Homeschool Portrait – Melissa

One of the purposes of doing this little exercise of peeking into the lives of different homeschool moms is to show you that not all homeschoolers have many children, live on a farm, raise goats, and dress their children alike.

So here’s Melissa.  She doesn’t dress her children alike.  See?  Different.

As far as many children, living on a farm, and having pet goats, I think that she just might fit the bill.  I love Melissa into a million pieces.  I cannot have a conversation with her without laughing.  I would challenge any to try.  She is such an inspiration to me, and not because she has it all together, or her kids are always well behaved and her house is always clean (which I’m pretty sure she would argue).  She’s an inspiration to me because she’s one of the most genuine people I know.  There is no pretense with her.  Just honesty and lots of joy.

She has a little blog like me, too.  When I was in the last month or so in my pregnancy with Solveig, she took the trek out to our place brought me food.  3 meals to be exact.  She said everyone always brings meals after the baby is born, but sometimes, the last month is the most painful, and the last thing any woman about to give birth wants to do is stand by a stove.  For that and so many more acts of kindness, she is so so dear to me.

Tell us about your family.  How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
We are expecting our ninth child in November, though we don’t know the gender. We do know that so far, we have five boys and three girls. Our children are 15, 13, 10, 8, 5, 4, 2, and 1.

Are all of your children home educated?
Yes, all of our children are home educated. Our oldest two went to government school through 3rd and 1st grade, then we brought them back home. We have been homeschooling since 2005. 

Do you or your husband work?  What work are you into?
My husband is a dairy farmer as well as a Primerica Financial Services representative. I do not work.

(Gretchen’s note: this is where I laughed out loud.)

How much education do you have?  If you went to college, what did you major in?
I have an Associate Degree. I was intending to major in Music Education and was heading in that direction when God spoke to my heart and asked me to stop going to college and stay home to raise our children. I was pregnant with our third child when I graduated from a 2 year college.

Which curriculum and/or homeschool philosophy do you follow?
I don’t have a set curriculum so much as a “hodge podge” collection. When you have a lot of kids and especially if you homeschool them, you get BOXES of hand-me-down books. BOXES. Since funds are always tight, I try to pull from what I have been given before I buy something new. This does present it’s challenges because often it’s not something I would have chosen, but if I have such-and-such spelling book on the shelf from someone, for example, and it’s serviceable, it wouldn’t be the best use of money to purchase what I think is my “ideal” spelling book. As far as my home education philosophy, I believe that more can be learned from a “living book” than a dry old text book. For this reason, we implement a literature-rich education approach.

 I know it’s a loaded question, so answer as detailed or brief as you like.  Why did you decide to homeschool?
If you’d like to read the FULL story, feel free to click on the Why We Homeschool Page on my blog. I will give you a (somewhat) brief synopsis here. When I answer this question for someone who is sincerely asking, I tell them that I went from Reactionary to Visionary. What finally “pushed me over the edge” was a bomb threat at our school. Even though my husband had been wanting me to homeschool for a few years, it took a bomb threat to really get my attention. HOWEVER–when I was offered a JOB at the school as a music teacher, I convinced myself that if I was IN THE BUILDING, I could keep my child safe, so I accepted the position. I made it through most of the year, and God was chipping away at my heart to turn it toward my children and my home. I vividly remember the day I finally “gave in”: I was standing in front of my 1st grade son’s class of 24 kids trying to do music time. I’m not exaggerating when I say that of those 24, THREE were paying attention and doing what was expected. THREE. My son was one of them. As I gazed over the group of children engaged in various pursuits (throwing papers, digging in their desks, changing their shoes, gazing absently out the window, falling off their chair, picking their nose, and generally rowdiness) my eyes landed on my son–my little boy. His bright blue eyes looked straight into mine and I could see in them a desire and a plea. I doubt he could have put it into words, but I could see that he knew to obey. He felt helpless in a sea of children who had chosen to disobey the person in authority–he wanted to learn and accomplish things. The other kids were so busy being busy, they couldn’t possibly pay attention. I looked at him…and looked at them…and I knew. I knew. We were going to homeschool. Again, what began as a reaction on my part (to the bomb threats, bad behavior, etc.), God changed to a vision; a vision for what we could accomplish as a family if I pulled my children from the government school and educated them at home. When I use the word “accomplish”, I’m not referring to pages handed in or checked off. I want my children to learn within the crucible of the home and family. Homeschooling affords us this opportunity. 

