When Homeschooling Goes Bad

sign_slow_15_mph_000_0080Is your homeschool havin’ a bad, bad day? Every day? I’m not going to say it’s okay or that you should just be calm and relax about it. I don’t relax much about anything. Ha! No way! I’m a constant problem solver.

But I am going to say, “You’re not alone!” Oooh, doesn’t that feel nice? You’re not alone! I’ve had my share of bad homeschooling days. All of last year was a bad homeschooling dream. I remember Googling homeschooling blogs to see what other moms did when they had a toddler underfoot. What I walked away with was, “It’s okay, Sugar. Your kids will learn. Being together, happily singing, babysitting, and doing housework is more important than fretting.”

Just like I can’t sit with too many bad homeschooling days, neither can I chill like that. Here’s my top five suggestions for dealing with a homeschool gone bad.

1. Change up the curriculum: It’s not “the best” curriculum, but it works for us.

Who has TIME to use Susan Wise Bauer’s First Language Lessons? Or Charlotte Mason’s “living books” idea to teach?  I think it was another life (the vision is cloudy, but more like ten lives ago, actually) when I cozied up on the couch with two little angels (er, maybe it was another universe) flanking me on either side to read aloud. Twenty lives ago we used to cut and paste crafts and lapbooks. Maybe that wasn’t me at all! Maybe that was some pretty dream I had thirty lives ago!

With four kids, our curriculum needs have changed. Whether I like it or not, whether the kids like it or not, we have to move towards each child, young ones included (you should see our baby clean toilets!), doing more independent work. I feel like some of my homeschooling ideals have been compromised because I teach less, but since my top ideal is a lifelong love of learning, we’re safe. That’s intact.

I’ve had to mostly ditch my self-designed, teacher led spelling curriculum for my third daughter, who is an exceptionally motivated young student. My choice? An Evan Moore spelling workbook. Is it “the best” workbook? No. Is it “the best” spelling program? No. Will she be a fine speller? Yes. And I don’t have time to do all that spelling jazz, nor does she need me to.

We’ve ditched Institute for Excellence in Writing for a time, maybe a very long time. I just couldn’t get read up on the lessons anymore to assign them their work. So I found some journal writing prompts on-line and now they write these several times a week, while I check it for grammar. It’s my Institute for Sanity in Writing.  (Interestingly enough, this has been lots of fun! Their creativity has taken off, and they often let me be privy to some very deep, personal thoughts and dreams!)

Other things I’ve done in our curriculum include: not trying to do too much grammar and writing at the same time, taking breaks from Saxon math for focused worksheets, covering less subjects at a time.

2. Put your third hand down: The phone. The phone. The phone is on fire.

The phone. The phone. The phone. You know it. I know it. We’re both looking sheepish. The phone must go. Set it on “do not disturb” and check it at set times each day. Yes, it feels good to be needed. It is fun to get hot news off the press. Heart lifting to hear from an old friend. But I’m pretty sure the phone has killed more grooving homeschool lessons than there are dust mites in my pillow. (That’s a lot. Since we have allergies, we use dust mite protective cases, wash them on sanitize, and dry them on hot. Unrelated. Sorry. My husband says I always share too much information…but maybe it will help you?)

3. Schedule appointments in the afternoon: “No. I can’t come to that appointment! Do you have a three o’clock?”

I’ve finally accepted that any appointments need to be in the afternoon. That was bitter for me to swallow, because I like to get the early appointments when the doctor may still be on schedule. I thought by getting the appointment in the morning, we’d get it over with and school would rock on. It never happened that way. I’ve found it best to keep our morning schedule (that’s when we do “the hard stuff”) the same and fiddle with the afternoon schedule. School goes well that way, and we get our appointments in.

4. Find some childcare or housework help: “Get the baby off the top of the refrigerator!”

Last year, I struggled through the year with a toddler. It was not a new experience for me. I have four kids; I’ve taught with a toddler underfoot before! Of course, I didn’t like it then either, BUT at least then I was not trying to teach algebra, long division, and more advanced writing skills.

My toddler can be so loud and obstinate when she knows what she wants. And she wanted her sisters! This didn’t work well for my distractible child, who couldn’t focus with the toddler’s screaming, or my bleeding heart child, who hated to hear the screaming from the pack-and-play (where the toddler goes when she won’t stop fussing). I just couldn’t win.

It wasn’t working. Not for me. Not for the kids. Not for the toddler. So I got help this school year. I know we can’t all afford help, but any help will do. If you can find a way for someone to keep the toddler busy so you can teach the others for even an hour without an interruption, you’ll feel so much better! A woman from church? Another homeschooling pre-teen? Swapping kids back and forth with a homeschooling friend; she takes your littles one day so you can teach the bigs and vice versa. Or even having someone come in and do a load of laundry for you or prep some meals.

