Homeschooling: My (Not So) Epic Failures

People always say you can learn a lot from mistakes. So, today, I give you some of my biggest homeschooling failures.

Arguing With My Children Over Schoolwork

There are lots of good reasons to argue with your children. If they are mean or disrespectful to others. If they are sneaky or disobedient. If they don’t do their chores. Arguing over school work is not a good reason. Learning should be fun and interesting. I wish I had been less critical of my children as learners and more critical about what I was expecting them to learn.

Pushing My Children to Read Before They Were Ready

There is a lot of misinformation and unrealistic expectations floating around the homeschooling community about how and when to teach a child to read. I knew better because, as a trained teacher, I was armed with the facts. I knew children would read when they were ready. But I set the facts aside and still forced every one of my children to try to learn to read before they were ready. How foolish of me!

Not Reading Aloud More to My Children

As my older children aged, we stopped doing so much reading aloud together. I regret that. Fondly referred to as “couch time,” we would settle in for long periods of reading great books together. These were sweet times and I feel the discussion that accompanied the reading was as instructive in its own way as the book itself. Today, we still have what we call “couch time” in our homeschool, but we use it as a means to an end, not the destination itself. It primarily consists of a quick devotional/Bible reading. I’ve often wondered if my younger children would have loved reading more if we had more read-aloud time together.

Participating in Too Many Co-op Classes When My Children Were Young

Young children do not need to be involved in co-op classes. Most have no academic needs that can’t be met by mom and dad and most have no social needs that can’t be met by family, neighbors, and church friends. Co-ops can be difficult places with expectations not your own. They can unnecessarily clutter your life. They have many of the negative qualities of traditional schools because they are full of immature people (children) trying to find their own place in a big group. I wish I had avoided co-ops with my children until they were at least in middle school, and maybe older.

Not Enforcing More Order and Discipline in our Home

As my children got older and my family larger, I relaxed expectations related to order and discipline in our home. That was a mistake. Children need order in their lives and they need to have personal disciplines. It’s our job as parents to help them understand, employ, and appreciate these life skills. I should have focused less on academics and more on building personal disciplines.

Expecting Curriculum to Make a Difference

I spent way too much time pouring over curriculum and trying to pick the best one for my children. I know now that there is very little difference from one curriculum to the next and most of it is to be avoided anyway.

Not Traveling More

Our family traveled more than most, but I wish we had done far more. Traveling to a new place, meeting new people, and trying new things are the best learning experiences a person can have. But, even more than that, traveling bonds families. If you ask my older children what they remember and love most about their childhoods, all of them will say travel. Our younger children don’t like travel as much as our older children, but I’m determined to try to instill more of that sense of wonder and excitement over travel in them in the next few years.

Not Going on More Fields Trips

Local field trips don’t pack quite the same punch as travel, but they are still far better learning experiences than textbook learning. Museums are great, but “real world” field trips are even better. Visiting work places are super learning experiences. And we have loved anything “experiential,” like trekking across local pastures for a picnic with llamas carrying our gear. We also like to try local favorite foods when we travel to another town. These are great times, but our lives get busy and I get lazy. It takes work to plan field trips and sometimes it’s just easier to stay home. I really want to do more field trips and travel this year.

Starting Formal Academics Too Early

You can’t have read my blog of late and not seen this one coming. None of my kids did long days of formal school lessons even whey they were high school students, but the older ones still did far too much at too early an age. I tried to limit formal school lessons to the practical, but I misjudged how early my kids would need to learn certain things. Children do not need to do 12 years of math to get ready for the college entrance exam and the one math class they will have to take in college. They do not need to do 12 years of grammar/English mechanics to learn to remember to put a period at the end of a sentence when they are 18 years old. Most of the years we spent focused on these kinds of things were a colossal waste of time.

Having said all of this, it’s amazing how great my kids turned out and how special I still feel our homeschool is. But that’s the nature of homeschooling: No matter how much you mess it up, children still learn — if they are living and learning in warm, loving, safe environments. Their brains continue to function, their minds still work, and their inspiration and confidence levels are rarely affected. Homeschool families can put bad days behind them and move on to better days with barely a blink of the eye.

Until Next Time…Be Fearless.




Coffee Chat: Walt Disney World

(*Note: From time to time, I deviate from education and homeschooling topics on this blog and write about other subjects that interest me. These blogs are titled “Coffee Chat.”)

My family recently ventured to Orlando, Florida for a Walt Disney World vacation. Even though we have visited quite often, I still took the time to study the Disney web sites and pick the brains of my friends in order to better prepare for our trip.

Upon returning, I thought it would be fun to write my own advice column on how to visit Disney. I’m not much of an expert and I don’t have any underground information to share, but it’s always helpful to gain another person’s opinion on how to visit Walt Disney World. Here’s my tips:

Visit Disney World during low crowd periods…or don’t go at all.

