The Imperfect Homeschooler: What I Don’t Do

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

Last week at Simple Mom Tsh opened up to let us know what she doesn’t do. A few days later, Nicole at Simple Organic joined in. This got me thinking: Imperfection? Homeschoolers? These words go together like peas and carrots in my mind.

We begin on the homeschooling path with certain ideas, notions, and thoughts. Perhaps they are based on stereotypes we’ve had, maybe on grand concepts from books we read, or maybe they’re ideas from specific curricula we’ve chosen.

Our family once used a literature-based homeschooling program. (We still use many of their book selections, just not in such a formal capacity.) Each year they print a catalog showcasing their current resources and book selections. Each page features photos of children happily reading with their families.

My good friend Jill and I joke about the pictures they don’t show–like when her son yelled “I’m not coming to breakfast if you’re reading books!” Or when my daughter once said “Reading is boring.” (She doesn’t really feel that way; it was a bad day.)

If you’ve been homeschooling longer than an hour, you probably have had at least one imperfect moment. We know our limitations. Though we sometimes try to overextend ourselves, we realize deep down that we cannot do it all. We have to choose.

I’m happily in pursuit of the simple life, and as a result, it has led me to things I do…and plenty I don’t.

What I Do

  • I do make simple, healthy meals most nights.
  • I do focus on exposure when it comes to academics.
  • I do believe in my kids.
  • I do read to them–a lot.
  • I do spend lots of time in nature.
  • I do write and help inspire others.
  • I do train my children in chores.
  • I do smile and laugh–a lot (but not as much as I wish I did!).

What I Don’t Do

  • I don’t meal plan.
  • I don’t give my kids a bath or shower every night.
  • I don’t clean very often.
  • I don’t go on many outings during the week. (Usually about once or twice max)
  • I don’t serve complicated food.
  • I don’t knit, sew, or do many crafts at all.
  • I don’t make my kids do worksheets.
  • I don’t formally teach my children to read.
  • I don’t focus on mastery of concepts.
  • I don’t keep reading a book if it is boring.

Tell me about the things you don’t do in the quest for a simple, strong education at 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. What a fantastic article! We are currently going through a period, now we have been doing this ‘home education thing’ for about a year of re-assessing of what we are doing and why. And much of it is like your experience.
    And I love your list of what you don’t do. I am in the throes of trying to meal planning, and never sticking to it. I have just taken up knitting, but only as something to do in the evenings while listening to audiobooks and the like, but am trying not to stress over it. Reading that someone who seems to have it so together also doesn’t feel the need to ‘tick all the boxes’ reassures me. Thanks Jamie.
    Natalia’s latest post: A week off

  2. Jaime, what a great blog post! And I like that you mentioned in the comments that “no one has it all together, it just seems that way on blogs.” I think as bloggers we have a responsibility to show the not-so-great side of things – but not everyone shares my opinion. 😉

    I love your list of things you are *not* doing. All I can think to add of my own “I don’ts” is I don’t read blogs of people who don’t admit that sometimes things are hard and I don’t pretend that I know what I’m doing all the time. Or even half the time. Or maybe at all? 😉
    MamaTea’s latest post: i sometimes forget

  3. Thank you Thank you Thank you! I always hear about all these “great” things everyone else is doing that I am not. I keep reminding myself that I am not them. I appreciate your post so much! Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the affirmation that one can’t & shouldn’t “do it all.” Our family is new on the homeschool journey; beginning this past September. At best, we are currently treading water. I yearn for a simpler path. I struggle with feeling the year slip past me with no clear direction. Despite the challenges, I do know that come this time next year, I will have a clearer picture. Somedays, it is the only thread that keeps me going.

  5. I don’t follow daily lesson plans, clean that much either, or wonder whether my kids are doing things at “grade level.” I love our lifestyle of learning those things we’re interested in.

