Day in a life of a homeschooler

I’m pretty sure the reason more people don’t homeschool is because it’s so, so hard. And my situation is no exception. I am the primary breadwinner, we live 90 minutes from a city, and I am much better suited for the relatively predictable world of  business than taking care of children.

I started this blog to simply explore the idea of homeschooling. But it took only a few weeks of reading and writing on the topic to see that research and analysis point overwhelmingly to the idea that homseschooling is more effective than even the “best” public schools. I do homeschooling because it’s so clearly the right thing to do. Now, I just have to get good at it.

7:00 am Chores. We are going to kill one of the goats today. It is the luckiest goat in the world. He was going to freeze to death (with all the other baby boy goats) but I took him as my own project instead. And then I told my son he could raise the goat and sell it for meat. Then we fell in love with the goat. So he lived way past when he was big enough to eat. Goats follow kids like dogs. This goat’s hooves grew so long he couldn’t walk. We had to either start grooming him or kill him. So it’s back to business with the goat. This is the last morning of feeding Snowflake, so we all go out together.

While kids do chores I send emails. Anything that I need to get done today must get done now. In this half-hour. I have a list of emails I have to write. One to a venture capitalist looking at my next business to maybe fund it. One to my perspective business partner to tell her I don’t want to be partners. One to my friend Melissa, to tell her I think I will die trying to do a new business and maintain the life I have now. I cook breakfast while I do emails. I burn stuff. Every time.

7:20 am I worry I won’t have the photos I need for my blog. I run outside to take pictures of my brussel sprouts. Then I see the fall light on our house, and I take a photo (above).

7:30 am Breakfast. Eggs. We have the kind of eggs that sell for $2 each in Chicago. Deep yellow yolk from chickens who spend their days in heaven, pecking the grass and going wherever they want and eating whatever they want. The boys don’t like eggs. I have tried to force feed them in many different ways, including earning DSi games. Nothing works. So I eat eggs and the kids eat pancakes and the Farmer eats eggs and pancakes.

7:45 am Cello practice. My son had to audition to get his cello teacher. We drive four hours each way for his weekly lessons. That really puts pressure on the practices. I eat the leftover pancakes to cope with the stress of having to make sure the fourth finger on the D string is right even though I know nothing about music.

8:15 am Violin practice for my other son. It’s hard to get my son to stop playing with his Bionicles. He asks for extra time. I say no. I tell myself I am training him to be good at transitions. I feel guilt that I do not put as much intensity into his practices. Am I playing favorites? But truthfully, the cello-son is a prodigy and the violin-son hates violin. Okay. He doesn’t hate it. I mean, he hates everything and I have to look past that to understand how he feels. He is good. He’s been playing since he was three. How can he not be good? Good is relative. I remind him of this, and I kiss him to remind him that violin is a good thing in our lives. Or to remind me.

8:45 am Check email. I divide emails that must be answered into those that I can answer during the day, furtively, on my iPhone, and those that are too long and will make me want to kill myself if I have to use the iPhone keypad. I answer about 20 emails while the kids are fighting. I tell them they cannot fight because I can’t stand listening to it. They say the only way they can stop fighting is if I let them play their DSi’s. I say no. Then I see that CNN is asking for extensive edits on a piece that needs to run today. I say okay. Fine for electronics. I say only a half hour so I can feel like I still have authority.

9:00 am Get in the car. I feel like we live in the car. I pack things that are uncommon, like food without artificial color and flavors, but also sort of aspirational things, like a children’s dictionary because I have this idea that we’ll play a game in the car where we find a word that has more than one meaning and we have to guess the multiple meanings. Just as I pull away from the house, the perfect fall day is full of snow. I have packed no snow clothes.

9:50 am Pull over. I panic that I can’t do phone calls while we drive. The weather is terrible. Even truckers are going 30 miles under the speed limit. At the side of the highway I check the list of phone calls I had planned to make during the trip. I feel particularly bad about the friend who asked me to read his business plan. I email him that I have to talk later. His business idea sucked, but still, I have to have friends.

9:55 am Drive. The boys think maybe since I pulled over that it’s a new day. They ask if they can do their DS’s. I say no. They try stealing books from each other. Not for the book, but for the pushing and shoving. I say please stop. Then I yell, STOP. They stop.

We drive. The six-year-old looks up from his book and asks, “What does this mean, ‘I won’t be able to sit for a week’?”

“What? What is the context? Who is saying it?”


“What? Puffy?”

“Tuffy. In the Berenstain Bears.”

The phone rings. I can’t stand not answering it. It’s someone who wanted me to do a speaking gig, and because it’s in a terrible location, I told him it would cost him $15,000 to have me there. I know he’s calling to negotiate.

I answer. I swerve. I get scared. I tell them him I have to call back in an hour.

He says okay.

I can’t even remember where I am going to be in an hour. I hope I remember to call. Then I think. Oh. Duh. I’ll probably be right here in the car in an hour. Crap.

