What if you make a mistake?

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats

It’s a weighty responsibility that we undertake, teaching our children at home. We put ourselves in the midst of a great experiment. We are like scientists with a hypothesis to prove, hoping that our laboratory efforts will go the way we expect.

As I watch my oldest son advance into higher levels of schooling and observe his attention to his studies and his care and kindness toward others, I sigh squeal with excitement, “The experiment is working!”

I may joke that my 14-year-old is my “guinea pig,” but that’s really the case with all children in all families, regardless of school style. We just don’t know how personalities and circumstances will blend, nor can we completely predict the outcome.

And so it is with homeschooling as it is in parenting in general: Life is subject to change — and to error.

Part and parcel with teaching my children at home comes the joy of learning — together. Sometimes that means learning from our mistakes. And on more than one occasion, my mistakes. Sometimes my experiment doesn’t go the way I had hoped.

Since I consider my kids to be pretty bright, I figure that they know my fallibility and imperfection. The older boys certainly do. But sometimes I need to ‘fess up when I’ve made a mistake.

1. Admit it to yourself.

Over the last few weeks we here at Simple Homeschool shared our curriculum experiences as well as our plans for the coming year. In my post I told my tale of woe as concern’s our family’s math curriculum. In our homeschool, we have bounced back between Saxon, Teaching Textbooks, and back to Saxon.

Your comments on my post, in which I explained this tennis game of Math, gave me pause and caused me to reflect on why we were playing that game of back and forth. I realized that I couldn’t answer readers’ questions intelligently. I realized that I had made some decisions based on other people’s experiences and in a fit of panic.

Oh how hard that was to admit to myself, let alone anyone else. I had made a mistake. Maybe we hadn’t needed to switch after all?

2. Seek an outside opinion.

When we find ourselves facing our own mistakes, it’s easy to go overboard in berating ourselves or in justifying why we did it in the first place. That’s when we need to get outside input. In interviewing Susan Wise Bauer recently, she counseled us moms “to invite a critical gaze you trust.” That feedback, she said, will either be “corrective or reassuring.”

In my case I talked with a more experienced homeschooling mom who

  • had sent kids successfully into college and the work force
  • knew my kid personally
  • knew the curricula in question
  • knew what it is to be a crazy mom of many trying to do the best for every individual

My eldest son’s science teacher, a US Naval Academy graduate and Science/Math enthusiast, had great input for me regarding math curricula. She suggested we return to Teaching Textbooks, especially since we were struggling with the alternatives and having a rough Math game all the way around. We agreed that even if the program “had gaps” — though she had never experienced any gaps with her kids — it was better than frustrating my child with a “more rigorous curriculum.”

“OK Algebra” is better than very little, hard, discouraging Algebra.

So, my plan is to return to Teaching Textbooks with extra math facts drill for the younger kids and supplementing with “real life” math on a regular basis.

3. Explain your mistake (and solution) to your kids.

For some parents this may be tough. We falsely assume that our parents had it all together and that parents in general should never show weakness. I disagree.

True leaders are honest.

If we’re to lead our children into adulthood, then we need to be honest and admit when we’ve made mistakes. Don’t lay it on too thick; don’t make excuses either. Explain the facts and your plan to remedy the situation.

My particular hiccup over math curriculum has probably created more “gaps” than it filled. But once they understood that I was taking responsibility for the situation, that they were not at fault for a poor math year, my kids were more than amenable to the solution.

4. Move on.

Once you’ve admitted your mistake to yourself and to your children, sought objective counsel, and determined a solution, then it’s time to move on. It’s no use beating yourself up. Especially since you’ll make another mistake next week!

Life is full of coulda, shoulda, wouldas. We’d be making mistakes as parents, no matter our schooling choice. The big question is not, “What if you make a mistake?” Instead we need to ask ourselves, “How will I respond when I do?”

How do you handle your mistakes?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. ” We agreed that even if the program “had gaps” — though she had never experienced any gaps with her kids — it was better than frustrating my child with a “more rigorous curriculum.”
    “OK Algebra” is better than very little, hard, discouraging Algebra. ”

    YES and thank you for saying this! I have two sons, one who is very bright in math but has dysgraphia and one with developmental delays. Both are using Teaching Textbooks, one at grade level and one a grade below his technical grade level. I’ve been struggling with the “maybe we should use something that is stronger in math” but keep coming back to the fact that the computer is the only way to engage my 11yo and keep him moving forward in math. I just needed the reminder that it doesn’t have to be “rigorous”, as long as they are making strides forward and don’t hate math. We also began supplementing with some drills and flashcards, but otherwise we are sticking with it. If it’s not broken, I’m not going to “fix” it. Thank you!
    Dawn @ The Momma Knows’s latest post: Notebooking with Writing Delays

    • Jessica says:

      Well, don’t thank me! LOL. I made a fool of myself over this. Thankfully, my children are quite gracious. 😉

  2. Kamilla Lecher says:

    In every problem there is always a corresponding solution. 🙂
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  3. Oh, goodness. I love this. We’re wrapping up our second year of homeschooling, and I’ve never “invited a gaze I trust” to assess our curricula in an up-close-and-personal way.

    I think I’ll be putting this on my personal to-do list. Thanks!
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  4. “I realized that I had made some decisions based on other people’s experiences and in a fit of panic.”

    I can relate. Finishing up year 8 of home education, I look back now and think, “What was I so freaked out about?”

