Lazy Homeschoolers Raise Geniuses

Lazy Homeschoolers Raise Geniuses

I hate to brag and all, but I’ve raised a couple of geniuses so far, with a few more percolating in the wings. As much as I hate to brag, I need to — just a little bit — in order to make my points here in this article.

My oldest, Anne, could read pretty well at age four. I hadn’t officially taught her any phonics; she just picked it up because my husband and I are both avid readers and we read to her a lot. Reading early doesn’t make a person a genius, I just wanted to point out that she is naturally a pretty bright person. Actually, all eight of my kids started reading before I mustered the gumption to start teaching them phonics.

When I say ‘mustered the gumption’ don’t get the wrong idea. Initiative is my middle name! It’s just that I always have a holy ton of projects going on. And phonics is not my favorite thing to teach! A million yeses to teaching math and science, especially physics and calculus! But not phonics. So I’m not always itching to tackle phonics when my little people start exhibiting signs of readiness and they usually learn to read before I teach them how.

Related Reading: How to teach your kindergartener (for free!) in just 20 minutes a day

So when I sort of reluctantly began homeschooling, (Anne missed the kindergarten deadline and was devastated about not being able to attend with all of her little friends from the neighborhood, so I volunteered to have school at home with her as consolation) Anne could already read, and not just phonetic readers — real books. In addition to my precocious 5-yr-old, I also had a bright 4-yr-old, Drew (he could also read), and a 2-yr-old and a baby.

My husband worked for a Japanese company, automating clean-rooms (for the fabrication of computer chips) throughout Europe. He oversaw both design and installation aspects, so he worked more from Japan and Europe than he did from home. I was very alone with all of my young children, who were delightful and wonderful, but also a handful!

I’m sure you can imagine how our school went. It usually happened on the floor or at the kitchen table, with just the supplies I had on hand and with just game ideas I could think up off the top of my head (Pinterest did not exist yet!) and assemble myself. I was usually nursing the baby, trying to keep the 2-yr-old out of stuff, and trying to moderate Drew, who could seriously have given the monkeys at the zoo a run for their money. Those two loved all of my crazy games, though, and begged for school every day.

By the end of that year, Anne was several grade levels ahead, and so, for that matter, was Drew. Through some serious praying and inspiration, we all decided, as a family, to keep them home another year and homeschool in earnest.

I had great intentions, but being a mom, pregnant with our fifth and all of that craziness got in the way. The next six years were a blur of being pregnant, sleep deprived, and just doing my darndest to keep everybody fed and alive. I’ll tell you honestly that the last trimester of each of my next four pregnancies, plus the first couple of months with each of those infants, is a total blur for me. I know that ‘school’ like most of us think it should look, was not happening at my house.

With every new school year, I recommitted to all of the subjects I wanted to teach, purchased fabulous curricula and made detailed schedules, and then life would happen. I worried, a LOT, about whether I was giving my kids a decent education, especially as each baby arrived, shattering my ambitious intentions. I consoled myself with memories of my own nonexistent education. I figured that what they were getting, even it was nothing, was no worse than the education I had gotten.

We did have sensational bursts of really awesome learning, and because I love math and science we did work steadily at those. But everything else fell by the wayside. I actually boxed up most of our language arts curricula when we moved from one house to another, and never unboxed it after the move. I shouldn’t admit this, but I have yet to unbox it. It’s still sitting in the basement!

The funny thing is, the lazier I grew at providing education, the better my children became at seeking it out.

This phenomenon shifted my paradigm.  I’ve learned a whole ton during the 14 years we’ve homeschooled, and this is honestly one of the most interesting!

Since birth, Anne has loved music. I play the piano, and soon after getting married, my sweet Grandma found us a beautiful, used Yamaha piano at Salvation Army for $700. So we have always had music in our home.

Anne would tinker at the piano as a tiny toddler, and figure out simple melodies. With a small amount of instruction regarding music theory from me, she became quite the pianist as just a little girl. She decided to play the violin at age 5, worked hard over several years, became highly proficient and joined a world-renowned orchestra at age 16.  At age 17 she wrote and orchestrated (which is incredibly difficult!) an incredible piece of music that her symphonic orchestra performed on several occasions, including in front of multiple famous people. Along the way, she also learned the flute, the guitar, the organ and she sings.

If that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is. A genius is just a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative in some particular respect.

Anne ‘graduated’ our homeschool at age 18 with 60 credits from our local university, where she took classes during what would have been high school. She is currently attending a prestigious university on full scholarship. She applied with only her concurrent enrollment (which is what we call college-level classes taken during high school) GPA, her excellent ACT scores and her admission essays. They didn’t care that she did not have a high school diploma or GPA.

She did not have a difficult adjustment from high school to college, because she is already used to choosing her own course of study and really buckling down to attain mastery — she has worked naturally that way her entire life and was never trained away from it.

Drew, who also ‘graduated high school’ with 60 credits from our local university, is at the same prestigious university as Anne, but with four separate full-tuition scholarships, so they also cover his books, room and board and other opportunities. Speaking of genius, one of those scholarships was awarded when Drew and my third son, Hyrum won a regional science fair for their work on graphene supercapacitors. Hyrum saw graphene mentioned in a science journal (yes, he reads them for fun) and allowed his natural curiosity to lead him through the scientific process, turning the whole think into a phenomenal engineering project for the science fair.

I won’t say that any of my children are perfect. They each have their failings and a few of them have actually put us through a lot of grief as parents. But they’ve all got genius in spades! So let’s talk about how to cultivate that genius. I chose the word cultivate precisely because it doesn’t mean to create. My children were born with interests and curiosity. Cultivate means to nurture and develop, which is exactly how I now see my job as a homeschooling mom.

 

Children are naturally predisposed, from birth, to seek learning and growth. 

Your child learned to walk and talk without formal instruction, right? And he did it all by himself — because he wanted to. He watched everyone around him doing these fabulous, interesting things (walking and talking) and decided he wanted to do them, too. You may have held out your arms and offered encouragement or demonstrated different sounds as you cooed to your baby, but your child learned those things himself.

It is truly amazing to watch multiple children learn these skills (I was fortunate to be able to watch is eight times!) because each child truly has his own style of learning, even as a toddler. My oldest learned to both walk and talk early, methodically and capably with zero fuss, the same way she learns now. My second, happy and placid, learned neither until he was good and ready, and then picked them up extremely easily and rapidly. He learns that way today!

My third is the most determined and ambitious of all my children. He tenaciously taught himself to walk at 8.5 months! I never once held my arms out or encouraged him, because I had my hands full and didn’t particularly want him mobile. And then one day he was suddenly up, walking around furniture. The very next day he was experimenting at walking near the furniture, but determinedly not touching the furniture. How remarkable to see an 8-month-old doggedly experimenting and learning! And the day after that I walked out of a room and there that little guy was, walking down our long hall all by himself. He held his arms out to steady himself, but did not touch the walls, and he practiced it over and over and over, all day long, until he was proficient at it. He pursues learning like that — with immense, tenacious, persistent determination — still today.

“Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths, and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges. In such an environment, children ask for any help they may need from adults. There is no need for forced lessons, lectures, assignments, tests, grades, segregation by age into classrooms, or any of the other trappings of our standard, compulsory system of schooling. All of these, in fact, interfere with children’s natural ways of learning.” – Peter Gray

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If you don’t squash their desires, your children will naturally seek learning and development the same way they did as toddlers. You don’t even need to teach them how to seek that learning; they were born knowing how.

 

Children are intrinsically motivated to learn.

Children naturally want to do things for themselves, because they want to participate in their environment, model behaviors they admire, and contribute to their families. Just ask any toddler mom. Toddlers LOVE to help with housework, baking and younger siblings. The skills they are working towards learning are appealing because the reward comes in the mastery of the skill itself. They don’t require applause or rewards or bribery, they are motivated by their own joy and satisfaction at attaining a new skill.

“I once heard someone declare that “human nature is to do as little as necessary.” This prejudice is refuted not just by a few studies but by the entire branch of psychology dealing with motivation. Normally, it’s hard to stop happy, satisfied people from trying to learn more about themselves and the world, or from trying to do a job of which they can feel proud. The desire to do as little as possible is an aberration, a sign that something is wrong. It may suggest that someone feels threatened and therefore has fallen back on a strategy of damage control, or that rewards and punishments have caused that individual to lose interest in what he’s doing, or that he perceives a specific task—perhaps correctly—as pointless and dull.” – Alfie Kohn

You can help your children to retain their natural intrinsic motivation by offering them choices, encouraging autonomy and problem solving and by limiting extrinsic motivators, like bribes and rewards.

