Our Homeschool Journey: True Confessions of an Ordinary Family

NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015.

We have been a homeschooling family for over 15 years, since our oldest child started kindergarten. None of our children have ever been enrolled in public school; the only reason any of them have stepped foot inside one has been to take college entrance exams. As of this year, we have graduated two students, and we are still schooling a senior, a sophomore, and a sixth-grader.  We've been at this homeschool journey a long time, with many more years to go.

I firmly believe in every family's right to make their own decision regarding their children's education, and I don't think any type of education is inherently right or wrong. But, having said that, I also have to say that homeschooling has been a wonderful thing for our family. Did we do everything right? Far from it. Do I have regrets about some things? You bet. Read on to hear my true confessions about the good and the bad…

The story of our homeschool journey from kindergarten through high school, and one of the most important lessons we learned along the way.

In the beginning we had some grandiose plans for our homeschool – classical education, amazing field trips, winning the national spelling bee (lol), getting half of college done while still in high school, etc. For many homeschooling families these are achievable goals. But for us things turned out differently; we discovered that we are a lot more ordinary than we realized!

When we started homeschooling, we lived in California. We were attending a church that had a special homeschool program – learn at home for four days a week, then don uniforms and go to the private church school for PE, music, and other fun stuff on Fridays. California state homeschool laws required that we “enroll” somewhere, and that sounded like the best option for us; so we signed up.

I have to say that it was a WONDERFUL way to start homeschooling. #1 made new friends; #2, #3, and #4 (and eventually #5, too) were in the nursery; and we moms got together for snacks and group encouragement. There were field trips to go on (all organized by someone else, gotta love it!), and I received helpful feedback about curriculum, lesson plans, etc. So we continued to be in that program for several years, enrolling two more girls.

The story of our homeschool journey from kindergarten through high school, and one of the most important lessons we learned along the way.

Our curriculum started out being very classical, mixed with some Charlotte Mason. I loved the idea of studying all subjects in relation to the history of the world, starting Latin at an early age, drawing pictures of nature, and doing dictation. And for awhile all of those went very well – at least until I had to do them with more than one student, lol. Amazingly enough, I discovered that in the early grades those activities require a lot of teacher time, which is not always available when you are schooling multiple children — and there are toddler and infant siblings to take care of as well.

Field trips began to fall by the wayside as the schooling became more time-consuming. We started leaning more towards textbooks, such as Abeka, as the pressure to document learning and have objective grading practices became more urgent. The fun and flexibility of homeschooling started to diminish somewhat.

I feel bad about that. I wish I had been more diligent to keep learning as an adventure… and yet in a family of multiple children on a tight budget, you make the choices that seem best at the time. And there are limitations to your resources, emotional and financial, that I don't think smaller families can thoroughly appreciate.

Sometimes I think we homeschoolers set our expectations way too high. That's actually one of the purposes of this blog – to encourage homeschoolers that homeschooling CAN be simple, even easy. It does not have to be overwhelming or all-consuming. We don't always have to do everything that we see out there. And you know what? It's OK to be ordinary. I know that now.

By the time #1 was entering 5th grade and #4 was entering kindergarten, I was feeling ready to not have such direct supervision as was required by the organization we were in. The timing on that worked out well, because it was about that time that we moved to Missouri, where homeschool laws are much more relaxed. We found a house on 8 ½ acres in a very rural area and were set to be on our own.

As we added a fourth and then later a fifth student to our homeschool, it became imperative to my sanity that the older children learn to work independently, so that I could work with the younger ones. This, the idea of independent learning, became one of the key aspects of our homeschool philosophy, in fact. We saw it as teaching the children how to learn, which would be more important to them in later life than being able to recite dates or declensions. (On a side note, speaking of declensions: I did try Latin with each of the older three girls in turn, but beyond just an elementary level it was frankly beyond our scope, requiring too much supervision/help and causing too much frustration. Eventually we gave it up – another dream gone by the wayside, sacrificed to practicality. Do I sigh over that? Yea, I gotta admit I do. But again, you learn to set aside the dreams of grandeur and replace them with what actually works for your family. And guess what?  This is OK, also.)

I began developing strategies to move them from needing complete supervision to needing little supervision; so that by the time they were in high school, they were pretty much scheduling their own time and checking their own daily work. I stepped in only when there was a question and to grade quizzes, exams, and papers.  In this way we were able to keep things running relatively smoothly.  (To see exactly what we do, you can view our senior's curriculum for this year here and our sophomore's curriculum here.)

But I have to admit, school wasn't that exciting. Field trips still didn't happen very often, although for different reasons this time: first, we were so rural that there were no homeschool support groups nearby; and second, even if there had been, we lived so far out from any field trip destinations that the cost of putting enough gas in our car to get anywhere was prohibitive. Our big thrill was library day, lol.

The gas problem also prevented us from getting to a community college for dual enrollment during high school for our eldest (actually haven't made it there for any of the others, either). Don't get me wrong, we LOVE living out in the country — but there are drawbacks, and we had to adapt to them.

But all through our homeschooling career, really, there have been adjustments to make, one way or the other, and for one reason or another. Things don't always turn out the way you plan. And that, too, is OK.

