Letting Go of the TEACHER in You

Ever think about quitting homeschooling?

Yeah. Me too. The question is. . .when you get to that point, what do you do next?
Take a look at a note from a mom who is right at the crossroads.

I am homeschooling my 2 very active boys. Age 7 and 5 and I am stuck. I think the biggest reason I am stuck is that I taught special education in the public school system for 9 years and I just have in my mind how our school day “should look” and it doesn’t fit and honestly homeschooling is really frustrating and I don’t like it.
 I just can’t seem to break out of that and embrace what works best for us! I also think I have “too many” ideas and things I want to cover and have trouble focusing on what is best.
Anyway…. I would love your thoughts and prayers.

                                                                                                                   –Losing Heart

Dear Losing Heart,

I have SO been where you are. I understand your heavy heart.

You might expect I’ll give you a pep talk saying “Never give up! You can’t surrender! The collapse of family structure is on the line” and so on. But those talks tend to heap loads of guilt on someone who’s simply looking for solutions. My guess is you already have guilt (It’s a mommy’s way). The truth is you can give up and it would not be the end of the world. I won’t join the ranks of those who tell parents that if they quit homeschooling they’ve failed.

All that said, I still don’t believe you need to give up. There is so much of value in the homeschooling life that I’d hate to see you and your boys lose out on. So we’ll go straight discussion B.

When I first began homeschooling, I tried my best to make my school look and walk and talk like a traditional classroom. That was my model. I didn’t think it was “a” way to teach; I thought it was “the” way to teach, the only way.After all, if it wasn’t, why would teaching schools teach future teachers to use it? Thankfully I stuck in there, and with each passing year, my classroom grew more and more relaxed, less and less structured, more and more able to follow the gifts and interests of my children. This is a transition that almost every homeschooling mom/teacher must make. We all start with what we know. A few continue with the traditional model, but they are rare, and I believe in doing so, they lose out on the many truly glorious options available to them and their children.

Here’s the bad news: moms who’ve been trained as teachers have the hardest time finding new models. You’ve already expressed this awareness. But you need to know you’re not alone in this. It’s hard for everyone. It’s especially hard for teachers.

Keep in mind, the traditional model isn’t a bad one IF you have large classrooms sizes and more kids coming up the ranks. If your goal is to process a lot of children through a system, this system truly isn’t a bad one, but. . .you have to let some other things go. You can’t follow the strengths of the individual child. There isn’t time. There are too many other kids to consider. It’s an okay system for moving groups en masse through a process.

However. . .

  • If a particular student takes an interest in rocketry and all the physics behind it, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest AND. . .it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular student has a gift for writing and would love to delve into Shakespeare and all the unfamiliar richness of the older language, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest AND. . .it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular child shows an early interest in chemistry and would love to play with a lab kit, learning about reactions and properties,  nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the interest AND. . .it’s not on the lesson plan.
  • If a particular student just isn’t getting multiplication facts and needs three times the usual time allotment to master it, nothing can be done, because the whole class doesn’t share the need AND. . .it’s not on the lesson plan.

We move onward for the good of the majority. And it makes sense to do so. Holding 25 kids back because of the needs or interests of 1 child doesn’t make sense.

But in homeschooling, it’s not about the majority. It’s about one child at a time.

You can follow delights. You can follow interests. You can address challenges.

You can do pretty much anything that teaches a child that learning is fun and wonderful and lifelong.

Before you give up, I would suggest you try different approach. Your kids are so young that you can relax. You couldn’t possibly screw up so badly that they would lose out. 🙂

So if you’re going to experiment, try it now.

How about a unit study that focuses on something that absolutely delights them?


Monster trucks?


Make models, Collect samples. Go on field trips. Watch kids documentaries. Read biographies of people who are into this subject. Role play.

And perhaps most importantly, find another homeschooling mom who has already made that transition and see if you can shadow her in her schooling for a week.

Join together for a time.

Share the school week or month.

Watch what she does differently.

Give yourself permission to step away from traditional, even if only for a month.

When I first began homeschooling I collected Scope and Sequence documents from around the country. Public schools. Private schools. Expensive prep schools. Gifted schools. Montessori schools. I put them all together and studied them to get a sense of the most comprehensive scope and sequence I could formulate for my own school. And I made an amazing discovery. Other than a few essentials in learning to read, and of course math, there wasn’t a clear path. Some schools studied earth science in 5th grade and others studies life science. Some studied Ancient Egyptians while others were learning about Thomas Jefferson. Some learned metaphors and similes while others were learning about proper citations.   For almost everything, there was no clear chronology of learning.

This was very freeing for me. I realized that as long as they got the same information into their heads by the time they graduated, the method and sequence of how they got it could be completely of my choosing!

I was free to make learning delicious.

