Rachel’s Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 6, 8, 12, & 15-year-old)

The following is a guest post by Rachel DeMille, co-founder of Thomas Jefferson Education

Wednesday evening, Family Reading Time…

“Can I ever learn?” I asked, almost ready to cry.

“Of course you can,” said Leon. “You’re smart as the others, I suppose. The sevens and nines of the multiplication table are the stickers, but you ought to do them if other girls can.”


I pause my read-aloud, and ask: “Who thinks the nines are hard?” They giggle.

I had already taught them the tricks with nines.

“Which were hardest?” I ask.

Sara (18, in college), Eliza and Ammon vote for Eights. Emma (19, college) says Sixes and Sevens. Meri and Abi have no opinion; they are really more interested in the main character’s pet blue jay. We read on, but a thought stays with me: There has to be a way to demystify Sixes, Sevens, and Eights!

So lying awake early next morning, I challenge myself to find a pattern. Tangents and sidebars spring up as I make mental sticky notes to myself on vocabulary cognates between math-world and real-world, as I ponder what candies would be useful in teaching primes and composites, and…

EUREKA! I found it! But that starts me thinking about a pattern for Sixes, so I turn it over and over like a rubik’s cube, and then…

YES! This one was much easier to find. Of course I hold no illusions. These are probably the simplest of discoveries that curious minds throughout the ages have detected. I’m pretty old to be a budding mathematician, but my career was put on hold when I filled my high school schedule with choir classes once my math requirements were completed. I never made it to Algebra II back then. But I’ve been reading lots of fun math books lately, and my mind is starting to take the hint. (The kids are following suit!)

So it’s 5:07 and I’m reviewing my thoughts, retracing, trying to reiterate them in hopes that they won’t slip away like a pizza dream. I’m able, with some effort, to rewind back to the beginning and replay it. I think I got it all.

At six o’clock, I finally give myself permission to grab my notebook and download the equations and learning activities I’ve been toying with. Downstairs to make me some Mean Green juice while the computer loads my inbox with to-do’s. I start some steel-cut oats to simmer. I can’t wait to share my epiphanies with the kids!

They’re not up for a couple of hours, so I set about some chores; I’m still reorganizing the study when they wander in for their breakfast.

I soon hear a joyful noise from the other room, and go in to find them constructing “geometric solids” and experimenting with the “calculus” of catapult trajectories.

Crash, bang, put it all away, and it’s time now to start our “kidschool.” We meet in the great room around a table. There are all manner of supplies, resources and of books within a few steps. A prayer and pledge help get us in harmony, then we start with me sharing…whatever I’m excited about.

I call it “Rachel’s ‘Mine'” – a double entendre that represents nuggets from my personal study that are fun or inspiring for me. I feel strongly that the most important thing I teach is a passion for self-education; if they master this, the whole world is theirs.

In past days Rachel’s “Mine” has ranged from hearing the peasant wedding, the horns on the hunt and the raging rapids in Smetana’s “The Moldau” to deconstructing Tennyson’s “The Eagle” as the riddle that it is – admiring the images, the word choice and the sense of wonder it evokes.

Today, though, I’m eager to find out if my wee-hour brainstorming will translate. Will the kids think it’s as cool as I do?

Eliza has inherited my fascination with numbers, and she’s all in. Ammon is game and follows right along.

Meri and Abi may listen in and out as they want, and have little projects at the table to keep them busy and happy. Eliza and Ammon literally laugh out loud as I show them what I found. We play with math on the white board for a while, move on to some other things, and after an hour or so I’m feeling pretty good.

Then we split up. Ammon plays Memory with the girls while I read A History of US and Eliza works on algebra – all around the table. Then they go do their other projects.

Eliza’s in Scholar Phase, and Ammon’s in Transition to Scholar, meaning that they have contracts that define their study schedule, privileges and responsibilities as young adults in the home. They are each reading a novel from the TJEd Teen 100 Book List, and together they spend some time on my computer reviewing the resources on This Week in History.

Meri is in Love of Learning Phase; Abi is in Core Phase. Knowing about the Phases of Learning helps me ignore pressures to conform and focus on what’s most important for each of my kids. (You can access a free PDF about the phases of learning here.)

While reading with me, Meri asks, “Mom, why can’t I go to public school?” She and Abi look on expectantly for me to say something wise.

I mutter a little prayer under my breath. I want them to understand why we do what we do, but I don’t want them to assume that other parents are not making the right choices for their own kids, or that the amazing and dedicated teachers in the public schools are not worthy of our profound respect and gratitude. I attempt an answer and Meri appreciates the effort, but I can see that this conversation is not over.

