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Monday, January 2, 2017

The Evolution of Our Homeschool

If you’ve been doing anything long enough, including homeschooling, chances are the way you do it has evolved over time.  Experience informs your decisions as you learn lessons from past mistakes and triumphs.  Your opinions change. Maybe you become a little jaded. Maybe you have that one child who defies the wisdom of the ages.

For Week 1 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair, our theme is “See How We Learn.”

We have 24 bloggers participating this week! You can find links to their posts at the end of this article.

The Evolution of Our Homeschool---Week 1 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Today I’m going to talk about how far we have come. I’m going to share with you how our homeschool has evolved over the past 9-1/2 years into what it is today.

My hope is that if you are new to this journey in home education it will encourage you, and if you’ve been doing it awhile---maybe you’ll nod your head in understanding.

There have been times when I was absolutely certain that I knew what I was doing (sometimes it turned out later that I should not have been quite so certain), but it’s been more common for me to feel like I am stumbling through a dark forest without a map or even a flashlight.
I’ve been fortunate to meet some folks (both online and in person) who were willing to gently take me by the elbow and come along for the trip. Together we learned that yes, we would make mistakes and no, it wouldn’t be perfect, but in the end it would be good enough and maybe even magnificent.

That’s not to say that we settled for “less than,” but more that we came to understand that sometimes we were worrying about the wrong things. Only God is sovereign in all of this. He sees it all. I look back on our beginning days of parenting and learning and I understand much better how it all fits together. It’s not clear as crystal, but there are a some twinkling lights in that dark forest.

Let’s zip back 10 years into the past, when our family decided to homeschool.

The year was 2007 and our oldest child was attending 1st grade at a small Catholic private school. Things were not going well there. He would wake in the morning, complain of having a tummy-ache, and beg to stay home. There was an ongoing issue with a bully in his class that required frequent talks with the teacher and the principal.

In addition to the bullying, he was also having problems with the lack of differentiation in the classroom. Differentiation is when the educational environment is set up to accommodate the students’ various strengths and weaknesses. There are limits to how much this can be done in a traditional classroom, but typically there will be things like different level reading groups, activity centers for kids who finish their work early, that type of stuff.

The 1st grade teacher was unwilling (unable?) to differentiate. She would not, for instance, allow my son, who was already reading classic Hardy Boys reprints to read at his own level. She required him to read only the 1st grade reader while in school, a leveled book consisting of 3 and 4 letter words in the fall semester (he took it home and read the entire thing after school one day). All the writing and spelling tasks were also linked to this reader. My son was bored out of his mind when it came time to do language arts.

Now let me back up a minute. The previous year, he loved his kindy teacher. Why? Because she treated each and every child in her classroom as an individual, giving them the encouragement and scaffolding they needed to succeed at their own respective levels. He went from only knowing a few letter sounds to reading Hardy Boys under her tutelage. Then he gets to 1st grade and suddenly the game changes completely. The only concession we were finally able to get from his 1st grade teacher was to allow him to bring his own book to read once a week during reading time.

At the same time that he was flourishing in his independent reading, he was struggling in math, because he wasn’t getting enough support in that area at school.

Between the bullying and the lack of differentiation, my son came to hate school within half a year.  My husband and I decided that homeschooling would be the way to go.

Let me back up even further for a minute: homeschooling wasn’t a “new” idea to us at the time.

In fact, we had planned to homeschool when our son was preschool age. But then a job change took us across the country from a large metropolitan area (with a large homeschool network and tons of resources) to a small, rural area where we didn’t know anybody and hadn’t tapped into the homeschool network.  Under those circumstances, school seemed to be a more logical choice for us and it’s not a choice I regret---his kindergarten teacher was awesome and he did make many friends.

My only regret is not taking him out of school sooner than we did. We had decided to start homeschooling mid school year but waited until the summer to start.

The summer of 2007 we started homeschooling.

David was 7, Mary was 3-1/2, and Peter was almost 2. I was ready. More than ready. I had already researched homeschooling extensively when David was a wee one. We had even attended a talk given by Laura Berquist. This was the age before the internet was so extensive, before you could find anything and everything you wanted to find through Google.

I had read The Well-Trained Mind, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, and sundry other books.  I knew what I was doing. Well, I thought I did anyway. It was a great year and I have fond memories of learning about ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the ancient Greeks and Romans…we read good books, we did projects, we put together lapbooks, we went for long walks, walked all over town (we lived in a town that was maybe 2 miles from one end to the other), found 2 homeschool groups to go on field trips with…

I would say it was bliss, but the truth was that I was burnt out by the end of the year. It was so much work. And remember, I had a preschooler and a toddler with special medical needs in tow. But it wasn’t the little kids that burnt me out.
I burnt myself out.