And so we have perservered. It wasn't the most impressive way to homeschool, but it did get the job done. Looking back at those high school years for my three eldest, I do wish they could have been fuller and richer for them. I wish they could have been involved in more things, travelled more, and studied more difficult subjects. But we had to consider the needs of the entire family.

That is perhaps one of the universal things that the older children in a family have to deal with, I'm afraid. The fact that I could not give them every opportunity does not indicate a poor schooling choice.  Too often we run around doing so many things because it seems our culture expects it of us; in our family, we have found a simpler lifestyle works better for us.

So of course I look back seeing some things I wish we had done differently. But on the whole, we lived and learned as a family. It wasn't all about what they learned academically and what they did for activities. It was about being a family and living and growing together. Learning about relating, learning self-control and responsibility, learning to love and be loved. There's a lot to be said for that.

I do think we as homeschoolers get caught up in how wonderful it's supposed to be, how flexible, how exciting and adventurous, how colorful – and we get discouraged when our homeschool doesn't look that way. We look on the internet and see people creating amazing lesson plans from many books, with hands-on activities and timelines and notebooking journals and foreign food, and we know we don't measure up.

I'm here to say that ordinary is OK. Homeschooling does not have to be difficult. It may be stretching, and there will be days you'd rather be doing something else; but it's important to remember the reasons we do it for our family, and not compare ourselves to others. It is important to find what works best for our own family — not try to imitate someone else's.

I do confess that once we kick #3 out of the house to college next year, I'm hoping to make our homeschool more “exciting” for the two that are left.  We will be missing the happy chaos of having everyone home, so we'll need to make some fun for ourselves — and with smaller numbers, that will be more doable.  We've already talked about taking a year to travel and school on the road — again, grandiose dreams that may not actually happen.

There is an ebb and flow to any homeschool journey; what worked one year may not work the next.  Dreaming and planning and revising and adapting is all part of that.  Let's learn to forgive ourselves for not winning the spelling bee and embrace, even enjoy, the reality of who we are now.  Ordinary is not such a bad place to be.

Shared with: Hip Homeschool Moms

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

24 thoughts on “Our Homeschool Journey: True Confessions of an Ordinary Family”

  1. This post is right on time for me. We’re in our second year and we’ve had so many life changes with being a military family. I find myself simplifying things but feeling guilty about it. But the truth is with 4 children I struggle to balance it all because I can’t do it all, nor do I need to. Even though I realize this, it’s hard to let go of that fairytale idea of the perfect homeschool and life balance. Thank you for sharing your experience. You’ve encouraged me to continue simplifying things and doing what is best for our family!

    1. Oh yay, Jocelin, I’m so glad you were encouraged! “Fairytale” is a good word for that whole “perfect homeschool” idea we can’t get out of our heads. But it sounds like you’re on the right track! :-) Thanks for stopping by!

    1. That sounds like a wonderful event, Michelle, and the subject dovetails nicely with what I’m talking about in this post! I wish I could attend, but that is a bit far for me to drive. I’ll start spreading the word about it, though! Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  2. It’s really refreshing to read this and to be encouraged that ordinary is not such a bad place to be! We are just starting out on our homeschooling journey (my oldest is 4 1/2). I go back and forth from having too lofty ideals to bringing my feet back to the ground. I feel like there is already a lot of pressure (almost all internal) to be on a certain track or keep a certain pace, but most days I am happy with our easy-going lifestyle just learning along the way. Thanks for sharing your experienced perspective :-)

    1. I think we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves, Lisa! I want everyone to think I have it all together… but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to be transparent — not to mention that it’s just TOO MUCH WORK to be trying to impress everyone all the time! I’m so glad you stopped by, and thanks for commenting! :-)

  3. Dreaming and planning and adapting… Yep, that sounds about right! We’ve always had the dream to school on the road, too. Ha! ;) Homeschooling is such an amazing privilege – and such hard work at the same time. You’re right that there is no ONE correct way to approach it. Sounds like you’ve done your children a huge favor by letting them grow up seeing that family is more important than academics. Thanks for sharing such a great blog post!

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words, Michelle! It IS a privilege, and that’s a good thing to remember when we’re in the midst of the hard work, lol. I’m so glad you visited here today! :-)

  4. Great post, and I can SO relate! I had classical, Charlotte Mason, Teaching the Trivium, foreign language, and many other plans that due to ‘life’ never really came to fruition. Oh well, life happens and you just have to learn to roll with it. God knows what He is doing and this homeschool journey has been a blessing to travel. :)

  5. Thank you for sharing! My kids started in public school and my decision to homeschool was terrifying. Then I saw all these Pinterest type amazing homeschooling moms and I just felt like I could keep up!! I learned to go with our family’s rhythm. We’re more techie than Charlotte Masoney lol. But it’s been the best 1.5 years so far and I’m not giving up! Stopped by from the hiphomeschoolingmoms link up.

