A Day in the Life of a Homeschooler

A day in the life of a homeschooling parent can look much like a day in the life of any parent. You rise, navigating a dark hallway lined with mismatched socks and cardboard swords. You trip over a sleeping dog or two. You wait for your world to wake up, or at least the one beneath your roof.

It is blissfully quiet for a time. And then it is blissfully not.

I suppose a primary difference, for us at least, is that the home in which we live is also a subject in which we study. Throughout any given day, part of the kids’ learning experience is to contribute in ways both manageable and stretching. Our 7-year-old daughter is on breakfast duty whipping up omelettes and banana pancakes while her 3-year-old brother feeds the dogs, helps to empty the night’s dishes, makes the tea.

(This is my own answer to the “How do you do it all?” question every mother loathes to be asked. With a bit of persistence, children make for excellent chefs.)

There is no bell to race, no subjects to compartmentalize. We do not keep to a school room, nor a school schedule. Math can be beckoned at midnight, a child’s sum of seconds between thunder and lightning as she skittishly measures its distance away. Reading can be practiced in the simple contents of the children’s menu at our local diner. A brisk walk to the pond conjures up a week’s worth of science plans – turtle habitats, pedal boat propellers, the effects of a muskrat nest on a fragile ecosystem.

In short, in our own family, learning is never bound to a desk. But it wasn’t always this way.

When I first began homeschooling Bee, I nearly crumbled under the weight of the research. Which pedagogy was “best”? What curriculum did we need? How would I know it’s good enough?

The real question: How would I know I was?

I stacked my nightstand with every expert I could find, and the advice flooded in. Page after page, an endless barrage of early childhood development buzz words: empathy, EQ, sensory awareness. Curiosity. A firm foundation in arithmetic. STEM skills! No, STEAM skills! Socialization. Sight words memorized by age 3. Critical thinking. Poetry recitation, foreign language immersion and – hey, with all that free time, you should absolutely get a head start on Buchberger’s algorithm.

With every book finished, I convinced myself I would never have what it takes to teach my child absolutely everything she needs to know.

But every day since, I’ve convinced myself that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

The truth is: when we place the responsibility of a child’s education squarely on anyone other than the child himself, we are bending the beauty of learning into something unrecognizable. The person – not an institution, organization, or curriculum – must forever play the most important role in their own education.

And so: if I fail in teaching them a portion of what to learn but succeed in teaching them how to learn, I’ll have given them much. (For more on this, I’m leading a free workshop here.)

Our day is designed accordingly. Between a handful of scheduled activities (Chinese class, theatre troupes, reading to therapy dogs at our local library, and my own Other Goose lessons), there exists plenty of margin for questions, for exploration, and discovery. We walk to the woods so the kids can swing from trees, build structures from fallen branches big enough to enjoy a picnic of cherries and gouda underneath. We test banana bread recipes on rainy afternoons, find the best one to drop off on the neighbor’s stoop. We watercolor to Raffi. I read J.M. Barrie aloud under piles of blankets, host paper airplane races, break up fights over the last handful of plantains.

On any given week, we’ve covered a slew of “subjects” – many of them intentionally, but perhaps just as many not so. Last week, Scout announces he can properly spell each of our names – a feat no one had yet bothered to teach him, but that he simply caught onto from overheard phone calls to utility providers, dentist front desk associates and the likes.

What I know to be true: learning is ablaze, whether or not I strike the first match.

When the day feels full and I’m in need of a break, I retreat to the sofa for a crossword puzzle, a new novel, a phone call with a friend. As per the household rule: all are responsible for their own education, and sometimes, for me, that very much includes the contents of 32 down.

I suppose I’m writing much of this to say that you needn’t be an expert educator to teach a child well. You don’t need a carefully curated school room with a chalkboard wall, rainbow-coded books and a Wobbel board. You needn’t pull off a perfectly-choreographed routine of naps, snacks, storytime podcasts, and sensory activities from Pinterest. You certainly don’t need elaborately themed unit studies, flash cards, or boxed curriculums that box out your child.

And perhaps the biggest myth of all: you don’t need a predetermined amount of patience, a flood of time, or the personality of a Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp hybrid.

What you do need: love and a library card.

Learning is a process to trust, and one worth entrusting your child with.

When all else fails, tomorrow awaits – another day to rise and navigate a dark hallway lined with mismatched socks and cardboard swords. Another day to raise our children while raising ourselves.

Another day – for us all – to learn anew.

  • Hi Erin. I love reading your posts! I’ve been thrown into the homeschooling due to self isolation, and have found it to be both challenging and rewarding! A part of me has always wanted to try homeschooling but I was never brave enough! My children are now older, ages 15, 12 and 10, and I was wondering your thoughts on homeschooling at this age?
    Thank you for your encouraging posts. I truly enjoy reading them and always feel inspired afterwards:)

  • Thank you for this! We are unintentionally homeschooling right now, but had planned to intentionally homeschool a four and seven year old in the fall. I’ve been feeling like I’m getting it wrong but this is really helpful!

    • Oh I’m so glad this is helpful for you! And I very much doubt you’re getting it wrong. What a gift to have a long runway as you ease into fall! :) Keep up the great work, Anna!

  • I’ve not commented for a while, and I”m saving this for rereading in a few years (btw we adopted our little boy 5 months ago!).

  • You said this in such a beautiful way – art for a homeschool momas soul!

  • Thank you Erin, even as a middle school teacher, I can use the reminder that I have not taught if student has not learned how to learn.

    • Thank you so much for your care for your students, Yolonda! As the daughter of two public school teachers, I hold you each in the highest esteem. :)

  • Thank you.
    After much deliberation, I have decided to homeschool my three girls, ages 6, 9, and 12… much prayer is appreciated and I will do my best to take all your advice in this big leap.

  • Thank you for this! It relieves some of the negative pressure and stress that can keep me from delighting in my precious family and in the things I like to do. :)

  • The child-led learning idea seems to be a good one for Elementary aged children- but curriculum is definitely necessary for older children- science skills I learned in high school were a core skill that was immensely necessary when I went on to college, pursuing a career in nursing. I was homeschooled, and my mother did teach me how to learn, but she also provided me with a solid groundwork to move forward from, in whatever direction I wished, without being in a position where I would have had to take remedial classes had my childhood preparations only focused on things I felt like learning.

    • Agreed; curriculum is certainly necessary for most older children, and we plan to utilize a variety of pedagogies depending on where our child’s unique interest lies. It’s an exciting journey indeed!

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