The Joys of Not-Back-to-School

The joys of not-back-to-school: Or why I love being a homeschooler

On Twitter the other day, someone posted a series of photographs of parents who were jumping for joy while their children stood by, looking forlorn and ready for their first day of school. While I believe all these images were probably staged, and the children were probably told to look sad while the parents looked overly happy, I know that many parents do feel elated when it’s time to send the kids back to school.

As a homeschooling parent, I don’t get this at all. Sure, sometimes I dream of having a day here and there sans children, which I never, ever get. (Sigh.) But if I had to send my kids away from me every day? All day? I know I’d cry, and I’d never feel happy about it.  Of course, I know that there are many, many parents who are not happy because they have to send their children away each day while they have to go to work. I am very sorry for these parents, and I wish our society was more pro-family.

Some parents may have a career they care deeply about, and I understand that. Other parents may not have the temperament to spend all day with children. For many, it may be that they get used to having their weekdays free without any children around, so when the kids come back from school, it’s a striking difference. And I’ve heard that kids tend to unleash their pent-up energy once they get home, so maybe they aren’t as well behaved with their parents as they are with their teachers. I don’t know for sure, but I think many parents have no idea the difference that homeschooling could make in their children.

For me, however, I am used to seeing my boys everyday, I get to watch them learn and grow, and I can’t imagine any other way of life. I get to teach them! What’s more is that we have time to rest and be flexible with our schedule. We have time to go interesting places, and we get to spend quality time together as a family, and we are very close because of that. That is priceless to me, and it’s worth the sacrifices we have to make to live this lifestyle.

Every day I get to hear my boys’ questions, and I get to help them search for their answers. I hear their excitement when they see something new and interesting on the Internet. “Mommy, you have to come see this!” my son will yell to me. “Okay! Just a minute!” I’ll say, and when I can I’ll go look at the weird animal, usually a sea creature, and I’ll act like I think it’s just as cool as they do even though what I really think is cool is their interest and enthusiasm for looking up the creature in the first place.

I am jumping for joy that we homeschool. I’m jumping for joy that I have two well-behaved boys who are each other’s best friend. I’m jumping for joy that we get to spend our days reading good books, watching documentaries, playing and working on things that we’re interested in. 

This September we’ll be beginning our new school year, which is just a continuation of last year with a little bit of new stuff thrown in. We’ll start our weekly appointments again, dig in a little more into our books, and we’ll continue to learn and grow. The growing part is going very fast, and for me, I’m jumping for joy that I’m not missing any of it.

Living the Homeschool Dream... in Real Life

Homeschool dreams vs homeschool reality--great read about loving the life you're in!

A friend recently joked, “I’m living the dream! It’s not my dream, but it’s somebody’s dream!”

Years ago, when my children were still in elementary school, I dreamed about moving my family to Central America for a year. Complete and total immersion. We’d all become fluent in Spanish. We’d see flora and fauna we’d never before seen. We’d eventually make friends with the suspicious locals. I would wear embroidered tunics and learn to cook in a whole new way. Never mind that our family has never traveled outside of the United States, or even east of the Rocky Mountains, we could become, at least temporarily, expatriates!

“But what about my job?” asked my husband.

“But what about our friends?” asked my children.

“But what about my dream?” I responded.

I truly felt happy for the family who experienced what sounded a lot like my dream. If I didn’t have the experience, at least somebody else did.

My dream never made it further than a stack of books from the library and a mini lesson on the geography and culture of Central America. I only have one embroidered tunic, which I found at a thrift store and never wear. It’s not really my style. Travel isn’t really my style either. I’m a homebody. Vacations longer than three or four days make me a bit panicky. My solution to seeing more of the world without vacationing was to make a home somewhere else.

When I ran into an old acquaintance at yoga, my dream to live abroad came rushing back as she told me about her family’s adventure. They had lived in South America for six months, during which time they homeschooled their three children, and exchanged work for a place to live. Her eyes lit up as she told me about the incredible places they visited, the experiences they had, and the people they met. “You lived my dream!” I told her.

I have a saying that helps me to live a more minimal lifestyle: Be happy that it exists without needing to possess it. “It” being whatever that thing is I find myself wanting - usually a material item - but squatting on the floor of the yoga studio, hearing about living and learning in South America, I realized “it” can also be an experience. In my sweat drenched, post yoga euphoria, I truly felt happy for the family who experienced what sounded a lot like my dream. If I didn’t have the experience, at least somebody else did.

As homeschoolers, it doesn’t always feel like we’re living the dream - our children may balk at our carefully crafted lesson plans; the dining room table is always a cluttered mess; we wake up in the middle of the night worrying that we’re doing it all wrong. Chances are, however, that we’re living someone else’s dream. There is a mom at work right now who wishes she was home with her children. There’s a dad teaching a room full of students who dreams of staying home to teach his own kids. There might even be a family in Central America wishing they could live and learn in California for a year. If you know them, I’d love their contact information. Maybe they’re interested in a house swap. Some dreams don’t disappear, they just take longer to become reality.

Joy Should Be a Priority in Our Homeschool Lives

Great read: Homeschooling should be fun, and when it's not, maybe it's time to take a step back and rethink what we're doing.