I tried to do too much. I fretted over providing my son with a perfect education.

I didn’t know yet that homeschooling isn’t a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon.

It’s more like a long, cross-country trek through unexplored wilderness. Some days you will be running in the sunshine or skiing down crystalline snow slopes. And other days you’ll be digging yourself out of a hole you’ve fallen into or climbing a tree to escape a bear.

Little by little, you get there in the end.  But it is impossible to see at the beginning exactly where you’ll end up. Sure, you can make some general predictions, but you won’t really know the results of your efforts (and your children’s perseverance) until you send them off into the adult world.

That 7-year-old boy I started homeschooling all those years ago? He is almost 17 and will be graduating from this homeschooling in 1-1/2 years.

And he is sooo not the little boy he was almost 10 years ago.  He is nearly a man and I’m proud to be his Mama.

Truth here…when I got the idea to write this post, I thought that I was going to give a year-by-year description of how our homeschool has evolved over time. But evolution is a funny thing---it can be really hard to detect the subtle changes that occur as they occur.  It just all melds together until suddenly you have a whole different thing.

What it boils down to is this…

We started here:

See How We Learn in Our Homeschool - Week 1 of the Virtual Curriculum Fair at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Aren’t they adorable?

We started with one child being formally homeschooled and 2 littles tagging along in pretty much everything we did.

We started following a neo-classical approach to education ala The Well-Trained Mind. We filled our days with fun activities.

Christmaseve 2008

Along the way, this one came along:

Emma sitting on a shelf 2010

She stole our hearts and wrecked havoc on our homeschool routines. By the time she was 17 months, she had given up naps and getting stuff done was a big-fat-frustrating-challenge.  By that time, David was 9-1/2, Mary was 6-1/2, and Peter was 5, so all three of the older kids were officially homeschooling (our current state has mandatory attendance beginning at age 5).

When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Peter said:
A dragon. Actually, I’m not sure. I know I want to be an orca! I want to be a whale when I grow up so I can actually kill sharks.”
at the beach
Christmas 2011at the ball game 2012

They grew, becoming more and more themselves.

We tried unit studies and I discovered Charlotte Mason’s original books.

2014 Christmas
spring 2016

Yes, in fourth grade I despaired that David would ever learn his times tables. But he did.

And in 5th/6th grade I despaired he would master fractions. He did that, too.

And in 7th/8th/9th grades I despaired that he would ever become internally motivated and more of an independent learner.  Know what? He did that, too.

I’ve had similar worries about every single one of our children.  Over and over and over again they have grown and prospered and have become more than I could ever imagine.

Here they are now:

Christmas 2016

My oldest will be 17 in a few months. A day later the youngest will celebrate her 8th birthday.

I would not describe us as classical homeschoolers today, though we do incorporate some elements of a classical education.  We sometimes incorporate a unit study approach (when the kids let me---they actually don’t like unit studies, that’s my thing).  We are still heavily influenced by Charlotte Mason and we maintain a literature and exploration rich learning environment. Officially, I guess we are “eclectic.”

We have a heavy emphasis on free time. I try to keep requirements to a minimum and to maximize the time available for the children to explore their own interests. This means that things like science kits are in ready reach, school sometimes gets canceled if the sledding is good, and I don’t assign tons of reading and writing (I find that my children do a lot of reading and writing on their own).

Our formal studies are fairly structured (not timed down to the minute, but we have a good routine in place), which allows us to use our time efficiently. This is a trade off we’ve made to allow for more unstructured time. Their free time, however, is their own.

I posted about how we organize our days a while back, as well as how we organize our materials.

There have been many times that I have worried we haven’t been doing enough, but as I watch my teens having real conversations with adults in the real world, it seems pretty clear, that yes, yes it is enough. Perhaps much more than enough.

My special needs child had some assessments done recently that gave us some positive affirmation. He is excelling in many areas and in his weak areas, he’s still performing on par with the average---homeschooling is definitely a win for him.

Everybody’s homeschool is unique, of course.  The key is finding the right mix and balance that works for your particular situation.

