I panic needlessly. Don’t we all?

Today was a quiet day.  Seven of the children were gone in various directions, leaving me with just a 5yo, a toddler and a 6 week old baby.

I decided to spend some extra time on school with 5yo Rachael, in between chores.  She’s nearly 6 and we have spent very little time on formal schooling.  That’s not to say she hasn’t started school, but it’s mostly in small informal sessions.  We hover between relaxed homeschooling and unschooling, generally doing our own lackadaisical version of Sonlight or the  Charlotte Mason approach.

My plan was to work together on cleaning for a few minutes, then break for some fun school, repeating this throughout the day.  I was heady with the thought of all our together-time.

At our first school break, I asked her if she knew all the letters and their sounds.  “No,” she replied.  “I get them mixed up a lot.”

On the outside:

Slight pause.  “Hmm,” said Mom, smiling brightly.  “Let’s work on that today!”

On the inside:

What?  What?!  She’s almost 6 and doesn’t even know her ABC’s?  How did that happen?  How did I not know?  This stupid unschooling thing has failed us.  No, who am I kidding?  I’m the one who failed.  I failed Rachael.  My poor, ignorant child.  I’m a bad mother and a bad homeschooler.  That’s it.  I  need curriculum.  REAL curriculum.  She’s waiting for me to say something.  Gulp.  Come on, smile.  “Let’s work on that today!”


We work together to make a set of alphabet flashcards, then do a trial run.  On the first time through, she knows the names and sounds of 23 letters missing only J, V, and Z.  She gets them right the next time.  Silly girl.  She knows this stuff.  Silly mom.


Rachael learned the letters and sounds in many ways, most initiated by her, most bearing little or no resemblance to formal schooling.  She learned them by:

  • writing her own name and those of her siblings
  • dictating and copying very simple thank you letters
  • creating birthday cards for family members
  • playing store and writing real or pretend shopping lists
  • playing restaurant and taking down our orders
  • playing school with her siblings
  • having books read to her
  • watching The Letter Factory while her older sisters did their math

So what did we do?  We did the dishes, and then we made and used ABC flashcards, paying special attention to J, V, and Z.  We did some laundry, then worked on counting to 20 – I learned that she always forgets 15.  We straightened the dining room and living room, then worked on counting by 10’s.  We swept and read the Bible, followed by Green Eggs and Ham.

We did a hundred other things too.  And what did 2yo Bethany do all day?  She tagged along, of course, and joined in.  And soon enough, I expect to find that she already knows all her letters and sounds even though I won’t remember working with her on them.

I love homeschooling.

This post is part of the Homeschooling Carnival. Be sure to check out the other entries!

4 Moms is starting up again on August 5 – join us for an Open House to see how big families make it fit!


  1. I needlessly panic sometimes too. Life is so enjoyable when we learn alongside our kids and don’t try to limit it to what we learn from a workbook or textbook!

  2. This is so true! I remember my little 4 year old telling me she liked “light green” colours. When I asked what light green colours she liked, she showed me exact examples! I realized that she learnt all the colours when she “floated” around while I did Cusinairre Maths rods with her 8 year old sister.

  3. Kim, This is exactly what I was thinking at the end of our official school year when my 5 year old picked up my 2nd graders reader and began reading. “Did someone read this to him?” All heads shook no. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t ignore him, but I know I didn’t do enough for some of these words he’s reading. I knew he was watching his sister’s lesson, but…still. God is so good…He filled in my numerous gaps!

  4. Jody from AZ says:

    Hi Kim! This was a great read! It sounded so familar… I can’t imagine why! Lol! My little guy (Tim, now 7) had the same trouble with 15. Way back when you first recomended “Letter Factory” we bought it and Tim learned so much in just a couple of weeks! But I have so been there and had that conversation with myself, like you did, several times! You think you are all alone and you are the only one that struggles with these sort of things. That’s why it is so great to know other moms and trade stories. What an encouragement! Thanks!

  5. Mary Beth says:

    One of my kids used to always forgot 15, too! Wassup with that?

    And your internal little conversation . . . cracked me up particularly because it sounded a bit on the familiar side. 80)

  6. Jessi, mother of 8 says:

    God must have lead me here today. I feel like a failure because my 5 year old doesnt know most of her abc’s. Just today I ordered the whole seasemy street dvd bundle in hopes she can catch up (we usually dont watch tv) I will once again relax and go back to my original belief that it will happen at their own pace as we go about our normal lives. Thank you so much!

