4 Easy Steps to Help You Fail at Homeschooling

Thousands of books and internet articles have been written about how to succeed at homeschooling. But I'm going to offer you something a bit different.

If you've ever wondered how to fail at homeschooling, you've come to the right place. Here are four easy steps to help you fail as at homeschooling. This vital information has been gleaned from five years of intense experimentation with my own children, and it's sure to work every time.

1. Plan too much.

When you sit down to make your lesson plans, make sure you schedule every minute of your 6-8 hour school day. Be sure to plan the exact page numbers to be covered every day, and include several non-core classes each day, at least an hour of daily read-aloud time, field trips at least once a week, and hands-on projects every other day.

If a homeschool publisher says that a particular curriculum should take 36 weeks to complete, you can double up on the lessons and finish it in half the time. Oh, and when doctor visits interrupt your homeschooling day, be sure to make up the lost school time to get back on your schedule by having your children work late into the night or on the weekend. Your children might have to forego spending time with friends, but remember, finishing your curriculum is of the upmost importance, so sometimes sacrifices have to be made. The most important thing to remember is that under no circumstances should your lesson plans ever be more than a half-day off track.

2. Plan too little.

If you know you want to cover science three times a week, English four times a week, and mathematics five times a week, simply make one weekly schedule that will be good for each week of the school year. There's no need to write down the exact pages or units to be covered each day since you'll just cover the next lesson in each subject on the assigned day. When doctor visits interrupt your homeschooling day, don't worry, you can just leave the school work until the next day. Afterall, you won't technically be 'behind' since you don't have specific assignments worked out. Oh, and for those extra curricular activities like teaching your children art or how to cook? Don't worry about planning out exactly what you want to cover; inspiration for art and cooking lessons always come best at the last minute.

3. Plan too frequently.

Make out your lesson plans only a week — or even better — only a day ahead of time. That way you'll be able to adjust your plans to your ever-changing family schedule. Don't worry that you won't know if you're on track to finish the curriculum by the end of the school year, or that you might finish it too quickly so that the last couple months of the school year are a little lean on the curriculum-side. Oh, and when sickness, unforeseen family commitments, or a simple lack of motivation strikes and you're not feeling up to planning? Never fear, your husband will step in, and through his amazing ability to read your mind, he will plan the next day's lessons for you — exactly as you would have done it. No worries!

4. Plan too infrequently.

If planning on a weekly or daily basis sounds like too much trouble, instead take a few days at the end of the summer and plan out the entire school year. Make sure that you allow sufficient time to finish up each curriculum; so if the curriculum says it'll take 36 weeks to finish, go ahead and take it up to the last day of the school year. After all, you don't want to have finished up all your curriculum two months before school is officially supposed to end for the year. Oh, and when you realize that a particular curriculum isn't working for your child a few months into the school year, you'll just have to deal with it. If your child changes curriculum mid-year, it'll mess up your perfectly-planned schedule and the new curriculum won't be finished by the end of the school year. Don't worry though, you can work the new curriculum into your plans for the next school year.

So how do you actually succeed at homeschooling?

Obviously I've written this article with my tongue firmly in my cheek. But really, each of these four points I have undertaken with gusto at one time or another — and I've failed miserably each time.

What I've come to realize is that to succeed in homeschooling your children, you have to find a balance in your scheduling — somewhere in between each of these points above — where you and your children can operate the best. (For me, that balance is doing a general year-long curriculum plan at the beginning of the year — making sure the curriculum is assigned frequently enough to finish in a year — and then planning specifically only six weeks at at time.)

It's okay to fail.

In fact, I didn't plan well enough for our December term (that'd be my point #2 above) and we ended up not doing any school work for most of the month because I didn't plan specifically enough. But the important thing is to get back up and try again — just with a different method.

Eventually you'll find the balance you need, and believe it or not, your children will likely not be worse for wear. In fact, seeing that adults don't always get things right the first time might actually be a great life lesson for them, especially if they also see how those same adults react to their failure.

Learning how to fail at homeschooling can lead to how to succeed if you evaluate what went wrong and plan to correct it in the future.

So what about you? What learn-through-failure experiences have you had in homeschooling?

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  1. says

    (raising my hand a bit sheepishly)
    I have also been guilty of each of these at different times. It's so like me to swing from extreme to extreme! Halfway through my third year of this, I'm finally figuring the whole balance thing out, but sometimes the idea of having the whole year scheduled completely still sounds dreamy! Not that I could ever follow it, of course!


