Homeschooling, but not at home


Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things.

This has been a crazy season for my family. Well, even more crazy than usual I guess.

My oldest son, who has High Functioning Autism, was also recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain and fatigue.

My youngest son, is getting older. He is profoundly dyslexic, and I am finding that as he matures, he is also profoundly incapable of learning unless it involves moving, jumping, spinning and/or hanging upside down.

The more we move through this wonderfully messy life, the more I am realizing that our homeschool is not going to look like anyone else’s that I know, or the ones in many of the blogs I read.

For example, last week we had a series of doctors’ appointments that not only meant we were at the hospital for the entire day, but we had a two hour drive to get there and back.

And in a fit of desperation, we ended up at the local fish store (again), because my oldest is completely obsessed with aquariums right now.

And my youngest wants nothing to do with books, but thinks the skate park and his friend’s backyard might be his second homes.

I find that as I try and meet the needs of my ever changing family, we have  been homeschooling at home less and less.

At first, I totally rebelled. I was sure if it wasn’t at home and part our routine for the day, then it didn’t really “count” as learning.

I tried and I tried on the days we were at home, to make up for lost time. In what might be the largest understatement I have ever typed, please allow me to say – it did not work. Not. At. All.

The more I pushed, the more stress we all felt. The more stress we all felt, the more emotions flared. The more emotions flared, the less anyone really ended up learning.

As we approached the end of the school year, I decided it was time to just let it go. I gave up and did the best I could, with the reality of our new, more hectic schedule.


Our learning consisted mostly of:


I didn’t know this was an actual term until this year, but let me say, it has changed my life.

Audio books in the car, when no one was really listening to the read aloud on the couch.

Learning apps on the iPad including, ‘Stack the States’ and ‘Presidents vs. Zombies’, when our US history curriculum was falling woefully behind.

Google searches using the smart phone when a random question about native birds comes up (prompted only by daydreaming and looking out the window on a long drive).

All have served our learning very, very well.

(That and we get from point A to point B without arguments, the repetitive “I’m bored,” or meltdowns. Please say it with me – Win Win!)

Local businesses

My son’s complete fixation on fish and aquariums meant we were at a fish and/or pet store at least three times last week (and four times the week before).

The crazy thing is, I cannot believe how much we learned in our time there.

Sometimes, my son would educate his younger brother about coral reefs or the difference between fresh water rivers in South America vs. Africa.

Sometimes, the shop owner would take pity on me and take over, discussing care and the operational aspects of tank ownership.

Most of the time, we just wandered, and both of my sons would talk non-stop about all the new things they had learned about this fish and that habitat.

When the fourth customer mentioned to me how smart my boys were, I decided to just relax and enjoy the time as a different opportunity to learn.


Exercise as a nonnegotiable

Because of my son’s physical limitations, we have had to be much more intentional about how and when he exercises.

In the past, I would choose the more “academic” subjects as a first priority. The math lesson just seems so much more official than jumping on the trampoline for 20 minutes.

Because of the medical necessity however, I am beginning to value the learning time spent outside on walks, or in occupational therapy as much, if not more, than any of our more “school-y” subjects.

More importantly, I am learning this is applicable to both of my children – not just the one with doctor’s orders.


As our not at home at all schedule has intensified, I have been tempted to eliminate the playdates on our calendar, and just stay home for a change.

I am so glad I didn’t.

Every time my boys are with their friends, I am encouraged to see how much they are developing – and not just socially.

Often, a playdate will consist of cooking projects, building things, recording videos, and telling stories. I was struck a few weeks ago by how much our playdate looked like a small school, with age appropriate projects going on all around us.


Although I am looking forward to life slowing down a bit, I am amazed at how much my children learn in our day-to-day activities.

As much as I crave the satisfaction of the completed worksheet, or time spent in focused learning at the table, this season is teaching me that what my children need most, are opportunities to engage their world.

Have you had a busy season like this? How did your children learn while not at home?

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is the creator of Not The Former Things, a blog dedicated to homeschooling children with learning differences and special needs. She loves finding out-of-the-box ways for out-of-the-box learners to thrive. She is the author of two books, Special Education at Home and Everyday Autism. You can follow Shawna and Not The Former Things on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. Love this post! You could start looking at unschooling blogs! They may be similar! This is just like us. My son was at the doc this week, with an hour drive there and an hour back. He read all of his Mo Willems books in the car and even read words I didn’t know he knew! We talked a lot too! It was great! He learned to swim in the creek, studies bugs he finds, and sooo much more once I just let go! He is learning so much! It’s nice to follow their lead!

  2. Helen Blumner says:

    Have you heard of vision therapy? A friend of mine started taking her daughter with dyslexia and it has helped immensely. My friend and all 3 of her kids do it, as a way of supporting the child with dyslexia, so it’s something you all could do together.