    I want the best learning experience for my kids, but so often I let my quest for the best drown the “quite good” that was already within our grasp. I am NOT advocating we settle for mediocrity, but we really need to step back and get some perspective! I have learned that comparison and panic rob me of homeschool joy—and really, isn’t that the case in all of life?

    They are going to learn more from my attitude (positive or negative) than I’d like to think….I need to be aware and act accordingly. It’s a lifestyle, this home-education thing that we do. It’s messy, organic, living, breathing, in each other’s face all the time. They see me at my best, and my worst!

    Thank you for this post. It is a reminder I need every day! 🙂

  5. Great post! We need to be reminded that it’s OK to make mistakes or use materials that we later regret using. Thanks for this honest post.
    Heidi’s latest post: Home School Education Interviews

  6. Oh, wow! Lightbulb moment! I did this with grammar this year and my game of ping-pong between curriculum caused my oldest to feel “behind.” We are back on course now, but I think I need to sit her down and apologize to her. It isn’t her fault she feels like she has to dig herself out from a mountain of work to get back on track.
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  7. I admit, I was relieved to read this. I was being lead to use Teaching Textbooks because similar to the comment above, it engages my particular child. Your previous post had me second guessing. Aren’t we all just a bit susceptible to peer pressure, lol. I am using the 7th grade TT with another child and like anything and everything, nothing is perfect. We, too, have been on a math yo-yo journey and at the end of the day we yearn for progress along with less stress for all involved.

    The most important take away for me here?
    MOVE ON.
    I will be working on that.
    Jennifer P’s latest post: Finishing Well – Graduation

  8. I can totally relate to this, choosing and changing things in a moment of weakness because of what other people said or suggested, and finding out we never should have changed what we were doing in the first place.

    Being able to admit mistakes is huge. Hard, but huge. And having the careful eye of an outside person whom you trust is huge too. Those two things might be the biggest keys to getting through it!
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  9. I love this! I was homeschooled myself K-12, so I feel like I have an amazing advantage. I know that not everything will be rosy, but I also know that it will be okay in the end. My parents always let me know when they had made a mistake. While my schooling was certainly not perfect, I have a Master’s degree now so it must have been okay. 🙂
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  10. Kathleen K says:

    Ahh, sigh of relief. I briefly toyed with going back to Saxon after switching to TT for Algebra 1 because of the previous article. But then I remembered the frustration of Saxon. I have to agree–a some math, well understood, is better than complex math that isn’t understood. We’ll stick with TT until we’ve completed all levels, then evaluate what is the best choice to continue. Perhaps community college?

  11. Thank you for “making a fool of yourself” for this post! I spend TOO much time worrying about making mistakes, and fretting about if I am doing this new homeschool adventure the “right” way. Thank you for the great and timely reminder that it is okay to make mistakes, and the reminder of what is really important. 🙂
    Debbye’s latest post: Will Supplementing or Switching To Formula Help Your Breastfeeding Baby Sleep?

  12. If you knew how many times I’d questioned and re-questioned what and how we homeschool, you wouldn’t feel nearly as low about all this! Seriously – the rest of us out here are doing the exact same things: making mistakes, learning, going back to the drawing board with new ideas, et cetera. Think of it this way – at least you figured out what you were doing wasn’t working! Mistakes are awesome that way! They lead us to new ideas =)
    Angela’s latest post: Yoga for kids: a session with Claire Mooney.

  13. I have struggled with this question for years. The fact is that we do make mistakes — but our kids are still better off than if they were at public school. They are with people who care about them all day long, and they are learning how to learn. It has been of help to me that recently, my oldest began taking college entrance exams. Even though he has been my guinea pigs and experienced most of my mistakes, he has scored very, very high on these tests. (28 on the ACT — his first ever bubble test!) This eases the pressure because I am finally able to see that my kids are going to be able to get to where they want to go in life — despite my mistakes.

  14. I think admitting a “mistake” is far better than plugging away at something that doesn’t work….regardless of how many other people LOVE it! The beauty of homeschooling is we can change curriculums and find what is best for us!

  15. My mistake was the opposite direction. After dropping Saxon and bouncing around (a lot) we realized that Teaching Textbooks wasn’t a fit for my daughter and Saxon is what she needs, whether I like it or not. I love the message that it is OK to go back, change our minds and accept that we can’t always get right the first time. There are so many curriculum choices out there, how can we possibly get everything right the first time (for EVERY kid) and not make mistakes?

    • Jessica says:

      I just got back from a homeschool convention and that was the overall encouragement I brought home: it’s okay to try, to experiment, and to fail. Such is life. And so we just gotta do what we can.

  16. Wow, Thank you for this article, it’s exactly what I needed. I have had a hard year with my homeschool curriculum choices and when my husband asked me what I planned to do, I had no answer for him. I felt like a failure for not only making mistakes but not really knowing exactly how to fix them right away. It is nice to hear that we don’t always have everything under control, even though it seems like we should. I agree also, the importance of being straightforward with our kids and creating an environment where we are not perfect, per say, but definitely willing to show that changing things up when we need to and not being afraid our kids why.

  17. I love this post, especially the part about being honest with our kids. It’s so much easier if we don’t try to make them think we ALWAYS have it together.

  18. Marnita says:

    If the teaching textbooks work, you can still use it for a math whiz. What abt going one grade higher and supplementing. A nit more work but a program that kid enjoys.

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