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Plan B

Hilary and I were once again thwarted in our plans for a trip to the beach. Last time it was nasty bacteria. This time, nasty weather. So we went with Plan B and headed to my new favorite park. Again. 

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Tucker (4) Hezekiah (6)

As you can see, the children weren't too disappointed! 

But what I want to talk about today is a comment I received recently from a long time reader. What I want to focus on was her statement, "Your homeschool seems so perfect". And I know she knows it isn't really perfect. Life never is. But perhaps it seems that way on my blog?

I laughed out loud when I read that sentence (not at you, Amy, at the thought of our homeschool being perfect). My children would laugh at that too. If they didn't cry first. Remember, the blog covers approximately 1% of our life…not the other 99%. If I blog about awesome project or accomplishment, that's because its out of the ordinary, not because it happens every day… I am planning to do some specific posts on homeschooling, but life is so hectic right now with little Apollo. My blogging time is limited to his whims…so today, I will focus on our homeschool failures. Not because I want to focus on our weaknesses, but because I think we could all use a dose of reality. 

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Mordecai, 7 

Mordecai will be eight in two weeks and can't read. Part of it is him not being "ready" part of it is he has more trouble learning than my other children. And part of it is, I haven't worked with him consistently over a long period of time. And part of the reason I haven't worked with consistently is at least 50% of the time when asked to do school work he goes into a rage. He screams. He kicks. He throws things. No one can concentrate because of the disruption he causes and I can't teach because he's too loud. That's reality. The other part of the reason I haven't worked with him enough is I don't have the mental/physical energy to go through that every day. Its not perfect, but that's reality.

 *and by the way, his doctor, who's known him from birth, keeps encouraging me to keep him home, insisting that school would make things worse, not better*

We started using Sequential Spelling last year…most of my children are atrocious spellers. This is the first time we attempted a spelling program. Then I got pregnant. And tired. And completely forgot we were doing Sequential Spelling until I found the books on our shelf months later. And even then I didn't start the program back up with my children. So they are still atrocious at spelling. In part because I dropped the ball…that's reality.

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Tucker, age four 

My house is nearly always a mess during the school year. Every flat surface covered with papers. And scissors. And broken pencils. And books. And dirty socks. And who knows what else.

We've barely covered science. Ever. Our science has all come from trips to the beach. And our yard. And the sky. That may cover biology okay, but sure leaves physical science, chemistry and everything else lacking. Science book? Never used one. But we really should. 

Sometimes I'm too tired to enforce daily school work. So it doesn't get done. I can never seem to make my children do exercises in a workbook that I think are "dumb". And I've been known to say, "that's stupid, just skip it". 

Our house if often chaotic and loud. You've seen the Duggars? That's not us. 

Enoch still regularly sneaks off to play instead of doing his schoolwork. And is proud that he has "never finished a math book". 

I've caught some children cheating (that was dealt with harshly, and we instituted new measures to make cheating much more difficult). And I still don't get why a children would feel the need to "cheat" at homeschooling….

I've had children outright lie to me about doing their schoolwork. 

We've started far more schoolbooks than we've finished. 

And that's just to name a few.

Its true, our children have always done well on standardized testing. Don't ask me why. But our homeschool is far from perfect. I keep myself going with the knowledge that public/private education is also far from perfect. 

And I hope to gain and keep my children's hearts and we spend our days together. And the truth is, I enjoy their company and learning along with them. 

But our homeschool is not perfect. Hang in there homeschool Mamas…we're all in this together.


  1. Ali

    I really needed this encouragement today. We did our standardized testing a week ago, and got our results back yesterday. Two of my kids did fine, but my 9 year old boy did TERRIBLE. He has been a challenge to teach. It is a relief to know that I am not alone in having a UN-perfect homeschool.

