Nothing is wasted

Home HolidaysHome for the Holidays: Liam, Johannah, Jacob, Caitrin

I heard from a mom who may remind you of you. She is ping-ponging between structure and freedom, routine and wide open spaces of happy, invested “wasted” time. The back and forth swing feels unnerving—like she should have picked one or the other by now, and what should she do about two kids—one who feels comforted by the predictable pattern, and the other who collapses into tears of frustration in the face of assigned pages?

The way most parents handle this predicament is to try lots of ideas—looking for that one right fit that takes everyone into account. Me too! I’m just like you.

My journey included principles gleaned from the following streams of home education, mostly in this order. I started in 1991.

KONOS (kinesthetic unit-studies—wonderful!)

Roger and Dorothy Moore’s approach to learning math and reading in the early years (love them)

Ruth Beechik’s ideas about copy work and dictation (genius)

Sonlight (literature-based history and language arts; I was there the day SL was born!)

Other reading lists and literature-based programs I discovered at conventions, through friends, at the library

Enter The Internet (WATERSHED event of my life). Now I had LOTS of people to talk to about homeschooling and my choices expanded again

Charlotte Mason (both freedom and form, living books and getting out of doors, art, a lifestyle, tea; spent five years with a terrific CM group in Dayton which shaped a lot of my thinking about learning and loving)

Classical Education (for the categories—logic, grammar, rhetoric; for the book lists; for the style of inquiry, not so much for the program—too rigid for us)

Delight-directed learning (following a child’s passions and letting those expand to include what needs to be learned)

BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals; a business management term—catching sight of a person’s, in this case: child’s, BIG dreams and shaping the education to suit them, supporting the process to bring them to life)

Unschooling (hands off! let them go! put away textbooks!)

Teenage Liberation Handbook (meant much more to me than my kids since they had never been in school—it helped to deschool me, to give me courage to risk with Noah as a teen)

Radical unschooling (being attentive to my child and coordinating that with opportunities, deep deep appreciation for how learning happens from within and how to be a parent who is engaged enough to facilitate it and stand in awe of it)

Re-enter Textbooks (some subjects benefited from use: science, math—I had the courage to go there, and it took courage)

Tutors (math, SAT prep, art, piano, saxophone, sewing, handwriting therapy for dysgraphia, speech therapy)

Classes and camps (co-op, local high school, zoo, vintage dance, online courses, Shakespeare acting, space camp, marching band, color guard, theater, poetry club at the library)

Public School (some part-time, some full time high school)


The inputs from each of these streams created the education we called homeschool. I did not pick one philosophy and stick to it for all 17 years—who can? You don’t know what you are doing…you have to figure it out as you go. It’s hogwash to think that if you didn’t find the right stream early enough, you screwed up. Your kids are getting an education, but so are you! You are growing as an educator, as a learner, as an adult, as a parent. You didn’t come into this whole and ready to go. You are learning, doing, being as you are leading, loving, and evolving. That’s not easy.

Give yourself space and time to change your mind, to course correct, and to feel okay about your lack of certainty.

Not only that, I didn’t stop being a home educator just because some of my kids went to school. I’m still involved editing papers, discussing ideas brought up in class, reading textbooks to help with comprehension, setting up tutors, helping with the adjustment to school, and so on.

But even after school is over (graduations from high school and college), the home education continues!

When my adult kids come home, we still drink tea, read poetry, play word games and quiz up (tests trivia skills, especially love the one for geography), speak foreign languages to each other, read books together at coffee houses in each other’s company, recommend books, talk about feminism, genocide, North Korea, social work, politics, and favorite authors, play cards, watch both documentaries and popular movies, share music and discuss it, and still notice birds and art.

If you value learning together with your children, homeschool is not a task you complete one day and then you’re done. Rather, it is an ongoing source of relationship and self-education that your family will share throughout their lives.

All the choices you make shape who you become to each other.

It’s okay that you didn’t find the right system earlier. There is no right system!

There is you, your family, and what you stumble upon that helps you each year you move ahead in life.

Promise yourself one thing, and I think you’ll be okay:

Stay responsive.

Stay responsive to the moment (what’s working, what isn’t?)

Stay responsive to the child (what’s working for this child, what isn’t?)

Stay responsive to new input (don’t disqualify any educational idea or tool because you are afraid you will look bad to some group of homeschoolers)


Allow your homeschool to evolve, morph, grow, or shrink (if it needs to). Be strong and courageous to stick up for your choices in the face of pressure to feel badly about them. Do not adopt a system, or a set of values and beliefs that trump the individuals who live in your home.

There is no right system.

There is only your family. Love them, pay attention to them, try lots of ideas (try them, taste them like you were at the Taste of Cincinnati and were walking down the long hot walk way sampling Belgian waffles, beers, and bratwursts—a little of this and a little of that). Be satisfied with your unique blend of quality ideas that you sift and apply to your family, trusting that all together, you will have created a life that values learning.

If you ever feel belittled or shamed about the choices you are making for your family, leave that group. Once you feel pressure to conform, you can’t be responsive to your family—you will substitute the system for love.

Protect your family from judgment. Stand up for yourself. Learn. Enjoy.

Cross-posted on facebook.

2 Responses to “Nothing is wasted”

  1. Tristan says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! We began with unit studies and shifted to review driven (HA! I worked with The Old Schoolhouse for several years reviewing curricula) and then felt the pull to Charlotte Mason. We’ve been at this 10 years and we’re now what I happily describe as Relaxed CM with unit studies when the kids ask and textbooks if the situation calls for it.

    Most of all I pray regularly about our homeschool and each child’s needs because God knows what lessons and materials they need long before I do.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    Great hearing from you Tristan. Thanks!