The Evolution of an Educational Philosophy: My Journey of Baby Steps

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

I wished I hadn’t shown up that day. But God knew better.

The late summer sun spun rainbows through the window of my minivan, as I sat in the parking lot of a church–journal and pen in hand. I had just attended my second homeschooling conference, and was completely freaked out.

Without knowing it, I had registered for a conference on unschooling–a term I had never heard before that day.

I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to hear it again.

What do you mean, children don’t need to be taught? How will they learn otherwise?

So before heading home, I took deep breaths and tried to make sense of this new information. Tried to rationalize it away with ink and words on paper.

If only I could go back and tell myself what I know now.

Baby Step #1: Considering Homeschooling

My journey to homeschooling didn’t begin with a search for an educational philosophy. I didn’t even know there was more than one educational philosophy!

I just assumed that homeschooling meant doing “school” at home – worksheets, lessons, tests, recess, and so on. It didn’t sound that appealing, to be honest. I felt like I’d already served my time in school, and didn’t really want to be sentenced to another term without parole, if you know what I mean.

But something seemed unnatural about sending my kids away for seven hours each day. They still seemed so…little. Surely, as their mama, I knew what was best for them. Or did I?

I felt I owed it to them to research all the school options open to us before sending them on the yellow bus that stops a few doors down. That meant checking out homeschooling, too.

So I read books, talked to homeschooling friends, and spent time online. One day I discovered a radical lady whose educational thoughts began to shape my own.

Baby Step #2: Charlotte Mason

When I first found out about her, Charlotte Mason’s insights on learning seemed so out of the box.

Young kids need short lessons, exposure to a wide variety of subjects, plenty of time in nature, living books, and art and music study? Now this sounded more like the education I would have enjoyed as a kid.

I studied books like A Charlotte Mason Companion and When Children Love to Learn. Being the Type A parent I was, I planned out decades of ideas for future curriculum (My kids were still in preschool by the way!).

Photo by Kevin Hutchinson

Baby Step #3: Leadership Education

Over time, however, I noticed just how much my kids were learning through play and read-alouds. I began to wonder, especially after that nutty conference, if maybe these unschooling folks were on to something?

But no, no, no. I wasn’t that confident…or crazy.

Then one night, I heard on a forum about a philosophy called Thomas Jefferson Education (also known as Leadership Education). Reading the description felt like coming home.

It was less structured than Charlotte Mason, but more structured than unschooling.

The phases of learning were exactly what I was looking for.

Baby Step #4: Interest-Led Learning

For a while, that is. Then one day the magic of the blogosphere led me to Jena’s blog (so many of you love her words like I do!).

Her children were almost grown, she was a certified teacher, and she had chosen interest-led learning for her kids (basically a fancy word for, yes, unschooling).

By this time I had figured out that homeschool did not have to look anything like “school” at home. It was a lifestyle, and each baby step took me further and further away from the traditional stereotype I had started with.

Each baby step made me happier and more confident in my homeschooling decision.

Baby Step #5: Discovering Us

Every time I found a new, intriguing educational philosophy, it helped me devise my own.

Few people fit within the confines of one singular type of learning. Through homeschooling, we piece together what we find and love, and create something new. We merge and blend to discover exactly what works for us.

This is a process that we get to be a part of over our entire career in home education. Just like in other parts of life, we find what we need at the exact time when we need it.

If we live with eyes open, that is.

I wish I could go back to my minivan in summer 2008 – wish I could whisper something in the ear of that unsettled Jamie with pen in hand.

“Jamie,” I would tell her. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

“So lighten up.”

Have you seen your philosophy of education evolve over time? What does it look like in your home today?

