What Successful Homeschoolers Know

We don’t start homeschooling in order to fail. In fact, no matter why each one of us ultimately chooses to homeschool, fear of failure is likely our number-one obstacle and difficulty. We want to homeschool successfully.

Fear of failure makes us choose the “safe bet” textbook program. Fear of failure keeps us up at night. Fear of failure – and judgment – filters what we say to friends and family.

Surely successful homeschoolers are out there. What are their secrets? If only we discover and implement their secrets, can we then guarantee success for our own efforts?

One reason why we might struggle so much with fear of failure is that we know what failure looks like (in fact, we can foresee a dozen ways it might happen), but we don’t have the same clear picture of what success looks like. All we know is that what happened today was not success. Successful homeschooling certainly wouldn’t have bickering, dawdling, complaining children – like ours. What can we do to solve these problems?

We are homeschooling to serve, love, and educate our children, preparing them to live a full, productive, godly adult life. That end result is our goal, but it’s a goal, a result, that is not fully in our hands. Having goals about what other people are going to be like twenty years hence is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.

Actually, the picture of our ideal graduate is a vision, not a goal. It’s the direction and the mission that guides our choices, and working toward it is our responsibility, but achieving it is outside our control. We are not in control either of our children’s lives nor of their spiritual state.

Your definition of homeschool success might be a picture of the perfect homeschool graduate, but instead of attempting to control what your graduate is like in the future, you need to actually control what you are like right now. Successful homeschooling is about faithful day-to-day operation, regardless of what God and our children do with our efforts. Our job, which we can successfully fulfill, is to educate and disciple our children. Successful homeschoolers realize their duty is about their own self-control, not about controlling future outcomes.

I’ve known and chatted with many mothers who homeschooled in the eighties and nineties, before homeschool curriculum and support had exploded into a huge market. The wisdom they shared with me, across the board, boiled down to three insights:

  • Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.
  • Curriculum works if you do.
  • Your children are not your own.

From experienced homeschool moms after their children were grown and gone, I learned that successful homeschooling is about daily faithfulness in doing the best we can with what we have, trusting God for the growth and increase.

This is not success on the world’s terms. It is fruitfulness and faithfulness on God’s.

Successful homeschooling is not about controlling the end result, but about faithfully doing the work we're called to each day.

Successful homeschooling requires discipline.

All homeschool mothers should memorize the motto: “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.”

We think of discipline in homeschooling as us making sure that the children are doing their work, and doing it well. That’s true, but it’s also true that such discipline of them also requires discipline of us. We don’t just set the expectations, provide the books, make the checklist, and then presume they will do the rest.

How often do you look at your own lists and decide to do this and not that? How often do you procrastinate until it’s too late, or tell yourself it’s too late to do the work you didn’t want to do?

It’s not that we have to set the perfect example for our children before we can expect them to do their work well. Nor do we excuse our children because we have excused ourselves. Rather, we recognize what this whole project of maturity really means and recognize that we are still works in progress, too.

Once we realize we still have maturing to do, we should connect the dots and not expect our children to come to full maturity while still in our homes. They, too, will continue to learn, grow, and mature into their thirties, forties, and fifties. This is true lifelong learning: not always gaining new knowledge, but continually gaining virtue and wisdom.

In addition to supplying the work and the checklist, we must also supply the accountability all humans need. We none of us work well on our own. We need to know someone else cares. We need someone else to see and acknowledge our work before it feels valuable and worthwhile.

Checking children’s work, whether it’s math or chores or narrations, is not a way of saying, “I don’t trust you, and I won’t believe you did the work until I see it with my own eyes.” Certainly, our attitude and tone can convey that message, and it shouldn’t – even if they have broken trust in the past. Instead, we are checking because we are interested in them and in the subject matter. We are checking to help. By putting our eyes on their work, we are giving their work significance and meaning.

