Things I Know About Our Homeschool

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Curious about homeschooling? This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

Things I Know About Our Homeschool - Curious about homeschooling? This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

A random poll on Facebook tells me that you all are pretty split when it comes to school choice. As every poll I’ve ever taken over the last six years has shown, this one showed a healthy mix of homeschooling, private schooling, and public schooling. That makes me happy.

I have walked in crowds that said homeschoolers were total nutjobs and in crowds that said public school was of the devil. Neither opinion has ever sat right with me. I don’t believe the Bible has a definitive answer on school choice, so it’s up for grabs. Each family has a different story to live. I can’t tell you what choice is best for your kids any better than you can tell me what is right for my six children.

My background is a public school one. Both my parents were public school teachers; my dad served 39 years in the trenches. My mom continues to teach at a public college. I earned my Masters in Education as well as my California State Teaching Credential in 1995. I taught for a couple years in Santa Barbara before becoming a stay-at-home-mom.

(You can read our story of why we chose this homeschooling path here.)

Right now, I’m coming off the heels of two very full days of thinking and breathing homeschooling. If homeschooling isn’t your bag, this post will offer you a glimpse into the mind of one homeschool mom. Twenty years ago we might all have looked the same, but I assure you, the homeschool community is no longer the homogeneous group you may think it is. There are just as many tattoos as there are denim jumpers among homeschoolers.

This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

This past weekend FishPapa and I took the two older boys (aged 17 and 13) to the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario. This was the first time in 12 years that we had an extended time of just the four of us. It was really sweet. We stayed in a hotel (more on that tomorrow). We ate restaurant food because it’s so much more doable with four than with eight. The “big boys” loved that.

We parents got a chance to consider these young men we have  raised. It’s a humbling thing to see what great guys they are today.

I had spent the previous weekend sorting through our school room, pulling out the books that we won’t be using in the new year. I still have paperwork to go through, but as we’ll be doing light school through the summer, it was good to get a “do over”, at least where books were concerned.

Things I Know About Our Homeschool - Curious about homeschooling? This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

FishBoy17 took his SATs also that weekend before. As I drove away, leaving my firstborn in a sea of other high school juniors, I had a brief moment of What-have-we-done-and-did-we-do-the-right-thing? You would think that after 12 years I would have some uber-confidence in this homeschool gig, that I wouldn’t worry that I’m the worst teacher or mother in the world.

As my friend Jamie so eloquently put it, if I was the worst, I probably wouldn’t care.

Most days I know without a doubt that this is the right thing for our family. There are always some days, though, when I worry that this will be fodder for my kids to gripe about me someday.

Time to refresh

Clearly I was due for a reset in my homeschool mama brain. After all, I’ve just finished my 12th official year of teaching my kids at home. FishBoy17 is entering his senior year. My first guinea pig has survived — and thrived — amid all my crazy experimentation.

This year was probably the craziest by far, crazier than the years — yes, years, we did it twice — we moved cross country, crazier than the years — we did it four times during homeschooling — when we added babies to the family. This past school year I had this weird collision of school (all six kids!) and work obligations (final edits and release of Best 100 Juices for Kids, edits for Good Cheap Eats, development for Book #4, and two blogs). It felt like I was in a marathon that never had a finish line.

Yet, we lived to tell about it. And we’re going to keep on keeping on.

Home education certainly isn’t the easy road, but it has been a good one. This year was a handful with six kids in formal schooling: kindergarten, second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and eleventh grades. I feel like going into the new year, it’s bound to be easier. At least I hope so!

At the convention, our fam split two ways during sessions with FishPapa (and usually the boys) attending heady presentations on science and higher education while I went to sessions on practically and spiritually getting things done. Our time was over far too soon. The guys were hangry and wanting to get on the road. I’m going early and staying late next time — by myself, if I have to! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I came home feeling encouraged, refreshed, and ready to get back to business. In light of that, expect to hear more about school now than in August.

Here’s my “state of the homeschool whatever-you-wanna-call it”:

Things I Know About Our Homeschool - Curious about homeschooling? This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

1. I (still) love being with my kids.

There have certainly been seasons of our life thus far when a child (or two or three) has struggled with different issues. We’ve had our fair shares of back talk, sibling rivalry, and squabbles. But, I still really enjoy spending my days with my kids.

I’m usually more than happy to see 3pm roll around, but I love getting the chance to talk with them and watch them learn. I can’t imagine doing something different. Now that my firstborn is getting old enough to plan his flight from the nest, I realize how very quickly the time has gone. I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do this.

