Shawna’s homeschool day in the life (with a 12- and 15-year-old)

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

Every year, before sitting down to write this annual post, I go back and read my previous days in the life.

It’s a tremendous blessing to have such a wonderful record of my boys’ different ages and all the various homeschooling approaches we have used.

This year, I did the same.

Honestly, it made me really sad.

This day in the life is not recording one of our best, or even one of our average days. This day in the life is in the midst of a very difficult season for my youngest son – physically, emotionally and educationally.

I am recording it however, the same as I have our previous three years, with transparency and a whole lot of grace, for myself and for my boys.


I wake up with my youngest son crying for me. It’s early – like 4 a.m. early.

I go into his room, and climb into his bed with him, whispering words of encouragement and praying he falls back to sleep. He tells me he had a bad dream about the hospital again (he was hospitalized in December with acute pancreatitis and is still recovering) and then begins to settle.

I lie there next to him and try to relax.

Eventually, after worrying a little more than I should, I fall back asleep.

I wake up at 7:45 with a knee in my back and my husband getting ready for work. As soon as I get up, my son wakes and shakily says, “Don’t leave me.”

I encourage him to snuggle with his service dog, Sammy, while I grab a cup of coffee.

I miss mornings to myself. A lot. But it’s just not a reality for me right now, so I do the best I can.

I take my cup of coffee, my to-do list and my Bible back into my son’s room. He snuggles against me and tries to get a little more sleep while I read, pray and plan.

We get up for the day about 20 minutes later.

I get another cup of coffee and sit down with my son to make our “Learning List.” 

I used to make my boys’ lists the night before in their spiral notebooks. Lately though, I have found there is a lot less resistance if I include my son in the process. I write down what I want us to accomplish and then he tells me what he wants to learn about and include in our day.

Our list for this day includes:

  • Reading Stone Soup (my son’s all time favorite and a frequent request when he is struggling)
  • Practicing -th, -sh, -ch and -wh flashcards using sidewalk chalk hopscotch
  • Learn about Dinosaurs and Being an Archaeologist (my son’s suggestion)
  • A little Math Review
  • Chipotle for Lunch (also my son’s suggestion)

After we make our list, I check in on my oldest son. He is snoozing happily, so I whisper that we are going to take Sammy out for a walk. He grumbles and goes back to sleep.

Getting outside before we begin any real learning for the day is one of the best additions to our day. It helps my son expend a little energy and it helps my mood considerably. We are fortunate to live in Southern California where the weather allows for this almost every day.

My son is skipping along happily and I breathe a little sigh of relief. He is having a better day than yesterday’s meltdowns. I’m grateful.

When we get back, I make oatmeal for breakfast and wake up my oldest son in earnest.

I grab one more cup of coffee as we all settle into a discussion of the latest news and world events. I love this. My 15-year-old is the one who decided to add this to our days. It’s amazing to see my boy – now a man – with adult ideas, opinions and conversations.

After that, we complete a quick history lesson together on Lewis and Clark. My oldest son shows me what he is planning on his learning list and then disappears back into his room.

My youngest and I work through his list.

Everything is going really well until math. One torn up worksheet and meltdown later, we head back outside for a dinosaur dig. My secret weapon is my “mom stash.”

When I see kits and crafts on sale, I buy them and then stash them in my closet. Because my son has interests that tend to stay the same (dinosaurs, animals, fossils and gemstones) there is always an activity on hand that works with what we are learning.

Today, he is digging out a model T-Rex skull and comparing a model raptor claw to his dinosaur book.

At 11:30, I urge my teenager to get in the shower and get ready for school. He is attending a part-time program this year in the afternoons and it has been a great addition to his learning and our days.

While he gets ready, I also get ready with my youngest watching Brave Wilderness on the iPad, sitting right outside my door. His separation anxiety is at its worst today. I know I should sit down and talk through the different exercises we’ve been learning to help him, but right now, I just want to brush my teeth.


When my oldest is showered and ready, he asks me to quiz him using his Japanese flash cards. I have no idea what I am even looking at, so I just show him the card and then flip it around and let him decide if he is right.

After dropping him at school, my youngest and I head to Chipotle for lunch. We listen to Harry Potter on the way. This is his fourth time through the series on audiobook and it’s amazing what he is able to articulate as a result. We talk about the dementors and how they make you feel darkness. We talk about how the only way to fight them is by thinking of the best possible, happiest memory ever. I remind him that the Bible says the same thing:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

It’s a good reminder for me as well.

