The Three Non-Negotiables of Our Homeschool Day: Go outside, read, and wonder.
Homeschool, Parenting

The 3 Non-Negotiables of Our Homeschool Day

With all of the ideas and resources available to homeschoolers today, it can be really hard to resist the urge to do all the things. One hour on Pinterest and you can rack up a pretty hefty list of crafts to do, unit studies to execute, math games to try, and field trips to plan. Sometimes these fit in seamlessly with our existing plans. Sometimes, they forcefully wedge into them like linebackers, tackling any sense of rhythm we’ve worked so hard to establish and leaving everyone in a cloud of chaos. And sometimes it doesn’t even take an espresso-fueled, down-the-rabbit-hole session online to feel overwhelmed and disoriented. That’s just the nature of homeschool (and normal school, actually.) Not everything gets done, every day.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to check everything off by the end of the day, this can be maddening. Especially for the homeschooling parent, who understands the weight of their responsibility to educate their child, it can be disconcerting and disheartening when we don’t finish everything we intended to while drafting our plans.

I was that parent. When I started homeschooling, I had neatly organized tasks and lessons laid out by day, by time, and by color in my planner. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was massively behind, panicky even, as days would pass and boxes remained unchecked. I felt depressed, like I was failing my girls, and hugely incompetent. How could I serve them down the road if I was falling short so early in the game? Then Julie Bogart, and the Brave Writer lifestyle, fell into my Facebook feed one day.

There are a lot of things I have learned from reading Julie’s blog, listening to her podcasts, and using her curriculum materials, but the most significant message I received was this:

“Your child needs your patience, not your urgency.” – Julie Bogart

This one little phrase nestled into my heart and took root. How can I give my children patience, how can I instill a lifelong love of learning, how can I nurture joy and wonder, if I am scrambling over a carefully prescribed, stress-inducing plan of action every single day? How can I tell them to indulge in their natural curiosity in one breath while uttering “c’mon baby let’s just get this over with already” in the next?

I decided what had to change was not necessarily the curriculum or the philosophy we were using, but my definition of a successful day of homeschooling. What would that feel like? What mattered most to me, what were the non-negotiables, and what could be pushed back without any fretting if the day took an unexpected turn?

After letting this sink in for awhile, I came up with the three non-negotiables of our homeschool day. If these three things were accomplished, it was a good day. If we managed these things, then I was satisfied no matter what else happened. They might shift or change in the next few years, as my daughters get older and their education intensifies. But for now, the three non-negotiables are:

Go Outside, Every Single Day

The Three Non-Negotiables of Our Homeschool Day: Go outside, read, and wonder.

Every day–rain or shine, fussy or happy, inspired or bored–we go outside. I know there will be the occasional Colorado days when this is dangerous, but it would take a honest-to-goodness blizzard to make me break this rule. They need it, I need it, and it’s almost always the best part of our day. All the juiciest learning happens when we’re outside, or once we come back in with treasures or questions to look up in our field guides. If it’s one of those days when absolutely nothing is getting accomplished on our list, but we get outside for half an hour, it’s still a victory day as far as I’m concerned.

Read Together, Every Single Day

the three non-negotiables of our homeschool day

One day, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me out of the clear-blue sky that not a single day had passed in my daughter’s young lives that I had not read to them. Okay, maybe when I was in the hospital post-C-section with Brice, but really the number of days I didn’t read to them could be counted on one hand. From the time when these girls were newborns, we’ve built reading into the regular rhythm of our days and nights. Bedtime means reading, and it would feel bizarre without it. Car rides mean audio books, no matter how short. Snuggling on the couch almost always involves stacks of books. Reading is just part of our lives together. I think if I get nothing else right, at least I’ve done that.

Wonder, Ask Questions, Find Answers, and Learn Together

the three non-negotiables of our homeschool day

I am really committed to my role as teacher for my daughters. I take it very seriously. But someday they will grow up, and they will be their own teacher. I think one of the most important things I can do as mom and as teacher is to foster both a love for learning and the tools to pursue it independently. If I teach my daughters to trust their curiosity–to ask questions, to wonder about things without inhibitions, to experiment, seek guidance, find answers, dig deeper–then I will have done my job. If they grow up knowing that questions are wonderful and should be asked often, and that they can learn more about anything they want, then I will have succeeded as a parent and an educator. I really believe that the ultimate education is the one that puts that power in the hands of the student–the power to learn. So my final non-negotiable is that if we had questions, if we wondered about something, then we read or consulted a documentary or tried an experiment or asked an expert about it. If that means the day’s math or copywork got postponed for a later time, so be it.

