Rejecting the Pressure of a Perfect Home School

The entire United States is in a trajectory towards the return of the next academic school year. If the kids havent started school yet, they will soon. By September 6th, the whole country will be back on public school districts academic calendars. Football games will start. Christmas break will emerge. Spring break will be wanton. And the countdown to summer will begin. Students will graduate and move on to college life. And …. I haven’t even picked out our curriculum for this year yet. The choices are many and the overwhelming sense of duty to find the PERFECT academic material is intense. I can feel my old, over-achieving home school program kicking into gear. I start to feel a little panicky. And so, I have been actively avoiding the issue all together.

Against better judgment, I found myself prowling around on a homeschool mom blog this afternoon. It’s a typical blog about how this one family home schools their 5 kids. She offers an overview of the curriculum they use. Gives away lots of free and very useable and solid material to augment programs. Offers advice on organization, life training for kids, Christian values, and tells you why you should do things this way or that. And she’s good….she definitely knows how to write titles and suck you into her personal opinions about stuff. Being easily sucked into such useless knowledge, I found myself sitting with my mouth ajar at what all she was doing with her kids and feeling an immediate sense of failure since, as I have said, I haven’t even decided on curriculum for my 4 kiddos. I’m already “behind” and we haven’t even started yet.

Then I noted something really important that I hope other home school families will clue into: most of the online home school blogs that look impressive and make you want to do more and be more and have more for your kids usually are not full-time home schooling families living on a budget of Zero. The children from this one family are involved in several online schools (that are quite expensive) and are using several DVD-based instructional programs to knock out the work that goes into home schooling older kids. In fact, 90% of her children’s curriculum was made up primarily of DVD instruction for science, math, language, history, etc. This is a huge help to the home schooling family, but it not something that all families can afford to do. DVD instructional courses can be quite costly. Personally, I cannot afford to order DVD material for 4 kids. Nor do I really want to.

And here is where ones personal views of home education start to divide up the home school community. I home school the kids because I want to be with them, not necessarily because I feel a strong desire to give them the most advanced, rigorous (and expensive) academic work. (And I’m really not presuming that the mom who writes the blog I was reading has a different opinion. I’m sure she home schools b/c she wants to be with her kids, too. But she clearly has a lot of strong, clear, academic goals for her and her kids. Which I don’t. And I know a lot of other families who specifically do not home school rigorously.) When the boys were younger, yes, we did things like Latin and spent time memorizing entire chapters of the Bible. When Ean was 3 he could recite the entire story of Jesus’ birth from Luke, Chapter 2, in unison, with Adri. They both knew several Latin Christian prayers and songs and could sing/recite them out loud. Adri knew his times table by the time he was 6 because we drilled in Ray’s Math daily. Their favorite outings consisted of nature walks and note-booking. I was ever the proud Christian home school mom.

And then baby #3 got bigger and baby #4 came along and all forms of formal academic work went out the window.

For a few years the kids all have toggled in and out of public school. And I in and out of college. Enter, 2011/12 school year. At present I find myself home, again, with 4 children full time. I have no job or college work to distract me from their studies. And I find myself reveling in the idea that I have absolute complete control over my entire schedule and over everything the kids will be involved in this next year. I have so many ideas for how this year might play out – but I’ve resisted setting any goals or expectations. I want the children to ENJOY this next academic year. In fact, I want them to transition fully back into the “home school mindset” where family is a fun place to be and where we can all learn along side each other without the need to “divide and conquer” academic material.There is time for that yet. This year, I feel, is about resolidifying the family unit.

And so, I reject the temptation to put pressure on all of us to have a “perfect home school” experience via lofty academic goals, expensive instructional material, or “godly” pursuits in character development. I just want to have fun with the kids again and learn a little along the way. I invite all other home schoolers who feel the same way to join in the fun! Put the books away and take the kids to the beach. Everyday. If that’s what you want to do!

This morning, the kids and I spent 2 hours at the kitchen table. (Note, I actually have a really cool “home school room” but we always end up doing school work at the kitchen table together!) We spent time talking about what the kids “Perfect Home School Day” would be like. Here’s a picture of them writing out what they thought would make home schooling fun. We talked about and lined out different routines and they helped me set up our weekly calendar. This gave them an idea of what the weeks will be like as we venture into the school year. They were really great about it all and we had fun just talking together and working towards an ameniable goal. I actually learned a few things about my kids that I hadn’t known before! I guess the question may be: who is home schooling who here!?!

