How Letting Go of School Brought Back Our Love of Learning

Learning isn't about school. It's about living.

When I was a child I loved to play school. I was adamant about always being the teacher, and I was a strict one, indeed. My “students” (usually my nieces) were always bombarded with writing and math assignments, and I would gleefully grade their papers with a bright red pen, just like my teacher at school. (Watch my video here!)

I loved school. It was just one of those things that I was good at. Do I remember much from those days? Not really. But I was good at it. I knew how to play the game and I played it well. 

So it should come as no surprise that when the day came that I decided I was going to educate my children at home, I thought the school model was the way to go.

  • Classroom complete with blackboard and educational posters galore? Check.
  • Globe on the windowsill underneath the American flag? Check.
  • Children instructed to raise their hands to ask questions or go to the bathroom? Check.
  • Separate textbooks for each separate child and grade level? Check.

Don't try to replicate school!

I’ll tell you what. Those first few months of homeschool were exciting. I felt like I was playing school all over again, except this time it actually mattered.

Unfortunately, my kids never got quite as excited as I was. Who could blame them? I took them out of school with promises of fun learning activities at home, and instead gave them a dose of public school at home.

Rather than enjoying the freedom that comes with homeschooling, I was stuck in that mindset of what education is supposed to look like. To me, that was:

  • boring textbooks
  • an absolute rigidity to get everything done everyday, no matter the expense
  • an unwavering desire to make sure that my kids were doing the exact same things they’d be doing if they were still in school
  • continually adding more and more subjects to the day so that I could prove myself to everyone

Inevitably, this all became too much for me, and, combined with my kids being pretty much fed up with homeschooling and my total burnout, I sent my kids back to school.

Homeschool burnout and the big yellow bus

For two whole years.

I felt like a failure. How could someone who was so good at school be so bad at “doing school”?

I knew this wasn’t what I wanted and became determined to try again, but with a different approach.

I was going to completely let go of my notions about school.

It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of reading and a lot of praying to finally get to the point where I was comfortable with educating my children in a manner the least like school as possible.

What did this look like for us?

It looked like getting rid of those textbooks and forgetting about arbitrary school timelines in order to just let my kids develop at their own pace. It looked like trips to the creek and collections of bugs and snails in the backyard. It took the form of impromptu games of Uno and outdoor read-alouds. In short, it finally looked like a family that enjoyed living and learning together.

Because isn’t that what learning is all about? It’s not about a diagram in a science book. It’s about the clutch of frog eggs in the water. It isn’t about spelling tests. It’s about writing a letter to Grandma. And it certainly isn’t about test prep. The schools can have that. Good riddance.

You know what homeschooling is? Life prep. Immersing ourselves in the beauty that surrounds us and diving deep into that which interests us most.

I’ll never regret the time I spent in school. It’s opened my eyes to the difference between doing what you’re told, and doing what you love.

Do my kids have to do things sometimes? Sure. Everyday. But it’s no longer about checking off subjects on a homeschool log. It’s about enabling my kids to gain the skills they need to find what they love and pursue it with all their hearts.

And isn’t that what education should be about in the first place? That’s where school gets it wrong. Learning doesn’t happen from an overabundance of control.

It happens from letting go.

This post is a part of:

Letting go of school

Head on over to find out what’s changed in the homeschool of other iHomeschoolNetwork bloggers!



Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

35 thoughts on “How Letting Go of School Brought Back Our Love of Learning”

  1. I didn’t go as far as a blackboard and making my son raise his hand, but I actually looked up and printed off a ton of pages from the school’s website containing all the skills and objectives for first grade to use as a checklist. What a waste of ink and paper! So glad I came to my senses soon enough. I think it was the rebel in me that did it, haha. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It created stress and was totally unnecessary! It was that darn school mentality! And now I listen to other moms around me question how I can confidently go another way. It’s both sad and funny to me, how so many just accept something because it’s considered normal and traditional, even if there’s so much wrong with it. They just shrug off the issues.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally did the same thing. I grew addicted to looking at other mom’s homeschool classrooms on Pintrest and other homeschool forums and I recreated a little classroom for my kiddo, complete with a world map and everything. It’s amazing, really, that we pretty much do our schooling in every other room of the house – except this one. *sigh*

    So, not only was the “mini-classroom” idea not working, but also having the same rigidity of the typical school day wasn’t working for us as well. Why do we feel so much pressure to prove to everyone that we are going above and beyond with our schooling? Why do we feel the need to find the best/most expensive curriculum?

    Like you, I burned out pretty quick and discovered that the only way I was going to survive, also, was to let go of the conventional. This is the first year we are going to go without a pre-packaged curriculum and I’m super nervous about that. I felt I had to justify that decision to my parents because they were concerned my daughter wouldn’t get the proper education without all the textbooks and structured curriculum. Wish me luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re going to do great! Just take it one day at a time. And I hope your parents jump on board with this. It will make life easier, but, ultimately, just remember that you’re doing what’s best for your daughter. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I forgot all about the fact that I used to play school as a kid, too. No wonder I’m homeschooling my kids! At least I started out knowing that I didn’t want to imitate the public schools, so I didn’t have to go through that kind of burnout.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s kind of what I’m worried about if we decide to homeschool our girls for elementary and beyond. I use to play teacher as well pretending to be my public school teacher and became a teacher in a public school. So that’s all I know. 😞

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And Sally Clarkson as well as unschooling blogs/Pinterest. We’re not unschoolers totally but it did help me loosen my grip on my view of what homeschool “should” look like. I also used to be a public school teacher, math no less, and it’s been a journey to see that the textbook/grades/busywork methods really are life-draining.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I am considering taking my kids (will be 3rd and 5th grade) out of school for at least a year and traveling/homeschooling. Any advice you can give me? They are “behind” in reading and have a hard time focusing in school.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would think about working with them solely on math and language arts to help them get to where they need to be (short lessons- 10-15 minutes). (If they will one day go back to school, that is. If you plan on continuing to homeschool, one of the greatest perks is allowing kids to develop at their own pace.) It sounds like your kids are a bit like some of mine. Children who have difficulty focusing often are very curious and are wonderful at self-directed learning. Once the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are covered, it can be so simple and natural for kids to learn about science, history, art, and such simply by living a full life and being exposed to lots of things. I hope this helps!


  6. We had such limited resources (we lived abroad in a non-English speaking country) that we weren’t tempted to try to imitate school. But I know about the pressure to check, double check and keep up!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This has been such an encouragement to me. I’ve read Sally Clarkson books (pretty much ALL of them), Teaching From Rest (LOVED it), and a slew of others to prepare myself for the relaxed method of learning together. It never fails, though….I always end up back sitting around a table with textbooks. We’ll do that until the kids revolt and then flip-flop back. It’s frustrating! I know the way I want our days to look, but I seem to always fall victim to the fear that I’m not providing them with all of the proper resources to learn well. It’s nice to read the stories of others and know that it is indeed possible! Thank you for sharing and being so open with your struggles.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: