Keeping the home in homeschool

A friend shared her weekly schedule with me. Math tutoring on Wednesdays on one side of town; the twice-per-week biology class her daughter took on the other side of town; Celtic dance lessons; drawing class; piano for two kids; the weekly, day-long homeschool co-op; and three sports teams (with practices and games every week). She confessed to me that she was behind in writing. Of course, who wouldn’t be on that schedule? Then she made the funniest comment: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could get all the classes your kids needed in one building? Like you could get your math, biology, art, music and sports all in one place and not have to drive everywhere to go to them?”

As soon as the words came out of her mouth, we blurted together, “School. They call it school.”

And really, that’s the whole point of school. You get all the experts together to teach your kids all that they need/want to know, in one day, in one place. Parents take care of earning money and managing the home, kids go to a building to get an education. If you want that, school does it, efficiently and in some cases, well!

But most of us who home educate truly do not want that. We want something else. We want a higher quality education. We want relational connections with our kids and between our children. We want to have time for in-depth study. We want to take winter ski vacations and not miss “school.” We want our genius musicians to have plenty of time to practice or we want our star athletes to get enough sleep while they study and do their sports. We want to be the primary influences on our kids’ lives. We want to be the ones who see the lights go on in reading or fractions or Shakespeare. Or we hate the school district we live in, or can’t afford private schools.

It’s a tricky balance. We want to provide our kids with enriching experiences like field trips, tutors, co-ops, and violin lessons. We also want to consistently advance in the core subjects. In an effort to do it all, sometimes the “home” part of homeschool is lost. We bring school to the kitchen table and find it less and less inspired. So we add a bunch of outside activities and teachers, and the next thing you know: We’re car-schooling!

Back in the early days of home education, I read a long treatise on why parents ought to stay home, in the house, with their kids. The writer talked about rhythms and routines, modeling all kinds of life skills (plumbing and baking, creating a shopping list and sewing on buttons, filling the bird feeders and using the drill). She urged long sessions of reading aloud and leaving time for dress-ups and Legos, lying on a couch bored, face painting and knitting. She emphasized how busy-ness leads to a habit of breaking concentration, of not deeply investing in any one moment, project, or playtime because inside the child knows that that activity is about to be interrupted by another trip out the door.

With little kids, I had no trouble taking the “stay-at-home” advice to heart, though. We had one vehicle that I didn’t get to drive on week days, we didn’t own a TV, and the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented. So we stayed in, or we played on the front steps. But the pace of life, even with small kids, was slow. There were hours wasted on diaper changes, walks around the cul-de-sac, making muffins and taking naps. We read tons of picture books (took a laundry basket to the library and loaded up) and made play-doh from scratch.

And then, the world sped up. Cell phones, cable TV, Netflix (DVDs sent right to your door!), the Internet, two cars! The next thing I knew, the options of what I could do in and outside my tiny condominium with or for my kids flooded my life. Some of you only know homeschooling within that context of high-speed, 24/7 connections to All the Great Things to Do Every Day! You see and hear ads, you join email lists, you get calls from friends at any time of day. And of course, homeschooling itself has exploded in popularity in the last 20 years so there are more ways to spend your time and money than ever before (and plenty of advice that if you don’t do X, your child won’t be ready for Y!).

If you choose to homeschool, let’s put the home before school. What is home exactly?

Home. Cozy, pillows on a couch, blankets and a dog. Everyone who should be here is here. There’s a comfortable familiarity between us and I don’t have to figure out how to be. It’s a feeling that I’m not in a hurry or that I don’t have to be somewhere else. Home is what I come back to, not what I go out to. It’s the reset button, the safety net, the place where I know I can be my “self” just as I am and the people in my home will love and support me, will help me, will soothe me. Home is also where I can snack, nap, start a project and leave it out until it’s done. It’s where my secret stuff is hidden, it’s where all my materials are housed (I don’t have to cart anything around because it’s all in my home!). Home is a kitchen table where I eat family meals.