So, cheers to the next academic year. And now I need to go yell at some kids who are supposed to be folding laundry but are rolling around on the floor like puppy dogs. I’m sure you can imagine who I’m talking about…

11 thoughts on “Rejecting the Pressure of a Perfect Home School

  1. Hurray for rejecting peer pressure. I’m proud of you! Following your heart is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family. Y’all will have a wonderful time bonding this year, and you’ll learn plenty of stuff too.

    And, hey, don’t forget about ambleside online. It’s all free. You can implement as much or as little as you like. It’s Charlotte Mason based, but you don’t have to use it that way if you don’t want to. I think it’s a wonderful free resource.

    Kudos to you!!

  2. Hey Sherri! Yes, I have Ambleside Online in my links for free resources. I <3 free resources. :)

    I kind of have an idea of how we'll attack "academics" but just haven't had time this summer to line it all out. I like the plan that's in my head. I got totally distracted while reading the other blog. :)

  3. I always love reading your blog, and I am totally on board with this type of homeschooling. Actually, with Madelyn crawling everywhere I have no choice!!! Haha! I have found it is much preferable though, and still plenty productive.

  4. Congratulations, you are officially and unschooler. :) BTW, I have some AO books if you want to borrow, but no pressure, really. Have a great year!

  5. “Here’s a picture of them writing out what they thought would make home schooling fun. ” Love that idea….may “steal” it and have them do it tomorrow. This post is great, Sarah. Thanks for sharing. I’m right along with you. Have shed a few tears over this past week, a bit stressed, but realize again tonight, that it’s really all ok. NOt knowing what all they are going to do yet this year (curriculum wise) is totally fine. We WILL learn, they WILL grow, we WILL be together….just not sure exactly what that looks like. And I can NOT compare to anyone else! great post! thanks!

    • Abby, a friend made me do it for myself after I spent too much time complaining about my life to him. He said, “Oh geez…. you have a great life. You just need some new perspective.” It was a painful process for me but I was really glad when I finished it. Definitely is a good tool for anyone! :)

      And it is hard to not compare to other families, for me. It’s one reason I quit home schooling. I couldn’t take knowing how families really were vs. what show they put on for the world. I just want NORMAL. Not hyper-awesome. Hyper-awesome =stress. I hate stress. :)

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who hasn’t chosen curriculum!!! HAHAHA

  6. LOVED reading your post! That was me when I first started homeschooling…feeling inadequate and searching for something perfect. We were broke – like bumming mayo from my grandmother that lived next door kinda broke, lol – and trying to find a curriculum that felt “schooly” because I thought that’s what I had to do; replicate a traditional school day. My parents ended up sponsoring our school year that year and spent several hundred dollars on a complete “boxed” curriculum. I was so excited for it to get here, but once we started using it, my son and I were both totally miserable. We struggled through for a couple of months. But we finally had to stop…we were both going to implode. Anyway, after much searching, followed by more searching, lol, we found a program that I thought was worth a try, Time4Learning ( It was online and interactive and my son enjoyed the trial period, so we signed up. That was 5 years ago! :) My youngest started with the same program 2 years ago. It’s not free, but it’s very affordable compared to other online programs I found. It costs me $35 a month for both (I can only afford to pay monthly, we just don’t have a lot of money at one time to pay for the whole year at once, but in the past, if you could pay for the entire year up front it worked out cheaper).

    Even though we use a curriculum, we don’t have a school day schedule. We just let the day come at us. We don’t live near a beach, although that would be fabulous, lol, but we do like to spontaneously head down to the park. Or to the Fernbank Museum. Or to the Zoo. Or to the aquarium. :D It’s so much more important for me to enjoy their childhood, than it is for me to worry that I need to have what someone else would deem a “perfect homeschool.” :)

    Again, loved reading your post. Thank you!

