A Barebones Homeschool Day

Can I tell you a little secret? I'm a better homemaker than I am homeschooler.

Homeschooling, for us, is the foundation of a life time of learning. It's not the be-all, end-all of our childrens' education, it's just the beginning.

I like what Natalia quoted in comments in An Open Hearted Letter to Moms of Young Children, and it's so true.

Many people overestimate what they can get done in a day, and underestimate what they can get done in a year.

Raising my hand to the truth of that in my own life - especially when it comes to thinking I can be a super-productive homemaker and homeschooler, day in and day out. 

When push comes to shove, when there is a time crunch in our life and I have to choose between taking care of the homefront or doing a history/spelling/writing lesson with the kids, I choose homemaking.

The biggest reason for this is because we have to eat and we believe good food is the most basic element of health and well being. Someone has to do the cooking (and the shopping and the sourcing) and in our household arrangement, that's mostly me. The reality of that is sometimes I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

So there's kitchen duty, which admittedly I spend less time doing these days since Damien does clean-up and I don't cook breakfast. But there's also everything else. You know the mess and management of life, compounded by unexpected (or even expected) transitions and upheaval. Sometimes something has to give. For me, it's school. Always has been.

There's a reason I usually introduce myself, in writing and in person, as a homemaker and homeschooler. Home life comes first.

Cultivating a home environment of peace over productivity (oh I do love that post of Jamie's), nourishing my family with whole foods and love, taking care of our home so there's an environment conducive to learning and open to ideas - these always come first for me.

And I call myself a homeschool coach (smile).

On those days (or weeks) when I need to focus on home management we fall back to a barebones homeschool routine.

There are times we take complete and seasonal breaks. Barebones homeschool isn't a full blown break but it gives me a bit of extra time in my days to take care of home stuff.

We had a barebones homeschool routine for the past two weeks. This is what that looks like for our family of late elementary and middle years learners.

  • Math – The kids do this on their own. When the kids were early elementary and I did math with them we would drop this during barebones times. 
  • Educational videos – Free YouTube and online documentaries. Here's a few we visited this week. These usually cover history, geography (world study) and science.
  • Crafts – My kids live to make things and basically “school” is just a distraction from this first love of theirs so days with light school means more crafting!
  • Bible – I anchor this to either lunch or supper, when we're all together as a family.
  • Reading & Stories – Audio books of any kind are great for barebones school days. For the past couple weeks we've been listening to Tales From Shakespeare (I'm actually surprised how much the kids love these). Sparkle Stories have become a regular part of our week (barebones or not) and Brienne has rediscovered Starfall recently. The kids do their own reading of course throughout the day, Celine especially.
  • Read Aloud – Nearly every weekday I read to the kids. In this life season we do this the hour before bed, this is also when the younger two practice their reading with me.

In short, a barebones day has a bit of math, a lot of self directed learning, some media and always, reading.

Do you have a barebones homeschool routine? What does it look like?

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

« Winter Fire & Ice
My Value as a Creative »
  • Natalia

    Natalia on Jan. 29, 2012, 11:18 p.m.

    What an inspiring post! In that it makes me feel a bit better about our own 'bare bones days', and makes me realise that these are not lost days, these are just a different way of approaching things.

    And I feel honoured you quoted me (quoting someone else).


  • Angela

    Angela on Jan. 30, 2012, 1:04 a.m.

    I can almost guarantee your kids are learning more in a barebones school day in your home than they would during a typical day (maybe week) of most public schools. Our three kids are in public school this year after three years of homeschooling. I forgot how little they actually learn in a day.


    • Pamela

      Pamela on Jan. 30, 2012, 5:59 p.m.

      I bristle when I hear comparisons between public school and homeschool. Public schools vary greatly around the country. While I would like to homeschool, I have to admit that my children are receiving a great academic education in the local public school.

      I know that neither you nor Renee stated this (or implied it), but sometimes I get a vibe from homeschooling parents that they think we have "outsourced" our children's education by sending them to school. It could not be further from the truth. I only consider it one component of their learning, and not even their complete source of "academic" learning. We are very engaged as a family in whole-life learning. (Sorry, I just had to get that out there.)


      • Angela

        Angela on Jan. 30, 2012, 7:29 p.m.

        I know that schools vary widely, and it's wonderful that your children are receiving a great academic education in their public school. For me it is a simple comparison, and I apologize for the generalization.

        When we homeschooled, learning was just natural. We explored, read, wrote, researched, created, discussed, worked, lived, cooked, cleaned, observed and experienced throughout each day. Questions were asked. Answers were found. Our days were open to learning. And we learned. Lots.

        In our experience, much time is wasted at school, and the rigidity can stifle creativity and learning. It is that simple. My children are not learning as much (academically) having returned to school. Homeschooling became lonely for us, so that is why we made the change. We will try to give them at home what they are missing at school. As you said, school can be just one component of their education.

        Again, I should have avoided such a broad statement, but having experienced both does give me an opportunity to compare, and I think that is fair, whether or not it makes others bristle.


        • Pamela

          Pamela on Jan. 31, 2012, 5:30 p.m.

          I appreciate your reply, Angela. I certainly agree that, having done both homeschool and public, you are the best person to make the comparison. I hope to get to make that comparison for myself someday (albeit highly unlikely), because homeschooling offers it's own unique opportunities.