  2. sarah

    Renee – I laughed. Because I totally never thought you were perfect. :). Funny how different people see things huh? When we do our fun “projects” everything else goes out the door, so I know with 4 it’s crazy & that it’s got to be even more so with 14!
    For a science suggestion, I found a cool program written by a guy in Kansas who teaches science. He has a great sense of humor and you can email questions to him and he responds. (I email him questions about things I’m learning). His course is for 3 days, and made to be student directed. My 8 year old can mostly get the science experiments done, and honestly, I find it neat. The lesson time lasts about 20 minutes. Nothing is dumb or a waste of time. Here’s his website:
    What I really enjoy about your blogs is how you like your kids. I think when you like your kids the rest of the craziness isn’t quite so bad. (Although don’t quote me on a bad day!)
    Oh, and with the spelling/grammar. I haven’t found a fun way to do it (there are some neat books) but I do like this program: Again, kid directed, not to boring (some of mine do skip lessons) and not a waste of time.
    Have a good day!

  3. Ruth Einfeld

    Thanks for the does of reality, Renee – I know that I have, on many occasions, felt like I was a terrible homeschooling mom because I read your blog and your cool projects…I also fail much of the time and “life” gets in the way of “schooling”…but isn’t that what homeschooling is all about – learning through living?
    Keep up the great work this year…and I mean taking each day as it comes and doing what you must to keep you sanity and your children loved, fed, clothed, and generally pleasant…

  4. Lenae

    Hi Renee, I don’t comment very often, but I wanted to say how much I appreciate this post. I’m about to begin preschooling our oldest boy and have been dealing with quite a case of the jitters as we count down the days ’til we officially “start”. Reading blogs of experienced homeschooling moms like yourself often leaves me feeling absolutely certain that there’s no way I’ll be able to do it as well as you all seem to. So thank you ever so much for your honesty! I’ve never read a homeschooling post like this one, and it’s reassuring to know that yours is a real life, with ups and downs, failures along with success.

  5. Karen

    My oldest has cheated on his math. I was really, really naive and would let him check his own daily work (we use Saxon math). He was always getting A pluses on his daily work! Then I noticed his test scores, which I graded, were going down.
    So I started checking his daily work. Surprise, he rarely got a perfect score. Ever. He finally confessed that he’d been changing the answers after looking them up, rather than seeing he had the wrong answer and going back and working on it again. I had been thinking he’d been getting done so quickly because he was good at math! Oops. He *is* good at math, he just didn’t want to have any wrong when I checked them.
    We’re not perfect either. And i love that you’re willing to admit it, too. 🙂

  6. Nikki

    AMEN to that! Honestly – it’s by the grace of God that we get any “school work” done – EVER!
    If God calls you to do it – He will provide a way. I hang on to that little nugget every moment of every day.
    I think MOMs are way too hard on themselves. God called you to raise the kids He gave you – so listen to what He wants YOU to do – not what He wants other homeschool families to do!
    Thanks, Renee, for that reality check. You are still super mom, even if you aren’t perfect mom!

  7. Sheryl

    I really appreciate this post. I’m about to start homeschooling my daughter for Junior Kindergarten (we are in Canada) and I’m trying to keep my expectations real. Thank you.

  8. Maura

    I don’t post often but I’ve been reading your blog for ages. Thanks for this post, I’m another mom who sometimes ends up feeling sadly lacking when reading blogs where everything seems “perfect”.
    Just a thought about Mordecai… I have an adopted son, who is now 18. We’ve homeschooled forever, and went through some really difficult year years with hiim. My son has a number of learning and behavioral issues connected to his prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, and sometimes he just wasn’t able to cooperate with school. Even if I could have forced him to cooperate with school (which I couldn’t), he wouldn’t have learned anything anyway…We lost a lot of potential learning time because of that same kinds of issues you are dealing with with Mordecai. The amazing thing is, that as my son grew and matured a bit, he began to LOVE school time, is now almost always very cooperative, and is still learning and progressing academically. So hang in there… things will get better. 🙂

  9. Molly

    Hi, I have never commented before, my name is Molly and I am pre go with my 7th and we really want to adopt a 6 year old fro Africa. I found your blog looking for large, homeschooling, adopting families. I literally cried when I read this entry. I think blogs often highlight the wonderful aspects of life, as that makes sense, and I tell myself this, but it is easy to think another family looks perfect and that I am not measuring up. I have felt discouraged lately and thinking that another baby and the adoption process is a s crazy as everyone tells me it is. Thank your for the encouragement!