Did you know the crowds at Disney can double from one day to the next and quadruple from one month to another? Large crowds will seriously devalue your tickets and possibly destroy your Disney experience. Find a way to go at the right time.

Everything you need to know about when to visit Disney World and which days to visit which parks is readily available on the Internet. Only veteran Disney guests should ever consider visiting Disney during the summer months or on peak weekends…and only under duress (if it’s the only time that works for your family).

The best month to visit Disney World for low crowds is September. The weather is still a bit hot, but you will enjoy moving around the parks at your own speed and visiting your favorite attractions as many times as you want. Due to sports’ schedules, our family can no longer visit Disney in September so we chose May this year. May is a low month at Disney, but September is still far better.

Set the alarm and get to the parks WAY before the gates open.

This is another piece of advice that most people know, but don’t take seriously enough. Visitors need to be standing in line waiting to walk through the entry gate 20-30 minutes ahead of the park opening. When the gates open, take off for the most popular attraction first. All the early risers are heading for the same attraction, but most will be about 10-20 minutes behind you because they weren’t at the front of the entry line. They will continue to be 10-20 minutes behind as you visit the second and third most popular attractions. If you follow this plan, you can visit all the big attractions during the first 2-3 hours the parks are open. After this, you should be able to relax and enjoy the rest of your day at the parks with very few lines to contend with.

Take every advantage of all the planning and execution tools available to you.

I already mentioned all the Disney planning websites available to you. These are golden. They will tell you what week to visit, which days to visit which parks, which ones to avoid when it rains, best places to eat, every detail you could possibly need to know.

In addition, you need to download the Disney application, “My Disney Experience,” to your cell phone. There are many things you can do with this official Disney application, but we used it primarily to see wait times at rides and attractions (it refreshes itself instantly) and to reserve Fastpasses.

The system of Fastpasses is something you need to familiarize yourself with PRIOR to your vacation as it can help neutralize the negative effects of the large crowds. Generally, you can select three Fastpasses per day. Sometimes you can select additional Fastpasses once you finish your first three, if there are still reservations available.

If you are visiting Disney during medium or peak months, you should select your Fastpasses WEEKS ahead of time. If you do not, the most popular reservation times for each ride will be taken and it will affect your ability to plan your day the way you want. If you visit when there are fewer crowds, you can generally reserve your Fastpasses the week of your trip, although reservations for newly-opened attractions can still fill up fast.

There are any number of strategies that can be used to make best use of the Fastpass system. For our family, we like to reserve Fastpasses for the most popular rides during the peak afternoon hours. That way we can hit these rides first thing in the morning without Fastpasses and then return for a second visit in the afternoon.

If the budget allows, stay on Disney property and reserve a premium Disney dining experience.

Staying on Disney property will improve your Disney experience significantly, but it’s expensive and, therefore, may not make sense for your family. We have done it both ways and, if the budget allows, I would pick staying on site. In addition to having free transportation to every place you want to go on Disney property and having extended hours to visit the attractions, you can also go back and forth between the parks and your accommodations during the day. You can also do this if you are staying near the parks, but it’s going to take you much more time and also cost you $17 every time you want to park your car at Disney.

If you visit Disney during low-crowd seasons, you will finish visiting the ride attractions by the end of the afternoon or early evening each day. But spectacular evening shows await. If you stay on Disney property, you can return to your accommodations for dinner and then make a second visit to the parks in the evening.

Keep in mind, the “value” accommodations at Disney World are more like Motel 6 than they are like Holiday Inn. They are clean and themed, but are bare-boned and flooded with people. If you desire more and the budget allows, you might want to consider “moderate” or “deluxe” accommodations.

     Disney resort dining is also something I recommend should you have a budget that allows it. The experience is costly, but memorable, and can be a highlight of your vacation. Do your research on this one too. The best restaurants are not located within the parks, but at the Disney resorts. Check out the many Disney web sites for tips on how to choose a restaurant based on your food tastes and the kind of dining experience you are seeking.

If you dine at a resort on the lagoon, make sure you head to the water at dusk to watch the Disney Light Parade. Boats parade by with their thousands of twinkling lights set to music. It’s a dose of Disney magic, for sure.

If you’ve “been there, done that” at Disney, check out Sea World and Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure on your next visit to Orlando.

Disney lovers can completely miss the fact there are two other wonderful parks in Orlando – Universal Studios (and its’ sister park—Islands of Adventure) and Sea World. While not quite as magical as Disney, the attractions at Universal Studios are more state-of-the-art and impressive, and there are far more thrills at Islands of Adventure. Although I enjoy Universal Studios more than Islands of Adventure, “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Islands of Adventure is a marvel and not to be missed. Nothing at Disney can rival it.

For those who appreciate a much slower pace, Sea World is a good choice. And, with a handful of thrill rides included, Sea World has enough fun and excitement to keep the teens happy too.

Until next time…Be fearless.