    Joy Reply:

    @Jonnia Smith, When I 'rough out' my whole schedule for the year, I count the number of lessons in each curriculum, then I see how many times a week the kids would need to do a lesson to complete the curriculum during the year.

    BUT the real key is I leave a LOT of wiggle room. That way when I sit down and actually work out my 6 week schedule, I know the kids need to do around a certain number of lessons a week to stay on track. But it's still flexible. If they are behind a few lessons that term, then my whole year isn't completely shot. It's a give and take, and it really saves my sanity.

    So I don't really schedule out the whole year, I just make sure I'm not gonna be surprised at the end of the year that I should have done a particular curriculum 3 times a week on average rather than just 2.

    Even with my year-long rough plan, I'm completely sold on my 6-week scheduling system…but it took me 5 years to figure out that's what works for me!


  2. says

    As a new homeschooling mama (my oldest is in K), these tips are sure to be handy!! I'm struggling with finding that balance of what works for us, considering there are also a 3 and 1 year old in the scenario! I know each family is different, but it's nice to read what does/doesn't work for others so at least I have somewhere to pull from when making changes or figuring out what's best for us.
    .-= Laura V.´s last blog ..Pantry Challenge – part 2 =-.


  3. says

    That's a good post. I think it's also key to know your personality and how much planning works for you. I'm pretty relaxed, but we do school everyday, hitting all the basic subjects. I just don't "plan" out each lesson. We get in a habit and flow of it.

    But I have friends who are very structured and they need to plan things out really well. Mostly, after nearly 13 years of homeschooling, it's just being consistent (like in anything) that creates success. That, and learning to reassess and regroup when failure does occur or something just isn't working.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..My Favorites from 2009 and Foodie Goals for 2010 =-.


    Joy Reply:

    @Tiffany, "learning to reassess and regroup when failure does occur" — that is so well-said. I'm afraid so many new homeschoolers think that if they do enough research about homeschooling before they start, they'll get it right the first time. But homeschooling is more like a marriage; you can prepare for it, but the experience is where you really learn how to do things right.


  4. says

    As always, this post is so eloquent. :-) You have a gift with words.

    I agree that it's a matter of balance. And not just that but seasons. Sometimes you may need to be more rigid and other times more flexible (because of holidays, sickness, travel, whatever). And I also think it's wise to go with the child's ebb and flow. I mean, when she's super interested in writing, capitalize on that and do extra writing. Or when science seems to especially intrigue her, go off on that tangent, spending more time than normal on it. It will all balance out in the long run.
    .-= Jimmie´s last blog ..Independent Research Project — Pigeons =-.


  5. Tiff H. says


    I really love your website! I have found so much helpful info. and suggestions on here. Thanks so much for taking the time to create such a helpful blog!
    I used to stress out way too much about lesson planning myself. A friend suggested that I try sonlight.com. It is a literature based curriculum that already has the entire years lesson plans already planned out for you. This allows me to spend more time with my children and less time lesson planning. I don't have to worry if there are gaps in my lessons etc. I supplement the curriculum a bit to meet my budget and I use the library a good bit as well. The best part is that we are finished with our lessons in a few hours and can use the rest of the day to play, spend time together, or go on a field trip. I am not a spokesperson or employee of sonlight, but because of how positively it has affected my family.. I really try to tell my homeschooling friends about this program. Obviously it is not the best program for "everyone," but may be worth checking out..
    Happy New Year!! :O)


    Joy Reply:

    @Tiff H., Although I've never used Sonlight personally, I'm familiar with their program, and I actually use a lot of their curriculum elements in our own homeschool, like Horizons, Singapore, Story of the World, and the Genevieve Foster books. I've got several friends who use Sonlight and who are very pleased with them. You're definitely right; it is a great program.


  6. says

    What a great post and so perfect for the first day of 2010! I completely agree with the trap of planning too much. I've been homeschooling for 7 years now and it has taken me a LONG time to realize that I just can't get done everything I would like to get done with my children without completely overloading them and myself. Two big changes I made this school year have really helped me to get a lot more done in school with the children:
    1. We have severely limited our "out of house" lessons and field trips. We dropped two morning a week karate as all three of our children are on a USA swim team and practice 3-6 times a week depending on their age. We stopped taking art outside the home and participating in those great museum/zoo/nature center classes for homeschoolers.
    2. Fridays are light independent work days so that we have time to tie-up any loose ends from projects from the week and faithfully do art class in the afternoon. We are using Atelier Art Level 5 and I love it.

