Navigating Homeschooling Detours: What to Do When the Road Gets Rough

My oldest son likes to use our GPS to map out trips. Even if we’re just going to the grocery store, he gleefully plugs in coordinates and calls out eager directions from the back seat.

Things don’t always go according to plan though. More than once we’ve followed directions to the letter and found ourselves staring at a clump of trees where a road should be.

Often our educational journey is like that as well. We carefully plan out goals. We try to be intentional about the learning choices we make.

We choose wisely what books and ideas we chase after, and as a result, our choices take us just where we hoped to go… until they don’t.

Perhaps it’s a child who before could not get enough to read, but now hasn’t cracked a book in weeks. Do you force her to read at the risk of making her view it as a chore?

Or maybe you started homeschooling with a classical approach but are finding yourself leaning toward an unschooling mindset. Do you completely switch philosophies?

No matter how well we’ve plotted our educational path, we all eventually arrive at a time when what we thought would work, just doesn’t.

Do we forge ahead? Do we turn back?

How do we move forward on our learning journey when we find ourselves at a crossroads?

Photo by Ice Man Photography

As with any journey, it helps to have a few guideposts to find your way:

1. Follow Your Instincts.

In our first year of homeschooling, I spent a considerable investment on a particular curriculum. Right away it was evident that none of us liked it, but I continued to use it far longer than I should have.

Eventually I realized that in choosing not to follow my instincts, I was wasting something far more precious than money – I was wasting time that my children and I could have spent enjoying our learning adventures together.

Now, with several years of homeschooling road behind me, I’ve learned that my own instincts are often the best guide.

You know your children. You know yourself. You know intimately the goals you hope to achieve through your homeschooling experience.

You need only to ask yourself if you believe that you are on the path that best serves the people you love and the dreams that you hold.

2. Listen to Your Copilots

The beauty of home education is that it can be tailor made to fit the learner, and then remade again as he grows, changes and matures.

One afternoon, one of my boys declared that he hated math.

This was a child who had always loved playing number games and had a natural talent for understanding the mathematical world. My knee jerk reaction was to spend countless hours researching math curriculums that might better inspire him, but after a while, it occurred to me that we didn’t need a new curriculum.

We just needed to get to the heart of the matter.

I spent some time listening to my son. I asked specific questions about what he liked and disliked about math.

Together we came to the realization that it wasn’t MATH that he didn’t like, it was writing the problems and answers! His fine motor (writing) skills had not yet caught up to his mathematical knowledge, so what should have been fun wound up feeling frustrating and tedious.

It was freeing for him to explain his feelings, and once he could voice them, the solution was simple.

I played his “math lab assistant” as he dictated problems and answers to me. Eventually his fingers caught up to his calculations and he took over. Math became, and years later remains, his favorite subject of study.

Photo by Johan Larson

3. Ask for Directions

I often find that when I’ve lost my way, it helps to talk to someone who has been down this road before.

Talk to other homeschoolers, read their blogs, read home education books, and ask questions on homeschooling forums.

There are thousands of homeschoolers out there, and chances are many of them have faced issues that are similar to yours.

Rely on their experience and learn from their triumphs and trials, but proceed with caution! Take heart, take advice and take inspiration, but in the end, remember that YOU are in the driver’s seat and your family’s journey is yours to make.

Nothing will lead to frustration faster than trying to travel someone else’s path.

4. Roll Down the Window

Sometimes we feel like we’ve arrived at a dead end, but actually, we don’t need to change directions at all.

We just need a new way of looking at the road we travel.

My oldest son has been taking fiddle lessons for over two years. After the first year, he grew restless. He didn’t want to practice. He grumbled about going to lessons.

After talking to him, and to his teacher, we arrived at a plan. They put the violin book away, stopped working on scales, and just had fun together. They played copycat games – she played and he tried to mimic, and vice versa. He learned, by ear, bits of songs that he liked.

This went on for months until my fiddler decided, of his own accord, that it was time for him to buckle down.

His passion was renewed, and he wanted to play more complicated songs. He knew this would mean doing the hard work of learning to read music, playing scales and perfecting his technique.

It would be easy to feel as though this little detour was wasted time (and money!), but he learned a valuable lesson. Nurturing his passion plus some diligence and persistence, will help him get where he wants to go. That’s a lesson that will serve him far beyond his music studies.

If you or your child is struggling with some aspect of your homeschooling, try to approach it from a new angle or maybe even take a break.

You might find that a little fresh air will breathe new life into your journey.

Have you had to change directions on your homeschooling journey? How did you decide what direction to take?

About Stefani

Stefani believes that beyond "I love you," one of the most valuable things she can tell her three young sons (and herself) is "take your time." Homeschooling has afforded her the awesome privilege to say it often and with conviction. Stefani writes about her journey to mindful parenting and her learning adventures alongside her boys at her blog, Blue Yonder Ranch.


  1. I knew it was you as soon as I saw that red suitcase. So nice to be posting the same day with you my friend. I think so much of what you shared can be applied to parenting in general as well as homeschooling. I think I need to listen to my copilots a little more.
    .-= Eren’s last blog: Here, There and Everywhere =-.