Since I declared these non-negotiables to myself, things have gotten a lot smoother around here. I don’t feel that pressure to be perfect anymore, or to finish the massive checklist that’s always there (and is always going to be there.) I just do my best every day, and honor the commitments I made to these three things above all else in our homeschool journey.

What are the non-negotiables in your homeschool day? Please share in the comments! 🙂


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The three elements that make any day in our nature-based, Charlotte Mason inspired homeschool a successful one.

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  • Reply Kelly September 27, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Yes! These are ours too. Makes our days full, gives us a gentle rhythm and keeps the love of learning central.

    • Reply Kristina Garner September 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      That love of learning is so precious and so easily snuffed out. Thank you for sharing Kelly! <3

  • Reply Danielle September 30, 2017 at 2:00 am

    This was so good and helpful!
    Mine is opening God’s Word with my little ones every single day. My job is to usher them into a relationship with Jesus and a huge part of it is seeking Him through his Word -which is alive and powerful.

    • Reply J.S December 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      That is ours too! Their relationship with God is number one and our discussions and prayers time at the start of our day is our favorite part of homeschooling. They always look forward to what’s the next scripture and learning more about God and His will for them. It’s an excellent start of our day!

      If that is done I feel accomplished but it also makes a huge difference with our school day when we take time to pray and ask God to come into our classroom. Our second is reading OR math work has to be fully completed. If one doesn’t get done I am happy we got through the other at least. 🙂

      • Reply Kristina Garner December 31, 2017 at 9:03 pm

        Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply Jen October 18, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    We almost never get outside. 🙁 We lived tightly squished into other houses and taking a drive to a park just isn’t a possibility most days. I know I need to be better at this, but as someone who grew up where I could run outide naked and no one would know (I never did that, fyi, but I could have!), it is really hard for my introvert self to force my kids to put on regular clothes and go outside where we will inevitably be forced to waste an hour in conversation with neighbors. Any tips on that? I really, really would love to move but that’s not an option and neither is a privacy fence.

    • Reply Kristina Garner December 31, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      I can definitely relate! As a self-proclaimed introvert, I try really hard to avoid places where I have to make small talk when we ought to be romping around. This can be tricky. Would it be possible to put up some bird feeders around your house, maybe plant some butterfly and bird-friendly flowers and shrubs around where you could see them from the window? A lot of nature study can happen from a window, for those days when getting outside just isn’t an option.

  • Reply CVL November 2, 2017 at 12:16 am

    My thoughts on schedules and checklists has evolved similarly, even though this is only my second year in homeschooling. I’m grateful I’ve learned early on to rule my lists, and not let my lists rule me. I think it’s hard to find the delight and wonder in homeschooling if you’re a slave to the list and the schedule.

    Getting outside is near the top of my essentials list too, however my health at them moment isn’t allowing us to get out much and we live in a suburb so there’s not a whole lot of nature to explore, unfortunately. So sometimes you have to let go of that perfect, ideal homeschool. We make sure our yearly vacations are spent out in nature somewhere to compensate.

    • Reply Kristina Garner December 31, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Yes, absolutely. We have to find the rhythm that works for each season of our homeschooling lives.

  • Reply Lynn November 20, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Outside everyday can not be stressed enough! Just to step away from the books and the house- take in the fresh air was huge! I always try to get in a walk down the Nature Path too.

    • Reply Kristina Garner December 31, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Yes, I agree. I quickly discovered that when this particular non-negotiable was ignored, we all suffered. My mental health needs it as much as theirs does! (Not to mention physical health!) 🙂

  • Reply Laura December 4, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Your site fell across my pinterest feed this morning and boy did I need to read this one! This is my first year homeschooling and I am feeling like such a failure already. I look at where I’d thought we’d be by now and we are so behind. I know it’s going to take time to figure out what works best for this little family of mine, but failure still whispers in my ears late at night. Do more, be more organized, follow a plan! All sounds great in theory but I am not even a planner! Our days run much more smooth when we head outside for a spur of the moment hike with friends, or take a spelling test on the sidewalk with chalk! I will be finding my non-negotiable s, and praying that many more homeschool moms find your site!

    • Reply Kristina Garner December 31, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words Laura. 🙂 I’m learning every day to follow the flow (instead of fighting it with lists and self-imposed pressures.) And yes, be patient with yourself. It does take time to find your rhythm. <3

  • Reply Our Winter Rhythm: A Typical Day of Homeschool with a Charlotte Mason Heart and an Unschooling Soul – Blossom & Root January 9, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    […] schedules. Not checklists. Rhythms. (For a look at what I think about academic checklists, read The Three Non-Negotiables of Our Homeschool Day) And so, I try to embrace and honor the rhythms that naturally form with the changing […]

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