The Reluctant Homeschool: Our Educational Journey Thus Far

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as HomeschoolersI spilled the beans in a previous post that we’ve become educational outliers – we do school at home now.

Even before I became a homeschooling mama (reluctantly, as the title reveals), I was intrigued by the educational choices of various families. I truly enjoy reading and discussing the rainbow of perspectives on everyday experiences that are common to all people (food, clothing, education, hygiene, medicine, relationships, etc.). I am fascinated by the differences, encouraged by the similarities, and drawn to each story’s underlying reasons.

In case any of you are cultural anthropology nerds like me, here’s the why and how of our homeschool journey.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers


I grew up thinking homeschooling was both completely awesomeStay home all day! No drama! No PE!and absolutely horridWould I have to wear denim and turtlenecks? Would I fit in if my hair didn’t reach my rear end? My mom doesn’t drive a 15-passenger van.. is that ok?

I was never homeschooled as a child, and I never intended to homeschool my own children.

As an outsider looking in, I thought homeschooling was WAY too much work. I’d rather have my kids go to school. They could leave for half of the day, and I could get a job doing something I enjoyed during school hours while earning some extra money (hilarious, I know).

Homeschooling was definitely out of the question.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers


When we moved to Germany in 2010, we thought it would only be for one year. That year turned into two, and that two turned into four. When we would visit the US, I would talk to my old friends about what their kids were learning in school, and what their educational experiences had been like (see? nerd!). It was through these conversations that I learned American kindergartens teach kids to read.


German kindergartens do not teach their children any academics, only useful skills like how to manhandle power tools, chop potatoes to make soup, and scrounge around the forest for seriously cool sticks. And, even if they did teach the kids to read, it would be in German. Duh.

I suddenly realized that if (okay, WHEN) we moved back to the US, I could end up with a first-grader who was unable to read, write, or do basic math.

I felt for my children. I did not want them to be the weirdos that didn’t know anything about schoolyard politics, the latest cartoons, how to speak decent English or six year-old slang… AND they would be illiterate.

No, no, that would not do.

Homeschooling in Germany is illegal, but I figured the Germans wouldn’t mind as long as my boys went to German kindergarten, too. So, that’s what we did. German kindergarten in the morning, English homeschool in the afternoon.Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Reluctant Homeschooling Journey


I started with the book How to Teach Your Children to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I set my expectations low (finish the book) and got to work. Eventually, I added a math workbook, taught my son how to write English characters, and I even sprinkled in some fun activities based on the Five in a Row series.

You guys, to my utter astonishment, it worked. I cannot even express to you how mind-blowing this achievement was.

Full disclosure – we had our share of tearful, hair-pulling, fist-raising moments. But, my kid could read! And write! And do maths! And he didn’t hate me! (yet..)

At this point, I still was not on board the homeschool full-time train. When we landed in the US last October, I again met up with my friends for good ol’ what’s-your-kid-up-to chats. Alpha was now in first grade, and I wanted to know what “normal” first-graders were learning… Spelling. Science. Spanish.


It was then that I started to feel the tides turning. I panicked a bit, thinking about all of the things my child didn’t know. We still were technically homeless, and I had no idea how long it would be until we were settled.

Putting my sons in school and then pulling them out whenever we traveled to look for jobs was just not an option. In my own childhood, I attended 18 schools in Kindergarten-High School. I know from experience it’s terrible to constantly be the “new kid.”

I began to realize that perhaps it would be better if we homeschooled for the rest of first grade to help with the transition and then Alpha could go to the local elementary school.

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers


Geography – Mapping Out a Plan

I scrambled to put together a loose plan of what we could manage while on the road when we had no permanent place to live and could only take what would fit in our car. We worked on plus and minus, long and short vowels, print and cursive whenever we could.

When we finally moved to Arizona for a job, I looked into the local public schools and the many wonderful charter school opportunities in our city. But, I just couldn’t bring myself to register my kids at any of them.

With a husband working all day and all night to keep one lecture ahead of his classes, a house to unpack and organize, four years of paperwork to catch up on, waves of reverse culture shock to tame, and countless other tasks to figure out and do on my own, there was one thing I could not manage – getting three kids and myself out of the house every day, twice a day, for school.

This is in no way a complaint or meant to disrespect or discount the MANY parents that do this every day. Both homeschooling and organized institutional schooling are hard on families in different ways. I know I/we are blessed with choice, and I do not take that lightly.

