Thoughts for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent

This space has been so quiet lately, allowing some much needed room to sort out bits of my heart and home. Time feels so tenuous, doesn’t it––the practical substance of our days, yet impossible to grasp. Yet I have been grasping still.

It seems our home is always moving these day, balls bouncing, doors swinging, water boiling. Our home rhythms have shifted drastically in the last few months, and honestly, I have felt generally overwhelmed accommodating it all. Perhaps it’s the weight of all Mark and I are trying to accomplish raising and educating children. Maybe it’s the context of building our own businesses from home or the lingering home projects waiting to be finished. Maybe it’s more simply that delicate crossroad of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Most likely, it’s a bit of everything, but the fight for a peaceful spirit in the midst of it is real.

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, crying, my chest heavy and cheeks wet. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, so when tears come, I know they are a little note delivered from deep within me whispering, pay attention. For all I understand about our human need to pause and listen to those around us, I find it sometimes hardest to prioritize this sort of nurturing for my own person. My heart is prone to hiding beneath accomplishment and TO DOs, so when I wake up in the night, heavy with emotion, I know my heart is searching for connection, searching to be heard.

Bluntly put, I haven’t felt happy with this school year from the start. In spite of much prayer and thought on the front end, I didn’t really have clear vision for the year ahead. So many factors have changed for our home, leaving our routine hurried and task-oriented this fall, a constant shifting of roles, expectations, and places to be. I love lists, but I don’t love when life feels reduced to one. Sometimes when I am unhappy with life circumstances, I need to intentionally iterate gratitudes to shift my heart/thought focus. Other times, I need to shift the circumstance altogether. This moment required the latter.

That night, I left my warm bed and headed for the sofa, a pen and paper in hand. I flipped on a lamp, folded the paper in half, and titled two single columns: What I Love in our Homeschool Day and What is Needed in our Homeschool Day. I needed to see our day in simpler terms, written more concretely on paper. I reserved the first column for activities, moments, and studies that connect me with our children and our experience at home together. It’s vital for me to preserve those things. The second list are needs I’ve noticed in our home or in my children, activities necessary to our day regardless of my affection for them. This list acknowledges the parts of this journey that are less fun for me (or them); it doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Looking at the two lists side-by-side, I began to see more clearly ways to simplify our days again, even if just temporarily. I noticed there were tasks or studies or activities occupying our time that weren’t on either list at all. I immediately made notes to eliminate those things. I also realized there were too many things from our days on the need to do list consuming the things I love list. So I began to reevaluate the opportunity-cost, adjusting or removing again. My heart began lifting.

The next morning, the boys went to their weekly class, and the girls and I made tea together. We read aloud and sketched maps and looked at books of art. The girls spoke in their best British accents as we discussed our day and what we read. I was gaining simple vision for our home, and likewise, connection to it.

I know most circumstances will vary home to home or that the lifestyle or academic path that overwhelms me will be different for someone else. You may be feeling overwhelmed for different reasons altogether––with little ones or a new baby in the mix. You may be in your first year of homeschooling or dealing with children crying over math problems or reading lessons every day. You may be a single parent or feel like you’re in this journey alone. I hope you will find comfort here somehow in the very least knowing you’re not alone.

I hope you will also find solace that there’s no perfect way or timetable for accomplishment in homeschooling. There’s no magic moment when you arrive and it suddenly becomes easy or without effort. There will be moments of grace, where lessons––of books or the the heart––are delightful and light in spite of difficult circumstances. I am always humbled by how much my children learn even with my own shortcomings. These parts are a gift. But there are also the accompanying days that require effort, fortitude, and so much prayer. They require me to remember promises and speak light into darkness, and even at times to write lists in the middle of the night. Wink. I’m learning, even a decade on this path, to receive all of it as a part of our journey, our story. The sweet parts are savored because of the bitter ones, not in spite of them.

Still I don’t always have that perspective in the moment, and when I find myself weighted by emotion or heaviness in this journey, there are a few practices I return to again and again, practices good for healing broken rhythms and spirits alike, practices that lift an overwhelmed heart.


light a candle and make tea / There’s something about the warmth of a flickering candle and a drink in hand that massages the soul. When our days become frayed or fruitless, making tea (or hot chocolate) is a balm. I pull out art supplies and a book to read aloud. Sometimes we read something silly just to laugh. Either way, it is connecting and healing for broken rhythms and spirits.

head to the outdoors / Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in the backyard or on the porch. Sometimes we need to move and head toward a local trail, park, or field. Either way, the divine order and beauty of nature always soothes heaviness and helps create perspective.

plan in 6 week increments / Sometimes an entire school year or even a semester can be too much to forecast. Even if you purchase a full-year curriculum, commit to working through just six weeks, and see how it fits within your home. Some homes that school year round, find it helpful to operate in six week blocks of time and take a week off.

make a list / I’m obviously a list maker; it’s how my brain begins to synthesize information. When I feel clouded by too many swirling thoughts or emotions, it helps bring clarity. Perhaps creating a list like the one I mentioned above may help. For those of you who aren’t list-makers, perhaps jotting down 2-3 small goals you have for the day may be enough to help keep you focused, and to let the rest of it go.

create mental space / Sometimes the root of overwhelming emotion for me is simply the way my brain toggles between diverse thoughts so spastically. We are managing so many things right now, between our own businesses and growing children, and at times it causes my brain to function a bit like the puppy in UP–– squirrel! When I recognize this, taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and reminding myself to focus on the task at hand is so helpful.

meditate on simple, uplifting thoughts / Having good and noble words accessible is SO helpful. When my mind feels swirly, sometimes it can be hard to remember or change my thinking to uplifting and positive truths. Keeping a few favorite quotes and Scriptures on hand in my journal, on my phone, or around my computer is a helpful tool to read aloud and train my thinking toward good and true things again.

prioritize personal time / When I become overwhelmed, it helps to create so space for myself, specifically to connect with my thoughts. Although this step seems obvious, getting up early in the morning, while the world around me sleeps in quiet, always helps clarify noisy thinking. If you have younger children in bed early, maybe making space at the end of the day works better. Either way, make some time for yourself, to nurture and listen to your thinking patterns, to your emotion. Always remember to speak aloud something simple you know you always need to hear: you’re enough.

Beginning Again | Our Resources for the New School Year

I tend to get more emails this time of year wanting to hear what resources and materials we’re using in our home. Early in this journey, I felt awkward sharing public details about our annual plans or routines. It sounds a little silly to me now, but it also reveals the level of insecurity I felt about charting an unknown course in such a public manner. If you scroll back far enough on these pages, you’ll find there’s no direct course at all, no magic trick to the best education, or must-use curriculum for every child or family. Routines and process have ebbed and flowed here with our family’s needs. As it turns out, the unknowns I felt so insecure about in the beginning have become the most important and life-giving element in this journey. What I have learned is this:

pay attention, recognize the needs in your home, and plan accordingly. Fear and doubt are prone to creep into any choice one makes, but they should never be the decision-makers. A beautiful story waits to unfold in those unknowns. 

