Finding a Happy Medium

Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling

My friends and I were recently lamenting the end of our carefree days. It used to be that the group of us met up at the zoo or park every single week to play. This was when all our oldest were 7-years-old.

Seven years later, they are swamped with extracurricular activities and more rigorous curriculum, making it almost impossible to schedule a regular, weekly get-together just for fun.

The saddest part is that the younger kids in the group end up with the short end of the stick and never really get to experience that playtime that their older brothers and sisters did. In most cases, they end up tagging along to classes or worst, are left to fend for themselves as we work with the older ones on their algebra or science.

With high school looming ahead, the days of weekly play dates slip away from us even more. Even for those of us striving to attain a more free range education, it’s not always easy to ignore the pursuit of academics so ingrained within us.

We want the best of both worlds — one without institutionalized schooling and standards shoved down our throats and still be considered as “educated” as the next traditionally schooled grad. We want to be accepted into the best colleges. We want our kids to succeed in real life and somehow, in our minds, the two are directly related to each other.

I think as homeschoolers, and especially homeschooling parents, we are often left with a sense of guilt, no matter what we do. Whichever end of the spectrum we fall on, we’re either not doing enough for our kids or over-committing them.

If we follow a rigorous curriculum, we are depriving them of a carefree childhood and ruining their lives. If we don’t, we are not preparing them properly for the “real world” and ruining their lives. In my own experience, I often feel a need for my children to get more done and be up to standards, or I have ultimately failed.

Photo by scui3asteveo

Coincidentally, this feeling of pressure usually manifests itself around testing or reporting time.  Does this need to constantly prove ourselves mean that, as our older children climb up the academic ranks, we instantly have to give up on fun as more time is needed for serious study? I don’t know about you, but, even with a teenager in tow, I am unwilling to put away the finger paints just yet.

Lately, as I chauffeur the kids back and forth between their extra curricular activities, I find myself fantasizing about a different sort of routine. One without commitments. No attendance sheets to turn in. No classes to hurry off to. No assignments to complete. No tests to study for. No accountability.

But I can’t let it go. At least not all of it. I’ve come to realize that while the idea of an academia-free childhood fascinates me, it doesn’t really suit our family, at least not all of the time. We strive more towards a happy medium.

My children are still in this great experiment known as homeschool, so I don’t have all the answers. We may not get to play everyday nor are we always able to figure out at what time two trains leaving opposite stations at varying speeds will cross paths.

We don’t know what a hydrostatic skeleton is, or how to conjugate Latin verbs. But luckily, Google does. And if we really needed to know, we will figure it out.

As our family evolves from one child to four, so does our homeschool. I can rest assured knowing that one day (or week or month) does not determine our success as homeschoolers.

I am confident that, whether we spend any given day playing with LEGOs or cranking out 500 word essays, it will most probably all turn out ok in the end. I may forget often but hopefully, I can come to savor the days, as varied and imperfect as they be, and remind myself that it’s not all or nothing.

Today may just find us at home and frantically trying to cram for the algebra exam, but come tomorrow, we are going to the zoo.

Have you found your happy medium?

About Amida

Amida is the mom to three darn kids. She used to stress about state standards and test scores but has since come to her senses and enjoys blogging about her family's journey into unschooling.


  1. Oh yes, I get this Amida. I think this happens for those of us relaxed/eclectic/unschooling sorts with children hitting the teen years. The need to “buckle down” (for lack of a better phrase) a bit.

    This drive comes from both within (changes in our children) and without (us parents recognizing the bends and climbs on the road ahead). We have reached this point this year. For us it feels like transition. Feeling our way into this new territory. But love and listening still guide the journey.

    I guess for us it’s a bit different in that we don’t have state requirements to meet. No exams or reporting. Thank goodness. But that doesn’t absolve us since if we want our children to be able to enter the academic world at some point (which we do) we must prepare them for this reality. The reality of comparisons and standards. But I feel ok that the young adult years are the time for this preparation and childhood is for mostly play and discovery. So I guess, yes, we have found, or are feeling our way through, the happy medium.
    Renee’s latest post: Nurturing Creativity ~ My E-Book is Almost Here!

