Shawna’s homeschool day in the life (with an 11- & 14-year-old)

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

The title of this post cannot be accurate.

An 11-year-old and a 14-year-old??? How on earth is it possible that I am still homeschooling these kids?

The truth is, when I first started homeschooling, I could barely picture the elementary years.  I went to school to be an elementary special education teacher – I felt like I should have an idea of what to expect.

But middle school and even worse….high school?

A homeschool day in the life

No idea.

I have no idea what it is “supposed” to look like.

Maybe this is a good thing – if I did, I might never allow this day in the life to be published.

Because the longer we homeschool, the more our days look less and less like the school I grew up in.


I wake up first. It’s about 6:00 a.m. (OK, closer to 6:15 because I, for sure, hit the snooze button). I tiptoe to the living room, shushing the meowing cat as I go, desperate to have a little time to myself before all my people wake.

It works, and until 7:30, the house is quiet. I pray, read the Bible, do a few stretches for my back while the coffee brews and work on blog stuff until I hear the first, “Mommmmmaaaaaahhhh” of the day.

My youngest is awake. He wants to talk about magic tricks – like immediately. I lie down next to him and he tells me all about how the “zig zag lady” trick is performed. He is chatty today. I make a mental note and think it will be a perfect day to include narration in our learning.

After twenty minutes, he is still talking. My husband peeks in and says goodbye as he heads to work. I decide it’s time to get up and start our day (plus I really, really want another cup of coffee). I wake up his older brother as well.

The boys decide to watch a YouTube video together while I get ready. Suddenly, I can hear them laughing and yelling from my bathroom. I run out (because…boys, especially my super curious but not always super cautious boys) and see that they are watching a video about Giant Sea Slugs. They’re gross, but also science-y, so I go back to getting dressed.

YouTube is a homeschooling must-have for us lately. Anytime we are struggling to get on track with our learning for the day, or I need a little break from my two learners, we have an approved list of YouTube channels that “count” as school. Our favorites lately include computer build videos, Brave Wilderness, Crash Course, Animal Wonders and VSauce3.

The boys continue to happily chat about water cooling a computer build (it’s a thing, just trust me on this) while I fix breakfast. I bring it to them and allow them to keep watching while they eat. They’re happy, engaged and eating. I call it a win and start a load of laundry.

The boys come out on their own at 10:30. They want to try one of the science experiments they saw on YouTube. It involves an egg and salt – I think this means very little mess and they can pretty much handle it on their own, so I happily get their supplies while I pull out meat to defrost for dinner.

They are able to get the egg to stand up on its own and they are thrilled. My oldest keeps repeating, “This is science…in action!” (thank you Mythbusters) but then my youngest decides to see if he can smash the egg with the palm of his hand.

Turns out he can.

There is splattered, sticky egg yolk all over the kitchen, but my son agrees to help clean it up. I decide this too, is a win.

We clean the kitchen, and then take care of all of their animals. The boys need my help with most aspects of their pets’ care (think stinky water changes all over your floor, and you’ll understand why I am still the head zoo keeper), so we all work together to get the job done.

A bearded dragon, tegu, tortoise, rosy boa, four leopard geckos and fish tank later, we are ready for some fresh air. We walk the dog and play at the park for a bit, then head back home for lunch.


I didn’t grocery shop like I had planned to yesterday, so our lunch consists of piles of sliced apples, cheese and pistachios. The boys don’t complain, and I don’t feel guilty.

While they eat, I ask my youngest to tell me a little bit more about the short story he has been working on in his head.

At eleven years old, he can barely read and write at a second grade level (still, huge progress from last year’s day in the life). He has a wonderful imagination, and a penchant for beautifully using language to tell epic stories. In order to accommodate his learning differences, I often encourage him to narrate his stories out loud while I type for him.

He begins to tell the story while his brother and I listen and eat. I am typing furiously between bites, in an effort to get all of his words on paper.

It’s a wonderful story. He makes his brother laugh, several times, as he tells us all about a goat man that lives in a forest. I am a little bitter that the hero of the story ends up killing his evil mother (really, he has to kill off the mom?), but also impressed with his ability to finish a story arc. My youngest tells me not to take it personally. “It’s just a story, Momma. I would never decapitate you.” (Good to know.)

Forty-five minutes and 1,538 words later, I print out the story. We agree to use it as a read aloud later with my husband.

My son is obviously feeling confident after telling the story, so I pull out our All About Reading lesson for the day. Because he is feeling encouraged, he does really well in a subject that is typically challenging.

I ask my oldest if he is ready to do a quick quiz on what he learned about WWI this week. He agrees, and I give him five questions I scribbled down last night for him. He types his answers and I grab the chalk markers, encouraging my youngest to draw whatever he wants to on the sliding glass door until his brother is finished up.

Everything is going well, until the bird that my son is drawing on the window doesn’t look the way he wants it to. He loses it before I can get to him. He is thrashing, and violently hitting the glass, trying to wipe away the bird with his hands.

My oldest is frustrated with the noise, so he stops his quiz and heads into his room.

I stay close to my youngest son, encouraging him to take deep breaths, to pet his dog, and to remember all the coping mechanisms we have discussed before, during calmer times.

Twenty minutes later, he seems close to calming down.

I ask him if he wants to watch magicians doing tricks on YouTube. He nods through tears and I pull them up for him. We snuggle on the couch, watching magic tricks for a few minutes. When I sense he is completely recovered, I make a joke about the crazy dances the magicians do to try and make their shows seem more shocking. He laughs and jumps up off the couch to demonstrate the moves.

I sigh a big sigh of relief. He is calm and moving his body. We are back on track.

