Kara’s homeschool day in the life with a 10- and 13-year-old

Written by Kara S. Anderson.

As I sit down to write about our day in the life this year, we are mostly surrounded by half-read books, half-done puzzles, and half-eaten pans of cinnamon rolls.

It is my very favorite week of the year – the week between Christmas and New Year’s – but it’s also a break week for us, and our routine has gone out the window entirely.

The ONLY thing that has remained the same is our volunteer day.

And so today, I thought I would share a bit about that and how it has impacted our homeschool this year.

Last Christmas, a new cat shelter opened in our town, and some friends invited us to come by and meet the cats. We helped them for a few months, and before we knew it, we had learned all the ropes and rules about doing a “cleaning shift” at the shelter.

Because this new location was in desperate need of volunteers, I started to wonder if maybe it was time for us to take our own shift. By this time we had been helping to cover days when people called in sick for several months, and I felt confident we could do our own shift.

But a new school year was approaching …

Was it “OK” to commit 3 hours a week in our school plan to volunteering?

I thought back to what we had learned so far as a family:

  • commitment
  • the importance of helping our community
  • compassion
  • how a small amount of time or money adds up
  • organizational skills
  • charting (the shelter’s log book)
  • teamwork
  • responsibility
  • the basics of animal care
  • how to care for very young or abandoned kittens
  • the ins and outs of TNR (trap-neuter-release)
  • fundraising and more

My daughter had started making blankets and catnip toys in her spare time for the cats, which meant measuring, frugal shopping, planning and sewing skills …

My son somehow knew how to find the cats that needed attention the most. We watched as each of his “favorite” cats would become more outgoing and confident after his time investment – each of them would be adopted.

This experience was not traditional “school,” but it was giving our family a chance to learn valuable skills. So we went for it!

Although not a “regular” school day, here is what a volunteering school day looks like in our homeschool:

7 a.m. I wake to a quiet house and start tea. I take the dog out, and settle in to make a list in my bullet journal. I don’t work much Wednesday mornings, but I do make a list before the house gets busy.

7:30 a.m. Usually my husband wakes and gets ready for work. But today (because of break week) he is coming with us to visit the cats!

8 a.m. The kids, 10 and 13, wake and there is a lot of Bathroom Tetris as we all try to get ready to go at the same time. Usually on volunteer days we bring an easy breakfast – Lara Bars, fruit and nuts, or applesauce packs and string cheese. (And caffeine to go for this mama!)

8:45 a.m. We head to the shelter and listen to a podcast in the car. We love Stuff You Missed in History Class and we’ve been carefully listening to this Watergate podcast. (Parent warning: My husband previewed this for us – it is intended for adults, so there is language that we’ve had to work around. Please preview this one.)

9 a.m. We arrive and do the rounds. We say hello to all the cats and Chief, the resident parrot. Chief lives at the shelter, but right now there are two Amazon parrots available for adoption as well.

The shelter has hosted ferrets, bearded dragons, parakeets and more – there’s always an opportunity to learn something about animal care while we are there.

While doing the rounds, we are also keeping our eyes peeled – the shelter is a busy place, and volunteers can help spot potential health issues. We take this part of the job seriously. Our local shelter is also the kind of place where emotional issues are noted – does a cat seem especially lonely? Is it missing a roommate? Is it fighting with a roommate?

These kinds of problems are remedied as quickly as possible because for many cats, the shelter becomes their home for a while.

9:15 a.m. We prepare the food cart. Some cats have special diets. Some are on medication. And all feeding and um … “elimination” must be charted.

Then, we clean and feed. My son spends most of his time one-on-one with cats making sure that they each get exercise and lots of snuggles. He’ll often listen to podcasts on his iPod. He loves this one.

My daughter will help with cleaning or socialize with the cats – another family we know has started volunteering with us, so now we have twice as many people to help – that means even more cats get attention.

But on this particular Wednesday, they are not there. My husband is and he is on fire – he’s already cleaned several enclosures while I am still opening cat food cans.

Our cleaning shift generally lasts around 3 hours.

And by the time we are done, we are usually pretty exhausted. We head home,  rotate showers and have lunch, and then we’re all ready for some downtime.