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. great post. i feel like maybe just a few months after your mini-van experience. my daughter is still doing preschool/kindergarden, but i’ve definitely noticed how much she’s grown from just reading together and being exposed to different things (and some days just youtubing what she wants to learn about). i’m not quite ready to jump on the unschooling band wagon, but i love charlotte mason’s philosophy and i’ll look up the thomas jefferson one. thanks, jamie!
    andie’s latest post: valentines weekend

  2. My daughter is just in Kindergarten this year and I feel that in that short span of time my educational philosophy has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other…now to find our place on it and settle down. We are currently doing a mix of unschooling, some TJED and some class work…it’s working for us right now where we are in life.

  3. Hey Jaime! I just started reading A Thomas Jefferson Education and I can definitely see how although I wouldn’t embrace it in its totality, I will be walking away with pieces that will eventually become a part of our family’s approach. I’m still reading, researching, and figuring it all out while also trying to play to my strengths as well. I’m a total type A and I dont always catch myself in time when I’m projecting that onto my children. I, and we, are a work in progress…

    Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way!

  4. This is similar to my own journey. Feeling like it couldn’t be natural to send my children away from me all day if I wanted to disciple them well. Thinking school at home was necessary (and dreading the thought of it). Discovering Charlotte Mason and letting the more naturalness of it flood my very soul! And then learning about a radical little thing called unschooling. I skipped the Thomas Jefferson Education Step though. Maybe I should backtrack and do a little research. 🙂
    Jessica’s latest post: Valentines Math

  5. Jamie, this is so funny. I never knew this story! Big love to that woman in the mini-van and thanks for sharing your journey. It’s always introspective of how we get here, from there 😉

  6. The journey has been topsy-turvy for me. So many interesting and intriguing methods that had my mind swirling. Now I just “define” us a eclectic…very eclectic. With educating 6 children in so many grade levels, I can’t (or wont) pin down just one method.
    Thank you for summing up the methods.
    Kela’s latest post: Caffeinated Randomness- Valentine’s Day Style

  7. I feel like I have been walking in your foot steps. I followed this same course a few years back and have picked up many of the same philosophies you have and we are finding ourselves and what works better for us every day. It has been an awesome journey so far and I cannot wait to see where else this takes us.
    Rana’s latest post: Have you seen this

  8. Like you I bobble about, touching on different ideas and incorporating them, or not, as it feels right. Some days we are doing the classical thing, sometimes a bit of Charlotte Mason inspired work, other days we are just picking up on what is around us unschooling style. As my boys get older I’m sure we will try many things, to me that is the joy of homeschooling, the freedom it gives us to explore and taste the best of what is out there : )
    Emmalina’s latest post: 16 years

  9. Oh my gosh, I could have written this myself!, I am trying to meld bits of classical with mostly interest-led. It might be the road to Crazy-Town, I don’t know yet. But, the more I stumble around, the more comfortable stumbling becomes, and the less freaked out I get every time I realize we need to keep tweaking.

    (still can’t give up my obsessive Excel spreadsheet that lists my tentative K-12 plan, though…)
    Deb’s latest post: Random Monday

  10. OMGoodness I just went through this myself though we started homeschooling with Waldorf education. It wasn’t until this year that my 5 year old took a huge interest in teaching herself that I realized everything I have done with my 10 year old up until this point will not work for my 5 year old. I think however we have finally found our groove. (Yay!)
    I want to say I have thoroughly enjoyed all the “A Day In The Life” posts, they were so helpful in breaking out of our rut.
    Kim’s latest post: Happy Valentine’s Day !

  11. I can relate to this. When I started homeschooling over 4 years ago, I too thought that home education had to look like public school, with lots of “work” involved. Now I am so much more open minded and relaxed. We do use a relaxed Charlotte Mason approach, but I can see that a very large part of the learning my kids do is simply acquired by life; by the library books they choose out, by the fun spontaneous science experiments we do, by the errands and walks we go on, by the questions they ask when things occur to them. I will continue to provide them with “living books” to broaden their horizons and enrich their vocabulary, but I expect that a great deal of their knowledge of the world they will get mostly on their own, due to their own curiosity. Which is alive and well thanks to them not being in school. 🙂
    Laura Jeanne’s latest post: Rattle and teether giveaway