This should liberate you from designing your school based on how it “should look”.

Instead, apply a new method–

What would you need to do for your child to say “THAT was wonderful! Can we do more?”

There it is.

That should be your method.

That should be your guide.

If you start with that idea and changed just ONE lesson in your day, you would see the difference.

I suspect that soon you would change another. . .and another.

And before you know it, learning in your school is delicious. . .and you’d never want to stop.


QUESTION: What about you? What are some ways you make learning delicious in your house?


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25 Responses to “Letting Go of the TEACHER in You”

  1. Rebekah Says:

    For the early years in science, we pick one subject (per two kids) that interests my kids and study the facts/functions of it and then add in LOTS of fictional works on the subject. It helps them discern between sci-fi and sci-fact and can spark some wonderful discussions. It also gives me a way to balance delight driven learning with my lesson plan. We found one book called “Dinosaurs Love Underpants” that sparked a discussion with my older two on extinction and the various theories surrounding it AND a discussion with my potty training toddler on the virtues of underwear. Pure gold! We do something similar with Social Studies, only we go in chronological order, or as close as possible, and take time to focus on a single culture and its legends, etc. One book we found was a counting book using mummies as the objects. My little ones heard us counting, my struggling learners got couting review, we reviewed Egypt’s geography, flora, & fuana, and we had discussions on mummification, whether or not there is such a thing as people coming back to life after they’ve died, and how the Ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife and what happens there compares to the biblical Heaven and Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. If books don’t appeal to your kids, there are games and movies on just about every subject that could spark the same discussions. The best part is that the fictional works don’t have to be fit into school time. They can be read at bed time, played during leisure time, or watched on a long car trip (if you have a portable dvd player) and you can borrow most or all of them from the library.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Wait. . .are you saying there’s a difference between science fiction and science fact? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that Star Trek isn’t real. 🙂 Live long and prosper.

  2. Molly Says:

    Thank you! I homeschool only our oldest high school students and we follow a set curriculum because that is what they are used to and it is easier for me, but I suspect in the near future I may need to make some adjustments. Your information about the collection of scope and sequence documents is interesting information. Thank you for sharing! I feel better now…

  3. Meghan Says:

    It seems to me that homeschooling has two parts and they are in exactly the right order: home and school. If you keep the home first, the school part is going to fall into place all on its own. The basis of homeschooling is the close relationship between the parent and child; everything else flows out of that. But I think many homeschooling parents are so intent on getting school into their days that they forget about the home part. Home has to be first.

    I would advise Losing Heart to just relax. She should stop working on the academics altogether and just work on the relationship she has with her kids. In other words, stop being their teacher and just be their mom. At their ages, you don’t need a lesson plan. You don’t need to do much more than teach basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. The first of those can be done by reading good books together, lots of them, on whatever subjects you want. They will begin to pick up all the language skills they need to begin reading on their own when they are ready. The second two can be done with colorful cheap workbooks from Walmart and by playing games together. It doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or structured. In fact, at that age, the less structure, the better. LESS IS MORE — that has become one of my mottoes. (Even teaching junior high!)

    Every teacher knows that his or her students are going to end up learning certain things based on the teacher’s interests. I teach Art, and I have a degree in Art History, so guess what my students learn a lot about? Losing Heart’s kids are going to follow her interests to a large extent because she is their mom and will teach her kids out of her own heart. I would suggest she just start there and see where the adventure leads. She will show them what she loves, and they will find out what they love, and that is where the academics will go from there. Instead of her doing all the work planning things out, she should let them follow their own interests, and maybe they will all find out they have a passion for something: trains, or birds, or sports, or art. Learning comes naturally from following your passions.

    But along the way, first and foremost, she should take time to stop and just have fun and build a strong relationship with her boys. Lots of outdoor play, ice cream cones, nature walks, etc. Her homeschooling will flow out of those times without a lot of planning and effort on her part at all.

    And kids tend to remember best the things they laughed the hardest over — I know this from experience. So keep your sense of humor and just have fun! (I have 3 kids, ages 25, 22, and 13, and this is our 12th year homeschooling, by the way.)

    I hope all this makes sense and helps somehow.

    • Tanis Says:

      my daughter and I were walking home from her second “real” babysitting job of a church housegroup night where she supervised a lively group of preschoolers. She labeled some as bossy and uncooperative at that early age just from one night of interaction. We have a lot of influence that we take for granted day to day. As I explained the spongelike mind of a young child, it reminded me to watch well over the home atmosphere and relational status more. Thanks for the reminder that relationship comes first. Learning in the Charlotte Mason approach emphasizes the creation of relations between the student and material to be learned. If we are strong in our relationships through careful and prayerful observations, we are more relaxed versus anxious and that will rub off. As said before, it’s a dance of expectations. Expect to enjoy each other.

