How I Homeschool - An Interview With Myself

Micaela at California to Korea has asked some of us to share about the way we homeschool.  It can be such a huge help to those thinking about it (and to those already doing it!) to hear the details and stories of others.  I added a few questions I thought might be of interest to the ones she posted but if there's anything else you're curious about, I love sharing and would be happy to answer any of your questions or elaborate further on anything I've written.
So away we go!

How long have you been homeschooling?
We started from the get-go.  I knew I wanted to do it after seeing so many amazing children from home schooled families while interning in college and then after we got married.  So it's been five years (formally), but since I really do believe every child is learning from the moment they are born, I suppose I could say ten.  It would make me sound more legit, right?

How were you schooled?
I went to a Catholic grammar school for K-6, switched to the public middle school, and continued public for high school.  I went to a local private Catholic Jesuit college for two years and then transferred to Franciscan University for my last two.  My degree is in Theology with the concentration in Religious Education.
There were a lot of wonderful things about the way I was educated and I loved school.  I was very involved and graduated as salutatorian of my high school and summa cum laude from college.  And yet I still feel like there was so much lacking in my education not to mention all the things that I wish I hadn't learned.  The fact that I feel completely unprepared by my education to teach my kids many of the things I would love them to learn actually adds to the reasons why I know I should be doing this.

How many kids are in your family? How many are homeschooled? Are any schooled in a more traditional way?  
We have four boys here.  Right now I only put the older two (John Paul - almost 10 and Michael - 7) into the formal routine.  But my new five year old gets in on the action sometimes, too.  Right now none of them go elsewhere for school and we're happy with that and plan to continue it for the foreseeable future.  I do have both a piano and now an art teacher that come to our home and am always on the lookout for other opportunities like that.

What laws, if any, are there in your state regarding homeschooling? How does your family meet compliance?
Ugh.  New York.  We're one of the most highly regulated states.  We have to report to our district which means we give annual intent, submit our annual plan for each child, submit quarterly progress reports, and submit an annual assessment.  It's not that bad once you get used to it but there's a steep learning curve the first year and every single time I have to submit my IHIP (Individualize Home Instruction Plan) or my assessments, my libertarian tendencies flare.  But I'll spare you the rant.  I would recommend highly that if you are homeschooling in New York or any other highly regulated state that you join HSLDA, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.  The help and confidence and legal support they supply are invaluable.  I sign all of our paperwork with our name and underneath I type Members HSLDA.  Scary.

Switching gears here: if you could summarize your homeschool philosophy in one sentence or mission statement, what would that be?
Huh.  I want my children to be equipped to be everything that God has created them to be and to be drawn to Him through truth, beauty, and goodness.  Also, I'd love if one of them could play guitar.

What is your homeschooling style?
I'm going to make up a new style and call it Intuitive Homeschooling.  Much of my teaching is done by knowing my kids intimately and tapping into that mother's intuition.  As long as you're reasonably intelligent, know how your children learn and react, and know what you want your children to learn, you can figure out how to teach them (provided there are no extenuating factors, of course).  Sometimes I've read homeschooling methodology articles and books and think, cool.  I'm already doing that.  Other times, I feel like they all sort of blend together and I'm not sure I'm doing any of them.  And other times, I have to be practical and just do what makes the most sense with the least amount of stress or energy exerted.  Under that umbrella of intuitive teaching, I would say I'm mostly a classically minded unschooler.  Which can totally be a thing.  I think.
And all of it is done under a heaping load of trust that God knew what He was doing when He let me have these kids and prayer that He won't let me screw it up too badly.

Do you follow any set curriculum?
I would love to, but I don't.  I researched all the prepackaged curricula I could find from Catholic homeschooling schools and companies and each one had just enough I wanted to change that it didn't make sense for me to go with them.  But man, some days that would be nice.  The internet is an amazing resource but it can make your mind spin when you start researching curricula. 

