Fly on the Wall: How We Homeschool

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to homeschooling, a seasoned homeschooling vet, or someone just curious about how we “get it all done,” it’s nice to know what homeschooling looks like for someone else sometimes.

I remember when I first thought about homeschooling, whenever I asked too many questions about homeschool people started getting glassy-eyed and would stop answering.  At first, I thought it was because I was coming off as annoying, but then I realized something:

Sometimes when you’re in the midst of something, it’s nearly impossible to describe how it works.

I experienced this myself years ago when I was helping my Ukrainian friend learn English.  She had asked so many people, and they all seemed so helpful.  But when she would ask specific questions, here came the glassy-eyes and the, “I have no idea, so please don’t ask” look, and she would wind up having to figure out English by herself.


So, out of respect of my old self who never got to see how a homeschool house works, and for all of you who have ever wondered, I’m going to give you a little tour of our routine and explain how we “do it all” (which no one ever really does, but we can get close enough to fake it, right?).

A Thomas Jefferson Education (AKA: Leadership Education)

The first thing anyone needs to know is that there are many ways to homeschool.  Oh, so many ways!  I have read about almost all of them, and I have chosen to follow the Thomas Jefferson Education model (TJEd), which has more to do with mindset and relationships than curriculum.  So, if our homeschool was a building, TJEd would be the frame that supports it all, and the curriculum we choose would be the materials that finish it out.  Got it?  No?  Sorry, that’s the best I can do…

According to TJEd, there are three main phases of learning that children typically pass through:

  1. Core Phase (0-8): Learn right from wrong, constructive play more than anything
  2. Love of Learning Phase (8-12): Wants to learn about a lot of subjects, can start curriculum and/or outside classes
  3. Scholar Phase (12-18): Wants to learn deep, will spend hours studying and mastering subjects

Hey, do you recognize those age groups?  If you read my previous posts, you’ll see that they line up with the three groups that I put children in when it comes to home management!  That’s because they are natural developmental learning milestones for children.  Really, home management is just another subject in the school of life.

As you work with your children using this model, they will become self-directed!  They want to learn, and that makes all the difference.  It’s a leap of faith at first, especially because this model sometimes makes for late readers, but when they hit that Love of Learning phase, watch out!  They become amazing little bundles of knowledge!  I was scared to try it, but now that I have two in Love of Learning, and two more strongly on their way, I wouldn’t do it any other way!

By now you’ve heard me talk about mentor meetings, and these are very important when you do TJEd.  This is how your kids become self-directed.  You are the mentor, so you check in on them regularly (I do weekly), check on their goals, and guide them in what to do next.  I assign work based on their goals.  Do you know what this does?  It makes it so I never hear the question: When am I ever going to use this in my life?!  They know exactly why they’re learning what they’re learning.  But we don’t have the big “goals” talk until they’re ready for Love of Learning phase.  With my Core phase kids, mentor meeting just means extra one-on-one time with mom where we talk about anything and everything while we play a game or something.  Again, focus on relationship.  If they trust you, it’s a lot easier to guide them.

As for structure and sequence and whatnot, I use the suggestions in The Well-Trained Mind, but I do not do her method.  Her method requires many hours spent with each child, which you just can’t do when you have more than one!  But I love her suggestions for what to focus on for science and history each year, along with her book recommendations.  It’s just enough structure to keep us moving, but by stopping there I get the flexibility to teach my kids in the way they need most.

Subjects that must be done in order

People will always ask, “Are they keeping up with their peers?”

Oy, I really don’t like that question.

That question implies that public school is the only place that knows what your kids need to know and when.

Here’s the thing: There is no requirement as to when children should know about photosynthesis.  There is no requirement as to when children should know who George Washington is.  You can teach about photosynthesis before you talk about astronomy, and you can talk about ancient Greece before you talk about American history.  There are only two subjects that have any sort of order: Language Arts and Math.

When people talk about homeschool kids being “academically behind,” they can only be talking about Language Arts and Math.  And, as you can see from the ages in the phases, yes, TJEd kids will be academically behind from K-2.  That’s because kids in that phase want to do things that are more story based, and language arts and math are not typically story based.  Once kids get into Love of Learning, they tend to really take off when it comes to these two subjects, and they exceed their peers within a year or two.

Now, the reason you need to know about that subjects need to be done in order is this: These are the subjects that kids will probably need to do on their own, without the other kids.  So, these are the subjects I plan and put in the Love of Learning work binders.

Subjects that don’t have to be done in order

The other big subjects do not have to be done in order, so they can be enjoyed by everyone at the same time!  Science, history…really anything that can be taught by explanation and not by worksheets.  We do science, history, classic literature (ie: reading classic chapter books), and scripture learning as a family.  The older kids can go deeper on their own by checking out awesome books at the library, and when they get even older I can have them go deep through reports and such, but the basic learning happens as a family.  This is a BIG time saver!

Extra subjects

During our mentor meetings, if a goal comes up, or even just an interest, that would bring in another subject, we look into what it takes and add it to the routine.  Extra subjects are put in the Love of Learning binder for the child to learn on their own (I mean away from the family learning time, but I still guide them as needed).  My daughter loves extra subjects.  Right now she has added art, piano, and Tae Kwon Do to her school load.  Last year she learned cursive.  My oldest son collects books from the library on a variety of topics and studies them, along with watching Great Courses lectures and working on Tae Kwon Do as well.