“What does it mean to not be able to sit for a week?”

“What?  Oh yeah.  Show it to me.”

“You can’t read while you drive.”

“Yes I can. Open to the page.”

I read. The car ahead of me skids. I scream. The kids scream. I tell the kids don’t worry. No one freezes. The police help everyone. I tell them things to make them feel safe. I say “Do you feel safe?” and then, of course, they realize they should not feel safe.

We keep driving. I ask if they want a juice box so that I can feel like I’m taking good care of them.

11:00 am Swimming. Both boys have lessons and then they do free swim. They are very happy in lessons. They each have a private lesson because I love having private lessons myself, for anything. The lifeguard mediates any fights because it falls under the might-lead-to-drowning category. I like being off the hook. And there is wireless. I answer eight emails as they come in – I like to answer a few emails right away so people feel like I’m working all day and really on top of things. I write a blog post for a stupid site that I will not mention, but they pay me $2500. I do not finish writing the post before my son tells me that I forgot to pack towels. We have to take them out of the lost and found. I pray for no lice.

12:30 pm Pragmatics therapy. Both boys go for two hours even though only the older son has Asperger’s Syndrome. The younger one goes because you can’t learn pragmatics without another kid. Pragmatics is about learning how to read nonverbal language and respond with appropriate language. The son with Asperger’s complains about having to go with his brother. He says his brother ruins everything. I say, “That’s the point.” We all laugh. They get it.

After we laugh, he continues throwing his fit. I tell him I’ll bring bread for a snack. I feel like a crack dealer bribing him with bread. I think he is one of those kids on the autism spectrum who should be gluten-free. I am, too, one of those kids. But instead we both self-soothe with bread. He agrees.

1:00 pm  Couples therapy. Usually I work during this three-hour span with no kids. I go to Starbucks. But today I go to couples therapy. I need a therapist just to deal with the fact that the Farmer is alone all day and I’m with the kids all day and then I spend my only alone time with him, in therapy. I hate this. I cannot focus on being a partner who is trying to communicate clearly. I only feel anger and resentment. Therapy is terrible. I think I should get an apartment in Madison because I’m driving four hours a day just so we can live on the farm, with the Farmer. I do not kiss him when I leave. This is not good. I answer four emails to feel like I have control over some part of my life. I increase my productivity by deleting emails asking to guest post on my blog.

2:10 pm Starbucks. I feel ripped off from spending my alone time in therapy. I want my time alone at Starbucks. I order a soy Chai.  I am doing Talls instead of Grandes because I’m getting fat because I’m not going to the gym because I am spending my days doing my job and homeschooling and (sort of ) my marriage and I am out of time. I decide that I’ll start writing a post for tomorrow so that I don’t have to be stressed tonight trying to get a post written between the kids going to bed and me going to bed.  I start writing a post and I see a piece in the New Yorker that is what God would write if God had a blog. I get distracted. And then I just want a break. I don’t want to have to write. Or think. I google celebrities because it is important to focus on other people’s lives when your own life sucks. Before I can finish looking at a slideshow of Kate Middleton, which I’ve already seen, it’s time to pick up the kids.

3:00 pm Homeschooler meetup. At an indoor playground. All unschoolers. I meet a mom who makes exceptions for math workbooks. So do I. We exchange emails.

3:30 pm  The kids are hungry. I realize that I messed up the day because I didn’t really feed them lunch. We ruin dinner by going to Pizza Hut, which I hope is clear of artificial flavors if we avoid the salad bar. The wait is too long. I tell the boys they can read. My son says, “What does ‘Ask a team member’ mean?”

“What? Oh. It’s the people who work here. They are a group of people like a team.”

“Oh — I get it —  like SpongeBob and the workers at the Krusty Krab.”

4:30 pm Dance Class. I just want to go home but my son loves dance class. On the way there, a British magazine calls. I have ignored the call twice today, but now I know they’re serious because it’s the middle of the night there. I feel bad for making the reporter work so hard to find me. I pick up. She wants to talk about Twitter and activism and when I tweeted about my miscarriage. So I start talking about my miscarriage, and abortions in Wisconsin (they are nearly impossible to get here) and then I think, what are my kids hearing? The kids are fascinated with the information that I lost a baby in between them. They want to know if I am happy because I had my son next or sad because a baby died. This could be a homeschool lesson in dualism, except the Twitter angle is absurd. We reach dance class. One son dances, one son plays his DS, and I stare at the wall for 45 minutes.

5:30 pm Drive home. Should we eat in Madison? No. The kids won’t be hungry. I let the kids watch Angry Beavers. I sort of like listening to it. It’s funny. But I have a coaching call. I earn a lot of money from career coaching and I do almost all of it on my drives to and from Madison. That makes me feel, sometimes, like the drive isn’t so bad. The kids do not fight. The person I coach is smart and interesting. It’s a good ride home.