Home is also where I help myself to a drink or go to the bathroom when I want to. Home is a remote control, a telephone, a shower and a mailbox. Home is a hug from a mother and a game with my dad. Home is what I feel when I get off a plane in my city after a long trip and know my bed will feel better than any other bed in the whole world. Home is vanilla candles and cinnamon pine cones and tea in a thermos. Home is where dust bunnies grow and books litter the floor, where everyone watches American Idol and laughs together, and where I can hide in my bedroom to read a long book without having to stop. Some say you can take home with you. But I discovered years ago that home is actually a physical place, filled with people, memories and materials that help me to recharge so I can leave it again. When I lost my home (when my parents divorced in high school), I had to create a new one each new place I lived. Home matters. I can’t take it for granted.

We ask our homes to do double duty when we homeschool. We bring a memory of “school” from a building (that hard-working place) that was not home into our homes. We sometimes take the pressures of school as we remember it and add it into the mix of education at home. The safe space called home (that our kids intuitively know is supposed to be safe and peaceful) is now the competitive, demanding space of school. Grades and achievement happen “out there” for most people and home is the retreat. We’re asking our kids to marry the two, like oil stirred into water.

Awareness that we are, in fact, expecting our kids to work hard at home (when the spirit of home is slower, more restful, not driven to meet deadlines) is the first step. But the second step has to be changing how we understand education! If we truly believe that the competitiveness and the standardized lesson-plans, workbook style teaching of school are inferior to the tutorial-based educational style of homeschooling, then we need to stop hand-wringing about outcomes (progress) and imposing a schoolish format to the work we do with our kids!

For instance, moms call me asking how to help their kids with grammar or freewriting. A child doesn’t like it and isn’t doing it. The only idea the mom has to get it done is punitive (like withholding computer time, or shaming the child into it with prophecies of how horribly her chances for college are if she doesn’t master subordinate clauses, and so on). I try to offer “homey” advice, instead. Tell your child that you know grammar isn’t her thing, that it’s hard and tedious and she would rather not do it. Then make an offer of support that shows goodwill. Rub her shoulders before she starts, or get her a colored gel pen to write with, make her brownies or offer to pour her a cup of tea in her favorite mug. Let her do grammar by a roaring fire. Plug in her iPod and finish the page listening to a favorite band. Consider changing programs or doing grammar for a month on, a month off. Help grammar fit the mood of home.

I remind the mom: “You’re at home. Be homey. Support, nurture, be gentle.” It’s okay to be firm occasionally too (we all have to). But do it in the spirit of protecting the home environment as a safe, peaceful, nurturing space. Don’t undermine the power of home education through yelling, punishment, name-calling, harassment, withholding kindness, blaming, defining (telling your child he or she will not succeed in life unless…). Brainstorm solutions. Be your child’s ally. Always honor pain.

Don’t make an injured athlete play; don’t make a crying child learn.

Start with the premise that everyone in the home is on the same team, that all the resources you need to learn and grow together are in your house. Offer kindness and help as often as you can, even if the only thing you can think of in the moment is to acknowledge that the work is hard and you understand that your child doesn’t want to do it.

Later this week, I’ll post practical ways you can put “home” back into your education. Questions or ideas in the comments section would be great!

39 Responses to “Keeping the home in homeschool”

  1. Julie Bogart says:

    I recommend that you do your own freewrite on “home.” See what words/images/memories/longings you associate with it. You may want to do two: one about your family of origin (what that home felt like as a child) and about your home that you’re creating for your children. Remember: if home wasn’t a safe space for you growing up, identify what those things were that created the feeling of pain and alienation. Then look through the home you’re creating to see if you are managing to keep those forces out of your current home.

    Likewise, if there is emotional harm or pain in your current home, take it seriously. Get help if you need it. Home education in the context of abuse or cruelty is not good for anyone.

    I look forward to your feedback and ideas!
    Julie

  2. Leslie Gaylord says:

    Hi Julie,
    Wow! You voiced exactly what I have been feeling for months. We chose homeschooling for a reason years ago and it has been working beautifully. Recently, I have encountered a group of moms who talk of nothing but grades, SATs, SAT prep, College councilors and the like leaving me questioning everything all over again. Wondering if I should be supplementing and pushing more – looking for outside tutors etc. Reading your words put perspective back in place for me.
    Thanks so much,
    Leslie

  3. T Youngblood says:

    Julie,

    Would you please warn us if we will need a box of tissues before reading your message?! The people in the
    library are staring at me :)

    Once again your message spoke to my heart. Thank you for sharing your infinite wisdom with us. I truly cherish your words.