My routine

Now that you know the why of what we do, let’s talk about the how.  So here’s when you become a fly.  Ready?


Enjoy your new wings!

Now, imagine it’s early morning on the ideal day at our house (ideal means I’m not going to mention any attitudes thrown or eyes rolled because it’s time to get up).

  • 7:00 – Time to get up – I make breakfast while the kids set the table.  We sit to eat as the school bus drives by our house, and I tease them about how they’re still in their pajamas.  It appears I’m trying to help them be grateful that they’re homeschooled, but in all honesty, I’m the one who’s grateful that I didn’t have to wake them up earlier and get more attitude from kids because neither they nor I were ready to be up at all.  Whew!  I love homeschooling.
  • 7:00-9:00 – Get ready for the day – We don’t have an order for this, we just have a list of things that everyone is expected to do before 9:00.  Everyone is to have breakfast, get dressed, make their bed, and take care of their teeth and hair.  Then my hubby leaves for work and we all sit down on the couch, because it’s…
  • 9:00-12:00 – Discovery Time – Yeah…we don’t call it school.  My oldest went to school (before we knew he had special needs), and it was such a bad experience that if we called school time, “school time,” he would have a melt down.  I realized that Discovery Time was more inspiring anyway, so it stuck.  Anywho, back to the routine. Time gets a bit more loose when it comes to Discovery Time, so I’m just going to tell you the order in which we do things:
    • Opening Exercises – We sing a song, say a prayer, read a couple chapters out of their illustrated scriptures (that way the youngers can keep up – the olders can read scriptures later on their own, too), read a section out of our science book (chemistry this year), and a chapter out of the Life of Fred (a fun, story-based math book).
    • Instruction Time – I grab the binders for the Love of Learning kids and quickly go through their assignments for the day, explaining what they need to do.  Then I get the clipboards for the Core Phase kids and show them the pages they get to play with (they like to get “assignments” like the older kids, but that’s more for play than anything).  The rule is, if you are done with your work by your one-on-one time, we can do whatever you want for our time together.  For core phase kids, though, they don’t have to be done because they don’t have assignments.
    • One-on-One Time Part 1 – Now the fun begins!  I start with the youngest and we do whatever they want (within limits…there is no screen time allowed during Discovery Time at our house unless you’re doing an extra subject for your school work).  My youngest usually wants to play a board game (which I do happily, since it has taught him his colors, numbers, letters, and how to be patient and work as a team…I mean, can you ask for a better preschool curriculum?!).  We spend about 15-20 minutes together, then I move on to my next oldest.  He usually just wants me to color next to him while he colors, so I break out my adult coloring book and higher quality colored pencils and get some relax time!  Again, this usually lasts about 15-20 minutes.
    • Snack Time – Sometime around 10:00, everyone’s a little snacky, so we clean up the dining table and have a snack while I read a section from our history book (Story of the World).
    • One-on-One Time Part 2 –  The older kids have had about an hour to finish their work (which is really all you need if you just have two subjects and your extras).  Now I move on to my second oldest.  I check her work, answer any questions, help her through the hard parts, etc.  If there’s still time, we do something fun of her choice together (usually sewing or something crafty).  I try to spend more time with the Love of Learning kids, because I know checking their work will take a bit of time, and their activities usually need a bit more time just by the nature of them.  They get 30-45 minutes.  Lastly, I work with my oldest.  He usually wants to do scouts for his one-on-one activity, which means he gets quite a few awards at Pack Meeting!

And that’s it!  School is over for the day!  Well, official school.  We have worked on making our family culture one of learning.  We keep audio books in the van for when we run around town, and we’re always looking things up.  Tae Kwon Do is a scheduled outside class, so it’s separate from our Discover Time.

Many people think school means 8-3, five days a week.  If I had 30 children, all of the same age, I’m sure that’s how long it would take!  But when you only have four kids, and they’re all at different levels, 3 hours a day, 3 days a week is all you really need.

What?  Three days a week?!

Yup, that’s all we do.  On Monday, we go to the library instead of having Discovery Time, and we spend those hours enjoying collecting books.  Friday is errands day, so the kids are busy learning how to shop and behave in the community (a very vital skill!).

What about everything else?

If you’ve read this far (way to go!  This is a long post!), you may be wondering how I do the rest of what needs to be done in a typical day.  So, very quickly, I basically do:

  • 1:00 – House Cleaning
  • 3:00 – Afternoon Snack
  • 3:30 – Work (for me) and Freeplay (for them)

And…my husband cooks dinner.  Yeah, I know, I’m spoiled, and I love it.

Does that help?

Every family is different, and you’re family isn’t going to need exactly what we do, but sometimes it just helps to know what someone else does to get good ideas for what might work for you.

If you’re getting discouraged, don’t worry.  Things will get better.  You can do this!  Homeschooling is super frustrating, but is also the funnest thing ever…kinda like parenthood…

And, as always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask!  And if you have friends struggling that might be helped with this post, feel free to share!  My goal is to help anyone who needs it.

2 replies
    • Debi Tonks
      Debi Tonks says:

      Right now, I use Math-U-See and Spelling-You-See, but I’m going to change it. I’m trying to help the kids find more joy in these subjects and they are really burning out on these. I’m moving toward helping them see math and language in their daily life and finding a greater love for it 🙂


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