  4. Maryann Says:

    This is a note to tell you that I know how you feel. My dd, which is entering High School this year, fought me all the way no matter how I tried schooling. I did try traditional at first and then everything else. I have to admit I wanted to quit so many times and tried to once only to have me schooling her in the evenings after she got home from school. LOL In our case it has been a rough 9 years but I still would never have traded it for anything. Especially after having her tested, so she can enter a private high school in the fall, to find out that she has learned and has learned a lot in spite of all the difficulties. Many good suggestions have been given already. All I can add is that you should try different things until something works. When it does go with it for as long as it works then try some other method. Your children will learn no matter which way they go at it. BTW: I was a special ed teacher too so I had my ideas also on how things should look. Blessings as you move forward

  5. Karleen Says:

    “moms who’ve been trained as teachers have the hardest time finding new models” —— I would also say that those of us who loved ‘school’ also have a hard time finding new models! lol — it took me awhile!
    BUT….your own family’s way of ‘school’ will come in time! It may not happen over night, and year to year it may look different. That’s ok!

    • carolbarnier Says:

      I agree with your comment that those of us who “loved school” have a hard time letting go of that model. I loved being in school. I loved playing school when I got home. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. So when I got to homeschool, guess what model I used? I felt like I was playing school again, but this time, instead of all my stuffed animal around the room, I had real kids. Cool! It took me six months to eve start to question my methods. (my poor son. 🙂

  6. TeachMe2BStill Says:

    My goodness I could have written this question as well! I, too, was a public school teacher for many years and also in special education. My sizzler son has identified learning disabilities in writing and spelling (no short term memory) and TWO educator parents breathing down his neck. He is now in 7th grade and we struggle on a daily basis to complete his assignments. It breaks my heart to see him “hate” school because we played games, pursued outside interests, took lots of field trips, etc. as a young learner (He is “suppose” to love learning now! I tried so hard to make it interesting but he just resists) My husband is still in the public system and insists he follow a more traditional path now that he is older. It’s a constant struggle and while I am tempted to give up, I know placing him in the public system could be even worse. He just seems to be more aware now that he cannot write and spell like other teens his age so he feels embarrassed (and angry). I will be anxiously following this post to see how others help their unmotivated sizzler teens. Some of our best strategies include:
    *staggering interesting content (Lego building) with “required” work during the school day
    *allowing him to choose the method of instruction (ie. online computer work vs textbook)
    *reading aloud core history and science while son builds on floor
    *more field trips!
    *allowing him to pursue more interesting subjects after reading/math are done (we are finding this harder as he gets older–right now we are looking at a flying program at a local airport for young teens. Science experiments are always a hit as well. Love the ScienceWiz series at RainbowResource.com)

    Thank you, thank you Lord for Sizzle Bop.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      We use a really good flight simulator program at home as a motivator, as in “Finish your math and you can go fly your helicopter.” I’m pretty sure we’re ever flying and the pilot passes out and the flight attendant says, “Can anyone fly this plane?”, my 11 year old daughter will rise from her seat. “I can!”

  7. Julie Davis Says:

    Thank you for driving home the point that their is no clear path laid out for what needs to be learned. Your article is very timely as I am getting ready to lesson plan for the fall and am very excited about finally feeling free enough to follow my children’s interest and motivations. I know we are going to have more fun than ever!! Keep the insights and inspirations coming…….and I’ll keep passing them on!

  8. Katie Mitchell Says:

    It was so freeing for me as well to hear that there is no clear path as to which topics to cover first. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted.
    I’ve been reading a book recently that has also helped me tremendously. It’s called the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. The basic premise is that if you are reading to your children on a daily basis and taking time to discuss what you read, your children will be just fine. No expensive and time consuming curriculum required.
    I have a 7 year old who “hates” school as well and I’m hoping to change that this year by tring to relax and let learning come a little more naturally.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      The book you’ve mentioned reminds me of the Robinson Curriculum. Other than math and daily writing, the entire K-12 program is based on good reading.

  9. Lynell Kuhn Says:

    My quick suggestion…READ ALOUDs…they love them at this age…all kinds of books. Also, we do a history curr. together as i have olders, then we can talk about it. Also, we do 4-H for hands-on, Boy Scouts, and we belong to a science co-op which is now no longer just science.Sign-language, Spanish, music, writing. It helps take some of the load off.