    • I had no idea that our red suitcase is famous! Of course it will not have fully lived until it’s visited Virginia Beach!

      Yes I know what you mean about listening to those little copilots… believe me, it is something I have to remind myself of often. I forget sometimes that they are children and that they don’t always know how to express what they are feeling. So many times I have found that what I perceived as moodiness or defiance or whatever, was really about them trying to tell me that I needed to listen more closely, and look a little harder.

      These fellas sure do keep us on our toes, don’t they?
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Follow Your Instincts =-.

  2. After nine years of ‘official’ homeschooling we’ve certainly had our share of detours. I’ve always been careful of not throwing everything out the window at the first feeling of ‘trouble’; a few gentle changes are usually what is required. A couple examples: when my eldest was little we ended up slowing down and doing two years of grade two. His math and certain other skills were fine but his reading/writing skills needed some time to catch up and I knew we’d hit a wall and needed to slow down. Conversely, my middle daughter is advanced in different areas and I’ve learned to let her jump ahead/stop holding her back. I’ve felt my way through various homeschooling methodologies /philosophies but always try to trust my gut about my own children (and also respect my own needs and personality in the process). The whole point is that we don’t fit into someone else’s box – nor should we feel that we ought to. Each year our home has a slightly different feel or rhythm to it. I always want to let new homeschoolers know that in my experience (with friends and myself) that the first two years, in particular, are about trying things out, figuring out what works best for you and your family, figuring out learning styles and preferences, etc. Those first couple years can be quite rough at times (especially for perfectionist type moms ?!) but it becomes easier. It is good and healthy to know that there will be change and that this is a healthy part of a vibrant homeschool lifestyle.

    • Nine years! My hat is off to you Kika!
      You have spoken so clearly to the heart of the matter here too when you say, “the whole point is that we don’t fit into someone else’s box – nor should we feel that we ought to.” I think that is such an incredibly difficult thing to learn as a new homeschooler and really as a parent in general. We love these little people so much and hate the thought of “messing them up” – so we look to someone else to tell us how to do it right – that magic formula or recipe that will give us the end result we hope for. In truth though, there really is no way to define what is right for each family, let alone each child, especially when, as you say, rhythms and needs change from year to year.
      I think that the day I finally decided to stop trying to do homeschool “right” was the day that we began truly learning.
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Follow Your Instincts =-.

    • great advice, thanks
      .-= Leslie’s last blog: 7 quick takes =-.

  3. I find I’m tweaking and making small course corrections often. But I don’t usually wander too far down a path that none of us like.

  4. My weakness is precisely this sort of figuring out how to proceed without quitting. I feel I am listening to my daughter when, for example, she wants to quit guitar because she feels she “just isn’t that interested in sitting around playing a guitar”. Or when I let go of math because she seems to have a lot of school-induced anxiety around it. I feel I’m listening but at the same time I feel I’m not giving that little push. In a way, I also feel like she picks up on things like my not being crazy about driving here and there for lots of activities (guitar) and not having much interest in math, myself. She’s so sensitive.
    I appreciate your ideas on giving that extra push, though. It’s always a tough call for me. I think it’s an area in parenting where I truly feel lost because I didn’t have any guidance/parenting as a child.
    .-= MamaShift’s last blog: Back in December =-.

  5. thanks for this piece. i liked #2 especially, and the situation with your son and math. I can relate to that. I’m in week 6 of homeschooling my first year with 4 boys (7,4,2 and infant) and I sometimes feel I’m in way over my head.
    .-= Leslie’s last blog: 7 quick takes =-.

  6. Oh, I loved, loved your example of the fiddle lessons! And I love Kika’s comment about taking the first years to be easy on yourself and how each year has a different feel to it. I think your post was so full of wisdom, Stefani. Thank you for that!
    .-= Misha’s last blog: Restful =-.

  7. I’ve been right there, feeling like I’m at a crossroads, all year. We began as die-hard unschoolers, but somehow it stopped working. I’m still trying to listen to my co-pilots and figure out where we’re going next! This was all very good advice. 🙂
    .-= Amanda’s last blog: The C Word, part two =-.

  8. Hi I just wanted to say I had homeschooled my
    2 children for the past 2 years but this year with
    my oldest he is 9. I had to put him back into
    school. I am still homeschooling my 6 year old daughter
    but I feel soo sad, depressed and just kind of
    lost by having to put my son into the public
    schools here. His behavior here with me was just out
    of control and it was taking a toll on me and my
    to other children. Any ideas on how I deal with this new path?

  9. I love this and am going to link to it from my blog. Thanks. 🙂

  10. Wonderful and true. Sounds like you learned how to respond to your kids when the road got rough a lot more quickly than I did, but thank goodness kids show us through their stubbornness, resistance, and lovely eagerness that learning happens uniquely. Sharing!
    Laura Grace Weldon’s latest post: You’re Having A Perfect Day

  11. This is so perfectly said…… such a good reminder to go with the flow and be open to change. Thank you for sharing…..
    Stephinie’s latest post: quilt stacks + weekend link love…….

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