As I mentioned here, Liam began high school this year, and aside from the emotional strangeness of entering his final years at home, I find myself stretched in a new way to meet the needs of a high school, junior high, and grammar school under one roof. It changes so quickly. They change so quickly. While I am no longer having to consider nap-times or potty training, I am now considering PSATs and college admissions and keeping transcripts right alongside reading and spelling lessons and experiential learning for my younger two.

I’m mentioning this because you’ll notice the shift here, even as I write out the resources we’re using this year. The boys are both in the Challenge program with Classical Conversations (at their request), and following a designed, socratic-style curriculum with a once/week classroom seminar. Their learning feels like an organic step from our home toward preparation for the college years, learning how to plan for deadlines, how to study or annotate a book, how to take notes in a class, how to form an argument and listen/respond to someone else’s, etc. Although the content they will be studying this year is selected ahead of time, the quality of what they learn is still largely dependent upon them, so they are slowly learning how to manage time and take responsibility for their education in a new way. Their descriptions below will feel more robust than the girls right now, simply because their curriculum is designed ahead of time, and the girls, who are still learning in a more self-directed manner appropriate to their ages are not. We will add activities or reading to their year more naturally as we go, instead of planning the entire course on the front end (which in past years has been too cumbersome for our home).

As for the way these two paths intersect in our home, I spend more time with the girls in their learning, whereas the boys are working far more independently. I am available to answer questions and help both the boys during the day, and I work with each of them on one seminar of their choice each day. All four children are still using Saxon math, and I will say, these teaching videos are life-saving for me!


Liam / Ninth Grade

Liam will began Classical Conversations Challenge 1 program this year. It’s a 30 week, one day/week program with seminar style classes, classical pedagogy, and a Christian worldview. There are six seminars covered each year in Logic, Grammar, Science, Rhetoric, Exposition/Composition, and Debate, although the specific content changes at each level. This year, the content will build around American government, economics, and literature. He will study (and memorize selection from) several American documents, the history and foundations of the US government and economy, read 20+ American novels, short stories, and essays exploring the relationship between government and freedom, which will also be the fodder for his writing of persuasive papers with the help of this writing curriculum. He will continue with Latin studies and also study drama and music theory, reading his first full-text Shakespearean play, The Taming of the Shrew, three different times over the year with his class, and separately studying the connection between math and music. For math, we’ll continue with Algebra 1 and will use these teaching videos to help him with greater understanding, self-teaching, and review. Math is still his most challenging subject, but he’s committed to learning how to do it, which I love! He will also study Physical Science, learning to study from a textbook for the first time and also how to keep a formal lab notebook and write lab reports. Although some parts of the class divert from my own style (and pace!), this will be Liam’s third year in the Challenge program, and he absolutely loves it. His academic workdays are as full as they sound, and although it’s a lot to manage, he is rising to the occasion. The structure has been so good for the both of us in different ways. Plus, at almost fourteen, I’m grateful for him to have a peer class experience without other family members. He is also playing basketball this year, which has been good for so many reasons, and will be wrapping up his summer lawn business with Burke very soon.

Burke / Seventh Grade

Burke is beginning his first year in the CC Challenge program in Challenge A, at his choice, and he is also loving it! The seminar style learning and six classical blocks are the same in his level, although the content serves more as an introduction to several skills that carry through the program. He will begin Latin studies this year and will begin learning the structure of persuasive writing and rhetorical argumentation using the Lost Tools of Writing. The content for these papers derive from the 10 novels he reads for the course, many of which are favorites he’s already read and loves (i.e. The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, The Door in the Wall; Amos Fortune, Free Man; Number the Stars, to name a few). Science will be similar to what he has been doing already at home, studying the natural world and anatomy, researching, writing a weekly paper with illustrations, and presenting to the class. He is learning how to study texts and use a highlighting system for retention and review. He is also studying cartography, one of his favorite seminars, slowly learning to trace the entire globe, labeling all of the countries, provinces, and major features by memory. Burke wasn’t interested to play a sport this year, but he is interested in music. We’re not able to do music lessons for him quite yet, but I’m wanting to help him learn the keyboard or a string instrument on his own, maybe? If anyone has thoughts, I’d appreciate to hear them.


We have so many books and curriculums accumulated over the years, so this year, instead of purchasing new ones for the girls, I decided to simply go through our bookshelves together, asking them about their own interests. It’s been a refreshing way to approach the year, and I’ve been happily surprised by some of their choices. I have restocked supplies (paper, quad notebooks for math, art supplies and materials) and will seek out small things we may need as go, but for the most part, we’re using what we have already.

Blythe / Fifth Grade

Blythe will continue with the same pattern of notebooking this year––writing and illustrating her learning for this year. We’re still building her reading list for the fall, but there will be an assortment of literature in classics, science, history for her to choose from and copy/narrate passages. I plan to adapt some lessons in descriptive or analytical writing for her from this book, and she will begin studying grammar more formally this year, too, which she is excited about, preparing her for Latin in the upcoming years. I’m using an old edition of this guide from the class I used to tutor, but if you don’t have access, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature, as it’s a structured and gentle introduction. Spelling instruction is a must, although I’m not positive which curriculum/method I’ll use with her yet, we have a few and I’m sampling out to find the right one. Blythe loves drawing, painting, and hand-lettering and has been begging for art lessons the last two years. I’m so happy both girls will be taking a weekly art class this year, and I also purchased two new illustration books for her (this one and this one) to practice design and pattern. She will continue with Saxon Math 7/6 and she’s interested to go through this History of Science study she and the boys and I read through and loved a couple of years ago. I’m happy to enjoy it with her and Olive this year again!

Olive / Third Grade

Olive is still a busy bee and loves working with her hands, so all of her learning takes on a natural kinesthetic vibe. She will also be notebooking a couple of times a week from readings in literature, history, and science, and I imagine doing a lot of self-initiated crafts and forts. Wink. She is still growing in her confidence as a reader, so we’re pulling abridged classics from the shelf for her to practice reading aloud or independently. We are using this book for spelling and for reading practice with me. If you’re interested in hearing more about our family’s long journey in teaching reading, you may find this webinar helpful. She finished Saxon Math 3 over the summer, but I didn’t feel confident about her speed and confidence with multiplication facts to move onto 5/4, so we borrowed this math book from a friend (which we both love), and are spending this semester reviewing concepts and strengthening her fact skills. We’ll re-evaluate in January whether to begin 5/4 or do something else. We’re not doing any formal grammar this year. She’s not interested, and I honestly don’t find it necessary right now. It’s more important to me that she’s confidently reading (and enjoying it!) and practicing skills she’s interested in right now. I think having older children has made me appreciate how simple these years can be. She’s listening and enjoying the History of Science study with Blythe, and she decided she also wants to listen to this history on Ancient History (MP3 audiobook here) and trace maps. She refers to this as “her history.”  Like Burke, she has a general interest in music, but we havne’t been able to do formal lessons yet. I’m hopeful we can work something up here at home sometime this fall, but I’m open to feedback and ideas for any of you who may have them!

