Back to Basics: Keeping School Simple

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

A note from Jamie: As we start to head into the holiday season, it’s good to remember how to scale back in our homeschool–how to remember the most important things and let go of the rest. This post originally published on November 15, 2010.

Schooling at home relieves us of many complications that traditional schoolers face: There’s no rushing kids to the bus stop, no packing lunches the night before, and no after school pickups required.

But sometimes the complications in homeschooling arise from within–from the knowledge of the overwhelming responsibility we have taken for our children’s education. If results don’t turn out as planned or hoped, there’s no school system or mean teacher to blame.

Often, in my own life, it can be my fears and insecurities that complicate matters.

That’s why we need reminders of how to keep school at home simple. What is actually needed and required? What is beneficial and a blessing in our family?

Constant tension in a home is not what most of us had in mind when we signed up for this gig. Therefore we need to accomplish what is truly important and let go of unrealistic, unnecessary expectations.

Here are three ideas that help me to do just that.

1. Books and Math

This post, The Bare Minimum, comforted me to no end when I read it two years ago. Jena, a former contributor here who recently finished her homeschooling career with flying colors, wrote it.

In her post Jena suggests that the bare minimum a family should do is to surround your children with literature and to do math at least once a week. The rest of the hours in the day can be spent exploring a child’s own educational interests.

Jena knows what she’s talking about–having graduated two students to the colleges of their choice and having one daughter who is thriving in public high school after spending her previous years at home.

2. The 7th Grade Reminder

Last April I heard speaker and writer Joyce Herzog give several inspiring messages at a homeschooling convention I attended. She has decades of experience in the traditional school system and now consults for homeschooling families.

Joyce said that 90% of what a child learns before they enter 7th Grade (Age 12/13) will be forgotten. This tells me that before that age, our main focus as parents should be creating an educational atmosphere in our homes, rather than focusing on specific skills or information. Of the utmost importance is to help our children retain their love of learning, so that after 7th Grade they’ll be self-motivated to continue learning.

3. Leadership Education Goals

A year ago I printed out the three goals for a leadership education parent and included it on my daily routine. This list inspires me immensely, especially when overwhelming days arise.

The three jobs of a leadership education parent are:

1. Develop, nurture, and heal family relationships.
2. Create an inspiring environment.
3. Respond effectively to your children’s inspiration.

Sound easy? It is! I know I can accomplish those goals, and if I can–so can you.

When those homeschooling fears rear their ugly heads to threaten you, tell them to head back where they belong. Remember that the investment you’re making into the lives of your family will reap an awesome return in the near future.

What steps do you take to keep school simple?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. 90% lost! Gosh, that’s a lot! I’m glad that homeschool education is not just about teaching information; it is character training and discipleship, mentoring and motivating. These things take a whole lifetime. Let young children’s homeschool days be filled with discovery, delight and hands-on activities.

    When I enrolled my high school daughter in a correspondence grade 9 course recognized by the government, the emphasis turned to textbook and information learning. She has had very few joyful educational moments. I recommend fostering the love to learn for as long as possible by chosing the most appropriate curriculum and teaching/learning styles.
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  2. The simplicity of our homeschool lies in our schedule. Even though it is a strenuous one, the rhythm and discipline it provides for our day keeps things simple–the kids know what to expect.

    The other key for me is my lesson plan. I am schooling 4 levels of math, which could be crazy. But I made a form on Excel that has our entire daily schedule in boxes. One sheet for each day. As we are going through our schedule today, I will write in our assignments for tomorrow on the next page. This allows us the flexibility to spend more time on an assignment if we need it. It has made all the difference for me in lesson planning!
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  3. Your message is a good one for someone like me who tends to want to do too much – I’ve been working on keeping it simple, especially since we moved overseas and couldn’t bring everything with us. Thanks for the encouragement! However, I am wondering if Joyce Herzog provided a reference for that estimate about forgetting 90% of what kids learn by 7th grade? I have a hard time believing that when I think of how much we learn before we are 12/13 – how to read, spelling, the basic use of English, adding, subtracting, shapes, colors, how to print and write in cursive and so much more. If her point was that schools are trying to teach too many facts or cover too many topics, I can see where that could be true. But, I am curious about what research this stat is based on.

