I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

When the Homeschool Year Gets Derailed: A Cautionary Tale

Written by Jessica.

Last September, I was anticipating our best homeschool year yet. I had years of homeschooling experience and for once felt confident. I’d researched and purchased what I thought was the just-right curriculum for my kids and was ready and organized. I had ideas and plans to keep my kids busy in their waiting times, to schedule our day, and to add in some fun. I was eager to start the year.

We had a happy and awesome first day and a few really productive early weeks of homeschooling. But then the year took a dramatic turn and our homeschool slowly started unraveling. I didn’t know it yet at that time, but our entire year would be quite the challenge.

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The Year That Unraveled

September was a good month. We did gentle half days, eased into school a subject or two at a time, and savored lots of outside playtime in the remaining sunshine and warm weather. We went on outings and enjoyed my mother-in-law’s annual visit from overseas. September was filled with promise. I was so thankful for homeschooling and was okay with not getting a lot of school done because I knew that we still had the whole school year ahead of us.

When October rolled around, it was time to get more serious. But, no sooner did we have one full day under our belts than we got some bad news. Our beloved cat’s cancer had returned, and we were told she was dying. We were all heartbroken. But for my fifth-grade daughter, the news was especially devastating. Our cat was a best friend and a constant companion to her, on par with her much-loved siblings, and a very significant part of her life every day. My daughter loved her fiercely. October was heartache: cherishing and nursing our cat through her last days, grieving, and walking my kids through the first loss they had ever experienced with all the pain and hard questions that come with death. I was so thankful for homeschooling, but we didn’t get a lot of school done. That's OK, I reasoned, because there were plenty more months ahead.

November found my kids, but particularly my daughter, worn out physically from the grief and lack of sleep from the weeks before. Early in the month, they all got sick--the kind of sick that moves slowly from one child to the next, hangs on, and lingers in the house forever. They were all almost themselves again by Thanksgiving – with the holiday season then upon us. I was so thankful for homeschooling…but we still didn’t get a lot of school done.

And now I was beginning to worry.

December was what Decembers always are no matter where you “do school”– teaching amid the festivities, busyness, and traditions of the Christmas season, in an abbreviated month. Although my daughter was still not fully herself again, we did our special December traditions and also began to slowly regain some ground on the homeschool front. I was so thankful for homeschooling…and it was okay that we didn’t get a lot of school done – it was Christmas time, after all.

I was optimistic about January because there was still half a school year left. But January began with the kids all sick over New Year’s and so the month started out a lot like November had, with illness eating up school days. Despite that, January and February were especially frigid and blustery months even for us, a hidden blessing that kept us cooped up cozily indoors. The kids got healthy, and we finally got back into a good homeschooling rhythm once again. I was so thankful for homeschooling, and I began to feel cautiously optimistic about the second half of the school year.

And then, spring came.

The challenges of the last four months of our school year were admittedly self-inflicted. After several years of saying “When we move…”, we decided to finally say “Yes!” to the childhood dreams of our two boys. We got two dogs. Yes, that's right. Two. In March we added an adorable and thoroughly life-disrupting eight-week-old puppy to our family. Then, in April, we added a second adorable and even more life-disrupting eight-week-old puppy to our family. But wait, there's more. When May came, we got two adorable nine-week-old kittens from a shelter. Our daughter had experienced delight and joy along with her brothers when they got their puppies, and while she still grieved for and wouldn’t ever stop loving her first cat, she was ready to open her heart again.

By then, life in our (very small) house was teeming with the obvious cuteness, noise, mess, and demands of four lively and needy baby animals and three super happy kids…but our homeschooling, like our house, was an utter disaster. The specifics will be spared because it doesn’t require much imagination to picture what our crazy looked like and how our homeschooling was derailed, but – OH.MY. I was still thankful for homeschooling throughout those last four months of the school year, but by that point, I was also worried, stressed, and anxious by how disrupted the last nine months had been.

And of course, throughout the entire year, there were other things. There are always other things while homeschooling. A couple of my curriculum picks were major flops. The homeschool class the kids had enjoyed the year before fizzled. There were major issues in our extended family that used up significant chunks of my emotional and mental energy and that affected us all. We had unexpected house and vehicle issues that needed to be addressed. In other words, life happened. No doubt, in your own homeschool year, you've experienced similar challenges and trials, too.

The Whys Behind the Worries

Some reading this might wonder: who cares about falling behind and not getting to everything? It’s homeschool, after all! There’s always the next school year. For those that live in states where there are no or few homeschooling regulations, that’s fine. If I was homeschooling in a state like that, I'd probably feel that way too.