    Making these changes has allowed us to cover 2 big unit studies with many hands-on-projects so far and get started on a third, do some nature study, engage in a structured art program on a regular basis, an ongoing United States geography study, and Greek/Latin roots vocabulary study…in addition to their independent work in math and language arts.

    It took me a long time to realize that I just couldn't do everything I wanted to do in our homeschool. I've finally picked those things that are most important for us and am focusing on them.

    Thanks again for your realistic post!
    .-= Samantha´s last blog ..Christmas Party =-.


  7. says

    This is our 2nd year of homeschooling & the 1st year I tried to plan everything out ahead of time. I quickly learned though that things did not work out as I planned for.
    What I did learn is that each child learns differently, so there is no time line needed. Public schools teach everything by a timeline and if they don't grasp it then they just fall through the cracks. I teach both of my children lessons that are grade appropriate and sometimes even teach ahead of that. But if one of them doesn't "get" a certain lesson then we continue with it until they GET it. What was and still is the hardest for me is to realize that you don't have to follow that timeline or pattern that public schools have pounded into our heads. Take time, be patient and pick yourself up and try again if you fail. You can make it work!


    cjp Reply:

    @Jessica, Yessssssss this is the key, im not concerned with scedules, or finishing 36 wk curriculum by the end of ghe year, homeschool is just learning at home, the years are not separated they run together, we finish when we finish.


  8. says

    Um…actually after I buy my curriculum, I rarely plan anything else. We just finish one thing and move on to the next – and I've kept my sanity that way for the past 12 years! and hopefully will also graduate my 2nd son next year.


  9. says

    I believe I have covered all of those "failure bases," and probably more. The biggest failure I'm whacking over the head with a really big stick this year: failure to require accountability, which is somehow directly related to the fact that my children tend to disappear in my you-wouldn't-think-this-was-an-overly-huge-space-until-it's-time-to-track-down-children-to-do-schoolwork home. No more, I say—failure to report for duty will be henceforth met with drastic consequences.

    Next failure to conquer: failure to devise and implement consequences….
    .-= ashley´s last blog ..…and I didn’t even get the pink construction helmet…. =-.


  10. says

    I have to laugh! I have been known to overplan… hmmm, on a weekly basis. I am a self-proclaimed curriculum junkie. Some of my work 'BC' – before children – got me on the research kick and now I am hopeless. I love digging through new curriculum… but, I also know myself well enough to know where I leave off and the kids begin. I have gotten more adept at discerning what the kids are going to get value from. (The rest of it sits on by bedside table so I can go through it in secret after they go to bed:-) Cheers to you!
    .-= ProfessorMom´s last blog ..Carnival of Homeschooling – Jan. 5, 2010 =-.


  11. says

    Great post! I always plan my whole year out during the summer. I think the key is to find what works for your personality or to figure out ways to combat weaknesses by figuring out a way to turn them into a strength. The answer for me was to have a plan in place that I only did during a concentrate period time but leave lots of wiggle room. And it has gotten easier over the years to be diligent as I have gotten more practiced and my children have gotten older.

    I think another key is to not overly fixate on curriculum forgetting about the things that are really important…habits, routines, discipline, character and those sorts of things.
    .-= wayside wanderer´s last blog ..Bird-chirping Weather =-.


  12. says

    I feel like I over plan and then find out my daughter already knows what I'm planning to teach her (pre-K/K). She seems to learn by osmosis, and she does best when I don't sit and teach her at all, but just let her learn as she plays. I'm never sure if I should plan to teach her or let her teach herself!


  13. says

    I've probably done each of these in turn. I've also done #5 If you two programs that are both good and tempting, then mash them together and plan to cover everything in each of them, even though they each have more than a years worth to cover. If possible, you should also add selected elements of a couple other booklists as supplements.

    #6 If you have a basket of extra reference and living books on a subject, then plan that each child will read all of them. Don't just put them out to dip into or use as an extra taste for a child who gets ahead or as references for projects.
    .-= Sebastian (a lady)´s last blog ..Photography as Life Skill =-.


    Joy Reply:

    @Sebastian (a lady), I adore your #5 and #6, and YES, I've done BOTH of them before too! Maybe I should edit my post and add your great points too :)


  14. Kristy Rodriguez says

    What a great post!! To be honest, I was a little nervous to read this one. I HATE to fail, but failure is also the best teacher. I'm so thankful I read it.