But the truth is, managing a violent meltdown, with a boy almost as big as me, is draining. I feel tired, defeated and like I want to go hide under the covers for a bit.

Some days, it’s just more difficult for me to bounce back.

I decide, instead of moving on to math, to gather up the boys and go for a drive.

We turn on our audio book and settle in. The car is quiet, except for a few giggles every now and then. We are relaxed and engaged in the story when my oldest notices wild mushrooms growing near our home. He screams, making me jump, “Those look like they could be Chicken of the Woods!”

I am so confused, as he pulls out his phone and researches this rare type of wild mushroom that I have never heard of. After he educates us all about how cool they are, he informs us that the mushrooms near our house are not this rare type. We decide to stop and take a look anyway.

The boys are giddy with excitement. We live in Southern California, so it is rarely damp enough for this many mushrooms to survive. They take pictures of the mushrooms, and my oldest tries to determine what type we are dealing with – I smile and whisper a little prayer of thanks.

It’s amazing how random mushrooms on the side of the road can remind me of all the hidden blessings in my life. I have two boys that are pretty cool people. I am grateful.


We get home just as the sun is beginning to set. It is almost 6 p.m. and I know I should start prepping dinner before my husband arrives. The boys go to play a video game together, but instead of heading into the kitchen, I plop down on the couch, curl up under a soft blanket, and check Facebook. My husband comes home a few minutes later, sees me obviously drained and asks, “Do we need to order pizza tonight?”

I protest. I actually remembered to defrost the meat after all.

We decide it will keep until tomorrow, and my husband pulls up the Dominos app.

I’m grateful.

After dinner, we read my son’s narrated tale from earlier. My husband encourages him, and is honestly impressed with the story. It feels like a solid ending to the day.

As I get my youngest son to bed, I hear my husband laughing with my oldest as they watch an episode of Good Eats.

Our days are anything but typical, but they are ours, and somehow, six years later, we are making it work.

I am pretty sure that “supposed to” for middle school and high school, looks nothing like our day. The older my boys get, the more certain I am that they need to learn in ways that work best for their interests and capabilities. They do have some special needs that necessitate this, but honestly, I think I would choose this approach anyway.

The more I let go of “supposed to” the more I enjoy homeschooling my children.

And the more they learn.

How the days have changed:

How are you letting go of “supposed to” in your homeschooling?

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 just loved, loved, loved reading this honest, crazy, encouraging post.

    I think you might be my hero.
    Anne’s latest post: Painting Sticks–A Lesson for Mom in Child Development

  2. Phyllis Bergenholtz says:

    This is brilliantly written and beautifully honest. I, too, have an older child who cannot read. He is sixteen and is about second grade level in his reading. It is hard. For him and for me. But, I am grateful that I can homeschool him. Thank you for the encouragement that I am not alone.

  3. What a wonderful day. I understand the that it was challenging too. But, the quality shows through.
    Blessings, Dawn
    Dawn’s latest post: Mid-Year Ramblings …

  4. Thanks for reminding me to let go of the “supposed to” …because I too enjoy homeschooling more when it remember to let go!

  5. Thank you for sharing this, Shawna!

  6. Shawna, I love how you re so flexible, adjusting to your sons’ needs rather than rigid in your approach — I suppose God works through your boys to stretch you. Homeschooling gives the whole family the opportunity to grow! Your posts are always so encouraging to me, especially seeing how you love and encourage your sons.

  7. Karen Mallett says:

    You “live” and “learn ” !, Parents and kids Best way forward i say.. Everyday is a lesson.. No “supposed” just great every day learning

  8. Jen in Oz says:

    I have a child who is s bit more prone to tears when upset than the rest of us. It used to exhaust me when he was little because after three older siblings eho could bounce back from disappointment in a flash it was “hard” to figure out this little person who feels so strongly and who could cry for 20 minutes. It is nothing like your situation but because of this child I think I have a little more understanding of your exhaustion. It is great you are so supportive of your children. I hope you too get emotional support and that you look after yourself. Your boys need you. Take care.

    Best wishes
    Jen in Oz

  9. Oh, that last line just sums up how I feel so completely! The more I let go of “supposed to” the more I enjoy homeschooling my children… that is just perfect!
    Joanne Rawson’s latest post: My January Books

  10. Thank you for sharing your day. I’d say you’re a pretty amazing mama and your boys are blessed to have you! It’s nice to homeschool when we don’t make comparisons or worry about “supposed tos”. 💛
    Camie’s latest post: The Blogger Tag

  11. Thank you for sharing your day and lifting up the importance of flexibility with homeschooling. I loved how you went for a ride, knowing instinctively it was what you and your boys needed. So often I think we can get an agenda in our heads and push to keep it, afraid if we don’t they will not get what they need. But really it’s often the opposite! Pushing through that can be hard. And YES to ordering pizza and partners who get when it’s needed!
    Kelly Sage’s latest post: Seven!

  12. Sheri Hoskins says:

    I’m not alone in the world!

  13. Thank you Shana for this honest and beautiful post. The “should'” are so hard to let go of. Your boys are very blessed to have you and I love that you see the wins and not just the hard bits. Hard to do sometimes. Felt a bit teary reading it as I so understand the just wanting to hide under the duvet bit. Thanks for this
    Lots of love

  14. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Pizza for the win!

  15. Aw, the mushrooms! What a wonderful rabbit hole to dive down. Loved this!
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: The 5 Best Homeschooling Decisions We’ve Made

  16. I’ve only just found this blog but reading this post made me want to come round, make you a coffee and have a chat! You are a total hero and your boys sound like incredible people! You have challenged and inspired me to always put my kids individual needs above what our education system tells me they need. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability

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