What if Homeschooling Is Not Working?

By Jeanne Faulconer, South Hill
Originally published in the January-February 2007 VaHomeschoolers Voice

A recent e-mail message crossed my inbox with the subject line, “What if Homeschooling Is Not Working?”

Homeschooling, with all its benefits, can also be, at times, an unforgiving “medium” for living. If a parent and child have relationship struggles, for instance, homeschooling does not provide a time or place to conceal this and allow the family to easily ignore it. Instead, there are many hours each day where this problem is going to be very evident.

If a child has unique learning challenges or an unusual learning style, homeschooling is quick to reveal the complications.

If a homeschooling parent has strongly unresolved issues in balancing housekeeping, working, her own personal interests, community commitments, and responsibility for the children, homeschooling makes it clear – with an overloaded calendar, overloaded laundry baskets, overdue library books, overflowing inbasket, overdrawn bank account and (somehow) either over- or under-stimulated children.

The feeling that “homeschooling” is “not working” may be brought on by the very optimism with which we embrace it. People sometimes think homeschooling is going to “fix” what is wrong with our family. And, when a family benefits from more time together, a saner schedule, a better match between learner and that which is being learned, many things are, indeed, “fixed.”

But, homeschooling will also make it abundantly clear where there are big opportunities for further improvement in family life, relationships, and learning.

Every year, January 1 comes along offering us the opportunity to  make resolutions. When I was contemplating the question, “What if Homeschooling Isn’t Working?” the word “resolutions” came to me in a whole different way: Re-Solutions.

Homeschooling is sometimes offered as a “solution” for everything from hyper kids to bored kids to not enough family time to over-testing to low academic standards. But homeschooling itself is, or should be, made up of many small solutions. It is not only “what math book?” and “how will they learn to write?” It’s also “how do we navigate chores?” and “will we regulate video games?” How do we survive on a single income or juggle two or three jobs plus homeschooling? What do we do with a listless teen or a little one who “hates” the curriculum we have so carefully selected?

When the numerous “solutions” that make up our homeschooling don’t work, it’s not time for resolutions – it’s time for “Re-Solutions.” How can we approach the housework differently? How can we get more physical exercise so we are healthier and more able to attend to focused academics? Do we have to use this curriculum just because I paid $300 for it? Or is there a Re-Solution, a different solution, a new way to solve this puzzle that will make homeschooling work better for my children, my spouse, myself?

When we are involved with traditional schools or other institutions, we often learn to “grin and bear it” through procedures and programs that don’t meet  our needs well. But homeschooling requires us to un-learn over-broad application of that coping skill in order to create the best homeschooling life possible for our families. In our homes, there is no need to keep using the same strategies that aren’t working well. After all, would we rather our children learn the “insanity” of continuing to do what does not work? Or is it more important that they learn that new and different approaches often lead to new and improved results? Or even that some new and different approaches also don’t work, but that we can usually learn from and perhaps enjoy the experience of trying a Re-Solution?

After surviving our crosscountry move this past summer, most of my planning and organizing talents seemed to be exhausted. The kids had to make do with a mom who could read aloud for hours but could not come up with the kind of hands-on projects and social outings they were accustomed to. This “laid-back” me was actually a solution– a response to the huge degree to which I had extended myself before, during, and after our move from Mississippi back to Virginia.

But as weeks went by, I saw this “strategy,” this response or solution, become less useful. My children, our family’s very inertia, pushed me to think about changes. It was time for a Re-Solution. It began with a simple return to making menus and picking a grocery shopping day. I started getting up before the kids and making it to the gym to work out. I began developing sample essay questions and answers for my teenager to look at in conjunction with the classic novels he was reading. Our youngest son’s Wolf Cub Scout book began to provide a steady source of hands-on projects and physical activities to supplement our homeschooling.

These are Re-Solutions. Although our family had needed a slower pace and recovery time from moving in the first few months, things began to slip further from my internalized ideas and ideals of homeschooling. It wasn’t homeschooling itself that was “working” or “not working,” but certain parts of our homeschooling life together that needed new approaches for a changed situation.

What Re-Solutions does your homeschooling life suggest to you? Are your current challenges about homeschooling methods, your curriculum, finances, time and schedules, relationships, housekeeping, outside commitments or community service? What are the glitches that you could potentially solve or change with a different approach?

Of course, life gives us many limitations and intractable problems. Sometimes the best we can do is find a coping strategy or a work-around for certain aspects of homeschooling and living as a family. We are unlikely to change either our child’s learning style or personality – but we probably can adjust approaches to make the most of how he learns and how we provide emotional coaching for his distinct personality. We are unlikely to suddenly come into an unexpected inheritance that will solve our financial challenges – but we can ask ourselves if we can make any changes that will improve the situation.

And life is even tougher than this; many of us have health crises, consuming eldercare commitments, loss, and private pain and stress that will not ever be “solved.” For me, this has made it ever more important to make “Re-Solutions” in the aspects of homeschooling and family life that I can influence. And, I try to look continuously at just which things are in my sphere of control and which things are not.

We had lived in our 1930 house for three months with my husband complaining about the lack of hot water at the bathroom sink where he shaves. Our youngest son had a suggestion: try turning the RIGHT handle for hot water. Indeed, the water takes a few minutes to get there, so we hadn’t managed to stumble onto the backwards plumbing; however, trying the opposite approach resulted in a much more comfortable shave for my husband. “Talk about not being able to think outside the box,” he said sheepishly as he filled the sink with hot water. “Paradigm shift.”

It might not have been that easy. Maybe the solution would have required new pipes behind old plaster, which might have been beyond us for another year, considering the financial commitment to fixing up an old house. Instead, our eight-year old offered us an immediately workable “Re-Solution.”

No one can provide the Re-Solutions needed for your particular homeschooling situation. But you can develop your own Re-Solutions with the help of Internet resources, homeschooling books, observation and acceptance of your children, meditation or prayer, freewriting and brainstorming, attending a homeschooling workshop or conference, networking and getting ideas from other parents.

And what is the one certain thing about this process of developingRe-Solutions? That, with every New Year, we homeschooling parents will Re-Solve and Re-Solve again. Just like everyone else. But, y’know, we’ll do it with our kids drawing and stabbing at pancakes at the kitchen table, flopped over their beds for hours with good books, or in the midst of a mountain of LEGO® bricks.

And our children’s very presence in our homes will remind us – try the RIGHT handle if the left handle doesn’t give us what we need.

About the Author

Jeanne Faulconer and husband Rick are the parents of two homeschooled grads and a fourteen- year-old still learning at home. She is the former editor of VaHomeschoolers Voice and enjoys writing and speaking about homeschooling.

Originally published in the January-February 2007 VaHomeschoolers Voice.

VaHomeschoolers Voice Publication Information

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