  6. I enjoyed reading this page. I have been homeschooling my two boys for the last three years through a virtual homeschool program. However, this year I decided to pull them from that school which was really a public school anyways to teaching them truly by myself. I have bought workbooks and try to cover every subject required by the state of Ohio. I am so worried I made the wrong decision. I’m not sure if I’m doing enough with them or too much. I have a few friends that said I am doing great but I still have the public school day in my head and feel I’m not matching up to that. I know homeschooling is to be relaxed. How do I know if I’m doing this right? I have a schedule and try to keep to it but sometimes I feel like I’m failing. My boys are in 8th and 5th grades. I just don’t want this to get away from us and fail them as a teacher. How do I measure our day and make sure I’m balanced at the same time? Sorry if I sound crazy! I guess I’m just having a stress filled doubtful day. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Oh, Andrea, I can so relate to having the public school idea stuck in one’s head. One thing I have done to reassure myself is to think about what I remember from 5th or 8th (or whatever) grade — and the answer is not much, lol! So for subjects like history and science, it’s not about your boys remembering everything at this point but just being exposed to it, reading about it, discussing it. I think English and math are more important to be diligent with, and if you are consistently working through grade-level appropriate curriculum, then those should be fine. If they are not organized into lessons, then a great way is just to count up the number of pages and divide that by however many school days you have, and then make sure you do that many pages per day. If you are following the laws in your state, then there is most likely nothing to worry about. It sounds like you might be served, though, by finding a packaged curriculum like Abeka, or Rod & Staff (and there are many other possibilities) for next year. That can give you confidence that you are covering everything you should be and help schedule how much should be done each day. There is also free curriculum like All In One Homeschool. There is lots of time to research all the possibilities before next year, so don’t give up yet. :-) As for this year, remember that in public school there is a lot of wasted time, and they hardly ever finish the textbook. At home, one-on-one, you are probably accomplishing just as much or more. Have you looked for a local homeschool group? That can be another great place to get ideas and discuss state laws and just be encouraged. Hang in there! You don’t sound crazy — we all feel that way from time to time. I hope this has been helpful… If you’d like to talk further, feel free to email me; then we can get more specific, if you like. I’m so glad you stopped by! :-)

      1. Ann, thank you so much for your encouraging words! I really needed a pep talk yesterday. I’m doing a lot better today. I think you are right, I need to find a curriculum that will take all the guess work out of whether I’m doing enough or not. I think jumping into finding all the materials myself this year has made me a little bonkers. LOL I had good intentions but I’m always second guessing myself. With the virtual school I only had to make sure the boys got online and did the work. This year it’s up to me to make sure we have fun and learn at the same time. I will be looking into those curriculums that you suggested. Thank you so much for taking the time to walk me off the ledge sort of speak. LOL I will be following your site and looking to learn more. Andrea

        1. I’m so glad you’re feeling better! What you are going through is VERY normal first-year jitters. It can be nerve-wracking, especially when you’re starting with older kids. I am so happy to help, anytime! :-)

  7. Thanks for this! My almost-5-year-old will be starting homeschooling somewhat this year. Friends have lent me books like the Charlotte Mason one and I have to admit, I was quite discouraged after reading them…not the effect they were hoping, I’m sure! I think we moms expect way too much of ourselves sometimes. With a 2 year old and a 6 month old, doing all this amazing stuff is just not possible. Thanks for the “permission” to just be ordinary and keep it simple.

    1. Yes, ma’am — simple and manageable for YOU is the way to go. Your almost-5-year-old doesn’t need much schooling at this point, anyway. Most of us are ordinary, I’ve found! :-) Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

  8. Wow, reading Andrea’s comment made me feel sad and at peace all at the same time. I was sad because of how “I beat myself into thinking that I am not teaching them enough or that my desire to homeschool them may hinder them.” But her honesty in how she felt gave me peace that although it is tough at times to quiet my thoughts, I am not alone in how I feel. Thanks to ALL the honest comments, I am going to just “let go and let God!”

    1. That’s right, Danielle, you are NOT alone in how you feel — we ALL have felt overwhelmed and unfit. Just LOVE your kids, and the rest will all fall into place, as you seek to do what is best for them — I promise! :-) Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. Thank you for this!! My oldest turns 5 next August and we are going to try homeschooling kindergarten and see how it goes and if it’s the right thing for him. I am SO excited about officially “doing school” with him, but also feel so overwhelmed with all the options and information and philosophies. I will also have a 3.5yr old and a 9mo old to handle, too, so it will be a bit crazy. I am aiming to keep it simple because I’ve learned this year (doing a very loose preschool) that his biggest obstacle is going to be ME!! It’s going to be MY consistency and commitment that will make the biggest difference and I know that i won’t be able to keep it up if I put too many things on our plate. I so appreciate your other posts about what a young mom needs to know, etc. and I LOVE LOVE LOVE your quote above: “The fact that I could not give them every opportunity does not indicate a poor schooling choice.” I needed to hear this. I constantly go back and forth loving the idea and potential for homeschooling, but feeling like I’m not going to be able to give them the same options that a public school education would afford. I just have to remind myself that a public school education isn’t going to provide the same options I can at home, either!!! I’m going to wander through the rest of your site, just wanted to say thank you for your encouragement to those of us just getting started!

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