Three Ways You Might be Sabotaging Your Homeschool

The morning light was thin, blue, and cold. It was cozy under my blanket though as I sipped my coffee. I had an edifying book in my lap — who am I kidding — I was scrolling Facebook on my phone.

One kid was asleep, two were upstairs watching “educational” cartoons, and frankly, I was in no hurry to start my school day.

Three Ways You Might be Sabotaging Your Homeschool Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

It was just too early.

It was just too cold.

I was just too complacent about it all.

Listen or read more of this post.

Late winter is hard for homeschoolers. I am sure the problem is a combination of many things — being deep in the school year and a bit tired of the grind, suffering from the lack of sunlight, being cooped up with stir-crazy kids — but I have discovered I am often my own worst enemy at this time of year. Without meaning to, without being conscious of it really, I often sabotage my homeschool.

See I desire homeschool days filled with peace and productivity. Days that include learning wonderful things, cheerful spirits, and joy. I want kids who are eager to learn and the extra time I need to get other things done.

But sometimes those kinds of homeschool days are elusive. And if I am honest, the fault often lies with me and not some external cause. Without even meaning to, here are three ways I sabotage my homeschool. Do you see yourself in any of these?

The homeschool perfectionism trap

This one will reach up and grab me every stinking time. It is especially bad at this time of year when I am tired of the ho-hum and seeking out new diversions (read: throwing money a new curriculum) to help spice things up a bit.

I often let my desire to have things absolutely perfect stop me from doing anything at all.

Can’t do that nature walk because …

The weather isn’t perfect.

We don’t have the right field guide.

I wanted to get those cool new watercolor pencils for our nature journal and haven’t had a chance to stop by the craft store.

Three Ways You Might be Sabotaging Your Homeschool Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

Poetry tea time? The tablecloth isn’t ironed.

Morning time plans? We don’t have the first book on the list.

The entire school day? I haven’t filled out the checklist for this week yet.

Oh yeah. I’ve done all that.

So I do nothing. Well, nothing except beat myself up for being a homeschool failure. And then I realize perfectionism is a self-defeating thing. I am never going to live up to those standards I set for myself, so I might as well start living anyway.

And the experts agree with me. Last summer, I was reading Cindy Rollin’s Mere Motherhood when this jumped out at me:

So often mothers worry about what they are not doing. I hear these things all the time:

“I don’t read aloud to my children.” “I can’t seem to find time to have my devotions.” “We never take nature walks.” “Narration is too hard to add to our school day.”

To these moms, I say, “get up right now and do THAT thing.” Today, now, put down this book and have your child immediately write a narration or have your devotions or take a walk…

When it comes to all of these nagging things, we only have to do a small bit today and tomorrow and the next day to look up one day and find we have accomplished something unthinkably huge.

Doing nothing simply means nothing ever will get done.

Too busy for peace

I can be my own worst enemy. Going, doing, having to leave my house three or four times a day just ties me up in knots.

Now I know you extroverts won’t suffer as keenly from this problem, but it wreaks havoc on our homeschooling as well.

When I am rushed to fifty different activities in the afternoons, scheduling doctor’s appointments willy-nilly, and trying to fit errands, phone calls, or distracting tasks into our school day, I am only making myself and everyone else miserable.

Once again, I am not getting things done because I am busy, but I am busy avoiding getting things done. It’s an endless hamster wheel of running and getting nowhere with the things that matter most. But I have that busy excuse so it must be okay, right?

Three Ways You Might be Sabotaging Your Homeschool Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

We haven’t finished a read-aloud all year.

We’re still on lesson three of the science book we started last July.

We attend our expensive co-op each week, but we never have time to complete our work at home.


What if instead of adding one more thing to the schedule, I took my pen and carved out a sacred space for school? A space I honored in my home as learning time no matter what style of learning we pursue.

A space free from appointments, errands, and known far and wide as a time when we are not to be interrupted — by anyone.

Could I use that space to buy back some of the peace I lack?

On squirrels! and cell phones

Lean close and let me tweak your nose out of joint. Don’t worry — you can do mine in return.

There is a good chance your cell phone is a major problem in your homeschool day.

Let’s tick off the excuses:

I have someone I must be available to (the husband, a relative, a college teen) at all times.

It’s a tool I use to do things in my homeschool.

I need it to connect with other moms because I am isolated all day long.

There is truth to all of these.

It is also the reason your school day didn’t start until after 11.

Or you lost the kids sometime after the math worksheet.

Or you cut the day short… again and just told everyone to go play.

No, I am not looking in your windows, but there was a time you could see this by looking in mine

Which makes me especially qualified to offer this advice. Find a way — do whatever you need to do — to leave the phone in another room.

Three Ways You Might be Sabotaging Your Homeschool Pam Barnhill Homeschool Solutions

For the longest time, I wore a Fitbit Alta that showed me the number when the phone rang so I could see who was calling and just enough of a text to know if it was important.

Now I have an Apple Watch and it is a godsend. I have only the most important notifications turned on and I know at a glance if the person on the other end must have my immediate attention. If not, then the phone stays in the other room.