    • Katie,

      1) It’s nice “meet” you!
      2) Thank you for the comments. I loved reading about your journey. I really find that when I talk to Moms, on a real level, most of them are home schooling like this… relaxed… but they feel awful about it instead of just embracing the idea and running with it.
      3) Museums are my FAVORITE way to teach anything! Not sure the kids have the same amount of fun, but you know, life’s not 100% fair, right? HAHAHA

  7. I am just beginning (never homeschooled) and you could not have said it best! Albeit the risk of turning into a pity party…I feel completely inadequate when “comparing” myself, and just had a blowup/meltdown (whatever you want to call it) with my brother (who’s a public school teacher) chastising me that my child ‘should be in public school, and that I cannot teach her what she needs to know:’…(yep, you guessed it!)…to COMPETE in this world!!!! ‘The knife cut deep’ when my mother agreed with him.
    Love your ZERO budget (because we fall there), and 2 of my favorite lines are: I home school the kids because I want to be with them, not necessarily because I feel a strong desire to give them the most advanced, rigorous (and expensive) academic work. I want the children to ENJOY this next academic year.
    Thank you for being bold and telling it like it ‘really’ is ….and your thoughts on how it should be. Hugs!

    • …I meant you ‘put it best’. I’m tired….long day…goodnight!
      (But, LOVE peeking in on my sleeping babies just before I fall asleep.)

  8. Annette,

    I’m really sorry you have to endure the chastisement of your own family. I can definitely relate. As can MANY a home schooling mothers. I’ve been put through the ringer with my own family, and my in-laws, as well. I won’t go into all the unpleasantries that I have dealt with b/c of my choice to home educate, but it has been painful and the disapproval has definitely hindered my relationship with my family and in-laws. Everything that they feel is “wrong” with my kids is always relegated back to, “Well if they were in public school….” Even my husband isn’t the most supportive, but he will tolerate the idea since he knows that it’s really MY responsibility either way. He works, so he doesn’t deal with the kids all day. It’s my job. I either deal with my own kids all day long, which …. I will admit… isn’t easy. Or I send them to public school and I end up dealing with public school every day all year long… and that has not proved itself to be ANY less difficult for me. One year that my kids were in public school, they missed 100 days of education b/c of extended illness b/c they picked up every freaking germ possible. 100 days between the 4 of them. It was absolutely unbelievable. I was beyond frustrated. I was going to college full time…at the time. Was it my husband who left work to stay home with 1+ sick kids and dealt with medication and Dr. visits? No. Was it my in-laws? No. Was it my Mom or sisters or brother? No. It was me. And a couple of home schooling friends who were compassionate enough to let my germy kids come around their healthy kids.

    The home school community will also become your friend and foe. I would immediately advise you to NEVER peruse anything from the following resources:

    Vision Forum and anything with Doug Phillips’ name attached to it
    Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute
    ANYTHING from Michael or Debi Pearl
    Stay far away from the Ladies Against Feminism site
    Burn all the Homeschooling Today magazines you are given
    Dismiss anything that has James or Stacey MacDonald as the authors

    Simply turn away from all of it. It is all divisive at its core and will lead you far away from your goal to simply enjoy the child God gave you to raise.

    I would encourage you to read, “The Gentle Art of Learning” by Karen Andreola. If you are a Christian, “The Ministry of Motherhood,” by Sally Clarkson is incredibly encouraging. And my recent favorite: The Joyful Homeschooler by Mary Hood, Ph.D. That last book was given to me 3 yrs ago by a very good friend who has been probably one of my strongest supporters. I didn’t read it until this summer b/c I thought it was going to be one of **those** books that left me feeling like a total failure. But it is actually a fantastic resource. I think you would enjoy it.

    Any book by Ruth Beechick is great for home education of younger students. But don’t get wrapped up in curriculum. Take your time. Get to know your kid. Find out what he likes, is into, etc, and tailor the learning to him. I have been doing this off-and-on long enough to know what not to do with mine. I am a very academic person – LOVE academics – but not all my kids are like that. I have to be careful to not impose my own learning style on them.

    So I’ve rambled on long enough…. I have a LOT of FREE home schooling resources I can send you. You could literally home educate through high school without every buying curriculum. You do not need a budget to home educate. It helps, I won’t lie. I wish I had money so I could hire private tutors to come here and knock out the academics…so I could just play with the kids… but we don’t have that kind of money. So you make it work!

    Best of luck in your journey! There’s a lot of people in your corner!!

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