Negative space and homeschooling

Negative space and homeschooling
The following is a guest post written by Amy Frank of Frankly Journaling the Journey.

The amount of artistic ability I have could easily fit in a thimble – which I wouldn’t be able to draw. When my kids ask me to draw an animal for them, I always persuade them that a rabbit would be best, since I can draw two basic circles on top of each other and add some ears and whiskers and call it done.

But even though I was never able to master any of the actual techniques I learned in art classes, I did understand one or two of the basic concepts, and the one that I found rattling around in my mind recently was the idea of negative space.

If my non-artistic brain understands it correctly, negative space is the space around the actual image in the artwork. It is not meant to be the focus, although clever artists do pay attention to how it affects the composition.

The parallel I draw to my life, though, goes like this: All of the efforts I am putting into raising and educating our children is the main focus of my “art,” and the negative space is everything around us that we are not doing.

For as long as I have been a mom – well really for as long as I’ve been alive — it has been very easy for me to focus on the negative space in a despairing way.

In other words, no matter how many things I am doing, something always catches my eye and reminds me of what I am not doing, and it becomes a point of distraction.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 6.15.40 PM
(Photo credit)

Perhaps mothers are faced with even greater measures of this thinking, since we have other lives at stake, not just our own. I had to laugh when I read that a Japanese word sometimes used for the concept of negative space is actually ma!”

As a home educator, it usually plays itself out as I’m humming along with our well-researched and thoroughly analyzed curriculum and extra-curricular classes, and then I have a conversation with another homeschooler who has been taking her kids to fencing classes and now they’re excelling so much that they’re going on a trip to Europe to compete in medieval fencing tournaments, and they’ll probably get full college scholarships because who actually knows how to fence these days?


At that point it doesn’t matter to me that my kids have been in soccer, baseball, football, dance, gymnastics, and tennis classes…THEY’RE NOT IN FENCING CLASSES!

Similarly, I may have very conscientiously weighed all of the pros and cons about whether or not my children should learn an old language like Latin or a modern one like Spanish, and have finally made my decision and bought the Rosetta Stone software, and the kids are a third of the way through it….

And then I have a conversation with someone about how important it is for kids to learn French so they can read literature and know how to pronounce words and visit France for a summer. And then all the bells in my head are ringing, “WHY AREN’T MY KIDS LEARNING FRENCH??”

All moms need to make decisions for their children, but homeschooling seems to compound the decision-making. When I grew up in the public school, many of these decisions were made for me. We learned musical instruments for band in the 4th grade, had to choose only between French and Spanish beginning in 7th grade, and were limited in the sports options we could pursue (no fencing).


As a homeschool mom I am faced with not only picking curriculum (Classical education? Charlotte Mason method? Unit-study based?) but also all of their other activities.

In our area there are homeschooling classes for sign language, sculpture, photography, debate, swimming, Lego robotics, and about a hundred other academic and non-academic pursuits (including fencing!), all of which make my head snap up inquisitively when I hear about them.

“Should we do that one?” I hear myself asking about 50 times a year.

Even without all the suggestions and voices from outside sources, I still find it hard not to focus on negative space within the walls of our own home. There are many goals I have each day and I am prone to focus only the ones that did not get done.

On any given day we may have been on track with our studies, had peaceful chore times, gotten to the violin lessons, and memorized a new Bible verse – but all of a sudden I’ll jerk my head up and think, “But wait – I never got the kids outside today!”

And this oversight, this thing we did not do, will be enough to derail the day.

My goal this past year was not to let the negative space focus drag me down.

My children will not excel in all languages and all sports and all musical instruments, and they may not even finish the curriculum for the year (gasp!), but when I focus on what we are doing, the art we are creating with our lives, my breathing can slow down and I can be thankful.

Interestingly, in art often the negative space can actually enhance the piece.

Maybe this is true in our lives as well; what we’re not doing can bring our focus to what we are, and make it more beautiful.

How do you keep your focus on what you are doing in your homeschool, instead of what you aren’t?

About Amy Frank

Amy Frank is a homeschooling mother of four in North Carolina. She journals about her family life at Frankly Journaling the Journey.


  1. I loved this candid poet! It’s me in every way, worried that my kids are missing out, or that I failed to do something. And yes, I focus entirely too much on the negative space, and so appreciated that term and application because it is a distraction, and zaps me of realizing the art we’re creating within that. Thank yo for helping my perspective shift.

  2. I think many people in many situations second guess themselves when they see something that the didn’t do or get that the neighbor did. It’s probably part of “thou shall not covet” basically learning for all of us to be happy with what we have & what we have chosen.