  2. Absolutely true in our case as well. I find myself torn between “bigs” that need more activities and structure, and “littles” that need rest and playtime. One thing that helps us is to drop big kids off at lessons or activities and head straight for the nearest park– meeting some other family there if possible– to use the time in the best way possible for both age groups. I think we have explored every park and museum in a 40 mile radius this way! I also try to take some days completely off all activities so everyone can slow down.
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  3. It is funny how often we say as home schoolers we have flexibility and freedom and then tie ourselves up in schoolwork that “should” be done. Letting some rigor go is a good thing, that being said, when we do nothing the wheels come off – so we need a rhythm and a structure in our weeks. I had this idea that when my kids got to high school our school would become so much more rigorous… but I find that my older kids need just as much time to play out doors and to create and simply “mess around” as their younger siblings… I am more rigorous about this now than I was when they were smaller… I am a firm believer in feeding them, taking them outdoors and making sure they sleep enough… whatever their age. Always seeking the balance between all or nothing…
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  4. So true! Finding a happy medium in all areas of life is the constant struggle. We usually do our table work and reading 4 days a week and then leave Friday for experiments, art, fun reading, etc. This helps my kids stay motivated but still allows us to enjoy the fun part of homeschooling on Fridays without feeling guilty.
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  5. Fantastic post. We are going through the same thing right now (and my son is only 7!) What is helping is realising that routine is not just a daily or weekly thing – we can have weeks packed with activities or lessons, and there can be weeks of being ‘slackers’. Of course we have to be careful to keep the balance right, but I think sometimes we just have to sit back and see the big picture, and the long, long game.
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  6. Thanks for this reminder. I’m so often hard on myself and vacillating between my various values. Moderation is what I need to strive for!

  7. Constantly striving for that “happy medium”. I find that we end up changing up our focus/the way we do things (not altogether but with tweaks here and there) every few months to either buckle down a bit or allow more time for fun and current interests. Always ebb & flow. Thanks for writing this, by the way. So nice to see another family that isn’t entirely comfortable with either end of the HS spectrum – but firmly planted in the middle.
    Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: This Moment

    • Oops, had wanted to add something. I also have a spread of ages (though just 3 kids) and have often felt that guilt about my youngest not having the same type of crafty, nature walking younger years as her big brother and sister. I am currently working out a new rhythm for our weeks which once again sets time aside for park days, games, science experiments (which she loves), etc. Stuff just for her.
      Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: This Moment

  8. I needed to hear this! I struggle with being “all or nothing,” and I have to constantly remind myself that things will balance out in the end, that having a few play days isn’t going to hurt my children’s education…they will most likely help it! Thank you for sharing!

  9. For me that balance has come in the form of allowing my youngest to go to preschool a couple of mornings a week, that allows me time with my first grader and gives him time to be a 3 year old boy. I totally suck at the preschool stuff but don’t think he should miss out ; ) I love being able to focus a bit more on my 6 year old and then I feel we’ve done ‘enough’ for the week and we can spend time having a bit more fun and free time.
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  10. Yes, we are going through a re-evaluation right now ourselves. I thought this year should be more rigorous for my 4th grader, but he started resisting in every area recently. We were all losing sight of the fun and valuable aspects of homeschooling. Part of it is due to some changes in our alternative school setup this year, which makes it seem more like traditional school than it used to. But a lot of it was just me and my fears for my son and what he might be lacking. We’ve backed off a bit this week, and things are going better, allowing his natural interests to come out again and true, passionate learning to happen. We walk a tightrope in our lives, and sometimes it sways too far to one side.

  11. I am always so comforted to remember these words of wisdom that someone once gave me – “balance is a dynamic process.” We’re not failing when we find ourselves needing to recalibrate – it’s just the nature of things! (I’m still just a homeschooling newbie, but I’ve been reflecting more and more on how it’s just an extension of our family life – and there, thank goodness, I do have a few years of on-the-job training!)

  12. I hear ya!!
    Actually we are just moving into ‘Unschooling’ – so going through De-Schooling at the moment (after 2.5yrs trying other methods). I know I wont send my boy out into the world as an adult who can’t read…as an adult who doesn’t know how to cook and clean…as an adult who can’t contribute……So I don’t worry so much anymore.
    While de-schooling can be a little nerve grating it’s also quite freeing.
    Thank goodness for HomeSchooling and that we were pushed into it. Whatever path we take we are all so much more enlightened.
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  13. Thank you for this! I am SO struggling with finding any piece of mind much less a happy medium in this first year of homeschooling my 12 year old! Eek is my frame of mind when I think about high school and beyond. Can I really do this and do a great job at it? Thank you for the reminder to relax a bit and I hope if i tell myself often enough that I will get that it is okay to go and play! 🙂 And on that note, I am adrift in a sea of curriculum choices for next year! I have chosen all but language arts. I am looking for an all inclusive lang arts/writing program that I do not have to construct myself. ANY POINTERS PLEASE!?!
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  14. I love that you say you are pretty sure it all will turn out ok. I believe that about our homeschool, but it is so easy to get caught up in my doubts! I tend to be an all or nothing person, so finding that balance can be a daily struggle for me. I try to make a point to regularly read blogs or listen to podcasts that help me stay focused, and not become consumed by my own internal struggle to balance everything perfectly.
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  15. I feel this tug both ways all the time! I try to schedule only 2-3 hours of academic work then the rest of the time is free time to play and explore. (Have a 9 and 11 year old). We also try to take Fridays off. My struggle comes when the kids , of course, would rather not do work. and then I have to really put my foot down and have them complete their work. But I also struggle with feeling like we are not doing enough, when others(public school) are doing lots of homework and tests.
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