4 Moms 35 Kids: homeschooling methods

This is part 8 of our 4 Moms 35 Kids series.  Visit 3 other moms of large families to see what they have to say about choosing a homeschool method or curriculum:

In the past I’ve blogged about our homeschooling goals and our philosophy.  Today I want to tell you a little about our methods.

I’m not going to spill the beans just yet about exactly what curriculum we use, but if you’ve been reading Life in a Shoe for very long you may already have a pretty good idea of the mechanics of our homeschooling day.  If not, you’ll have to wait until next week for that.  Today I just want to tell you how we arrived at our current method.

Long ago, when all the kids were little, we had a very structured approach to schooling.  I honestly don’t remember if this was because I felt the need for a firm structure lest our daily fall into complete chaos or if it was because this was my view of how homeschooling ought to be done.

In those early days, we borrowed much from the Charlotte Mason school of thought, dabbling in Sonlight curriculum, Miquon Math, and much more.

Having a firm structure and a schedule for our day worked well for us back then, though it was a bit stressful.  In between Bible and read-alouds and poetry and phonics and math, I had to keep the toddler entertained in the high chair with educational toys so she didn’t destroy the house, and I had to feed the baby and change a steady stream of diapers.

My days were a whirlwind and we often didn’t finish everything on the schedule, but I knew that it was OK as long as nobody went to bed hungry or in a dirty diaper.  Hubby was happy with our schedule and the kids were learning new things every day, so I didn’t have to feel like a failure.

Then life changed dramatically on a number of levels.  We made an interstate move.  We spent 18 months in a travel trailer in my parents’ driveway, adding our 8 to their 12 for a household of 20.

Hubby took a job at a Christian company where children were welcome, so the kids began taking turns going to work with him.  They interacted with adults in a very new social environment.  They became more computer literate.  They heard lectures on creation science, the Biblical roles of family members, and endless messages about US and world history from a distinctly Christian perspective.  They learned to follow instructions in a hundred different ways, and they received a lot of character training from their dad.

We bought 5 acres of hills, rocks and brush so thick you couldn’t walk through it.  Clearing it was a full time job in the evenings for endless months.  Once the building site was cleared, we built our own house on the evenings and weekends that followed.  The kids learned to frame and roof, to wire and drywall and caulk and insulate.

School still happened, but it was low on our list.  As the months passed, I felt a rising sense of panic.  Hubby encouraged me to relax, and when I finally did I realized something surprising: our children were smart.

School is about far more than academics, but even in that area I was laboring under false presuppositions.  Just because the children weren’t sitting at a table with a pencil and paper for 6 hours per day, 180-200 days/year, I shouldn’t have assumed that they weren’t learning new things.

And so we went from a relatively traditional sort of homeschooling to a far more relaxed model.   We still educate our children every day, but sometimes the children don’t realize they’re “doing school.”

This is our homeschooling method.  You might call it the Real Life method.

Upcoming topics:

  • May 13 – Picking a curriculum, method or tactics that work for a large family (part 2).
  • May 20 – Teaching little kids
  • May 27 – Teaching big kids.  what changes? what do they need that little ones don’t and where do you need to give more freedom.  How do you make the transition.
  • June 3 – Putting it together. How does it work?

Past topics:

  • March 18 Live-blog day, in which all 4 of us live-blog a real day in our home.  Find out what we really do all day.  It’s our own reality show, just for you.  Who needs TV?
  • March 25 – Outings with only little ones.  Mom’s rules of order, and how notto become the poster family for birth control.
  • April 1 – A baker’s dozen for managing the food budget: budgeting in the kitchen to feed a crowd.
  • April 8 – Menu planning, how we plan (or don’t plan) to feed our hungry crewmates.
  • April 15 – Cooking from Scratch.   What we make from scratch and what we would like to make from scratch.
  • April 22 – Cooking for a Crowd.  The big linky!  We shared our own recipes, and you shared yours.
  • April 29 – Extreme Homeschooling, where I try to stir up trouble but you all are much nicer and more agreeable than some of the readers I had a few years ago.


  1. Thank you for saying that…………..The world..Life…thats how our kids learn!
    Yes I still use my “online Program ” http://ww.Time4learning.com for my kids (i do want them to learn how to read and do math ) but its not all day every day..Its a couple days a week ..But,Just like you pointed out ,Just because they didnt do “school” that day didnt mean they didnt learn…

  2. Perry,
    Thanks to the link to the Botkin download. It was very good.

  3. Heather says:

    Yes it is the one in Arlington!! I will stop by the booth. I am so very excited to be a part of this whole Homeschooling family. Thank you a gain for all of your wonderful posts.