    • Hi Andrea. No, I don’t have a reference for the 90% comment. It was part of a session Joyce teaches called Secrets Teachers Never Tell. She may have some info about it on her site if you want to take a look at the link.


    • I was thinking the same thing! How would that even be measured? It’s got to be referring to the seemingly useless facts and figures we’re taught.

      However, if it’s true, why is cumpulsory schooling required by age 6 in most states? If they’re going to forget most of it anyway, let ’em play all day!
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      • Hmm…I’m guessing that the 10% that remains would consist more of the skills learned in the early years…like reading…writing…’rithmetic. Oh yes! I think I’ve heard of those before! Anybody think we should focus our efforts there? 🙂

  4. Yes, yes and yes! Ah… this was so wonderful to read this morning. This is what I love about homeschooling. It doesn’t need to be a long list of things we must do. This was very refreshing to read Jamie.

    I love that last list. I CAN do that!

    You said “Of the utmost importance is to help our children retain their love of learning, so that after 7th Grade they’ll be self-motivated to continue learning.” Amen and amen.

    Anyway, you can tell I love this post. I could blather on and on but I’ll be done now.

  5. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve shared this post on my FB page. I’m am jiving completely with your message! Keepin it simple 🙂 Rock on!

  6. Yes! DITTO! I whole heartedly agree! Great post today… as a homeschooling mom of two teens now, one almost 13 and another nearly 15 I have seen this ” philosophy” come to fruition in my house. Both children now use Oak Meadow for 9th and 7th grade and we have always used Saxon Math… but mostly everything else we have just learned by living, reading, going places, talking, and if you’ve been to my blog CREATING as we go! They are embracing more ” formal studies” now I think because they have had such freedom and encouragement in learning, and they are skilled at finding information for themselves at this point.
    I had fears and doubts that tried to butt their way into our harmonious, simple home school life during the children’s formative years, but I knew intuitively we were following the right path for us. It has taken me all these years to learn to just boot them out the door when they come knocking!
    Thanks for this today Jamie!
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  7. Thanks for these reminders. Needed that today.
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  8. Jennifer Ott says:

    Just what I needed…when I realized we ran out of time to do all our “school” today kids are 2, 4, and 6 with a baby due any day and a home renovation going on!).

  9. Has anyone here seen the new movie Race to Nowhere. This documentary outlines the pitfalls of American schools focusing mainly on the stress we are putting on children, and the lack of depth in our “test-centered” learning. I thought you all would really like to see it and bring the neighborhood with you. I went with a group and it really affected the parents and the teachers. Next week we will be talking with our youth group to see how it affected them and how they are dealing with these pressures.
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  10. I completely agree. Also, it’s important to remember that the older children are when they learn things, the easier they learn it (and the more they retain it). It’s the same as the difference between trying to potty train a 1 year old and a 3 year old. If you’re feeling behind, do keep in mind that it means your child will have to take much less cumulative time to learn whatever it is. 🙂

    I remember reading about a group of unschooled teens who had never had math lessons of any sort. They wanted to get into college and arranged for a math professor to teach them basically everything. He required their attendance and work every day and if I remember right, it took ONE MONTH for them to “catch up” and be proficient in all of the math needed for their high school level and for college entrance exams.

    As long as you maintain their love of learning and provide an enriching environment, in my experience they can’t help but thrive. 🙂
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  11. How encouraging! I love the three leadership points- gotta remember those…

  12. This is very much in keeping with my thinking recently, in fact I too have been using the word ‘atmosphere’ when considering the philosophy of our home schooling. I am ‘only’ teaching my kindergartener and managing my toddler/bringing him in when we can but I was feeling enormous pressure to emulate a kindergarten environment, something I did not feel passionate about.

    Instead each day has a theme to it, Monday and Wednesday we do some reading from Story of the world and do the narration activities then use that as a jumping off point for a bit of writing practice and picture drawing (maybe 1-2 words). We often end up talking about what we learned throughout the day and I notice my son brings things into his play and conversations with others. Tuesday we do a bit of phonics and math stories then Thursday is music and movement or art. Friday we rest! Every night we read from a beautiful book.