7:00 pm My son gets out of the car to open the gate to the farm. The phone rings. It’s the guy for the speech. I think to myself that if he’s going to say yes to the rate, he’ll say yes in voicemail. I don’t pick up the phone. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’ve spent my whole life wishing I could arrive home to my own farm. I should be happy.

75 replies
  1. Claire
    Claire says:

    Often, these are my favorite kind of homeschool posts. I love them, and by extension myself, so much more than the ones that just show you all the awesome stuff they do.

  2. Carole
    Carole says:

    This post makes me sad. It is so hard to be raising children and working and married. So many balls in the air, no time for nurturing oneself, no way to be right. Sending White light and hoping for some laughter and fun for you.

  3. Karen
    Karen says:

    Thanks for making my day with that gorgeous photo of your home. I was so depressed today after a wicked windstorm took down the last of our leaves last night and we woke up to snow this morning. Also, thanks again for making me feel better about not being able to do the complete unschooling thing because I’m keeping my math books. I was feeling like a failure today because nothing was working. I haven’t been able to let go of my need to be in control of what my kids are doing and just let my boys do what they want so I’m so happy to see that you are still restricting video game time too. I feel stuck somewhere between the homeschooling I was doing and the unschooling I want to be doing. This is a harder transition than I was expecting. Sigh.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      I was there for a very long time, stuck in the middle. I feel like I am finally moving in the right direction, but some days are better than others. I still find myself judging the value of their choices and worrying about how others will perceive us. But it’s easier knowing there are others doing it too.

      • Bryan Johnson
        Bryan Johnson says:

        Who is to say that the middle is the wrong place to be? There are lots of things that are best learned by guided exploration and experience, but there are also lots of things that aren’t. Don’t feel chained to dogma; look at your kid, and your life, and try to find the right path for (the plural) you.

  4. TR
    TR says:

    At what age did you enroll your son in Pragmatic speech therapy? My autistic son is only 4 (and in therapy) but I am wondering what the preferred age to start this is.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We got an autism diagnosis at 18 months and started speech therapy at 24 months. Most kids with Aspergers have lots of speech, it’s just weird speech (my son could recite Longfellow at age 2 but had no idea what he was saying). So most of speech therapy for these kids is pragmatics. And, I guess that means we started pragmatics at age two.

      You really can’t start too early. At age two, someone was teaching him how to do pretend play. It’s actually an extremely important skill, developmentally, for kids to learn, and there’s a short window to teach it in.


  5. Lak
    Lak says:

    “I google celebrities because it is important to focus on other people’s lives when your own life sucks. ”

    This is my reason for reading your blog!

    Do your boys have an iPad that they can use on the drives? I know that we have games and pseudo-games on our daughter’s iPod and they love it. I’m not sure if you doing educational style games because some unschooler types don’t want to be pushy with those.Still not exactly sure if you’re using a curriculum or not.

    The best part about your homeschooling blog, is that it is wonderful watching it unfold for someone else. Working and homeschooling especially interests me. As a business person/coach seeing how you take care of this will be setting a model for a lot of folks to follow.

    Thanks for the “This is my day” post.

  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I don’t know if I should feel embarrassed over being a possible deleted guest post email or somewhat elated by the idea that we have one thing in common: a preference for homegrown, creamy yolk-ed, eggs. Either way, I like this post, and I like you!

  7. Kale
    Kale says:

    Here is a solution to burning breakfast and kids not eating eggs that has worked for me:

    Oven Pancakes–
    Set oven to 425 degrees. Take 1 round pan for each person (let’s say 2) and place 2.5 Tablespoons butter in each pan. Place pans in oven to melt the butter as the oven heats. In a small bowl, mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup milk with a fork. Add four eggs, a good bit of vanilla and a tiny bit of cinnamon. Again, mix with a fork. Rinse the fork and divide the batter into the hot pans once the oven reaches 425. Return the pans to the oven, set the timer for 15 minutes and answer four emails. Announce breakfast is ready, transfer the giant, puffy pancakes to plates. I cut mine up for my kids because they are hard to cut and I serve them with whipped cream in a can and syrup.

  8. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    After reading this post, I’m not sure how you can say that everyone can and should homeschool. I couldn’t do this everyday. And I know myself well enough to know that, if I homeschooled, this is a lot like what my life would end up feeling like. I give you a lot of credit for taking on all that you have–and also for being honest about what it looks like.

  9. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    I gather it was not your intention to elicit religious feelings with your post, Penelope. But that’s what you did for me. It made me feel profoundly fortunate, and deeply grateful. And it inspired humility.

    After reading this post a few times to really try and have it all soak in, I’m acutely aware of how limited my experience of unschooling has been. You see I have just one child, and for the first 14 years of his life, my wife did not work outside the home. I was self employed most of that time, with a couple years (a month or two here and there) just living off savings and enjoying life, all three of us.