If we don’t, we shouldn’t expect that they will, either. If we shirk our discipline, certainly they will as well. At the heart of the saying, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect” is the acknowledgement that our kids are not going to be more responsible than we are. Just as we can fool ourselves about our duties and shirk our work with plausible excuses, so can they. Their excuses might sound foolish and inexcusable to us, but that’s only because they’re less experienced than we are. Ours are just as foolish at heart. The children taking responsibility for their work begins with us taking responsibility for ours, and that includes caring enough to be attentive to them.

Successful homeschooling doesn’t mean the children never procrastinate, dawdle, shirk, or cheat. It means that as they experiment with these fallen-human methods of dealing with work, we disciple them into better habits and responses. We don’t assume they’ll never try to get out of their work and we don’t expect that dealing with it once is dealing with the trouble once and for all. Discipline is repetition. As we teach and guide our children, we realize we ourselves need the same discipline. We walk the road together, both growing in wisdom and maturity.

Successful homeschooling requires diligence.

Another homeschool mom motto worthy of repetition is “Curriculum works if you do.”

Successful homeschoolers don’t readily and frequently change their curriculum.

Sure, there are times to ditch a book and swap materials. However, that time is not anytime the going gets rough. The job of curriculum is to point the way, not make the way easy. The criteria of a good curriculum is not that it made learning fun and easy.

When we feel friction in our lessons, the curriculum can become the scapegoat and shopping for new options becomes our strategy for dealing with difficulty. Shopping therapy is not therapy at all.

It is our own diligence and discipline that contributes to successful homeschooling more than the books and curriculum. Curriculum is a tool. It is a help, but it’s not the blueprint and it’s not the artisan – and can never stand in for either. You need all three, and it’s the skill and perseverance of the artisan that produces something useful or beautiful or both.

As with the first motto, this second one reminds us that homeschooling requires our energy and attention. The goal isn’t to find the right formula and material to set everything on autopilot. Discipleship and diligence are required of us even more than either are required of our children.

Successful homeschooling requires detachment.

A final, much-needed homeschool mom motto is “Be impervious.

Because homeschooling is a relational method of education, where there is deep love and connection, there is a temptation to take every action and word of our children too seriously, to make too much of it. Moreover, because homeschooling often becomes our pet project and even our identity, there is a temptation to take every incident of the day personally.

We need to be able to readily and frequently take a step back and look at each scenario with perspective, with detachment. Learning and growing is a turbulent, stretching process that is not always nice and pretty as its happening. If we smooth over and prevent every difficulty, in the end we will find what we actually prevented was learning, wisdom, maturity.

Our identity is in Christ and walking faithfully with him, not in how any particular lesson is received or how any specific day went. If our identity is secure in Christ, we will not define ourselves and our value on what’s happening in our homeschool.

After all, our children are not our own. They are their own persons, with personalities and wills they themselves bear responsibility for. They are God’s children before they are ours. God is their Creator and before their own Creator will they stand or fall. Likewise, it is before our Maker we will stand or fall – for ourselves and not for others. Only Christ ever was a substitution. In his substitution, we individually stand.

We are not the potters, the shapers. We are the field workers. We’re here to do the work set before us, trusting to the Lord of the harvest for the fruit. He gives it; we don’t create it. We don’t even deserve it or earn it because the work and the ability to work is all from God himself and not from ourselves. He gets all the credit for all. We are only poor servants, doing what duties he allows us and then experiencing his abundance, not the harvest of our own designing.

Not only are our children not our own. We, too, are not our own. We were bought with a price and so we glorify God in our bodies, in our days, making he duties, the need for discipline and diligence, he has set before us into our delight.

Successful homeschoolers know that the results of their labors are in God’s hands, not their own. Whether they learned this from those who went before them, from hard-won experience and wrestling, from Scripture itself or from all three, it is the lesson of sanctification and humility.

Success in homeschooling is not an achievement that earns you the right to brag. Every long-time homeschooler with adult children will be more apt to tell you what not to do rather than what to do. They will share their mistakes and missteps and they will not have any magic or formula to share. They have learned humility and faith. May we, also.

Success in homeschooling is sanctification, and it is God’s work, not our own.

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