GENERAL SUPPLY + RESOURCE FAVORITES

Check out both of my Homeschool Gift Guides here and here. Or follow the bunny trail of past years here, here, and here.

Other helpful resources from friends: Wild+Free bundles. Jodi Mockabee’s “Schoolhouse Curiosities” guides. At Home podcast. Jennifer Naraki’s main lessons. The Peaceful Preschool and Playful Pioneers both here. Salty Tribe homeschool videos. And Pinterest.

The Hours of Becoming

I have been feeling nervous––anxious even––about Liam transitioning into high school years of homeschooling. I have a loud inner-critic and a long memory for naysayers, unfortunately. And while I look back at the last decade without a single regret of our choice to homeschool, I find myself facing new giants as we turn this corner into high school transcripts, standardized tests, more advanced studies, and university in the near distance. I cannot count the amount of wide-eyes I receive when I tell people Liam we are continuing to homeschool next year. “Are you sure you can handle it?” they ask. And the short answer is no. I’m not sure at all.

I am certain that I’ve never been sure though. It is easy for me to feel confident now about our choice to homeschool, to reflect on the beginning years in the context of today, but I felt anything but confident then. I felt curious, idealistic, passionate, motivated, but never certain about our decision. The irregular days of babies and toddlers in the mix, the tears through math, the lack of concrete proof that we had actually accomplished anything at all in those first years was on some days enough to want to quit, to label homeschooling a failed venture and move on. But somehow––miraculously––I never did. I took breaks, tweaked approaches, asked for help, researched weak areas, talked with the kids, but I always got back up and tried again.

I have been reading Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance this month––a book I highly recommend to anyone, especially parents, entrepreneurs, homeschooling parents and teens––jotting down timely encouragements and challenging lines I’ve needed to hear in many areas of life right now. But this one in particular struck me yesterday, “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.” I realize as the online homeschooling community grows and more resources are made available remotely, it is these hours spent becoming that are most often lost. Even for newer homeschoolers reading this blog filled with highlights, it would be natural to miss the life between the lines, the hours expended in working through hard circumstances or questions, the hours spent becoming.

I have always honestly described homeschooling as the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. And it’s true. It is not hard in every moment or even in a way that might seem like drudgery; there are so many cumulative and deeply satisfying moments of discovery, contentment, accomplishment, and pure joy. There are also many logistical aspects that have eased up with time as our family has grown older. What I mean by hard is that it is a journey that requires continual study of your children and home. It requires you to pay attention, to consistently problem solve and initiate honest conversations. It is hard because you regularly encounter your shortcomings, whether academic, character, financial, energy, or time. It is hard because you have to choose this path again and again. But these moments are the hours of becoming, the hours not always recorded on Instagram, editorials, or this blog. They are the unwritten parts that have intrinsically formed who I am. These hours are rewarding because they are hard, because I have fought for them again and again.

I truly don’t exactly know what the next year will look like for our home as we walk down this path. Our children love homeschooling. They are eager to do it again, and so again, I am stepping forward in courage. The boys will both be in Challenge programs with Classical Conversations, and we’ll build from there. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing with the girls. I’m patiently listening and talking with the girls, thumbing our bookshelves, and researching right now. It will come.

What I hope to say in all of these thoughts here is this: it is not the easy paths that form us. They delight us. They enchant us. They are rest for us. But they do not form us. We are formed by what and how we endure, by the amount of times we fall and get up, by the way we help and receive help from others along the way. This part of homeschooling––or living!––isn’t always beautiful in the ways we want it to be, but it is beautiful. And purposeful. Whether in homeschooling, business, family life, health, or in whatever endeavor you find yourself working toward––keep going, friends. These are the hours we are becoming.

Our Homeschool Year Rhythm + Resource Guide

I know it’s mid-June, and most every parent in the northern hemisphere has already blocked last school year out of their brain and moved into summer. But I discovered a drafted blog post I wrote in the fall talking about our plans, rhythm, and resources. Don’t ask why I never posted it. But anyway, I’ve tweaked it, more as a reflection of the past year, a broad reflection, to give you a better idea of how our year looked and our favorite resources. I had also begun a Civil War/slavery resource guide in the Spring, based on books our family read this year. Would that be helpful to share, too? Can you tell I’m recovering pace and reflecting right now? Wink. Either way, enjoy!


I have shared here and on Instagram thoughts about doing less in our homeschooling, about not having to accomplish everything in a day, a week, or even a year. I wanted to expand on that thought a bit here, too, as it feels ironic considering we were doing far more this last year than any other. What I mean is I would love to go back in time and assure that young, uncertain mother: it’s okay to not do everything right now. Now that my children are older and the oldest three are confident, independent readers, with my fourth also now entering more fluency, I understand how their capacity for learning has increased and blossomed and how my own has too. We can do more, not from a place of striving to do more and check off subjects, but because their natural capacity and curiosity has grown. For young families on this journey, please don’t belittle the power of quality play time, outdoor exploration, read aloud, and artwork. They take in SO much and all of you will enjoy the learning even more than tons of assigned paper work. Encourage your child’s love of reading as much as possible, as it will be the greatest asset to future learning of any sort as they grow.

It is difficult to discuss the way anyone chooses to educate their children without first acknowledging the temperament of the family members, and also the culture of the home. Some parents are more relaxed and some tend to worry. Some need high structure and others prefer to move on whim. None of us can be all or do it all. Nor do we need to. After the first five years of homeschooling, working to fit several wonderful curriculums into our day and cover all the subjects, I burned out and was even ready to throw in the towel altogether. I didn’t sense any of the creative freedom I had once imagined and prized in homeschooling. I felt boxed in by my plans and our segmented studies. I felt frustrated and grumpy. Exhausted and overwhelmed. Some of this had to do with other stressful circumstances our family was navigating at the time. My children seemed to be happy, but for the first time I wondered whether I actually had the capacity for homeschooling any longer. That was three years ago. We looked at school options for our children again, and once again did not feel peaceful about any of them. Instead I took a less obvious route and ditched almost everything we were doing: our weekly homeschool group with other families, my job tutoring other students, extra-curricular activities, and most formal curriculum. Although I still began the year with some plans and ideas, we paired down to formal lessons in only reading and math for the year and added space and time for more flexible read aloud, art, and outdoor play into our day again. I said no to a lot of my personal work and opportunities (so hard!) and most of my formal plans went out the window. I learned instead to listen to the needs of our home, to listen to my own soul’s needs. Over the course of that initial year, my heart began to grow and I fell in love with homeschooling again.