    So for example, we have never, in our lives, experienced a “fight” between children. There were times when my son was two years old when he’d have tantrums, but they were generally short lived. Other than that, he’s always been an easygoing, agreeable and mature sort of young man, so our family life has been one pervaded by ease and harmony. Maybe, as you say, we’re the exception.

    I often wonder how much difference it makes if you pull your kids out of school (and so need to all shift gears for some number of months or years, I presume) or unschool from birth as we chose to do. Our experience with my son is you could pretty much just let him go and he would tear through tasks, activities, books, podcasts, documentaries. Our challenge was to try to keep feeding new material into his little woodchipper mind. He would issue challenges to himself, drive himself far harder than we would ever think of driving him. Unschooling for us was mostly watching miracles happen.

    When my son was conceived we knew we would be starting a long road with unschooling, and my wife took the nine months with no work, just going to parks and being with me or with friends, eating healthy, and doing yoga and drawing, painting and getting ready for our adventure. My son began life in the womb of a very calm and happy woman. I think that helped but who knows.

    Parenting and unschooling has just been the most natural effortless stress-free way of life for us. Reading accounts like yours, Penelope, certainly adds humility to my perspective. I realize that for all I have learned in 17 years of being an unschooler, it does not make me an authority on anything. Decades of research and investigation has put facts and figures at my fingertips, but everything depends on where someone is at in life, for any of that to matter. All I can really do is tell people about my own life and hope there is something in there they can use.

    The simplest details of life that are accidents of fate, like the detail that we are a family of three strongly introverted individuals, affects your life so profoundly. To my view, the life of an extrovert would be a living hell. I mean, if I want excitement, I will read something exciting :) The fact that we are all on the same wavelength this way meant there wasn’t much to disagree about.

    My wife is the person in this world I admire most. She’s strong and caring, smart yet wise, gentle and funny and gorgeous, and we’ve been in love for 25 years. She and I have had maybe a dozen real disagreements we’ve had to work out in the past 25 years, and maybe one or two fights where voices were raised. I’m pretty sure that difficult moments would represent less than 1 percent of the time we’ve been together. So, we’re beyond fortunate, we’re blessed. I try very hard to keep that in mind when I offer advice to people, most of whom seem to have a more challenging life.

    So thanks for sharing your day, it enriched my understanding. It reminded me why it is wise to be grateful and humble.

    • esther
      esther says:

      Mark I loved reading your response. I see that there can be beauty and ease in the world of marriage and children. I have a 22 yr old, 6 yr old and 4 yr old and I am considering homeschooling my 2 younger ones.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love this link! Thanks. It’s a great explanation of how to take control over one’s own learning.


      • Mary Beth Williams
        Mary Beth Williams says:

        Thanks for sharing this link, I’m going to have my daughter read it so we can talk about it….she is not real thrilled with public school and it bothers me a lot, I want to find an alternative if I can. Thanks again.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This is a great post. I think it’s because it’s unfiltered. So any filtering that takes place for me is done by me. I sort of want to give advice but you’re not asking for it. I think you have the questions formulated and many of those questions already answered. The hard part is the implementation (duh). Of course, you’re not alone – you’re just more transparent, authentic, and forthcoming with your life experiences. Thanks for sharing your experiences and best of luck at working towards a solution of full time work and homeschooling.

  11. Mary Beth Williams
    Mary Beth Williams says:

    I love your heartfelt, genuine authenticity and honesty…..I do wish there had been some way to help Snowflake rather than kill her, other than that I loved all of your post……I know it’s hard living on a farm with animals that don’t always make it for one reason or another. Most of all what I love about your blog is that you think things through very thoroughly and it’s a great way to show that it’s the small things, the details that really do count, they all add up. And you matter too….everyone matters and you understand that. Thank you.

  12. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    “He has never been through this experience before, but he knows intuitively that this is how the trip to Hell works: no leisurely boat ride across the scenic Styx, no gradual descent into that trite tourist trap, Pluto’s Cavern, no stops along the way to buy fishing licenses for the Lake of Fire.

    Shaftoe is not (though he should be) dead, and so this is not hell. It is closely modeled after hell, though. It is like a mock-up slapped together from tar paper and canvas, like the fake towns where they practiced house-to-house warfare during boot camp.”

    Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

  13. Ann Hooker
    Ann Hooker says:

    I really like your honesty and willingness to share your life with the world. I wish I had your courage to put it out there. Please know that I’m pretty sure that you help others far more than your realize. Keep up the good work Penelope.

  14. Ced :-)
    Ced :-) says:

    The things that jumped out while I was reading your blog was that you have the kind of freedom of not working for someone and an office/workplace for 8-10hrs. Working at your own pace dealing with a lot of issues all at once. Much gratitude and excitement you give me in the hopes and dreams I want for an independent work and family lifestyle you have. I pray and know blessings are in your life through all that your going through. Aloha from Hawaii. :-)

  15. Greg
    Greg says:

    People should check the Bionicles link. It is pretty great.