  7. Thank you for this post! It was your blog that first interested me in homeschooling. I have found a homeschooling support group in my area which has been so wonderful! And I go to a Charlotte Mason group and have just begun reading her Homeschooling series. (What a treat!) I was wondering if you used her methods or not and now I know! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing all your challenges and victories in homeschooling. I am a mom of 3 (so far anyways) and my eldest is 4 and eager to learn. I’m excited if a bit daunted at being his official teacher…and this from someone who used to be a “professional” teacher!!

  8. Using formal lessons, I only taught my first two (of eleven) children to read.

    My first learned to read by 5.5 very easily. My second learned to read at 9.5 after years of discouraging (for me) work.

    When it clicked, it clicked within a day or two. Within 2-3 months, there was just no stopping her. She’d already read stacks of books, was well above grade level and loving it.

    These girls are now 20 and 18, and I see no difference. They both love to read. The first reads mostly midwifery textbooks while the second reads challenging classics I’ve never tackled.

    I’m thankful all the time that my kids have an opportunity to learn at their own pace without being labeled *in any way*.

    After my experience with my first two girls, I stopped teaching reading. The children live in houseful of great books where reading is highly prized. Reading is what we do here, so reading is what they learn to do.

    They have learned to read by writing, asking us to spell for them the words they want for lists, letters, stories, cartoon captions, labels and more.

    Sometime between 5 and 9, everyone learns to read, and they all love books.

  9. Kay Ayotte says:

    Thank you! I beat myself up all the time over this. Maybe I would be amiss if I wasn’t concerned. Nonetheless, so glad to know that some one else feels it too and that it all comes out in the wash. My heart melts with gratefulness.

  10. We are totally on the same page with this!!! In fact, I just put up a post yesterday about how we went from strict ABeka for early preschool (you know how crucial addition and phonics is when you’re three….) to being relaxed, Charlotte Mason type homeschoolers.

    Life is so enjoyable when we learn alongside our kids and don’t try to limit it to what we learn from a workbook or textbook!

    You may find it interesting and I’d appreciate your input, Kim!! toliverstotexas (dot) blogspot (dot) com

  11. This is the reason I chose not to use the relaxed or unschooling method. My children and like little sponges and I want to use this time to teach and train them at a young age! By the age of 3, my kids have learned to recognize their letters, make their sounds, and write the alphabet. At age 5 they are reading and know much of the phonics rules. We school year round and they do not find it a drudgery. My just-turned 5 year old loves to pull out his books and read to me. The ‘academic’ portion of school is so much easier when they are able to read early and do work on their own. Academics is not our only focus though…our 7 yr old daughter bakes, is learning to sew, and is developing her mommy skills as she helps with her baby sister and incorporates chores into her daily activities. It gives me such joy to see them grow like this at such young ages.
    ~And we too love the Letter Factory!!~
    Homeschool Mom of 4

  12. Thank you so much for this story. Yes, I needlessly panic sometimes too. I have five children, and the last two are the ones I sometimes panic about! But, you are so right. They learn little by little, enjoying real life. My 4yo son has begun writing his name on his cup each morning. He sees all of us do that, and so he just does it himself now. I have never taught him how to write, or even ever gone over the alphabet with him. Yet, he can write his name!

    I love your method of work a little, school a little. That’s how we do it over here too.

    Have a good day.

  13. I am a new follower of your blog. I love it! Thanks for posting this. I have a 4 almost 5 yr old and I stress over whether he knows his letters and sounds. I know he will get them and I shouldnt push…so I dont. I love the Letter Factory too. What a great dvd that is…priceless.
    God Bless,
    Raechel, Homeschooling mom of 4.

  14. This is to Tree. My son had speech problems, his older brother translated for him. I don’t know how he knew what he was saying. The speech therapist had Jeremy pull his tongue back in his mouth (she showed him how) and say ray over and over. She used a popsicle stick on some sounds to hold his tongue down (just the front part of the tongue) to help with some sounds. She also had us to let him suck applesauce through a straw to strengthen his muscles. And he chewed gum to strengthen them as well. I hope this helps.