In the last three years, here’s what I’ve learned about myself and our home: I won’t stick too closely with rote plans, even the best ones. I love the hands-on approach of Montessori, the seasonal attentiveness and artwork/handwork of Waldorf, the literature in Charlotte Mason, and the skeletal strength of classical education––and I’m learning better all the time how to glean the things we love in each area. And of course, never belittle the quality of natural learning.


OUR CURRENT FAMILY RHYTHM

I realize it’s now mid-June, and many homes have already moved into their own summer rhythms, some choosing to put aside their formal learning for a while and others choosing an annual approach. I typically try to get a post of this nature out before the school year instead of near the end, more in sync with all the questions I receive about curriculum and routine, but I figured it might interest to some of you in the coming months as you think about your own home and homeschool. I’m also writing up some ideas and thoughts on our summer, too, since I have received many questions about what summer will look like for our family. So stay tuned.

Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what this last school year would look and feel like, as so much has changed for our home last year. To begin, Mark is now working from home and homeschooling the children in the morning while I work––(inserts: streamers and high fives for so many reasons). Liam just finished a Challenge B course with Classical Conversations at his request the year before for Challenge A, taking a once a week seminar-style class on his own with friends and learning so many new things and skills at home through research, writing, and discussion. The work load has been a big change for our home’s rhythm, but he loves it! My sister and her family recently moved down the street from us and also began homeschooling her younger children, so Olive spends an hour or so in the morning at her house down the street, practicing reading, handwriting, and playing. In the afternoon, her son Shepherd joins all of us for read-aloud, nature study, and mapping. This is a gift for our social seven/eight year olds, and a logistical help to both of us right now. And a few times a month, our family meets with friends for nature school, enrichment projects, field trips, and presentations of our week’s work––a way for them to play with and learn from friends and also share their work. The pace of our days have changed, but it’s good.

Writing this out, it sounds like we do a lot. A whole lot. But we don’t accomplish all of it in a day. Some things might not even happen each week. We have foundational skills each child works through daily, Monday through Thursday: Latin, Logic, and Pre-Algebra for Liam; math, spelling, handwriting, and independent reading for Burke and Blythe, and reading practice, math, and handwriting for Olive. Different books are often read aloud in the morning, afternoon, and before bed because we love it! And that’s it! Everything else [illustration, handwork, grammar, copywork and writing, mapping, nature study] feels like a wonderful bonus, and they cycle through our week in intervals, often only once or twice a week. Also many practices overlap with the other; for instance, the kids will sketch or paint or practice their handwork while I read aloud. We try to read books aloud that tell us about history, people, and different cultures. Those books serve as a springboard for other valuable self-directed activities, too. For younger families, take the pressure off yourself to do or study everything.

With four children spanning age 8 to 13, the skills and needs vary so much. I’ve learned so much about understanding home rhythms from reading about Waldorf and Charlotte Mason guides. Much of it is intuitive, but I’ve found it’s helpful to focus our routine around the energy and pace of our home rather than a particular subject. It is an art I’m still learning. Here’s roughly how our day rhythm was structured this last year, with resources included below.

8:00 am | THE MORNING TABLE a nurtured beginning

We do our best to begin at a consistent time in the morning, although it does flex a bit. We eat a simple breakfast together, read 1-2 chapters of the Bible together, practice memory work, and pray together. We try to bless our children into the day, briefly speaking something true and encouraging over them. I hope this beginning to our day will happen more often outdoors as the days begin to cool off. It always seems easier to wake up outdoors.

8:30 am | MORNING RHYTHM  focus + independence

maths, logic, independent reading and read aloud (emphasis: 19th century history and literature), spelling, handwriting, play

For our home, it has always turned out well to begin with the work that requires the most focus and attention. After a full night’s sleep, our brains tend to be most alert. Coffee can help make up the difference for the adults. Wink. Young children and toddlers tend to be more calm and happy, too, making it easier to carve out a small window for a brief reading or math lesson with an older child or for self-directed play/learning. As mentioned, Mark leads this part of the day right now. They do not necessarily keep with a rigid schedule for the morning, although they tend to begin with math and carve out generous time mid-morning for read aloud in the backyard. In the morning this year, we read books aloud about or written in the 19th century––i.e., Of Courage Undaunted about Lewis and Clark; SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War about friendship and the war of 1812, Frankenstein, and more about Commodore Perry, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, and several books surrounding the Civil War this last Spring.

Burke and Blythe also have a mixture of assigned and self-selected independent reading covering the same time period, which they find time for at some point in the morning, often while Mark is working through a Logic lesson with Liam. Burke and Blythe are also responsible to read aloud to Olive a bit each day, a way for them to practice their own intonation and storytelling and also connect with their younger sister. All of our children struggle with spelling––don’t ask why––so it’s something we try to practice a bit each day.

We give each of our children a lot of flexibility in how they work through their more intensive morning work, but we strongly encourage each to respect one another’s work and to pay attention to what others are doing when you enter a space. At age eight, Olive has the least amount of independent work, so we encourage her to self-directed play, handwork, or art while she waits for a playmate. She also spends an hour or so at my sister’s each morning for a reading lesson with her cousin and free play, which is such a gift for her social self. Throughout the day, we encourage a lot of play, and when Mark or I notice any of the kids struggling to focus, we tend to send them outdoors to romp around a bit, to get their heart pumping and lungs breathing deeply.

NOON   | THE RESTING TABLE an intentional pause

We keep meals easy at lunch, often sandwiches or leftovers or bento-style, and everyone makes their own. At this time I try to wrap up whatever I’ve been working on and swap roles with Mark. We try to clean up from the morning, although that doesn’t often happen, and also save texting and emailing for this time.

1:00 pm | AFTERNOON RHYTHM  exploration + expression

read aloud of children’s classics and the Holling books, handwork, map work, painting, nature study, grammar, writing, Latin, play

After lunch, there’s always a different sort of energy, more erratic and noisy, so we save the more expressive and active learning for this time. Since our home is no longer a napping home (insert: tears), we try to help the kids notice when they need quiet or a break from the crowd. Mark built a few tables for Liam’s party, and we moved one inside to replace the old preschool sized table before it. I keep a pile of our favorite illustrated nature books there with a wooden tote of colored pencils and paint brushes and a stack of thick cardstock nearby on the shelf. We don’t have much formal nature study, so I encourage them to flip through the books and sketch/paint whatever interests them while I read aloud ( The Wind and the Willows, Dicken’s A Christmas CarolLittle Women, or books from the library). On the charmed weather days, we’ll take the wooden tote and nature books to the backyard to sprawl out on blankets, using a slab of plywood for a desk surface. The kids might also carve wood or weave during this time, too.