I’m so happy to introduce you to Cate Olson, the newest blogger to join the home | school | life team. Cate will be writing about her experiences homeschooling her four kids, the oldest of whom is now in high school and the youngest of whom is 6. I bet you’re going to love getting to know her as much as I have!


If you happen upon these words after the sort of day in which each and every last excruciating diphthong and consonant blend had to be coaxed out of your emerging reader or the sort of day in which your young teen spent the better part of his day dawdling through an impossibly short lesson on multiplying exponents, demanding unnecessary hand-holding, I have something radical to say: 

Homeschooling is not supposed to be like this.

Please, indulge me a moment. Think back to when you first made the decision to homeschool. Remind yourself of how you might have naïvely imagined every day spent under the warm sun, plopped on a picnic blanket atop lush green grass with attentive, well-groomed children itching to read the works of Aristotle by age five and with a functioning understanding of trigonometry by grade six.

Well, okay, homeschooling isn’t supposed to be exactly like that either, but behind our wide-eyed, simple daydreams were two kernels of truth: First, we understood that the learning process itself could— and should!— be extraordinary, and, second, we wanted to experience those almost transcendent moments of comprehension and understanding alongside our children. We guessed what we now know to be true, that learning something new is an astonishing feeling, and practically the only other feeling that comes close to beating it is being the curator of that moment for your child.

Now, of course we are going to have bad days, even no good, very bad days where we have online enrollment forms filled out for local schools and we are one mere whine, catastrophe or dropped pencil away from clicking submit. Being imperfect beings, these days are inevitable, but in my experience, they happen with diminished frequency when we focus less on the nuts-and-bolts of how we homeschool and give ourselves more freedom to daydream boldly and recapture whatever it was that initially inspired us to homeschool.

We guessed what we now know to be true, that learning something new is an astonishing feeling, and practically the only other feeling that comes close to beating it is being the curator of that moment for your child.

Example. The sun is out and the temperature is above fifty. You live in the Midwest where, if you are lucky, you might string together two spring-like days in a row before the next blizzard rolls in. It’s late morning and you’ve spent the past thirty minutes (has it really been only thirty minutes!?) on the cusp of a mental breakdown while your child continues to struggle to sound out the word d-o-g for the eight hundred and seventy-fifth time of the day, a word she read fluidly just yesterday, and you have already started wondering if lunchtime is too early to crack open the Merlot that you were saving for cocktail hour.

This is the moment where you need to harken back to your doe-eyed homeschooling daydreams and just quit for the day already. Do you see the sun out your grimy, fingerprint-covered windows? Do you hear those birds chirping over the din of the dog barking? The best cure for a bad day at the homeschool table is to put away the workbooks. Go for a hike.  Dig in the garden for some worms. Go build a snowman, or even make some tea and read a book to yourself while your children tie pillows to their stomachs and pretend to be sumo wrestlers. 

The curriculum will be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and one day soon— and this is a promise— your child will have the breakthrough that you were earlier trying to force. 

Anecdotal evidence: One of my daughters was struggling to learn long division. Divide, multiply, subtract, and bring down; she could recite the process in her sleep, but she just couldn’t remember what to divide, multiply, subtract, or bring down. We let math go for a day or so, or we worked on multiplication fact worksheets when we did do math. As she seemed receptive, we practiced a long division problem together here and there.  She can do long division now with the best of them, and all this was achieved with no tears or fighting, and, most importantly, she does not hate long division.

I think that the farther away we get from our homeschool daydreams of yesteryear the easier it is to forget that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Children don’t learn math because they finish the math text; they learn math because they understood the concepts the math text taught, and it’s up to us to be able to discern the difference therein. 

The curriculum will be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and one day soon— and this is a promise— your child will have the breakthrough that you were earlier trying to force.

Confession: Of course I do not always remember to take my own advice. Just last week I locked horns with my six-year-old over a phonics lesson that, in all likelihood, was reinforcing a concept she had already mastered. I persevered. There were raised voices, a thrown pencil, and no thoughts on my part of doing anything other than winning the battle of wills in that moment. 

Yes, I ultimately “won,” but what was gained in that episode with my six-year-old? Certainly she did not gain an increased understanding of words starting with “th” and “sh,” but she did learn that maybe she didn’t much want to see her phonics workbook for another few days.

It is precisely in these darker homeschool moments where I think we need to allow ourselves more daydreams about backyard hammocks and lazy grammar lessons going hand-in-hand. We need more stargazing and less navel gazing. We must remind ourselves that homeschooling is a way of life, and not just something we do for a few hours every day. In short, it is essential to rediscover the joy and the beauty of learning that brought our kids home in the first place. Once the joy of learning is rightly realigned at the top of our homeschool priority list, abundant, deep, and real learning will—nay, must—necessarily follow. 

I’d love to hear about it. If you’d like to reach me, I’ll be cuddled up in bed with a messy-haired, dirty-kneed, disheveled kid who is, inevitably, teaching me as they learn.

Mindful Homeschool: What Are You Afraid Of?

Love this post! A good reminder that we don't want to be driven by fear in our homeschool lives. #homeschool

Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.

Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.

The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?

Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.

When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.

During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)

I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.

What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.

So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:

  1. Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
  2. Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
  3. Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
  4. Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
  5. Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
  6. Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.

A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.

Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?

So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?