We return to reading together. Lo and behold, the book is a godsend. The Boxcar Children are going on an ocean voyage, and their amazing teachers have prepared for each a notebook with personalized studies based on their journey and the kids’ individual needs.

I point out how brilliant and thoughtful these teachers were in their selections (navigation by the stars, radio communication via the ship’s system, meteorology, marine biology, etc.).

I explain that this is what Mommy and Daddy are doing for her and each of her siblings.

I tell her that teachers in today’s classrooms have limitations on how they share their deepest feelings, what books they can use, and the time they spend on each child.

In our home, we do not answer to someone that doesn’t know Meri’s interests, gifts, or personal mission. There will be no cookie-cutter curriculum for her! We select resources, projects and applications designed to help her achieve excellence in both character and competence, and prepare her to do what she was born to do.

Meri beams with gratitude and individual worth. And this time, because of the example in a story she’s loving, the words hit home, and she really gets it. I am thankful, not for the first time, that the classics do the heavy lifting for me in teaching and inspiring my kids. We read Hirsch and Fred.

Towards evening, Dad gathers the family in the great room; we read scriptures and then from our current family novel, Laddie. This is the fourth time we have returned to this favorite, and the older kids are as thrilled as we are to share it with their sibs.

After dinner, Oliver and I spend some time debriefing the day, talking business, arguing politics and watching football. Pretty soon I’m tuckered out and head to my room. But Dad’s a night owl, and he’ll get a crack at the kids while I’m settling down to review the day before bed.

He leaves a note for me to find in the morning:

  • He had Ammon teach the little girls about Abe Lincoln and the Civil War (with details filled in by Dad). They talked about honesty, persistence, and slavery. Meri said it reminded her of the book Dad had recently read to her, Johnny Bunko, which teaches, “Persistence Trumps Talent”. They reviewed and discussed the other five lessons from the book.
  • He had Ammon tell Meri and Abi the story of “A Winter’s Tale,” then put the girls to bed.
  • Dad found an article on Finnish Education Reform; he reviewed and discussed it with Eliza.
  • He worked with Ammon on Scouts for an hour.

As I take stock, here are…

The Things I Meant To Do, But Didn’t Get To, Today:

  • Piano lessons with Eliza and Meri
  • Make a clock face for use as a number line, multiplication manipulative, etc. Maybe tomorrow?
  • Help Ammon write his paper for Key of Liberty class, due next week
  • Review/update Eliza’s Scholar Contract and make sure we’re in sync on her goals and plans
  • Take back the library books

Tomorrow the neighborhood co-op will be at my house. We’ll learn some ASL, some anatomy, and I’ll test my math magic with the moms. I’m having some epiphanies on patterns within the set of numbers that are perfect squares…

Are you passionate about self-education? How do you share your passion with your kids?


  1. I really like the idea of Rachel’s Mine and passing on your passion of self-education to your children. Right now with my two-year old I’m simply trying to show her that mom loves reading just as much as she does.
    Steph’s latest post: For the Days You Get Nothing Done

  2. I love the idea of teaching them to have a passion for education. One of my top goals for homeschooling! Thanks for a look inside your day.
    Barb Martin’s latest post: Homeschool Journal {Week 3}

  3. I listened to Rachel and Oliver Demille speak at a homeschool convention about ten years ago, and their work was possibly life changing for me. I couldn’t resist blogging about it today. I am so glad I heard them and read their book!
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Relaxed Homeschooling: A Thomas Jefferson Education

  4. Hi, I couldn’t help but have an old song run through my head as I read about the 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s times tables. I have always learned things better when they are put to song. I learned my times tables, way back when, through the “School House Rock” videos. I don’t even know if they are still available, but it would be worth looking into!

    • Yep, you can still find that on Amazon. My kids enjoy it. It’s really more of a chant to help memorize skip counting, which is hugely valuable. The thing I was looking for was the relationship between the numbers that both unlocked the key so it wasn’t just rote memorization, but helped prompt them to look at future problems mathematically. Can you find the pattern for the sixes that I did? I’ll give you a hint: The pattern shows up on the even multiples…
      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

  5. Rachel (and Jamie), I loved reading about your day. It sounds a bit saner than mine! 😉 I’ve read your books and we did This Day in History for a year, so I feel like I have some degree of a handle on the philosophy behind how you run your day.

    One question: In your books, it sounds like your family emphasizes household chores in the early years quite a bit. I was wondering when and how these fit into the day? Maybe I just missed it. I ask because I’m still trying to figure out a smooth routine for us; often we’re scrambling to finish chores at the end of the day (or I’m nagging). I feel like those are just as important as academics in our homeschool, but pushing either one to the end of the day doesn’t seem to work so well.

