homeschooling “irl” (in real life), part 2: how to begin it

Once you have decided on a curriculum that resonates with you as a teacher, you are just about ready to take the plunge!  I would suggest spending a lot of time considering your curriculum and BE REALISTIC.  If you have more than two children, be careful to consider how much time and effort is expected of the teacher.  If you take on too much, you will be overburdened and you will burn out.

Also, please try not to listen to the critics who say, “What about….?”  Just don’t listen to them.  Put your hands over your ears and whistle a happy tune.

Alright, so you’ve decided on a curriculum.  Now, roll up your sleeves and let’s begin!

Wait!  Before we begin, it is vitally important that you understand where I am coming from.

My overarching healthy homeschooling philosophy is:

It is a teacher’s responsibility to provide a loving, disciplined environment;

It is a child’s responsibility to learn.

You can provide environment, materials, and love–and at times–some instruction–but in the end, it is the child’s responsibility to learn.  You can’t make a child learn, any more than someone can make you.  It has to come from them.

Now, we are ready to begin, J & M Ranch style…

Reading Is Crucial

1. Ditch the curriculum!

If you’re children are under the age of eight, put the curriculum away and just find a good phonics program to teach them to read and some math flashcards and/or games to teach addition, subtraction and multiplication. Add in a handwriting book around the age of five. (Yes, they will start writing before that, but I find that five is a great age to start copywork, rather than earlier.)

Find A Handwriting System You Like

Try really hard not to go the computer route.  Use things they can touch, smell, and even eat, if they get the inclination (my three year old loves chewing on manipulatives).

In my opinion, computer programs are missing something important–they do not seem to employ the senses as well as things “in real life,” and they also tend to teach the concept of instant gratification and the false sense that you can click a button and something amazing will happen.  I would rather wait until they are mature enough to deal with those abstract concepts.

About As Close To Computers As Toddlers Should Get, In My Opinion..

So, don’t worry about curriculum right now so much.


All the young, idealistic soon-to-be homeschooling mothers exclaim!!

“I spent seven months researching Latin, Greek, World History, Geography and Home Economics for my pre-school child!  I just know it’s going to be a great school year with all of these courses!”

Think again.  These little children mostly need mom, play, family work, and read aloud time.

If you are really intent that your four year old learn Latin, then read to him or her aloud in Latin.

If you can’t stand the thought of your three-year old not learning earth science, read aloud to him books about rocks and minerals.  (My kids love these kinds of books to be read to them.  Consequently, my three year old son knows all about the formation of volcanoes.)

DK Smithsonian Nature Guides Are Great For Read Aloud Time

Reading aloud is, in my opinion, the only thing even close to formal learning they should do outside of learning to read and count.

So, put away all the curriculum catalogs and enjoy your children!  Do not worry so much and relax.  If you live in a state that demands you to conform to a scope and sequence, seek out books to read aloud to your children in those subjects.  That should be enough.  If it’s not, do the minimum until they are eight.

Trust me, they will “catch up” to whatever artificial, arbitrary learning standards that are set by the government school system.  And then, they will surpass most, if not all of them!

2. Get rid of stuff.

Get rid of as much excess stuff as is humanly possible before they are eight and formally schooled.

I don’t mean decluttering.

I don’t mean “simplifying” like on some cute, distressed wooden sign.

I am talking about razing the house for anything and everything that is extraneous.

Just Get Rid Of It…

  • The Happy Meal toys Aunt Velda gives to the kids everytime she comes over.
  • Collections of toys.  No one needs collections of plastic junk.  Note that there is a difference between a sampling of Lego building bricks and owning every single Bionicle, Star Wars, and Harry Potter Lego set ever created.  They are not collector’s items.  They are something you step on and have to pick up.
  • Barbies.
  • Craft supplies you have not used within the last 6 months.  I know it looked fantastic on Pinterest, but you are never going to make that. So, give it to someone else who will, or just let it go.
  • Extra clothes.  Why in the world our children have 20-30 pants, jeans, capris, shorts, skorts, etcetera is absolutely beyond my ability to comprehend.  Guess what?  Most children usually have one or two things they would wear every single day if we let them.  They obviously don’t feel the need to have a different outfit for every day of the week–why do you?  Just let the clothes go.  All of them, with the exception of a few outfits and some church clothes.
  • Same goes with shoes.  How many pair does anyone really need?
  • Homeschooling supplies you didn’t or won’t use.  Give them to someone who will benefit from them right now.  Don’t “save them for later,” thinking you will one day use them.  If you give generously, and you need something later, God has a way of providing it for you when you need it.
  • Extra kitchen appliances, dishes, pots, pans, goofy specialty things that you bought when you were pregnant because your hormones were wacky (stroopwafel maker, anyone?), etcetera.  You don’t actually need 10 cookie sheets, unless you are a professional baker or an extremely crafty mom, I guess.  But, really.  Get rid of the excess there.