  6. Love this post! I read it after reading a friend’s post on all the things she hoped to accomplish this winter, which was great, but tempted me to compare myself with her and covet her time and talents. It’s nice to be reminded that I don’t have to (and, in fact, can’t) do everything!
    I don’t clip coupons. I don’t shop all over for bargains. I don’t take my kids on outings outside of our neighborhood during the week (we have one car which my husband uses for work). I don’t meal plan. I don’t have a budget exactly – at least not what most people would consider a budget. I don’t garden or have any plants in the house.
    I do crochet, read a lot, read through the Bible each year and design Bible-reading plans, use Sonlight, blog my way through emetophobia, read blogs, compost, bake a lot, clean for fun, and spend lots of time snuggling and reading to my kids. I love my home and family so much, I never mind being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.
    I love how we each have things we do and things we don’t and that’s okay! I don’t have to be like everyone else (I have to keep reminding myself of that).

  7. Melissa R says:

    I don’t pre-plan our school day more than 5 minutes before we start
    I don’t worry if we have to adjust to moods and brain power as we are learning
    I don’t listen much to what others are learning at what age because I know we are where we need to be
    I don’t spend time cleaning
    I don’t spend time cooking
    I don’t let myself get too busy to fit in crafting – because I need it!
    I don’t lose my calendar!
    I don’t let things pile up in my in-box because then I feel overwhelmed
    I don’t put a limit on the number of books we own, we have TONS
    I don’t worry about what I am not doing for my child, I enjoy what we are doing
    I don’t worry about what I didn’t understand when I was in school because I know I can learn it now and then teach it
    I don’t say no to the good stuff but I need to start because too much good stuff can be overwhelming

    • “I don’t worry about what I didn’t understand when I was in school because I know I can learn it now and then teach it” – yes!!

    • Melissa R says:

      I was just reading through all the comments and I wanted to add a few thoughts. Some people LOVE to use packaged curriculum and it works for their family. Some people LOVE to meal plan, like LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Some people love to have a vacuumed house daily. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s when you do things because you feel you “should” or even “have to” that it’s a problem. Do what makes your heart feel right and it will all work out.

      One more thing. I DO live up to my commitments. Meeting people on time, is one commitment that I take very seriously. People count on one another to be where they say they will be. My SIL actually told me that she doesn’t value being on time (like I didn’t know that already!). So, one big I DO is that I do what I say I will do when others are relying upon me to do so.

  8. I needed this today!

    I don’t have a plan most of the time.
    I don’t follow a schedule during the day (though there is a general pattern).
    I don’t do worksheets, either (waste of trees and my time!).
    I don’t require the kids to sit perfectly still while I read.
    I don’t drive around to extracurricular activities.

  9. You have no idea the peace you have just gifted to me! I am in a time of deep self-doubt and being overly critical right now and this is such a breath of fresh air today! Reading this helped me remember my goal of keeping life simple. Thanks so very much!

  10. I don’t clean unless there is a mess made and I am forced to notice.
    I don’t stick to anything I plan.
    I don’t always get to changing diapers right away.
    I don’t do many art projects (because they usually result in a mess – see #1)
    I don’t clean crayon and markers off the walls.
    I don’t do dishes until they are needed again.
    I don’t vacuum until things start sticking to my feet and bothering me.
    I don’t get my younger kids (1 and 2 yrs) outside everyday-okay it’s more like 2-3 days a week.
    I don’t balance my checkbook.
    I don’t sew.
    I don’t decorate.
    I don’t do laundry until it’s almost all dirty.
    I don’t have infinite patience.
    I don’t make an income.
    I don’t eat my vegetables.
    I don’t exercise regularly

    PHEW! that’s a long list and I could add more (If my husband were here I’m sure he could add a few) but it is very liberating in a way. There are things on this list I would like to change and things that I am working on. But for now, I’m just being honest.

