Opposition in the Homeschool: Dealing with the Grumbles

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

I had an incredible summer blogging sabbatical, and totally enjoyed the guest posters and contributors who shared in this space while I was away. I know you did, too!

It’s nice to “see” you again here, and I have a question to ask:

Do any of you ever find the grumbles have infiltrated your homeschool?

I hope it isn’t just me. There are different types of grumbles: sibling rivalry grumbles, complaints about chores, hearing ourselves grumble about our own role, or grumbles about schoolwork in general.

Recently we’ve entered a season of sibling rivalry grumbles, which is a subject for another post! But as I’ve been learning how to deal with this newest test of a mother’s fortitude, it has helped me to remember that we’ve gone through other trying seasons and come out of them successfully.

Take this winter, for example. I found myself in a bit of a rut, and really not enjoying the day-to-day routine and the grumbles that accompanied it. Hoping for some inspiration, I flashed an email off to my friend, contributor here, and Waldorf educator, Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys.

It went something like this:

“My kids and I have always had a pretty strong rhythm to our days, but recently I’ve found lots of grumbling coming from them:

They grumble when it’s circle time, when it’s story time, when it’s learning time, when it’s video time, when it’s chore time, pretty much any time except run around and play like crazies time.

I know a lot of this grumbling and opposition is developmentally normal at this age; what’s challenging though is that all three of mine are pretty much at the same developmental stage. So it’s like development on steroids! And I feel like I’m failing at times when I’ve worked so hard to create a “rhythmical, simple, flowing, gentle” pace to the day and they are still complaining about it!

I wondered if the Waldorf philosophy offers any guidance about a situation like this or just if you have any advice as a seasoned mom!”

Sarah’s response gave me such encouragement that I knew I wanted to share it with you.

She writes:

“What you describe is exactly the experience I had in the first few months of homeschooling, and what I tried to describe in my post, Learning to Let Go.

I was trying to incorporate circle time and other elements from a Waldorf school day. My kids began to sulk and groan, and act out. Pretty quickly I began to learn how homeschooling is different from teaching in a classroom in an institutional setting.

I became less fixed and rigid about what we did when, while still striving to keep a rhythm to our days. Our rhythm became more like: Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, learning, outside time, lunch, artistic activities, free time, dinner, clean-up, reading, bed.

The big thing that changed for me was our learning period. I made the shift from strict lesson plans, to more spontaneous activities inspired by the children’s interests:

“We heard that great talk on owls and eagles yesterday at the nature center. Let’s go to the library today and get books to learn more about them!”

I learned to let go of formal circle time and instead incorporate singing throughout our day. I discovered that circle time at home with three children did not have the same quality as it does in a classroom full of children. It felt forced and artificial. The kids felt self-conscious.

What are the important elements of circle time? Movement, language and song. We can weave those elements into our days in so many other ways.

The more I let go of a fixed curriculum and my expectations on what we were “supposed to be doing,” the happier we were, and the more enthusiastic we all became about learning.

I came to realize that children never stop learning. If we really observe and listen, they will guide us as to what they need.

But when we are so busy reading curricula, making lesson plans, and reading other’s opinions of what our children need, we often miss their cues and run the risk of turning them off.

If we can find ways of bringing joy and love to our days with children (which might mean taking time alone sometimes for self-care), they will find joy and delight in learning.

Remember that a Waldorf classroom setting (or any classroom) is an institutional model and very different from learning at home. A teacher with a class of 25 students is not able to tailor her lessons to every  individual child’s needs and interests. Her tools will be very different in terms of trying to motivate students.

But don’t we choose to homeschool so that we can give our children the individual attention that a school setting can’t? As a parent, we know and love our children better than anyone.

If we allow ourselves to, and trust, our intuition will guide us in best meeting our children’s needs.”

Ah, deep breath out. Just what I needed to hear to overcome the grumbles! How do you conquer them in your home?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I find that if too many grumblings are going on, something needs to give…whether that be a particular curriculum or style I’m hanging on to with all my might or chores/rhythm that need to be rearranged or me letting go of my “planning” to actually spend time in relationship. Usually if I do the latter more then there is less grumbling in the other areas! 🙂
    Amy @ simply necessary’s latest post: Camp Wrap Up

  2. Great post. I think it is so true that sometimes as home educators we lose sight of the fact that perhaps part of the reason we made this choice was to loosen the highly structured lives children in ‘normal’ school are put through!
    I am now inspired to allow a bit more ebb and flow go on around here.
    Natalia’s latest post: WIN a copy of ‘Steady Days’ by Jamie C. Martin

  3. Thank you for this! I wish I’d read it this time last year, before we embarked on our first year of homeschooling. My 2nd grader grumbled a lot (and I mean for hours, every day) for all of September and October. I did not handle it well, and it was NOT a good beginning to our homeschooling adventure!