    To answer your question, my small book club is about to embark on a systematic program of reading the classics, and I hope to continue sharing my enjoyment with my children, as they see me read and take notes. One of the other moms and I recently started a book discussion group that includes, and focuses on, our children. We’re excited to see it take off!
    Hannah’s latest post: Packing Our Bags

    • Hannah, to be perfectly honest, that has changed drastically from year to year and season to season. Jamie will attest that my first draft of this post showed us picking up several times, as we transitioned from one project to the next. We usually try to have the house all picked up and kitchen done before we start kidschool. But sometimes I have to break the pattern and just dig in to kidschool first, or it seems like we never get to it, you know? I’m a pretty relaxed gal with a high standard of “clean” so my nature and my goals seem to be at odds – but we make it work. For me, it’s so important to create the environment for success. In order for us to have a clean house, I have to make sure we have a place for everything that’s convenient. When we have too much stuff it seems like no matter how much we clean, it’s always a big job to say on top of it. So now, part of our routine includes “purging” things to a box in the closet near our garage door, and it gets taken away to donate quite often. Every batch of laundry folded is subject to purging, as is every cleaning of a bedroom, drawer or closet. When you don’t have to care for stuff, you can actually do the other things like wiping light switches and changing sheets. I’m no expert, but that’s my $.02.
      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

  6. Great post, Rachel.

  7. This is absolutely amazing!!! I love how you enjoy it!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Grocery Shopping and Menu for the week

  8. I am always learning at home and my kids see that but I recently began studying formally again and my kids see me choosing to give up “free time” to study something I am passionate about. I do believe this is a wonderful model of life-long learning and learning for pleasure.
    Kika@embracingimperfection’s latest post: A Mom and her girl

  9. I have read Leadership Education, and loved the whole concept. However, I get so bogged down in life-mission-doing-what-you-were-born-to-do part. I don’t feel that I’ve figured out my life mission yet, so I find it hard to help my children with that. How do you know what you were born to do, and what if it doesn’t really match up with what you wish you could do? I dove into homeschooling in spite of my concerns, and we’re doing the best we can. It’s a steep learning curve for me, but we’ll have to muddle through somehow!

    • You know, Katie, I don’t know that knowing for certain what to call your life’s mission is the key to fulfilling it. In living deliberately, eschewing the things that are not worth the cost or that are a waste of precious time and resources (whether they are projects, possessions or what-have-you), and giving love in every moment – I think we happen upon a life filled with meaning. For some few of us, that may amount to what the world recognizes as a powerful life’s contribution, but for most of us it means doing the small important things that make all the difference in adding our few threads to the weave of goodness and light. I think the ambition to be notable is not as powerful as the commitment to do the next right thing. You might enjoy this article: http://www.tjed.org/2011/03/steel-gold-feminism-stateswomanship/
      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

    • One individual said it to me thus: Just do the next right thing. I think that sums up a powerful life mission.
      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

  10. Thanks Rachel for the peek in your house, after reading everything TJed I could get my hands on it is nice to peek in your window for a day! Before a couple years of intense upheavel in our lives we read so many classics out loud and recently as life has FINALY settled into a new normal I have been missing it! We have been reading James Herriots Dog Tales for my animal lovers! Thanks for the reminder and the joy of your post!!

    • I can relate, Danna. My life in the past several years has been, can we say, a struggle. Our 10yo son has multiple disabilities and both his daily care and health maintenance with appointments and therapies is time-consuming and worrisome; 3 1/2 years ago my husband had a major health crash and had to retire immediately from EVERYTHING, inspiring me to build a business I could run from home, and meanwhile, my own health has been a huge issue since I almost died after my youngest was born. The stress I allowed myself to feel in dealing with it all has been an obstacle to my well-being. I’ve written quite a bit about homeschooling in crisis, and the funny thing is – on this end of it, as life is starting to sort itself out a little bit, I can see that my family is so happy and strong. While I’m sure I would rather have had this result without the pain and challenges, I wouldn’t trade the blessings for ANYTHING. The new normal is so rewarding! There were so many times when I wished I could do this or that, but in retrospect I find that nothing important was lost, and so much of lasting value was gained.
      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

    • Here’s a post you might be able to relate to, Danna:

      rachel’s latest post: Family Roles

  11. This is amazing! What dedication. This is why I LOVE passionate homeschoolers.
    Purva Brown’s latest post: Why Educating My Children Does Not Scare Me

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