Teaching your kids is a big responsibility, but you don’t have to let the fear of failure keep you from doing it well. Hear guidance from HSLDA blogger Jessica Cole—on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat with your host Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: My guest today is Jessica Cole. She’s a homeschool mom and a guest author on the HSLDA blog. Jessica, welcome to the program.
Jessica Cole: Hi, Mike, thanks for having me.
Mike: Oh, you’re welcome. Tell us a bit about your homeschooling journey. Why did you decide to start homeschooling and how did you get started?
Jessica: Well, in my case, homeschooling was a pretty natural choice. I had Mike and Vicki Farris as my parents, and being taught at home myself you could say that I was a little biased towards homeschooling from the beginning. But even as I got older and got married and started having kids I really did see for myself why it’s a great choice and why I wanted it for my own kids.
That’s not to say the choice was entirely easy. To be honest, as my oldest daughter got closer and closer to school age I kind of started to panic, because I’m not naturally a very organized person and, well, I had days where I was excited about starting. I also had days where I was pretty convinced I was completely going to mess things up. But as with a lot of things in life you just have to start by putting one foot in front of the other, so that’s what I did and it’s going well so far.
Mike: Well that’s great advice. Now as a homeschool graduate yourself, what are some your biggest surprises as you homeschool your own children?
Jessica: I think the biggest surprise was just realizing how much hard work goes into teaching. You know, as a kid you don’t really stop and think about all the time your parents put into it, for planning out your curriculum and then teaching you, correcting your work and then doing the same thing for all your siblings and then taking care of all their other responsibilities.
Basically, parenting in general is a lot harder than my parents made it look. But on the hard days, I’m so thankful I can look back at their example and see that their patience and perseverance paid off in the end.
Mike: In one of your blog posts you encourage parents to recognize that failure is natural part of learning. Why is this so important?
Jessica: I think this is an important concept for adults and children alike, especially for those of us who tend to be perfectionists. Nobody likes to make mistakes, but we have to recognize that every new challenge is going to come with some level of failure. You’re not going to learn to walk without falling down sometimes, you’re not going to learn to ride a horse without falling off sometimes. So of course you’re not going to learn math or spelling or any other subject without some mistakes.
We might avoid failure more often if we stay inside our comfort zone all the time, but that’s not how we learn and how we grow.
Mike: So Jessica, how do you combat perfectionism in your own approach to homeschooling?
Jessica: Well, first I have to remember not to be too much of a perfectionist myself. I often get intimidated by new challenges and just want to stay in my comfort zone where I can be safe from embarrassing myself, but I know I need to be bold enough to tackle these challenges instead of hiding from them. I’m setting the example for my kids, after all, and I want them to be able to grow and learn to be more confident.
And when I make mistakes I need to be better about shaking it off and keeping on going. In my post I used the example of learning to ride a horse, and no matter how many times you fall off you just have to keep getting back on and trying again. So when my kids have these issues dealing with perfectionism in their schooling I just try to encourage them as best I can with the same things I often have to tell myself.
Mike: Jessica, you clearly enjoy homeschooling but you’ve also talked about the challenges it presents, and I’m sure many of our listeners can relate to that. What advice or encouragement do you have for homeschooling parents that are facing these challenges?
Jessica: You know, I think many of us may have pretty idealistic notions of what it means to be a homeschool parent. I know I do anyway. I tell myself that a good homeschool mom would be able to get her kids through all their schoolwork in the morning, then get the house sparkling clean, serve a gourmet meal for supper, get the kids to bed early, and finish up the day by sewing a quilt. But, of course, my day looks more like me running around like a chicken with his head cut off and just being thankful that nobody died.
I definitely don’t have it all together and while I want to keep improving, it does encourage me to know that I’m not alone. That’s why I’m really enjoying participating in the HSLDA blog. I can hear from other homeschooling parents about their challenges and how they’re working on them or what they’ve learned, and it allows me to share the same.
So for those facing challenges I would just start by saying that you’re not alone. Next I would say that instead of focusing on the challenges or getting down on yourself, try to focus on the positive. Even in the times where is seems that everything is going wrong, there is always something that is going right. And while you may not be doing so great in one area you’re probably really strong in another area that you may not even realize. None of us have it all together but we all have gifts we can use and wisdom we can share with others.
Mike: You’ve compared parenting to planting seeds in a garden. Now what do you mean by that?
Jessica: Well, this thought struck me as I was planting our little garden this year. My husband had spent hours prepping the soil and then I spent hours making little rows and planting the little seeds. I got done and I thought, “Okay, now it’s time to see some growth.” And then it hit me that I wouldn’t see anything for another week or two at least.
Parenting is a lot like that: you can put a lot of effort into it and it may seem like nothing is really happening for a while. You may get discouraged or think you’re doing something wrong, but most things don’t just happen overnight. And even though it may look like nothing is happening, there may be more going on under the surface than we realize.
Mike: Well, can you give us some examples of that from your own experiences?
Jessica: The example that sticks out most to me is working through my youngest daughter’s severe separation anxiety. She had a pretty intensive surgery as an infant and I think like many kids who go through this, she developed a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder and she would essentially go into hysterics any time I left her sight.
We tried working with her but it was slow-going and it was really tiring and discouraging to feel like we weren’t making much progress. It took a lot of patience and hard work, but eventually we were able to see the results and now it’s hard to remember what it was like before.
Mike: Well, Jessica, I think we all agree that patience is such an important part of being a parent, I mean, you have to have it right?
Mike: Jessica, you’ve told us about some of the challenges you’ve faced with homeschooling, now tell us what you’ve enjoyed the most about homeschooling.
Jessica: I think what I’ve enjoyed most about homeschooling is that I get to be the one to introduce my kids to all sorts of new things. Of course, most of them are not new to me, but it’s always fun to watch my kids discover new things and watch their interests blossom. I wouldn’t normally slow down and figure out what type of cloud that is overhead or watch a bee collecting nectar, but when I’m with my kids discovering this for the first time, it’s new and it’s exciting and seeing them get excited helps me appreciate it more too.
I also get to share things with them that I find really interesting and that’s always fun to watch them get excited about those with me.
Mike: Jessica, what advice do you have for our listeners who are thinking about homeschooling or are just starting to homeschool?
Jessica: I think my advice would be not to let the idea of teaching your kids intimidate you, after all as a parent, you’ve been teaching your child new things since birth, so this isn’t really that different.
And as much as we can stress out about making sure they get good grades, I really don’t think that’s the most important thing, especially in the early elementary years. I think sometimes we burn our kids out when we try to drill a bunch of facts into them, but when we foster a thirst for learning, that’s when they really take off. So watch for their interests and capitalize on those.
Of course, they won’t like everything and they don’t have to, but one of the beauties of homeschooling is that we can tailor the focus of the teaching to fit the child and help to keep them more interested. Children are naturally curious and I think they learn best when we’re really developing and channeling that natural energy.
Mike: Thank you for those insights, Jessica, and thanks for joining us this week. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the program and until next time, I’m Mike Smith.