I love being a homeschool mom. I have dreamt of teaching my own children since I was a child myself. I would love to tell you this means our homeschool days are always happy.
Much as I love our simple homeschool days, they are far from perfect. My kids are not angels, and they certainly don’t have an angel for a teacher. Some days we battle bad moods all morning. Other days, everything is running at least an hour late and everyone suffers the tension it causes. Sometimes the material just seems way too difficult. Every once in a while, someone ends up in tears.
Learning should be fun, but a few tears don’t necessarily make the whole homeschool adventure a horrible failure. In any good pursuit, there are likely to be a few tears spilt along the way. What I want to do as a homeschool mom is understand the reason behind the tears so that I can seek wisdom to help us overcome them.
My oldest is in third grade. As my children grow and face harder concepts than trying to distinguish between an adjective and adverb, I’m sure we’ll face new challenges. But at this young stage, the tears seem to fall for one of three reasons: exhaustion, concepts that are too hard, and unclear expectations.
Tears in homeschool
When the tears fall because of exhaustion
Have you ever started a Monday morning with high hopes of a productive day only to have one child after another break down in tears over the most trivial things? And then you remember that they stayed up way too late all weekend because of family activities? And that at their ages they probably need a nap even more urgently than they need to finish their math lesson?
Though I don’t like the idea of postponing school because we are worn out from playing too hard, some days plowing through is an all-around terrible idea. One of the beauties of homeschooling is getting to be flexible. For us, it mean keeping a good pace most days so we can slack off a little without falling behind when naps are urgently required.
When the tears fall because expectations aren’t clear enough
I have pretty clear expectations of how our school day should go. The trouble is, I’m not always great at making my expectations clear to the kiddos.
Ever since we formally started school, we begin our day by reciting the Apostles Creed and singing a song together. It only takes about two and a half minutes, and I thought it would be such a great way to start our day on a happy note. But my goodness the wiggles and whines! Usually at least one person was heart-broken about being pulled away from the Legos to start school. Not even five minutes into our day, we were off to a bad start already!
Then I realized it wasn’t really my children’s fault. The blame rested squarely with me, because I hadn’t made the expectations clear. Once I clearly laid out expectations (and added an incentive), everyone was happier! It’s amazing the difference clear expectations and a chocolate chip make.
When the tears fall because the subject is too hard
Children’s minds are simply amazing. Just because they are young, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of learning a lot. We are part of a vibrant weekly classical academy that constantly challenges and inspires the kids. They have explored hands-on science, learned dozens of poems by heart, and are blossoming little bookworms.
Sometimes though, one of them bangs up against a concept or problem that seems impossible to them. Try as they might, they just cannot figure it out. Their eyes glaze over as a little tear drips down their face. Or, they loudly wail, “I CANNOT do this! It’s WAY TOO HARD!”
My mind is really torn when it comes to things that are “too hard.” On the one hand, I want my children to love school. Charlotte Mason had a lot of wisdom when she encouraged homeschool parents, “If your child gets bored or overwhelmed with a subject, move on to something else as quickly as possible. Come back to it when they are ready.” (paraphrased)
On the other hand, Tiger Mom makes an excellent point, “nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.” Usually we learn to love something once we are good at it.
I had a firsthand experience with this a few months ago. Rose was supposed to write a very simple “article” from an outline. When I told her it was time to write, she sat at the table with her basic outline in front of her, twirling her pencil in her hand. “Mama, I just can’t do this!” she said, frustration heavy in her voice.
I was really torn. Part of me wondered if she was right. Maybe I was expecting too much. But I also didn’t want to encourage her to quit, so I said she needed to write the first two sentences and that I could giver her some prompts if she needed them.
A few tears trickled down her face as she put pencil to paper. Once the first sentence was finished her mood brightened a little and she set to work on the second.
Then I got busy tending to the other children. An hour or so later, she came up to me with her face beaming. “Mama, guess what! I can do it. Want me to read my story to you?”
It wasn’t Shakespeare, but in my totally biased opinion, it was pretty good. Plus, facing the challenge and working past it boosted her confidence and proved that sometimes even hard things can be conquered sentence by sentence.
So, Charlotte Mason or Tiger Mom? I think it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes when something is “too hard” it’s best to back away for the moment and approach it again later. Other times, by breaking the impossible into bite-sized pieces the impossible not only becomes possible, but an excellent character-building experience.
When there are tears in homeschool
There are few things that have shown me my need of wisdom more than the every day act of teaching my children. Much as I love the privilege of getting to teach them, in the nitty-gritty reality of daily life, some days we do have tears.
Though sometimes they make me want to throw in the towel, I’ve realized that occasional tears don’t make me a bad homeschool mom, they make me a human in pursuit of a worthwhile goal: joyful, diligent students.
Sometimes the answer to the tears is as simple as an early nap, sometimes the answer demands clearer expectations, and sometimes the answer is a more delicate balance of Tiger Mom and child-led schooling.