One day a week, instead of The Wind and the Willows, we read a bit of a Holling C. Holling book, using the book and this study as a guide through US geography. We read and mapped Paddle-to-the-Sea , Tree in the Trail, Minn of the Mississippi, and Seabird. It was wonderful! Several people have asked me about the maps we used, and I highly recommend them. I didn’t purchase them at first because of the expense and also the want for my children to create their own maps, but I changed my mind in the first few weeks and am so pleased! They’re beautiful and large enough for all age groups. And my kids love mapping!

What happened after this depended on the day, my energy, and the spirits in the home so it’s hard to write out neatly here. Sometimes we stop after read aloud. Sometimes we go for a walk or to the park. Sometimes we meet up with friends. But I tried to practice writing with the youngest three and my nephew once or twice a week, as it is a foundational skill of expression:

Burke + Blythe | In the fall, one to two days a week, I pulled a couple of sentences from whatever they read that day, dictated one sentence each for them to write on our chalk wall. We parse it together and discuss the parts of speech and jobs of the words. It takes 10-15 minutes. It’s a natural and brief extension to our reading and a preparation for when they begin foreign languages. One afternoon a week, they write a paragraph or two about their reading (any reading). I often help them draft an outline and they write it on their own and I revise it with them. I’m not using a formal curriculum for any of this, but if you prefer one, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature for a gentle approach to language, which I wrote more about here (diagramming begins at level 3). Also, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has a geography-based writing curriculum that compliments the Holling Geography study.

Olive + Shepherd | Two afternoons a week, they copy a couple of sentences from our reading and illustrate it. We tried to organically discuss parts of speech, but I let that go sometime in the fall. We stuck to writing and illustration primarily.

Liam | Liam did much more of his work independently this year. In the afternoon, I quizzed his Latin vocab or checked his translation/parsing, read his writing and helped him think through his composition/research papers. This often times might happen organically during dinner meal-prep or in another setting.

4:00pm | CLEAN-UP

5:00pm | MEAL PREP + PLAY

6:00pm | THE EVENING TABLE unwind + reflect

We each share our best/worst part of the day, and often eat with another family or friends. The kids play afterward and we bathe and have read aloud. We’ve read the entire Wingfeather Saga this last year and loved it! We’re finishing book four this month. I highly recommend it for family read aloud.


RESOURCES

mathSaxon math for all the kids. It’s rote and straightforward, but it works for us. If you have younger children, here’s something I wrote about introducing math concepts without a curriculum. If teaching math overwhelms you, I also recommend Teaching Textbooks as a helpful alternative.

reading lessons | My sister is using All About Reading with the kids, which is wonderful if you or your children love all the activities. Last year I used Reading Lessons Through Literature and loved it. I did fill in the gaps in places where I felt she needed extra practice.

read aloud and independent reading| reading lists from Tapestry of Grace, Ambleside Online, and our own personal love of literature and research

spelling | word lists from Reading Lessons through Literature; also recommend All About Spelling 

geography | Beautiful Feet Books

writing + grammar | taken from reading

nature study | exploration + quality nature books

extras this year | canoe trip, apiary, participated in A Christmas Carol play, seaside daytrip, trip to Gettysburg and Washington DC, flower studies

15 Nature Activities + Books to Enjoy Spring Flowers

Perhaps one of the best parts of Spring weather is all of the wildflowers blooming. We naturally are outdoors more, and so I always look for ways to bridge the natural world in my children’s play and learning. This season we have studied flower parts, collected flowers, planted wildflowers, dried wildflowers, and more recently made Sun Art. I thought I would write down a few ideas to share, activities that are versatile for ages and locale. I also listed a few of our favorite flower books to complement our learning. Happy Spring!

1. Dissect a Flower / Wildflowers can be difficult for this since the flower parts are often small and more difficult to identify. We found that Lilies worked best since their parts were easier for young ones (and adults) to identify. Consider gluing/taping and labeling the parts to a sheet of paper as you identify them for review. Microscopes aren’t necessary for this activity, but they are a special addition for older children to see small parts up close. This sturdy, American-made Magiscope is our favorite, if you’re looking for future gift ideas for your homeschool. 😉

2. Create Sun Art / This activity always turns out beautifully, and is simple enough for preschoolers to enjoy. I purchased this Sun Art paper, although a smaller size would work, too. Consider cutting the larger sheets to create bookmarks or even layer over cardstock for special cards. The children collect the flowers and arrange them indoors on the blue paper, out of the sun light. When they are ready, they take the paper to the sun and lay a piece of acrylic, the set arrive with, over the top. Press down firmly to prevent shadows, and leave it in the sunlight for a few minutes until the paper turns white. Rinse the paper under water for a minute and let it dry. All Done!

3. Flower Scavenger Hunt / Print a paper with local wildflowers and set out on a walk around the neighborhood or in a nature preserve to see how many you can find. See how many you all can name without looking it up.

4. Press Wildflowers / I loved doing this as a child, and it only works if you’re picking in an area where it’s allowed. Spread and wrap a handful of blooms on a paper towel. Press between the pages of a book.  Stack heavy books on top and leave for a few days, until the flowers are completely dry.

5. Wildflower Memory Game / Gather several different wildflowers from one area. Spread out across the table, covering each different flower with a cloth. Remove the cloth and let the children study the flower for a 30 seconds to a minute, then cover again. Send them into the field to see if they can remember which flowers were on the table. For young children, choose five flowers. For older children, choose up to 10 different flowers. My kids love this one!

6. Make Nature Faces / Cut a piece of cardboard or brown paper bag in an oval shape. Have the children collect plants and flowers to make facial features for the oval. Glue them to the board and name their nature faces to play with or hang on the wall.

7. Create Flower Crowns / Of course, flower crowns can be beautifully elaborate and complex, but they needn’t be for child play. Look for long grasses or weeds to tie or braid together. Tie flowers to the mix and wear for outdoor pretend play.

8. Plant Wildflowers / For all the activities that require picking wildflowers, here’s an opportunity to give back. Purchase seeds that will grow well in your area and create a personal garden, or spread them along empty fields and highways for the public to enjoy.

9. Dry Wildflowers and Herbs / Gather a small bunch of favorite flowers or herbs and tie them together. Hang them in an arid area of your home, near a door or window that often open, and leave them for a couple of weeks until completely dried. Cu  herbs to use in the kitchen, or hang the wildflowers in a bedroom.

10. Create a Wildflower Journal / Take photos, dry-press, or illustrate wildflowers you discover. Help your children label their common and scientific names and location. Add new pages each time you go for a nature walk or even for the next season.

11. Make Your Own Wildflower Nomenclature Cards / Nomenclature or three-part cards are a Montessori memory and learning tool, where three separate card parts are matched together. The top part is the largest with a photo of the flower, the next part has the name of the flower, the third part a description (better for older children). Create your own local nomenclature cards by taking images of flowers you discover during nature activities or play. Learn about the flower together with your children, and help them create the name card and description card for matching and memory work.

