Our experiment year: 5 discoveries so far

Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane

This year I ditched most of what we’d done before, and decided to take an Experiment Year. That is, a year to try new things, refuse to stress, return to JOY, and recover our lost love of learning.

By the end of last year I found myself frustrated by our workbook-driven, scope-and-sequence-bound educational existence. I just kept thinking, “This is not the life-giving, freedom-filled educational environment I had always envisioned for our family.”

Something had to change.

Turns out, almost everything did, and it’s been great! I am actually ENJOYING myself, my kids are enjoying themselves, and we’ve had ZERO TEARS over educational issues. Hooray!

These are not prescriptions, as every family is different. But I wanted to share five of my discoveries so far. My hope is that one of these might be an “Aha!” moment for you as well.

1. Secure my own mask first.

We’ve all heard the flight-attendant safety spiel regarding oxygen: “Secure your own mask before assisting your child.” Why? Because it won’t help your kid one bit if you’re passed out. The same is true of homeschooling.

No one wants to be taught by a stressed-out, on-edge, overwhelmed mama. Right? So this year I made a commitment to homeschool my own heart first, and for me that meant 7 W’s before school each day:

  • Water (16 oz when I wake up)
  • Word (time in the Bible)
  • Wait (prayer)
  • Write (journal)
  • Weights & Worship (10 min of hand-weights while I sing along with music)
  • Walk (2-3 miles on our driveway or treadmill).

I can do this and shower by 10am, when we begin school, and it makes all the difference for my mental health and well-being!

I know not everyone has these priorities, or the flexibility to do these things (I don’t have babies right now!), but some kind of self-care, each morning, does wonders for our mindset as we enter into schoolwork each day.

2. Start right.

I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first year we have prayed together every day before starting school. I was inspired by Sarah Mackenzie’s Morning Time, so our first day of school I pulled out zucchini muffins and invited the kids to the table for time together. I loved the feeling of beginning our day together, relationally, rather than jumping right into work.

I also loved Jamie’s idea to read aloud their family’s educational manifesto. I wanted something that would center us each day, so I wrote Our Family’s Pledge of Allegiance and Our Educational Prayer (pictured). We say these each morning, together.

3. Structure time not content.

This is a TJED principle (Jamie shares more here), and I’m really seeing its value this year. Rather than finishing a set-amount of lessons, we structure our time, and commit to work hard on that particular subject, or project, for that time.

I thought maybe we’d get behind doing this, but have found exactly the opposite. We get more done than I thought. The kids enjoy their books so much they love tackling 2 or 3 lessons at a time.

4. Ditch multi-tasking (for the most part)

I’m efficient to a fault. My husband says I’m like a shark: I must stay moving or I’ll die. I can complete many tasks at a time, and this is fine, but I’m finding that, from 10am-1pm, I need to ditch my multi-tasking compulsion and focus entirely on our education.

Even during self-directed subjects, like math, if I stay at the table and work on my own education, reading or planning (books/paper: no screens), things go so much better.

I respond to questions quickly and cheerfully, instead of yelling over my shoulder while I’m stirring the soup. Plus, they seem to need less help when I’m near. It makes the whole morning more peaceful.

5. Capitalize on unique strengths

My kids (like yours, probably) are very, very different. My son, with Asperger’s, has extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses. I used to lament because their learning styles were so different, but I’m finding that when I think creatively, exactly the opposite is true.

For example, Heidi (8) can write better and faster than me. She loves writing. Dutch (almost 11) writes like a toddler and cries if he has to write more than 2-3 sentences, BUT he can remember everything he reads.

So this year we are doing all our language arts studies (reading comprehension, spelling, vocab, grammar) straight from classics. I split everything up according to their strengths and let them work together. Heidi is the scribe, Dutch dictates. Heidi creates all the flashcards, Dutch does all his drill-work and spelling tests orally.