Once my mind was made up to give this homeschool thing a go, I bought legit curriculum and made legit lesson plans. Slowly, we worked our way up to a full load (well, for a first-grader).

I encountered the usual whining and complaining here and there, but on the whole, I felt like this experiment was still working. My kids were learning, and (surprise, surprise) I actually liked being with them. There was just one problem.


Spelling… T-R-O-U-B-L-E

Oh, my dear Charlie. This kid keeps me laughing, guessing, and fuming all day long. He craves attention, and when he does not get it, we all pay.

Charlie is not interested in addition or spelling rules. Charlie does not want to play quietly in his room while his brothers learn addition and spelling rules. Charlie wants to be

Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Fill in the blank… Homeschooling is a ______________.

At first, I did the bulk of our school day in the afternoon while Charlie napped. That worked well, but it left me with NO quiet time to recharge. As an introvert, this was a recipe for a very mean mama and seriously stressed kids. I felt like I could tackle just about anything if I could only have an hour or two of quiet several afternoons a week.

In our new circle of friends, I started asking if any teenagers would be interested in being a mother’s helper to my absolutely charming two year-old (hey, he’s potty trained! No diapers to change! That’s got to count for something, right?).

Thank God, I was able to find two great kids willing to come over a few times a week in the morning to gain experience and a little pocket money in exchange for hanging out with a bossy awesome kid.Thrifty Travel Mama | How We Accidentally Ended Up as Homeschoolers

Science – Experimenting

Okay, that was last school year, but will we keep things the same for this year?

Yes… and no.

I absolutely agree with this post by Tsh from The Art of Simple. I love the idea of evaluating each child, each year. I am in no way anti-school, and I am not ruling out a public or charter school possibility for the future. However, for second grade and kindergarten, Alpha and Bravo will stay home.

Oh, and Charlie? He’s already signed up for preschool. 🙂

What kind of school do your kids attend? Would you change it if you could? Have you ever tried homeschooling? I would love to hear about your options – even if you think I’m nuts – and what you like and dislike about your current education situation.Signature Thrifty Travel Mamatitle photo source

10 thoughts on “The Reluctant Homeschool: Our Educational Journey Thus Far

  1. We’re in the Netherlands, and it is also illegal to homeschool here. This seems so odd to me, from a country known for tolerance of different lifestyles. Although school isn’t mandatory at age 4, once our son turns 5 early next year, we can’t ever pull him out of school (right now, we travel every once in a while with my husband while he works). They don’t start anything academic for another two years of his schooling, and he can already read and do simple math…so what exactly is he going to miss out on? Honestly, I think he would learn more from our trips, and travel is one of the main reasons we moved here. I don’t like that we don’t have options….as you said, we should be able to choose what works best for our family from year to year. We hope that we get to move back to the states next summer, before he would start kindergarten. I also supplement with some homeschooling in the afternoons: a Horizons math workbook, writing practice, and other activities (the five in a row series sounds really interesting!). Can I ask, how did you decide on a curriculum?

    • Hi Alice,
      The Netherlands schooling seems even more structured than Germany’s with entering the day the child turns 4, not even waiting until the start of a new school year! The not being able to miss school for traveling was a big drawback for me with the European school systems. I know why the rule exists, but having to get written permission from the principal to leave a few days early in order to get a cheaper flight home for the holidays seemed like a real hassle. The only thing I know about homeschooling in the Netherlands is that “technically” it is legal – but only if you can prove that there is no school within a reasonable distance from your home that agrees with your religious background. I’m thinking the paperwork and bureaucratic headaches on that would be more than the fight is worth. Anyway – about curriculum, I chose FIAR because it was sooooo easy. The prep time is minimal, and it is quick and not complicated. I did have to order the books in the US and bring them over with me, but after that, it was just simple. You read the same story every day for 5 days and then explore different aspects of it (counting, weather, cooking, history, etc.). Everything was in the teacher’s manual which was a thin, manageable book. My boys loved it. Now, my curriculum choices are mostly based on a ton of research, figuring out how my kids learn best, how structured I want the curriculum (I love scripted; some people hate that), and what my goals are. If you have more specific curriculum questions, please feel free to send me an email :).