    I do give lots of hugs and kisses.
    I do read a lot. Alone and to my kids.
    I do read the bible to my children and try to make GOD the center of our lives.
    I do believe that self growth is an endless journey and one better taken with people who are supportive rather than critical.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: Routines

  11. It’s easy to compare our daily life to friends and family… or for them to compare ours to theirs. This article is a good reminder to do what works for YOUR family and not feel guilty about it! Thank you for another eye opening article.

  12. Thanks for this one, Jamie! As I write, my five year old daughter is refusing to come out of her room because I wanted to work on “school” this morning. I’ll just let it go. What I don’t do? Push my five year old to be older than she is. Seriously. And I don’t meal plan either. Not more than a few days in advance. Thanks for the reminder that we don’t have to to do EVERYTHING.
    Tori Maurer’s latest post: Small hands, big world

  13. I don’t wake up by way of an alarm clock (except for Thursdays when we actually have to be somewhere on time)
    I don’t limit our learning to specific hours anymore
    I don’t stretch out our time by attending weekly meet-ups
    I don’t insist that my kids be dressed to do school work
    I don’t have a lot of patience (and have to excuse myself and physically move to another room to take a deep breath a few times a day)
    I don’t use a curriculum (and don’t worry about it)
    I don’t insist on a specific topic for essays (I now know how to survive a zombie apocalypse thanks to that)

    • Zombie Apocalypse?! Made me laugh out loud. I’ll keep your email on file in case that ever happens and I need to know how to survive. 😉

  14. I wrote on my side bar that my blog is just a peek into our homeschooling and not a full picture of our lives. I didn’t want to create the wrong impression of being “perfect”.
    In fact, my post Confessions – I didn’t do it all touched many who commented that they struggle to do their best. I think our lives are to keep the balance and live a simple lifestyle, not do it all, let alone do it perfectly!
    Nadene’s latest post: Sketch Tuesday ~ Bikes

  15. Praise the good Lord!! You don’t meal plan? Or fully budget??!! Oh the freedom! I am not good at either of these things for longer than one week a year or so. 🙂 Meal planning can go, but I will say learning some discipline with a budget is probably wise.

    I don’t garden.
    I don’t clean much, though I do want to more.
    I don’t knit or sew.
    I don’t worry about school on the days that are too beautiful to be inside.
    I also don’t worry about laundry on those days.
    I don’t spend a ton of time decorating.

    Thanks for this post today!
    Monica Selby’s latest post: Are You In Good Company?

  16. I love this post. : ) can you elaborate on “exposure when it comes to academics”?

  17. I don’t do many crafty things either, unfortunately.
    I don’t grind my own grain anymore or bake bread.
    I don’t drink goat’s milk.
    I don’t always have a perfectly clean house, but I strive to keep a semblance of order.
    I don’t scrapbook anymore.
    I don’t make my own herbal tinctures.
    I don’t wake up very well nor go to bed well. That doesn’t make for a good system; does it? 🙂
    Nonetheles, God is good, and His mercy endures forever!
    Lisa’s latest post: The Sun’ll Come Out “Tomorrow”

  18. What I don’t do could fill a book! I don’t mop my floors. I don’t clean the bathrooms very often (like once a month is job well done!). I don’t wear make-up or fix my hair if we aren’t leaving the house. I don’t read to my children as often as I’d like to. I don’t bathe my children every day, once a week is good enough. I don’t text – shocking, isn’t it?! The list could go on and on!
    Stephanie’s Mommy Brain’s latest post: My Visit to the Mayflower II

  19. Love the post and all these wonderful responses! This is so real and how it is most days!
    Anastasia B’s latest post: Minted Holiday Cards & Birth Announcements $100 Credit Rafflecopter Giveaway!