The fact that we have this positive relationship and enjoy our kids so much is confirmation to me that we’re doing the right thing for our family. As FishPapa so eloquently put it a few months ago, look at the fruit.

2. I (still) am excited about curriculum.

I am a curriculum geek. I’ve always loved books and developing a course of study. There are so many great things to learn in the world!

Long ago, the classical form of education captured my heart. I read The Well-Trained Mind when my only child was only two. I was ready to sign up right then. It’s only in the reality of life that I’ve realized I’m more of a “classical unschooler”.

For lack of an online post to direct you to, here’s my short little rabbit trail definition.

Classical unschooling

Classical education, as defined by Susan Wise Bauer, one of my heroes:

Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

Subject matter includes: math, literature, history, science, logic, foreign languages, art, music, and rhetoric as appropriate for the age and stage of the child.

Unschooling, as defined by Wikipedia:

Unschoolers learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.

Our school is a bit of a mash-up of the two philosophies — and probably others besides. I present my kids with a wealth of resources that are age appropriate and in line with classical standards, but I don’t sweat it if every day doesn’t look like the next. If we spend six weeks on a time period they really like and then whip through the next one in a week, I’m not worried about it.

Somedays it’s very relaxed with all the kids engrossed in books or art projects of their own choosing. Other days we’re focused on math and science and getting lessons accomplished. Still other days we’re taking a field trip.

(Check out what my friends Mandi and Anne have to say about their “classical unschooling”. I also like this blogger‘s definition: “the concept is that classical ed informs the what, the content, and unschooling describes the how.)

When I was in the UCSB credential program my advisor said that education was not so much the lesson plan or the book chosen, but whether or not learning happened. I try to make that my litmus test for our school rather than how quickly we work through something.

3. I realize that every season is different.

The way we schooled was different when we had newborns or when we moved; it was different when they all wanted me to read aloud to them; it was different the year my mother-in-law died; it was different this year when I worked on three books. And that’s okay.

Learning is happening.

We are entering a new season even now. I feel like this past year’s cookbook chaos was similar to having a baby. It always took me two years to feel normal after having a baby. I feel like we have achieved something close to normal now. Or we will soon.

Changes are a-brewing. We’re “doing school” through the summer because April and May were pretty light loads. We kinda already had a break. Part of the fall will be spend traveling through France and the UK. This, of course, will be educational in its own way, but I want to make sure we’re keeping pace with math and that sort of thing.

We’ll be exploring different school subjects quite a bit this summer as well as getting to the pool and trying to eat ice cream every day.

Things I Know About Our Homeschool - Curious about homeschooling? This is where I am today, 42-year old me with six kids, a writing career, and a homeschool.

4. I am (still) excited about teaching.

I ordered a bunch of new school books and set up a summer schedule, including weekly museum field trips, play days with friends, daily trips to the pool, and a lighter regimen of math, science, reading, and art history.

I want to put the initial joy of learning back into our days. I want to be able to take our time as we work through art and literature together. I want to get kids feeling comfortable with math calculations. (As I type, FishPapa is going over a math lesson with FishBoy10.)

I want to finally figure out how to make elementary school science happen on a regular basis! We’re starting now so that maybe we’ll actually finish our new book. (Science is not my passion.)

5. I have some more refreshing, dreaming, and planning to do.

I really enjoyed taking extended time these past two weekends to think through our school, both at home, sorting through books, as well as at the convention, listening to speakers I’d never heard before. Initially, I was disappointed that neither Susan Wise Bauer nor Julie Bogart would be there. But, I dug around in the session listings and found plenty of new speakers and topics to spark my thinking and my imagination for our school.

On my list for the summer:

  • weekly school research and thinking
  • keeping to our summer schedule of light school
  • setting up a similarly light, but enthusiastic schedule for the fall ๐Ÿ™‚
  • organizing all our old paperwork and getting it filed appropriately
  • rereading The Well-Trained Mind
  • getting high school transcripts updated
  • spending more downtime with my kids playing and learning
  • hopefully joining Brave Writer’s Homeschool Alliance

6. Nothing is perfect.

Before you go thinking this is an I-am-Superwoman-do-as-I-do post, please know that this post is about me and our family and our goals for education. It’s not for your family, though parts of it may be a good fit. I hope that if you’re a homeschool mom, that you will feel encouraged where you are and that my own problem solving will spark an idea for you.

Some of this may be total whack to you. That’s okay. I bet we wouldn’t order the same things on our pizzas, either. We both want the best for our kids. Your private or public school isn’t perfect, either. We can both hope for the best for each other, though.

No matter what type of schooling you choose, every day will not be all rainbows and glitter. Some days are really, really hard.