12. Play Wildflower Board Games / Make your own Bingo or memory game with photos or try this one.

13. Gift Wildflower Seed Packets / Share the gift of Spring blooms with friends and neighbors. Purchase wildflowers seeds in bulk, and add a spoonful to these mini-envelopes. Let your children stamp a wildflower on the front.

14. Grow Flowers from Seeded Paper / What a magical experiment for young children. This is best matched with beloved Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed.

15. Color Previously Illustrated Wildflowers / This vintage styled coloring book has over 44 favorite, full-page wildflowers with information about each for your little artists. Plop down on a blanket with them and color together. Find out if any are local to your area.

FAVORITE LITERATURE + BOTANY RESOURCES  FOR YOUNG CHILDREN TO ADULTS

Miss Rumphius | This is one of my favorite books, and we read again and again each time Spring arrives. It prompts questions of what each of us are doing to make the world more beautiful.

Nature Anatomy | The spine on this book is worn thin with use and reference and is still my children’s favorite. It covers many topics lightly with beautiful illustrations, a perfect resource for wetting little appetites.

Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt | This book is larger in theme than flowers, but I appreciate how it shows the connection between the life below and above the earth’s surface, and the relational connection of the family in the garden. Plus, the illustrations are just lovely.

A Seed is Sleepy | Beautifully illustrated and labeled like each of Dainna Aston’s books, this one poetically tells the power and life of a seed.

Play the Forest School Way | This is another favorite reference for playful activities outdoors. I adapted two of the activities above from this book, and I love that they label each activity with age-appropriateness.

The Tiny Seed | Eric Carle. Need I say more? This one is perfect for exploring the way seeds travel and grow with early learners, and new copies arrive with seeded paper for you to plant and experiment with at home!

Planting a Rainbow |  This one is another perfect read with littles to introduce flower names, color, and seed bulbs.

The Curious Garden  | Peter Brown is another favorite author here. My oldest received this one as a gift several years ago, because he and the main character share a name, but I love this story for so many reasons. It models the importance of caring for the earth, the power of plant life to beautify spaces and uplift the human spirit, and the impact of even the smallest actions to create change.

The Secret Garden (I love this collector’s edition) | This is a wonderful read aloud or shared read with older children, exploring ideas about growing gardens both literally and metaphorically.

How to Be a Wildflower  | Filled with poetic quotes and ideas, this beautifully illustrated field guide is for older children and adults both to enjoy!

Botanicum | This one is currently on our wishlist, but we’ve enjoyed Animalium so much, I know we’d love the illustrations and descriptions here, too.

The Gardener | Like The Curious Garden, this introduces the contrast of urban and country settings, and the power of natural life and beautiful florals to uplift the human spirit. It is also formatted with letter writing, perhaps inspiring a lost art, even in our home.

Growing Character

Our family has been studying the 19th century this year, and while we are only scratching the surface of events and topics, it has been incredible to read the various narratives of women before women had the right to property, work, or education. From Sacagawea to Queen Victoria to the numerous women in pioneering homesteads to slave narratives and abolitionists and women who bravely took up new roles in the Civil War, I have been moved to read so many stories of courage and compassion, of perseverance and fortitude with my children. As a parent, I hope these powerful words become descriptions of their lives one day, too.

Although books are an important way we build character in our home, it isn’t the only one. Many of the practical character lessons our children learn occur just outside our doors, where they play with friends and build forts and garden. When possible, these lessons extend when we travel and experience other parts of the world or plan outdoor excursions. Today, I am partnering with Keenshoes our family has loved for yearsto share their new Moxie line for girls, and also a few character lessons growing in our girls through outdoor play and exploration.  

There are accumulating piles of research on the benefits of outdoor living for our children’s health: Vitamin D, decreased stress and anxiety, calming for ADD/ADHD, physical exercise, and so on. Yet as a parent, I also notice the ways outdoor living and play teaches my girls something about courage and compassion, about perseverance and beauty. When they climb trees or hike long trails, when they experience new people or ideas from history, when they rove through rivers or gather wildflowers, they are developing a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around them.

Naturally, I do not know who exactly my girls will grow up to be, but I have glimpses now when I see them try something new or speak the truth clearly, when I watch them work hard at a task or serve someone when they think nobody’s watching. As Marmee noted to her girls in Little Women, “I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know they will make it a better place.” Here are a few ways giving my girls plenty of time outside is equipping them to do just that.  

Perseverance / We love to hike, especially in the spring when our Southern air is still cool. There are times, our girls grow tired before we are done, especially our youngest. These experiences are opportunities of perseverance, of continuing despite the hardship, despite knowing how much longer until we are through. To lighten the experience, we might make a game, racing to certain points or playing “I spy.” I might hand them my phone to take pictures along the way. When they finish, we always high-five and celebrate!

Courage / There are plenty of opportunities for courage in the outdoors, whether in casual tree climbing, swimming, or in learning about wildlife. One summer we camped in the mountains in Colorado, and I remember the park ranger giving us instructions about bears. One of the girls looked at me with wide eyes and asked, “Did she say bears?” When we venture into new areas together and learn about the land and wildlife, sometimes it is scary. Sometimes unknowns are scary and unpredictable, a sign for us change course. Other times, they are an opportunity for courage.

Compassion / Spending time outdoors, even simply in our backyard or growing food in our garden, cultivates a love and appreciation for the natural world, and subsequently, a longing to preserve and protect it. When we are walking and find trash in the grass or bushes, we collect it. When we garden organically, we are learning about how to take care of the earth and our bodies. When we interact with homeless on the city street, we say hello and offer them something if we can. All of these seemingly small habits are growing a deeper awareness of the world and people around us, and how we participate in caring for them.

Gratitude / Even in the youngest years, children notice bugs and leaves adults might pass by. They listen to songbirds and the rustling leaves. They enjoy animals and wildlife and playgrounds and picnics. Playing outdoors has a way of cultivating gratitude, simply by its enjoyment. When we pray together, we often thank God for pieces of nature we’ve experienced that day.

Determination / There are moments my girls spot a specific tree or boulder and are determined to conquer it. Sometimes they slip and have to start over, but I love watching them beeline for something specific to work toward. I love it even more when they find a way to help one another, by coaching steps or lending a boost.


This post is sponsored by Keen, a business our family has loved for years. All thoughts and images are my own. Always, thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep our family and this space afloat. 

Homeschooling | Encouragement for the Little Years

Our four children are five and a half years apart, meaning when we began our first formal year of homeschooling, I had a kindergartener, two preschoolers, and an older infant. I also had a calendar grid of all of the curriculum and plans I had researched and assembled for our learning––music, handwriting, math, reading, art, spelling, history, science and so on––I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and full of ambition. I had put so much thought and time into our decision to homeschool, I felt sure that with all of my plans in place, we could do it! And then, as happens with a home full of children under six, plans fell apart. Just a couple of months in, I found myself frustrated, sometimes only crossing one “school” plan off in a day and on the hardest days, not even crossing off one. I began doubting whether I actually could homeschool. Mark would come home and ask how the day went. Some days I could run him through some activities we had accomplished, but most days, I could only shoulder shrug: what had we actually done? I would rehearse the day aloud, at times feeling defeated by the mundanity: meals/snacks, laundry, nursing? Toilet training, tantrums, sibling squabbles? Read aloud, Legos, painting, play outside? Did we finish our reading lesson, have tears during math, practice our handwriting?