  10. Susan B

    I went through the exact same thing. My kids would cry and whine and never wanted to do school. That just wasn’t the homeschool experience that I wanted. I tried so many different methods to teach.. It never made anyone happy. After last year I had nearly givin up. I looked more into unschooling and it made me realize that I don’t need to “teach”. We don’t need workbooks or curriculum unless someone wanted them. They will learn. I must say its been a huge weight off.. I no longer feel as though I failed. I know I can do this. It will be ok.

  11. Erica S.

    A while back, I was strongly encouraging a friend to homeschool. She wanted to come over to my home and see how we do it. I was all prepared to ‘wow’ her with my ways…And the whole time she was there WATCHING US, my baby cried, my toddler broke things, the phone rang, I couldn’t find what I needed, etc. It really wasn’t a total disaster, but it was just so REAL. I was devistated (now that I’m older, I don’t care, but still). And yet, when she left, she told me that if homeschooling was this real, then maybe she could do it. And she has now been homeschooling for 9 years. The Duggars we are not. We strive for order and purpose, and yet the richness comes from our daily relationships and discipleship with eachother. And the piles and crumbs accompany us as well. You are a super Mother; your family just shines. Thanks for being honest.

  12. Denaye

    Thank you! While it’s always important to remember that “bloggyworld” is just a glimpse into each other’s lives, having you be honest and real is such a REFRESHING glimpse! It’s great to know that none of us are as consistent as we want to be and that our houses are like messy schoolrooms (the one fact that most overwhelms me!) While we only have three, the thought of being pregnant and trying to keep up homeschooling is exhausting in thought, much less practice (though, by God’s will, it is in our future!) I deeply appreciate your “reality” and it makes me that much more comfortable with my own.
    Enjoy that darling boy- he’s a keeper! 🙂

  13. Grace

    Thanks a million times for this. So many days I just want to cry because our homeschool doesn’t look like it “should.” I worry that because I’m not organized enough, or because I forget things, or because I have a struggling reader, that I’m doing a terrible job. Everyone else seems to have it so together. I appreciate your honesty more than you know.

  14. Amanda

    This is hilariously, blessedly accurate for us too. And we only have six kids! 😉 Thanks for the ‘reality’ check…makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one whose reality isn’t quite a calm, rosy, Duggar-like ordered routine. 🙂

  15. rebekah

    I truly almost cried with relief after reading your post. I am just starting my first school year as a homeschooling Mama. I have 3 children (oldest is 6) and a baby due soon. You have been such an inspiration to me and it is overwhelmingly relieving to know that it does not have to be done perfectly to be done well. Thank you so much!

  16. Paula Redfearn

    Great post, Renee. It’s funny how the “failures” seem to be more encouraging than the successes. I guess it’s that old misery loves company thing. I enjoy all your posts, but this one really blessed me.

  17. Renee

    Mordecais overall behavior has gotten much easier to deal with on a daily basis…he now unloads the dishwasher without complaint! I feel like I deserve a medal for that. I am hoping/praying/trusting the same will happen with school. And while I hope/pray/trust, I also feel guilty for not working with him enough…

  18. Non-Mommy

    I’m a public school teacher, but am thinking more and more that I will homeschool someday. However, I have to find a date first. 😉
    Anyway, this even rang true with me. So many days are like this in the classroom. SO many. So all you homeschoolers, don’t beat yourself up – teachers are people, students are people, regardless of the setting.