 

Children learn by making mistakes and then noticing and correcting their own mistakes.

As an adult, when you want to learn about something, how do you go about doing it? I typically google my question and read a couple of articles, or maybe watch a video to learn what I need to know. If it is a subject I need more information about, I will go to the library and check out everything they have on that topic, and devour it.

I then practice my new skills and knowledge until I feel proficient at them. My early attempts are often disastrous, but I don’t worry about them because I know they won’t be displayed for all the world to see. (Thank goodness!) If I thought my early attempts would be on display, I might be more reluctant to try.

Adults are free to choose what they want to learn and how to best learn it. They can also can take up an interest for a time, then set it aside, then come back to it, then set it aside, as life an interests dictate. Adults have the freedom to practice newfound skills without being graded, berated, or made to stand up in front of their peers to demonstrate such new skills.

Do you notice when your efforts flop? Of course! I once tried to copy a darling birthday cake from a Pinterest photo. It turned out horribly, because I didn’t know the first thing about cake decorating, and I decided to throw it away instead of taking it to the party. Guess what I did the next time I decided to make a cake? I read several articles about cake decorating.

Would forcing me to take that embarrassing cake to the party to be ‘graded’ and judged by everyone in attendance have benefited me? No. I already knew I had failed. I wanted to do better the next time, so I did. No self-respecting adult would tolerate school the way most elementary schools are run.

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Thomas Edison is a great example of the efficacy of this model of learning. After finally discovering a filament for his light bulb that would be long-lasting, bright enough, and cost efficient to mass produce, he is famous for saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Children learn best with minimal interference (the scientific process is instinctive to them).

“Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.” – John Holt.

We took our oldest, Anne, to Yellowstone National Park when she was about ten months old and had just started walking. We woke up our first morning there and I dressed Anne in some brand new pink overalls with embroidery on the bib and a ruffled top underneath. She looked adorable for the next three minutes!

I then took her outside, to enjoy the fresh, cool mountain sunshine from the front porch of our rented cabin. Anne immediately pushed herself backward off the edge of the porch (only a few inches above the ground) and sat herself on the dirt to feel it, smell it, taste it and rub it in her hair and clothing.

Have you ever watched a baby taste dirt? They really taste it, without preconceived prejudice, sort of savoring both the taste and texture on their tongues. You can see their minds working as they analyze their data and form conclusions. They then move on to experience the rocks and the plants and everything else.

Older kids do the exact same thing when they encounter new environments and experiences, as long as you haven’t obliterated their natural curiosity. Children are capable of learning everything they need to know without force, coercion, rewards, teaching, or bribery. Children learn passionately and joyfully when they choose the subject material and the timing.

“A person’s learning is part of his freedom of thought, even more basic than his freedom of speech. If we take from someone the right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought.” – John Holt.

 

Provide a rich learning environment, model correct behavior, and support your child’s choices.

Maria Montessori, another renowned educator, advocated an educationally-rich environment complete with a caring adult who set a great example, engaged each child individually, and never expected any two children to learn identically.

Parents should first model behaviors that they want their children to adopt. If you want your child to be a voracious reader — you first become one. Show your children, by example, how exciting and valuable learning is. Show them examples of other great learners and give your children the very best models to emulate. Then help your child figure out his own interests and motivation, and support him toward his objectives, trying to play on his strengths.

My kids are all pianists because I am one. I play the piano every day and I leave my favorite music sitting on the music stand, where I know they’ll run across it. When we see a movie we enjoy, most recently ‘The Greatest Showman’, I purchase the sheet music (always the non-simplified versions!) and play and sing it with my kids a few times before it disappears into one of their music folios.

Frequently, my kids will hear a piece at a concert (we attend lots of concerts!) and decide to learn it. They’ll look it up, print it off (imslp is an online library for sheet music in the public domain) and learn it on their own, for the most part. I do help them fine-tune their piano pieces, and their other music teachers (cello, bagpipe, harp, flute, violin, guitar, organ and voice) help them correct and polish pieces, too, but the children are the primary instigators, which makes all the difference.

Support can look like a million different things. My relaxes style of homeschooling, which I laughingly refer to as lazy, might look Nazi-esque to someone else.  Within the homeschool umbrella, you have myriad styles: unschooling, self-directed education, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf and many others. And your style morphs over the years and even within the years, as life and needs change. Whatever you are doing, it you are adapting the learning to fit  a specific child, it is absolutely a step in the right direction.

 

Force is detrimental to learning.

It’s not uncommon to see children feel a complete and utter lack of responsibility for their own learning because the what/where/when/why/how is all dictated to them. They are spoonfed facts that they only have to retain for a few days before they regurgitate them onto a test form. This method is not conducive to meaningful, lasting education.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who wasn’t motivated to figure things out, to find the answers to personally relevant questions. However, I’ve met (and taught) plenty of kids who aren’t motivated to sit quietly and listen to someone else talk or to memorize the definitions of a list of words. That lack of interest doesn’t suggest an absence of motivation (to be remedied with carrots and sticks) but a problem with the model of instruction and curriculum.” – Alfie Kohn.

The way learning is forced and controlled and dictated promotes a shallow understanding, at best, of whatever is being learned. At worst, that type of learning promotes a dislike of the subject matter and a lack of confidence in the student.

Indeed, force is necessary when you are making children learn things they don’t want to. But when you remove the expectations to all learn the same thing, in the same way, at the same time, force becomes superfluous.

“Children do much of their learning in great bursts of passion and enthusiasm. They rarely learn on the slow, steady schedules that schools make for them. They are more likely to be insatiably curious for a while about some particular interest, and to read, write, talk and ask questions about it for hours a day and for days on end. Then suddenly they may drop that interest and turn to something completely different, or even for a while seem to have no interests at all.” -John Holt

 

Do not overschedule your child.

I understand the desire to give your kids everything. You love that little person and want him to excel at everything you wish you did. I will never forget my first year of homeschooling. My children were involved in orchestra, piano, violin and cello lessons, dance, gymnastics, swimming, multiple community sports, choir, book club and two different homeschool co-ops. We attended field trips with friends every Friday and a PE class, which I taught, on Wednesday afternoons.

I became a slave to our activities schedule, and we all burned out pretty quickly. The constant stimulation of today’s reality makes arriving at a place of inner stillness really challenging for a lot of kids. Numerous studies have shown that boredom helps kids to develop creativity and imagination. Boredom is the most direct path to creativity, passion, drive and ambition.

 

Genius can only be realized by it’s owner.

I wasn’t quite sure how to word that so it would make sense. What I want to make clear is that your child’s genius can only be realized by him. You can’t hand it to him, gift-wrapped. His school teacher can’t threaten it into compliance, and nobody can beat it out of him.

The realization of genius takes a heck of a lot of work, which can’t be completed by anyone but your child. How is that scenario most like to occur with your own child?

If you read about Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, you’ll see one common thread. Each was unsuccessful in school and was removed by his mother to be educated at home. Each of them was allowed to learn at home in exactly the ways outlined above. And there is your answer.

Your child will most likely realize his genius if you, as his parent, protect his right to learn the things he wants, when and how he wants, and as much as we wants. He needs your support in the form of providing opportunities, including the establishment of a rich culture of learning in your home, and your strong confidence in his abilities. He needs to be allowed to fail, without interference or ‘help’ or grading or judgement, and make corrections to his course — on his own. All of this means that you need to step back. Provide opportunities for learning, along with plenty of time, and then step back and let the magic happen.

He needs to be allowed to spend hours, days and even weeks learning, uninterrupted, when the need arises. Did you know that Handel did not even eat for days at a time while writing the Messiah? I have not ever felt passionate enough about creating to ignore hunger pains, but I sure hope my children will.

 

How will it look?

I can’t tell you how it will look in your home, with your children, but I can give you an idea about how it looks in mine.

Our ‘rich culture of learning’ looks like a library exploded. All the time. There are books in every room in our house, including bathrooms and closets, and often in the yard as well (darn it!). Our vehicles are always filled with books, no matter how often I clean them out. I’ve given up trying to contain books to our library or organize them in any way, and have instead resorted to building bookcases in every room.