  15. Oh, how I needed this reminder today! Thanks for being so transparent!
    Jennifer in New Orleans

  16. Hi Tree,
    I don’t normally post and actually rarely read comments b/c of time commitments but I’m a speech therapist/homeschooling mom of 7. Have your dd practice her R sound like an “angry dog” sound with teeth showing. If she does it in the mirror, she’ll see she can’t show her teeth and say the W for the R. Start out having her say the R by itself then work into R at the beginning of syllables like ra, ro ,re. From there go to words like road, run, ect. Since she is little yet you’ll probably need to work on sound discrimination. First, you say “let’s play a game”- Have her guess if you are saying your Rs correctly. Then say “whoa”, “was that the R sound”. “No”, then say it correctly ,”row”. Again, you can make this into any kind of fun game, use cards, mag pictures, counters, her stuffed animals, ect. If you work at it everyday for short periods of time I’d expect you could see a difference in a few weeks time. If she doesn’t get the concept, back off and try again next month. She may not have the developmental awareness yet. Every child is different.
    Hope this helps!
    Kim, I love you posts! So real, so encouraging. Thank you for the time you put into it even with your busy life! God bless!
    Amy G.

  17. What a relief. I’m going through the exact same emotions with my almost six year old girl. We have similiar homeschool styles. It was interesting to hear that Rachel forgets 15 when she counts to 20. Reagan forgets 16 almost every time.

  18. I can’t homeschool – I haven’t the discipline or paitience for even unschooling, and DH is totally against it. But here is my question my youngest has a speech issue. She is 8 (and yes we have had her tested but I can’t force the State to do what its supposed to and provide her services, I have tried) any ideas how to improve her R sound? It sounds like an S. Currently her eval says her speech is at the level of a 3 yo, and I get it, but I hear a higher level (maybe because I know her words, but people who don’t know her have a hard time with her). She is stubborn and if she thinks its work or she isn’t doing well she won’t do it.
    Any suggestions to help her with the R sound (she has a high roof – making it hard for her to make the R sound so it sounds like a W). She has some other smaller issues but the major one is R. She can do S and TH just fine.

    Thanks Kim – I was hoping you might have some great insight!

  19. We discovered one day that one of ours could read without much instruction! I am always amazed by how much they simply “pick up”.

  20. My second son had problems with 15, too. I didn’t know it was that common. One time my mom thought she’d play hide-and-seek with him and told him to count to 15 before he went to find her, but that still wasn’t enough to make him say 15. He made it to 20, and then he said, “Hey, what happened to 15?”

  21. What a great peek into a day in the life–
    we are learning to read here, too. My youngest is 6, and we have done so very little “formal” schooling with him. He IS starting now to put sounds together into words. It will happen. In time. Thanks for the encouragement. We too are a somewhat lackadaisical Sonlight/CM/unschooling(though I don’t like to admit it!) family.
    Thanks for sharing!

  22. I love this post. This puts me at such ease. My oldest is 4-years-old, so I am brand new to homeschooling, and just beginning to read about Charlotte Mason. I hope for our approach to look much like yours. Thank you for sharing!

  23. My girls have missed out number 15 too. My husband told me that it is the most frequently missed out number. (Not sure how he knows this…other wonder of the internet!)

  24. Jean Anderson says:

    My 5.5yo taught himself his numbers up to 100 by doing dot-to-dots for weeks on end (copying the number order from my 1-100 chart) – and letters by copying out names of dinosaurs to search Google Images… almost effortless on my part! I love it when that happens!

  25. I have this exact thought process at times too! Always good discover it really does work!
    Mary, mom to 10

  26. LOVE It! I love the Leapfrog DvDs too and since we starting hsing I was strict on NO TV for lil ones so big ones can concentrate. Now that we have a “school room” and the TV Is far enough away I have eased up and let the 5, and newly 3 yo watch them some. I figured it is thier language , Math, etc. We have all of them and they are all great.

  27. Summer Nichols says:

    Sooooo glad you posted this!!! You give me hope sweet lady! I have these moments and wonder if I am doing a good job. Later, I realize that I am doing the best job teaching because I am creating a passion for learning in my children that will last long after I have passed on. And, that is truly a gift that forever keeps on giving! Happy Homeschooling to you and your sweet kids!!!

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