  12. I enjoyed this post very much. I love the line….”My journey to homeschooling didn’t begin with a search for an educational philosophy. I didn’t even know there was more than one educational philosophy!”…my search into homeschooling also led me to think about educational philosophy. It takes twists and turns and have learned a lot in this seven year journey that we have been on thus far…

  13. Excellent, excellent post. Almost exactly the same experience here –

    Great reading for any beginners, and some old timers (ahem) too!
    Penny’s latest post: uninspired blogger-very happy mom

  14. Thank you for sharing. We’re just beginning our journey; Chloe is 4 yrs, John 2yrs and we’re expecting.
    I’m thankful for this site, steady mom and a myriad of other sites which introduced me to so many styles and are allowing me to embark on our homeschooling journey with confidence, knowing that our style will likely be a mix and may very well change as we grow.
    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling’s latest post: Tot School- Monkey Pegs & Lauri

  15. Oh boy… I am right there! I’m slower tho. It took me 12 years of homeschooling to realize that I was effectively driving the interest right out of my children! I am in year 14 now, and still “tweaking” my approach. I am reading about learning styles, and approaches. Thanks for posting! I will definitely be sharing this one!
    Robin at Stone Soup Homeschool Network’s latest post: The Stone Soup Daily

  16. Loved this. So much like our own journey. Depending on the season of life we alternate between the approaches you’ve touched on. This past week we were definitely unschoolers!

  17. This post sounds so familiar atm. Appropriate as I am on that journey which I think will be just that a journey. I too love CM but have felt that knowing about other philosophies allows me to take from them to suit us. Take the meat leave the bones maybe. Thank you for your honesty. Blessings, Renelle PS I’ll try to not worry and I know everything will be alright!
    Renelle’s latest post: Natural Learning and Charlotte Mason

  18. What a great post – I feel like this describes my journey, too, in a lot of ways. Looking back, my first year of homeschooling was more about me learning how children learn and developing my own philosophy than anything else.
    Leslie’s latest post: My Favorite Parenting Books

  19. Jamie, I have been reading your blog for awhile now and I want to tell you how much I appreciate you and what you share. I first read one of your posts on the Phases of Learning and it opened a whole new philosophy to me for our homeschooling. We actually semi-homeschool now, as our state has a vitrual hybrid school with classes held at the school two days a week. This fall I am looking at completely homeschooling them myself. I have already read the Leadership Education books and have incorporated the Learning Phases into our lives. I even created a Reading group for Parents based on the book and we meet every two weeks to discuss what we’re reading and how we can apply new ideas to our family lives. It has been such a wonderful thing for us, and I can trace it all the way back to your post. This post, also, has been inspiring for me and I’m going to read the two books you mentioned here over the summer as well as the next TJED book on the phases of learning. Thanks so much, please keep writing, as it provides so much inspiration and somehow, companionship on this journey!

  20. I love the gentleness of your approach to blogging. Your nature comes through in your writing and it’s one of the only blogs that inspires me rather than makes me feel like I’m “not doing it right” (which is clearly my own stuff, not the fault of the writers–ahem). I, too, have benefitted greatly from the sharing of your journey, have found peace in TJed as a great combination of ideas that mesh well for us–although not in a dogmatic way. I just feel grateful to you for all of that. One of these days, I’m going to find another homeschooling Mama who isn’t at ALL type A, like myself. I often feel that my fluid nature and inability to maintain a strong structure could be an asset if I’d only find a way to use it instead of seeing it as a liability. But that, hopefully, will resolve itself as my kids age…or I’ll reflect upon it years from now as having not been a problem at all! Such is life. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  21. My journey is about the same…but you let go of the fear better than I have. You are helping me allow myself to create our learning paths without fear.
    Thank you so much…I studied Konos and before TJED I found Sally add a few.

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