  19. Jc04life

    I have a suggestion. I’m not a parent but I have worked as a student teacher, daycare teacher, and a nanny and have found that children sometimes respond better to an outside figure who can be their friend as well. Have you considering asking a youth from your church to come spend time with Mordecai and help him go through the reading book? Sometimes its easier on the child if they feel they’re getting something special like one on one time with a special friend. And the plus side for the high schooler is that most likely it can be considered community service.

  20. kristen

    My son is adopted from foster care and had prenatal substance involvement. I’m not able to homeschool (phooey and fudge) due to being a single, working mom, but I LOVE homeschooling. What I have told my son’s teachers, when academics become more of battle, is that I believe helping him become a happy, healthy, well-functioning kid is more important to me than high academics. He’s a smart kid… he can catch up with schooling once his inner life is more calm and ordered.
    Congrats on Mordecai and the dishwasher… I can really relate to those victories! (My son has serious frustration/rage issues, too.)

  21. Anna

    The biggest thing that I think helps with spelling and grammar is READING. My mom homeschooled my older brother and I. We were 15 months apart and I wanted to learn so she just started teaching us the same stuff. I liked to read a lot more and always did better at spelling and grammar than he did. That’s the only difference I can come up with because she taught us the same stuff. I guess the more that words are going into their brain, they are seeing the proper spelling of those words over and over and it gets ingrained in them.
    My mom also put a lot of effort into making up a sheet of homophones (this was a lot harder to do 20 years ago, before internet). I find that this is where many people make mistakes. They don’t know the difference between homophones and homonyms such as their, there, and they’re. She taught us tricks to remember these (and others):
    There has the word here in it, so it’s a location.
    Their has the word heir in it, indicating ownership.
    They’re is easy as it’s the only one that’s a contraction.
    I wish I still had the sheet she did, she gave all her homeschooling supplies away to another family.

  22. CC Smith

    Oh my goodness, thanks for being so honest! Your family sounds so much like ours when it comes to school. My 14 yr old didn’t read until she was 9 and still doesn’t enjoy reading.I was sure I had ruined her academically. But, my next child learned to read at 4 and reads 3 or 4 books a week and I didn’t do anything differently with him. All of my kids are poor spellers and we have never finished an entire textbook in any subject. Every year we make an effort to get on track and stay there, maybe this will be the year:) I should add that the kid who hates to read has just written her own complete childrens book ( go figure)and
    can design, cut out and sew her own clothes so it’s not like she’s an untalented dunderhead.

  23. Serial Mommy

    This makes TOTAL sense to me. I always start out the year well meaning. I always end the year wondering why we haven’t accomplished 1/2 of what I had planned to do. I understand about the almost 8 year old not reading too. Jayden can’t read. She turned 8 in May. Come to find out she has a couple of things going on with her that make it VERY difficult for her to do so. So she will be getting a specialized tutor, to the tune of $60 every 2 weeks. It’s a stretch but she needs it so we’ll make it work. It still leaves me wondering HOW we’ll make it work though. My 4 year old will hopefully be attending school this year, in a specialized autism program. I fully admit that he is TOO much for me to handle along with everyone else. He needs so much more supervision and CONSTANT stimulation and redirection and I just don’t have that in me to give.

  24. Rachel

    Thanks for the reality check, Renee… here I was thinking it was just me who was failing at this schooling-at-home thing. Perhaps my mother should read your blog. Although, to be fair, I do school by correspondance so I have to finish work to send in for assessment.
    Keep going with the homeschooling! I’ve only been doing it since the beginning of this year, and I wouldn’t go back to school for anything! It’s so much better at home, especially as I can work at my own pace… last year I was bored to bits in some classes and struggling so hard in others.
    I think you guys are probably doing better than me on the ‘getting work done’ front – some days I stay in bed to do schoolwork!
    From Rachel (14)

  25. Quinault

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! I pretty much suspended homeschooling very rigidly for the last 2 years because of deployments. My kids just couldn’t handle all the stress of Daddy being in a war zone and rigid school work (plus we switched schedules so that we were closer to Afghanistan time to talk when Daddy could).