    I was just thinking about balancing my home life and work life (I'm a ballet teacher) the other night. I have two boys (4 and 2), and I've been doing some preschool work with my oldest since he was 2 — as a way to find out if homeschooling would work for us. We definitely enjoy it, and I am SO thankful to be at home with my kids (sacrifices and all). Well, I'm still trying to find some type of balance. I LOVE to plan, and I've done the "one week at a time" scheduling and just burn myself out. Then, I've also tried the "let's just wing it," and that doesn't work either because I feel so lost. I'm so thankful to run across your blog today! It has given me hope and helped me set some realistic expectations for myself. Blessings to you and your family!!


  15. says

    I needed to read this today — thank you! I feel like I'm on a constant seesaw from one extreme to another. I'm a curriculum junkie too, and I have this great desire to teach my kids so many things. I can plainly see, though, that they do their best learning when I leave well enough alone! I'll have to try your six-week planning segments. I've already "failed" by doing all 4 things listed above, plus the two additional ones mentioned by one of the commenters, so there`s nothing more to lose, LOL.


  16. says

    Hi, Joy,
    Your post was at once humbling and encouraging. I'm a veteran homeschooler of eight years and still tweaking. I intend to share your Four Fails with a newer homeschooler who is struggling with getting a vision for her school.
    We use the Charlotte Mason-based Ambleside Online curriculum . It follows a trimester schedule of twelve week periods with a week following each term to review and do optional testing.
    I call that my "Catch-Up Week." It takes the pressure off when the unexpected happens. It proved its usefulness this winter when we got so disrupted by the snowstorms that plagued us in February. Thanks to using the Catch-up Week, I'm only a few days "behind" and I can live with that! After all, our local schools will be in session until JUNE 23rd to make it all up. Glad it's not US!
    Leslie's recent post… Weekly Wrap-Up


  17. Rachel says

    This was a great thing for me to read. I have gotten too far behind because of my lack of preparation. I didn't get a set curriculum, and I'm not organized enough, (apparently), to prepare everything that my kids need to know for their age. So now I'm at the point of ordering a curriculum that I think would be great for all of us, but it will put my oldest behind a grade. Not to mention, I still need to figure out what I'm going to do for the remainder of this year just to get caught up on their 'time' for the records. Any advise?


  18. says

    I've been really encouraged and blessed by reading your posts….This one, though was a little disheartening to me -especially the part about "planning too little." I would LOVE to have a schedule and stick to it. I would personally love to be about to achieve scope and sequence (I've already read that wonderful post!), but it's not about to happen.

    Our adopted daughter is very intelligent, but has some learning delays and "glitches", and she struggles very hard in some areas. It may take her an hour to do what another child might do in 15 minutes. What her little friend could do in an hour or two might take my daughter 4 hours or more.

    Sometimes (usually at least once a week), I stumble upon some major issue that I thought she had learned a year ago, but which apparently she's forgotten or never really understood. What many children seem to learn intuitively, like the fact that 5 is greater than 4, have been sources of great confusion for her. (We've had to go over the concept of "before" and "after" many, many times for instance.)

    With her, my sanity will only allow me to take things one day, or at most- one week- at a time right now. I never know where a "learning glitch" will appear and what form it will take and how much "extra" work we'll have to do to overcome it. I think having set lesson plans is good, but I think that for us (and maybe for families like us) planning a week in advance may be all we can aspire to. My goal is NOT to finish a pre-made curriculum or a book, per se, but to help her move forward to whatever end God has for her life. It may be college and it may not. God had to really work hard with me about this, but it has changed my modus operandi in many, many ways.

    I think we all have to use a lot of prayer in determining what we expect of our children, or we will start getting angry because self-imposed "goals" are not being met (and we blame either ourselves, or the child, or both).

    God bless you for your web-page.


  19. Marciana says

    Your list doesn't have what's been the most important thing of all on our homeschooling journey: Fail to celebrate the joy, the joy of learning, the joy of accomplishment, the sheer, overwhelming joy of watching your child learn and grow as a valuable, important part of God's creation.

    We've learning to seize the moment now: when that concept from history suddenly "clicks" and the pieces of the idea come together, we go with it. Google it, discuss it, read and write more about it. I love watching my son glow with pleasure as he absorbs new information and ideas.


    Joy Reply:

    @Marciana, Excellent point. Although, as you saw, my points were given in pairs: "Too little & too much".

    I think we often do too LITTLE celebrating of the joy of learning and watching them grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; but I'm not sure if we could really celebrate that too MUCH! :)


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