By Laura Simon

Whenever I tell someone I homeschool my kids, they get a far-away look in their eyes and I can tell they’re imagining what on earth “home school” looks like. I used to do the same thing, before my family made the leap. In my mental image, my children dutifully sat around a farmhouse table, delighting in their studies, while my toddler played quietly on the floor. For some reason, I was always dressed like Ma from Little House on the Prairie, hoopskirt at all, and I gracefully vacillated between assisting the kids in their lessons and kneading our fresh whole wheat bread.

This might come as a shock, but that is not at all what homeschooling looks like in our house. For starters, I don’t own a hoopskirt. And when I do make bread, I totally use the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer.

Also, I’m pretty sure Ma Ingalls never put her kids in bed early to watch The Bachelor and Laura never mentions her casting longing glances toward the wine rack before 11 am. Even when a prairie fire nearly destroys their house and family, we don’t see Ma taking a swig of Pa’s whisky. Maybe she hid in the pantry to do it.

So basically, our homeschool looks nothing like an old-fashioned schoolhouse. It likely doesn’t look anything like our friends’ homeschools either. And it definitely looks different from what it did a few months ago.

That’s because, like pretty much everything else in parenting, about the time I think I’ve figured out a flawless system, the kids change it up on me.

You remember this from the infant sleep years, right? You finally get baby on a lovely two-nap routine and breathe a huge sigh of relief because FINALLY you know what to expect. And then baby drops down to one nap a day and you have to scramble all over again to find a new routine. It’s all kind of maddening, especially if, like me, you are totally type-A.

My five-year-old, in particular, is a different kid depending on the day. Some days, he thrives on independence and sails through more than the expected work for the day. Some days, the key to getting him to work is acting like I’m not paying attention, because the moment I get involved, he shuts down. Some days, he has to work in quick five-minute bursts, and some days even the slightest break means he’s done for the day. If I could just get a morning memo with his needs for the day, that would be so helpful.

Of course, that’s one of the reasons I chose to homeschool in the first place. I didn’t want my kids in increasingly standardized classrooms because, frankly, they aren’t standardized kids. (For the record, I don’t think any child is a standardized kid.) One of my children is off the charts in math, but getting him to write his letters typically resembles water torture. For him and for me.

Another is loaded with ability, but sometimes in the middle of math, he forgets what he is doing and starts on art. His math worksheets are all beautifully decorated with football fields and Star Wars characters. It drives me to the edge of crazy when something he could do in five minutes takes fifty-five, but I remind myself, again, that this is why we homeschool. I have the chance to teach my kids right where they are without the negative experiences that so often make kids dislike school.

Please don’t think that I let our education be ruled by my children’s whims because I absolutely don’t. My oldest practices his piano every day, whether he wants to or not. We all read for a set amount of time every day, whether we want to or not. We get our memory work in each week, even if it happens in the car.

But I’m also constantly re-working my plans and expectations because sometimes my expectations are entirely unrealistic. For example, originally I planned for both boys to take piano lessons. My mom, a piano teacher, warned me that newly-five is typically too young, but I soldiered on. Well, guess what? My mom was right. (Yep. There it is. In print. Mom will probably print this out and hang it up on her wall.)

My outsized expectations are not limited to academics. Over Christmas, I decided that my children were going to become contributing members of society (and our house) and made up a ten-point chore list for them to complete every day. Wanna guess how that turned out? Yet again, I had to make adjustments before we moved forward. We started over with one chore at a time; at the rate we’re going, we’ll be up-to-speed on the original list sometime in October.

I guess what I’m saying is that homeschool life is constantly evolving, and while that can drive a mama crazy, it’s also a big reason so many families make the choice in the first place. Instead of fretting about the constant changes to my carefully-wrought plans, I’m putting my type-A personality to work crafting a homeschool vision for our family.  I hope this vision will help guide me as I make my day-by-day decisions. As a former teacher, I am wired to push my kids hard academically, but I want more than academic success for them. I want them to be a close family, to love their siblings (most of the time will do), to embrace the values our family cherishes: things like service and hard work. I want them to read voraciously, not just for school. And I want them to play creatively and spend time living in their imaginations. I want them to have downtime and even boredom. My vision steers my focus back to those things when I get caught up in checklists and curriculum.

And yes, I absolutely expect that our family vision will change with time and age. These are children I’m teaching and raising, not robots. About the time I get this season figured out, they’ll change it up again, right?

Homeschooling moms, how do you manage your children’s ever-changing needs? What “systems” work for you?  And if you’re thinking of homeschooling, this is a great space to ask questions!