“What is the hardest part of homeschooling?” It’s a question we are all asked by curious minds who want to know about what we do.
Usually, they are expecting responses like learning how to diagram sentences again, or organizing curriculum for three kids.
Or maybe, what do we do with all of our free time…*sarcasm*
“Seeing my kids fail” is my response.
We all want our children to succeed. We spend so much time watching over our kids, helping them, and teaching them to succeed.
But do we ever let them fail? Has there ever been a time when, in order to let them succeed, we actually lowered the bar? And how do we help them when they do fall short of our expectations?
Or, more controversially, should we let our kids fail?
The Generation of Non-Failure
We live in a time when it is so important to succeed in life that failure literally is not an option. Starting with the Millennial generation, kids were given awards not for excelling, but purely for participation.
Children were not supposed to feel excluded, so everyone was a winner. And since not everyone learns at the same pace, we couldn’t give failing grades, or even grade in red ink because it was too discouraging and caused too many kids to stop trying.
This has led to an entire generation of young adults who feel entitled to succeed, and it is now socially unacceptable to allow failure. Because of this, Millennials have made quite an impact on our social environment.
Great strides have been made in the last few years to make sure that everyone is cared for, regardless of traditional views of success.
Uniform healthcare, minimum wage, and immigration reform are all examples of a matured non-failure generation.
But, there are also downsides to a culture of non-failure. Some Millennials graduated from college to an economy that was struggling while ‘The 1%’ were living in luxury.
These Millennials weren’t succeeding and weren’t being included, and so, like a child throwing a tantrum in the checkout lane, they occupied Wall Street, showing how selfish and idle actions can be more compelling than contributing to society in a more positive way.
The line between social justice and personal freedom is now blurred.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained how this can turn into “doing whatever you please”, a selfish behavior that has become very evident in today’s political culture.
“Freedom became synonymous with doing whatever you pleased, whether it was good or evil, or believing whatever you pleased whether it was true or false. The result was that freedom degenerated into a form of ‘selfishness,’ expressed itself in such slogans as ‘be yourself,’ frowned upon all forms of restraint and sacrifice as contrary to the individual libido, and ended in what might be called the exaltation and glorification of the ego.” (Philosophies at War)
Ridding our world of failure is certainly a utopian concept. More importantly, as we have observed in the past decade, a culture of non-failure is unrealistic and harmful as long as it is driven by selfishness.
So, as parents, we should prepare our children for success…and failure.
Preparing for Failure?
We are the teachers, the principals, and the proctors for our children’s education.
While this provides a lot of freedom for allowing each child to grow and learn at his or her own pace, it also runs the same risk of allowing us to forget that education requires not just participation, but also achievement.
There will be times when our children struggle, and certainly it is our job to ensure that they receive the support to do their best and stay engaged.
While we prepare our children for success, however, we should also help them grow when the bar is too high.
We should use each failure as a lesson for the next challenge, thus turning that failure into a success.
So how do you prepare your children for success?
1. Use their strengths
As our children’s educators, we should create a classroom climate that is filled with love, compassion, and academic excellence.
Every child has different needs and preferences. One child likes to work on the floor while another needs the structure of a desk in the corner.
Some kids are early risers, while others do best after a big meal. It is important to figure out when each child is most focused and schedule his or her hardest subjects at this time.
Maintain a daily routine and schedule that takes advantage of all your children’s strengths.
2. Teach them how to study
Teach your children to take notes, make flashcards, create their own study guides, practice, or use educational apps.
If you can teach them how to study, they will become self-directed and focused on achievement.
Seton Home Study School has a free Study Skills Online Course to help the 7-12th grade student learn this important life skill.
3. Establish testing rules
Establish testing procedures and rules for your classroom.
This begins with a defined testing corner in your house where the kids can go to study, complete their work, or take a test free from distractions.
Especially with younger kids, verbally review test directions before starting the test.
Have a ‘no talking’ policy during a test—this goes for Mom, Dad and siblings too! If students have a question about the test, remind them that you can review the directions with them but not how to answer the problems.
When your children are finished, remind them to double check their answers. Seriously consider how to use retesting!
4. Reward successes
When they get that ‘A’, celebrate with your children! Cook their favorite meal or favorite treat. Have a movie night.
Don’t wait to praise them for their success, however. Give verbal praise every time you see them taking that extra step, whether it is doing extra math practice or rewriting a paragraph for the third time.
5. Learn from failure
When your children fail, it is tough. As parents, we don’t want to see our kids upset. It’s important to remember, however, that we can use their failures to teach our children how to succeed next time.
Review their mistakes and discuss what they could do next time to improve their grade.
We ended up having a very good lesson on averages once, when our daughter couldn’t understand how one low grade kept her from getting an ‘A’ for the quarter.
Most importantly, though, teach your kids that sometimes failing is normal. It is through our failures in school and in life that we grow and become the best we can be.
Learn from failure (teacher’s edition)
Did your son really not understand the material? Maybe he was unprepared, distracted, or just had a bad day.
Review your lesson plans to see if you can tell where he fell behind and why.
We typically spend time reviewing a test with the child in order to figure out whether he or she was just making small mistakes or really didn’t know the content.
This helps us to make changes to the student’s environment, schedule, or curriculum, enabling success on the next unit.
Most importantly, avoid negative reinforcement and keep your children focused on what they can do to improve. Each failure is a teaching moment that helps us learn and grow in preparation for the next big test.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” – John 15:1-2
In summary, the next time you see your child struggling on his math test, resist the urge to lower the bar and instead use it as a lesson for both of you to figure out what went wrong.
Most importantly, take a breath and know that failure is not all that it’s cracked up to be!
How do you handle failure in your family?
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