From Idealistic Memories to Realistic Goals

The following is a guest post written by Kari of Sacred Mundane.

The 1985 fall cover of Teaching Home magazine features a smiling family of four together on the couch reading a book on space exploration. The five-year-old daughter grins, trying not to giggle, remembering the promise of ice cream on the way home.

I still remember choosing orange sherbet.

At the time I didn’t know we were educational pioneers, I just knew we had a great thing going. While everyone else was at school my brother and I explored the woods and picked blueberries and visited museums and rode bikes for hours on end. My mom made every moment a teachable moment, instilling in me a love for learning and cultivating curiosity and creativity. She taught me to see, to notice, to think. And most of all, to care.

But now I’m the mom, and the tricky part of having such a phenomenal homeschool experience is that my memories are idealistic and dream-like. They stand in sharp contrast to the somewhat lackluster homeschooling that takes place in my present suburban life.

While I remember hours spent by the wooded creek near our home, catching crawdads and water skippers, my children’s version is sugar ants and a garden hose trickling down the driveway.

I shake my head and wonder, “Can I really string these ordinary days into an excellent education?”

No matter what our upbringing, we all, at some point, struggle with comparing our real homeschool days with our ideal homeschool dreams. So what do we do?

Here are a few ways we can use the ideal to fuel our goals for the real.

1. Nature

Photo by Andrea_44

:: My Idealistic memory – Spending hours every day exploring the acres of forest where we lived. Creating crayon-rubbings of various leaves, catching bugs, drawing unusual plants.

:: A Realistic goal – Include nature in some form.  Even urban-dwellers can find a spot of grass or dirt with a bit of a hike. Grow some plants in the window-sill. Spend every sunny day outside. Visit a park every time that you can. Grow a patio garden. Point out unusual trees when driving.

Cultivate in your own heart a genuine wonder for the world and your children will catch the wonder as well. Encourage the natural desire children have for stuffing their pockets full of rocks and twigs. Save their collections. Study rocks. Touch worms. Pick berries. Dirt under the finger-nails does a body good.

2. Physical Education

:: My Idealistic memory – My dad built us a gymnasium. No joke.  As a PE teacher he had access to all the sporting equipment the school discarded. We had everything from basketball hoops to rope swings and everything in between.

:: A Realistic goal – Include physical education daily. Kids don’t need a gym, but they do need to move. I know one mom who sends her kids out to run laps around the house. Jump rope, run the stairs, play soccer, have sprint races, make a “funhouse” course with obstacles and stations, then time kids running their way through it. Whatever you do, make it fun.

The best part of having a PE teacher dad was that we learned to love to move.  Yes, formal sports and lessons and activities are wonderful, but no matter where we live or what financial constraints we face, we can help our kids get up and go. Get creative and move those bodies!

3. Travel

Photo by bpende

:: My Idealistic memory – Traveling around the country in our tent-trailer, learning history and seeing the rich variety of American landscape.

:: A Realistic goal – Though nothing beats the real thing, we have the tremendous advantage today of traveling the world online. We can expose our children to virtually every culture on the planet through online research. Plus, digital documentaries are often far more impressive to view than the real thing!

Daily plan time for exploring and learning about other cultures, countries, customs. Then, make it tactile. Buy some Indian cloth and dress up in saris. Cook a french meal and build an Eiffel tower out of Legos. Learn a greeting in another language and practice saying it all through the day.

And, as much as your budget allows, do plan reasonable trips. And the less your accommodations resemble home, the better. The greatest lesson travel teaches is that not everyone lives like we do.

Start small and remember: Keep it simple. A garden hose in the driveway, three-legged races in the yard, a meal African style.

Because of all the lessons my mom taught me, the greatest of all was this:

The most extraordinary education begins with a mother who smiles.

What are your ideal homeschool dreams? How can you use those idealistic dreams to fuel realistic goals?

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. This was a great post – sweet and sentimental with some practical advice. I love the ideal world of homeschooling, but reality is a bit different sometimes. The place where the ideal and real combine is a great place to be!

    But then again, sometimes we all need days where we lay on our backs and watch the clouds go by…

  2. What an inspiring post!! Although we’re not officially homeschoolers, I still strive to do this for my own kids. Thanks for the encouraging words and simple ideas we can use.
    Susan’s latest post: a dancer’s story

  3. Sometimes I feel like a “fake” homeschooler! We don’t have chickens or even a vege patch. I rarely bake (anything). We don’t do nature journals.

    But…I listen to my kids, I try to say “yes” more often, I read to them and listen to them read and sometimes we all snuggle up and read silently together. We do go for walks on the beach and bounce on the trampoline. And we learn lots of new things.