Can’t afford or don’t want the additional technology?

Then rubber band an index card to the front of the phone screen. On it write a reminder to yourself about your homeschooling vocation. And then only unwrap it to check your phone at the top of every hour.

Set up special sound notifications for your highest priority contacts — the ones you simply must answer. Then remind them of your sacred homeschool hours (see above) and the definition of emergency.

And if it is too big of a temptation, use something else for Morning Time music and ebooks.

We are grown women. A pocket-size device cannot control our behavior without our explicit permission. It’s time we stop giving that permission and reclaim the homeschool days we desire.

This isn’t easy. This won’t be popular. But we can do it.

I’ll be back next week to talk more about why this could be the most important lesson you teach in your homeschool this year. Be sure to subscribe below to get notified by email when that post goes live.

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  • Jill says:

    I think you are looking in my window!!?Glad to know I’m not alone. The distractions and perfectionism get me every time! I know I am my own worst enemy and so I’m putting this device down now and going to round up the troops!! Thank you for your honesty and encouragement.

  • Thanks for being vulnerable and honest!

  • Tabitha says:

    My husband got the fancy watch and I got the FitBit which will tell me who is ringing me. I love that the phone can stay in the other room.

    We violated “the sacred hours” this week for annual check ups and it has thrown the whole week off. You are so right about all three points…she types on her cell phone. It’s so quiet, and I dont want to wake the wild animals to get going. I’m off to do it anyway.

  • Since January 1 of this new year, I have gotten off all social media and I do not have email on my phone either. I can’t tell you how freeing it has been. In just 18 short days, my life truly has made a turn for the best. Nothing is more important or worth your time than your family. Nothing.

  • Marjorie says:

    Excellent post! Definitely one for me to keep and review on a regular basis, as well as have handy to share.

  • Erica says:

    This is me! And I’m not alone! It’s so wonderful to read this today as I am trying out a new “school” schedule. I am blocking out hours to do all our lessons, nature walks, reading time, etc. If we finish early we can play or run errands or whatever, and if we take too long then we stop what we are doing until the next day. Also, my phone goes in another room!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      You are not alone!

      Charlotte Mason has a great quote that if you give everything its due time then there is more than enough time for everything (paraphrasing). It is so true. When I focus on what needs to be done and stop trying to multi-task I always am surprised at the time I have.

  • priests wife says:

    a beautiful, inspiring post…. off to ‘freeze’ my facebook 🙂

  • Melanie Robinson says:

    This is so good and true… if I actually finished all of the things I’ve started (and posted a pic of it on Instagram) our days would be much better. My phone is the biggest issue. Time to make some changes.

  • Damore says:

    Ummm. Yeah. I don’t believe that you are not peeking in my windows. 🙂 I am so thankful for the improvement on all three of these fronts that I have seen since the Homeschool Consistency Boot Camp.

  • Mindy says:

    All of this was spot on. All of it. Even having read Mere Motherhood myself. But what convicted me was when you said, “We are grown women.” Yep — I need to start acting like it. The phone is a huge distraction. I recently read about a study done on college students last year which showed that: “The mere presence of smartphones reduces available cognitive capacity. In other words, the attention and energy it takes to not check a phone seems to cause ‘brain drain’.” Phones need to be located in another room. Like it’s not even there. Like it was before I had one. Thanks for this kick-in-the-pants!

    • Melody says:

      I would love to read about that! And I believe it. Do you still have the article handy?

  • Gwen says:

    Thank you . And thank you some more. This is just what I needed to hear today. In the last couple months alone, I have bought at least 3 new Language Arts curriculums, because I am afraid my 4th grader is behind, especially in his writing. And how many writing assignments have I actually guided him all the way through in this time. Possibly one….

    A great manager once told me “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” I need to remember to take this message home with me as well….

  • Terri says:

    This post is right on time for me today. My morning was in such disarray, and I was so disappointed in myself that I just packed up all the kids and went “aisle-browsing” at the grocery store (which happens to give out free cookies to keep everybody quiet!!). Perfectionism and computer distractions are my worst enemies, as well as being very slow to get started in the morning. Glad to see that I’m not alone. Thanks Pam, for the encouragement.

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for this article! It’s a great reminder and motivator during these tough months. Fall semester is exciting because we’re back in the groove and on schedule; but winter is tough because Christmas is over, and my mountain cedar allergies kick in until mid February. ?. Yet we persevere. Thanks again for the motivation!