With the help, our school is feeling nice again. I actually have time to print off some worksheets from the internet. I have time to write down a lesson plan. I have time to drill flashcards. If you can, get help. Then, you can breathe. Breathing helps. Breathing is good. Trust me. (And here you’ve been wondering why you’d been feeling so bad… 🙂 )

5. Get some real help: You can’t do it alone and there’s a lot at stake!

Sometimes, more than you need help with laundry or impetuous, climbing, dangerous-to-themselves toddlers, you need help understanding and relating to one of your emerging older children. The anger outbursts, the seemingly laziness, the insolence–it’s overwhelming you and completely impeding learning. (Read here and here and here for my take on dealing with adolescents. Oh, and here when they say they hate you…)

Sure, sending them away to school is an option. It’s the option of least resistance, which does NOTHING to change coping mechanisms that are being set FOR LIFE.  Or does nothing to change your mechanisms which have been set and need changed so your family can live harmoniously together. As much as we like our friends and we need them, it is the family unit which all so much crave to have intact and at peace.

Don’t be afraid to get professional counsel. Alcoholics, borderlines, depressives, manic depressives, abusive adults—they don’t happen overnight. They happen with the pressures of life. Give yourself and your kids a chance to learn new coping skills when you see they’re needed. Ask a pastor or counselor for professional help!


You can do it! I ran out of time for more, but leave your best tips in the comments for others to learn from!

And also, if you decide you simply can’t do it, then don’t be silly and beat yourself up! There are tons of things you can do that I can’t! It’s what makes life fun! Do your best and learn when to let go! Now, go hug your kids today. Mine are milling in the kitchen, so I’m off this box!


Image credit: This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Betacommand. Found on Wikipedia.

10 thoughts on “When Homeschooling Goes Bad

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    Do you mind sharing the list of journal-writing prompts? Instead of hiring a person (I know from experience with my deeply-introverted self that another person in the house doesn’t help me), I have outsourced my kids’ math and language arts to online EPGY courses via Stanford University. It’s a different way of hiring help, and it works very well for us. I’m not a fan of my kids spending time with glowing screens, so I have specifically white-listed only the exact URLs they need to access EPGY, so they can’t accidentally see garbage. I also limit them to 30min math, 20min language arts per school day. They are a minimum of one grade level “ahead” in each subject, with very little input from me. With six kids aged 10-and-under (typing this with my thumb while I nurse the 4-month-old), we spend the majority of our time on free (back yard) play. I want to do more (they beg me to teach them to spell!) but I can’t right now.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I was just told last night that they don’t like the writing prompts I printed off because they are written for school kids (even though I think they translate just fine…). So, I Googled while replying here.

      This site has several posts of prompts! http://www.homeschoolantics.com/tag/writing-prompts-for-kids/
      Here are some cute ones too: http://jennsraq.com/

      Here is someone’s post with a list of sites to go to for prompts: http://benandme.com/2014/08/best-sites-for-writing-prompts.html

      These are downloadable and incorporate some drawings (they seem geared for young): http://homeschoolden.com/2014/11/13/40-journal-writing-prompts/#comment-88010

      I am really lucky, as my friend (who helps me) takes the youngers to her house for 2-3 hours in the morning. (Last year, a few times, I had someone watch the baby in the house. That didn’t work.)

      I looked at the EPGY courses you mentioned just now. Are you really happy with it? Is it spendy? Do they get personal interaction with someone? This year is the first year I’ve truly outsourced anything via computer. I enrolled my daughter (seventh grade) in Lively Latin. (We’ve had the curriculum and was working through it too slowly for me.) It has been a treasure. I recommend it.

      It sounds like you have a good system in place. The outside yard playing sounds so nice! I constantly remind myself that kids will learn and to not be uptight about it—yet I fight the vision I’ve had for years of how I wanted my kids to learn and what I wanted them to learn.

      Many, many blessings on you and your family! I read a little time back about John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, who had 19 children. She used to pull her apron over her head to signify to her kids to leave her alone, she was taking time alone with God! I thought of that when you mentioned introversion, typing with thumbs, nursing, and homeschooling with six! 🙂 I hope your year goes GREAT!


  2. Simple Days Making for Exciting Adventures

    I love your list! -PUT DOWN THE PHONE. OMG. I think this should go for all jobs and all parents. -Appointments and activities have to be later in the day. Duh. Yep, it took me six years to figure this out. This is the first year that I have put all appointments AND classes in the afternoon. It has changed our lives. -Help. The help piece, I am still working on. However, it is definitely a work in progress. -Curriculum. Less is more. I found this out at the Taproot Teacher Training this year. So far, it is working.
    My other thought is that its ok to have an “off” year. Not all years can be that way, but it happens. Life happens. Even if the kids are in school, having a new baby or an illness in the family will affect them and they will have an “off” year.
    We need more blogs with real life situations. I know that I write a lot about the good stuff, but I try to mix in the reality of life too. 🙂 Maybe we need a REAL WORLD-Homeshool style

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Yep, yep! Thanks for the encouragement there for me too. It’s okay to have an “off” year. That was our last year. That would be the year that taught me why homeschoolers decide it’s just not going to work for them. 🙂

      And yep, yep! Real! Real school. Real life. Real food. Well prepared.

      Hope your weekend is going great!


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