What does a typical school day look like in your home?
HaHa! HA! Hahahahaha! Ahem. Um. Sorry. Typcial day. Right. Uhhh, there are no typical days here. On the days when I am so CERTAIN we are going to get so much school time in, you can about guarantee the cows will get out. Or someone will stop by. Or the well gives out. Or the washing machine gives out. Or someone pukes. I suppose I could TRY to explain how we roll: my husband, the 13 year old and 10 year old go out to start milking by about 7:00 am. (No, we don’t milk at 4:00am like dairy farmers of yore.) I am usually standing stupefied in front of the coffee maker at this time, watching the amber liquid drip into the carafe and knowing I will soon be savoring my cup of coffee….ahhhh. (It could be said I have a rather un-healthy affection for coffee.) The 2 and 1 year old are also up and are at the table waiting for breakfast. I wish, well, ok, I don’t even wish really, that I could say that it’s while I’m cheerfully whipping up scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and arranging freshly picked blooms from my large and well-tended flower garden. Reality is, I’m pouring milk over Cheerios (hey–WHOLE GRAIN, though!). I do make oatmeal fairly often, too.

My 8 year old and 5 year old boys are making their way to the table by now and pouring/spilling their own breakfasts. Since the baby girls are finishing up, I leave the boys in charge of the table and I hop through the shower.

About the time I’m ready for the day, my oldest daughter comes in from the barn, washes up and gets herself ready for the day. My four year old runs on a different clock and always sleeps in. I just let him and we get started on a few inside chores and then start school. This would be mostly seatwork. About then, the 4 year old wakes up and has his breakfast. Since my 15 year old son does the night milking and is out in the barn until late, I let him sleep in the morning. So, by about 10:00 am, he’s up and going on the day. We try to get as much done as we can until it’s time to make dinner. (We call the noon meal “dinner” and the evening meal “supper”. Just to clarify.)

We eat at about 12:30 and by 1:30 we are usually doing our read-aloud time. The baby typically falls asleep in her dinner, so she’s been peeled off her plate, washed up and is in her bed for her nap. The youngers pick something quiet to do while we read. We often use reading time to fold laundry, too.

Assuming I can stay awake, we typically read until about 2:45 or 3:00. By this time, all boys are asking to go outside and “hunt” with their bb guns. Children eat a quick snack and Mom catches a quick nap while kids play outside.

We try to eat supper by 5:30-6:00 and then the 15 year old and 8 year old boys head out with my husband for evening chores. Supper clean-up, baths, and bed time for the remaining children. My husband typically comes in by about 10:00 pm. Sometimes a bit earlier, sometimes much later. Either way, I’m about passed out on the couch or in bed by about 9:30.