To my amazement, even though Heidi had “only” written down answers dictated by Dutch, she scored 29/30 on her first spelling test (5th grade words!) without studying — she had simply written the words so many times she learned them. Dutch did well also, because without the stress of writing he was able to focus on learning the words, written neatly out on flashcards made by his sister.

You get the point. I’m enjoying the opportunity to think outside the box, and let the kids learn according to their strengths. It also fosters their relationship, and teaches them to value others’ strengths, rather than be threatened by them. I’m all for that!

We’re only a couple months in, but I’m so very grateful for this Experiment Year and all it’s teaching me, as a homeschool mom.

I’m not sure if we’re “on track” for state testing, but I know we’re on track for who we are as people. It feels so good to break free from the scope-and-sequence slavery and get back to wonder, discovery, creativity, and joy.

Your turn: What are you doing differently this year and what are you learning from it? 







About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Kari!

    Your number 5 was an a-ha moment for me–as a former classroom teacher turned homeschooling mom, it’s hard for me to think outside-of-the-box about assessment. For example, I probably would not have thought about having oral spelling tests, like you do for your son, so I really appreciate practical tips like this! Thanks for helping me to think more creatively about how to measure my kids’ learning.

  2. I like my kids best when they’re outside. So this year I go with them outside–almost every day. And I do like them better. It’s good for us all. On days we simply must take care of home or errands, I find we kind of crash and burn, but then if I take them outside and even just sit quietly watching them, we all heal together.
    Anne’s latest post: (Not) Back to School Pictures 2017

  3. Thank you for writing this–reading it is so timely for my family and I as we are struggling mightily with school and feeling stressed out that everything is not getting “done”. I am in my 40’s and pregnant with baby number 5 and just can’t seem to get it all together right now. And I can see that there isn’t a lot of “love of learning” happening in our house currently. Thank you for sharing what has been working for you and for the wonderful ideas. God Bless you and your family.

  4. Love this, thank you so much. After much prayer I have been implementing those Ws myself so it was such a confirmation to read that! Would love to know a bit more about how you structure time not content if you are able? Thanks again, God bless.

    • Bron, For us it just looks like this: 10-11am, math and logic (as much as we can do in that time). 11-12 is language arts, we read together and then go through the exercises (grammar, spelling, etc.) until 12, however much we can get done. Then at 12 we get lunch made and I read aloud our history books (narratives), and then we discuss, and after that we do our science together–reading aloud and then projects or notebooking. We finish around 1. We throw in piano-practice and keyboarding in whenever it fits, in the afternoon or if they need a “break” during any of the earlier stuff. Nothing fancy, but it works!
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Our Experiment Year: 5 things we’re learning

  5. Hi Kari:). Love that you are seeking the Lord on what home education looks like for YOUR family!! We have 6 kids and if we tried to do “scope and sequence education” at home it would fail no questions asked!! We have a ‘routine’ rather than a ‘schedule’. The difference being routine is about the same order of events everyday WITHOUT the constrictions of time (that’s following a schedule to me). Routine over schedule has been a life saver for my sanity. I tell my kids, ” The most important thing each day in our home is that Christ is exalted in your hearts and in our home. If that happens we’re good for the day! Everything else is bonus. ” And I mean it. If it’s a wonky day for some reason, but everyone got their devotions done AND we discussed them and prayed as a family, I’m one satisfied mama!!

  6. Your thoughts about multitasking speak to me. I wear a lot of hats (don’t we all?!?) and I find that most days I’m trying to keep so many plates spinning that inevitably a few fall. I’m trying to really focus on my kids during our school time. They’re young and our focus time is short and intense. I meet my own needs first thing (glad you mentioned this one too) and then head downstairs to our studio with them both and pour all of my energy into their needs in those moments. My daughter in particular needs her bucket filled so she can confidently ‘do hard things’ (her words). My son needs little bits of positive attention scattered through out our time as he moves in and out of independent play and school work. Then, when we’re finiahed, we all feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment and can get in with our day feeling energized!