  26. Jacey

    I would agree with you that the public/private school system is also far from perfect. I think that a lot of children can and do, do better in a home schooling environment… just like many do well in a traditional schooling environment. Obviously, there is the neccessity for public/private schooling…. and as a teacher, I would offer the opinion, that while we are far from perfect (especially some schools) the system can often be more successful in some cases, because there is more guidance – for teachers and students alike – more regulation (by neccessity), more regulations, and a more formatted learning style. Not always a better option, and it is certainly not always more successful.
    I admire your perserverance, your aptitude for teaching so many different levels of children, and your willingness to take on the job. I certainly would struggle with the multiple levels of ability.

  27. Toki

    As much as spelling is important, in the Real world, as long as your working on a computer (which almost everyone is these days) and as long as your spelling the word enough so that the spell checker has some idea, you don’t really need to know how to spell. I know that no one outside my mother in my family can spell, but by constantly using a spell checker I have gone from trying to figure out to spell (for six months) “immediately” and misspelling a whole lot of words to be able to spell almost anything (as long as I’m typing it).
    Good Luck though!

  28. kris

    Mordecai – My oldest (8 1/2) has had a long road with reading. No learning or health issues just a boy who took longer than “normal” to get on grade level. And a boy who leans toward the anxious side and would get very anxious whenever we tried to get him to read. Because I feel reading is the corner stone for so much we ended up hiring a tutor – an expensive but very qualified tutor – to help our son. If you continue to struggle with enough time you can always look into a tutor who works with children with Mordecai’s issues. At least to know you have some options if you need them. Maybe it would do him some good to have some one on one time with someone else to start him on this hard task. My son’s tutor had been a reading specialist with our public schools for 35/40 years. She is unfazed by the antics of children who are not the least bit interested in school work. If you found someone who specializes in children with learning issues you never know where it might go. Our tutor came to our house which is what I wanted. Not a strange environment that would make my son uncomfortable. And, if we had not been able to continue with the tutoring financially I would have at least had a better handle on how to approach this with my son. Oh, and we had the fighting and crying over reading – endless fighting and crying. I won’t say life is perfect but I will say that we have far less whining and crying over reading because he can actually do it now. Good Luck! And let that guilt go…you are doing wonderful things for Mordecai.

  29. Renee

    Thats a great idea…hes not shedding tears over reading, hes going into a rage and screaming and destroying things….I often wonder if he would learn better from someone other than mom. If it continues to be a problem this year, I will probably look into tutoring. We have a tutor that comes out to the house once a week to work with Keziah and Boaz on math and it has done wonders to relieve my stress.

  30. Serena Morrow

    Thank you, Renee! This post made me cry! I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now and I’ve always used it as my homeschooling goal. I want to be just like her! And I realize now that I am, and it feels great to be imperfect and in good company. Thank you.

  31. Angel Boldt

    Hello. I’ve been reading your blog for quite awhile but never commented. I am a homeschool mama to eight children. It seems once you have six or more, people always assume you “have it all together.” Well, I don’t. We sure aren’t the Duggars, either. I love the Lord, I love my husband, I love my kids- and my house is always a mess. Thank you – no – THANK YOU- for this last post. When I look at my MESSY home, I really struggle with feeling like “everyone else has it all together” – and I don’t. Thank you for being real. And your family is so beautiful!

  32. jo

    I wasnt feelin bad or anything about how we are doing, homeschool wise. I have only 2, but the reason that my homeschool sounds JUSt like yours is because sometimes I drop the ball, and other times because they learn so much, and do SO well on testing, I can see its doing fine. We started sequential last yr too, got to day 22 doing GREAT and then I dropped the ball. So I picked it back up at lesson 1 and went thru about 5 a day to catch up, and science… we own no book and so far am okay with that. My son acted very much like mordecai acts for a long time. He struggled till around age 7 or so, but reading at 9 or older is fine depending on the child. I am glad to get this peek into your life, but its okay to share mostly triumphs on a blog. If you want the hard stuff, write a book. its what I am doing.

