My Homeschool Story and My Best Advice For Homeschoolers

Recently I was interviewed by about homeschooling and how I got my start.  She also asked me to give my advice for homeschoolers who have a hard time keeping things running smoothly in a busy homeschool life.  The article is written by Tristi Pinkston, an author and homeschool mom herself.  So, here you go- my story, my style, and my best advice all gift-wrapped in this interview: 

My Homeschool Story and My Best Advice

The Interview

Today I’m talking with Karen Loutzenhiser, a homeschooling mom from Utah who took time out to chat with me about her homeschooling journey. Karen, how did you know that homeschooling was the right choice for you?

I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl, and the only thing that could top that career in my heart and mind was being a mommy. By the time I got my degree in education, I already had two kids in tow. I knew that they were my absolute joy and my #1 priority. Why would I drop my own kids off at daycare to teach other people’s kids? Instead, I taught my own. I started a mommy pre-school co-op and did that for several years until my husband’s career brought us to Florida. Our school system there was frightening and it was time for my oldest to embark on kindergarten. Yikes! It felt like a crossroads – a knot-in-my-stomach kind of crossroads that wouldn’t ease no matter what rose-colored glasses I tried to put on when I looked at his “future school.” After much research, thought, and prayer, my husband and I knew that homeschooling was the answer. After all, how different could kindergarten be from pre-school? And so we began…five years later we are still at it and enjoying the ups and downs of the adventure. My husband’s job has since brought us to Utah, but we so fell in love with homeschooling that we haven’t wanted to stop even when we left the former scary school district behind. Now that it’s so much a part of our family and our life, it’s hard to imagine us choosing to educate another way. My husband is an airline pilot, so our “field trips” also can’t be beat!

So your decision-making process took a three-pronged approach – a career you loved, the desire to spend time with your children, and a necessity brought about by a questionable public school situation. It sounds like you used love and logic together in making this choice. Now, will you tell us a little bit about your homeschool philosophy? Are you a structured schooler, or more of a seat-of-the-pants schooler?

I am definitely a structured homeschooler. Not necessarily the same structure you might find in a public school, but structure nonetheless. I am a list maker and checker-offer, a planner by nature, and a bit of an organization freak. We have a cute little schoolroom in our basement with our alphabet chart and little desks and a table. Sitting at my desk is joyous to me. (I think that’s the spot I sit in to hold on to my childhood dream of being a teacher!) We have a big wall-sized whiteboard and we spend the first couple of hours of the day doing what we call “written work,” even though it isn’t all actually written–math, reading, writing, scripture study, poem memorization, handwriting…all the things I consider to be the daily essentials. Then after lunch our real adventure begins. We learn about everything under the sun! We do unit studies primarily. I love hands-on projects and utilizing great, great literature, and that is our focus. Among other things, this year we mummified a hot dog we lovingly named “Pharaoh Frank,” made our own version of Munch’s The Scream, turned our basement into a latitude/longitude grid during our map studies, and invented our own magical candy based on Mull’s The Candy Shop War.

Wow. That sounds like a lot of fun!  Karen, what are some of your other philosophies in regards to education?

I really believe that we underestimate kids. Instead of just focusing on the pet topics so commonly taught to children, I attempt to open up all kinds of topics and present them in a kid-friendly, understandable format to my kids (all age 9 and under). We study chemistry and the periodic table, the Hittite people, and Monet–not just recycling and ancient Egypt (although we cover those topics too!).

I understand that you have a website where you share your ideas with others?

So many people constantly asked for my homeschooling advice and unit study ideas that my sister (homeschool mom to 6 boys) and I launched a website. The site, Layers of Learning, provides unit study lesson plans, help, and encouragement for homeschoolers and teachers alike. We’ve gotten such a great response that we are now in the process of creating a resource and idea book for homeschoolers based on the unit studies we do with our kiddos.

You sound really dedicated and organized, but not every homeschool family has this kind of dedication, and I know that I frequently struggle with motivation issues, either drumming up energy for myself, or encouraging my children to get excited about the process. What advice do you have for families in this boat?

My best advice for homeschoolers who are struggling to get it together is to let “homeschool mom” be your job. I often have friends or neighbors who ask me to babysit for them during the day, invite me to go out to lunch, or want to chat on the phone. My answer to these requests is no. If I were a working mom, they wouldn’t expect this, and I consider myself a working mom. I am a teacher. My kids are my number one priority and a telephone call  will never take precedence over them. I have given myself permission to say no to extra things so I can say yes to the most important things in my life-the little people who count on me and call me Mommy. When you don’t feel stretched and tugged a million ways, that’s when the joy can be there.

So for you, it comes down to priorities, and thinning out your life to the most important things. That’s great advice for anyone, whether they homeschool or not, but I think it’s definitely a key to a successful homeschool.

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Karen, and best of luck in all you do!

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  1. I saw this article through a friends feed on Facebook and thought I would read. THANK YOU. I do not home school my kids, however, my 12 year old is dyslexic and has a difficult time processing so I do a lot of extra reading, writing, and math work with him at home to help him keep up. I can’t say enough how important structure is, especially if you have kids who learn different. Emphasizing how a child learns instead of how 30 children learn is key to helping our kids grow. I get so tired of hearing that my son is “slow” or “different” well he is different but most certainly not slow. He is constantly underestimated which hurts his own perceptions of how he learns. I am always looking for tools and tricks to bring to the table and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Glad you found us Mary. The truth is that EVERY kid is different. No one learns every single thing exactly the same way at exactly the same pace. I believe kids are more amazing than we can ever imagine, every single one in their own way. They also all have their own things they’re good at. I wouldn’t want my ivy league lawyer flying my plane. Never underestimate people. Kudos to you for being such a good mom to your son!

  2. Hi Karen,

    I am a new homeschooling mom with a 11yo and 3.5 yo. I have to say I feel like I have gotten myself into a pickle. I feel like I am so boring and my creativity is just 0. I love your advice on making homeschooling my job. We do lots of written work but only for the daily things I feel they need math, poetry, language art, summaries of novel, trips to the library, art time, and they have “down time” but I really do wish to make some changes.

    1. Cindy,

      You’re probably doing better than you think. It’s good to add interest to any curriculum, but school doesn’t have to be entertaining all the time. In fact you would probably go crazy if you were striving for that and I doubt it would be good for the kids either.

      When you read our blog posts we present the interesting and fun things we do. We don’t write so much about the daily math lessons or the ho hum cursive writing practice. It can look to an outsider like we’re creative and brilliant all the time. This is absolutely not true. Our kids have text books and workbooks that we pull out daily and from which they get the meat of their skills in writing and math, especially.

      If you try to add creative, hands-on projects to your daily curriculum as a new homeschooler you will burn out very quickly and start hating homeschooling because of the hectic schedule and high expectations it forces on you. A better approach is to pick one thing you want to make into a creative endeavor. Maybe a Friday art lesson or maybe you commit to do a weekly class hosted at the library. You can take the fun subjects in four or six week units to add variety. For example, do an art unit, then a poetry unit, then a P.E. class, but in succession, not all at once. The rest of the time just pull out the books and sit at the table, working through the assignments.

      Later, in a year or two, after you have some experience you might be able to add more, as the core subjects become second nature and no effort.

      If you are planning some fun activities your kids but don’t feel creative, never fear. That’s what the Internet is for. You can find a hands-on curriculum to purchase, free lesson plan ideas, or just make a board on Pinterest with ideas for a poetry unit, for example. You don’t have to be creative, believe me, someone on the internet has already done it for you.

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