What do your best homeschooling moments look like?  What do your not-so-good moments look like?  How do you stay on track?
Our best homeschooling moments (for me) are when I hear the kids referencing something we learned about and seeing them apply that knowledge.  And when we read together.  Or when I see them playing together for three, four, five hours out of the day because their lessons are done and they can do that.  And all the little moments that I would miss if they were gone from home for seven or eight hours a day.  Or when God gives me little glimpses of how they would act and what they would know if they weren't home schooled.  (Sometimes, oftentimes, what's just as important as what they are learning is what they aren't, you know?)  When we get to take amazing trips and take advantage of beautiful days or avoid the busy times at different places because our schedule is our own.  Also, when I see the neighbor kids waiting out in the snow in a negative ten windchill for the bus to come and my memories of bare legged school uniforms and Buffalo winters come flooding back to me.  That's when I love that we homeschool.
The not-so-good?  Usually when I'm trying to get too much done at one time and my attention is distracted.  Then I get irritated and impatient with the kids.  I hate when I get frustrated with or yell at them.  One of the hardest parts of homeschooling is keeping myself disciplined when I'm the one in charge.  I'm learning that a successful day has more to do with me and my focus than with anything else.
I stay on track with a good dose of guilt, a type A personality, and a pretty regular rhythm to our day.

How do you keep any non-school-aged kids busy?
Equal parts distracting, engaging, patience-losing, removing, hiding, and feeding.  By FAR the hardest part of homeschooling for me is not the actual doing of the lessons with the particular child.  It's the trying to do the lessons with the particular child while you have a toddler clamoring for your attention and after you got only four hours of broken sleep the night (and the 582 nights) before.  Lessons are a piece of cake compared to toddlers.

How do you organize your day?  Your year?
I have an ideal schedule that is posted on the fridge (that is in desperate need of updating).  The boys are able to see what the routine is for each day and it lessens the complaining and bargaining if it's not me telling them but the list.  I love getting tasks done in the morning.  I try to especially get the less desirable things out of the way first.  My problem is that I like to do everything in the morning, including cleaning, email, lessons, blogging, and dinner prep because my brain is fresher and so that the rest of the day is more relaxed.  This doesn't really work anymore as the number of kids and the amount of time learning has increased and it contributes to that multitasking trap that I mentioned above. 
 Almost all of our formal lessons happen in the morning after chores, breakfast, and Mass.  In the afternoon they're free to work on their own projects, play, read, and on good days that's when we have read aloud time.  I'd love to hear from people with older children on what works for them and especially how they avoid that late afternoon slump when I can barely hold my eyelids open.
Our year in the past has lined up with the traditional school year.  Last year, though, I continued the boys doing some lessons over the summer and that was fruitful so I'm doing that again this year.  I love that with homeschooling I can take a full month off for the end of Advent and Christmas as well as Holy Week through several weeks of Easter and focus on really entering into those seasons and enjoying them as a family without the weight of lessons and school hanging over us.

What is your strongest subject area?  Your weakest?
I love teaching math.  Love it.  I love how much sense it makes and how logical it is.  I love that there are objective answers.  I also love reading aloud with the boys but far too often that gets pushed aside.  I need to fix that this year.
Weakest?  History, without question.  The boys currently know way way more about history than I do. (Thank you, Susan Bauer and Jim Weiss!)  I don't know what it is, I can hear the stories and concepts five million times and they just. don't. stick.

How do you feel about paper mache?
It ranks right up there with glitter, lap books, and salt dough.  I avoid it at all costs.

Looking back, what are you glad you did?
Things I would repeat:  homeschooling from the beginning, keeping the boys television and screen free (minus DVDs specifically for homeschooling), keeping the house well stocked with well-chosen books, and joining a parish when we first became parents that was filled with other homeschooling families.

And what do you wish you could change?
I wish I had read more before we began about the various methodologies and gotten Brian to read more back when we had time.  And I wish I had been more intentional about getting to Mass when I could.  I wish I could take back the times I pushed too hard.  Another thing I regret (specific to NY) is having the boys do the standardized tests as our annual assessment when I could have just done a written narrative.  I made the narrative out to be way harder than it actually is and just did the tests which was a waste of time and money.  Oh, and I wish we had a basement so that I had a place to send the boys during those long winter days when I'm completely noised-out.  

If you could give any homeschool advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?
Connect.  Find local moms who are (or plan to be) homeschooling.  Get that in-person community and those real life friendships.  They are priceless.
Pray.  Give it all to Him and entrust your homeschool to the protection of a patron saint.  Don't let your prayer life go.
Trust your gut.
Don't hate me but limit screen time as much as possible.  You won't regret it.
Attend Mass with your kids as much as possible.
Chill out on the preschool stuff.  Really.
Remind yourself over and over that you are not doing trying to do school at home.  You are simply teaching your children, the same children you've been teaching since they've been born.  And that's going to look different for every family.
Read and research but eventually come to terms with the fact that they won't know everything.  And that's not the point of it all anyway.