  33. jo

    Oh my I just read that you feel guilty about not spending more one on one time with Mord! Please dont. In a way I know how you feel, I feel its been me who dropped the ball in some areas where my kids then struggle, I feel guilty then. I tell my husband. and he reminds me, baby, they dont ride a hot bus with no supervision. They dont sit in a class all day and come home to do homework from age 5, to fall into bed asleep, to bicker on wkends (more than avg bickering bc they bicker…) because they are not used to being together. Please dont feel bad. If I were mordecai, I would pick your family no matter what your faults or failings. To be so loved, by so many.

  34. Jennifer

    I would like to add this to my previous comment when I said “using books is the easy way out”. This was stated wrongly. What I meant to say is that I feel using books seems easier to “me” rather than collecting and creating a rounded curriculum for my children. I use books 100%. I see the hours of planning Renee puts into creating her school and I simply do not have that in me. I research and buy the best curriculum that fits us and then use it. It seems to me there is far more brain work involved in putting your school together without books…pulling off the homeschooling would be the same work and challenge. I hope this clears up what I meant…sorry for being brash in my statement, I can see where it sounded judgemental. ~Jenn

  35. kristi

    Thank you so much for sharing this!!! Sometimes we feel like we are the only ones struggling. It’s so good to know “we’re all in this together” like you said. God bless you!

  36. lou

    Totally agree with the “a happy kid” is way better than a well educated unhappy kid. As long as he is progressing I think there’d be no point forcing something on Mordecai that he won’t learn from.
    A spelling idea that might not work for any of your kids, but might for one or two: teach them to fingerspell for fun. I had an boy with Aspergers a few years ago teaching. I taught the class to fingerspell (I had prev been a teacher of the deaf) and for whatever reason, he loved it and would practice spelling his words each week and got them all right most of the time. Wasn’t till the end of first term his mum came up and asked me what I was doing as he’d previously always got 0 or 1 out of 10. I insisted nothing. Took us some time to work out it was the fingerspelling that just clicked with him. Something about hte kinesthetic feedback maybe?? Just an idea.

  37. Martina

    Cookies for breakfast. House is chaos, children built a fire outside themselves and are roasting nuts, 8:45am. I’m in my pjs on the web. Bad, bad mom. Somedays are like that.

  38. Marty

    Thank you for your transparency. I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years and it’s never perfect. Some days are wonderful and some just stink. But we do need to know we’re not in it alone. I also have adopted children and my goal is to capture and keep their heart. If that doesn’t happen nothing else matters. Keep up your great word. You are changing lives!

  39. Anna-May

    Well you happen to be in luck because I’m also exploring the world of science textbooks for the first time! I would suggest the “Exploring Creation” series – you can find an “Exploring Creation” book in just about any science topic and it uses simple language so basically all your kids would understand it (including the little ones). I’ve only used “Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology” (which was fantastic) but there’s also Physical Science, Chemistry, Biology, etc.
    Here’s the link to “Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology” –
    I also just ordered two sets of DVDs: Creation’s Creatures (Seasons 1 & 2) and Biology 101: According to the Days of Creation (both of which you can find on I can’t give you my review yet (because they haven’t come in the mail), but I think they both look great and I’m planning on having the whole family watch them, not just the high school students.

  40. Kate in Australia

    This is a very late comment, but I just felt I had to point out the irony of the commenter on the previous page who said you didn’t need to know how to spell if you used a spell-checker, then used the wrong form of “you’re” twice. (“As long as your working on a computer” and “as long as your spelling the word”) I think this proves that spell-checkers should not be completely relied on and followed blindly for spelling.
    I was public-schooled, but this is one thing that I am really pedantic about, and something that often annoys me on the internet. So I hope all you homeschooling mums out there are teaching your kids the differences between your/you’re and there/their/they’re 🙂

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