What does ‘homeschool success’ look like?

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not The Former Things

When we first started homeschooling, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do in order to be successful.

The summer before we began, I talked incessantly about focusing on my boys’ interests and creating project-based activities to help them learn.

Then the school year started.

We did all the things I had in my head. We created a mock-business complete with a profit and loss statement for math. We dissected a fish and studied its eyes. Wednesday were library days and Fridays were for art.

We did all the learning projects I had planned, but two things inevitably happened:

  1. My children melted down and had no interest in the map project, read aloud, or math manipulatives I had been so excited about, OR
  2. It went perfectly, with engaged learners and lots of fun, but I would immediately doubt that it was enough or that it really counted as learning or that my kids were really learning what was necessary.

Either way, it did not feel like a success. In fact, most of that first year felt like one big failure.

Defining success in our homeschool was so very difficult in the beginning.

We eventually settled into a routine. I was a little less starry-eyed and my boys were a little more practiced in learning from mom at home. But slowly, as my boys grew older and approached the middle and high school years, I began to feel the same discomfort as that first year.

Academics seemed like just the beginning. The social pressures and anxieties, the growing learning gaps in my youngest son’s abilities, the expectations of conformity, my children’s mental health – these all seemed to pile on as additional and equally important measures of success.

In order to be successful, I knew I needed to work one-on-one with my youngest on his reading skills, but to my dismay, I failed all the time at consistently requiring him to practice. Moreover, his reading progress was slow at best.

I prided myself on shielding my kids from the bullying and peer pressure, but also worried that I was sheltering them too much. Everything that was good about our homeschooling also felt like a potential drawback to our homeschooling.

Homeschool success suddenly seemed much bigger than it had when they were younger.

But as before, I learned to adapt and my kids did too. We settled in to the new expectations that come with middle school, and now high school for my oldest. I stopped beating myself up as much and we continued to learn in the best way we all knew how.

Then, about a month ago, my youngest son began psycho-educational testing for his learning differences.

The testing was completed by an educational psychologist, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist in our home.

It was amazing to have them come to us and to be able to eavesdrop on the testing.

And it was awful to have them come to us and be able to eavesdrop on the testing.

The very first test required my son to write the numbers 1-9 and the upper and lowercase alphabet. He’s 12. It took him almost 30 minutes.

When they took a break, I looked at his work and took the picture above. He’s been writing his numbers since he was three years old. Nine years of practice and the 2 and the 3 were backwards.

It got worse. The more they tested, the more I became convinced of my own inabilities and failures as a teacher and a mom. 

I overheard the conversation about math concepts and cringed. The speech therapist asked him to form a question with certain words, and my sweet boy was not able to do it.

The evidence of our lack of success in homeschooling was mounting before me, all in the span of three days.

At the very end of the testing, on the last day, the evaluator handed me a test booklet with the words “Self-Perception” in bold across the top.

“I am not sure he will be honest with me if I ask him these questions, ” she said.  “We want to get an accurate understanding of his own sense of self. This test is a measure of that and is used to identify children at high-risk for deliquency, teenage pregnancy and other maladaptive behaviors. I am not worried about your son at all, but am interested to see how he answers. He seems so confident and comfortable in his own skin, but with his level of needs, it would seem likely that he has some concerns.”

Later that night, I asked my son the questions, holding my breath and a little terrified of the answers.

As we worked through them, my heart began to un-clench.

I give up easily.  No

I am good in my school work. Yes

I cause trouble to my family. No

He answered almost every single question favorably. More than that, he answered every single question honestly.

Even after both of my boys have graduated, I am not sure that I will be able to accurately define “homeschool success.”

I have learned that the definition changes, depending on our children’s needs and our own abilities. It looks different in every season and I think it should.

For today, this is my definition –

My sons are learning to be in the world, just as they are, without being ashamed of who they are

No matter how successful we are, I am grateful for the opportunity to walk beside them.

Do you think the definition of success in our homeschools changes over time? How would you define it today?

A note from Jamie: Shawna’s beautifully honest and practically helpful new book, Parenting Chaos: Practical Support and Encouragement for Parents of Explosive Children, is now available on Amazon.

In it she shares the realities associated with mothering an explosive child, including an in-depth look at her approach, day-to-day failures, successes and progress. If you’re homeschooling an explosive child, you need a copy!

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is the creator of Not The Former Things, a blog dedicated to homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs. She loves finding out-of-the-box ways for out-of-the-box learners to thrive. She is the author of two books, Special Education at Home and Everyday Autism. You can follow Shawna and Not The Former Things on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. Carly Grisham-Staub says:

    I love this post! I felt so good about our homeschool year – until I started planning our next one. Then all the things that seemed enough and successful suddenly felt inadequate at best. Negligent, even. I know that both of my kids are behind grade-level, and I can usually remember that grade-level is NOT the criteria we personally choose to evaluate our success at home education. Usually. Right now, not so much. And yet, when I watch them play or interact with others or go about their day-to-day lives, I see happy, joyful, confident, creative, kind, persistent, interesting, young people who are comfortable with themselves just as they are. Growing up, I was very good at schoolwork, but I was never any of those other things, to the detriment of my own mental health. I thank you for the reminder that in homeschool we aren’t measuring success the same way as it is in school, and that can be scary and disorienting. It can also be liberating, exciting, and effective when our goal is raising healthy, whole, happy people.

  2. Marnita Sonnenberg says:

    Good job Mama! His self eval is wonderful! I am quite sure he would not be writing those answers in a regular classroom. You are clearly doing “something” right! Stay encouraged and keep up the great work!.

  3. Tiffany Ragan says:

    I love this post as well. While reading it I felt as if I was being hugged and told that it is all okay. I am a private person I do not have relationships as many do with other homeschool educators by choice. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to exhale the internal guilt dialog that has been manifesting within fro sometime now.
    With Kindest Regards,

  4. This is a wonderful post! You should be SO encouraged by that self-evaluation. Wow. I’m so impressed with both the self-awareness of both strengths and weaknesses, and the confidence he has in himself. Isn’t that what we all want for our children?
    Julie’s latest post: home-from-vacation gratitude.

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