Honestly, I am not always this excited about school. But, I am now! And I’m going to strike while the iron’s hot. Remind me of all this when things get tough six months from now, okay?

Got questions?

I’ll answer them if I can.

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  1. This was my first year homeschooling 2 of 4. Next year I plan on 3of4. I love being with my kids and yes not everyday is glitter and rainbows. I get tons of negative feedback from friends and family and have days of maybe they are right maybe I am the worst mom ever. Your post was just what I needed tonight. I have driving myself a little nut trying to pick a different cirrulumn for next year. I feel better knowing after all your years, you still switch things up. I was looking at a cross between classical and Charlotte Mason. I just didn’t trust I could mix the two. Your post was then nudge I needed to trust my gut and keep trying Thank you!

    1. Either you’re totally right or we’re both out to lunch. I’m going with Door #1. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I don’t think you need to choose one or the other in terms of philosophies. I have read Charlotte Mason stuff and I think it overlaps really, really well with Classical. I wouldn’t give that a second thought.

      I’ll be sharing more of what we’re doing (book wise) over the next month, but don’t let it derail you. You know your kids better than anyone else. Find what fits YOUR family.

  2. I was homeschooled for all 4 years of high school and not for the right reasons. My parents, who had the best of intentions, were very fearful, so honestly there were more negatives than positives. I really appreciate your approach though. It is so obvious your love and enjoyment of your children. Thank you for your blog, you have no idea the healing it has helped me to achieve. Your children are very blessed to have you.

    1. Wow, Sarah, thank you. I appreciate that. It’s hard to find the right approach when there can be such strong feelings in either way. I can certainly understand the fearfulness. One of the things that I walked away from the conference with was that I can’t “shield” my kids from the evils of the world, but that my job is help them to understand a godly worldview and then reason it out with competing ideologies they encounter. Or die trying….

  3. Thanks for sharing! I homeschool 3 and they’ll be in grades 2, 7 and 9. This past year was a real struggle for me to keep up enthusiasm and joy in my homeschooling. You’ve inspired me to shake things up a bit (I will admit to being a slave to “getting the book done”) and stir up some fun and creativity for everyone’s sake!

    1. It is a constant struggle. Last night I wondered what I’d gotten myself into with summer school. But, it’s really good for us to keep plugging along since our schedule has been so random.

  4. I appreciate this post, Jessica. We are committed to homeschooling, for us we feel there is no other option. And, like you, this time of year, the planning, the book purchasing, the setting up of schedules, revives me! I love it! It’s like I get to do a “do-over” each year. Being realistic about what didn’t work, how to tweak it so it does, setting up new parameters and expectations as we’re one year/grade older.

    I’d love a post on your summer schedule, books, field trip plans, time-frames, the whole nine yards. In your spare time, of course!;)

  5. Great summary, Jessica! After graduating 2, I would say something similar, and I’m looking forward to my next 6 years.

    I really need to take some time off to plan/wrap up like you did, but that’s not happening anytime soon since we’re gardeners. We all, as you said, have our own story, and that is so important to remember.

    Enjoy your summer school and your last year at home with your oldest…and thanks for reminding me that we have a SAT coming up in the fall.

    1. The plan/wrap up time was all too short. I just need to get some more routine when it comes to school thinking. I had coffee with a friend yesterday — something I haven’t done in forever — we talked homeschool for 2 1/2 hours! That was my school thinking for the week. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Classical homeschooler! Never heard the term before, but that’s me- well, at least on some level. I, by nature, am eclectic. I never fit stereo types, or groupings, completely, and that has become clear in the way I homeschool. Whenever I’m trying to help a new homeschooling mom get started I always have to remind them that NO ONE does it exactly alike. Even kids in the same public school class are going to approach things differently, and that is OK. We started our, slightly lighter, homeschool schedule this morning, so the post was timely at our house. Thanks for the renewed enthusiasm. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It’s so true. No two seasons in the same home are alike either. We’re all growing and changing and so are the challenges each family faces. You gotta be ready to roll with it.

  7. Great post. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Love the spirit of how it was shared. I cringe at the “this is the only way” nonsense. There are always reasons for our choices, hopefully those with “excuses” that are actually interested in homeschooling can also benefit from this article—– I also went through the “I couldn’t do that” phase and listed all the “excuses” (compared to legit reasons that make it impossible). . . but now entering year 8 of this journey. It helped that God kept pounding me on the head with real-life information that took those excuses away and i said, “Okay, here we go!” Amazingly the now 11th & 8th grader still love it—and are very active in their community. And we survived me starting to work part time near the end of the school year. As thankful as I am for some school downtime, I’m excited at the new look to our upcoming school year. Again, thanks for sharing!

