No one sets out to fail at anything. Failure is never intentional. Yet, many fail at homeschooling—sometimes without even knowing why. One of the best ways to learn is from the mistakes of others. It’s less costly—much less—than learning from our own mistakes.
We should first define failure. Failure is not being completely unsuccessful. If your child gets a 55% grade on his Algebra test, he was not a complete failure. In other words, he didn’t get a zero. He did some things right, just not to a level that showed adequate learning.
Here’s our working definition. Failure - not accomplishing to an acceptable standard.
That begs another definition; what is an acceptable standard?
We might look to the standards of those around us. What standards are realized in our public schools? How about the local Christian schools? Maybe the prep schools?
How we determine standards (for students) at Veritas might be helpful. There are three:
1. What have historic standards been?
2. What are the international standards?
3. What are God’s standards? (Col. 3:23-24, Matthew 25:14-30)
Acceptable standard – a level of accomplishment that would be found average or better by an informed objective analysis.
After more than 20 years and working with tens of thousands of families in the homeschool community we’ve compiled a list of the top seven reasons homeschools fail to meet an acceptable standard.
1. Inadequate structure, poor organization - failure to establish goals
What do you hope to accomplish homeschooling your child? By when? Have you mapped out the year? Then, each week? Do you have a daily schedule with allotted times for each discipline?
This failure is a comprehensive one. You wouldn’t be alone in it. Even most schools administrators stumble over the question, “What do you hope to produce?”
“People with goals succeed because they know where they're going.” - Earl Nightingale
2. Not Adapting to How A Child Learns
We don’t all learn best in the same way. There are four different types of learners, the VARK Model; visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. If our child learns best through a hands-on, kinesthetic approach and we keep telling her to go read a literature book for two hours we are not teaching to her strength. Or, if our six-year-old son learns best from hearing and we never read to him, we may be holding him back.
The point is there is not a one-size fits all approach. Some of the greatest failures in public education were the greatest minds of recent history. They didn’t fit the narrow mold. People like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Charles Dickens and Henry Ford to name a few.
All children should be expected to develop in all four learning types, but we must recognize their strengths, too, and teach to them.
Here are some links to help identify the type of learner you’re dealing with:
3. Switching Curriculum Constantly
Imagine a recipe that works well with baking flour, but now you choose to use almond flour. The change in ingredients may work, but it may not due to the difference in the properties of the two types of flour. Or, image you started pouring concrete for your new driveway and ran out of material. Would you finish with asphalt?
It’s like that if we are constantly changing curriculum. Even if two curricula are very good, switching from one to the other can prove disastrous. There may be gaps—a huge problem, there may be overlaps—an inefficiency.
Not all changes are bad. Changing from a bad curriculum—and there are many out there—to a great one is to be commended. It just has to be done carefully and thoughtfully, not to mention as infrequently as necessary.
4. You can’t teach what you don’t know
You will never hear of my wife teaching Algebra. Not only does she not know it well, she lacks the ability to discern where or how a student is failing to learn. That doesn’t make her a bad teacher—she’s a phenomenal one. She’s just not an upper level math teacher.
Many think we can send the student to the book to do on their own and they’ll learn fine. The problem is the curriculum can’t know if they “got it”, if they understand. If we don’t know our children got it, we could be setting up a future problem. It might be much later, but if their learning is built on concepts not adequately learned there will be problems.
5. Using tools not intended to be complete (supplements, apps, KHAN?)
We recently released an app called The Phonics Museum. Amazingly, there is no other app that systematically takes children from no letter recognition and not reading or writing to being fluent readers with complete letter recognition. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on creating fun, albeit just supplemental tools.
Many cost-conscious homeschoolers use learning tools because they’re free of inexpensive. The problem is not knowing if the tool can be trusted to cover the entire discipline in a well-organized, thorough way. Parents must know they can trust the product or know the discipline so well that they can fill in, where needed. Very few can do the later and it’s a big reason for failure.
6. Expecting to educate in too little time
When much younger, one of our children was talking to a child in our neighborhood. The neighbor liked homeschooling because it “only took one hour each day.” My son responded, “Not with my mom. We start at 8:00 and sometimes don’t finish until 5:00.” Maybe a child’s exaggeration, maybe not.
Educating takes time. A good education will not happen in one or even two hours per day. Schools have some natural inefficiency that homeschools don’t. You can accomplish more academically in less time than a school can. When you’ve determined what your goals are (see #1 above) you can more easily determine the time it will take.
Teaching is a full-time job. Cleaning, cooking, etc. are another full time job. Something needs to give so you don’t kid yourself about the time needed.
7. There’s always tomorrow
This reason is a cousin to #6. Our kids must have clean clothes, they need to be fed and the house needs to be kept clean. All three will be noticed if they aren’t attended to. Skipping a math lesson or a writing exercise isn’t as observable by spouses or friends.
It may take months or even years for procrastination to cause our failure. But, if it does, it will always be time lost that can’t be completely recovered and it can produce a great failure.
You may be a veteran or you may be just venturing in. In either case you want to succeed. We’ve helped thousands and we’ll gladly help you. Give us a call.
Marlin Detweiler is the president of Veritas Press. He and his wife, Laurie, will be speaking at three of the Great Homeschool Conventions (Greenville, Ft. Worth, and Cincinnati) this summer. One of Marlin’s talks at each convention will be elaborating on “The Top Seven Reasons Homeschoolers Fail” and will speak on “Five Things All Successful Students have in Common.” Laurie plans to speak on “Debunking the Myth of the Supermom” and “The Distracted Child.” They also plan several in-booth workshops.