  10. Anita Witt Says:

    Beginning my 19th year of homeschooling, I’m having to give up my usual, it’s-the-best-and-only-way, for a new plan of attack. I’ve always followed a chronological, unit-study method and tied all the ages together. BUT –my sizzler is 8 y/o and now that she can hold her attention for a little longer than the flea she emulated when she was younger–I am figuring out how to actually teach her effectively: She was extremely bored with history–probably because it didn’t make any sense to her, so I dropped her history and switched to Five In a Row and she loves it. (That means 12 y/o sister is still on target with the history plan, but I can’t teach them unit study style–oh, well.) For the other subjects, I balance a bit of traditional with many hands-on activities. Ten minutes is usually her limit on any one thing, so for example, we’ll do a math page for 10 min, then a math game. She is learning violin–again 10-15 minutes at a time, maybe twice on a good day. We’re starting spelling later than the school systems do because she wasn’t ready (another benefit of homeschooling). I have a good variety of learning games, puzzles, thinking skills games, etc., so I posted a master list inside the closet door of “Amanda Activties” separated into those she can do alone, with mom, or with sister. Whenever my attention is given to her sister or when she is bored (often) she is to go and pick something from the list and work/play with that. We’ve already begun the new year and it’s working so far! And, as others have said, we READ–whatever and whenever. As long as we teach them to love books, they really can learn anything.
    Please realize the only way you can “mess-up” in the younger years is to teach them to dislike learning–so, please, please have fun with them.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      Anita–your last comment is golden! The only way to fail as a teacher in the younger years is to teach them to dislike learning. I think I feel a banner comin’ on. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Diane Szijjarto Says:

    I regretfully gave up last year and put 3 dear boys in public school in grades 3,6 and 10. The adjustment was horrible and the kids begged to come home weekly in the Fall but then they became popular and though tired of the social circus grew to like it. Academically the older 2 brought trophies home but alas the learning was less then we had ever done at home even when I worked full time and schooled only in the evenings.

    They are going to be homeschooled in the Fall. After 15 years of experience, my motto is if it’s not broken, don’t fix it…if it’s quite broken (the method) then trade it in. I agree with an earlier post, the funny parts are memorable like when ds fell into the duck pond and found out that ducky doo doo is indeed slippery when wet especially on algae covered concrete.
    Diane in BC

    • carolbarnier Says:

      We took a year off from homeschooling as well and put my kids in a private school. This was the year my mother was dying and needed me around. So I’m comfortable that I made the right decision, but that doesn’t mean there were no regrets. Nonetheless, as the years since then have passed, I’ve seen many valuable things taken away from that one year at school experience– mostly how glad they are to be homeschooling. 🙂

  12. CeAnne Says:

    Any suggestions for someone who would like to make learning delicious but can’t focus enough to achieve it? I have to plan to it doesn’t get done! (One of those ‘love school’ habits I think!)

  13. whateverphilipians48 Says:

    I am so happy for a new blog post! I love reading all of the advice given on here.

  14. Tanis Says:

    another thing we need to remember with energetic children around us all day is that they are ours. Haven’t I asked my own offspring atleast ten times this week, ” If you wouldn’t do that to your Sunday School teacher, then why are you doing it to me?!?” Exasperation comes easily when we forget that our own are way more free wheeling with us because they know they are accepted no matter what. This should endear us, but for our image-based agendas. Children know this intuitively and will react to pressure of the smallest degree. In another setting, the stakes are often higher and because it’s often rushed by necessity, they don’t want to miss out or draw too much negative attention to themselves. Comparisons are the norm. We wisely try to avoid that in most cases in a home setting. In a public arena it’s called peer mentoring when it’s done right. How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity the Bible says. What kind of learning in terms of team work can be fostered? How can we teach them to use their strengths, no matter what the ages, to be a blessing to each other? Praise those efforts. Don’t expect them constantly, but celebrate each one (with a silent smile or joining occasionally) A daily quiet time is a universal need. Perhaps we try to cram too much into one day. Being overstimulated has it’s drawbacks for Mom and students. Knowing they feel more liberated at home and face unique distractions, ask what emotional and physical structures are missing to channel that energy and yes, limit it. I finally realised that toys in the bedroom wasn’t working this year and did something about it. My “students” tend to leak from the lesson area if there’s a second break in the action. Self expression is one value that is sometimes over rated but a staple of classroom ideologies. There are control factors in place by necessity. Let’s make that work for us too. Take the time to explore special interests of yours and somehow work that into a few lessons to pass on the passion in a way you can share, taking into consideration their own version of it. When they see your own spark, it’s going to warm them to learning and grow into a useful flame if you can let go of old successes and embrace new ones. What works this week or year likely is a passing venture because growing changes things and that’s ok.

  15. Tanis Says:

    got a little carried away on my first try. Had a plug on this kind of thing for too long and apparently there is alot gushing out of me now. oops. will try to keep it less wordy from now on.

    • carolbarnier Says:

      No problem with a long reply. You had much to say. I’m pleased you chose to say it here! Sorry for the delay in approving the message. I was in that Eastcoast power outage. No computer for 8 long long days. (or heat, or running water) Glad to be back. 🙂

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