Chipotle is too loud for his over-stimulated sensory system so we take our food and eat it in the car where we can listen to more Harry Potter.

An hour later, it’s time for his CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) appointment. I spend the first part of the appointment in with my son and his therapist, and then I head out to the car while they play some games.

I love this weekly half hour to myself. The car is quiet. I can catch-up on my own to-dos or even nap if I want to.

Today, I need to focus. But after making a phone call to our health insurance company about a bill they are refusing to pay, I decide I’m done and turn on The Homeschool Sisters Podcast instead.

Too soon, the therapist brings my son out to the car for me and I switch the podcast back to Harry Potter.

I know we should head home, but I am not 100% sure what we will do when we get there. I ask my son if he is up for some exercise at the gym and he asks to go rock climbing instead. Perfect!


We make it back home just as my husband walks in after picking up my 15-year-old from school. I am still getting used to my oldest being gone until dinner time. It has thrown off my meal planning game (if I ever really had one) and I find that I am very reactive around dinner time each night.

It happens every day. We need dinner. So why I am surprised when I have to figure out how to feed these people?

I defrost some marinara sauce and make spaghetti. It’s my go-to and it works. As we eat, we watch a few episodes of Central America’s 72 Deadliest Creatures on Netflix.

When it is time for my youngest to head to bed, he panics. He is fearful of being alone and of the dark. He fights it every single night now.

I encourage him to take deep breaths, to relax his legs, to listen to my voice. We turn on a movie, Inside Out, and lie down together in his bed. The movie is something he has seen a hundred times so it is perfect for bedtime. He can listen without being too engaged and eventually fall asleep.

When I hear his deep breathing, I put my hand on his back, pray for him, and then head into his brother’s room.

This is the only time of day my oldest son has one-on-one time with me and he knows it. He has a plan for our time every night.

Tonight, he wants to show me this new game he has been playing where you build a rocket ship and see if  physics will allow it to blast off into space. As he talks me through what he is doing, I smile. I am grateful this kid learns so much, in spite of me.

After about 45 minutes, I am falling asleep in my chair and my son is winding down.

He hugs me good night and I head out to my husband turning off the lights.

We congratulate ourselves on another day and go to bed.

I am learning that a vital part of homeschooling is weathering the tough years as much as it is celebrating the amazing ones. Although I wish our days were a bit easier, I am encouraged to see all the progress we’ve made and how much my boys have grown over the years.

This day in a life is just that, a day. It is a small part of the life we are living, side by side, together.

The good and the bad. The messy and the beautiful. The easy and the really, really hard.

It’s a part of life. It’s a part of homeschooling.

And I am grateful I get to do it all with this precious little family of mine.

Shawna’s previous day in the life posts:

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. I think you are doing a wonderful job. Your boys are very lucky to have you (and you are lucky to have them). Life is hard. For some people it is just far harder than it should be, that makes me sad. Many hugs to you…thank you for sharing and opening up your life.

  2. So brutiful. Thank you for sharing! I love how your sons get to have input on their learning lists each day, and how you make time to chat with your older about current events and whatever he wants at bedtime. Your sons are blessed!

  3. Thank you, always, for sharing so honestly. I know the high needs of growing children bring forth so much emotion, exhaustion, and growth. You aren’t alone.
    Nicola’s latest post: last night I dreamed of rain

  4. Shawna, a great big virtual hug to you. Your love, courage and devotion are inspiring. I’ve had a short fuse lately and your post reminds me to see the beauty and joy of everyday; the deep and meaningful exchanges we share with our children. We’ve struggled to find a rhythm for this school year, but I know that this is where we belong right now, even on the hardest of days. 💜

  5. I was touched and moved by your candor, and your tenderness. Thanks for sharing the hard as well as the tender moments. You are filling your mama calling with love and dedication. Glad you can see the beauty in the tough, and hoping for smoother months ahead, for you and your younger son.

  6. Could I please bother you to ask what the name of the game or app is that your older son is using to build a rocket? Thank you in advance. I appreciate your wisdom in so many areas.

  7. Thank you for sharing your day with us. It helps us on our good and hard days. Stay strong, mama.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful honesty. You are not alone. We are not alone. So grateful for these windows into our shared community, even if across the inter webs.

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