How to Build Your Family’s Homeschool

My kids love building miniature houses. I think most children their age share this same interest. Colorful Lego castles, cardboard Victorian mansions, popsicle stick cabins–our living room floor has seen them all.

Homeschooling families have something in common with these structures my children like to build–both are diverse and unique.

If you’ve been homeschooling for a while or have just started looking into it you might be familiar with the following scenario: We start reading about the crafts, Latin studies, Shakespeare play, acre garden or cool science experiments that other families do and we rush out to do the same thing.

We want to build a homeschool environment that looks just like another family’s. But what we really need to build is our own creation.

Can I encourage you to do something before you start paying for phonics curriculum, pottery lessons and Lego robotics?

Take some time to answer the following questions.

Have an idea in mind of what you are hoping to build before you start swinging a hammer or putting together those Lincoln Logs.

  1. Who are we as a family?
  2. What are our family’s learning goals?
  3. Do our curriculum choices reflect who are and what we value?

Maybe you’re still trying to answer the first question. Tsh at Simple Mom wrote an excellent post on creating a family mission statement. No written mission? No worries. We don’t have one either, but we do talk often about our family’s purpose, goals and dreams.

If you’re just getting started, hang tight. Spend time reflecting on your family’s needs before you rush out to buy that classical curriculum or decide to start an unschoolers co-op.

Our family places the outdoors and time together high on our list of values. We have other priorities too, such as creative freedom, interest-led learning and meaningful household and community contribution.

Knowing who we are and our goals helps me evaluate and choose from all the good homeschooling opportunities I encounter.

Photo by Renee Tougas

So when a learning experience is offered in our community every Saturday, I feel confident saying no. That’s the day we set aside for being outdoors together. Alternately, when my artist son has the opportunity to take drawing lessons if we change Tuesday’s schedule a bit we say yes.

Answering those first two questions makes evaluating curriculum and other homeschool decision-making much easier.

Look around for inspiration. By all means read homeschool books, magazines and blogs.

But mostly be who you are as a family.

Just as our kids create original miniatures, we too can build a home and homeschooling environment that is unique.

What about you? What makes your family unique? Does your homeschooling reflect that?

About Renee

Renee is a creative homemaker and homeschooling mama of three. She loves to write, take pretty photos, and be in nature with her family. Her mission is to nourish, encourage, and teach; build relationship and create beauty. FIMBY is where she tells that story. Drawing from her years of experience and training, Renee also offers individual and personalized Homeschool Coaching.


  1. Our international focus and focus on social justice makes our family unique, and we incorporate much of our homeschooling and living around those values as well.

    Great post, Renee!


  2. Excellent post! Our homeschool environment has been through several changes over the past 8 years, starting out very much “preschool at home” when my oldest was 4, and slowly moving into a very relaxed, not quite unschool design that better reflects who we are and how we learn best. I’ve learned to slow down and let the children learn things at their pace and when they are ready. We spend lots of time doing the things we love- drawing, painting, crafting, spending time outdoors, reading good books. The other “needful but less delightful” things are incorporated in whatever way seems to make them more pleasant, and sometimes those things become sources of enjoyment, too.
    Thanks so much for the encouragement to build a unique family homeschool!
    Catherine 🙂

  3. I loved this post! I think what makes my family’s homeschool unique is that we blend together what we love the best about many different learning methods into one happy mix, personalized for us.

    We are influenced in our homeschool mainly by the works of Charlotte Mason and Rudolf Steiner. There are some fairly traditional/classic elements to our school and there are some relaxed/unschooling elements as well. I have received criticism from both Charlotte Mason Method homeschoolers and Waldorf homeschoolers that is it not possible to be both at once … but it must be entirely possible, because we certainly are! 🙂

    While there are parts of different philosophies of learning that we are drawn to as a family of learners, we have learned to “take what we can use, blow awat the rest” …

    I look forward to seeing what other Simple Homeschool readers have to say on this topic.

  4. Renee, This is so, so true. And I love how you said it! I wish I had known this in the beginning and had a voice like yours in my life. Otherwise it’s just absolutely inundating to know what to do or not do with all the resources and opportunities out there. I so appreciate how you said this.

  5. awaY, blow awaY the rest 🙂

  6. Commenting with hesitance… 🙂 My questions feel silly, as we are just thinking of homeschooling our soon-to-be kindergartner. The silent nudging has been in me for a few years to HS, however my husband was very much against it, until this year. He is more open to it which is wonderful, yet I’m completely overwhelmed at the thought. Structured booklets and curriculum scares me a bit, not sure why! So, all is to say, I’m definitely a newbie to the homeschooling world, and I was thrilled to see this branch of Simplemom! Certainly came at a good time for us… K registration is now with the local school and I can’t bring myself to go register him…

    1. Do you have to follow a “curriculum”?

    2. If the answer is no, how are you certain that your children are learning what they need to know?

    3. Did any of you have a hard time with your kids being disappointed with your choice? Our guy is quite excited to go to “real school”.

    Thanks much ladies! I’d appreciate any input!

