Tomatoes and timelines: Giving our homeschoolers room to bloom

Written by Kara S. Anderson

I’ve been thinking a lot about my green tomatoes lately.

It hasn’t been a good year for tomatoes at the Anderson Ranch. We’ve gotten a couple of precious Cherokee Purples, and a few handfuls of Yellow Cherries, but mostly, our tomatoes have stayed green, or been attacked by chipmunks or never grown at all, their little flowers curling up; giving up.

Meanwhile, in a corner nearby, our hot peppers have gone absolutely bananas. One plant really took off, and we’ve had more hot peppers than it’s advisable to eat.

We’ve pickled some and made hot sauce, but honestly, we’re all tired of our eyes watering and our throats burning, and a little irritated that the tomatoes couldn’t at least pull their weight enough to give us a few jars of salsa.

But gardens do what they do. We can water them and weed them, and yell at them and cross all our toes, but there are good growing seasons and not as good growing seasons, and there are roughly 8,000 variables, and if we think we really have any control, we’re fooling ourselves.

Home education is similar, of course. There are math years and Shakespeare years and years when we worry that our children are not blooming – they are slow to grow in a particular area, and so we tear our hair out and stay up at night worrying.

We can feed them and water them and I guess yell at them, but I find the latter to be entirely ineffective. Much like a plant, they simply turn away or worse, close up and wither all together.

These sorts of growing pains are so much easier to accept in the world of our backyard, where generally our neighbors are not poking their heads over the fence, telling us that their tomatoes are so big and strong and smart – their tomatoes are going to Harvard.

{That would be a weird thing to say about produce.}


And yet we compare our kids all the time and we worry when they aren’t on the exact same timeline as their peers, even though the timeline is sort of just made up.

Julie Bogart of Brave Writer reminded me recently that public school was created to make us good workers.

Being good workers is a nice thing, of course, but so is being creative and innovative and original.

I like my two kids nice and interesting – I’m not in this for assembly-line results.

And so just as I’ve been trying not to fret too much or blame myself for my unsuccessful tomato harvest, I’ve been trying to get OK with letting my kids develop on their own timelines.

This means doing my best to ignore other timelines, of course.

“Scope and sequence, age and grade level have not been good rubrics for the writing life,” says Julie, and I am inclined to agree.

I wasn’t a writer until my second year of college, and then I very quickly became a professional one.

I had thought I was going to deliver babies or argue in a courtroom or maybe teach other people’s kids …

But then something sprouted up inside me, impossible to ignore – a passion so strong that it felt a little like a million hot peppers growing in my soul and I am grateful that eventually I found my way to where I was supposed to be.


And so, I am trying to give my kids space to bloom.

I am trying, very hard, to see them as they are, and to acknowledge that I don’t know what their futures hold. It’s undecided. It’s happening bit by bit.

I am trying to accept that some years will be writing years, and some years we will fall behind a bit in grade-level science, and other years we will do amazing things in history, and it will all work out just fine.

What matters, I think, is to keep on planting. To keep giving my kids opportunities; to keep encouraging their interests … To not judge when they are learning a ton about something that might not fit into the neat categories of math, language arts, science or social studies …

And to remember that unlike tomatoes, kids don’t have set growing seasons. They can keep learning; so what seems like a shortfall today could be remedied tomorrow, or next year, or in the weeks leading up to the college admissions exam.

But in the meantime, we need to be careful not to destroy the connection we have with our kids over workbooks and spelling words and “what your 3rd grader should know.”

It all comes in time, and fortunately, we have lots of that.

What ways have you found to let go of comparisons in your homeschool?

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, with a goal of encouraging fellow mamas in real-life homeschooling. She also's the happy co-host of The Homeschool Sisters podcast.


  1. I have a child who is academically gifted who is almost 5 years old. I have another child who is physically gifted who is newly 6 years old. They are polar opposites in almost every way imaginable. I cannot compare them! When I do (because sometimes I foolishly do) both of them seem to fail. When I see them as individuals, they shine in their separate ways.

    My goal is to always let them (and the rest of my children) be their unique selves.
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (In Which We Visit a Pumpkin Patch)

  2. My entire outlook on homeschooling and education, in general, changed when I first started reading books by John Taylor Gatto. He made the assembly line learning promoted in school so obvious to me, although I had never really thought about it before. I don’t follow rubriks, developmental timelines, and won’t even consider reading one of the What Your (Insert Grade) Child Needs to Know books. His books have helped me to completely rid myself of any schoolish notions and just let my kids grow at their own pace and be at peace about it.
    Shelly’s latest post: What’s the Difference Between Unschooling and Radical Unschooling?