I love answering questions so feel free to shoot one off in the comments or through email!
Thanks, Micaela!  
You can click on the image above to read more from other homeschoolers sharing their answers!


  1. Thank you for this post. It is so helpful to read what works for different families! We are planning to START homeschooling this fall. My oldest will got to a local Catholic high school and the remaining 5 will be at home with me. I have so many little regrets as I wish I had listened to my gut much earlier in my parenting life. I, too, wish I had a basement in our 86 year old house! You have a beautiful family and I look forward to reading your blog!

  2. I really REALLY appreciate all these posts, and especially Micaela for getting this started - it's so helpful for those of us at the beginning of the process to hear from experienced moms about what works and what doesn't! My husband and I are going to a homeschooling conference next week and I'm really looking forward to it, although I KNOW that he just wants to go with a Seton curriculum straight out of the box because that's what all his homeschooled friends used and he thinks it's the most hardcore :P Somehow I doubt I'll be satisfied with an entire curriculum as-is!

  3. Ugh, Mary I hate, hate, hate teaching math! How about we strike a deal and you teach my kids math and i will clean your house, or watch your kids for you, or buy you clothes or anything other than me having to teach math!

  4. Thank you for writing this post! We are moving to Rochester NY this year to live with family, and I am going to start homeschooling my oldest (almost 5) this fall. I love all of your tips, and agree about preschool. I stressed out way too much about it last year. I definitely need to work on limiting screen time. Hopefully a big backyard will help with that! I've been following your blog for a while, and just wanted to say that you have the sweetest boys! You're definitely doing a great job!

    1. Good luck with the move! You'll be right in our neck of the woods! Please email if you ever need help with all the NYS regulations or want to see what we do. It definitely helps to have someone walk you through it!

  5. Yay! Mary, I enjoyed this so much. Some parts made me nod, others made me laugh. I'm right with you on almost everything. Except math. I don't hate it, but I can see a time when that might be a possibility.

    I think what you said about being disciplined is so true! My very worst days are when I am distracted... a big problem for me. When I've got things under control and I'm not trying to do too much, the kids seem to do pretty well, too.

    Thanks so much for linking up!

  6. I loved this post. It's fun to get a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of what you do...

  7. Hi Mary. Thanks for sharing all this helpful information. I am thinking of choosing books for each course. However, when you do this, how does it work for testing? Because when you follow a program, like Seton, hey provide testif materials. I would be grateful for your input. Katie

    1. I rarely give formal tests to my kids. I think it's part of that whole intuitive thing. You know when your child gets something or doesn't and if they don't get it, we need to keep working on it. For math, I simply correct their work for the day and you can tell if they're misunderstanding or getting it and if they have mistakes where they are making them and fix it on the spot. Or spelling words I quiz out loud. I think as they get older I'll want to use them more and I can see the need for them if you have more than a few children and most of the work is independent. A lot of the curricula have built in or separate tests you can give the kids but I just haven't seen the need for us yet. For the state testing, I've bought the CAT tests from Seton and administered them myself. They grade them and send them back. I have a whooooolllle lot of thoughts on those... Does that answer??

    2. Yes, thanks Mary! I sent you an email.

  8. Thanks for this great post! I love your "Intuitive Homeschooling" method. That's the sign of an experienced mom.

  9. Loved the "intuitive homeschooling" name too - I've always called myself eclectic, but I think "intuitive" is more what I'm actually doing. We've been homeschooling 11 years and I still love reading posts like this. :)

  10. Huh. How'd I miss this? Totally with you on the toddlers. And pretty much everything else, but you already knew that. ;)

  11. This is great, I need to put a post together. Yes to what you said about getting stressed and trying to cram too much into the day. I now have 4 kids in our homeschool and it is harder for me to get everyone's stuff done by the end of the day. This week the two older boys were gone to camp and I was just doing some summer homeschooling with the two youngest. Way easier, and I found my love of teaching my children again. Last year burned me out a bit, and we start high school this year with our oldest, which is giving me panic attacks. Thanks for your summary, very encouraging!


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