Whether you’re new to homeschooling or a veteran, you know that there are challenges that we face as homeschooling parents. In my book, Homeschooling Outside the Box: A Child-Centered Approach to Homeschooling I discuss some of the most common challenges that come up and some suggestions for how to deal with them.
Here’s that chapter from the book. Enjoy and I hope it helps!
Homeschooling Challenges (and What to Do)
As much as my child is thriving from homeschooling, I’m not going to sugarcoat the homeschooling experience. There are many challenges along the way. I’m going to go through some of them so that you aren’t thrown when they come up, and so you have an idea of how to deal with them.
1. You don’t get any breaks
Unless you are co-teaching with another adult, you are going to spend a lot of time with your child. The younger the child, the more intense this feels. For Pre-K/K, the activities (no matter how brilliant and well-prepared) tend to take ten to fifteen minutes for the child to do. What are you going to do for the rest of the day?
First, consider doing a couple of learning activities each day and reading as many picture books as your child will tolerate. Second, running around outside as much as possible will prevent pent-up energy and restlessness being turned on you (hair pulling, kicking, biting, etc.). Third, sing songs together with gestures or with dancing (with or without the aid of videos, it’s up to you.). And lastly, you can provide a designated space where your young child can make art. A specific section of the wall where they can draw or paint will avoid a lot of conflict. In order to protect clothing, you might want to consider underwear only art time, using a smock, or having designated clothes that can get messy.
You don’t have to entertain your young child (or older child) all day long. They need some time to themselves to build things and create things. However, because you have to keep an eye on young children, it will be challenging for you to eat enough, hydrate enough, and have time to go to the bathroom. I’m not joking.
Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go in the house. Also, set out healthy snacks for yourself so you can grab and eat (you will need energy).
2. You may not feel or get to be as active as usual
There’s a lot of sitting and talking involved in homeschooling. Please be conscious to add in a lot of physical activity for you and your child. You both need it! You can use exercise videos on YouTube if you aren’t able to go outside every day. Cosmic Kids Yoga videos are a fun way to move around. Taking a short break to play Simon Says or Follow the Leader is a great way to refocus your child when they get restless.
3. Your house may not look at neat as it normally does
When you’re not teaching, you’re preparing snacks and meals. Your time will be eaten up by food prep and teaching. Hopefully with some time to do dishes—and maybe even laundry. If you have another adult in the equation, they are going to need to do all of the housework that you can’t do because you’re teaching, planning for learning time, prepping food, hopefully sleeping, and having some kind of a life independent of your child.
Of course it’s so important that your child learns responsibility and participates in putting things away and keeping the house clean. That’s awesome if you can do that—but it takes a while before they are old enough to help in a meaningful way.
If your child has just spent a lot of time creating an amazing project, please let them leave it and play with it for a few days. If there isn’t an important reason why it can’t stay (i.e., the Play-Doh will dry out or the pet will destroy it), let it stay. You can collectively decide how long it stays (which should be a balance of the child’s continued interest in the creation and the mental health of others), but be sure to take lots of photos/video so the work lives on digitally.
The older the child, the larger the ideas and the ability to realize them. Parts of your house will probably become temporary disaster zones as your child’s personality resembles that of a mad scientist.
My advice to you is this: lots of deep breathing, communication, and negotiating.
Your child has a system of organization within the chaos. You don’t have to live with it, but you do have to respect it. Please ask questions before you decide to take something apart or put something away.
Right now, my child has about four Lego instruction books scattered around the floor, and each one is on an important page. If tonight I get frustrated and pick them up and put them in a lovely pile, I will send them into hysterics tomorrow as they realize that they don’t remember the pages they were on for each of the four simultaneous Lego projects they are in the middle of. I need to ask if each one needs to be where it is. If I really want to understand, I can ask why. But if I just take action because it’s my house and I don’t want to live like this, I’m going to deal with a massive rage tomorrow that will be 100 percent on me for not respecting my child and their work.
4. Some days your child won’t want to do what you want to do
You can spend hours planning a learning activity, perhaps an activity your child specifically requested, and then your wonderful child will refuse to try it. How about we do ____ today? No, I don’t want to do that. Or my child’s ultra-polite response: No thanks, Mom. I love you, but I’m not going to do that.
Some days you just can’t win. And that’s going to be okay. How many hours of the school year did we spend watching movies in class, having parties, or playing “Heads up, Seven Up?”
It’s fine to accept that your child needs a break for a day, but it might also be worth your time to figure out why.
- Was your child up too late the night before?
- Are they coming down with something?
- Is your child eating enough during the day?
- Getting enough physical activity?
- Did anything happen emotionally to affect their mood?
