Is Homeschooling Always This Hard? Exactly Why the 2020-2021 School Year Was So Tough

a girl reads a book in on a window ledge with her white dog beside her

Let’s get on the same page right off the bat: Parenting is hard. And parenting during a pandemic was (is) incredibly hard. Covid-19 has made existing challenges ten times worse for everyone in nearly every avenue of life. 

Just like parenting, homeschooling isn’t easy. Parents commit to a job that requires sacrifice, attention, and time—all without a cent of compensation. 

Newbies Had it Way Worse

Homeschooling during the 2020-2021 school year hasn’t been seamless for longtime homeschoolers. But we all admit that homeschooling was infinitely harder for first-time families who were thrown into this choice 

  • as a last ditch escape from remote learning

  • as a remedy for the an off-and-on-again hybrid model that left them reeling with constant changes

  • to provide a positive first year of school for a child entering preschool or kindergarten 

Longtime homeschoolers had a distinct advantage over these last-minute newbies. But they suffered from many of the same issues that pandemic homeschoolers faced, albeit to a lesser degree. 

Keep Homeschooling? Or Rush Back to Public School?

Now that life is returning to normal and families are looking ahead to a new school year, they are weighing their options: Should we continue to homeschool with BookShark or should we send our kids back to public school?

For a lot of parents, the knee-jerk reaction is, “No way will I keep homeschooling! This was hard! I’m sending them back to real school as soon as possible.” 

Of course, public school is a good choice for lots of families. But when you make that choice, be sure to carefully suss out the pros and cons, keeping a clear picture of what was hard about the 2020-2021 school year: 

  • Was it homeschooling in general and thus a problem that will continue for 2021-2022? 

  • Or was the problem something especially related to (or made infinitely worse due to) Covid-19?

If homeschooling was hard for you solely or mostly because of the pandemic, don’t rule it out for next year! Those Covid-19 problems will melt away, and you’ll have the normal day-to-day struggles that are totally manageable … along with all the perks of homeschooling! 

Let’s look at some of the major complaints for schooling during 2020-2021 to identify how much of the frustration goes in the pandemic column and how much rests in the normal parenting/homeschooling column.

1. My Kids Are Bored, Lonely, or Anxious

Children and teens were ripped from their routines and thrown into an unfamiliar world with new tensions. Layered on top is the loss of in-person visits with friends and relatives. They may be hearing scary news stories and picking up an overall sense of uncertainty in the atmosphere.

Kids lost their afterschool outlets like sports, music lessons, dance, or drama or resumed them with restrictions that feel odd.

Of course our kids are upset, withdrawn, angry, or lethargic! This year has been a roller coaster of changes and disappointment! But none of those painful emotions are necessarily part of homeschooling. 

When there’s no pandemic

  • Homeschoolers need not be bored … they have liberty to pursue their own interests. The sky’s the limit! 

  • Homeschoolers don’t have to be lonely either when they get involved with the myriad of social options available: community groups, extracurricular clubs, homeschool co-ops, play groups, etc. 

  • Anxiety is complicated, but homeschooling isn’t an automatic ticket to anxious thoughts. In fact, many children who struggled with anxiety or depression prior to Covid-19 are thriving as homeschoolers precisely because they were plucked out of their stressful school environments and allowed to blossom at their own pace at home. 

  • Homeschooling creates its own comfortable routines kids can ease into, where they can find security and experience emotional well-being. 

A global pandemic caused mental health issues for our children. Homeschooling is not the culprit there! 

2. I’m Going Crazy! I Need a Break

Speaking of mental health, how’s yours? Women bear the brunt of pandemic fallout with job losses, extra childcare demands, and now homeschooling! Is it any surprise that alcohol consumption is up? (Heavy drinking is up 41% for women!

We all laugh at the back-to-school memes of moms celebrating the end of summer break. It seems almost whimsical now after a full 12 months without a break from our kids to think of being exhausted by a short 2-month summer vacation! 

It is true. When you homeschool, you are with your children many more hours of the day than if you send them to school. But when there’s no pandemic, you have outlets to replenish your spirit: yoga classes, ladies night out, or weekend getaways.

It may seem counterintuitive, but many parents have discovered that homeschooling and working from home actually lower their stress by eliminating

  • the early morning rush to school

  • the morning and afternoon commute

  • homework assignments and projects

  • school fundraisers and meetings

Is Homeschooling Always This Hard? Exactly Why the 2020-2021 School Year Was So Tough3. I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

The lack of confidence as a homeschool parent actually is a homeschool problem, made far worse due to the pandemic. 

All new homeschoolers face self-doubt, whether they were forced to homeschool at the last minute or whether they researched their options years ahead of time and willingly chose to school at home. 

The good news is that you grow in confidence as you continue. As you muddle through homeschooling, you are demonstrating a growth mindset to your kids that says, “I can do hard things! I’m not afraid to make mistakes and improve. I don’t have to be perfect. I can learn and grow.” 

