truly passionate about but it doesn't always work that way. 

3.   Focusing on quantity of time, not quality of time.  Because we are always together I often take for granted all the time we spend together and then I'll realize I'm not really spending time with my kids; I'm just spending time next to my kids.  It's hard to juggle household tasks, parenting, teaching, and still find the time for me.  I cringe inside every time I have to tell Evan I'll read to him later.... then later doesn't come and I don't realize it until he's in bed for the night.  I try very hard not to say no or put them off, but sometimes I have to; life gets in the way.  When I'm feeling particularly bad about our quality of time we'll take a field trip.  I can't be distracted by our house, the computer, my blog, anything when I'm with the boys on a field trip.  It forces our focus back on one another and learning together and has the added benefit of putting us all in a good mood (usually anyway) and  making wonderful memories. 

4.  Not cutting myself enough slack.  I have a tendency to try and be a supermom.  I like my house to look spotless.  I like to feel like I've taught the boys something during the school day.  It's easy to get caught up in getting it all done everyday.  Those times I can't (which is certainly more often than I'd like) I have to remember I'm only human and I'm doing the best I can.  I also have to remind myself of my priorities and focus on those things that are most important-- my boys.  

  5.  High Expectations.  Just as I don't often cut myself enough slack, sometimes I expect too much from the boys too.  For the most part I'm content to unschool and watch our day unfold; taking learning where it comes.  Sometimes I'm not so content and I really start to push the boys to learn more and learn it faster.  This tends to stress them out and leads us all to feel burnt out.  Yet it's a fine line between expecting too much and not having any expectations at all.  While I'm content to watch them learn at their own pace I do realize this may not always be the case.  At some point they will all need to know how to read, comprehend, write, do all sorts of math problems, etc.  But sometimes I get such high expectations I forget just how young they are and how much time we have left.  When this happens I typically start reading books, on- line articles and blogs about the benefits of unschooling.  It helps to remind me that this is a tried and true method of homeschooling and it reaffirms my belief that what we're doing is right. 

6.  Constant questions and comparisons.  I continually question if we're doing enough.  I question if we're doing to much.  I question if  they're being challenged, or if they're getting bored.   It's great to get together with other homeschooling families for much needed socialization (for me as well as the boys) but it's easy to start comparing what other families are learning and doing.  I can really start to feel inadequate next to a mom who grows most of the family's food, has a nice, large, clean house, has taught her kids multiple languages (all 5 of them), Shakespearean poetry, advanced algebra, etc and  holds a part time job, and... the list goes on and on. OK so this is really more of a composite of many mom's I've met, but it's how I feel when I come into contact with some of them.  Their list of tasks seem amazing.  It's easy to think homeschooling runs smoothly for other families when in reality we all seem to face the same challenges.  I'm sure there are homeschooling moms who look at me and think I have it all together and do "so much."   It's easy to think we're not doing enough, learning enough or learning the "right" things.  I also make the mistake of comparing the kids to one another.  It's not right since they're all individuals, but at some point I think it's only human and natural to do so.  I try not to voice any of these thoughts out loud and luckily, they're pretty fleeting and easy to ignore. 

7.  Boredom and whining.  Theirs and mine, though theirs tends to bother me more, we all suffer from boredom.  Even though we don't have to follow a certain schedule, we do seem to fall into one out of habit and with every schedule comes some boredom.  I try to have enough activities for us to fill a few hours of the day but other than that they're on their own and they aren't used to having so much free time.  I hear "I'm bored, there's nothing to do" almost daily.  For the most part I let them be bored and try to tune out the whining.  Besides, there's lots to learn by being bored.  My boredom, however becomes a real problem.  On those days I'm feeling like our lives are one, long, boring, endless loop I tend to get lazy or feel very apathetic about homeschooling.  These are the days we try and get out of the house too.  Changing our location automatically changes our boring routine.  We'll scout out a new park, go hiking, bring our art project outside, etc.

8.  You can't please everyone all the time.  With three very different boys it's hard to keep them all happy.  When I was planning lessons, inevitably someone ended up in tears, or stormed away, or I discovered someone had already learned about what I was trying to teach.  I thought our problems would be solved when we turned to unschooling, but that's not quite true.  They'll beg, plead and even bribe one another to have someone to play with.  There's always one person not happy with the day trip that another one has been dying to go on.  There's never a unanimous decision about movies, books or well.. anything and there's nothing I can do about it,  We ended up adopting a majority rules rule in this house with mom holding the power of ultimate veto.  Sometimes, very rarely, they are all happy, other times one or two of them are very happy, and on very rare occasions all three of them are miserable.  But I figure that turn taking, negotiation and learning to cope with things we don't particularly enjoy are all part of life.  I just try to make certain it isn't always one person who's unhappy and help them all make the best of it. 

 9.  Time looses all meaning.  I used to be, unfailingly, at least 15 minutes early to EVERYTHING.  I quickly learned homeschoolers are notoriously late.  Now, not all homeschoolers are always late, but it happens often enough that as a group we've become synonymous with late.   Some of the families we meet are very large, they have a lot of kids of all ages to corral and get ready.  I don't have that excuse, but I do find we're not quite as good about keeping an eye on the clock anymore.  That's not a big deal most days where we have no set schedule, but sometimes it can be a real problem.  I don't know if it's just that we're all so laid back we don't worry about it anymore (though I don't think that's case as I do yell an awful lot when we need to be somewhere on time).  Perhaps, it's just that we've gotten lazy.  I don't know.  Sometimes we're in the middle of something that still needs to be cleaned up.  Sometimes we forget just how long it takes us all to get ready and get out the door.  I don't know how it happened, but it seems like we are becoming one of those families who's always running just a little bit late.   I'm trying to become more aware of this and plan better but, hey, what can I say?  I'm only human.  Refer to Misery #4. 

10.  Organization is key... where's the key?  Seriously, I want to be organized like I used to but I often feel like I can't find anything when I want it.  I am one of those mom's who was so Uber-organized that the kids toys bins were labeled with words and pictures when they were toddlers and babies so they could help clean up.  I would change labels each winter to go with the new toys we received.  Blocks would be color sorted.  Trucks were lined up on the shelf neat and orderly.  No, seriously, it was.  I think the kids were afraid to actually play in the playroom.  My house looked like it was waiting to be photographed for a magazine.  I'm still pretty darn organized, but with homeschooling there is so many more things to keep track of and keep organized.  We now have math manipulatives like tangrams and geoboards, science materials like microscopes, shaving cream, magnifying glasses, and so much more.  We have multiple bins for art, math, science yet I find I'm constantly searching through them all to find the one or two items I'm looking for.  We have toys and Lego's strewn throughout the house at any given moment and with the three boys home all day it often looks like a tornado ripped through the house by 5 pm.  Most days I'm OK with the mess and disorganization, but some days it drives me nutty.  On really rare days when I just can't take it anymore I have been known to scoop everything up and just shove it into any old bin so the house will just look nice and that's where my organization plan breaks down. 

A small selection of things I bought to have on hand when homeschooling... the pile has since multiplied!
And yet, these challenges aren't anything when compared to all the gifts that homeschooling has given us.

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