  20. Just this past week I was wondering if my blog makes me look like the super-mom type who has it all together. I’ve been working on a post in my mind to dispel that myth and hope to post it soon. Now, here you go and give me another kick to get it done.
    Are we sisters?
    Here’s a few don’ts to curl your hair:
    I don’t teach handwriting, I don’t use a set curriculum, and I don’t wake my children up in the mornings.
    Carol J. Alexander’s latest post: Cabin Creek Roasters Coffee Giveaway

  21. What I don’t do could fill a book to!
    I don’t clean as often as I should (but dishes are daily grrrrrrr)
    I don’t always do worksheets (but occasionally we do)
    I don’t get out of the house very often
    I don’t force my son to do work, when he really don’t want to
    I don’t do lots of things, but what I do, do is love my son with all my heart and we have lots of fun and learn while we do that!
    MzBaker’s latest post: 1st Progress Report

  22. “A job worth doing is worth doind badly”- that is ME most days!
    priest’s wife’s latest post: A little GIVEAWAY

  23. Hi Jaime,
    I just wanted to say, “Thank You”!! I always imagined how things would be. Following the birth of my second child, my my pelvis was separated and then worsened by my third, resulting in major surgery and almost three years out… still lots of pain. It has completely altered what we planed. But your do list is a lot like mine. I’m always reading about the mom’s that are able to do everything but it’s so nice to know that there are families out there that like us. Thank you for opening your home and life to us.
    I love God. my family and everyday is different but we try to do our best.

    • You’re so very welcome, Jacqui! Life is so good when we can let go of those imaginings that no longer serve us. Blessings on you and your family.

  24. Great post! It is tempting to think we have to do it all perfectly. I don’t often take my kids on nature walks but I do kick the soccer ball with them. I don’t teach them individually, but I do read to them a lot. I don’t let them have snacks, but I (or one of my daughters) fix home cooked meals. There is a lot I don’t do, but I do try to make sure that they know I love them very much every day.

  25. Stephanie F. says:

    Good Morning! Always enjoy your articles. Chuckled to myself when I read that you don’t sew, knit or do crafts (ditto for me)………….Our 7 yr. old daughter attends a HS P.E. program at the local YMCA and literally EVERY mom knits. I was starting to get a complex.

  26. I adore this post and the responses. There are a lot of things that I don’t do as well, but can you tell me….how many of you and how often, if ever, are you haunted by the list of things that you don’t do? Most of the time I can feel very secure in my choices of what I do and don’t do, but every once in a while, those fears creep in that I’m not doing the right things or the things that I don’t do are wrong as well?

  27. would love to hear more about your particular approach to not formally teaching your kids to read. my 3 year old is super interested in all things reading/letters/spelling. working on a cirriculum with her, and she really doesn’t like it. would love to abandon it, and have some guidance as to what worked in your unformal approach. thank you for what you do here. i read daily….

  28. Wait a minute. There might be a few things we DON’T DO just because we decided to spend our time loving, teaching and nurturing our children. Well that’s a LOT!

    Today I have a few very cranky children at home and guess what we are having a loving and learning day. I might not get to all of my to do list but maybe tomorrow. Today my children need extra love, discipline and my time.

    Love to all!!!

  29. I was never a very organized homeschool mom. I tried to plan ahead, but so many times we would just go with what was in the moment. I guess I should have just accepted the fact I was more of an unschooler and stopped putting so much pressure on myself!
    I love all this sharing!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Depression is a Sneaky Little Liar

  30. I really enjoyed this post Jamie! What stood out and yelled at me was that it is so much better to look at all the things we DO, and do well. The things I don’t do sometimes creep up on me a little too much. It is good to see faults and work on them but not so good to see them above all the good!
    Thanks for the reminder I think I’ll make a list of the DO’s I do!

  31. Things I do as a homeschooler:
    – A lot of worksheets, because my kids LOVE worksheets, and respond well. So far.
    – A lot of manipulatives along with those worksheets, because the kids love those too.
    – Bible curriculum first thing.
    – Let the kids play with play-doh or draw pictures as I read to them. They seem to retain stuff better that way.
    – Give up on a day that just isn’t working, and start new the next day.
    – Let my oldest do math on the couch, because sitting at the table irks him.