  4. Thank you for this article. I will put a link to it on my blog. I love encouraging others to stay home ;)
    I love not having to rush here & there.

  5. Laura A says:

    I love, love, love this! I’m coming from where Leslie’s coming from. We’ve started homeschooling high school this year, most friends are now in school, and suddenly, it seems like everything we hear is geared towards preparing for college.

    One thing we’re thinking of is taking an extra year just so we can prepare at a saner pace. But still, I’ll take any suggestions you’ve got keeping the cozy in the homeschool during the transcript/testing years. I simply can’t accept that college means we have to do things just like everyone else, only in a more piecemeal fashion and at a higher expensive.

  6. Julie Bogart says:

    High school is more challenging and I’ve written quite a bit about ensuring that your teens feel challenged, that they know they are having an adventure, that they are taking risks. That said, more of the onus for their educations can be on them! They can take classes, or go to junior college, or work, or go on service projects, or join ballet companies or whatever! The key is to get them their driver’s licenses and for you to be as active in supporting them as they need/want. It’s also important to let go too.

    Home becomes a base, rather than their whole world. And I’ve noticed that my best times with my teens happen, oh, at about 12:00 midnight or 1:00 a.m.

    The families whose kids do best at home during high school are the ones where the kids want to be there, and they sense that what they are doing/are involved in feels challenging, exciting and leads them to the next developmental stage of life (young adult) – not that they are being “held back” or overly monitored.

  7. isha says:

    Julie:

    It a very moving article and you speak from the heart and no wonder your readers, including me, are deeply moved.

    I am a private math tutor, serving kids b/w 8 to high school students. Most of them chose to stay in schools, both private and public ones, for the purpose of socialization. In terms of academic Excellency and emotional fulfillment, we all find it is lacking from the “mainstream” educational institutions.

    A lot of parents are trying to supplement the “school” with private tutors. The challenge is that some parents are seeking quick results to improve students’ test score on standards tests, such as SAT and ACTs. I am trying to help kids to find the beauty of math and the relationship math, music and nature. Once they find that mathematic is a beautiful human endeavor, then it takes no effort for them to appreciate Math as a discipline.

    I am looking forward to read more inputs from you on home and education.

    Isha

  8. Janine says:

    Hey Julie!~
    Love, love, love the article. I’d love also to have you add how you’ve balanced that “home” with older teens with difficult subjects that sometimes need to be farmed out. Thanks for the ongoing encouragement. I hope we encourage you likewise!
    Blessings~
    Janine

  9. Laura says:

    Whenever I realize I am slipping into running a school-at-home rather than living at home with my kids and facilitating their education, it is most often due to fear, laziness or both. Fear that we are not “keeping up”, while one reason we live this way is so that “keeping up” is not of much importance. Laziness (or maybe weariness) about being enthusiastic, patient, flexible and creative all for their sakes. Then I have to say, “OK, what matters most?” and act accordingly, which means relaxing, smiling, finding the reserves of energy to continue to live in a way that is, for now at least, the best for us all. Thanks as always for your perceptive and true words. They really help!

  10. Laura A says:

    I think I was reacting primarily to this: “She emphasized how busy-ness leads to a habit of breaking concentration, of not deeply investing in any one moment, project, or playtime because inside the child knows that that activity is about to be interrupted by another trip out the door.”

    I think that still holds true for teens. Few people can do a dozen outside activities and really give them what they deserve. Or at least, the outside activities that my daughter concentrates on are so all-encompassing that I still fight for the at-home time for her, just as I would for myself.

    So, I took your article as applying to teens as well. Not in quite the same way, and not in a coddling way, but still, we all want a place where we can be still and reflect and feel someone knows us.

  11. Julie Bogart says:

    Yes! I think you are right there. Home still needs to be a place they can decompress, where they can have unhurried time to pursue what interests them. I remember my daughter, Johannah, chose to do part time enrollment in high school so she could come home each day in the middle of the day to sleep, or go on the computer, or read a novel, or to study. Then she’d return to school for play practice, refreshed. My oldest was a part of a Shakespeare company on the weekends, did a couple classes at the high school, and mostly read and worked on invented languages during the week.