If we emphasize empathy with our kid, it helps get them headed back in a learning direction. Learning for that day may mean watching something together or you reading out loud while they play or build something. Maybe it should be more of an art day. Perhaps just taking a walk together outside and talking about what you see will do some good.
If day after day, your child is not expressing any interest in a project or topic you’ve chosen, drop it. It’s not going to work right now. For whatever reason, your child is not ready to do what you are asking. This is where we have to focus on the personalized aspect of homeschooling rather than the standardized idea of “what my child should learn and be able to do.” You can always come back to it later.
If the learning activity is bombing, and you can’t think of another way to teach the same thing, opt for a quick game to lighten the mood, like Simon Says, Follow the Leader, or Scavenger Hunt.
If your child often gets bored with the learning activities, it’s probably time to switch gears. Learning should be fun!
There are so many wonderful sources of inspiration on the internet. Take what you find online as inspiration because you will have to make adjustments for your child’s level and interests. Do searches for games that teach different learning goals and see what comes up and what ideas you get from them.
For example, you can literally put anything your child is learning—sight words, addition, division—inside hopscotch squares.
Whenever you feel a rut coming on, switch to a game.
5. You will get frustrated
Children are frustrating in general and that’s without trying to teach them. It’s fine to take a break.
I know it’s difficult in the moment, and we all make mistakes, but try your best not to take your frustration out on your child. They are just going to feel bad, and you really don’t want them to feel bad in connection to their academic abilities.
If your child is old enough to be left alone for a few minutes, find a reason to walk away so you can calm down and regroup. If you have a younger child, try to take deep breaths and force yourself to smile so your child doesn’t see the upset in your face. Then do your best to think about what is making you frustrated—this is how you find your teachable moments for yourself as you learn how to educate your child.
Are you frustrated at yourself or at your child?
Have they forgotten to do something that they already knew?
That’s okay. We all forget stuff. It’s entirely possible your child forgot in that moment and will remember tomorrow. Make a mental note, decide how important the information is, and decide whether or not you want to do a quick review or look for a new activity or game to play later to reintroduce/reinforce the topic.
Are they still unable to do the thing you’ve been working on with them for a long time and you just don’t know what else to do? This one is a really important one because it tends to come up with math and reading. Your child’s brain is developing, and reading and math are developmental. You’re not teaching your child via rote memorization; you’re teaching them to truly understand concepts and derive meaning from the words they read. This is a more complex process that takes time. How much time totally depends on your child. Of course fun games, learning activities, and practice can help facilitate this process. However, in some cases (such as reading) your child is not going to do it until they are ready, no matter how frustrated or impatient you are. And you’re just going to have to live with it.
The good news is that once it does click for them, they can zoom forward so fast you’ll almost forget all of your frustration and suffering throughout the process.
If you can’t control your frustration or anxiety, or you don’t know how to teach the thing your child is passionate about, look for help.
Help can come in various forms and depends on your budget. There are videos and articles about everything online that can help you explain or teach a concept.
There are super smart high school kids, college kids, and tutors who can teach things that you don’t know.
My child loves physics. My child spends one hour a week with a lovely person who teaches them physics via Zoom.
In addition, be sure to check out what classes and activities are taking place in your area to enrich your child. An added bonus is that your child is learning from someone else and you can have a little break.
Your child will get frustrated with you and need a break from you, too.
If your child is older, they tell you that they’re going to play with Legos or draw. If they are younger, they get frustrated, but they don’t always know how to ask for some time apart.
It’s perfectly fine to use a bit of screen time to give yourself a break. You need to gauge this carefully depending on how your child reacts, and decide on programming and time limits accordingly. I can’t tell you what to do, but I give you a list of things to think about:
- Too much screen time can make younger kids restless and physically aggressive
- Watching shows with “sassy” or mean characters can influence how your child speaks to and treats others
- Know what your child is watching and talk about it afterwards so you, as the parent, decide what the child learns/takes away from the episode and you know that your child is not simply internalizing whatever they’re seeing and hearing
- Too much screen time during the day and/or close to bedtime may make it difficult for your child to settle down and go to sleep
As I said, every child is different, and I am not telling you what to do. However, if your child is kicking or punching you after watching TV, or you find them still awake at 11:00 p.m. when you really need the day to be over, you may want to decrease screen time and see if anything changes.
More challenges may arise that are specific to you and your child. All teachers need to commiserate and collaborate and homeschooling isn’t that different. Please schedule a free consultation if you need more support.
Afsaneh has been an educator for over 20 years. She has taught students from preschool to graduate school and now homeschools her own child and coaches homeschooling families in how to teach their children based on individual learning styles, interests, needs, and connection so that the whole family can thrive. She is also the author of the picture books series Jamie is Jamie.