Because I want to take advantage of all the ‘moments’ and not waste time on flash cards and worksheets and facts, all of our shower curtains are maps. Our tablecloths are, too. We use learning placemats that have helped us to memorize all kinds of facts almost by osmosis, just because we spend so much of our time at the table.

Our music room is covered in instruments, and our kitchen table frequently looks like a science laboratory. I want my kids to be able to study and research and really engage without interruptions. I am probably making my house sound very messy, but it really isn’t. The kids help me tidy up before every meal.

We don’t have a single TV in our house, although we do have a home theater and we sometimes watch netflix on laptops. I feel very strongly that TV-watching is a huge waste of time and intentionally discourage it. I also keep all of our laptops and tablets put away in a kitchen drawer because my second child had/has a severe gaming addiction that has very negatively impacted all of our lives.

 

What if? 

What if my child never learns to read? I can’t imagine that happening in a family with a reading culture. As soon as my kids could walk, they would bring me books to read them, because it was fun! We’d snuggle up and read and laugh. It wasn’t hard at all for me to stick some ABC books in the basket for my kids to choose, thus precipitating the learning-to-read process.

I can’t imagine a 2-yr-old that doesn’t ask five million questions every day. He’s just getting started on this wonderful process! Learn to thoroughly answer his questions instead of dismissing or feeling irritated at them, and you, too, will be starting down this road.

Barring any disabilities (which would also exist in a classroom setting and probably with less chance at remediation) your children will learn all of the things that are important to you. The things you cherish and emulate and create your family culture around will also be important to your children.  Because you can offer your child thorough, supported, unforced, voluntary and uninterrupted access to the learning he chooses, those things will be that much more important to your child.

What if you raise geniuses who are also kind, honest and able to interact with all ages and nationalities, because they have never been stuck in a classroom of only their peers? What if your geniuses share your interests and obsessions and you have delightful dinnertime conversations? What if you — your child’s parent and biggest fan, rather than their classmates, who don’t give a hang about them — are the primary influence on the development of their intellects, imagination, and character?

The odds are definitely in your favor! Relax and trust the process! Set the stage and then allow yourself to be consumed by your own interests and passions, instead of by whether your child is achieving a particular benchmark or standard. Enjoy your life! Travel, explore together, and enjoy each other instead of stressing over schoolwork and deadlines. You just might be pleasantly surprised, like I was, at the results.

 
Related Reading:The Ultimate list of FREE Homeschool Curriculum

 

 

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57 thoughts on “Lazy Homeschoolers Raise Geniuses”

  • I read through this entire article plus all the comments in one sitting. Wow! I am feeling so inspired now! I’ve been really trying to figure my way through curricula and methods lately – and I’ve been homeschooling for 12 years now! My oldest is graduating this spring. My oldest is a total unschooler – like, you couldn’t ask for a better unschooler. The rest – not so much. I have 5 biological kids, and 5 are internationally adopted (2 have been home for 5.5 years, and 3 of them for just about 3 years). Nearly all of them have learning differences – we deal with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, anxiety, giftedness, and emotional/behavioral issues. I have dabbled in Charlotte Mason, unschooling/child-led, classical, combined, and always lots of nature walks. I’m a mix of need-to-be-organized-and-structured and must-be-free-to-be-spontaneous, and I never seem to know when one is going to pop out and shove the other aside.

    My 16yo adopted dd is reading at a 5th grade level, but comprehension is sorely lacking, and she is still in 2nd grade math – just stuck (we’ve done 3 neuropsych evals to try to get to the bottom of the hang-ups, and it sounds like it’s just the way she’s wired). She’s tired; I’m tired. She feels stupid, and I know she isn’t – but I’m not sure what else to do. Your idea in one of the comments to do a store is brilliant!

    Then I have an 11yo ds who is still not reading and just got a long complicated diagnosis that basically sums up as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and anxiety all rolled into one. He is a chess lover and is really good at it (beats Dad sometimes, even), but he feels stupid and has given up trying to read.

    My 9yo dd hasn’t been formally diagnosed with anything, but I suspect autism or FASD, and definitely auditory processing disorder, regardless. She is difficult to teach, and she’ll fake knowing how to do academic things when she clearly has zero clue just so she doesn’t feel like she’s behind the (gifted) 6yo bio ds and her bio 8yo sister (those 2 are both working at the same level of nearly everything academic).

    It’s a crazy, chaotic learning environment, and I haven’t been sure which way to turn. My mom told me it’s my midlife crisis. LOL I can see that… But I’ve recently read Teach Like Finland and now am in the middle of The Call of the Wild + Free, in addition to coming upon your article here on a random Pinterest post – and I’m starting to see a clearer vision again. So thank you for all the wisdom and guidance! I recently gave myself permission to quit All About Reading because it’s way too teacher intensive for me, and we all dreaded getting it out (especially me), and I’m going to try a more intentional, quiet, rotating method with read-alouds and phonics for my learning-to-read kiddos – using things I already have on hand rather than buying something new. And I love your idea of having a learning time from 9-12! That’s our “school time” anyway, so it would be very easy to implement a more laidback approach to that time. The gears are turning! Thank you again! (And sorry this was so long!)

    • I appreciate your comment, Sara! It will be helpful to many moms, I’m sure! You may not realize how inspiring you are, but it’s evident to me. Your kids are lucky to have you because they are learning, above all, to love learning as you meet them where they in their journeys instead of expecting them to be at the same place as all of their peers their age. And you are preserving their dignity in addition to helping them to love learning. I hope you can find peace in the chaos just by knowing these things. Hugs!

  • Some interesting ideas. It’s a little more difficult when your husband is not on the same page with learning and electronics. Also some of my kids have learning “differences” and it was a struggle just to get them to read or write. But homeschooling has been a blessing even if I have no geniuses :).

    • I totally get that, Wendy. I have two on the autism spectrum, one of whom is also dyslexic, which I don’t talk about very much because I don’t want to give either of them any reason to not push themselves or reach their full potential, you know? Strangely, those two absolutely excel at academics, though they struggle in other areas. I never meant to imply that my kiddos don’t have struggles. Overall, I wanted to send the message that when we allow children to OWN their learning, even if it doesn’t look like what we set out to create initially, that learning is deeper and more satisfying and enjoyable and it sticks with them. That’s huge! It’s so different from the public school model of education where everyone learns all the things by being spoon fed information and then promptly forgets all those things once the chapter test is over. It’s so different that it can feel scary, and I wanted to assure parents that it really does work. My husband and I aren’t exactly on the same page about things, either. He is very hands-off in his parenting, though, which gives me the final say. It’s a blessing and a curse. I agree with you that homeschooling is a blessing! I wish you well!

  • Interestingly, I just left a comment in another of your articles, poorly articulating how torn I feel about homeschooling or sending them to private school. Then I read this one and it was like a breath of fresh air to me. As my daughter is in 7th grade this year, I started this mental mantra (so to speak) of “I have to bump things up this year. She’s in seventh grade. I have to bump things up a bit.” And so I did. More pressure on me and more on them. Less time for games and fieldtrips and exploring and daydreaming and all the things that make the homeschooling life wonderful and enriching. My children…they are so bright and alive and lovely. And, after reading your article, I’m wondering…what if I just require the math, language, and science and let THEM choose to fill in the rest. I know my children and I know they still love learning and I know they wouldn’t fill the time with nonsense and brain-numbing activities. Reading this article has made me realize that I have worried too long that if I don’t construct the perfect education (as I or others see fit), that I have failed them. It’s a lie. Thank you for this article. I’m looking forward to sharing this breath of fresh air with my children.

    • Lol, I just left you a novel (a super long reply) on the other post. I think you get it, Leah!

      I actually only require math daily. We use Saxon, so my kiddos work around the table and just ask me when they have questions. They read a ton — I always have to hunt them down in their hiding places and confiscate their books, so I think they’re getting plenty of literature on their own. I make sure to buy them the classics (things I want them to read) as gifts, or they’d probably just read ‘brain candy’ books that you find at the library, but they do love the classics, too. It’s not like I have to force it.

      I hand my kids the big, read Easy Grammar book around age 12, which they work through independently. It takes about a year, and it’s all the grammar they’d ever need to know. I don’t make them write because it’s too painful, and somehow they learn to write. So far, my kiddos have started classes at our local University at about age 16, just a few at a time, while still living at home, and so far, all of them have received compliments and high marks on their writing. Oh, and they have each been enrolled in our FANTASTIC local homeschool debate league from age 12 on, which requires a ton of writing. But for some reason, they have no problem writing for their debate coach, while it’s a knock-down-drag-out fight from me.

