Homeschooling shouldn't be an uphill battle. If your child "doesn't want to learn," the problem may be what she's being taught. And if you're feeling overwhelmed by planning and grading lessons, chances are your kids aren't getting the most out of the experience, either.
I've found that you can make homeschooling happier for all of you by focusing on goals that make sense for your family. Don't worry too much about what your friends or neighbors say, or what you think a school or college is looking for. Students who are well-educated, well-adjusted, and self-motivated are always in demand.
To get started, make an honest assessment of your family's educational, emotional and social needs. Then set realistic goals that don't demand too much (or expect too little) from your children. And avoid parent burn-out with creative alternatives to doing it all yourself. Here are some factors to consider:
Your child's age, grade level and developmental stage
Many younger children -- up to second grade -- have a hard time with worksheets, even in the classroom. At home, you can create a learning environment that's more appropriate and varied as well as more fun.
Young children learn well simply through play and practicing life skills. Offer them a variety of interesting toys and real-life tasks to master, such as helping with the shopping list. Not only will it mean less prep time for you, it will also be easier than trying to keep an antsy six-year-old at a desk.
Middle school and older children can take on some or all of the responsibility for their own learning. Work with them to plan what they will cover and how they will demonstrate what they've learned. If they are responsible for doing assignments, create a list you can all access and have them check off completed items as they are done. Or make a regular time to sit down together and go over the work they've finished.
Don't forget that your kids can help each other. Ask the math whiz to explain fractions to a younger sibling. Have an older child keep an eye on the baby so you can work with the first grader. This is one way to bring family members closer and to give your kids a chance to feel competent and useful.
Your child's educational strengths and weaknesses
Your first priority should be to focus on areas where your children need extra help. Maybe they need some one-on-one teaching -- from you or a tutor -- to catch up in reading or master long division.
But don't neglect to seek out more stimulating opportunities in areas they enjoy or do well at. You can build their self-esteem by acknowledging their strengths. Give them a chance to stretch themselves and excel and they will rise to the challenge.
Your child's goals and interests
The more say you give your children in what they learn about, the more willing they will be to stick with it. Keep your kids' preferences in mind when looking at science or history topics. Let them select their own art, music, foreign language or sports. And let them pursue those interests, even if the payoff isn't obvious to you.
Your own goals for your child's education
At the same time, you'll be happiest if you feel your children are doing what you would like them to. It's OK to steer them towards new activities you think they might like, even if it takes some gentle prodding to get them started. But avoid pushing them to achieve your lifelong goals for you. Be realistic about who they are and what they can accomplish. And realize that you're often better off readjusting goals during times when you're away from home or under other special circumstances.
What you are willing and able to do
As the parent, you are a major force in keeping your family together. Make sure you're there for them when they need you. Find a homeschooling style that you can live with, and don't overextend yourself.
Resources available to you
You will be amazed at what you can find, even if you don't have a lot of money to spend. There are many alternatives to traditional textbooks. If something is beyond your budget, see if you can buy it used online or from other homeschoolers in your community, or find out if you can borrow it from your local library.
Whether there are other adults who can give you help and support
Some people are fine working independently. But almost everyone could use some support from other people in the same situation at some point in their life. Whether you're pining for relief from a toddler so you can work with your older kids, or a sounding board for your homeschooling efforts and discoveries, reach out to other adults for help before you become overwhelmed.
One good way is to offer to trade off with one or more other families. Take turns watching the kids, swap a meal for Spanish tutoring, or set up a carpool to swim class.
And don't neglect yourself. Find a running buddy, join a bookclub, or start a knitting circle with other moms. The camaraderie will help recharge your batteries and cheer you on when you need it most.