    As I said before, home was a base for them and we kept it as a place they could crash or just “be.” But each child is different. My middle child loves the busy-ness of fulltime high school and my next one wants to only go parttime so he can keep skiing in the winter.

    To me, with teens, honoring their preferences is part of making home a refuge when they come to it.

  12. Amanda Waters says:

    Leslie,
    I hear what you’re saying. I’m finished homeschooling and on the other side now, but during those days I felt so much anxiety about how I was doing things compared with most everyone else. Everyone I knew was doing a co-op. We didn’t. When my son became a teenager he decided that he hated to write. So we made a deal that I wouldn’t assign him any papers if he would take Julie’s Kidswrite Intermediate and Expository Essay classes. All his friends were writing every day and I was worried that he wouldn’t do well in college. Then there was math. I wasn’t capable of teaching higher math and wanted to hire a tutor. He didn’t like my idea. He wanted to teach himself with the help of a video curriculum. So that’s what we did. Once again that was not how his friends were doing it and I was worried that it wouldn’t be good enough for college. But I let him help make the decision and he knew I was listening to him and he felt understood. By the way, he’s in college now and has received an “A” on every paper he’s written and in every math class he’s taken. Me thinks I worried too much!

    So don’t second guess yourself. If what you have been doing is working beautifully, then you’re doing it the right way for you and your family. Listen to Julie’s advice because it is spot on. In the end what really matters is your relationship with your kids. Do they feel loved, nurtured and understood? Did they have time to just be a kid, to dream, to get bored, to pursue things that they were interested in?

    Good luck and stay the course. Your kids will thank you some day.

    Amanda

  13. Diane says:

    Hi Julie,

    I think we read the same treatise. “Back in the early days of home education, I read a long treatise on why parents ought to stay home, in the house, with their kids.”

    I miss those days. Now that my 2 youngest are in high school years, it seems to change the dynamics of “school”.

    Great post!

  14. Mary G says:

    Thank You!!.. I sure wish I could have a ‘re-do”.. A perfect time for a reminder….

  15. Cory M says:

    It has increasingly been more of a challenge to be at home as my children are heading into middle and high-school age. We have had the life you describe…reading together, art projects, trips to the library, lots of cozy time, etc. But now, I am seeing the need for my daughters to stretch their wings and choose more activities outside our home. And though it brings me such joy to see them grow in this way and I feel quite willing to support their choices, it makes creating home-time more challenging, FOR SURE!

    It’s that pendulum swing! We have over-scheduled to find that some or all of us are grumpy and can’t even enjoy the things we have chosen. Then back home we go to re-evaluate and explore what needs changing, taking a look at all the activities both at home and out in the community. We need to keep checking our home-schooling pulse!

    One strategy I use to keep home an inviting place is changing our space to fit whatever needs are most alive, reconfiguring our furniture, adding tables, putting out our creations, new projects, fresh books, etc. Though our home is ever changing it is always safe, comforting and inviting…a place where my whole family wants to be. I think this helps us keep the balance of not being out too much because we really enjoy being here together!

    I have to say that our biggest challenge of late is tech/computer/media and we are still working on a strategy to keep some balance. If we are home but one or a few of us are often engaged in some sort of technology, we are not connecting as a family.

    How much is too much? When is it time to “cut ourselves off?” We have tried a chart, logging in and keeping track to see how much time we really spend on media, etc. We are also considering making a family decision on a fixed amount of time and then deciding how we want to “spend” it. Is it 5 hours per week? Or 10? Does TV time get lumped in? Wii? Texting? What is included? How do we track it? Really coming to some conclusion on how much feels like “balance” and then finding a way to track it and stay “on the path.” I don’t want to be fighting over the power of technology. I hope to find some peaceful place where we can all agree feels balanced.

    Recognizing that HOME is the place where we refuel, center and connect with ourselves and our families truly does make HOME the essential piece. I always look forward to home. Not just for the cozy bed but the place where everyone in the family can connect together, relax together and play together. Thanks for the great piece! It really resonated for me…why I was drawn to this wonderful experience in the first place.

    Warmly….