  • Anneliese says:

    AMEN, Sistah! Bring it!! Pam, I’ve missed you, your honest transparency, encouragement, and powerful advice. Thank youQQ

  • Mama Rachael says:

    I have a dumb phone… aka flip phone. But, you know what, I can always find something that will postpone school starting. Little Man, age 6, has told me several times that he needs me to get us started earlier so he doesn’t get engrossed in something else and have to leave in the middle of it. Ah, truth from the mouth of babes. Gonna work on it…

  • Andrea says:

    I’m two years in to homeschooling and it’s hard for me to tell when I’m doing an imperfect but sufficient job, and when I really need to change something. When I see posts like this where people admit their weaknesses—only on lesson three for science, not having finished a read-aloud all year—and the strengths and what’s working well aren’t listed, it makes me wonder if homeschool really is a good educational option. I struggle to get anything besides language arts and math done. A big reason why I wanted to homeschool was that it could be academically “better” than a public school experience, but that’s hugely dependent on a disciplined parent. I started off so in love with the idea of how wonderful homeschooling could be, and I have yet to experience it. Is “wonderful” homeschooling largely a myth? The biggest thing that robs me of my peace in my homeschool is wondering if I should be doing it at all.

    • Dawn Garrett says:

      It isn’t a myth; it can be done; it’s a lot of hard work and choices by mom. Self discipline is an important step. You can homeschool well.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      It totally can be done, but the point of the post is that it does take discipline. I was fortunate to learn that when my kids were younger and now I feel at peace (most of the time) with what we are doing and my efforts.

      But I also think it is important to plant this idea out there because people need to hear that when they struggle the good response is to try again.

      I have also been on the other side. There are bad days at school, bad teachers, class disruptions, so many variables in public education as well. We are trying to help homeschoolers here, but it would be a mistake to think that the alternative is all sunshine and roses.

      • Andrea says:

        Thank you very much for your reply! And your post. I’m so frustrated because in our entire experience of homeschooling there has been very little sunshine and roses are rare. Everything has been MUCH harder than I expected, and so often when I ask for advice from my local Facebook group people say to relax and take a break.

        I’ve so appreciated your posts and podcasts about being sure we’re getting work done and actually doing a good job. Several homeschoolers I’ve talked to have mentioned that when they were having particular struggles (bouts of depression, or a new baby in the house) they pretty much just let go of doing school, calling it unschooling for a few years. I don’t wish to judge others unfairly, but that doesn’t seem like a wise way to handle a child’s education!

        At any rate, thank you again and I apologize for the venting and frustrations. I feel like our homeschooling ship is sinking, all my bright hopes have gone to the wayside, and now I’m facing sending my child to public school being behind in nearly every subject. I’m feeling pretty devastated about all of it. And panicking to try to get him up to speed. And he’s resisting with everything he’s got. The perfect storm, I guess.

        • Pam Barnhill says:

          Oh, I hate that Andrea, because I think unschooling done well is a valid homeschooling method, but simply not doing anything and calling it unschooling is not fair — you are correct.

          I would encourage you to see time for joy and delight in your homeschool, though. If you haven’t looked at Morning Time it might be worth a look to lessen some of the resistance.

          • Andrea says:

            Thank you! I read the post and I think I need to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and try to figure out what I want homeschooling to be like for us, even if it only lasts a few more months. Thank you very much for taking the time to reply today. And for your encouragment. And thank you again for this blog and your podcasts. I’ve enjoyed them all very much.

  • Such a great post Pam! It’s a struggle here too, but my time with my children is so fleeting, and I want them to get the eye contact and attention they need and deserve before sending them off.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Yes! And having sent a few off already you are a mama who knows the importance. Thanks, Jennifer!

  • Kristin says:

    Thank you, thank you!! (And please stop looking in my windows…). Just what I needed to hear. Also a tip for fellow Fitbit wearers: simply turn off your Bluetooth devices (a simple setting on your phone or ipad) and your Fitbit won’t communicate unless you ask it to! I just synch mine at the end of each day but it doesn’t buzz with calls or texts – only keeps track of my steps etc. yay!!
    Homeschool blessings,

  • Melissa says:

    Oh my word, Pam – I love this post. Homeschooling is SACRED space! Your list was my 2016 school year goal, and I have never looked back. There are still things I let sneak in when I have to – I’m looking at you, doctors appointments – but they are the very rare exception, not the rule. And the phone. I finally had to quit Facebook altogether. I’m not addicted to much in life, but I found that the truth was, I could have Facebook or I could homeschool my children, but I COULD NOT do both. Yes, part of the reason we love homeschooling is the flexibility, but I discovered that I think I am some sort of supermom who can do ALL the things and fit 35 hours of stuff into 24, and that’s simply not reality. I’m in year two of homeschooling like it’s my job, and the whole family has reaped the benefits. Great message!

  • Chris says:

    It is really good to know we are not alone in our failures-and allowing technology to rule our children’s school days is another way to tell them to “go play”

  • Erin says:

    I love your honesty Pam! Everyone needs that and the real solutions!
    Another thing moms can try is the 45 mins work, 15 mins of play schedule (For my younger it is 20 mins work and 40 of play). This can really motivate everyone to focus on the work time. Then, mom has some break time too, even if it is sending a text while trying to prep dinner! 😉
    As always thanks for your pragmatic approach!

  • stacy says:

    I completely needed this. I’m at the point where I get so frustrated with the lack of productivity with my kids that I never stop to think about how I ruin our days with “I need to get the dishes done to focus” or scrolling my phone while the kids are doing busy work and not moving on due to distractions. It doesn’t show them how important school is or how I value their school time.

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