A House of Learning

I get a lot of questions about homeschooling.  Believe it or not, the question I am asked the most is NOT about socialization but rather how I manage to teach so many ages and grades at once.  More often than not I give them my rehearsed answer of how I do A, B, and C; and while I’m sure they can sort of understand what I’m saying, they don’t really get it. I’m assuming though, that if you are reading this you are interested in more than the 10 second sound byte. So here it goes…

Educating several children while living in the perpetual pregnant/newborn/toddler phase requires two things.

  1. The Right Environment
  2. Flexibility

That’s it. You don’t need fancy planners, timers, detailed schedules, expensive curriculum, or exciting new gadgets. Sure, those things can be helpful if they work for you, but they are secondary, not necessary.

Doctrine and Covenants 109:8 says:

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.


Today I’m going to focus on creating a “house of learning”.  For more info on flexibility you can read my guest post on An Intentional Life :)

The Right Environment

There is no “right” way to homeschool. There are countless ways to do it well and you have to choose the way that is best for your family. But in all homeschool families one thing is certain: Being a home educated family is a way of life. It’s the CULTURE and family dynamics that make it even possible!

I have five children between the ages of seven months and ten years. We are a military family and have been homeschooling for four years. Every time we have to move to a new state I hop on over to HSLDA and check out the homeschooling laws. “Ok,” I think to myself, “What hoops are they going to make me jump through now?” States that have heavy homeschool regulations labor under the same misunderstanding that so many non-homeschoolers have. Homeschooling doesn’t happen within a prescribed amount of hours a day for X days a year. I set up an environment for learning in our home and “school” happens from the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we fall asleep at night. Setting up a home conducive to learning is not as difficult as it seems, though it does take some conscious thought.

Home Library

Reading is a favorite pastime for our family.  Sitting down to read to my toddler is like a homing beacon for the other children: before I know it, I’m reading countless picture books to everyone.  “Get a book” is a phrase heard very often in my home.  When a child complains that they are bored I reply, “Get a book.”  When they are acting crazy (not necessarily disobedient but loud and spazzy) and I need a break from the noise I call them all in to the same room and say, “Get a book.” When I’m almost ready to start school for the day and need them to calm down while I finish up a few more things… you get the idea.

Anna Quindlen said:

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

We have more books than any single person I know.  Part of this is due to the fact that for years I just bought any book we might need for school because was scared to take my young sons to the library, but mostly it’s because I am a bibliophile.  For the first time in my life I am finding myself in a position where I need to purge some of my book collection.  I’m no longer concerned with the quantity of books that we own, but the quality.  We just don’t have the room to keep books that we are lukewarm about.  I am a HUGE advocate of a literature based education.  There is very little information necessary to living a happy and successful life that can’t be found within the pages of the classics.

Being that literature is one of the best primary educational sources out there, having a library is essential to having a successful educational environment.  The birth of the eReader combined with gutenberg.org means that you and your children can have a high quality, leadership education for very little money.  Amazon.com offers all of the same free books in kindle format as well as countless other books for 99 cents (though not all of these free or inexpensive books are high quality, so use your parental discretion).  An inexpensive eReader combined with your local public library is a priceless educational treasure.


We do own a television… two actually.  While literature is our primary source of information, we do use the television to supplement our education.  Not everyone wants a TV, and that’s ok if you don’t, but I will never tell you that you shouldn’t have one.  Some things, like the works of Shakespeare, just need to be seen!  Having a television makes possible for us to enjoy Hamlet and The Magic Flute in our own home (not to mention without having to pay for several admission tickets and/or a babysitter).  Beyond stage classics I have found period movies and select TV series to be very helpful for putting history in context as well as good, clean, family entertainment.  Watching Pride and Prejudice or Meet Me in St. Louis on a Friday night invites just as much curiosity and learning as it would during “school” hours.  Don’t believe me?  You should have heard the conversation I had with my daughters about English inheritance laws in the 18th and 19th century, or see the dress that my oldest and I are designing based on the fashions of the early 1900’s.