      And we do science in little bursts during our morning time. We’ll study human biology intensely (all together as a family) for a month here and then we’ll study Chemistry intensely for a month there. Our morning time studies are super fun — I think I love them and look forward to them even more than my kids! We’re big on music and the arts, but we don’t consider those school — it’s just what we do and how we live. So really, the only thing we do daily around the kitchen table is math. And I do my own work at the table while my kids complete their math. It might seem like too little to an outsider, because outsiders don’t realize that homeschool life is learning and learning is life. They are inseparably connected. All the things my kids do all day long (we don’t own a gaming system and my kids don’t watch TV) are self-education.

      I think it’s really critical that the mom enjoy school as much as the kids, because the kids will know if she doesn’t, and they’ll follow her example. So you really have to set your homeschool up in a way that it’s enjoyable for everyone, and so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Learning should be fun! Not that you have to make it fun — you totally don’t. It just IS fun because it’s so interesting!

  • Thank you for sharing this! I’ve recently gone from saying I could never be a homeschooling mom to the realization that it’s probably the best thing to do for my family. Reviewing different methodologies has only brought to light things I’ve always known about myself. I hate the strictures of labels and I’m very much an outside the box kind of person! What you’ve listed goes right in line with how I’m hoping to proceed in this new journey of homeschooling.
    When I thought, “There’s no way I could do that!” I was picturing school at home. But when I consider the fact that we are a family of creators who limit mindless entertainment and are passionate about reading and learning, and that our girls will already be different than those around them simply based on how they are being raised, and that public school has done nothing but put stress on all of us and prevents us from having the time to do activities my children would find truly inspiring, I don’t think we could do any worse homeschooling than what the public school system has to offer (especially in our area). It is great to have some reassurance, from a mother of thriving children, that it is okay to be ‘lazy’.

    • Good for you, Becky! You’re already light years ahead of where I started, just by knowing that you don’t want to recreate school at home. Plus you’ve already got the creating and the limiting of mindless entertainment down. I’m betting that you’ll find homeschooling MUCH less stressful, and pretty fun to boot! Please keep in touch — I’d love to hear about your adventures!

  • What a prodigious and informative blog! Thank you for alleviating the guilt I feel at times for just taking a more relaxed approach in home educating my square root of 121 year old son In fact, today is one of our laid back days. But considering the fact that we home educate year round, and strive for a six day learning week,with a 7 day break the week of his b-day , we can more than afford to take a more laid back approach since he is constantly learning in many ways. We use Saxon math, too, supplemented with the Khan Academy, and a superb series of math texts from Bangladesh that I found for free download on archive.org, in addition to making our own mental math drills based on Vedic math techniques. These techniques helpe my son in mastering his 20×20 multiplication tables and helped him to break down the more difficult areas of the table (13×13- 13×19 – 19×13-19×19 ) into a simple 2 step method using addition and multiplication to answer the problems without drill and kill memorization. Same for the 2 digit by one digit areas of the tables which are translated into mental addition problems working left to right using base 10 as an advantage. What he likes most about the Bangladesh math texts is the Khan Academey-ish approach and feel of the texts. Since Salman Khan’s father was from Bangladesh my theory is that Salman Khan based the KA approach to mathematics on the math techniques of that country. My apologies for the rambling verbosity of this message but I do love discussing math.

    • Thank you for your mathematically-inclined comment! I could happily discuss math all day long! 🙂 I am going to look up those math texts from Bangladesh and the Vedic math techniques. I’ve never heard of either of them, and I’m incredibly intrigued!

  • I came across this article while desperate to make a decision! Curriculum or no curriculum. I have prayed and thought and read and I cannot come to a clear decision. I believe that children learn best when they are self-directed but I still worry. What if I fail them by choosing this path? I do have a specific question for you if you would be kind enough to elaborate on something. I understood from the article that your children direct their own learning but then I saw something about you using saxon math. I was wondering if you used curriculum as well? Thanks in advance!

    • I’m happy to elaborate, Ashley! Beware, though — I’m verbose when it comes to homeschooling.

      In a nutshell, yes! We use all kinds of curriculum in our homeschool!

      Self-directed learning is a beautiful thing! The more we utilize it in my family, the better my children learn. But it isn’t the ONLY way we learn.

      We use a lot of unit studies, because they work well with a big family and diverse ages. So those are cross-curricular, but last only a couple of weeks, and I usually make them up myself.

      We use Easy Grammar, but I just hand my 12-year-olds the big, red, complete Easy Grammar Plus book and let them work through it at their own pace. And we play grammar games together occasionally. But grammar isn’t something we work on daily or year round. I don’t introduce it (though I do answer questions when my kids as) formally until about age 12, when I hand my kiddos that book. They usually complete it in about a year, in fits and starts, and never study grammar again.

      I consider that method of studying grammar mostly self-directed, because by age 12 I can easily convince my children that their lives will be better for learning to speak properly. I don’t have to remind them daily, or beg or cajole them, to work on grammar. I just hand it to them and they work on it as they decide to. It’s a really thick book, but they get through it just fine on their own.

      We don’t study writing at all, unfortunately. Like, never EVER! I tried various curricula and the one they hated the least was Excellence in Writing, but they still pitched fits about that. I never gave up and formally decided that I would no longer teach writing. It was just so awful that I let it fall by the wayside over and over until my oldest two were happily ensconced in University classes, earning perfect scores on writing assignments — no thanks to our homeschool.

      That gave me the confidence to sell all the writing curriculum’s I had amassed to other moms and forego it completely.

      Math is an entirely different story.

      I think the reason we do math the way we do is that I LOVE math! I could eat, sleep and drink it happily!

      I don’t think you actually need a math curriculum for the younger grades. All they learn at that age is addition, subtraction, place values, telling time, money, dates on the calendar, temperature, measurements, then multiplication, division and fractions/decimals. Those would be super easy to teach using games a couple of times a week.

      I do use games, and we also use modified Saxon. We don’t do all the worksheets, and we never do the additional practice, but we do use it because it makes my job easier. It takes an entire afternoon to set up a store on my kitchen table, label everything with prices, and get out our manipulatives to learn about money.

      A worksheet takes about three minutes. As long as I mix the two, games and worksheets, I don’t get any complaints from my kids. They are happy to complete what I ask.

      From about Math 5/4 up (about age 8-10?) I rely more on Saxon.

      Saxon is thorough and incremental — there is NO way I could come up with anything better on my own. I’d for sure forget to teach my kiddos something they should know, or teach things in a less logical sequence. Saxon is wonderful because it makes math EASY!

      As a math-loving-mom, I contribute an essential ingredient to our math studies that inspires enjoyment in my kiddos. When one of my children is learning about similar triangles and direct proportions, we talk about Thales of Mylitus and how he ‘measured’ the pyramids.

      When one of my children is learning about weight/volume/displacement, we talk about Archimedes and how he realized that the king had been cheated.

      We read books about mathematicians and learn about how they’ve improved the world and made remarkable differences in our everyday lives. The key ingredient to encourage any child to a love of almost any subject is inspiration! You’ve got to give them a reason to want to learn the material.

      It’s so much harder than just laying down the law and demanding obedience, but it’s infinitely more effective.

      Still, would my kiddos choose to pick up their math books on their own and complete a problem set every day? Big, fat, NO!

      So what I do here to make our math studies more self-directed and less a horrible, awful requirement is strategically structure our time. We start school at the kitchen table at 9 am every day. That’s our learning time, and learning is expected of all family members. My husband and I set the example by always learning ourselves.

      Self-directed doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations. Well, it might to some people, but not us. We live on a farm! There is no way I could complete all of the farm chores by myself! My husband works full-time outside the house, so he couldn’t possibly take care of it all, either.

      The kids drink the milk and eat the eggs, beef, chicken and produce. Of course I expect them to contribute.

      Learning is another of our expectations. I won’t outline what they’re supposed to learn and when, but they each have a shelf in a kitchen cabinet with all of their individual learning supplies, including math textbooks.

      We learn from 9-noon every day. (My older kids voluntarily spend a whole lot more time learning.) I don’t allow literature to be a part of school, because it’s too big a temptation for my kiddos. They’d read all day long every day if I’d let them! (We also don’t have TV or video games, at all.) So math, grammar, science and such are kind of appealing compared to 3 hours of just sitting at the table doing nothing.

