The Comparison Trap

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“What grade are you in?”

It is an innocent question that frequently reminds us our choice to homeschool is not the same choice the majority makes. It is a question that can fill you with doubt and fear if you let it. It is a question that makes us cringe when we’re feeling insecure and smile when we’re feeling confident.

Why does this seemingly harmless question, and others like it, have so much power?

They trigger the homeschool comparisons.

There are three types of homeschool comparisons that induce feelings of guilt and insecurity.

  • Public School Construct Comparisons
  • Homeschool-to-Homeschool Comparisons
  • Sibling Comparisons

 Public School Construct Comparisons

For most of us, our only personal experience with education prior to homeschooling was public school or a very similarly operated private school. We assume the benchmarks and timelines set forth by the schools are the golden rule and should be followed, even if we’re not attending. Many are surprised to learn that these checkboxes ensure ease of use when teaching and managing so many students at once and are not necessarily the best thing for the children.

Many education systems have realized this and are pivoting toward more flexibility and inclusivity. In Wisconsin, for example, public education in the early years more resembles Montessori learning with mixed-age classrooms and no desks.

Even as we enter the workforce, we’re handed checklists with timeline expectations, and every new hire is handed the same list. It is hard to stray from the idea that we must all do the same things at the same time when it is such a large part of our society.

Cooking is a great way to learn many skills, including math, reading, and sequencing. Photo by Jess Koller

I struggled with this initially, feeling I needed to set up a school at home to give my children the best. Through hours of research and years of seeing my own children thrive without the checkboxes, I realized it is a comparison we did not need.

The truth is, we are all different, and we all have different interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The idea that we should all check the same boxes at the same time is unrealistic.

 Homeschool-to-Homeschool Comparisons

Sitting at co-ops and meetups, we want to share our children’s achievements. We often see them as our achievements as their educator, as we should! Do you ever think, “But my child isn’t doing that yet?” It’s such an easy space to slip into. It’s human nature to compare and contrast our worlds. The issue comes because we fail to realize our children may not be doing calculus at age 4, but they are baking cakes or making artistic masterpieces.

Often, I feel these comparisons most when I am feeling insecure. When I have a moment of “Am I doing enough?” I begin to think if our child isn’t doing what others are, I have somehow failed. The truth is, your concern is proof of your success and what keeps you evolving and growing to ensure your children do thrive.

 Sibling Comparisons

The last homeschool comparison that we slip into at times is between siblings. When your first child learns to read so quickly and your second child struggles, it’s easy to compare them and wonder what you’re doing wrong.

As a mother of three children, I can attest that each one is so very different. The reading program we detested with our firstborn has been perfect for our second, the one we loved, being the worst option available. Our third child is showing us, once again, that what worked before may not be her cup of tea.

Learning about ecosystems and clouds at the top of a mountain. Photo by Jess Koller

In all of these instances, each child, each family, each home is different. There are no apples-to-apples comparisons in home education or education at large. There is a good reason there are hundreds of options from which to choose!

We begin these comparisons long before our little ones start to read, as they learn to sit, roll, and walk. We all agree these skills occur at a wide variety of ages. Each skill acquired after that is no different. Research has suggested our children’s brains grow at different rates well into childhood (Filippos Vlachos & Artemis Papadimitriou, 2015 https://doi.org/10.1080/23311908.2015.1045224). Even reading naturally develops among an extensive age range.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate our children and all their skills and quirks. Take a moment to write down their achievements. Keep track of their progress. Celebrate with our friends in their accomplishments. And do what we do best, educate our children in a way that helps them be their best selves!

Jess Koller has been home educating her three children since kindergarten and is now entering her 4th year. She also works part-time as an oncology nurse. She has two bachelor’s degrees in psychology and nursing. She and her family enjoy being outdoors, camping, hiking, fishing, and kayaking. She enjoys crafting and reading in her spare time and has recently found a love for woodwork and furniture building.

Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers.  Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.


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