Okay, You May Need Furniture, But You Get The Idea…

It doesn’t matter if it was a wedding gift, a gift from someone special, or a present from the President of the United States–get rid of it if you haven’t used it in awhile, or if it is a mental, physical, or emotional distraction.

Get rid of the excess everywhere.  And, if you are having a hard time understanding what “excess” means, consider Paul’s admonition in Timothy:

And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.

Getting rid of excess will be one of the greatest contributors to a happy homeschool.   Homeschooling is much easier accomplished without unnecessary clutter. (Notice I said unnecessary–sometimes in a homeschool, there will be necessary clutter.  Learn to tell the difference!)

3. Location, location…

Decide on where you will be homeschooling.  It doesn’t matter if it’s on the porch, at the kitchen table, or a formal school room area, just decide and stick with it.  No matter what.  Just stick with it, at least for several months, until the children are doing school without you having to stand over them like a war general.

Choose Your Location

We use a formal school room for math and writing.  Reading can (and I think should), be done wherever they would like, as long as they are comprehending what they read.  We love our formal schoolroom.  The kids enjoy doing their math studies at a desk, and they like being all together.  That might not work for some people, and some days it doesn’t work for us, but the majority of the time, it does work.  It also teaches them concepts like sitting still even if you would rather not, raising your hand to be polite when asking questions or taking part in classroom discussions, and listening to short lectures.

In another home, our school room was in the basement and no one wanted to go down there, so most of the kids did their homework at the kitchen table.  In yet another home, each child had their own room with a desk, and they did their work privately at their desk.

If you don’t think you have room for a separate school area, you will be surprised!  After you implement #2 on my list, you just may have more room than you need!

A Place For Everything

4. A place for everything.

Decide on where the children will put their school materials.  It could be a bookcase, bookshelves, a cabinet in the kitchen, cubbies, etcetera.  Just be consistent and decide where all the books and supplies will be.  (And by supplies, I mean pencils, pens, paper, erasers, and pencil sharpeners.)

My children use their desks and backpacks.  They love to pack their backpacks and go outside and walk around the house and come in the schoolroom as if they have just walked a mile.  I like that they keep everything in their backpacks.  It goes along with my philosophy that most of the responsibility lies with the student.  They need to know where their things are.

My kids know better than to come whingeing to me saying, “Where’s my pencil?  Where’s my book?”  It’s their responsibility.  If it’s lost, I may help them look for it, but in the end they are the ones who need to be in charge of their things.

It also makes for a much easier to clean schoolroom and frees up my bookshelves for more books.

5.  Make a schedule.

It doesn’t have to be down to the minute or anything, but you should have something. Perhaps a sequential order of things that are to happen on a daily basis would be good.  We do that here in our home.  Always remember the two things that will make you the most successful at homeschooling are:

Repetition and consistency.

If you easily get bored, like me, then this will probably be hard for you.  Sometimes homeschool moms (such as myself), in an effort not only to feel like they are really doing a great job, but also to relieve what appears to be monotony, will schedule in lessons, activities, and other things which interfere with their ability to have repetition and consistency on a daily basis.  This will inevitably make homeschooling harder, because the children absolutely need the consistency.

Just remember that repetition and consistency are the way our Heavenly Father teaches us.  Elder Maxwell said this about monotony:

Chesterton notes our low capacity for being able to deal with monotony and says in a moving passage: “It is possible that God says every morning, `Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes all daisies separately, but has never got tired of making them.” The divine delight in what seems to us to be mere repetition is one clue to the sublime character of God. Since we must, at times, accept what appears to us to be routine, repeated experiences, we too, if we try, can find fresh meaning and fresh joy in the repeated experiences. God’s course is one eternal round but it is not one monotonous round. God is never bored, for one who has perfect love is never bored. There is always so much to notice, so much to do, so many ways to help, so many possibilities to pursue (Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, p.84-85).

These words from Joseph F. Smith might help, as well:

After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man-kind, is the truest greatness. …We should never be discouraged in those daily tasks which God has ordained to the common lot of man. Each day’s labor should be undertaken in a joyous spirit and with the thought and conviction that our happiness and eternal welfare depend upon doing well that which we ought to do, that which God has made it our duty to do. Many are unhappy because they imagine that they should be doing something unusual or something phenomenal. Some people would rather be the blossom of a tree and be admiringly seen than be an enduring part of the tree and live the commonplace life of the tree’s existence (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.285-286).