      Between inspiring my children to want to learn, and structuring their time to include a designated learning time, the work gets done and the material gets learned.

      In the case of writing, at least with my children, it somehow gets learned anyway, despite dedicating practically zero time or resources to it!

      I don’t know that that would be the case with math. I’ve had unschooling friends, and homeschoolers who studied other things besides math, really regret not having studied math when they decided as young adults to pursue college and couldn’t score high enough on college entrance tests to be admitted to their schools of choice.

      I’ve also had unschooling friends decide to pursue things other than college and be perfectly happy in real life with the small amount of math they acquired naturally. I use my extensive math skills as I teach my children, but I wouldn’t use any higher than algebra/geometry in daily, real life if I wasn’t homeschooling my kids.

      I wouldn’t hesitate to use curriculum and textbooks wherever they benefit your family. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can pick and choose the parts of each education methodology that work best for your family and leave the rest. The one thing there is no room for in any homeschool is dogma, or adherence to any methodology that does not work for our children.

      And remember that you being unburdened and unstressed is a benefit to your family, too! So make things as easy on yourself as you can! If a textbook will make you feel better about things in one subject, great!

      I guarantee that things will be different next year, and you’ll be rethinking your strategy and methods again, so allow yourself to experiment! Good luck going forward!

      • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Btw I am verbose when it comes to homeschooling as well. Lol Ask anyone who has ever mentioned it to me! Your reply was super helpful and prompt! I feel like you have found this balance that I have been searching for since we began homeschooling. I have always felt like we needed to either be “all in” with unschooling or “all in” with a curriculum. I find the idea of combining them as we need them very freeing. What you described is actually how we learn naturally during the periods of time that I am trying to figure out what we need to do next! Ironic. I have always felt like conversations that happen naturally are where my children have learned 90% of what they know, but haven’t yet been willing to trust that this is good enough. It is so helpful to know that your children are in college and are successful adults. Writing is one subject I struggle to “teach” but I freak out when I see a kid my child’s age spelling things so well and writing so well. I go into full blown panic mode and buy some curriculum that we won’t use because when we do it seems so arbitrary. Again thank you so much for answering and calming some fears. Also for inspiring me to try some new things. I may be back reading your article again when I start to have some doubts!

  • Have your kids ever struggled with feeling different? My 9th grader is having a really hard time being different than public schoolers.

    • My kids do feel different from their public-schooled peers. My kids aren’t into all the trendy things and, having never attended public school, they don’t really understand the rules of social heirarchy or how kids are mean to increase their social status — things like that. I’m so glad!

      Their social groups at church are completely public-schooled, so that’s a little difficult for them. But we’ve found excellent groups for them to belong to in their daily lives, so they have strong connections to other homeschoolers, and to public-schooled kids outside of a school setting.

      I think it’s critical to help our kiddos find these connections starting around age 12-13! Even with siblings close in age, my kiddos have needed friends outside of our family — even my more introverted kiddos. We’ve found places for them to belong at orchestra, co-op, and local community classes.

      I’ve noticed that my kids tend to be friends with a wide-spectrum of people rather than sticking to their own age group and ethnicity. In fact, my 7-yr-old son’s best friend at orchestra for an entire year was a 15-yr-old girl. They both played cello and liked the same type of books.

      He didn’t even notice that she was a girl until I pointed it out, ha, ha!

      Another way my kids feel different is that they confide in and confer with me. They don’t hate me or feel embarrassed about me or think I’m stupid the way their public-schooled counterparts feel about their parents.

      So, in my opinion, these differences are awesome, and I’m so grateful for them! Just put some effort into finding groups where your 9th grader DOES belong. It will probably take some work to find the right fit, but it’s worth it. Even one good, bosom friend will make such a difference!

  • I have read your whole article and all the comments with envy. What you describe sounds so freeing! I have been homeschooling for 12 years, since my oldest was in Kindergarten . She is a junior this year, my son is a freshman, and my youngest daughter is in fifth grade. We have books and magazines everywhere, Legos, marble runs, puzzles, crafts and games. We have used Classical Conversations for all but that first kindergarten year, when we used Sonlight. My children all love Classical Conversations in the elementary years, when school is memorization of facts put to music, games, science experiments and art projects. We went without TV for ten years, but got one about a year ago as a Christmas gift. We actually rarely watch it. And only as a family. The x-box,zero however, has become a problem. The Classical Conversations Challenge program has turned our teen years into so much fighting, laziness, avoidance of responsibilities and underachievement, academically speaking. They do most of the work, but not without me pushing and pulling all day long. They love their friends in their weekly class, but have no desire to excel. It’s all about checking off the required boxes so they can get to what they want to do. And they often skimp on the work, or complete it through tears. My oldest has become a proficient cellist, artist and writer all on her own. But her school assignments are so far beneath her ability. She is terrible at math, and has not scored well on her first two attempts at the ACT. Probably because she has no desire to prepare. My son works to earn time on the x-box. It’s his only interest, other than learning guitar and ukulele. He struggles with an unhealthy addiction to screens. He doesn’t read much, but still loves being read to. My youngest is a voracious reader and a three-time memory master at CC, meaning she has memorized and can recite in one sitting every single fact in every subject that she has learned in one school year. She is the only one naturally inclined to think analytically and mathematically, as well as enjoying grammar and diagramming sentences. She reads and writes on a high school level. She may be the only one of my kids able to thrive in the Challenge program. But she, too, is increasingly motivated by time on the computer or x-box. I wish we’d never bought it. I love Classical Conversations, because it covers all the bases and teaches kids to think critically. It has been my confidence in this journey, because I don’t have to fear leaving anything out. But my older two kids see schoolwork as a burden, for the most part. And as high school students, they don’t want to leave the friends they’ve been with at CC for their whole childhoods. My oldest will be a senior next year. It seems too late to make changes now. But I’m sad that my older two have not loved anything about schoolwork in years. What do you think I should do? If I leave CC, I have NO idea how to make sure they cover everything they need before graduating.

    • My first thought is that the reason your youngest is doing so well with CC is that she LOVES it!

      Probably our hardest job as parents (and homeschoolers!) is to figure out how to motivate our children, right? Each is so different, so we have to figure it out separately for each child. And then we have to figure out how to implement it — again differently for each child. What a lot of time and hard work that takes!

      The only way to give our children what WE think is best for them is by forcing them. And that’s completely useless. It’s like trying to force a horse to drink water when he doesn’t want to. We can shove his head into the water, but he’ll drown before he drinks. That is, if we could even keep his head under the water. It sounds exhausting and messy!

      How well did you learn subjects at school that you disliked? If you did score well in the class, it was probably because of some external motivator, and you probably memorized facts that you regurgitated for tests and then promptly forgot.

      So we have to first be okay with letting our children choose, even if (when!) they choose something other than what we want for them. We love, we teach, we try to inspire and lead, but we let them choose. And then the magic happens, because these kiddos are seriously brilliant and amazing, and when they choose something, they pursue it relentlessly until they achieve it. That’s what education should look like.

      Is it okay if your child chooses to ONLY study music, instead of the well-rounded 4 credits of math, 3 credits science, 4 credits of language arts, etc… program that education experts suggest? Yes! Do you think Mozart had the recommended High School experience? No, Mozart spent his entire childhood learning several instruments, composing and performing for royalty. Would he have been better off with a traditional education? No, his genius would have been wasted.

      I can’t think of any great composers, great scientists, great statesmen or great writers who had the typical, modern educational experience. Many of them, I would even say most of them, were unsuccessful at school and were kicked out. They needed different paths, and once each found his own path, his genius shone through.

      So that’s a super long way to tell you that maybe your children should be on a different path than CC’s. Only they (and God) can tell you where they should be.

      The next most important thing is to set up your children’s environment (your home) in a way that will conducive to sticking to the path he chooses. It sounds like you have plenty of literature and enticing learning activities, which is the first half of that battle. But you may need to get rid of the deterrents.

      It’s okay to take away the Xbox and the computer games and whatever else that might be deterring them, in my opinion. I know others would argue. But to me it’s like filling your pantry with all of their favorite junk foods, and having an open-door-pantry policy, where the children are free to take and eat whatever they like, but then hoping and praying that the kids will bypass the pantry and make themselves a salad with the ingredients in the produce drawers.

      My kids don’t even have phones or personal electronic devices, because I have found them to be detrimental to what we are trying to grow. My kids need to be bored enough that they CHOOSE to create and not just consume.