So many new 2020 homeschoolers in our Bootcamp have talked about the precious gift of being able to educate themselves through homeschooling. These parents embrace the role of learner and are enjoying the history, science, and math that they are relearning alongside their kids. You truly don’t have to know it all. You simply have to guide your kids through their curriculum. 

Another big hurdle is mindset about the right and wrong ways to homeschool. When you come to homeschooling with the idea that there is one right way you have to discover and adhere to, you are setting yourself up for frustration. There is no one way to homeschool well. There’s YOUR BEST WAY — the way that works for your kids, for your family, for your own personality. 

When you find yourself asking permission-based questions like these, the answer is always yes. 

  • Is it okay that my kids do …. instead?

  • Is it okay if we change ….?

  • Is it okay if we don’t do what the Instructor’s Guide says and …?

  • In school the kids did …. But can we …?

Yes, you can, and yes, it’s okay! You can decide! You have agency and freedom. And you aren’t going to mess up. 

Read More About Feeling Inadequate

4. My Kids Don’t Want to Do School

In our Bootcamp designed for new homeschoolers, we heard a lot of this complaint:

  • My kids resist doing school.

  • My kids just want to play all day.

  • My kids don’t listen to me. School time is a battle.

Unfortunately, this problem probably existed before you started homeschooling, but you didn't have to face it since you weren’t the sole teacher. Your children’s teachers dealt with it by creating a highly structured classroom routine with clear consequences for noncompliance. But you don’t have to recreate the classroom at home. That’s probably not the answer when kids don’t want to do school. 

Emotional wellness is determined by three key needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Schools aren’t great at providing these for kids, so students come to associate learning with drudgery, lack of freedom, and boredom. The good news is that as a homeschooler, you have now identified the problem and have a chance to correct it!

Strive to provide your children opportunities for competence, autonomy, and relatedness for a more fulfilled homeschool experience without all the battles. Some things to try:

  1. [Relatedness and autonomy] Show your children that you really want to make school enjoyable for them. Find out if they can articulate what exactly they dislike about doing lessons and what would make learning more fun. If they can’t or provide vague answers like “It’s dumb” or “I just don’t like it,” you’ll have to experiment with changes without their direction. 
  2. [Competence] Try new methods of learning, based on what your kids express in your discussion or demonstrate through their actions. If they really love hands-on learning, go all out with that method. If they love talking outloud but despise putting pencil to paper, let them do most of their work orally. There are so many options at your disposal, and you have the freedom to try them out! If your kids balk at math, ditch the worksheets and play games with the same math facts instead. 
  3. [Autonomy] Take frequent breaks. Sometimes all kids need is more downtime in between lessons. So opt for a 4-day school week. Or operate on a 4 weeks on, 1 week off time table. Maybe stagger your days off so that you do school on Saturday but still fit in three days without school each week. You can choose how and when to take breaks.
  4. [Competence] Take it down a notch. Maybe your curriculum truly is too challenging. Or maybe you’re expecting too much from your kids. Or maybe your routine is simply too intense. School doesn’t have to last from 7:45 am to 2:15 pm each day. In lower grades, it can take just a couple of hours! Really! Choose materials that fall into the easy range so you can boost the enjoyment factor and rekindle a love of learning.
  5. [Relatedness, competence, and autonomy] Try a period of unschooling. Unschooling may sound scary, but it’s a legitimate method of homeschooling. Surround your kids with lots of learning resources: high quality documentaries, fascinating non-fiction, great novels and magazines, hands-on kits, etc. Play games, cook together, discuss classic movies. Learn without labeling it “school.”
  6. [Autonomy] Let kids make more decisions. Remember the parenting advice about raising toddlers. We learned not to ask “Do you want to get dressed?” but instead to provide choices by asking, “Would you like to wear your blue shirt or your purple shirt?” Find ways to honor your child’s wishes and preferences within the larger framework of doing school. There are myriad choices a child can make that, while seemingly inconsequential, can provide a sense of autonomy: where to do lessons, what format to show the work, when to do schoolwork, what subject to start with, etc. Hand over the reins and let your child lead.

The problem of a child’s not wanting to do school is not actually about homeschooling or the pandemic. It’s more about a child’s emotional needs. And sometimes it’s about the parent-child relationship. And while it may be easier to ignore the problem by shipping them off to public school, there’s great long term reward in investing in the solution. Homeschooling is a fantastic crucible for forging a love of learning and a strong bond. Easy? No. Worthwhile? Yes.

Were Your Greatest Struggles About Parenting, Homeschooling Itself, or the Pandemic?

Erasing the pandemic won’t erase your challenges as a parent. And it won’t make homeschooling totally carefree either. But the 2020-2021 school year was an anomaly unlike anything the homeschool community has ever faced. When you decide how to educate your kids next year, weigh at the positive things you’ll lose if you give up homeschooling. And then factor in how many of your current homeschool cons won’t be an issue once co-ops are meeting, coffee shops are open, and museums are hosting tours again. 

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