  8. We home schooled one daughter out of seven. I remember being so scared that I would do something wrong for our daughter It was such a wonderful time. We used Bob Jones and AOP. There is so much more now than when I first started. She is now starting her 2nd year of college. In our area we have a wonderful public school. So our newest children (adopted) are going there. It is such a perfect fit for our son.. We have a great support system in our church, children in public school and home school.

  9. Thanks for the encouraging post! Just finished my 7th year of homeschooling and I feel like I should have it all figured out by now. As my oldest son enters 7th grade, I was feeling really overwhelmed about the upper years. It’s good to know you still have doubts at times too.

  10. I really enjoyed this post, too! My son will be 15 this summer and has always been in public school except for kindergarten. At that time, I was HSing his sister. My son was held back in the sixth grade and now he didn’t make it out of 7th grade. He is very hard to get motivated and to do his assignments. I am interested in the classical/Charlotte Mason method, but am afraid he won’t actually read the books. If anyone has any suggestions on which method or style would best fit a teenager that is educationally lazy (but I think perfectly capable!), I am open!

    1. You do have a good challenge on your hands. Have they done any assessments to see if he has some kind of learning disability? It seems odd to me that the ps would hold him back twice. Do you believe that it’s laziness or could there be an underlying issue?

  11. We are doing a combination homeschool/online. This will be are first year so let see how it goes. Not a fan of our local school system and the system has change so much since I was there and even change from oldest to youngest. My older daughter would not be able to handle online school but my youngest will do great online schooling.

  12. Thanks for sharing, Jessica. “School” is a few years away for us still, and we don’t plan to home school. However, I’m was very interested in your views and approaches. As I look to the future, I see a plan to combine formal public education with home unschool education. I happen to be quite aware of the positives and negatives of public school in my area since I’m in the trenches myself. The plan to is take into account the public schooling our children get and their native interests and the things we think they should know or be exposed to, then find ways that work for our kids to make it all come together. My husband and I have been agreed on this approach since…..before we were married?? I think that’s right.

    On a different note, I graduated from home school myself, as did my sister. We were the only ones out of 5 to be home educated all of K-12. It was a good experience, and it had its problems. Not home schooling my own kids is not a “result” of my own home education. Interestingly, my sister is a home educator, and her girls are way ahead of the curve, so to speak. They both read at age 2. On the other hand, my son, barely 3, now knows the first letter of his name. He can also be prompted to tell us that D is for Daddy and M is for Mommy and his little sister’s name. Is this difference in the parent or the children? BOTH. But I think it’s mostly the kids. My sister says her girls beg for school and have to be made to play outside. I think that’s bizarre, because my kids are not like that!

    1. It sounds like you are perfect candidates for afterschooling. ๐Ÿ™‚ My sister and her husband do that even if they don’t know they are. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. This was such a great post! I have been homeschooling almost as long as you have and I still have my doubts at times. I so enjoy being with my children, the things we learn together, and the discussions we have. Homeschooling has been such a blessing for our family, but like you said, each family needs to decide for themselves what is the best method for them. Thanks for the encouraging post!

  14. Really, really enjoyed reading your post! We’ve considered homeschooling (my husband was homeschooled, I went to a private school) but for Kindergarten and now 1st grade next year we decided to send our son to a very small private school. It felt like the right thing for K but for 1st grade this coming year I just keep having this nagging feeling that we should homeschool instead. But it looks SO huge to do that!

    One question I have is how do you manage to divide your time. Obviously you don’t have any little children anymore (we have a baby and a crazy, busy 2 1/2 yr. old) but what advice or encouragement would you give to young moms that homeschool on how to divide their time and manage things? I also blog like you do and I guess I’m just trying to figure out how I’d juggle it all and do it well! Any advice you have would be lovely!

    1. For a long time I included the younger ones in what I did with the elder. If we were doing a math lesson, they were playing with pattern blocks or linking cubes. If we were reading a story, they were listening while playing lego or coloring. Depending on ages, we also did a lot of school during naps. ๐Ÿ™‚ As my kids have gotten bigger, they have grown more independent with their work so they don’t need me right there. Then I bounce from kid to kid throughout school time. Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks Jessica! Yes, that is helpful. I also was perusing some other posts on your blog and it gave me some other good input.