    Things improved a lot when I lightened up and relaxed my rather strict approach to our school schedule and getting our work done. But I felt like I was being a softie, and not in a good way.

    It was very encouraging to me to hear Susan Wise Bauer speak about bad attitudes in the spring. She said when small kids (not 15-year-olds) are getting really upset about school, what they’re usually telling you (although not very articulately) is that whatever’s causing the meltdowns is not working for that child, and you should do something else. Wow, was this ever liberating to hear!

    Thanks for addressing this issue, and for all the encouragement and inspiration you guys provide at Simple Homeschool!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Eleanor Roosevelt on Blogging

  4. Thanks for sharing Jamie:) Looking forward to reading everyones suggestions.
    Sara S’s latest post: Recent Flowers

  5. Thank you for this. It’s exactly what I need at this very moment. I’m “officially” beginning homeschooling this year and have overwhelmed myself over the past few days, especially, with trying to create a lesson plan, goals, etc. I know my children need to just ‘be’ and learn by doing and loving, but I need the reassurance of a scheduled day to know I’m on track. It’s finding the balance in between that is difficult.

  6. Where is that fabulous playhouse??
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: One Sentence Debut Reviews: July

  7. Oh, that’s so good! I love what she said about small-group circle time feeling “forced and artificial” — I can so relate! (So I don’t have to do this, do I? Yippee!) And Anne’s comment above about feeling like a softie is also good!

    Thank you!

  8. This was a fabulous post and coincides with my first years of homeschooling as well. I think it’s great advice and believe wholeheartedly that homeschooling is easier than we make it a lot of the time 🙂
    My concerns right now with my 11-yr-old boy, though, are that he’s grumbling because he’s feeling lazy. I think it’s time for me (his mentor) to push him to a new level. I need to learn how to encourage him out of his comfort zone. His dad just did exactly that when they went rock climbing and blogged about it on our family blog; now I’d like to do it in his schooling.
    Karina Palmer’s latest post: Lazy

  9. I really needed to read this as I’m starting to get down to the nuts and bolts of planning our school year. I have found that it’s a tough balance between knowing that the grumbles mean something needs to be changed up or let go of and knowing when he’s just being a normal grumbly kiddo. For us, the structure is more about me making sure I’m getting in what I think I need to get in. When he grumbles I take it as a sign to review what we have going on or take a day and lighten it up. I try not to let it make me doubt my path, just check my map to make sure I’m on the right road!!
    Tara@riceandbeanslife’s latest post: The Solution to Summer Fun: Sometimes It’s Just One Simple Thing

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this Jamie. I have struggled with making circle time “work” and feel natural. This so comforting as I plan for the school year ahead. My mom often tells me “you can’t push a rope.” I think that’s maybe what I was doing with circle time. Thanks again!

  11. I really agree with your friend. I was trained as a teacher and love the classroom. But forcing home school into that same routine and environment does not work. Although I’ve been out of the classroom for years, it’s taken 5+ years of home schooling to get the classroom out of this teacher! Home school works best for us when I am strong in flexibility, spontaneity, capturing the ‘teachable moment’ (with character/wisdom training and not just academics) and FAITH. If this is what God has called me to do, He will give me what I need day by day. It is a journey, and I am still met with many surprises. My kids are different too…. one functions great when there is a ‘time’ set for everything, the other is much more free-flowing and gets bored/frustrated when all is constantly and consistently planned. So, how do I walk that line? Our days are not like little tidy boxes tied up with bows. Our days are planned in a general sense, but often look more chaotic that I am comfortable with! But my kids are learning, still love to learn, and, most importantly, I’m living the life I feel I am called to, and learning SO much right along with them.

  12. Thank you!

  13. This is a great post! I am a first year homeschooler and a teacher by trade. I have struggled with trying to not implement a “classroom” at home. My girls are gobbling up information with gusto and I am trying hard to keep up with their appetite, but I also worry that I am either pushing them too much or not enough. It’s nice to be reminded to just relax and go with the flow of it all!