My tips for you based upon my experiences while homeschooling this crew:

  1. Homeschooling doesn’t need to be perfect. It does need to get done. I’ve changed my approach/curricula/plan countless times, but in the end what matters is that it gets done. If it’s working, stick with it, even if it’s not ideal.
  2. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t make changes. Some of the changes I have made have made all the difference in the world---being flexible can be an asset, just don’t waffle too much. I’m a waffler and I regret that.
  3. Strive for balance. Homeschooling is a lifestyle---it will bleed into the rest of your life. Learning is a lifelong endeavor that happens where ever you happen to be.  That’s not to say you can't follow a traditional school approach (for sure, you can), just that it will be different from school. You can leave a school and come home, but you don’t ever really leave your homeschool.
  4. Keep a journal about your experiences with your children. You will treasure those thoughts and observations later. When it feels like a child has been floundering in the same area for ages, I look back at what that child was doing a year ago and the advances he/she has made in that time are obvious and reassuring. While preparing to write this post, I went back and read old posts on this blog from back when blogging wasn’t a professional endeavor with pinnable pictures and optimized SEO. So many little journal entries of the cute and funny things these little people (ok, now they are all big people) used to do---you will treasure those memories.

How has your homeschool evolved? Please leave me a comment!

How the Virtual Curriculum Fair has evolved since 2012:

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I invite you to see how my fellow bloggers learn in their homeschools (note: all posts will be live by noon EST, Jan. 2nd):

The Evolution of Our Homeschool by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Us-School Because We Are Us, Not Someone Else by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

It's All About the School by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Setting the Stage- the 2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair! by Lisa N. @ Golden Grasses

New Year, New Goals, New School! by Amanda H @ Hopkins Homeschool

Homeschooling - A Glimpse into How We Do it by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Spotlight on How We Learn in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Our Unique Eclectic Homeschool  by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

How We Learn on the Go by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Home Education - 10 Ways We Make It Work by Lizzy @ Peaches At Home

Schedules, where would I be without them? by Kim @ Good Sweet Love

Education at Our House by Shecki @ Greatly Blessed

Starting the Day Well by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Making a Change - Accountability and Responsibility Through Routine by Lori H @ At Home: where life happens

A time to be encouraged is coming.. the Virtual Curriculum Fair by Annette @ A Net in Time

Loving the Moment! by Jen K @ A Peace of Mind

Keeping Our Homeschool Organized by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Homeschool Goal Setting – Looking Forward, Looking Back by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset

How We Choose Curriculum by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

This Is How We Homeschool by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

How we don't learn in our homeschool & how I don't plan {2017 Virtual Homeschool Curriculum Fair} by Meghan @ Quiet in the Chaos

Learning Our Way by Lisa @ McClanahan 7

Limping Along: Our Semi-Eclectic Approach to Homeschooling by Debra @Footprints in the Butter

2017 Virtual Curriculum Fair: See How We Learn by Dana L @ Luv'N Lambert Life

Would you like to join in?


  1. I was reading your blog way back when your youngest was climbing bookshelves! :) Doesn't seem like it should have been that long ago.
    I strongly agree with all of your tips... especially #4. It's such a relief to be able to look back and see how you and your kids actually did climb that last mountain that once seemed so insurmountable!

    1. It doesn't seem like it's been that long, does it? Yes, one thing that has really kept me going is reading my old blog posts---it's so easy to forget how things really were.

  2. They change so quickly. It is fun to look back.

  3. I love that sentence: "Homeschooling doesn't need to be perfect. It needs to get done."

    Over our seven and half years with the children at home, things have changed partly as the children have grown but as I have relaxed and enjoyed our home ed more. Worry is a terrible thief of home education joy.

    1. I agree that worry will rob you of joy. It tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room and hides all the good things in the shadows. I wish I wasn't such a worrier---this is an area that I'm working on. :)

  4. What a great article! I really have noticed how we change and evolve a little each year. I agree with #3, balance is key, because learning happens everywhere, all the time, and if I can remember that, things go so much smoother around here!

    1. Thank you. Sometimes it helps me to think, "why am I so full of myself that I think they only learn if I plan it?" And then other times I feel like a hypocrite when I tell one of my children to stop worrying about things they can't do anything about. ;)

  5. my blog is my journal. it's a good be able to look back and see differences you make.

    1. Yes, mine is too. It's a great way to supplement my fallible human memory. :)

  6. I agree homeschooling is a lifestyle not something we do from Monday-Friday from 8:00-3:00.

    1. Kind of like parenting isn't a 9 to 5 job, right?

  7. Evolved for sure! We started with Abeka, went to Classical, then Sonlight and now a little of everything! That's what happens after 18 years of homeschooling. haha Thank you for hosting the VCF- we look forward to it every year!

    1. I'm glad to hear you look forward to it, Michele. :)

  8. Oh my goodness- those sweet memories! And how things change, so neat to look back on. I think one of my favorite things about homeschooling is that we can evolve, and change as the seasons take us down different paths. But all the while we can build those relationships and love for learning. =)

    1. The relationships we have built are priceless.


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