    I want to expose my kids to a world of fascinating ideas and creativity – then stand back and marvel at what they come up with!
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  13. I love this post! I am constantly finding myself complicating things in my attempt to make things simple! I’ll come up with an idea that’s supposed to make things easier, but I’ll take that to the extreme and it defeats the purpose! 😉
    Sofia’s Ideas’s latest post: this moment

  14. Just what I needed to read today. Thanks, Jamie!

  15. I really appreciate this post. It encouraged a sigh of relief. I think that the 90% forgotten part is interesting though. This must mean academic learning, and not apply to all children. I think the character building and habits formed in early childhood go with them. I know that my seven year old has retained a lot of what she has learned since she was littler. She can tell me facts that she read 2 years ago, and remembers things that I forget. I find it hard to believe that she would forget that much. Plus, education builds on itself. Maybe children don’t remember learning stuff, but if they completely forget the math they learned when younger, Algebra will be a big challenge.
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    • I also think that it must depend on whether the child had a genuine interest in his/her learning. My son certainly remembers tons from his earlier years – but it does seem to be facts that he actually cared about. Also, all the learning in math, writing, technology, etc., he did in earlier years permitted him to move onward and upward into his current interests – those skills were most certainly important to him.

  16. Wonderful post, Jamie. Reminds me to stop feeling anxious about not doing enough. It’s a message that bears repeating …. and repeating …
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  17. Great post. Great timing…just when we are in danger of overwhelming ourselves. Simplicity leaves so much more room for creativity and passion. Thanks!
    Deon’s latest post: Playing with matches

  18. Love it- I’m trying to return to the simplicity of learning, trying to focus more on creating a LOVE of learning, rather then trying to stuff facts into their head.

    I just re-read a quote by Plato- “Suffer not to teach the child, for knowledge acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Rather find the natural bent that the child may learn.”
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  19. Great post! I needed this reminder too. It made me go back to something an unschooling mama said once ” Don’t try to “make kids think” they will think, you don’t have to make them. Don’t use every opportunity to force them to learn something. They will learn something at every opportunity, you don’t have to force it.
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  20. Jamie, fantastic post and well worth remembering.

  21. I haven’t been keeping it so simple! Thanks for the reminder and the tips.

  22. I love the books and math thing. Absolutely!
    But 90% of pre-7th is lost? That is an astounding fact.
    At any rate, I agree whole heartedly. The three R’s and learning HOW to learn are the foundations. The other is all icing.
    Jimmie’s latest post: Teaching Geography Without Buying a Curriculum

  23. Like the article, but like others, I’m struggling with the 90%. In the past 6 months since my daughter turned five, among many other things she has learned to read, to swim, to say her address and phone number, to zip up her own coat, and to tie her own shoes. Not since she was an infant have we seen skills aquired so quickly. None of those skills will be lost. They are a basis for everything else that she will ever learn. I wonder what is measured in that 90%.
    My keep it simple philosophy for preschool (and I group Kindy with preschool) is that reading, swimming (we live near water), and self-help skills should be our focus. All three areas will be used and built upon their entire life and all three areas could save their lives.

  24. Yeah! I have a tendency to feel like a “slacker mom” with my relaxed school days and minimal requirements (math, reading, sometimes writing). It just feels right, however, and it’s nice to have someone else back me up.

    One of the ways we keep it simple is by staying home. No extracurricular activities, clubs or sports. The one morning a week at CC is enough to wear me out, and it’s simpler for me to stay put (I also believe it helps to teach the kids to entertain themselves rather than looking for something new and different around town).

  25. I’m reading this while I have a pretty nasty cold, so yeah, we’re in bare minimum mode around here! But this is sooooo comforting: tons of great literature and once-a-week-math? How encouraging, because we are slam-dunking that one!

    Thanks for the encouragement, I needed it this morning 🙂
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  26. Oh you don’t even know how much I needed this post today, it must be from God! This is my second year of homeschooling and we are missionaries living in Mexico. There are no other homeschoolers around me and I have just felt so worried about their education. I love our curriculum but quite honestly it seems the math is just going too fast for them (1st grade and kindergarten) . They seem to be struggling with subtraction and one of my daughters gets so frustrated she just throws her pencil..sometimes at me:) I can hardly blame her….I should have slowed down awhile back and not waited so long. New homeschoolers need to read things like this….it is an assurance that the things my girls are learning by living in different foreign countries is “learning” also. From the bottom of my heart…thank you for writing this post. It took me several times to read it without tears blocking my vision:) God bless you!