Let us not be trying to substitute an artificial life for the true one. He is truly happy who can see and appreciate the beauty with which God has adorned the commonplace things of life (Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 40, pp. 752-3 Dec. 15, 1905).

But, what?!?!?!  What about all the Amazing Extras I was going to provide?

Let’s face it: most people would consider decorating a beautiful home far more fun and exciting than laying the foundation.  But, in real life, we are laying a foundation for our children.  They can have fun decorating later, on their own.  We are doing the greatest, most important work for their learning in the repetitiveness and sometimes seemingly monotonous consistency we create in our homeschool.

6. Prioritize.

It is inevitable that emergencies, life, and other things will interfere with our homeschool.  It takes a lot of wisdom to understand the difference between life interrupting homeschool and a devious distraction.  Make sure you understand the difference.  There are many distractions that try to trick us into thinking they are absolutely necessary or urgent, when they really are just interfering and impeding our progress.

Here are some hints to avoid distractions:

  • Turn off the ringer to your phone.  Don’t look at your cell phone.  Turn off the computer.  Turn off any media during school hours. (That includes trying to use television to calm the toddlers–I know, I’ve been guilty of doing that in the past, but trust me, you will pay for it later.)
  • It is good to learn from outside resources, but be careful not to overload yourself and your kids with too many extracurricular activities or field trips.
  • Don’t schedule things during regular school hours–remember CONSISTENCY and REPETITION.  If you do it once, I guarantee you it will take a few days to get back to your normal routine.

Here are some great words of advice from Elder Ballard:

Put everything you do outside the home in subjection to and in support of what happens inside your home….Remove any of your fear with faith. Trust the power of God to guide you.

So, to sum up: Don’t worry so much, and relax a little.  It will be okay.  You can succeed, and while it is challenging, it is not as hard as we sometimes make it.  And always keep this in mind:


  1. AMEN! What a great post! We actually do things a lot alike, you and I. :-)

    I really appreciated the quotes on consistency. That is not one of my strengths, so I need the inspiration. Thank you!

    • Ha! Mama Rachel–you’ve found me out! That’s why I put those quotes on there–I am naturally inclined to be completely inconsistent, irresponsible, and even zany. Those quotes are my reminder to stay the course and not decide on the spur of the moment to go spelunking or something… :) It’s good to do that sometimes, but me? I would do it ALL THE TIME.

      Thank heavens time has shown me that Heaven has a sense of humor and often, the consistent repetition ends up having spurts of zany thrown in. :)

  2. With growing children, is anything EVER truly the same twice? Other than Jamberry, which has been read here about a bazillion-jillion times.

    I love this series. Keep ’em coming!

  3. Wow, those quotes on consistency and Heavenly Father’s nature were so powerful. Thanks for sharing. but that last quote made me laugh out loud. Thank heavens for clever people!

  4. Thanks for the reminders! I especially loved the Elder Maxwell quote. Our toys remain locked in the toyroom, except for a few cars. No one misses the toys. Maybe they will in the winter, but I doubt it.
    Now, to work on that consistency thing… we did write up our routine on Monday and tried to follow it. We’ll try again today, and tomorrow.

  5. Yeah, this is a pretty great post. I need to improve on routine so much. I always thought my kids resisted it – never realizing that *I* am the one who gets bored with schedule and routine! I’ve been trying (and failing) to find the joy in doing the same dishes, every day, several times a day, the same bathroom, the same laundry … your quote are fabulous!

  6. Yet again, it’s like you read my mind- and find good quotes to go with it! Everything you’ve written here is the sort of thing I’ve been trying to do in my own homeschool this year. Weird!
    Ditch the curriculum- Yup, I just kinda make things up for my little kids.
    Get rid of stuff- Yup, I’m a minimalist already- Frank Gilbreth is my hero (efficiency!)
    Location- Yup, we’ve found that the kitchen table or the couch work great- maybe outside in the fall and winter- too hot now.
    A place for everything- Yup, I got a bookshelf and a desk apprentice and I’m set
    Make a schedule- Yup, finally getting that one sorted out
    Prioritize- I totally agree here, I just struggle to do it! I’ve decided to say 9-12 is school so I’m busy then and won’t answer the phone, but it’s hard! I want to be able to trade babysitting with other mothers so I can get to appointments and such- and they usually need a morning sitter.

    I agree with Mrs. Smith- with children your day is NEVER the same regardless of the underlying repetition.

    • Holly, you are a wonderful lady–and I have loved reading your blog. Isn’t fun when you feel like you are accomplishing something?