    Things I don’t do as a homeschooler:
    – I don’t do science, I leave that to the weekly program my kids are in.
    – I don’t do a lot of text books, we use literature instead. (Totally works for us, for now.)
    – I don’t formally teach my preschooler. He decides when he “does school,” and what he wants to do.
    – I don’t do 100% of all curriculum every single day.
    – I don’t do a lot of stuff on the computer with the kids. I would like to, it just hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not sure where to start anyway.

    That’s just what’s off the top of my head. THANK YOU for sharing what you did! I was very encouraged.

  32. I don’t go out more than 1 time a week (other than church) is my goal. However sometimes life happens and we have to be out more than 1 time. Twice is my max, any more than that, its crazy. But it does have to happen sometimes (eg. dentist appt, midwife appt and speech appt all in one week and all had to happen that week).

    I don’t make complicated meals either. I do cook healthy and simple. But usually this means one pot or casserole type meals.

    I don’t stress if supper one night means smoothies and sandwhiches.

    I don’t bath my kids every night. We aim at 2-3 times in the winter, sometimes a bit more in the summer. Hair is done 1x a week. In the winter sometimes we go 1-2 baths a week. In the pioneer days its my understanding 1x a week was the norm. They also probably got dirtier than us!

    I don’t wash my own hair (very long and takes a lot of time but I don’t want to cut it) more than 1x a week. I’ve had people tell me that they can’t do that, but hair adapts. No one ever has commented and I’ve asked honest friends and my husband and I also don’t notice until about day 6 or 7 or even sometimes don’t notice at all that its getting in need of washing.

    THis is great….it feels freeing to see what other moms DON’T do!!! 🙂 Thank you.

  33. Love this post and the responses! What a great idea! Homeschoolers spend way too much time worrying about what they should be doing. This post is very freeing.
    Heidi’s latest post: How are assessments or testing whether the child has learned the material done with the Abeca curriculum

  34. We are on our first year of home schooling so this was very good to hear.
    we do’s
    lots of crafts
    math worksheets (only because he loves them and numbers)
    memory words ( because he loves letters, writing words and reading)
    bible verse. what better words to learn.
    meal planning so I can stay on budget.
    board games
    hide and seek for imaginary animals using clues.
    bug observations
    grow plants
    library visits
    pen pals
    google maps
    pbs kids

    dont do.
    over schedule
    take life to serious
    stop curious moment from happening.
    stop him from talking for the sake of a moment of silence.

  35. I LOVE LOVE LOVE all these “don’t”s in the post and in the comments! You don’t know how freeing it feels!! Sometimes I wonder, am I the only one NOT doing this or that? Am I *supposed* to be doing something a certain way? I’m new to homeschooling, and have never been much of a ‘homemaker’, so I’m filled with insecurities! But hearing what other people don’t do is like a burden lifted, since so many of the things I don’t do, were on those lists!

    I don’t bathe my children every day.(We aim for 1x a week)
    I don’t wash my sheets every week.
    I don’t mop/vacuum/sweep until I’m stepping on things.
    I don’t cook meat most days of the week (saves time and money!)
    I don’t do weekly spelling lists.
    I don’t go to co-op or other homeschool classes.
    I don’t do every subject, every day, or even every week.
    I don’t do art. (But that doesn’t mean my son isn’t creative, *I* don’t do it, but he can go create something whenever he likes, I just don’t have anything planned for art).
    Elaine’s latest post: Videos in Chinese for kids

  36. I don’t blog.
    I don’t do spelling lists.
    I don’t have a spectacularly clean house.
    I don’t have a perfect life.
    I don’t embrace joy as much as I would like to.
    I don’t take myself too seriously.

  37. Krystal Weaver says:

    Lol! I love all the comments about not planning meals. This is my plan: buy real food. Open fridge or cupboard. Cook what looks interesting. Seriously, any other method just end up driving me batty and therefore doesn’t last.

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