  2. This is really interesting and helpful for me to read. Thank you so much for the post. My daughter is only 2 but I’m told that we must start looking at school options already. (We are in Germany too.) I love that you homeschooled in the afternoons, I think that’s a great idea and I’m glad you put it on my radar. Is it true that children must start school at 4? My German teacher yesterday said that compulsory education begins at 6 or 7 and that kindergarten was not required. I’m back and forth as to if I want my daughter to start kindergarten here. I would love her to learn German, she really needs socialization because she’s is an extrovert and as of now and only child, but I’m not sure I agree with how the German system “raises” children. Do you know much about what kindergartens are like here? We will likely stay in Germany until she is 5, more or less. Lord wiling of course. We don’t necessarily see ourselves going back to the us long term either, (perhaps somewhere else in Europe after this) so I’m unsure about how to think this all through.

    • Hey there, great to hear from you! I hope you are enjoying your new home and had a great summer 🙂 You don’t have to start your daughter in school unless you want to. Sorry for the confusion about the age – 4 is for the Netherlands, not Germany. You’re right, they don’t have to start until they are 6 or 7, first grade. Kindergarten as you said is not required, but if you are at all thinking she might go to school in Germany for first grade, I would highly recommend kindergarten. It will give her a chance to socialize in German before she has to think academically in German. Our two older boys both went to kindergarten, and it was a good experience. I came to really love the emphasis on play instead of academics, the love of nature and of discovery. My boys cooked soup, used power tools, romped the forest, made butter, visited the zoo, explored a Krankenwagen, the list goes on. And you also get to learn some of the fun holidays like Sankt Martin, Fasching, and Sankt Nikolaus. They went to a half-day kindergarten, and I thought that was a good choice for them (not too long, but enough). It was also shockingly affordable compared to the US. My advice would be to visit a handful of kindergartens that are highly rated and in your area. See how you are treated. Are they annoyed that your German isn’t great? Do the staff look like they enjoy their jobs? Are the kids having fun? I visited two before my oldest started – one I got a great vibe and the other not so much. I considered changing him after that year because the KiGa was so far away, so I visited two more. After that, I knew that the one we went to was the one for us. I only noticed some behavior issues (mostly a lack of respect for authority) at the very end of the four years of KiGa. Hopefully that helps :).

      • Ah! That last sentence there. What did you mean by it? You saw the behavior issues in your own child perhaps as a result from this school? Or in other children? Or in general? That is the exact thing that I am uncomfortable about with the way Germans parent their children. I’ve experienced numerous times that German parents or teacher at the Krippa will not correct children if they do something wrong which really bothers me. I believe that if a child has a proper and healthy view of honoring authority, it will help them understand God’s authority over their lives better too.

        Yikes, so much to think about!

      • I was told by German friends (and noticed firsthand) that children are not only taught but encouraged to question those in authority over them. This is a an effect of history that is evident today and is a direct result of not wanting to repeat it if you know what I mean. In fact, a portion of the students’ grades is based on how well they question their teacher (!). I think a certain level of questioning authority within the confines of respect is acceptable (we also teach God’s authority over our lives and how that is modeled through the parents authority over children). After all, we do want our children to chose right over wrong and that would extend to a situation in which an authority figure asked a child to do something morally wrong. But, you are right, correcting children in that culture is not encouraged (you may have noticed this already on the playground). Even “redirecting behavior” is sometimes not used. I felt that children could talk to each other and their teachers in any way they pleased. It was incredibly shocking to realize that my son spoke politely in English but without respect (in my opinion) in German. I would say if I had any bone to pick with German kindergarten, this would be it. But I really only saw the evidence of this in the last of the four years there. Perhaps it’s not worth the risk, but of course that’s a choice you’ll have to make for your own family :).

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  4. I was homeschooled from second grade on and loved it! It was a great option for my family, my sisters and brother and I thrived.
    Now I have a very social little girl and though Chad and I considered homeschooling her, she is an only child and thrives being in groups of kids, so it is off to a preschool for her. It was a tough decision but it was best for Z. It sounds like you are doing the best for yours as well. 🙂 Enjoy!

    • Jenny, I’m glad you had a good experience with homeschool! I have no idea how long we will continue, but for now it is working (and I don’t hate it -ha!). My youngest is a total extrovert, so if I had to guess now, I’d say we’ll probably give “real” school a try so he has more time around other kids.

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