    But I disagree with Botz-Bornstein. Bionicles are not “one of the most postmodern machines that one can think of”. I suggest ironic cyborg Derrida.

  16. Acorn
    Acorn says:

    Could you afford a small rental studio in Madison to avoid the grueling commute? Maybe you could spend 3 days a week there and 4 at the farm? It seems like the commute is too burdensome to carry on long term.

  17. SaraC
    SaraC says:

    Even if you “should” be happy, are you? I lived in a very small farm village with a German(not farmer but $$$) for 7 years. I “should” have been happy too. I wasn’t and he wasn’t either. I found it very hard to live so isolated. Love for both city & country life is tough as both have their pluses and minuses.
    Good luck.

  18. redrock
    redrock says:

    holy caboodle. I do 14 hour workdays on a regular basis and they are draining. But your kids at the age of 6 and 9 (I think) did a 10-12 hour workday with several classes where they had to focus and work with a teacher. Honestly, I had more time to dream, read and develop my interests going to public school. But maybe this day is not as typical as you make it sound since it happens only twice a week?

    • marta
      marta says:

      I totally agree with redrock.

      I really cannot see what’s so great about Penelope’s kids’ homeschooling (though I do love to read her posts, which are thought-provoking). The kids just seem to either tag along, go to “special classes” (skateboarding!? why not just let the kid learn on his own – isn’t that what unschooling is all about?), or play videogames…
      My kids are in local, close-by public schools, they have a lot of free time (school in the morning and 2 or 3x/week in the afternoon) to practise their chosen sports (sync swimming for the 11 yo girl, handball and swimming fo the 13yo boy), to go to the neighbourhood park with friends, hang around at home, play on the computer, whatever… They can go almost every where on their own/with friends, including taking public transport to the cinema or the sync swimming pool.

      I work from home and my husband works from home 1/4 of the time. Our other two kids (17mo and 8 yo) go to the park almost everyday, rain or shine, and the 8 yo does competitive swimming 2x/week. He has no homework.

      As I said in a comment to another post, your kids’ lives depend much more on the urban/suburban/rural setting than on the schooling setting you have chosen to live in. And, come to that, your life does as well.

      Marta un Lisbon, Portugal

  19. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Is there some reason you can’t fix homeschooling and your alone time together by having part of their lessons be spent with The Farmer, learning farm stuff? It seems like he’d have a lot to teach, and it would take some of the strain off of you being with them (or dropping them off for expensive appointments) all the time.

  20. Bryan Johnson
    Bryan Johnson says:

    First, thanks for providing this window into your life. But I have to say, this doesn’t sound like homeschooling, or even unschooling. This sounds like carschooling. You and your kids get to ride around in a car a lot and you get to try to do a full day’s work on a smartphone, punctuated by appointments.

    I hope that you picked this particular day to be provocative. But it does undermine your argument that “everyone should homeschool,” because it is clear to many of us in the audience that neither you nor your boys will make it through the winter like this without going nuts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The most important thing here, I think, is that (aside from violin) the kids pick all the things they do during the week. The kids pick how many times they want to drive into Madison (on average, three or four) and I try to help them understand how they are feeling so they can make decisions about what they want to do.

      I don’t know if this is working or not, to be honest.

      I also think this comment is a little like the question homeschoolers get a lot: “What curriculum do you use for math?”

      You never ask a parent who sends their kid to school what curriculum they are using for math. But why? Shouldn’t they know what it is and know if they like it?

      I point this out because of the double standard. Kids who go to school are outside the home, having to be “on” all day long, and then they go to afterschool stuff.

      My kids, who definitely are in the car more than most homeschool kids, surely are home more than most school kids. I mean, we have three or four days where we play at home all day. So if the standard is that kids should not be outside the home having to focus on classes all day long, then all kids should be homeschooled.


      • Bryan Johnson
        Bryan Johnson says:

        Thanks for the reply. You allude to a most interesting detail: how does unschooling, with all of the flexibility that that implies, interact with signing kids up for classes? If you let the kids decide when to go to Madison, doesn’t that mean some amount of money wasted on classes they don’t attend? Or is that just not a big deal?

        I have another spin for you. Rather than “all kids should be homeschooled”, maybe the correct formulation is “all kids should have a non-working parent.” There are good schools out there, not all parents have the ability to deal with their children 24/7, etc., but the kids who have parents available to volunteer at the school, get involved, know the other parents, spot problems early, advocate for their children, and provide supplementary instruction and guidance, are clearly going to do better than kids with working parents. And for homeschooled kids, kids with a non-working parent will clearly have a better experience than kids with a parent working part- or full-time who has less energy and time to devote to their education.

        So, clearly you’re shortchanging your kids by trying to work while you homeschool. Or is it possible that the issues are more complex?