      As an adult, I still find it difficult to choose things that I KNOW are good for me, like salads and nonfiction when my nightstand is piled high with mysteries and political thrillers (my favorite genres) and my pantry is full of my favorite junk foods that only require me to tear open a bag. I have to actually pull out the ingredients for the salad: wash the lettuce and chop the veggies and cook the chicken. It’s human nature to choose the easy, fun, yummy thing.

      I think it’s even harder for kids than it is for adults because they don’t consider their futures much. They are invincible, and they have their every need met by loving parents.

      That brings to my third point. Sorry this is SO long!

      Our modern society has taken the child labor laws of the last century WAY too far! It has resulted in twenty-somethings living in their parent’s basements, flunking out of schools and generally being literally unable to care for themselves. It has also afflicted younger adults and teenagers, in that many of them are just happy to be kids.

      Kids who don’t think about their futures or consider ways to support themselves. Mom and Dad have always met their every need, and in their immaturity, they don’t consider that that won’t always be the case.

      It’s our jobs as parents to stop meeting all their needs and give them a reason to think about the future.

      I think the best thing my parents ever did for me was to stop providing anything beyond food and shelter once I turned 12. I had a regular babysitting job so I had a little money, and I had to figure out how to make my money cover my needs. When my friend wore brand-name $300 jeans, I wasn’t even jealous. I thought they were stupid for spending that much when a $30 pair of jeans did the job.

      I’ve done the same with my own children, although I do still like to provide lots of opportunities (music lessons and camps, ski lessons, international travel, etc…) that my children couldn’t possibly afford for themselves.

      I think that having to provide somewhat for themselves, and also keeping an open and continual dialogue with them about real life (paying for car repairs and home repairs, the mortgage, the grocery bills, etc…) helps them to feel a pressing need to plan for the future.

      Planning for the future makes sure that the NOW (learning and grades) doesn’t permanently close any doors.

      And my last piece of advice to you is that I, too, used to worry about ‘covering all the things’ before my kids graduated. But life happened. I was pregnant and ill for 8 YEARS of my older kids lives, and then nursing and sleep-deprived for another 8 YEARS, pretty much. There were seriously huge gaps in our learning plan. And I worried and wondered how things would turn out.

      Things turned out just fine! My kids found what they needed to. My oldest two are doing very well at a prestigious university and my third has been accepted, early decision, to his first choice. All are on full scholarships.

      I think the VERY best thing I did for my kids was what I didn’t do. I didn’t provide everything, academically or financially. They had to go looking for things and put in work, so things meant more to them. Their educations were hard won, not handed to them on a silver platter.

      All of those days (and YEARS!) that I physically could not provide the education to my children that I wanted to were a blessing in disguise!

      So you don’t need to worry about covering all the things. Instead, focus on enjoying the journey. Enjoy all the learning alongside your precious children, and only do what you want to do. AND only do what they want to do.

      Set aside all of the have-to-do’s. Snuggle your son who doesn’t like to read and read to him. Reading aloud is powerful (I wrote a blog post about it, if you want to search my site) especially when you are rubbing your children’s backs or snuggling them close. Even when they’re teenagers! In fact, I think it’s most effective for teenagers! Just focus on enjoying all of the learning and the love-of-learning will return.

      Sorry for the novel! I really do wish you my best. This mom thing is HARD! Especially when we are also the teacher! Please feel free to email me. And take my advice with a grain of salt, I’m just another mom on her own journey. I’m no expert!

      • Thank you SO much for your lengthy response. I read every word, and read it to my husband. My biggest question is, how do you meet requirements for graduation? If your kids only study what they want and don’t worry about taking the required number of subjects to graduate, how do you create a transcript that gets them accepted to college? If my kids only studied what they were passionate about, they wouldn’t know multiplication tables or the history of our country. How do you cover those bases? I love what you’re describing, but I don’t know how to make it work with the real world.

        • As far as high school graduation goes, I just don’t worry about it. If I had a child who wanted to go into the military, I would make sure he earned a high school diploma, because the military requires one. But nobody else cares.

          Before you worry too much about high school transcripts, check the universities your children want to attend and see what their requirements are for homeschooled students. My oldest two applied multiple places and never once needed to submit transcripts. My kids applied as homeschooled students and the universities just required ACT scores and essays. One place did require a portfolio, which my daughter assembled by herself.

          They could have applied as transfer students, because they both had associates degrees from a local university upon high school graduation, and they could have used those transcripts. However, both chose to apply as incoming freshmen (and then transfer the credits they had earned) because they received better scholarships that way.

          My third child is going through the application process right now, and it keeps getting easier. I think that universities are realizing that homeschoolers are fabulous learners, and catering to them. I know that the universities who spoke to my boys during the regional science fair were particularly intrigued that they were homeschooled, and sought them out and gave them scholarships JUST because of that.

          I did create transcripts as my kids went through high school, just in case I would need them later, because I had heard from other homeschoolers that we would need them (we didn’t). As the headmaster of the school, I was able to choose the requirements, and I actually made them far more rigorous than our local public schools requirements.

          Public schools require a little of everything. And if you look through your state’s standards, you’ll see that those standards are very shallow. I guarantee that when your children are interested in something, they will go far more in-depth than would be required by the school system.

          Remember, too, that not-forcing doesn’t mean you can’t inspire. Inspiration is really the key to great mothering/teaching. Your kids will absolutely learn the skills they need.

          To teach money and basic math skills, all you need to do is sit your little 5-year-old down with a ‘store’ spread out in front of them on the kitchen table. Give her a paper and pencil and a pile of coins and tell her she can keep anything she can correctly purchase. Make sure your store is full of her favorite treats and books she’s been wanting. Write down each coin’s name and value. I do it by rubbing the coin image, both sides, then labeling it. Demonstrate the process a couple of times. Talk about how you have to add the pennies (the ones) first, just in case there are too many digits to go in the ones place and she needs to trade some for a dime (a ten). Make her write it both ways, in dollars and in cents, and make her write it down and add on a piece of paper as well as counting out the actual money.

          If she wants the items, she’ll figure out money, and addition right along with it. You’ll be amazed!

          If math is really important to you, like it is to me, you’ll find a way to inspire your child to love it and want to learn it. Same with any other subject.

          Creating is a value I prize dearly. I’m always remodeling and tinkering, and I enjoy it. So my kids do, too. When I get out my pry bar and my tool belt, most of my kids run to grab theirs. My kids can do plumbing, electrical, concrete, framing, pretty much everything, because they see me loving it so of course they want to join me.

          I think the primary reason my kids are all musicians is because I’m a musician.

          My kids all learn math and science very thoroughly because those subjects are MY favorites! I also love to read, and my kids have all followed suit.

          But we don’t do any language arts, besides voraciously reading literature, because I loathe correcting it. We occasionally have a spur-of-the-moment grammar discussion, when a child speaks incorrectly and I have to give them a rule. But my children still write well. They’ve had compliments from their college professors.

          It’s just a fact that people (including children) are going to learn what they need to know. Haven’t you always learned what you needed to know?

          When you lead a horse who doesn’t want a drink to water, you’ll sooner drown him than force him to drink. But the corollary is also true. When a horse wants water, nothing will keep him from it.

          We read a lot, but when I wanted my children to REALLY learn American history, we planned a month long trip up the East coast. We read focused histories in preparation for our trip, then we bought a motorhome, packed it up and away we went. My kids love George Washington because they were amazed by his innovations at Mount Vernon and because he humbly refused the deification (his peers sought to bury him under glass beneath the painting ‘The Apotheosis of George Washington’ in the capitol rotunda) and instead chose to be buried at Mount Vernon with his family.

          If you visit Boston around April 19th you can watch the Patriot’s Day reenactments of the battle on Lexington Green. We got up super early and watched the reenactment of William Dawes riding his horse across Old North Bridge calling men to arms, shouting “The regulars are coming!” They set off cannons and had a battle, and then we walked battle road, visiting all the sites along the trail.

          My kids have SUCH a better understanding of American history than I ever did until we took that trip the first time when I was in my 30’s.

          I never wanted to know Irish history until I sat in the back of a black cab in Belfast and listened to the cabbie talk about the rebellions. Once I knew the questions to ask, I needed them answered!

          The best learning takes place outside of textbooks, and you can make that happen for your kids. Inspire them to ask the questions. Help them to want all the best things.