    • 1. Check your state laws. We don’t have to!
      2. When my kid was in school and had tests, I had no idea what he was learning. Now that we’re learning together everyday, it’s not hard to tell. I mean, first you need to define “what they need to know”, but I listen to my kids give a narration of a story, I look at the list of books we’ve read, I wonder at the LEGO solar system they built for fun on their own time, hear them talk about math between themselves…I do like to take short videos of everything they’re doing at the beginning of the school year so it’s easy to look back and see — yes, they’ve learned so much. It just happens one small, peaceful step at a time.
      3. Err. Not really. My oldest went to public school for a year, and he tells the other kids that homeschooling is the best! Maybe try to find other homeschooling friends to hang with?
      When we started, it felt terrifying to be wholly responsible for my child’s education…but eventually I realized I was *always* responsible, whether we chose to pursue education in a public school or at home. Good luck!

  7. I love this idea. I think this is important for everything about running a home and a family-and so definitely applies to homeschool as well.

    I am just getting started in the area of home schooling, with a nearly 2 and 3 year old, so my theories are slowly developing. I am looking for an integrated approach too, somewhat similar to Kara’s thoughts.

    While I want my children to be growing in academics, I also want to be using these together opportunities to talk about character. My husband and I are followers of Christ and so I hope to teach and lead in a way that while challenges their brains, also challenges their hearts too.

    But, I’m just a beginner, so I’ll be eager to learn from so many of the other pros here on this site. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  8. Beautiful post, Renee. That is my favorite aspect of homeschooling. It is a part of our family life and philosophy more than a list of someone else’s expectations, and we are free to create a learning environment that fits in with who we are as individuals and as a family unit.

  9. thanks, that’s encouraging. I’m just getting started and a little bit overwhelmed about accomplishing everything in our curriculum and keeping my son on track. It’s hard to figure it all out and how it works for our family. I appreciate posts like this that help me focus on what is important.

  10. Lovely first post, Renee…and so true. I love that in homeschooling my boy’s education can be about developing their whole person, and not just about maths, reading, and writing (not that those aren’t important!), but there is so much more to learning how to be an educated citizen of the world.

  11. I think one of the things I like most about homeschooling is the ability to “do your own thing”. I can meet each child at his/her level.

    I have a mental checklist of things I’d like for my daughter to learn by the “end of the school year”, and as we “do school”, I try to incorporate those concepts into our activities.

    When my son is ready to “do school”, I have a feeling his “school” is going to look a bit different than his sister’s!

  12. Well, I’m just figuring out how to reply to your comments. I thought I could reply individually but maybe that’s not possible and maybe I can and I just can’t figure out how to do it yet. Either way I apologize as I wanted to respond to your comments and questions directly. oh well, here goes:

    Jamie – Can’t wait to see where your family will go with this unique purpose and mission. You’ve got some world changers in your household, no doubt.

    Catherine – I can relate. Although we never did do much “schoolish” stuff when the kids were young and still don’t, I can understand the gradual shift to a “not quite unschool” design. I also like your “needful but less delightful”. Can I coin that from you, put it into our daily schedule? You’d think I was trying to pull my 8 year old’s teeth when I ask him to work on math for a mere 15 minutes!!

    Kara – I laugh at people criticizing what you are doing, telling you it can’t be done even though you are. I just call what we do “Tougas family education” and that way people can’t put us in any particular box and find that we don’t fit there!

    Misha – Thank you. That is very kind of you to say.

    Angie – Your questions could take many posts to answer and I think answers will be coming your way in the next couple months but here’s my short version.
    1. You don’t have to follow a curriculum. I think there’s some good homeschooling philosophy posts coming that will address this more.

    2. In response to your second question I have 2 questions for you. Even if you follow a certain curriculum how are you certain your children are learning what they need to know? If you follow a certain curriculum how are you certain your children are learning what want & need to know?

    All of that to say, there is a lot of debate by educators – in the system and not – about what exactly children need to know. That is a question that I think each family has to answer for themselves depending on their family’s goals and values. The range of answers would astonish and make your head spin and take volumes to write, so I’ll leave it at that.

    3. I can’t speak for others but we planned to HS ours from the get go. It was a part of our family culture way before they my kiddos ever knew what a school bus was. They have never wanted to go but we didn’t prime them for that either. I’m sure other contributors and readers here could respond better to this.

    I have answered similar questions to yours on my own blog and you could look here for a few answers: (how we homeschool the elementary years) (our thoughts on getting ready for high school – this might address the “what they need to know question”) (a video we produced about how we homeschool our young ‘uns)

    Great questions Angie. Thanks for commenting and I’m sure you’re going to learn a ton here in the coming months and feel more confident in whatever path your family chooses!

    Nicole – It’s great you’re thinking ahead, when you’re kids are young. You’ll have a great foundation to build upon as they enter their “school years”.

    Heidi – Freedom is my favorite part of HS (and being with these people I love so much each and every day).

    Leslie – Don’t be overwhelmed hon. We all feel that way sometimes though.

    Kami – couldn’t agree more.

    (thanks everyone for your feedback on my first post here – smile)

  13. Really appreciate the link to the family mission statement post – timely, too, because that’s what I was just reading in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families for Simple Mom’s book club.