There are so many educational games and oh, so little time.  Personally, I like to have games that require minimal instruction or participation on my part (sometimes mom needs to get things done without a kid hanging off of her leg) so we stick to things like Professor Noggin, Scrabble, Yahtzee, puzzles, card games, etc.  Confession time… I also don’t care if they stick to the rules.  I encourage them to think outside the box and make up their own rules as they go along (we do teach them the rules, but since they only play these games with each other and us, I’m not concerned about sticking to them).  The only two requirements are 1. no fighting (if you start to fight the games get put away) and 2. include everyone who wants to play.  You would be surprised at how much fun five kids can have with a deck of cards or a set of dice!  This kind of play encourages team work and creativity.

Educate Yourself

Get excited about your own education!  You are never too old to learn new things, and you shouldn’t be spending so much time teaching your kids that you don’t have time to learn about things that excite you.  If you are excited about science your children will be, too.  If you spend some time reading math books on your own, your children will too.  If you quote Shakespeare so will they.  As your children’s mentor you have to be excited about learning so you can…

Seize The Moment

This is probably the most important aspect of setting up a house of learning.  Learning doesn’t happen only from 9 am to 3 pm, it happens the entire time you and your children are awake.  Encourage them to ask questions and take the time to answer them.  When you see an inchworm while you are relaxing on a Saturday afternoon, call your kids over and watch it together.  Talk about what you are observing and, if you are so inclined, research them.  Look for teaching opportunities.  If your child finds herself in a difficult situation remind them of character lessons from stories you have read together.  Tell them why putting salt in the water makes pasta cook faster.  Show them what happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar (your kids will never forget it!)  It may only take a few minutes minutes at a time but those minutes add up to thousands of hours over the course of their childhood.  I can’t tell you how many times I have decided not to have formal school for the day because I was too tired or needed to catch up on work, only to have a several hour long lesson be sparked by a picture book.

I know that when my children hit high school we are going to have to be a little more structured but for now my job is to inspire them and to show them how fun learning is.

12 thoughts on “A House of Learning

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  1. I love this! My husband and I love to collect books. We usually buy books for each other for Christmas, birthday’s, etc… I use the same phrase with my kids too- when they’re driving me crazy- get a book! I’m with you about educational programs- we don’t have a tv, but watch things on the computer. We watched magic flute (as recommended by you) and they LOVED it. Seriously- I’ve never seen little boys so enthralled- they stayed up till way past eleven even though they were exhausted and were just mesmerized.


  2. This post is inspiring to me. This is going to be my first year teaching all 4 of my children at home and I am trying to set up a public school like schedule and it is driving me nuts. I am going to follow your example and just create a learning environment. Thank you for this post and I look forward to the next one.


    1. I would suggest reading this article I wrote a few years ago. The school at home model is one that a lot of new homeschoolers try. I haven’t found it very successful. at. all.


      If you are interested in some summer reading I recommend A Thomas Jefferson Education. I read it when I started homeschooling and found that it wasn’t as structured as I thought we needed. Every year I get closer and closer to that model and after four years I wish I had just started that way to begin with :)


  3. I too have more books than I know what to do with. We have shelves in every room and all of them are bursting, double stacked. We love books around here. But you are so right that homeschooling is more about creating the right environment than it is about curriculum. We are just a family that reads and listens to stories and digs into topics that interest us (or that Mom picks for us to explore). It has worked so far!


  4. Very nice essay. We had a friend who home schooled her children. Her philosophy was that she taught her children to read and then they taught themselves. I guess she set goals and the criteria for “mastery.” I enjoyed her comments.


  5. I tried setting up like school in the beginning too. Then I thought, “so much of this is a waste of time!” Instead of charting the weather why not see if you need a jacket or not and go for a walk? :-) We do a lot of games too. Another example: We were at the airport yesterday so we practiced Abc order while looking at flight info. It is so much more fun and natural than a wotksheet! Great post. I enjoyed it.


  6. Love this Post. We are nearly at the end of our first year homeschooling 5 kids aged 9 to 7 months. I love it. I love your homeschool style, very similar to ours and very much based on TJed philisophy. Creating a house of learning and helping the kids fall in love with learning and also learn how to find out information for themselves is so important.
    I also love literature and classics-based learning. We read so much together as a family and the independent readers in the family are found with heads in books as much as they are wanting to play.
    Thanks for the post it reinforced to me why we do what we do in our homeschool.


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