But there are other states with regulations that make you jump through hoops. These states require things like: school district approval of your curriculum and plans for the year, quarterly reports, student portfolios, certain subjects taught, a certain number of hours of instruction, a home visit where students’ work is assessed at the end of the year, and/or standardized test results. If you don’t meet all of those requirements, you can’t homeschool. I live in one of of these kinds of states, and that geographical fact has a tendency to create quite a bit of pressure on my shoulders.

As a former teacher, I have the burden and blessing of knowing what traditional school looks like. I believe homeschooling should not be school-at-home but rather, a better alternative to school. Homeschooling is supposed to be the very best education I can give my kids. Sadly, there were some months last school year, however, when our home didn’t seem conducive to any academic learning, let alone an ideal or better environment than “real” school, and that worried me.

Finally, our academics were pretty bare-bones, and that isn’t the way I think education should be. We didn’t do elaborate projects, or take tons of great field trips, or do much fun hands-on work. There were even times when some of our favorite things like morning time, read-alouds, and messy art projects fell to the wayside. There were whole chunks of the year when I could only do core subjects every day, forcing me to add additional weeks onto the school year to finish the extra subjects.

And so, even as I wrote encouragement to other mamas about what to do when you want to send them to "real" school, I needed to speak those very truths to my own heart.

All’s Well That Ends Well

June came. My kids took their standardized tests. We finished up our school year later into the month than we ever had, but I managed to cover almost everything we needed to. My huge stack of ridiculously detailed paperwork was sent off to the school district, postmarked on the latest date possible. It was a rush, but we made it.

Life hasn’t really settled down or gotten any less crazy since we finished in June. I still haven’t ordered our curriculum or done all the things I did last year to get ready for the upcoming school year. A couple of weeks ago, on a particularly chaotic day, my daughter commented that at least we weren’t trying to do school that day too, and how were we ever going to manage things in September? I told her I had no idea, and we both just laughed.

Last school year was not the homeschooling experience that I had envisioned us having, but it was our life. Was it our best homeschool year? No. But there was good in those months, too.

Every day my kids got to learn in an environment where they were safe, known, cherished, nurtured, and loved beyond measure. They had far more play and outside time than students in traditional schools have, giving them more time to be kids. They all scored above their grade levels on their standardized tests, demonstrating they’d learned and learned well.

This school year my kids also learned what grief looks like, how to say good-bye and love well right up to the end, and how to minister to someone grieving. Their sibling bonds tightened and our whole family grew closer during both the very hard and the very happy times. They learned about change, both the bad and the good. They learned about caring for animals at different stages in life and got to watch puppies and kittens grow before their very eyes. They learned about hard work. And if those weren't enough, in all the events of our school year, my kids were able to learn and make memories from their life experiences in ways they would not have been able to if they were off at school all day.

September is upon us. I don’t know what this next school year will bring, but I do know this: I’m going to hold my plans and my expectations loosely. I will know and trust that my kids are going to grow and learn, no matter how perfect or imperfect our school days may look. And every day, I’m going to be thankful for homeschooling.


  1. I sometimes think our kids would benefit from living more rural or on a farm learning about animals and taking care of them. What I think you did that homeschool year was bring "the farm" (of puppies and kittens) so to speak to your house and there is SO MUCH joy and education that goes along with that. They will never forget it. :) I am also crying because we had to say goodbye to our 19 year old cat last summer and our 11 year old Golden Retriever just two months ago in summer as well. I love how you all opened your hearts to new furbabies. I am waiting for my husband to do the same. God's blessings on your year.

    1. I agree. How would the landscape of our culture change if kids had the opportunity to learn from real life more often??

    2. Vanessa, one of the puppies that we got is a Golden Retriever! <3 You were so blessed to have your cat and your dog for so many years. Those must have been such deep losses. Pets are family too, aren't they? Thank you for sharing about your two. I agree so much with what you and Jamie said. Some homeschool years stand out for what we learn and do academically, others for what we experience together in real life as a family. The latter was definitely true for us this year, and as you said - there is so much value in that kind of learning, too. Blessings on your year as well!

  2. Man! Last year we didn't do very good and I worries all year that I had failed them. But as we review this year, I realize how much they actually did learn. I need to realize that home school isn't schooling at home, but a completely different animal all together. Thanks for that!

    1. Yes, they learn so much more through real life than we realize. It's not always measurable at first, but it's obvious in the end.