  14. Wow, in some ways posts like this intimidate me! I’m praying to homeschool this coming fall. My daughter is in K now, and in a language program with a teacher and principle we love. That being said, I want her home so that we can build and mold our children in His ways!
    I feel that our family values can be better prepared in their hearts in our home.
    Thank you for your post. I can’t wait to show it to my husband!

  15. I think that every homeschool is unique because every family has a different way of approaching learning. In our case we use a virtual charter school for core curriculum and Montessori for our Pre-K daughter (which will become virtual curriculum when she hits 1st grade.) We supplement this curriculum with books, activities, experiments, friends, family, groups, clubs, cultural activities and festivals (our family loves to go to festivals.)

    We knew we were going to homeschool before we got married. I was going to homeschool conferences before we had kids! We have done unit studies, unschooled, Montessori, relaxed, eclectic and project based learning. Even though our core curriculum is virtual right now, I still consider us unschoolers. We may start a unit study on Picasso because we are going to see an exhibit at the museum, we might take a class at the library on African drumming to celebrate black history month, we do field trips with our HS group, family field trips, lap books, and we volunteer at places we love (the library and the air museum.) My kids are in worship dance, girl scouts and Civil Air Patrol as their ‘social’ activities. We rarely stay home, it’ s a wonder we get any ‘school’ done at all, but then homeschooling doesn’t mean you have to be home to learn. Learning happens all the time, that’s another thing that makes each HS family different, the ways we let our kids learn. Maybe we do a virtual school, a once a week options school, maybe we read lots of books out loud or do hands on experiments, maybe we actually stay home (and like it) or maybe we are never home (and like it!)

    In one area though, all homeschoolers have a common goal – that is to see that our children are given the tools they need to not only learn, but love to learn. In fact, our HS groups name is Common Ground HS’ers because we all have the common ground of wanting the best education for our children; how we choose to implement that varies as do the paths that lead through life.

    (((Angie – Yes, we loosely follow the K-12 and Kaplan curriculum for the older kids. I went with a virtual school because: 1. I like the curriculum 2. It is flexible and allows us to learn core concepts while still doing unschooly things 3. It does give me a feeling of control over what they are learning and when (but I know that learning is also repeated so if they they don’t ‘get’ something it will come up again. Think about history, it often repeats in 3 year cycles in school: ancient, classical, middles ages, modern; sometimes ancient/classical are together, thus every 3 years you get back to it.)

    Also the answer to that question used to be no, we did not follow a set curriculum for my son’s first 5 grades and my daughters first 2, we unschooled and I checked in on the book ‘What your (x) grader needs to know’ to see what the PS was doing.

    My kids never had a hard time with the decision because we were always homeschoolers. They never went to daycare, preschool, or school, and their friends always told them bad things about school so they didn’t want to go. My best advice for you is get in a group! Our HS group has about 120 members (so really not very big) and it is our social/schooling outlet. We have co-ops,. field trips, park days, teacher night outs, playdates…enough to cover any holes we might have in our education, social or otherwise. I actually just wrote an article on questions about homeschooling for our HS group, you can find it here.

    Other good advice is – relax! The younger they are the easier it is to get started HS’ing because much of learning at that age can be found in everyday things and in play. Good luck!)))

  16. Renee,

    Math is the main subject that is deemed “needful but less delightful” in our home! I fully understand the “pulling teeth” scenario over just a few minutes of Math. Feel free to use my term … I can’t say that it makes getting the Math done easier, but it sounds nice anyway 🙂 !
    Catherine 🙂

  17. This is great, Rene. Very freeing for me personally. I am just starting out…sort of. I’ve been taking it slow with my son for over a year now and I have to remember that I don’t need to push to do it all or have it all figured out tomorrow. One day at a time.

    I like your questions. They give me something to chew on.

    Thank you

  18. I have a son that will be starting Kindergarten this fall and have been contemplating home schooling. When i mentioned the idea to my parents they thought it was an awful idea. They think I need to have time away as a grown up, and that is probably one of my biggest concerns! I know that sounds terrible, but even when he has been in preschool for half the day by the end of the day I am ready for a break! How will I handle being home with him all day?? Any advice??

  19. I love this, Renee! One of my nerdy hobbies is reading up on homeschool philosophies and curriculum options, and I can easily get overwhelmed with wanting to try it all. It all sounds so good, and I want to give my kiddos the best. And our oldest is just now starting kindergarten! Silly, I know.

    But this is just the reminder I need — to be us. I really love our family culture, and one of the things that gets me excited about homeschooling is that it can really nurture that well. So why would I try and swim upstream using something that’s just not “us”?

    Thanks for the wise words!

  20. I loved this post as well Renee.

    I think the absolute *best* way to homeschool is to find out when and how your family is at your best and go from there. It’s so easy to start with a method and try to squeeze ourselves into it, rather than figure ourselves out and find methods that enhance our unique family style.

    @Tsh, I like what you said about loving your family culture. We love ours too and in so many ways it’s what gives us the confidence to know that even though we don’t have all the answers we’re doing okay by our kids.

    Thanks for the thoughts Renee 🙂

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