        I guess partly I was curious how you juggled blogging and homeschooling. Or maybe you didn’t blog in the little years? Why I’m wondering about that in particular is because I find that with blogging, especially writing up posts, I need uninterrupted time and when I homeschooled my son for K the first part of last year it was tough finding the balance with that because he often needed help with things. I considered giving up blogging but I do love it and right now with my husband in school we kind of depend on the income.

        If you don’t have any further ideas that is fine….I’m hoping to be able to look through more of your homschooling posts to learn more!

        1. Well, I’ve been writing in some capacity “for pay” for 8 years. I started out doing magazine work before books and blogs. So, my older kids, no, they didn’t have a work-at-home mom when they were little. My younger kids have.

          I block out time where they are playing, watching a movie, sleeping, or with my husband. Currently my schedule allows 25 hours for work per week. But, it greatly hinges on keeping to a pretty tight schedule which is not my preference. I am busy all. the. time. which I do not like.

          All that to say, I don’t have a great solution. We’re constantly tweaking to meld school, home, and work in a sane way.

          1. I get that. It sounds like you blog/work a lot like I do. I currently don’t have much down time either and while I’m okay with it most of the time I’m really hoping that it will get better as my children get a bit older and once my husband is done school. If we do homeschool, we’ve talked of hiring someone to help me a day a week so that would give me a bit of a boost.

            Thanks for taking the time to reply and as I said, I look forward to learning more from you as I continue to follow your blog. Blessings (and hoping you have a restful weekend)!

  15. Reading about your success and passion for homeschooling gives me hope that if I feel that is the right course I can jump in. Currently, I struggle with the idea. My daughter has a hard time learning one on one, because no matter how fun or low pressure it is, she feels singled out and picked on. She enjoys being an observer for learning, instead of the center of attention. It took me a long time to realize this about her, and now that I have, I am grateful that my area has a good public school system- she just finished kindergarten, and thrived in her setting. I was wondering if you have ever come across this with one of your kids, and if so, how you handled it. i want to be able to help her with her education, but I dont know if this is a phase or just how she learns best.

    1. There are actually so many different models of homeschooling, that you would be surprised. It’s not just group ps or singleton hs. I know quite a lot of charters and coops that have classdays and home days so kids get a good mix of both.

  16. I always enjoy your homeschooling posts. Last year we homeschooled and the experience was pretty good. We didn’t get out of the house as much as we needed and the first time doing anything is challenging. A month or so ago, our Hannah 7 was appearing very lonely and not wanting to be around me much, acting out a bit. We decided to look into public school and see if it might be what she needs for this year. My husband and I are both unsure at this point. We thought, maybe yes to ps. It is summer, she is seeing more friends, we are out and about, she is happier. Today Hannah told me she wants to continue homeschooling. In your experience or opinion, is she capable of making a big decision like this along side of us? Last during school she asked to go back to public school many times. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

    1. Since I don’t know Hannah, I can’t really advise you. But, what I’ve found when my kids were acting out is that they actually just needed more time with me for fun things (not school related). Is she an only child? Do you have a hs support group? Do you do church or sports or some other outside activity? We’ve found that there are plenty of outside activities to fill that void rather than spending 8 hours somewhere else every day.

      Does that help at all?

  17. Jessica, Eli is almost 4. We are a church family, my husband is a Pastor. We have a co-op here that I helped get off the ground that is working well and will continue in the fall. She has started figure skating. So, yes, we do! You are probably right about more one on one with “Mom” and not teacher. Also, with Dad. Finding a good rhythm to our day will help. I think it is worth giving it another year. Time to play puzzles with Eli. Thank you!

    1. I really appreciate all the menu plans, cleaning, and organizing ideas you provide for us! Because, there really are so many things that fill our days, but, the people who fill our days ours the most important. Blessings to you and your family!

  18. I homeschool, too. It’s the only option for us where we live (rather isolated area of Congo.) I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoy it. We have trouble getting material/curriculum sometimes. Other times our crazy life or traveling messes with our schedule. Then I just try to think that we are “unschooling.” In one of those periods, my kids were talking to some other Americans, high school & college graduates. They were telling them things about history and mythology that they had learned through reading for fun. Some of it even the college graduates didn’t know. I figured we were doing OK. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Thanks for saying whst some homeschoolers eont admit– homeschooling is not for everyone. I have homeschooled foe 19 years. This last year i have only had one homeschooling because i am beyond burn out. In the fall all of them will be in school. Its amazing how shunned people like me are in the homeschool world. There already is a sense of failure and guilt but to hear you are selling out or are not committed is terrible. So, your post is quite refreshing because there is not much info and support for moms in my situation. I have started a blog to help veteran homeschool moms, homeschool moms onsidering school, and former homeschool moms.