  3. Both of my kiddos have struggled with Sensory Processing Disorder(people don’t always know where it comes from, but in our case, they were both adopted from foster care, having been born exposed to toxic substances, so we have a pretty good idea where it came from and have been in OT from very early). As a result, I have one kiddo who is VERY active and seeks the kind of sensory input that you are describing with your second boy. I have been pretty sure from day one that we needed to consider unschooling. And, in doing so, I have found that my kids are already learning so much at 3.5 and 4 years old! We have years of speech therapy and OT and possible CBT and therapeutic horseback riding…there is just no way we will be sitting at a kitchen table studying any time soon! Thanks for sharing your discoveries!! All good stuff!
    Jeanene’s latest post: Lord, I believe…help my unbelief(and using your cell phone ALL of the time. Why not?)

  4. What an amazing gift to your children – you have already not only identified how they learn best, but have accepted it with so much grace. I am totally impressed!
    Shawna@nottheformerthings’s latest post: When It Feels Like We Are Never Home

  5. sharon m. says:

    I love this post!!! I always envision our learning happening around the table with stacks of worksheets too. But I felt so bored and stressed out at the end of the school year I decided to take the summer off and just go places and have fun with the kids. My kids and I have had a blast and it is amazing to watch them learn so much at the same time. I’ve realized that this is really what I want my homeschool to look like, us out and about, living life, and soaking in every experience we can. But as the next school year draws near I can feel the pressure closing it. Is it enough? Aren’t my kids missing something? Your article is like permission. Permission to trust myself that it is enough and homeschool does not have to look like traditional school. It can be whatever we want it to be and wherever!!! Thank you:)

    • Oh my goodness, Sharon. I can totally identify! I am learning to focus on the results (learning) more than the process (worksheets at the table). I am glad you feel permission to do what you know is working- honestly, your comment feels the same to me. It’s like reinforcing what we already know deep down.
      Thank you so much!
      Shawna@nottheformerthings’s latest post: A Day In The Life – My Son’s Hospital Visit

      • So glad for the comments you posted Sharon and Shawna. Another year of homeschooling is fast approaching and this hits home that it truly is not about completing the worksheets and checking the boxes of completed tasks. My youngest son is very similar. I feel it’s time to take this school on the road and get outside. Their are only so many ways to keep him engaged while doing his work when all he really wants to do is jump around, and run… anything but sitting!

  6. Thanks for this great perspective. It’s so easy for me to default back to the replication of a classroom school. Mainly out of fear that we will miss something vital if we mix it up too much. But I love your reminder to look around and observe that learning happens regardless. Thanks.

  7. Oh Shawna,
    This, this is my biggest struggle. Loosening my grip on traditional education (neat stacks of books, organized records, imagined happy children sitting quietly at desks doing pointless paperwork – it looks so pretty in my head!) and embracing our messy, hardly believable reality (anxiety attacks a plenty and meltdowns that break the sound barrier). As they grow older, the harder it gets! High School, WHAT? Can’t you just be 3 again? But I’m slowly opening my palms and facing them up to the very One who created them in all of their uniqueness, knows them and their needs intimately, and sees the complete picture. Thankfully, I am becoming more aware of the days when my fists are clenched in a death lock. Since becoming more aware, hopefully, we will have less of those days which lead to meltdowns and anxiety attacks. Here’s hoping! That’s for sharing and releasing us from homeschool, special needs, mommy guilt!

  8. I would love to share my joyful experiences of homeschooling my 7 year old son, however, that has not been the case considering the cultural phenomenon of racial polarity and biases due to having the first (and more likely the last)black president of our country and a surge of police incidents and the black community…..
    Please read Tal Levy’s (“Homeschooling and Racism” in Journal of Black Studies (November 2007; 1-19) compelling analysis homeschooling legislation throughout the United States and how it has had backlash against parents of Color who find it difficult to be incorporated in the mainstream homeschool movement….
    I could only wish that having a “messy” homeschooling regimen was my only challenge. Unfortunately, my husband and I have to navigate the treacherous waters of compulsive education come this 2015-16 school year.
    Shawna, congrats to you and your spouse for the fortitude and God’s Strength to endure your unique homeschooling challenges, it is worth it!
    Geria Wright’s latest post: Homeschooling, but not at home

  9. Just to let you know that you are not alone in the homeschooling world (since I often feel that way ) My oldest is on the high end of the spectrum (16) and I have five other children. My third born is profoundly dyslexic and has deep learning disabilities in writing and math as well. And youngest three are all boys with lots and lots energy and require so much outdoor time and exploration. Needless to say, it’s so tiring and unrelatable for so many, but God has been reaffirming lately that this is my vocation (I wanted him to provide other avenues for education!) and that there is still great joy and fruit to be born within this out-of-the-box home educating lifestyle we are in the midst of. Keep listening to your gut as your oldest gets near the teen years and with what his needs are…it’s easy to begin making very schoolish, contrived decisions based on fear at that point. Way to go on listening to their needs and choosing the path less traveled!
    Aimee’s latest post: A Summer Daybook

  10. Melissa R says:

    We do tons of carschooling, outschooling and yes there’s often a lot of toilet schooling. Learning happens!

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