There will be times, as I say in the Breathing Lessons, when things go wrong. That perfect book you chose isn’t working, or that wonderful lesson plan falls quicker than Wile E. Coyote. or worse yet, the whole plan fails to produce the fun and exciting learning it promised. There’s no joy in Mudville when the mighty homeschooling strikes out. So, what do you do when things go wrong?
What to Do When Things Go Wrong
You really need to evaluate the situation first, to determine just what and how bad things are. Ask yourself the following:
How Wrong Are Things, Really?
Is it a bad day? A bit of a bad stretch? Or something worse? Sit down an see if you can pinpoint where things started going badly. If it was early on, then it probably is what you’re doing or how you’re going about doing it. If it is a fairly recent problem, then it may just be that you need to take some time off, regroup and try again later. (Later can be a day, a week, or an hour from now, by the way.) When things go wrong, and everything points to a specific point in time, maybe a little time off is all you need.
Is It Just Me?
You may have the biggest desire to use classic literature, or to study botany, or to teach your children the wonders of Gaugin’s art, but if they aren’t up for it, you’ll be fighting a losing battle from the start. You can sometimes win them over, but once a negative attitude rears its ugly head, it is often difficult to dislodge. If school, or certain lessons, have become a war zone every day, it may be time to rethink what you are doing or how. When things go wrong and everything points to an overeager teacher-parent, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate what you are teaching, how you are teaching it, and why you are teaching it.
Is It The Student?
Sometimes, your children simply aren’t ready to learn the subject at hand. I find this is most common in maths and science. They’re not ready mentally to tackle the more abstract and complicated thinking involved. Or they aren’t physically prepared – as can be the case with handwriting, art, music lessons and life skills – and so they are easily frustrated and flustered. This can lead to meltdowns, bad attitudes and a really bad day. When things go wrong and all the signs point to the student’s level of ability, it’s best to put the skill or concept on the back burner and let it go for a few months. Better late than early is often the case, as the later the learning comes, the better prepared the child will be, and the learning will happen quickly, easily and without problems.
Is It the “Stuff” You’re Using?
It may very well turn out that it is the books and/or other materials that you are using. A good way to test this is to try something else in its place for a while. If you’re using a classic text, try something a bit more modern. If you’re using nothing but texts, try something hands-on, or a field trip, or even a video. If you’ve been using nothing but non-fiction, no matter how literary, perhaps a bit of fiction or biography will do. If the new material is welcomed, and eagerly accepted, then you know where your problem lies. Now, how do you decide what to use instead? Here’s a few guidelines:
- Does it cover the same topics/time period? – If yes, or if a partial yes, give it a try.
- Is it age appropriate? – Again, if yes, or if easily adapted, give it a try.
- Is it a living book? – DO NOT substitute a bad living book for a “good” textbook, please. If a living book isn’t getting the job done, a dry text, no matter how good, is probably not going to have any more success.
- Does it fit your student’s learning style and your teaching style? – If yes, give it a try.
Finding an alternative can be as easy as a brief perusal of your library’s shelves. If you are desperate enough for something new, try the first thing you can get your hands on just to keep the learning moving forward. If things aren’t that bad yet, take your time and find a really good looking substitute. Many children, for example, don’t like This Country of Ours and I don’t blame them. I don’t like it, either. Personally, we used Helene Guerber’s two wonderful titles, The Story of the Thirteen Colonies and The Story of the Great Republic in place of TCOO. It takes about as long to read these two as most curriculum schedule TCOO for – 2 to 3 years, they cover the exact same time period, are for about the same age, and are also high-quality classic texts. We use them 6th and 7th, and then follow up with modern history in 8th grade. Now, you could read them aloud to younger children, and cover US history anytime in Years 2 through 4 with them. I just prefer to have them read these themselves, which is perfectly doable in the middle school years, as we use picture books for the most part, in those younger years.
Doing the Right Thing When Things Go Wrong
There’s really only one wrong thing to do when things go wrong – nothing. Doing nothing and allowing a bad situation to get worse is not an answer to anyone’s problems. Trying and failing is better. At least you tried. And by trying something new – be it a different time, a different book, a different approach – you may just hit upon the solution. Once you do that, you may have just the thing you need to avoid things going wrong in the future. Homeschooling when things go wrong is no picnic, but you can get rid of those pesky ants and bring life and light back into your homeschool with a little time, a little examination of the situation, and a little ingenuity!