    Cory

  16. Kika says:

    My son would like to attend the local public school for grades 11/12. (He is only in grade 8 now). In a way that seems easier to me than trying to do everything required to acheive an advanced diploma while at home. Still, it is hard to imagine what that might look and feel like. I’ll still have my two daughters at home at that point. Life is so busy with a teenager and I feel like my girls have missed out on some of the cozy, easier time of ‘homeschooling the younger years’ that I experienced with my son. I wish there were more blogs that focused on homeschooling the latter years.

  17. Julie Bogart says:

    Check out my teen category (in the toggle bar) and you’ll see lots of stuff about homeschooling teens. Just so you know: my middle child has been going to FT high school since 10th grade. He’s a senior now. It’s been the absolute right decision for us.

    “Home” changes in meaning, as your kids grow and mature. For college kids, it’s the place they return to. For high school, it’s the reboot, retreat, recalibrate place. For younger kids, it’s the anchor. For babies, it’s the womb.

    So it evolves as does homeschool. My point in this article is to remember the power of home and to find a way to cultivate its power in your attitudes toward education and in how home is experienced when your children ARE in it.

  18. Jen L says:

    Julie,

    Your blog entry was timed perfectly. It was the sage advice I needed to remind myself why I began this whole crazy adventure in the first place. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even the much less than ideal days.

    I would appreciate any advice you have for keeping that “home” feeling for the younger students when you have older ones that aren’t quite driving age, but wanting a bit more outside the home – socially and also to pursue their particular passions. I feel as if I am sometimes failing the younger ones (I have five in 1st – 10th grade). I don’t want them to miss out on the same experience I gave the older kids. My older ones are so self-motivated and passionate about their learning. How do you find the balance? Or even just the energy?

    Thanks!

  19. Karen Redolfi says:

    Perfect timing!! A great reminder for the beginning of a new school year here in OZ.
    Thank you!!
    Karen in Melbourne

  20. Karen says:

    Yours is a post that all homeschool moms need to read. Because of some financial hardships, we were forced to slow down and stay at home more. In many ways it was a blessing in disguise, because it made me realize how out of balance life had become. Thanks for your post!

  21. A friend posted a link to today’s blog post and had all of us HS mom’s talking! Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought full blog post!
    Karen in St. Louis

  22. Nickie says:

    Needed this today! First year homeschooling and I need to let off the pressure for all of us! Thanks for the gentle reminder of why we are doing this and the how!

  23. alecat says:

    Julie,
    Thank you for this article. You have encouraged when I needed encouraging.
    I’ve shared the link to this article via my blog, hoping many others will benefit from your words also.
    Kindest regards. :)

  24. samantha gordon says:

    When my 3 girls were very small I remember watching a talk show where they were interviewing a mother who homeschooled her 10 children. The host said “wouldn’t it be way too hard?” and she replied,”It would be way harder to find 10 matching pairs of shoes every morning to get out the door!” I loved it and I took it to heart. When people have a vision that homeschooling is just a reproduction of school in your home with schedules etc. I tell them I call it life learning where we live our lives and pick up the things we need to know along the way. I have used a llittle more structure as they have become older, but in the early years it was mostly little girls running around with fairy wings on (and sometimes they would only have fairy wings on). Thank you for the reminder to keep the home in homeschooling. Two of my girls go to Clark Montessori High School in Cincinnati. They really love it, but Josie was saying last night she is very happy to be in school (their choice), but she is so glad she homeschooled for so long. Big happy sigh from mom.
    Thanks for all your wisdom, Sam Gordon

  25. Missi says:

    Love your article as usual….reminders, wisdom, and encourages all rolled up into a beautiful post…thank you ever so much! ~~Missi

  26. Missi says:

    *encouragment

  27. Missi says:

    well there I went again…trying a third time…because I am crazy like that!
    **encouragement (big blushing sigh)

  28. Julie Bogart says:

    Missi, I kind of liked “encourages” as a noun. :) Felt so gentle and sweet.

  29. Jewel says:

    Julie! You are so right. My life was just like that when my older 3 were small. But they are much older than the youngest and I am afraid that he has never experienced the slow pace that was so beneficial to them. I will be pondering these words seriously. This life is certainly an adventure! Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

  30. Marcy says:

    Julie, what a gift you have of bringing focus back – your words are vivid, they show not just tell. As I most always point out – you provide such reassurance to me. Thank you.