  21. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Is there any way that you could get another book deal and write–about your life, candidly, like you do in this blog? And pretty much cut out a bunch of other stuff you describe in this post? Because homeschooling *is* hard (I know. I’ve been doing it for almost 7 years with three children). But it’s even harder when you’re trying to go like gangbusters (I know this, too, because I homeschooled while going to school hours a day to learn to speak Hindi and trying to acclimate to an entirely new culture). It really is a lot more fun to homeschool when you truly have the space in your life to do it. And your kids can feel whether you have space for it or not, too. I’m just thinking that with all of your business savvy and creative thinking and fearless voice, you could find a way to make money with less chaos…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, I could get a book deal. I’ve had a lot of offers. But I don’t like writing books. I like writing about my life as it unfolds. In short snippets.

      Blogging is a very good format for me. A book is something totally different — for example it needs a long story arc and some sort of resolution. I also love the process of linking ideas. It’s how my brain works, and a book does not represent that kind of thinking as well as blogging.

      You’re right that the kids see what there is space for and what there isn’t. I think I just need to get a little better at compartmentalizing. But I do think that we are most elegant in our work/life solutions when we are doing the work that is best suited for us.

      The work I’m doing I’m really good at. The thing I’m not as good at is childcare. So I think that’s the part I need to tweak. I think the work stuff will fall into place when I am clear in my head how I want to be taking care of the kids.

      Maybe I’m lying to myself… we will see.


      • Diana
        Diana says:

        Geez, give yourself a break, Pen. You just started this homeschooling journey. Of course you will be tweaking along the way. But you WILL get it right.
        I have wondered, aside from your blogging, do you also keep a private journal? Would keeping one help you to see where you’ve been and how far you’ve come?

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I think your homeschooling decision is great and commendable, but I don’t understand why are you trying to work at the same pace as before you decided to homeschool? Life is a series of trade-offs–you know this better than anyone. Unless you had plenty of extra time before you homeschooled, then something (probably work) will have to give. If you don’t face this reality, then I worry you are going to start sticking knives in your head again.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Jennifer. I think you’re right about tradeoffs. I think it’s totally true that no one can have everything.

          So, for the record: I gave up being CEO of my company about a year ago so that I could manage our move to the farm and recalibrate my family. I planned to take the summer off and then start a new company, and I didn’t. Because I can’t start a new company while I”m homeschooling.

          I also want to point out that any mother who also has a full time job and takes care of her kids after school has days that look like mine, they just start at 3pm. This is not a homeschooling problem. It’s a working mom problem.


          • Tracy Wallace
            Tracy Wallace says:

            You wrote: ” any mother who also has a full time job and takes care of her kids after school has days that look like mine, they just start at 3pm. This is not a homeschooling problem. It’s a working mom problem.”

            I’m late to this party but BINGO. You nailed it. Thanks.

  22. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Wow, that sounds exhausting! As an unschooling parent, I’ve found much more peace in cutting down on the running around. It’s super hard, and I’m constantly having to remind myself that the kids won’t die if we don’t do soccer this Fall, and “Yes, nature class is awesome” but so is having a sane mother. The kids are happiest when they are home building forts anyways.

  23. B
    B says:

    Perhaps it’s been stated elsewhere and I’m too lazy to look. But I must say that it boggles my mind that you’ve simultaneously recognized the pointlessness of public education, but you still insist on your kids learning arcane musical instruments. What an enormous waste of time, money and unnecessary stress.

    • Diana
      Diana says:

      I totally disagree. We teach our children to play musical instruments because doing so also teaches them many other skills. Instead of listing them here, I encourage you to google the topic. Cheers!

      • B
        B says:

        What skills are learned by the cello or violin that can’t be learned by a more useful instrument?

        Let them play guitar and that might get them laid later in life. Your future 19 year old son will thank you.

        And why do they need to have a premier teacher so far away. Penelope’s insistence on arcane instruments and the best instruction are needlessly burdening her. Is there not a piano teacher nearer to them?

        I could come up with another five variations on these questions. Why pick those instruments and that level of instruction if all it does is develop some other talents indirectly. Their skill in those instruments will be absolutely worthless later in life. It’s the indirect skills she wants to impart and there are FAR easier ways to do it.

          • B
            B says:

            Her children might as well be taught to buy lottery tickets. They’re both more likely to win that twice a piece than be a wealthy classical musician.

            Penelope is a former professional athlete. As long as we’re chasing impossible scenarios, she’s better served making her kids play sports on the hope that they go pro. At least she’s proven she has the genetics for that.

          • chuck
            chuck says:

            “I want to write the great American novel. This goal is very precious to me.”
            “Better to choose activities with distributions of success that aren’t so bimodal. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

  24. chuck
    chuck says:

    Going to therapy to deal with the stress of going to therapy?

    Tight schedule. We use to make sure everyone in our house pulls their weight. Very important for running things smoothly when you are an independent family.

  25. Diana
    Diana says:

    I don’t have small children anymore, but I read this anyway because I follow the career blog. But I don’t have a career anymore either, so I guess I follow both of these blogs because I love your story telling talent. You have lots of that.
    I love this photo and I think it is suitable for framing. Another talent! you are truly blessed, even though some days you can’t see that.
    Hang in there Pen.

  26. Beth
    Beth says:

    I agree with many of the comments made here- specifically whether you need to reevaluate some choices. Homeschooling should make life more peaceful, not more stressed. This is just depressing.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t see how homeschooling two kids could possibly, in any scenario, be more peaceful than dropping two kids off at school and going to an office job all day. Anyone who has done both will agree with me: working all day is way way easier than taking care of kids all day.


      • ly
        ly says:

        There are people who are temperamentally suited to taking care of children all day. They like and enjoy it so it is not as stressful for them. Some people actually choose taking care of kids for a living rather than office or other jobs because they enjoy kids.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          So, let’s say that half the people in the world are happier taking care of kids, and half the people in the world are happier working in an office. Because if you look at Myers Briggs research, that is pretty much true.

          So does this mean that we tell half the kids who are 22 that they should not work and just have kids? And we tell half the people who are 35 with kids that they should not take care of their kids all day but instead go to work?


          • Katy
            Katy says:

            Why couldn’t we just expose people to different types of learning/working/interacting with others (including kids) and then let them make their own choices?

            I’m one who loves young kids. I worked with them for a decade before I had my own. Now I take care of 2 others along with my own. Going to an office all day sounds nightmarish to me.

            I would think that one of the benefits of homeschooling would be that people could determine their passions and follow them, whether it involves taking care of young ones or not.

  27. Kim
    Kim says:

    I loved this post. Weirdly, this one is the one that has made me really think about whether my child would benefit from home (un)schooling. And I guess I mean think about it in a more real, concrete way.

  28. Carl
    Carl says: thing I have learned from your blog is a better understanding of aspergers. I recently read The Big Short”. One of the individuals featured in the book was diagnosed with aspergers late in life after he became an MD and gave it up. He saw the financial meltdown of 08 coming because he could focus on details that few could see.

  29. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I really appreciate the honesty here. Definitely easy to over-idealize the peace of a homeschooling life. I live in Manhattan and often dream of long days in the country just watching butterflies hatch kind of thing (which ironically I’ve only seen happen at the Natural History Museum on 81st and Central Park West). But then I hear about actual days that are as cram-packed as any Manhattan Mom’s days. I wish, for your sake and your kids’, that it was a little less packed. But I have the same problem — keeping afloat a devoted mom routine AND doing tons of freelance writing, little books, my own unpaid stuff, etc. It’s so hard to juggle. Wherever you are, you feel like you should be somewhere else. Thanks for being so forthcoming about it. (And BTW, I totally disagree w/ anyone saying kids shouldn’t learn to play music! That is nuts. The benefits across the board academically are so well-proven, but man, just for the sake of music itself and the joy of it and what comes out of practicing, improving little by little, being dedicated…it’s immeasurable).

  30. Angela
    Angela says:

    Wow, seems like the kids are on a rigid schedule ~ why so many lessons? In one day? You are a fantastic writer but I think you are crazy.

  31. Penny Rene
    Penny Rene says:

    My days are often like this and I don’t homeschool… Yet. My kids are 6 and 4 and we live in a “great” school district. But we also live in NJ, which is pretty much like living in a financial prison. Of course, we are looking to move; trying figure out how to take a substantial loss on our house. And the plan is to move somewhere that has fresh air, plenty of sunshine and inspires active, outdoor living. But I’m finding that means the schools may be crap. Crap, as in below the crap that most people call great. This is why I read your posts about homeschooling. I want to convince myself I can do it if I need to do it.

  32. betty
    betty says:

    I love your blog! I just stumbled on it today. You remind me so much of myself, always struggling between unschooling and homeschooling. I didn’t know other people did that too.

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  35. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I want to homeschool my son and think it would be better for him academically than his private school because he has sensory issues, has birthday too close to the cutoff and seems and is younger than his classmates, and is in a school that is designed to challenge the capable. And his current teacher has pretty much told me she doesn’t think he should be in her class because he has had days where he doesn’t follow directions (and “children this age should be able to follow multi step directions), reading tests lower than last spring (meanwhile he reads at home 2 hours per day for pleasure and seems to be doing fine to me), and “is falling behind” in the first week of class. (Fortunately he has 4 other teachers). The problem is HE LOVES SCHOOL and is totally committed to being there 5 more years!!! And he has strong opinions – at my own peril do I move him from something he loves! So there is my unusual dilemma. What to do when the adults think school is not working for a child but child disagrees….For now I wait to see if he changes his mind. I would love to homeschool him.