 What do you find to be the hardest part about homeschooling?
Balance. And Guilt. Balancing guilt? I’m not sure. For example, I need to make sure that I am treating our homeschooling as a priority. That means that I can’t just run around hither and yon, doing this and that. We need to spend most of our time at HOME in order to HOME educate. It’s hard enough to fit in school work among the “regular” work of picking up toys, washing clothes, preparing, eating, and cleaning up meals, etc., etc., so if I’m not HOME, it makes it even harder.
But let’s say that a family we know could really use a meal brought to them. What lesson am I teaching my children if I see a need like that and decide, “No–long division is MUCH more important than that family’s need for a meal. We MUST stay home and do MATH.” I want them to learn to SERVE–and in order to learn that, they must see me do so.
And then I have guilt. Guilt because we didn’t get done with math AGAIN today! Perhaps yesterday we helped a neighbor, and I was thinking “we’ll make SURE to get it done tomorrow.” and now today, someone’s sick? Or some other thing comes up?
It’s very hard to maintain balance. We need to make time for school; however, I can’t let “school” rule our lives. All of life is a lesson–there is much to be learned that does not lie within the pages of a textbook. 
Another issue for me is balancing the needs of all of my children.  Their physical needs are great enough (love, affection, clean clothes, meals, a mom who pays attention) but throwing in their educational needs on top of that is a big load.  Since I’m “it” for them, it is a common occurrence that while helping my oldest with Algebra, it is to background sounds of “will somebody come wiiiiiiiiipe meeeeeeeee???” and “Mom, I’m done with my letters, can I go outside?” and “Babe?  Can you run to town for this part?” and “Has anyone seen my spelling notebook?”  Some days it is all I can do not to sit down and cry, feeling so inadequate.  And then there are good days—really good days where my children impress me so much!  Not just with what they know, but with how they are with who they know.  My boys open doors for me, they hold old ladies hands to steady them on the sidewalk.  My boys will hold babies and play with toddlers that aren’t members of our immediate family.  They can handle themselves independently in a store.  My son and daughter can prepare meals for our whole family with little to no help from me.  My children look people in the eye when spoken to and can speak intelligently with people from any age group.  They are friends with each other and always have someone to play with.  Because we are together all the time, and conversation is a huge part of the way I parent, they know they can ask me anything—and they do. Most importantly, my children are walking with the Lord.  These are the things that keep me going on days that are hard.
On top of all that, they are all incredibly smart and breath-takingly good looking.

What do you, personally, do for fun? Do you have any guilty pleasures? 
For fun, I sleep.  I blog and I like to read the blogs of my friends as well as some others.  I like to take pictures of the kids and I like to sit in the sun. As far as guilty pleasures, boy, I’m taking a risk divulging this information since my kids read this blog and mine, but……well, my guilty pleasure is………reading in the bathtub.  I tell them “I’m going to go hop in the tub and get ready for the day” and I am, but I read for awhile, too.  My other guilty pleasure, and this only works while I’m pregnant (which is a substantial part of my life), is to have two of some kind of treat, saying that one is for the baby.  My older kids just smile, but my littles totally buy it.  Should I feel guilty for that?  I’m not sure.  Probably.
What are some of your favorite resources? (e.g websites, stores, books, programs)  Apologia Science, Pathway Readers, Sonlight, Heppner’s Legacy Homeschooling Resources –the only homeschooling store in MN.  Brad is GREAT to order from over the phone!  One of my dreams is go browse through their store.  Probably better for the checkbook if I don’t ever fulfill that dream…
As far as books for Mom, anything by John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down, The Underground History of American Education), The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick, Things We Wish We’d Known compiled by Diana Waring

  Any advice for those just starting out homeschooling?
If you are just starting out, and your kids have been in public school, it will take time for both you and your kids to “de-school.”  That might means months, and it might mean years.  It may take awhile to find your “groove”.  Home education is not public-school-at-home.
If you are starting to home educate kids having never been to government school, remind yourself that you have been teaching them from the moment they were born.  You taught them to smile, roll over, crawl, walk, eat with a spoon, drink from a cup, talk, play nice, etc., etc.  Reading, writing, and arithmetic are just the next steps.  You are just the one they need.
Know that there will be hard days—and there will be days when you know, you just know, that you are doing the right thing and that you wouldn’t trade these days for anything.

Homeschooling isn’t just an educational option, in my opinion.  It is a way of life.  And it’s a good one.


  1. says

    I really needed to read my own words today, Gretchen! It reminded me of why I do what I do every day.
    Thank you for the kind introduction, too! Love you, my friend.

  2. says

    I loved reading this! I’ve spoken to Melissa a few times on the phone and have learned so much from her. She’s right about Heppner’s Legacy Homeschool store….I live 10 minutes from there and it DOES take a toll on the checkbook. Thanks so much for sharing, Melissa and Gretchen!

  3. says

    I have been reading your homeschool portraits, and I just LOVE Melissa’s! I went over to her blog and read a bunch of stuff from it, which I also REALLY enjoyed!

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