  3. What a fantastic post! That’s a terrific analogy. The idea that the negative space in our homeschooling can somehow be a part of its beauty is inspiring to me today.
    Rachel at StitchedinColor’s latest post: Flirting the Issue Sew-Along {link party}

  4. Charlotte Quevedo says:

    I am guilty of the same. My biggest issue is feeling bad that my house is not as clean as all my neighbors with more children and then wondering if other honeschoolers have much cleaner, organized homes. My dd still takes naps so I struggle with whether I should fill her morning with outside time or if she should be doing learning puzzles and shape sorters. Likewise I struggle between the schooling at home and unschooling philosophies. When I think I am having her play to many letter/number games, I back off, take her to the zoo, go horse back riding, etc. Then I start imagining her a 15 yo who can’t read although I know good and well she is very bright and is picking up on it gradually. Bottom line it will not be a perfect journey but what is most important is that she has plenty of time and I know that with all the naps, field trips, breastfeeding, puzzles, books, talking/convo, everything I do, I am imparting to her a rare gift that will transform her into a special person. A special person she needs to be because she has a special needs brother whom she loves dearly.

  5. Powerful. I can apply this to ANY part of my life. Distraction robs me (and this kids) of the thorough joy that can be found in the stuff that we ARE doing. Here’s to staying focused and invested.
    Mel’s latest post: when other parents have different values

  6. I heard myself when you wrote “But wait – I never got the kids outside today!” I try to make decisions based on previously thought out priorities and values. I recently wrote a post on my Fear of Missing Out on things. Thanks for this great post!
    Amy’s latest post: What I fear most about homeschooling, and it’s not socialization

  7. This is so true- and I am trying to make some changes for next September…I need to make choices now about activities when I am burnt-out so that we will do less…if I wait until the end of summer when I am feeling fresh…I will say YES to too many things
    priest’s wife @byzcathwife’s latest post: A Reluctant Review of The Little Oratory’s Introductory Sections

  8. Thank you for this wonderful post!
    brooke’s latest post: milk dreams

  9. I love this writing! I feel the attention on the negative space is sometimes overwhelming! I am going to commit to forget about all the things I can’t do and enjoy more positive space!

  10. I think this is an incredibly important post. It can be really distracting and discouraging to focus on what others do. Each child, including PS kids, have different experiences, which help develop their unique selves. Of course, we all want our kids to have the best and most varied experiences. We sometimes forget that other people’s choices may not be the best for us. Certainly we can keep our minds open to ideas, and we can be happy for others’ success, but we will be happier following our own paths. I stopped reading “perfect family” type homeschool books years ago, so I could focus on us. Thanks for the great reminder.

  11. This is very reassuring. You have blessed me by writing this article. Thank you so much.

  12. Printing this one out for the lesson-planning book! 🙂
    Melissa D’s latest post: Signing Time Sale & Kickstarter Campaign!

  13. This is so helpful and timely as I start prepping for next year. Thank you! Funnily enough, fencing is the Only option I have. Heh heh. And me thinking all the time I’m a failure for not having them in soccer.

  14. Daksina says:

    Great post!! This is exactly what I’m going through right now and reading it in black and white makes me realise how silly I’m being! Thank you for your encouraging words x

  15. So well written. One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to say “no” more often– to outside pulls at my time, sometimes to my kids, and most often, to myself! There’s just not enough time or energy to do it all. But it has been so freeing to remember that in order to say yes to the things that are priorities for our family we have to say no to others. the negative space by definition, defines the positive.

  16. LOVE IT! Actually, I find that the more negative space I allow room for, the more growth and learning occurs!
    Shelley’s latest post: Why I Went Commando to My Son’s Sick Visit

  17. SoCalLynn says:

    I often compare our homeschool to others’ and feel like I’ve fallen far short of providing an excellent homeschool experience. My daughter has never done co-op, speech and debate, soccer or volleyball, make videos with a group about a book the lit class read, etc. (all things her friends have done.) But then I think about all the awesome things she HAS done and the others don’t- she LOVES field trips to the art museum, Shakespeare in the park, learning Japanese and my daughter actually does take fencing lessons and will start competing in the fall. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (sometimes attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.)

  18. I absolutely love this. I think that the overwhelming wealth of choices that we have as homeschool moms is both a blessing and a curse. We CANNOT possibly do everything but man, we can sure try – and wear ourselves out doing it.

  19. This is so wonderful! Thank you! What a great analogy!

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge

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