      We LOVE the book, by the way!!! A thousand thank yous!

  7. Ah, routine. This is something I have struggled with for many a day; this year, however has been so much better as we have put ourselves on a much more rigid schedule. (My order-loving husband is in Heaven!)
    It is so true that letting one day or thing slip often ends in more slippage…I have really had to reiterate to people that I am not available in the mornings, period. Otherwise, one thing comes after another, and suddenly our home learning is nonexistant.
    I had visiting teachers once who would ask to come in the morning every.single.time. I would tell them each time nicely that we did the bulk of our lessons in the am and anytime after 1 pm would work…I finally nicely asked if they would ask a school teacher in a public school if they could come during her work hours and explained that I tried to take my children’s education just as seriously….
    I am not as far along in my child rearing as you and others (my oldest being 9), but already I am finding that people seem to think that homeschooling equates with everlasting freetime and a continually free schedule. At least, people seem surprised when I am not immediately available for whatever reason.
    I also love eler Ballard’s quote. My husband and I were just discussing it the other day.

    • I, too, have found that people think I have all this time–and they don’t seem to understand that we are in school for most of the day. It can be frustrating, at times, but I just quit answering my phone, and my husband taught me something valuable a long time ago. Just say no first…and then think about it, and if you want to do it, you can always call back and say you changed your mind, and yes, you can do it. Great, great wisdom there for me, let me tell you, as I used to always say “yes,” and then completely freak out when I realized all of the yesses were overwhelming me!

  8. When you put it like this… it makes me want to really unpack! My baby spent the morning on the iPad, not as real… as real life, but it’s also more tactile than a pencil and paper. She seems to be coming along real well, but is lagging a bit behind in latin. 😉

    • Ha, ha! :)

  9. Getting rid of stuff is the hardest for me to keep on top off. Well, I can get rid of the stuff but not letting more into our home is the hard part. It seems I am constantly having to declutter and remove excess. {{sigh}}

  10. you are a voice of reason, and i thank you for this. my oldest is 4 and i feel like i need to start something a little more formal and yet i balk at most of the stuff i’ve found. it’s so much work and it’s so contrived! i don’t want to laminate and cut out five million things. i’ve been really tempted by some computer reading programs (if i can just get him reading then everything else will be easy!) and yet i also know that i don’t want him to be bored with real life. i get all worried about the preschool thing but i try to remind myself that in Finland, kids don’t go to school until they are at least 7 and within just a couple of years their test scores are as good as, and then better, then ours. so here is a question, what is a good, simple, phonics program? when should i start really pushing it?
    and the advice about a simple schedule is needed also. i don’t even know where to start with that one, with only 2 toddler boys (and a sick, tired, pregnant momma) and yet i have been feeling that we really need one. i just have to start somewhere, i guess!

    • Finland seems to have the right idea. I know that many children are capable of learning a lot of information before they are eight, but my personal feeling is that it is more important to teach them morals and love at this time…of course, reading, some writing, and basic counting/math skills are great fun to learn at this age, but that comes from just reading aloud and playing mostly.

      I recommend Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons, even though it is sometimes irritating, simply because it works so very well. I have used it with all of my children, and it does what it says it will do. Since it works, I don’t feel a need to find something else, even though I really, really am tired of the illustrations…

      My 15 year old son did not read until he was 7 1/2 and is now a voracious reader, reading at a college level. The key was just being patient and praying to know when to push and when to back off. Trust me, God will tell you if you are really sincerely asking.

      I am going to do a post about the simple schedule while mom is sick and pregnant (having been there quite frequently, I completely understand!)

      Hang in there! You really are doing better than you realize!

  11. Hi there,

    I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. I started homeschooling this year with K12 and I feel so overwhelmed! It is not at all how I pictured our home school to be. I am intrigued about this Robinson method you mentioned and I looked at his website and love the concepts he talks about. I have questions though. What does he include for the cost of the curriculum? I know you have to buy the Saxon math books separately, but which math books do you buy? The teacher manual, the manipulatives, the student workbooks, all of the above? I really want my homeschool to be similar to what you have described in this post: simple, no frills, my child being responsible for learning, gospel centered, etc. I love the backpack idea too!

    • Misty

      We don’t use any Saxon Math before 5/4 so we haven’t bought manipulatives. Before they are in 5/4, we just let them play with stuff around the house and they learn a lot of basic math on their own, anyway. They do flashcards and worksheets before 5/4.

      I buy the home study kit, which includes the solutions manual, tests/worsheets, and the textbook.

      If you have any other questions, you can email me at jandmranch at gmail dot com, and I will be happy to help! Also, I can help you locate a used Saxon math set, too.


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