  31. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU so much for this post! It really resonated with everything I believe about why we homeschool. I posted a link to it on our Homeschooling Only One forum and hope to get a great conversation going.

  32. Jackie Masek says:

    I often say, “We didn’t move school into our house, rather, we moved learning into our home.” We being my husband and I. I could not homeschool our two boys without his support, on many levels. School, and education, have become too much rote memorization without why or wherefore it needs to be learned. My boys each have their special gifts which are very different. I want to give them the ability to explore those on their own, in their own way, on their own time schedule.

    Now each boy has one sport, one does football and the other basketball. However, the older one is the assistant coach for the basketball. We do one co-op two days of the month but only for four hours each time and two of those hours is social time. We also do church. That in itself keeps us busy. I would go crazy if it was more than that.

    As for learning, one child is spending a lot of time using PowerPoint to animate a story he is writing and doing all the drawings for. The other boy is exploring simple machines using LEGO from pieces we already own based on things he finds on the internet. Some would call that playing, I call that learning how to use their special talents.

    Yes, they do math and grammar and history but it isn’t forced. We read a lot of history and talk about it but it’s books they helped choose at the library. They are both voracious readers and choose what they like at the library. I have taught both of them to use Google and how to discern what is reliable information and not. In fact, it occurred to me the other day after talking to other moms just how computer savvy my boys are.

    Both boys have been given the standardized tests and both do well in their respective talents. In the ones they aren’t so good at they are only a grade behind. Am I worried? Sure, a little. My concern is that they will live with me forever. Yet I see how industrious these two are at keeping themselves busy and have to remind myself there is more than one way to “skin a cat”, more than one way to get over the river to dry land. Would they have been so if I had sent them off to the big, bad, brick building down the street? Maybe, but likely not. Home is where their hearts are and for good reason. They can just be themselves here the best.

  33. PL says:

    This is one of the best articles on homeschooling That I’ve read in a long time.
    “You’re at home. Be homey. Support, nurture, be gentle.”
    Thanks.

  34. Angele says:

    When is your homeschooling book coming out? I’m burning up my printer printing out all these great posts.

  35. Julie Bogart says:

    Funny you should ask… It’s something I’m still working on. But I do intend to get it done. Just not sure when. :)

  36. Janet says:

    Jewel, God knew our lives would not be the same as our children grow, but that’s how He planned families. My younger three children are having very different teen years than my older three did. It isn’t something I could foresee when having babies, but it is what it is, and God will use all of it.

  37. It’s on cold February mornings like today when this homeschooling mama needs a whispered reminder of what the heart already knows…

    This post is that whisper.

    Today, our free-write assignment will be: What is home?

    Not because the kids need it, but because I do.

    Thank you.

  38. Cindy LaJoy says:

    9 months into our new lifestyle of homeschooling, I am working very hard at adjusting my understanding of what it should be for us, what it should look like. After a year of working with our Senior High Youth Group comprised of 7 kids, 2 of whom were valedictorians, I realized exactly what I DIDN’T want for my kids…that all consuming focos on SAT scores and pumped up transcripts/activites such that they had no life at all beginning their freshman year.

    So when we unexpectedly found ourselves jumping into homeschool I had that tucked in the back of my head. I wanted free form school, I wanted exploration time, I wanted child directed learning. I found that style was just too loose for me to feel comfortable. With 5 home now, 3 of whom are ELL learners, I realized that workbooks mixed with unit studies and cool field trips would happily meet both my need to be freer as well as my fears of leaving important learning out.

    We morph with homeschooling and as educators, just as our kids do with learning. Allowing that procerss to take place helps us to create the “perfect” homeschool for our families. But remembering that it IS home, that sleeping in late sometimes, or stopping to point something out or cuddle and read on the couch is what makes all the difference in the world.

    I don’t ever want to be school at home…I want our home to be a wonderful, warm environment where we all enjoy learning new things every single day!

  39. Mama Goose says:

    Wow! What an amazing post! It is certainly what we strive for – the homey home, and yet, I too, have been noticing lately that life has been pulling us this way and that a little too frequently. What a good reminder, and I am definitely going to do the brainstorm on “home”.

    cheers,
    Mama Goose and the goslings!

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