          PS Making others bristle often opens up wonderful discussions. Thank you for taking the time to discuss with me! :-)


          • Angela

            Angela on Feb. 1, 2012, 1:41 a.m.

            Thank you Pamela for reminding me to choose words carefully. I would not trade our three homeschooling years for anything, but we are doing well now too. There are great things about being back in school. For one, my thirteen year old daughter has made some wonderful friends. And I think that is so important for her right now. I hope you get to try homeschooling too, if that is something that you and your family desire.

            Thank you Renee for your wonderful blog!



            • Caroline Starr Rose

              Caroline Starr Rose on March 4, 2012, 4:06 p.m.

              There is no one way to educate, just as there is no one way to raise children. We happily send our children to public school. As a former teacher who is passionate about education, I remind myself often there are many valid, acceptable ways to teach our children. Hats off to all!


  • Louise

    Louise on Jan. 30, 2012, 1:04 a.m.

    we are ALWAYs doing barebones school LOL...math, reading, and writing (they dictate their stories to me and then copy what I wrote). This, depending on how well baby B and Ean (4 years) are entertained by each other, takes almost all day....the time when I am taking care of littles, the bigs are doing legos, drawing, or crafting.....


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 30, 2012, 1:13 a.m.

      I would say most of our elementary years have been (happily) barebones. But with Celine in "grade 7" and with other family changes this past year we've added a few more elements to the routine - it was time. As the kids get older you'd be amazed how much you can accomplish, especially since they can help so much with the housework (smile).


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Jan. 30, 2012, 2:20 a.m.

    I feel like barebones is all I do! But my girls are still very young (5 and 7) and this is the way I think it should be. Most of our "schooling" is done through reading together and other life experiences.


  • Rana

    Rana on Jan. 30, 2012, 3:12 p.m.

    I have to agree, most of our days are barebones days. Especially right now through the winter months. I like the slower days of reading stories and playing board games together. We have also been doing a lot of baking and making soups. And finally we have snow to play in outside. Renee did you do a snow dance for me? Thank you!


  • Kika@embracingimperfection

    Kika@embracingimperfection on Jan. 30, 2012, 3:20 p.m.

    In our house, with my girls having a 5.5 year age difference between them, things are a little different. Most of my youngest's days are more of the "barebones variety" with plenty of playing, crafting, audio stories, me reading aloud, pulling out magnets/puzzles/projects here and there. Fairly low key. I had intended for there to be a bit more structure and 'fixed learning time' but she has some different needs in life and I am needing to let go of these expectations. My older daughter, however, can really just keep going without me. We flex at times for her regular schedule if she wants more sewing time or just needs a break but even when I am a little overwhelmed with life she continues with her school plans no problem.


  • Roxy Schow

    Roxy Schow on Jan. 30, 2012, 3:23 p.m.

    Thanks for giving us all encouragement and putting things into proper perspective . . . I too, feel as though homemaking takes precedence in my world. I meant to comment also on your 'letter' last week and never quite got that far. It felt as though you were reading my heart and I laughed, cried and embraced my life with toddlers even more after reading that post. Enjoy your week!


  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Jan. 30, 2012, 5:24 p.m.

    This morning, this totally resonates with me.

    How in the world can we even focus on homeschool this morning with the mound of laundry and the food preparations that need to be tended? I felt a smidgeon of guilt telling my 9 year old, "I'm going to focus on the house this morning. We'll get started later on today."

    But if we don't get these home things in order, we just can't think straight and our attitudes really stink.


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 30, 2012, 5:26 p.m.

      Monday mornings can be especially difficult. Some weeks around here Monday am is a weekend recovery day, like you say laundry and people have to eat. When the kids were little it was almost always was a weekend recovery day for me. 


  • Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds

    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds on Jan. 30, 2012, 5:49 p.m.

    With having 4 littles in the house all of our days are pretty bare bones. It always includes reading of some sort, some days it's hours some days it's more like I start a picture book that they have no interest in and are gone within minutes. Other than reading, everyday is different. We really just play most days. I started this "school year" with curriculum for math, phonics, science, spanish, and geography. I laugh about it now because we don't use any of it and yet somehow my children still manage to learn and grow without worksheets or a scope and sequence to follow.(sarcasm)


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Feb. 1, 2012, 4:12 a.m.

    Another great post, Renee (and thank you for mentioning the Peace over productivity post too, LOVE it!). We are in barebone mode (or rather unschooling)here since the fall and I am such a different mom when I am not trying to cross a bunch of stuff off my to-do list. You know what? I don't even have a to-do list here in Costa Rica (and I am just like you, with organizers and all sorts of different list). Life is so different here, there is time and I find myself. And I find peace. Finally.


  • Charity Hawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment

    Charity Hawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment on March 6, 2012, 3:37 a.m.

    Thank you, thank you for that honesty! I love real glimpses into non-perfect homeschooler's lives. We also have bare bones days - usually reading at least, sometimes a math worksheet or spelling. Today on the drive to and from Target we did math facts in the car. I am so inspired by your pictures though. Can I come live in your home and do crafts there? And I'd really really love some of that soup!!! thanks for sharing.


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.