I was looking for check marks, for progression through my plans for our year. I was looking for affirmation, signs that I wasn’t going to screw up my children.  I needed a sign that what we were doing mattered. Like many parents, I wanted so much for our homeschool experience and was working hard to tweak and  improve. I wanted to have an answer when people casually asked about science or history or spelling, to prove that I really could do this, even if it was simply proving it to myself. Homeschooling worked so neatly together in my head, and yet in action, it seemed to be a mess! Some days our home life felt smooth and in sync, in spite of their busyness and our slow academic progress.

When I look back to those early years of mothering and homeschooling, what I needed most was encouragement––little reminders to keep going, perspective from a mother just a few steps ahead. I realize that every parent and home is different. Our goals vary and the texture and nuances of our days will too. That’s exactly as it should be, but today, I want to speak specifically to the readers with littles at home, those who are considering or trying out homeschooling for the first time, for families who have younger siblings at home with you. Here are a few things I wish an older homeschooling mother would have said to me in those years when I was about to quit because I couldn’t reconcile our family logistics with all I had hoped in my head or my plans.

You are exactly who your child needs. Your children are a gift to you, and you to them. Wisdom, counsel, and troubleshooting are so helpful on this journey, but in the end, you have to make choices for your home. Pray. Observe. Listen. Use your intuition. Ask for wisdom from people you trust. And just go with it.

You do not have to do it all to be successful. And neither do your children. Focus on a few important goals each day and let go of the rest for now. I wrote more specifically about this here and here.

Be present. The little years are so demanding, but you will miss them. They are foundational for who your children are to become, for how you will relate as they grow. Don’t worry about what you will do or how you will make it through tomorrow. Work patiently and connected with your children today and you will be prepared for it.

Build your day’s activities around your natural home rhythm, not an academic agenda. When I look back now I notice how often I was fighting our home rhythm. My plans were good plans, but aside from meal and nap times, they had omitted our daily living practices, the personal nuances that make our home work.

Be patient with yourself, and with them. As your children grow, their capacity and attention will grow, too. They’re not interested in a writing yet? Focus on reading and letter recognition and offer them play to strengthen writing muscles. Tears everyday in math? Try a more hands-on approach, like here, or wait a bit longer to begin lessons. Your child is eager for academic lessons, but your home schedule or routine doesn’t consistently allow it? Invite them to help with home tasks for a time and set a specific time for you to work one-one-one with their “school” work.

You do not need an academic checklists to validate your days. For list-makers and high-achievers (raises hand), put aside your plans and study your children. If you must make lists (raises hand again), list books you might enjoy together or a few craft ideas for your week or month. List questions they ask or topics them mention for your next trip to the library or museum or nature walk. Make your lists responsive to the conversations in your home, not burdensome tasks. The early years carry enough tasks and burdens of their own. Wink.

Play more. Play more. Play more. The gift of time and play are one of the best gifts for homeschool families. Here is a favorite book list for ideas to encourage play at home and some of the ways it benefits children of all ages.

Let them be messy. And teach them clean up. Wink. But seriously, the little years are busy and messy. That’s okay. Regular practice of cleaning up together with help them learn a bit about respecting spaces and how to care for one another and our things. It takes time. Our family is still learning this skill.

Save lessons that require more focus for a quieter part of the day. Most children need a quiet time for reading lessons or math. Consider how younger sibling activity and interruptions affect lessons with older children. Look for quiet windows of time, and consider using one of those instead.

Home care and self care are important, too. Teaching your child how to care for the home and themselves is an important lifeskill.  Perhaps your child loathes sitting still but loves helping in the kitchen or with chores. This won’t always be the case, but consider the ways busy hands might prefer to learn.

Everyone has opinions. Smile at strangers who glare or who give their opinions in the grocery line. Also have a short response in your mind’s pocket for the “what about socialization?” question. Wink.

Take care of yourself in the process. Some days you will need to just enjoy coffee on the back porch, while your children play. If you start to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and breathe. Let the kids play. Put the baby in the crib. Turn on a brief educational show for a bit. Make space for yourself to breathe and regroup. Mothering is hard work and you matter, too. Don’t feel guilty about carving space to take care of yourself in the process.

OTHER FAVORITE RESOURCES TO ENCOURAGE + LEAD

Wild+Free | A beautiful homeschool community full of rich wisdom and varied experience.

Whole Family Rhythms | Seasonal guides for the preschool years at home, inspired by Waldorf methodology.

The Peaceful Preschool | A gentle literature and project-based curriculum, inspired by a variety of methodologies.

Play the Forest Way | Several activities/projects to encourage parents and young children to play in the woods.

The Life-Giving Home | A wonderful encouragement for mothers about the beauty of home in each month and season.

 

 

WEBINAR | Teaching Reading At Home

“TEACHING READING AT HOME”

When we first decided to homeschool, I felt intimidated about teaching my children to read. I am an avid reader. My husband is an avid reader. Both of us having university degrees in writing and the liberal arts. Our home is filled with hundreds of books and rich conversation. Why did I feel panicked about teaching reading? Of course, I knew how to read, but I couldn’t remember how I learned. Could I break it down well enough to teach my own children? Nine years later, with three––nearly four––fluent readers, I want to encourage parents of younger children: DON’T BE AFRAID.


What will you talk about? 

During this 60 minute live webinar, I hope to quell fear and doubt, and instead empower parents with tools and skills to help their young children learn and love to read. We’ll also end with time for questions and answers. I will discuss

  • our personal story of reading lessons across four different curriculums and temperaments
  • learning styles
  • developmental/environmental factors that affect reading
  • curriculum: is it necessary?
  • when to seek help
  • personal misunderstandings, discouragement, and frustration on the journey
  • finding a balanced and adapted approach
  • our favorite tools and resources
  • Q+A with audience

This webinar will not offer a didactic step-by-step curriculum, but it will provide many ideas, resources, and tools to implement in your own home.


Who is this for?

This webinar is for anyone

  • interested in helping their children learn to read.
  • feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with reading lessons.
  • curious about our personal journey, style, and methods.
  • beginning homeschooling.

I missed the live webinar. Can I still watch it? 

Yes! Click the link to purchase the recorded webinar.

$18

Notes : Once you have paid for the webinar in Paypal, you must click “return to merchant” at the bottom of the PayPal receipt in order to add your name and email and officially complete registration. Feel free to comment or email with any questions or feedback. Thank you for your support.