    My homeschool may be different from others, it may not be “ideal”, but it’s ours and we love it!
    Ingi’s latest post: The Homeschool Mother’s Journal – 22

  4. I really related to this. I don’t have such cool childhood memories, but I do have my own idealistic thoughts about what the ‘best’ homeschool would look like… and they are often very hard to attain… so thanks for this!!! 🙂

    Cassandra’s latest post: Commiting to pray for Missionaries around the world…

  5. Great post Kari!

    I think the most poignant thing you said is, “my mom made every moment a teachable moment…”. Have the incredible freedom and awesome responsibility to do just that for our learners! Even when you feel that your ideal homeschool significantly diverges from your real homeschool, that is a great statement to keep in mind! Thanks!

    Kelleigh’s last blog post: Kid-Powered Projects for Everyone!

  6. Oh I love this… I love the sentiment of this post, I love the words of this post – Well done!!! So often we have such high ideals for our homeschool: educational outings, hours of art appreciation, language immersion and the list goes on … After years of feeling bad that my kids weren’t getting it all I finally stopped watching other home-schoolers quite so closely and settled down. Then I realized that my kids were getting enough, enough of the right kind of stuff. Enough free time to play, enough time reading on the couch with me and enough time pottering in the recycling and creating. We don’t have to climb Kilimanjaro every day… a picnic lunch outdoors everyday is actually enough.
    se7en’s latest post: Se7en School Schedule Solutions…

  7. Your post is awesome! Your last line is really sticking with me. This is an important post to read before the year starts…before we start realizing that our envisioned homeschool year is not turning out in real life!

    Thank you!
    Nicole’s latest post: So, is it the "cutest blog on the block"?

  8. We all battle the Ideal vs. Real I think in some form or another. Wonderful post – thanks for sharing!
    Angie Wright’s latest post: Flower Identification?

  9. Love this! Great to keep expectations in check, yet still stretch when you can. Sometimes you just have to be creative!
    I remember sending kids out to run around the house a time or two! And we were able to travel a bit for a few years and loved the history and geography we were able to learn by doing so! Washington DC is a homeschooler’s dream!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Is your busyness covering up pain?

  10. I tend to compare my current HS’ing to when I started out formally, ten years ago…and feel like I come up short. Back then I’d read every book/mag I could get my hands on and set to work and, although I was often stressed out, I think I did a great job. But I have changed… not just in that I simply don’t have all the energy I did a decade ago 🙂 – but I am also now raising three kiddos at very different ages/stages and I guess my attitudes toward certain elements of homeschooling have changed and so forth. So while I don’t want to shortchange my youngest and not allow her to experience some of the best elements from my earlier homeschooling years, I also need the freedom to be who I am today and let go of the past.

  11. karen (mom) says:

    Sweet memories…results beyond my expectations. I love this blog!

  12. Love this: “The most extraordinary education begins with a mother who smiles.”

    It’s a 25 minute walk to our nearest park, but there’s a long stretch (behind a mall, ironically) that’s like walking through a forest. Right now, it’s swarming with butterflies. I remember doing so many monarch butterfly units in elementary school that I couldn’t stand them, but it’s so different to actually walk up and touch a butterfly–which I totally did today and it didn’t fly off immediately!

    Even though my daughter’s only 13-months, she’s still witnessing the seasons change, plants grow, and (suburban) wildlife…well, live. Thanks for the encouragement to keep at it; I’m shooting for walks to the park three days a week!
    MK @ This Mom Reads’s latest post: The Inspiring Helen Keller

  13. Great post. It’s always nice to hear from homeschool graduates, especially ones who are homeschooling their own kids. And I love your last line.
    Kerry’s latest post: Cursive Writing Homeschool Style

  14. Wow, what a cool childhood you had (kind of like the homeschooling I want to give my kids).

    But I have to realistic also about what I can offer as our life circumstances change and evolve, kind of like Kika said.

  15. Thanks for the great advice! I know many other families who are very curriculum driven, but that just didn’t work for us. Hearing about their plans for the year and the books they will study always makes me question myself. Thanks for the reminder that “pockets full of rocks and twigs” are just as valuable.
    Peggy’s latest post: Sailing, Sailing

  16. My favorite line is the last one “The most extraordinary education begins with a mother who smiles.” So true!
    Melissa’s latest post: Displaying Kids Artwork

  17. This was a beautiful post and so endearing and inpsiring. Thank u for this.

  18. I always start each year with dreams of what I think our homescholl should be like, long walks, museums, but I feel like I we always get mired down on bookwork . Reading about your HS experience has reassured me that I can let go of some of the book work and let my dreams lead the way.
    Vanessa’s latest post: A Tailored Curriculum

  19. Great post! Very encouraging!
    Harmony’s latest post: Why I do what I Do

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