          And finally, school is not the real world. Even college isn’t the real world. It’s actually about as far as you can get from the real world. Don’t you think?

          I earned my degree in Mechanical Engineering, but I had two kids before I graduated, so I never worked in the industry. I use my skills and knowledge daily as I teach my own children, but would I if I were not a homeschooler? I never use them in daily life.

          I use basic arithmetic and geometry as I figure up how many linear feet of fencing I need to fence my orchards. We barely even need to know how to tell time or count money any more. That’s real life.

          Of course I don’t advocate NOT teaching our children those things.

          I’m very intrigued, though, by all of the successful, billionaire college dropouts like Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and hundreds more who never attended college at all.

          I think my kids want to attend college because my husband and I both did. And if your child wants a career that requires a college education, then by all means, that is the path to take.

          But it certainly isn’t the right path for everyone. So many kids nowadays take out huge college loans, graduate making a pittance and completely impoverished by their loans, with nothing to show for all of those wasted years.

          If the box isn’t producing what we want it to, then maybe it’s time to think outside the box.

          Help your children figure out the path that is right for them, whether college, trade school or something else entirely. It’s so hard when it looks different from what we thought it would or should. It’s really hard to take a differing path than what we grew up with or what we envisioned for our lives.

          But in the end, it’s always better than we could possibly have imagined!

          All that said, Classical Conversations is a fantastic program, and it’s obvious that you are doing a great job as a mom and teacher. God gave your children to YOU because YOU are what they need! Your children are SO blessed to have you!

          I would have used something rigorous, like CC, if I had had better health, fewer children, more time. We ended up here, in our very relaxed, eclectic style of homeschooling because of our situation. But I’m grateful that we did because I’ve learned valuable principles, and I think it’s exactly what my family needed.

          • I’m so appreciative of your thoughts, insights and experience. Thank you for taking the time to share all this. I always thought we had to meet the state requirements in order to graduate our kids! This has given me so much to think about.

  • How do I motivate my 16 year old son who wants to just get on his iPad and watch YouTube ? My husband is adamant that he needs to study an hour each of math, English and science. I’m at a dilemma as to what I should do

    • Technology makes our jobs as parents (and homeschoolers) SO much harder, because it’s so enticing and SO easy! We talk a whole lot about being creators instead of consumers — it’s one of our family values. And still, my children struggle with technology and making good choices. Although they struggle just as much with reading. I am constantly hunting them out of the nooks and crannies of our house to finish chores, practicing and schoolwork.

      They would struggle mightily with candy if I left it out, available, all the time. So I don’t.

      And I treat technology (and brain-candy books) the same way I treat candy. It is only available to my children when I want it to be. You can buy a programmable router so it’s only available at certain times or to certain devices. Or you can program controls on the devices themselves. Or you can take devices away.

      I made the mistake of buying my oldest an ipad about 8 years ago, and then I had to take it away. I haven’t made that mistake since. None of my children own devices (not even phones) before age 17 or so. I keep a couple of chromebooks at my kitchen table to be available during school time, but each of them has strict parental controls.

      We don’t have a gaming system, either. It’s difficult for kids to choose the best things (like learning) when all of those mediocre (or worse!) things are staring them in the face all the time. Heck, it’s hard for me. If I kept a constant supply of cheesecake and Mounds candy bars and all of my favorite treats all over my house, I’d be hard-pressed not to eat them, even knowing that a steady diet of them would ruin my health.

      The other thing that really helps is to schedule the day and stick to it. My children have to complete their chores before breakfast, or they don’t get breakfast. We clean up breakfast together and immediately sit down at the kitchen table for school. 9am-noon is school time, and we’re all at the table together, learning together, including me. I’m available to answer questions or offer direction, but I mainly work on my own projects.

      During that time, my kiddos can work on whatever they want to (no brain-candy books are allowed, though) but they must be in the kitchen, working on something. When I want to direct their learning a certain direction, I make sure to inspire interest that direction by strewing reading materials around or taking them on a field trip to get them thinking about it, or by purchasing a kit — anything to get them interested and delighted about something.

      I’m betting that with your son it would be harder to take the ipad away completely, since he’s probably had it awhile and you don’t want a full-on rebellion. But you could talk about how it’s wasting his precious time and designate time periods during the day that he can use it, and periods that he can’t. Then designate a spot for the ipad to live when not in use, and make sure it’s locked up when it should be.

      He may not decide to study during the designated spot at first, but learning will eventually be more appealing than boredom, as long as you keep him from filling that vacuum with more junk. A kid raised on cookies, cake and candy bars will probably need to get good and hungry before he chooses the salad. But they do eventually get good and hungry. Just provide lots of good, meaty educational supplies and experiences, so when he’s ready they’re there. Once he gets a taste of them he’ll be more motivated to choose them in the future.

  • Thank you so much for this article! I’m always wanting to go with child-led learning, but it’s scary. I’ve tried before to go this route to a certain extent, but I can’t seem to get my kids to really pursue anything. My 11 year old thinks all learning is “lame” and my 8 year old son tends to follow her lead. They’re not lacking anything as far as a normal and stable home life so there aren’t any emotional needs getting in the way, but I’m afraid that despite always homeschooling, I’ve used such a public school model, that I’ve killed their natural curiousity. Do you have any suggestions for undoing this and fixing their “learning is lame” attitude? I don’t get it, because I love learning new things! Thanks for any advice you have to offer, and if you don’t have time to get to my comment, I understand. 🙂

    • I understand, Kami. 11-year old boys are among the hardest to inspire! My 11-year old son just wants to build with legos all day. But whenever I have a home improvement project going on, he voluntarily grabs his tool belt and joins me. So I found a Makerspace class for him at our local children’s museum. It’s taught in a huge room with a corner devoted to woodworking tools, an area devoted to 3D printing, an area devoted to metalworking, etc… The teachers have taught the kids adobe illustrator and they’ve made vinyl stickers, 3D molds, concrete planters and all sorts of fun things. He absolutely loves it and is learning chemistry, programming, art and more as they make all these neat things. We have a lot of homeschoolers in my area, so there are lots of daytime classes offered to homeschoolers. Maybe you can find something like it where you live?

      The key is to find the thing that motivates and excites each particular child. Easier said than done, I know. But once I find it, I can get all kinds of learning and work out of my kids!

      Have you tried ‘strewing’ reading material around your home? That is probably my single biggest secret weapon. We visit the library often, so they can find things they like to read, but they read it all so fast that by the next week they’re out of reading material, and that’s when I strew around the picture encyclopedias and books of science experiments and non-brain-candy books that ‘spark’ new interests.

      My other huge secret weapon is that we don’t own any gaming systems, and we don’t even have TV. We do watch movies as a family in our theater, but it’s not something I let my kids use to occupy their time. Because I know (from sad experience) that they would choose gaming and TV over anything else. And we talk a lot about being creators rather than consumers, because it’s a value I want to instill in them.

      Because they don’t have TV or games to turn to, when they are bored they tend to make better choices, often educational ones. We have lots of educational ‘toys’ like a Lego mindstorm that teaches building and programming, legos and all kinds of building toys, snap circuit sets, chemistry sets, a microscope that my kids like to create slides for, and things like that. Art kits, animal toys, musical instruments and learning toys make great gifts for kids. And it’s easier for your kiddos to make good choices and love learning when those choices are enticing.

      I hope that helps. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need more suggestions. I wish you all the best!

  • It’s difficult not to panic and force learning when your 11 yo son is doing math at a 1st grade level and people start asking questions!

    • I can imagine, Tara! I’m sorry that’s happening to you!

      Who knows exactly what is fact and what is myth, but I’ve read that Thomas Edison was sent home with a sealed note from his school teacher to his mother, which claimed that he was addled and that he had been expelled for mental deficiencies. Mrs. Edison read the note and grew teary, then told young Thomas that the note said he was brilliant and that the school didn’t have teachers with good enough training for him. And she homeschooled him from then on.

      Michael Faraday was ridiculed for his speech defects until his mother pulled him out and homeschooled him as well. Einstein went through a similar situation.

      Each of these brilliant men failed at ‘school’ but excelled at learning. The common denominator for each story is that their mothers believed in them and allowed them to learn at home, in the way they learned best.

      I had one neighbor, a public school educator, who would quiz my children on their math facts and ask them how long they spent on schoolwork and inappropriate things like that. I can understand making small talk with my children, but it happened repeatedly, with multiple children, and grew worrisome.