  14. You said: The more I let go of a fixed curriculum and my expectations on what we were “supposed to be doing,” the happier we were, and the more enthusiastic we all became about learning.
    I am absolutely agree. And there is another factor – the environment. We must create the right environment for our children and it will influence them better than any of our words.
    Thank you very much for this post!
    Katie’s latest post: kabbalah

  15. awesome post!!! thanks Jamie 🙂

  16. We’ve encountered this kind of ‘grumbly’ mood periodically, and it usually means we need to change things up! Neither adults or children really love being in a daily grind, and thankfully homeschooling gives us some wiggle-room.

    I appreciate the perspective of this post, since I too was a teacher before homeschooling. I came into homeschooling with a lot of assumptions about what works with kids, but of course most of those things were intended for a large class setting. As you said, though, when I reduce my role to simply providing the inspiration and opportunities that the kids need, they respond really well. Teachers are sometimes queens of ‘control’ and homeschooling will not work that way.
    Root and Twig’s latest post: Turning our Front Lawn into a Vegetable Garden (Pt 2): De-Grassing

  17. My kids are seven and two. My seven (soon to be eight) year old is the one who is receiving his home education at this time. This is our second year homeschooling. EVERY SINGLE DAY still involves grumbles. From the beginning to the end. To top it off they are boys, they have a tendency to randomly walk away and beat on one another. Potty breaks turn into adventures, lunch can drag out into 2 hours of explaining why birds fly into the window.

    Riley tries to buck the system as much as possible. My goal for this year is not to convince him to submit, my goal is simply to try my best to convince him that if he respects the process it will pay off. My own goals are to accept the grumbles, and be more forgiving, and more patient. One day at a time right?
    cat’s latest post: Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, and neither was our curriculum.

  18. I have been homeschooling for about three years now and while I do keep things loose with a flexible routine, this last year the grumblies have run amok on my poor household. It feels so much better knowing that I am not alone and that it can be overcome (also that I am not failing) thank you for such an encouraging post.

  19. I love this piece and have shared it in several places as it puts in writing much of what I find myself describing in person to others . I have been through similar process of de-schooling as a teacher-turned-homeschooler. What happens in a home and what happens in a classroom are different and, for my family, greater happiness has come from letting go of best classroom practices and embracing the authenticity that is our family’s emerging style and rhythm.
    Martianne Stanger’s latest post: Join the Journey Toward Beautifying Your Home One Small Baby Step at a Time

  20. Just curious, now that this post is 5 years old and you don’t have little ones anymore… are you still going with the flow? My son is almost 11 and doesn’t want to do anything other than “relax”. He doesn’t want to do anything unless it’s watching tv or video games. We could have the easiest day & he’ll still complain about “school”. I have to work very hard to make sure the few interests he’s developed are part of our learning so he stays engaged with some form of education and off screens. He still likes to play when we go to park days, but he’s becoming less interested in that also. How do you handle the grumbles & *not* have some sort of schedule when the alternative is a boy who isn’t motivated? I’m not an unschooler, but believe me, I have tried to let him lead the days & it usually ends up with “do you want to play [XYZ] video game with me?”. And btw – I do let him play, but I limit time, so he’s not deprived 😀

    • Natalie, I’d recommend you read more about TJEd/Thomas Jefferson Education – tjed.org and the phases of learning. Here are a couple of posts that may help as well: http://simplehomeschool.net/core-phase/ and http://simplehomeschool.net/top-educational-goal-tweens/

      I know some families find video games an inspiring addition to their homeschool, but for us I’ve always felt that it would be one more thing I had to limit/control, and so for that reason we’ve just never added them to the mix. But again, each family has to decide what’s right for them! If your son isn’t motivated, a return to core phase and a break from screens might be what he needs to rekindle his natural love of learning. Don’t lose heart!

  21. Well I am pondering this very dilemma. Letting the kid lead the schooling or putting my foot down on certain things…
    I just wrote about it here and eould live your input:

    After all humans tend to naturally go towards tge path of least resistance and I really hesitate about letting go and letting my kid decide…
    Sarah Badat Richardson’s latest post: Fun or Reason?

  22. Holly Peterson says:

    This post seems geared more to younger kids. I have been homeschooling all along. My 13 year old (and now my 11 year old is sort of jumping on this train) doesn’t want to do anything but art in her room. She doesn’t want reading tutoring or music therapy (which she needs), she obviously hates math in any form it is presented, and even fun things are wrong if I’m the one who suggests them. You know what? It isn’t my fault or the curriculum’s. I have beat my head against the proverbial wall trying to fix it and I just can’t. As it turns out, it is just her bad attitude. I with I knew what to do! I support her art interests like a stinking art hero! Sigh. Kids are hard. I need to focus on the three younger ones too.

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