  27. Our little guy is still a little young for a set curriculum, but we are adding specific learning objectives into our daily routines. And, keeping it simple is critical!
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  28. Thank you for this post! I have 3 little ones and am struggling on getting started. This really puts things into perspective.
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  29. This is great–just what I needed to hear, too. Thanks for this. 🙂
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  30. This was absolutely wonderful! I woke this morning with homeschooling pressure on the brain; simply because it’s monday and that’s the start of a whole new week where I will let myself down and not “do” enough to educated my kids. Deep in my heart, I just want to do the 3 Rs and let the rest fall where it may! I hate the guilt I feel for not teaching latin, or art, or have weekly spelling bees…I hate feeling overwhelmed and sad when it seems every other h.s. mom “does” so much more…do i really have to teach them social studies? or violin? or spanish?
    And the 7th grade fact is amazing. Also explains why i don’t know the facts I supposedly learned in the early grades…!

  31. I’ d never heard that 7th grade one. I guess that’s why they repeat history again on a deeper level through high school. Although a good foundation may help them enjoy it more.
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  32. Thank you so very much for this post! I am easily discouraged home schooling our three young kiddos. We moved to a small remote town in Montana last year due to my husband’s job. We are the only ones homeschooling and it is so HARD. But we firmly believe it’s the right choice for our family. Your post today has truly lifted my spirits. Merci!

  33. I remember hearing a long time ago at a conference that as long as you read something, count something, cook something, and make something (art,crafts, blocks) each day, your kids will be fine. I kept that in mind through the crazy times!
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  34. Jamie, thank you SO much for sharing your heart in this post! I’m a former Kindergarten teacher turned homeschooling mama and am in my first year of homeschooling. I seriously have days (I also have a 2 year old and a 3 month old in addition to the 5 year old that I’m HSing) that I get really overwhelmed – I’m constantly wearing, holding and nursing a baby, wrangling and trying to create great experiences for my two year old, and fostering a love of learning and doing lessons with my five year old. I feel like I have to do so MUCH with homeschooling to make sure that my kiddos learn, but the whole reason that we went this path in the beginning was 1.) to foster our children’s relationships with the Lord and with one another as top priorities, and 2.) allow them to develop their love of learning in a comfortable, inspiring, creative environment. I have to remind myself of those two objectives quite often but they always bring me down to earth…or up to heaven. :o) I like thinking about it that way much better! Thanks again for the great post and wonderful reminder of why this important work is important – and why stress does NOT have to overwhelm this journey!

  35. Once a week math? I know some kids that would like that rule.

    In relation to the 90% forget rate – I always tell moms that your children might not remember what you teach them but they WILL remember HOW you treated them.
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  36. This post was so encouraging for me to read today! I am wondering–is there any way to get access to the “Bare Minimum” post from Jena’s blog? When I clicked on the link, it said the blog was by invitation only . . . I sure would like to read more of this! Really needing this kind of simplicity right now. Thanks so much!

  37. Hello – I would dearly love to read the article, The Bare Minimum, that you reference, but it appears her blog is invite only. Is there a way to read it somewhere else?


  38. I love simplicity and the idea of having a strenuous, rigorous daily schedule doesn’t sound simple to me. There are all types of temperments and mine really prefers more of a weekly rhythm. 🙂 This article mirrors my general philosophy to enjoy the process and trust that our kids are benefiting as the world is their classroom and we enjoy learning along with them. 🙂

    AND, on the debated topic of the 90%, I suspect that much of this can be overcome with repetition and duration (teaching the same materials each year with greater depth) as opposed to completely new material each year.
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  39. Even though this was written awhile back, it sure helped me tonight. Newbie homeschooler that needed to read this. Thank you so much:)

  40. I love this! So encouraging when my 10 year old is dragging his feet through history or when life gets busy and I can’t finish all that we had planned for the week. I certainly don’t remember most of what I learned before 7th grade, kind of sad, in a way. That definitely takes the pressure off. (What happens when we reach 7th grade though? I am nervous for those years ahead when it “really counts”)
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  41. Thank you for this! An answered prayer.

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