  3. Thank you for your article. We have homeschoolers for 5 years now and feel I am mostly released from the dreaded “timeline”. I had to get over that very quickly as our first son grew and we had so many verbal communication issues to sort through. He took speech therapy for 6 years and has finally come close to llevel with his peers in that area. During the years of trying to decipher what in the world he was saying, my husband and I just had to let go of the scope and sequence mentality that was making us look at our son as “behind” , and nurture and help him to the best of our ability. Now he is 10 and still has his amazing uniqueness, but he got through those though years and came out the other side confident and free from the labels we know would have followed him forever at public school. Now if you need an expert paleontologist , he’s your man! The gap years he was “behind” in are slowly closing. Instead of feeling “dumb” he has passion and knows he can accomplish things with hard work. We also read many books by John Taylor Gatto during that time and we’re encouraged to make our lives, lives of learning and to not put education in a box, only to be brought out when deemed appropriate.

  4. As a former teacher, letting go of the institutional mindset is often my biggest stumbling block. I have a child who is twice exceptional. He has a myriad of special needs, but at ten years old, he is reading at the 7th grade level and has taught himself computer programming and networking. He trouble shoots his friends laptops (and their parents laptops too). It is hard not to get frustrated when he can’t remember how to do something he did the day before. I have to remind myself not to focus on what he can’t do (long division, parts of speech, capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, or grammar), but all the wonderful things he excels in. I know he will get there, just not in the same time frame. It isn’t his problem, it’s mine.

  5. I have a computer guy too, and it’s amazing to me. He’s my in-house tech man. We have to remember that those types of skills are so valuable too! In fact, they are becoming more and more so!

  6. melanie lawn says:

    Just what I needed to hear today ! My oldest is also a tech guy, but he, and in fact we all, struggle to keep him from drowning in gaming. It lights up areas in his brain that makes if difficult for him to step away and take a break and allow anything else into his life, I get scared he can’t seem to balance without my help. We have decided to help him start building computers and he is so very excited, kinda of like a mixture of lego ( parts that fit together) which was his previous passion, and computers lol !. My Miss 11 is that quintessential ‘perfect’ homeschooler. She reads non stop, constantly educates herself about a wide variety of things, wakes up in the morning and either has an amazing idea to try or carries on with project she herself has come up with. That girl has a memory like an elephant and such a thirst for knowledge. And lastly Miss 8 who is at such a delightful age, full of love for her Mum and just blooming in her own way with academics, not because of curriculum but because some seemingly random connection has been made and she now has discovered she can SPELL lol, she is amazing at all thing physical. Show her a Gymnastics move and she will have it mastered by the end of the day, put her on a pony and she can do a round of jumps after just a few lessons! ( not really but you get the idea). I LOVE what Anne says, When I see them as individuals they are amazing people who shine, but as a group I worry worry worry about where this homeschooling thing is headed ( Even after 6 yrs of it !!) but they are so individual, so it helps not one bit to lump them together in my head.

  7. Love this! But how do you combine it with the gentle pressure we all need to keep trying at something that seems hard at first? With teaching them that sometimes we must do things we don’t want to do, at times we don’t want to do them? I guess as Mom, you will know this. You will know when your child is lazy and when it’s not just the right time. I feel like that’s a tough balance for me to keep though! 🙂 (And I also remember the idea of teaching them how to work hard in areas other than academics when young, and then letting that transfer over as they get older.)

  8. So much yes to every last bit of this! <3
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: Just So Thankful Jar: A Simple Thanksgiving Tradition

  9. OMG, I was just speaking on this the last couple of days. We homeschool one and are expecting another next year and the issues has come up about being able to homeschool that child. My fiancé doesn’t really understand homeschooling and the fact that our daughter is very drawn to the arts; singing, dancing, painting, imaginative play, etc. and is less interested in math. Although math is very important, me having a meltdown about her not quickly grasping certain concepts because he is frustrated is just not conducive to her learning or my well being. This post is a great read and very encouraging.

  10. Such beautiful writing Kara – and so comforting. I have a little guy who just doesn’t seem to be blooming in any areas (and more worryingly, actually seems to be wilting), so this is a timely reminder to keep planting and nurturing and to respect the seasons.

  11. Thanks for this post. I keep fighting a predefined timeline rather than my kid’s pace. When I feel that aren’t ripening, I’ll have experiences to show me otherwise. This was a great post

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