      So I understand how you feel.

      Your job is to ignore the naysayers, not convey your worries to your son, and to instead help him feel brilliant.

      Math is my forte and my absolute favorite subject to teach, but it’s difficult in that there are fewer interesting math texts (than other subjects) to strew around to inspire kiddos. However, I do know several fun ones that would give him a good start. One Hungry Cat by Joanne Rocklin is funny and relatable, and so are Even Steven Odd Todd by Kathryn Cristaldi, Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElliot, A Hundred Million Stars by Seth Fishman, Too Many Cooks by Andrea Buckless and most of the Math Reader series. They might at least help him to fall in love with numbers, shapes and patterns.

      Put away the math textbooks and just enjoy the math readers above. Turn the readers into a full lesson plan and make it fun! For example, when you read One Hungry Cat, make a lemon cake and practice division as you go through the book, dividing and eating, just like the cat. Play all the math games you can think of with him, and keep it all lighthearted and fun. Build his mathematical confidence and his love for numbers. Once he loves numbers and patterns, you’ve got him hooked, and then you can pull back out the curriculum.

      If he loves literature, he might love “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch” by Jean Latham, “Michael Faraday, Father of Electronics” by Charles Ludwig and “Mathematicians are People, Too” by Dale Seymour.

      I use Saxon Math with my children, which is thorough and wonderful but a little dry, so I liberally salt it with stories of mathematicians and math projects, experiments and art. If your son is resistant to a math curriculum like Saxon, you could try “Life of Fred” or Teaching Textbooks, so it seems more like a game. It’s important that he be allowed to learn in the way that suits him best, so you might have to try out several different styles of math curricula to find one he is amenable to.

      They’re expensive, though, so ask around and see if you can borrow a friend’s curriculum to try out, and check your library for the math readers.

      The most important thing of all, though, is to help your son see his brilliance and not think of himself as deficient in any way.

      My third son had some speech problems and reading the book about Michael Faraday, who overcame his speech impediments and went on to become the father of electricity, really helped to build his confidence. Last year that son won the regional science fair with a modified supercapacitor. But in a roomful of ordinary kids, my son might have looked like a slow learner.

      Good luck with your little guy!

  • Spot on! I was told by my son’s second grade teacher that he was having trouble focusing on what she was saying, too busy “playing with a paper clip! ” He had difficulty in spelling and reading as well. I took him and my 4th grader out and home schooled them through the 12th grade. My oldest went on to graduate from a top college, placing first in his class, in Computer Science. My 2nd grader went to the same college and graduated first in his class in Physics. Another one of my children is musically gifted, writing his own orchestral pieces (at the age of 17) that he had youtubers from all over the world play and submit to him for final collaboration.. Check him out. DaneBryantFrazier.com My 2 daughters are still working on their God given talents as well. I firmly believe my children would not be as talented had they not had the free time that homeschooling provides. Each child was able to put concentrated efforts on what they were interested in and what they were gifted in. No, it has not been an easy journey, but well worth it. Thanks for your past. Hopefully you’ve inspired many 🙂

    • Wow! Your son is amazing! Well, all of your children are, I’m sure. And yes, it’s so inspiring to watch kids work toward what they want and achieve really fantastic things all on their own. Thank you for sharing your remarkable family!

  • What a wonderful post! I homeschooled my kids, sometimes better than others. But, they all have a love for learning and seek and find knowledge that I could never have taught them. What a lovely family you have!

    • I think it’s like that for all of us mamas — sometimes we do great, other times not so much. But it’s amazing that our kids thrive anyway, because they are predisposed to seeking out learning no matter what we do. Sometimes it’s better that we just get out of their way! And thank you for the compliment! They are pretty great kids!

  • This is great! We’ve been homeschooling since birth and my most favorite thing to do is strewing all kinds of books all around the house. My son has a way of rejecting anything I suggest. So , I’ve learned to just “strategically” leave things to be found by him. He has learned so much that way. 🙂

  • Your kids sound amazing!! My kids are older now but we are going to be fostering to adopt and when our adoption is final one day (since I cannot do it with a foster child due to regulations) I want to homeschool. I believe, as you do, that children seek out learning and I think public school can stifle that a bit with its structure. Great post!

    • That’s really neat! I didn’t know you couldn’t homeschool foster kids. I’ve thought a lot about adoption, because my youngest is now five and I miss having little ones around, but I figure I’d go the foster-to-adopt route. I don’t know how well it would work, though, to be homeschooling some and have others in school. It sounds hard! I’d better put it to prayer.

  • Yes! A million times YES! Science and math ARE the best! Ha ha. Just kidding. I agree with ALL of it :). Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank YOU for reading! Science and math are just so much fun, huh?! As opposed to verb conjugation and grammar, ugh! Ha, ha!

  • Wow that is great that your children are so smart and learn to read on their own…. but what if it’s not happening?

    • It will, as long as there is no other problem (emotional, mental or psychological) that needs to be addressed. Kids just learn at different paces and learn best once they are interested in something. I have several friends whose sons did not learn to read until around the age of 9, but once they did they took off and never learned back. As long as you establish a reading culture in your home, meaning that you have plenty of books and reading material around and make it an integral and fun part of your lives, it will absolutely happen! I wouldn’t hesitate to teach phonics in a fun, game-based way, either, if you want to. I always teach my kids phonics, even when they’ve already begun reading, just because I want them to understand all the rules and be great spellers. Boys typically become interested in learning later than girls, too, just because they are so busy learning more physical skills, which are also important. How old is your child?

      • Sorry for the late reply. I ended up giving birth that day LOL. My son just turned 8. He’s been read to since birth. And we read a lot. We read many classics as read alouds, even though he is very active, he enjoys them and we have pretty deep discussion about them. He’s just never shown an interest in learning to read. He’s been into numbers since 2 and is good at math. He also enjoys geography, planets, weather, nature, legos, minecraft, and star wars. So we have follwed all those fully…. looking back now i should have started introducing phonics early on…. but i was waiting for him to “show interest”. I’ve started he on All About Reading… we work on it 10-20min a day. He hates the drill work so we just skip it. He’s progressing slowly, so that is good news!

        • Congratulations, Sofia! What a wonderful blessing! 8 is very young in little boy years — I wouldn’t worry yet! It sounds like you’re on the right path, and he’s on the right path, so just keep on doing the wonderful things you’re doing.

  • I have no children but my mom and I always talked about how she wished she had homeschooled me. Public school was so rigid and I felt like I learned nothing. Your children are so bright and it’s great that they take the time to learn on their own. I hope my future children are avid learners.

  • Going to send this to all my homeschooler friends to see what they think. They are all pros and turned out some well educated kids.

  • Wow, I pored over every word in this article! I am a first year, reluctant homeschooler of four kids ages 11 to 2. I know in my heart that we need to make changes in our program, but have been holding onto some semblance of “school at home,” trying to make sure we learn all the things. Ha.

    You mentioned that your kids learned what you were interested in. My kids and I do not necessarily share interests. I am into art and writing, and could teach art and grammar all day long. I am not into math and science at ALL, except maybe astronomy. My older kids are very much into science, and my daughter is musical, whereas I never have been musically inclined. My son wants to be an inventor, and my daughter is into cooking and music.

    I feel more confident that I can provide a good learning environment for them to practice what they are naturally interested in. My kids are bright and creative, if I can just let go a little bit more I think homeschooling could be really, really good for our family.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • I’m pretty sure we all make the ‘school at home’ mistake when getting started, ha, ha! Good thing kids are resilient! I didn’t mention it in the blog post, because it was already far too lengthy, but I have realized some new passions as I’ve explored subjects my kids have suggested along with them. One such subject was oil painting, and I’m actually pretty good, if I do say so myself, ha, ha! Maybe you’ll find the same!

  • Congrats on your successes of being a homeschooling mom! I used to be a teacher and I’ve considered homeschooling! My son will be in kindergarten next year. We will see how it goes.

  • I have noticed this over the past year with our oldest. If I just let him be, he gets his school work done without a fuss. He has always been eager to learn and practically begs for time to practice his guitar. The less we push him, the more he wants to do it.

    • Isn’t it interesting how individual children are? My oldest was just like yours, but my second would pretty much never practice. However, he did fine at his lessons and progressed through the cello repertoire, regardless of whether he practiced or not. He spent all of his free time reading String Theory, Relativity and astronomy books. It’s just so critical that we respect their desires and work with them instead of against them.

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