  7. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this! It was so validating and uplifting! I have found the same on 1-4 exactly and can tell the difference when I slide away from any one of them. This was a great reminder to get back to “starting right,” the one I have let slide for the past few weeks. Number five, so great! I can’t wait to spend some time pondering how to apply these great thoughts to our little family. Much love and may God continue to bless your sweet family!

  8. Ditch multi-tasking: YES! I so need to do this. Getting interrupted all the time is my biggest homeschool challenge with four kids 8 and under. It can often spark me into a flurry of activity where I jump from task to task, never finishing anything. I really need to make a point of blocking off learning time – JUST learning. No phone, no chores, no work, only learning. Thanks for this inspiration!
    June’s latest post: Timeless Christmas Gifts for Kids Under 8 Years Old

  9. Fantastic post!! We are on a similar journey and my motto this year is we are “staying in our own lane”. We enjoy “park schooling” and “car schooling” as I weave my art/printing business into our homeschool adventures. I am intrigued by the language arts approach. Would you be able to show more examples or perhaps a video about this? Thanks so much!

    • Thanks, Nicole! So, I’m using Total Language Plus as a guide. Not doing every activity or getting enslaved to having to fill in every blank, but using it as a guide and I’m LOVING it. They have a full list of guides on their website, and have them roughly broken into age-groups (general, not strict), so we’re just doing 3-4 of those each year, and filling in other “fun” classic reading. They do take work, not easy at all, but really good. I LOVE that all the work is rooted IN the narrative text, from a classic. Makes it all so much more meaningful. And love that my kids are spelling fun words like flummoxed. Vocabulary is so much more fun when it comes from fun stories! Hope that helps.
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Our Experiment Year: 5 things we’re learning

  10. I want to do that in the morning…bible study, workout and start at 10am, but what are your kids doing? school, playing? I feel like if I start later like that, they might get out of hand. haha

    • I was curious about this too. My 3 children could not be left alone from the time they wake up (between 5-6) till 10 am. Maybe her husband is home, or they have a detailed list of what they should do, or maybe they are older. I would love to have time to do those kinds of things first thing in the morning but my children seem to know when I wake up and get up too. haha

      • Hey, great question! My husband is not home in the morns, but the only time that I’m outside the house, during those W’s, is during the walk. The rest of them are done inside the house, so I’m still near my kids. They do their own Bible reading, do their chores, and then often they will come outside with me while I walk and play or run around. Or just play together in the house, or read. They enjoy the free time so they don’t want to mess it up. 😉 I think it helps when the routine is consistent every morning so this is just “normal” and they know what to expect. They are 8 & 10, so definitely old enough to be on their own a bit. It would certainly be harder if I had toddlers! I think most of it is still doable though, with a stroller or front-pack or what not. Again, it will look different for every family (and has looked different over the years) but worth the work to make it happen! I hope you can find a good solution that’s tailor-made for you! Bless you both!
        Kari Patterson’s latest post: Our Experiment Year: 5 things we’re learning

    • Another idea: I know some moms have a special “morning basket” or special activities that younger kids only get to do during this time. Even if it it involves a screen (gasp!), I think it’s’ worth it in order to fill your heart and mind and get that time in before the day begins. I say, “Do whatever it takes!”
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Our Experiment Year: 5 things we’re learning

  11. I agree aboutnot multitasking; that was one if ny recent changes too. I just wrote about it here: http://www.sarahbadatrichardson.com/when-homeschooling-goes-well/
    Sarah Badat Richardson’s latest post: When homeschooling goes well

  12. Good for you!

  13. Number 4 is such a good reminder that the other stuff can wait.

  14. Soooo good!! Thanks for sharing!!

  15. Christina says:

    Thank you so very much for your post, I found it at a much needed moment in my life. I was feeling like a failure, even with years of homeschooling under my belt. God sends encouragement exactly when you need it. Thank you!

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