  4. I have been looking forward to this series since it was announced! Doesn’t every HS mom want to steal ideas from others?
    It took 4 years of schedules before I learned to relax a little more and be more concerned about training up a ‘person’ rather than a PS clone (OK, my husband came to the realization first and eventually I gave in). It has been a great 5th school year so far – and my relationship with my daughter has gotten even better than before because we spend more time talking rather than pushing through a curriculum.
    Looking forward to more on your HS revelations in the next few weeks.

  5. Samantha says:

    I’m very excited about reading these next few weeks of blogs since I’m just starting to look into homeschooling. It seems a little overwhelming at times to think of how doing this is possible but reading today has put some feelings at ease. =)

  6. Heather says:

    First time commenter here. I tried to post on you poll post but coudn’t for some reason. I LOVE you blog and I thank you for you new homeschooling posts. I am a soon to be HS momma. In fact I am going to my first HS bookfair this weekend. I am super excited. Please know that EVERYthing you and fellow bloggers write is being soaked up by us novice HS mommas. Thank you so very much for all your time blogging.
    Heather in Tx

    • Heather,
      Welcome, and thanks for taking time to introduce yourself. I’m glad we can help. Enjoy the book fair! Is it the one in Arlington by any chance? If it is, be sure to stop by the Vision Forum booth and say hi to the sweet Horn family who will be staffing the table. They’re very good friends of ours and we’re babysitting their dog this weekend.

  7. Thanks for the link, Perry. I’ve been meaning to listen to it for some time.

  8. Kat, my mother, her parents, and her grandparents and great-grandparents all worked in the public school system as teachers and administrators, and so did a number of my aunts and great-aunts.

    My dad was a school administrator for a time and both my parents have a Master’s in Education.
    They were a bit leery of us homeschooling at first, but they soon became two of our biggest supporters.

  9. Love it!!! This is what Tait and I envision our “schooling” looking like as our little guys (18 months and 7 months now) grow up! Character, real life, real estate (since that’s what my husband does), home building (we’re just finishing up the first of about 4 stages), discipleship, etc.! Thanks for the encouragement! : )

  10. Ladies I heartily recommend this talk by our friend Victoria Botkin http://bluebehemoth.com/album/52320/

    I think one of the most important things to realize about education is – and I would argue the book of Proverbs backs me up on this – the discipleship/relationship between parents and children. Not the curriculum.

  11. I needed to hear this! We’re struggling with curriculum choices right now and I’m much more laid back about it then my husband. Both his parents have their doctorites in education and he his masters in chemical engineering. I used to be a teacher in the school system and I feel we are constantly battling our former ideas about what education is. We just can’t seem to relax and trust that our children are smart and will learn even if we are not sitting down at a table with pen and paper. We get caught up in transcripts, grades, and what college they will want to go to someday. Thank you for your perspective! It helps as we enter our second year of homeschooling:)

  12. I posted this link on one of the other mama’s blogs yesterday (raising olives) about curriculum; I found it fascinating! Just about curriculum; specific approaches and effectiveness in general: http://www.newsweek.com/id/237118
    My mom was a teacher for 40 years and I often remember her being frustrated with the lack of research that went into curricula.

    DH and I don’t have kids yet but we probably won’t home school (As the daughter of 2 long time public school teachers who have fought tirelessly for public education for most of their adult lives, I just couldn’t, unless we had a child with a particular situation that would deem it necessary, or at least significantly more beneficial.) DH was homeschooled but didn’t have a very good experience; not that homeschooling isn’t a great choice for some families, just that his parents handled the whole thing very poorly. That said, I have this huge fascination with curricula and educational philosophy (again, probably that whole daughter or teachers thing…) and often the most lively and interesting discussions come from homeschool blogs.

    Besides the fact that I have no interest in the actual ACT of homeschooling personally; I know exactly what curricula I would use and why if I did; and I love reading about what other people use and why they use it 🙂

  13. Amen to that Kim! Thank you so much for those words. I tend to panic because we don’t sit around the table to “do” school as often as the world makes me think I should. When people ask me about school they expect to hear something similiar to a government school and they don’t understand that homeschool and learning are more of a lifestyle then a time sitting in front of textbooks.

    For a future topic though, I’d love to hear how you developed your children’s work ethic. My children are expected to work but they also complain and try to laze about. How did/does your family deal with this and teach your children to love work and to work diligently? (Your comment about land clearing spurred these thoughts.)


  1. […] Frocks I rambled on last week about our homeschooling method which I dubbed the real life method, and how we arrived where we are now.  This week I'd like to just give a few examples of how this […]

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