  36. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    It sounds like quite a day you had there. I too live on a farm (albeit in NZ) and homeschool my two girls. Even though I have been doing it for five years I still have days when I wonder if I know what the heck I have taken on and if I am up to it. It is often caused by me taking on more than I should, or by something out of the norm, like an illness, or some emotional turmoil. These are thankfully more often than not followed by the most brilliant homeschooling day as though to encourage and reinforce my decision. Those days you can just spend at home with your children are such bliss.

  37. Samuel Green
    Samuel Green says:

    Where is all the actual education? Stuff like maths, science and applied english?

    And how is snowflake’s life worth less to you than trimming his/her hooves?!

  38. phoebe
    phoebe says:

    Thank’s so much for this post , it shows that there are times where motherhood, wifedom, and homeschooling is very draing and at the end of the day you sometimes have nothing left for you or anyone else, but we face those sorts of things at jobs also. I have worked jobs that i have been married to and what is the end result? stress, still not enough money, and less time with your family. we may face our tough days now when our kids are young but man, i can’t wait till my kids are grown and my job as teacher is done and i can see the seeds i sewed into my children by investing all myself in them now, that will make it all worth it. :)

  39. Heather
    Heather says:

    Dear P.,
    I love your blog, and this post, and the frank, blunt way you write. It’s a lot like the way I talk. I am thinking about trying to get to exactly the place you are, right now. I’m living in a small town I love but there is no real grocery store within 25 miles. I want to be able to take the kids to the pool, the beach, visit friends and relatives, lessons, but can’t afford the gas, or anything else. We are living on child support basically, plus gov’t assistance, and it’s not enough, and it sucks. I have time but I’m stressed and worried trying to figure out how to make money without having to put my kids in daycare and public school. I agree with your conclusions about homeschooling being better for the kids, therefore, I must do it. I was also raised with those expectations, so it’s a heavy must do for me. I also went to college, got a business/MIS degree and had a career developing accounting software for 8 years before I had kids. Now I’m a split personality. I’m computer addicted, email centric, and I think I’m infj and do not so much love dealing with a lot of things about kids. Their dad was a major error on my part, opposites, ehk. IDK if I can survive trying to do both the way that you are. I would LOVE to be living on a farm though, (I think), and what I envision is a BLENDING of all these parts of our lives together. Something like Saletin’s Polyface farm but more 4-H and community oriented. I hope to blog about it, make money at it, make my kids participate (I mean naturally they would want to of course, not make). Well, this is the lovely concept I have in mind that I think of when I try to conceptualize my ideal situation. Of course, I also need people, and gathering, so I would make any excuse to host friends out to the farm. It seems like you have done the really hard part already, and now that you have enough income you really are where you were trying to be, or I should say, where I would like to be. Is there a dating web site for farmers? You say blogging is no way to make money, so I’m thinking maybe book keeping? Btw – I have 4, who are 2,4,7,& 9.

  40. Homeschool mom
    Homeschool mom says:

    Hi All,

    Here’s something to make you stop and think!

    S L O W D A N C E:

    Have you ever watched kids
    on a merry-go-round
    Or listened to the rain
    slapping on the ground?

    Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic
    Or gazed at the sun into the fading

    You better slow down
    Don’t dance so fast
    Time is short
    The music won’t last

    Do you run through each day on the
    When you ask “How are you?”
    do you hear the reply?

    When the day is done,
    do you lie in your bed
    With the next hundred chores
    running through your head?

    You’d better slow down
    Don’t dance so fast
    Time is short
    The music won’t last

    Ever told your child,
    We’ll do it tomorrow
    And in your haste, not see his

    Ever lost touch,
    Let a good friendship die
    ‘Cause you never had time
    to call and say “Hi”?

    You’d better slow down
    Don’t dance so fast
    Time is short
    The music won’t last When you run so fast to get somewhere
    You miss half the fun of getting
    When you worry and hurry through your
    It is like an unopened gift….
    Thrown away…

    Life is not a race.
    Do take it slower
    Hear the music
    Before the song is over.

  41. Maisie
    Maisie says:

    Hi – I appreciate your sharing this but, honestly? It sounds completely crazy. If you are trying to say that this way of life is somehow “better” for your kids than going to school, I really struggle with that assumption. Although I appreciate there are many circumstances under which it might be better for certain children. (My child is Asperger’s also btw.) I don’t believe in being judgmental – but if you are holding this up as some kind of ideal, then I just don’t find this appealing. Sorry.

  42. david blazina
    david blazina says:

    Penelope….and anyone else needing it…. please see a freind of mines page the libertarian homeschooler. You will find peace joy and love thru this page. She is libertarian, Christian, and montessori. There is a blog, a traditional facebook, also I believe there is a YouTube channel or will be soon. See also Karen Schmidt and Lenore shcnazy of free range kids note.
    Amazing stuff.

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