Choosing to Homeschool

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingSeveral times in recent months, I have been quieted by the thought that Mark and I can choose how we educate our children, not simply the methodology we follow but to homeschool at all. Even on the hard days––and there are hard days––it is such a privilege. The choice itself is a privilege. For a week each January, National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political effort, seeks to raise public awareness about the variety of educational options for children. Schools, organizations, homeschool groups alike host events nationwide hoping to empower parents with the positive educational options for their children. Last year they hosted nearly 17,000 events, and next week, January 22-28, 2017, one will more than likely be happening near you. If you are interested to know who is participating in your area, here is an event map for you. Today, in my own effort to celebrate the freedom of educational choice, I thought I’d share a bit of our own family’s story, how we arrived at homeschooling these last nine years.

It sometimes surprises people that I never intended to homeschool. In fact, not long after Liam’s birth, on a day when I sat nestled in a bookshop corner reading with him sleeping on my chest, a clerk paused me for brief conversation, wherein she asked if I planned to homeschool him. I politely laughed. Homeschool? Probably not. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought of school options yet. At that point, I was more concerned with showering regularly and sleeping through the night again. I didn’t know anything about homeschooling, let alone whether I was committed to that choice yet, and what little I had observed until that point seemed altogether unappealing. How could I do it with children at different ages? How could I have a life outside of it? How would I know what to teach them? Aren’t homeschooled children socially disconnected? Aren’t they a bit weird?

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began Homeschooling

A few years later, after two family moves and with two more children, I found myself in another conversation with new friends about homeschooling. Liam, my oldest was three and attending a two-day week preschool we loved, a godsend for me in the new transition of three children [in three years]. Kindergarten was growing closer by the day, and suddenly, the school conversation seemed more relevant. Listening to my friends’ conversation and excitement around homeschooling, I couldn’t help my internal naysayer. Do people really do this? Is homeschooling really an option for our family? I understood why people might be drawn academically to homeschooling. At that point, I worked part-time at a local college tutoring in writing and grammar. I experienced the callousness of classroom learning in the students’ attitudes, their lack of preparation and skill. I met many students who had only read one or two books in their entire high school experience, and others who hadn’t been required to read anything more than excerpts from anthologies. With access to computers, most of them didn’t understand the point of reading or of literary analysis. Many didn’t even know why they were there. I certainly understood the academic allure of homeschooling. But what about team sports and school lunch? What about recess and school plays? What about my own time for self, for errands, for personal work? For the most part, I had a positive school experience; wouldn’t my children? I felt stumped.

The following year, Liam returned to preschool two days a week, but sometime mid-fall, he began asking to stay home with us. His teacher, an absolutely precious woman who adored Liam, assured me he was enjoying the days there, but all of these previous conversations began to rattle in me. Was homeschooling an option?  With Liam’s first school years nearing, I began doing my homework, reading books from the library, beginning with The Homeschool Option, a wonderful overview of different ways to homeschool, and then onto John Holt’s How Children Learn and  Teach Your OwnSusan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained MindLeigh Bortin’s The Core, and Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion eventually so many more in Montessori and Waldorf methods. I looked into our state requirements for homeschooling, surprised to discover how homeschool-friendly our state is. My ideas about homeschooling were evolving. I began doing a reading lesson with Liam a few times a week, which he loved some days and hated others. I immediately had to deal with my own expectations and how this journey would look in our home. I was pregnant with our fourth child and could for the most part only imagine napping during the lulls in our day, not making space for a reading lesson. But we kept at it anyway.

National School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingNational School Choice Week | How We Began HomeschoolingDuring the preschool year while we deliberated about what to do, Liam continued at his two-day preschool, supplemented with afternoon reading lessons with me, and plenty of art time and outdoor play with his brother just 17 months younger. I used Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years to help guide a few simple hands-on activities. Mark and I also set up tours with several local schools, inquiring about the language immersion program versus the traditional classroom at our local neighborhood school. We visited a few private schools, too, talking with teachers and directors, observing and wondering where our son fit best. I was amazed by the variety of options and diverse experiences. There were schools I quickly crossed off the list, like the one where we were escorted on a tour by a woman in a fur shrug and stilettos. I knew quickly that environment wouldn’t complement our casual, relaxed home atmosphere, no matter how beautiful the classroom or how advanced the technology. There were schools with open concept classrooms and multiple teachers and children working on the floor instead of a desk. There were classrooms that included a child-sized kitchen and personal gardens, where the children were encouraged in independence. There were schools that included daily lessons in French and Spanish, and different schools that issued each child their own laptop or iPad and focused on STEM learning. There were classrooms with igloos made of milk cartons and others with international flags sprawling the walls. Classrooms with traditional desks or tables and ones with only carpet mats.  Uniforms. No uniforms. Neighborhood schools. Schools on the other side of town. I realized, even in our small town, there were several options for us to choose from, options that would require us to know our budget, our family goals, and ultimately, our children. Where would they thrive best? We had to make a choice. Based on Liam’s kinesthetic learning style, difficult time with traditional worksheet methods of learning, and his love of play and art, we chose to homeschool him, knowing three more siblings would be following close behind, too. He loved being at home and was as excited as we were for this option.

I would love to tell you I began homeschooling confident of my abilities, or even confident that we had made the right choice. I didn’t. We began homeschooling as an experiment, with more questions than answers, more ideals than facts. But nine years later, with many soul-searching moments, conversations, research, and prayer, we’re still here, finding this path meandering and growing right with us. While in the early years, I wavered often, especially on the hard days, wondering if we were doing the right thing. I can see the gift of those years now, how precious the experiences with my children are to each of us now, especially the more challenging obstacles. My children have seen me at my best and worst, and likewise for them; they have watched me try new ideas and encourage their own. The beauty of beginning something new together is that the journey has a way of growing us together. For us, this journey is about more than academics and social protocol. Homeschooling is about relational connection, about enjoying their childhood and young adult years together.

The Choice to HomeschoolLast week, we began our school routine again, awkwardly fumbling to find our rhythm for the new year. I grabbed my camera on Thursday afternoon, a random day with nothing extraordinary planned outside of our home. I watched each child toggle from independent artwork or play toward connection with one another, sharing a book or baking a pie together. They don’t always get along. Some days our lessons are more focused on serving one another, on kindness, on attitudes of the heart. These too are preparing them for independent lives outside our home one day, and I’m grateful. Other days we have rich dialogues about ideas and stories we’re reading together. We practice difficult skills in language and mathematics and more practical ones in wood carving or in learning to sew. It is an eclectic path, the most unexpected gift. I will never romanticize this homeschool journey for others. It is hard work and demanding of every resource, but it has empowered me as a parent, taught me how to trust instinct, an instinct that a random bookshop clerk seemed to intuit in me so many years ago.  


This post is sponsored by National School Choice Week, a non-partisan, non-political awareness effort about the variety of educational options. All thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the organizations and businesses that help keep this space afloat.