So part of our rhythm has become independent study on Wednesday afternoons. To make this possible, we include a library visit earlier in the week as part of our rhythm.

During this quiet time I work. I work from home about 20 hours per week, so I put in about 2 hours on Wednesday afternoons – I write for my website, work on The Homeschool Sisters Podcast or do behind the scenes work for other sites.

Around 3 or 3:30 we get back together in the kitchen for tea, a snack and a plan.

Sometimes the kids will tell me what they have been working on and I’ll issue a “carry on,” and a cookie. Other times, we’ll split up some chores.

On this particular Wednesday, it’s all a mess of puzzles, chocolate and movies!

But most Wednesdays we do a little clean-up, start dinner and try to wrap up our working-reading-living together unschooling-type things, which is what I’m finding we do a lot of as the kids get older.

But I am grateful that we have added volunteering this year. I’m not sure all the valuable lessons can be quantified, but I will say that it’s something that makes us feel like a unit – a team. When we see on the shelter’s Facebook page that a cat has been adopted, a whoop goes up around our small home – we celebrate together.

This experience is also helping to keep us close as the kids grow up – at a time when lots of families can feel like they are losing touch a bit, this one activity brings us back together, every week.

It’s part of who we are – how we define our family. It’s so much more than three hours a week, and so worth it.

Kara’s previous day in the life posts:

Do you volunteer as a family? Tell us what lessons is has taught your family.













About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, with a goal of encouraging fellow mamas in real-life homeschooling. She also's the happy co-host of The Homeschool Sisters podcast. Grab her free ebook: 7 Secrets the Happiest Homeschool Moms Know here.


  1. I love your day. Honestly, there is nothing more important than learning compassion, empathy, team work, the value of hard work and devotion. Good job!
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. I always love reading your posts and listening to The Homeschool Sisters podcast. You are one of the contributors I resonate with (with a much better sense of humor than I, which brings wonderful levity to every topic). My kids just turned the same ages and I admit, I have been curious to know more of how homeschooling is happening with your son. What a wonderful learning and connecting anchor volunteering is to your weeks! Thank you for sharing!
    Nicola’s latest post: homeschooling – the path ahead

  3. That’s really cool, Kara! What a neat thing to do as a family. <3

  4. That is so neat! What a great idea.
    Sarah M’s latest post: Top 10 Books of 2017

  5. Bathroom Tetris 😆… Sounds like a term we’d use in our home. Since relocating last June, the hubs, 14-year old son, and I have been living in a small rental with just ONE bathroom! I can identify, for sure. Great post. Thanks for sharing how volunteering is bringing your family closer.

  6. Could you tell me more about your puzzle? Link or at least who makes it?

  7. A spirit of volunteering, or selflessly giving, is so important to impart to our children. I enjoyed your article, I happen to love kitty-cats too. You have reminded me to include volunteering in our schedule also.

  8. Our adoption via foster care took place almost 2 years ago–placement took place 2 1/2 years ago–and we’re still working toward healing. When people share awesome stories about volunteering in the community I feel kind of achy and sad because I think, “We can’t do that!” But perhaps we are doing that–just in our actual home. My teens spend hours each week engaged in childcare and housework in order for our family of 14 to keep running. The younger kids who have had a stable family from the start are also amazing at serving their siblings who have not had it so good.


    This is a silly place to voice such musings, but here I am, doing it anyway.

    I wonder if the need to help and to contribute to the betterment of the world is ever assuaged by any level of sharing.
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (1/1/18)

    • “But perhaps we are doing that–just in our actual home.”

      Yes, Anne! And the world has been changed by the lifetime of volunteering and serving your family chose when you chose adoption. It doesn’t only affect you and yours, it’s a testimony of real, hands-and-feet love to all those who come in contact with your family.

    • Anne, fostering and adopting children, giving them love and safety, is the greatest act of volunteering and giving. Thank you!
      Nicola’s latest post: homeschooling – the path ahead

  9. I love the idea of demonstrating and participating in community service. What a great thing to do as a family. And I love the photos of the kittens. Well done!

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

Never miss a blog post,
PLUS get Jamie’s FREE ebook: