#01 – Get Out of the Box

Homeschool Doing School at Home

Does a standard approach guarantee academic success? Acceptance to a good college? Landing that first job? Building a successful career?

What happens if you get out of the traditional education box?


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I didn’t set out to be a homeschool mom.

I didn’t even set out to be a stay-at-home mom. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I love our family. And I love that we homeschool. I just didn’t see it coming.

I met Jeff in the first class of the first day of our first semester at Hardin-Simmons University. We were both music majors and 22 years later, we can’t imagine life any other way than together. But let me tell you, standing here today and looking back, we’re often amazed we made it this far.

Within 18 months from that first meeting, we had dated, gotten engaged, married, and had our first son–Jonathan–all while still going to college full time. In fact, I took 17 hours the semester I had him. I went into labor just before Jeff played a concert that night. Yeah. He played the concert. And then he high-tailed it out of there to get back home so we could go have our first baby. I laid out 3 days and went back to take my Algebra final just so I could enjoy this new little guy without any academics hanging over my head during the Christmas break.

My mom worked out of our home and watched Jonathan during the weeks of the following Spring semester so that we could continue school while transitioning into parenthood at the same time. We finally got our bearings and settled into a new normal of raising a toddler in college. In 4 ½ years, from beginning to end, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and we were expecting our second son to arrive just a few months later.
Before I knew it, I was a stay-at-home mom of two boys and it was time to start thinking about school for them.

Introducing Beyond Curriculum

I’m Julie Moore, and I’ve been homeschooling our 4 kids-2 sons and 2 daughters-for 17 years now. We’ve successfully launched our first born-a Millennial who is not strapped with overwhelming student loan debt and has not moved back in with us. Really. It is possible. This has been a journey and our story is not completely finished. Lord willing, we have at least 6 more years of homeschooling in our future. And as I realized that the younger homeschool moms who seek me out for ideas and encouragement could one day include my daughters or daughters-in-law, I decided to take what I’ve learned along the way and start my second business venture-a podcast series that gives an honest look at the highs and the lows, the opportunities and the challenges, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the homeschool life.

Julie: I have a confession. I said I wasn’t going to do it, but I did it. I’m re-writing Episode 1.

Joshua: Uh huh…

Meet Joshua

That’s Joshua. He’s my second born and he’s been learning to write and produce stories through film. At 17, he’s done with high school, and about to start an apprenticeship in the film industry. He’s the one who first suggested a documentary style podcast.

Joshua: If you already know that this is definitely not good enough, then there’s no point in sending it out to see what other people think, just to verify that you are in fact…

Julie: (laughing) …that it’s really that bad.

Joshua: (laughing)…right. So if it’s, ok, I know this isn’t perfect yet, then probably go ahead and send it out. But if it’s, I need to go back and change the foundation, or just really restructure some things…well good.

So, if you are listening to this episode, it means I have successfully produced the first season of Beyond Curriculum. I’ve been recording conversations with other homeschool moms, the challenges we face, and sometimes tense conversations with friends and family. Season 1 will be 10 episodes or so airing roughly every 2 to 4 weeks that I’m currently in the middle of writing. I have no idea where this will go.

Homeschooling Changes Everything

What I do know? When a mom steps across the line and becomes a homeschooler, it changes everything: her relationship with her husband, her kids, her family, her friends, and even herself. And often, in the panic of choosing the right curriculum and making the perfect lesson plans, she misses the fact that her world is about to start shaking from all of these changes. My plan, is to produce future episodes and seasons that will be a help and encouragement to current, potential, soon-to-be, and even veteran homeschool families out there.

I have a lot of anxiety as evidenced by my conversation with Joshua. I’ve never worked in radio. I don’t have a degree in journalism, or even literature. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to attract listeners. But I have to try. It can’t hurt to try.

Funny… that’s pretty much what we said when we decided to homeschool.

Our First Impression of Homeschooling

Our first brush with homeschoolers left something to be desired. Over time we came to discover that there are many reasons families choose to homeschool. And their reasons-their Why, as it’s known in the business world-greatly shapes the results. These first families I met were like today’s homeschool stereotype-socially awkward, uninterested in teaming with others, and unable to see anything negative about their kids.

But then we met Darcy, a fellow musician at Hardin-Simmons who was bright and bubbly and didn’t give normal limitations much power over her ability to seize unique opportunities-like taking our Sophomore year off to tour China with a contemporary ballet company. So much of who Darcy was could be traced back to being homeschooled, and once we understood that, it caused us to rethink our normal assumptions about the plan to send Jonathan off to school.

Homeschool by the Numbers

Though homeschooling is growing in popularity, I admit, I’ve made an assumption that all of my listeners will be familiar with this term. So, if you don’t know what I mean by homeschoolers, here’s what I’m talking about…

  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, 1.5 million kids are taught by mom and dad. That’s up 74% since 1999.
  • A lingering misconception is that the main reason most parents decide to homeschool is for religious reasons. That’s not quite true anymore.
  • 36% of parents do homeschool primarily to teach their kids religious and moral values, but 38% homeschool because they don’t like the school environment or the way teachers teach.

And we’re one of those families who decided to step outside the norm. For you younger parents, this may not seem like such a terrifying decision. But bear with me as I take you back in time.

Is that Legal?

Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. It was mid to late 90s, and homeschooling was just beginning to creep out of the shadows. Jeff and I went to school mostly in the 80s. I didn’t even know homeschooling was a thing until I got to college in ‘94.

At that time, when someone first heard about homeschooling, it was pretty normal for the next thing out of their mouth to be, “Is that legal?” Since then, I’ve met a handful of adults my age who actually were those mythical homeschool creatures. They all share stories of not being able to be seen in public during school hours for fear of being reported to the local truancy officer.

Sure. Things had come a long way by the time we were considering homeschooling. But we could still count on 1 hand all the families we knew who had even attempted this approach. Still, we were nervouscited, as my 12 year old likes to say-nervous and excited all at the same time. So I managed to secure a generous invitation by a veteran homeschooling mom of 4 kids to come observe how she does this crazy thing right there in her own home without an education degree or teaching certificate.

Making Progress

I learned about HSLDA-Home School Legal Defense Association and THSC-Texas Home School Coalition. I familiarized myself with the homeschool laws of our state, borrowed a homeschool catalog from another mom, selected some preschool workbooks, joined a homeschool support group, and I was off and running. Jeff and I were pretty smart people. How hard could this really be?

By kindergarten, I branched out to choosing a Math curriculum, a reading program, and a writing workbook. By first grade, I had discovered a whole company that produced this amazing series of beautiful workbooks that echoed romantic sentiments of early Americana through every academic subject. Yeah…I was getting the hang of this. I was starting to actually believe the visions of cherub-like offspring sitting at my feet and piled up in my lap as I read aloud to them and they soaked it all up becoming more brilliant and insightful by the minute.

And then it happened…

We Hit a Wall

Jonathan had had enough. As a 5 year old little boy, he did not want to spend anymore time sitting still at the dining room table pouring diligently over beautiful workbook after beautiful workbook. I didn’t realize at the time that this was push-back. I thought it was discipline problems, rebellion, power struggles, laziness, a refusal to apply his bright little mind to the learning at hand.

During this time, our young family moved from Abilene to Fort Worth. Jeff had finished his bachelor’s degree and was starting his master’s work at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It wasn’t long before we met homeschool families in the DFW area. In fact, we ended up going to a church where there may have been more homeschoolers than any other education method at that point.

We participated in our first homeschool co-op once a week. We enrolled Jonathan in a homeschool PE class and then signed him up for a homeschool soccer team. All of these things helped ease some of the challenges we had started facing. But the power struggles and arguments over academics continued until one day, standing in the kitchen of our little student apartment, Jeff opened my eyes to the wall I was continually running into.

Get Out of the Box

Julie: I distinctly remember you telling me, “Julie, you’ve gotta get out of the box,” What was the box?

Jeff: …probably the way other people say it ought to be done. We know what we’re aiming for, so let that intuition drive you forward. I was totally fine blending, like take the good ideas in this one and the good ideas in that one and figure out how to make our own thing, which I think is kinda where we’re at now.

When we were in Abilene, I remember us saying, “We’re not doing this out of fear.” And I think maybe what I was picking up on was some element of fear. And I’m pretty sensitive to that, for myself included, like oh, I’m operating out of fear and you have to stop that.

Jeff went on to remind me that, while I was completing my Music Performance degree, he was working on a Music Education degree. And through his education classes as well as some key experiences, he came to see that the box-the American Education System-was a big part of the problem. I thought there was safety in the box. But he had already seen inside the box. And the box was broken.

Back to the Drawing Board

So I went back to the drawing board. I began looking for curriculum that would provide the structure and safety I thought I needed with freedom and experiential learning Jonathan was craving. A couple of families at our church had some success with unit study style curriculum. That was great for a couple of years until Jenica was born. Then Joshua started school with a completely different learning style.

He wanted to verbally process his learning experiences, and I quickly discovered that if I shut that down, I stopped the learning altogether. I had no idea I was raising a future storyteller back then. Can you imagine how differently he would have turned out if I had insisted on squeezing him into that safe, traditional box?

I would like to tell you that I took all of these changes and learnings gracefully in stride. But I can’t.

A friend of mine describes this transition from 2 to 3 kids in basketball terms. With your firstborn, you can double-team them. With your second, you have to go man-to-man. But when that third one comes into the family, you have to fall back into zone defense. Another way to put it… I felt like I was riding a wobbly bicycle for months trying to adjust to caring for three kidlets and homeschooling.

Important Lessons

Some important lessons started to take shape during that challenging time period.

  1. No two kids are alike. What works for one is not guaranteed to work for another. No cookie cutter school plan is going to work for all of our kids.
  2. Every curriculum will require either more time or more money. At this point, it felt like we had neither, and we had to have one.
  3. My kids seemed to be completely unconvinced of the need to keep pace with the all-knowing scope and sequence.

We’re Gonna Need Some Help!

You know those lovely books at your favorite Teacher Supply Store that have titles like Everything Your Third Grader Needs to Know? Well, when we reached a particular grade level in which it was time to learn about the solar system, they couldn’t remember the order of the planets. Or when it was time to multiply, they were still struggling with addition. Or when they were supposed to be capable of composing sentences that would impress Shakespeare himself, all I could get out of them was something that was more likely to make him role over in his grave.

It’s not that my kids were unintelligent. To the contrary, every one of them is quite astute and creative-just not in every subject equally and at the same level. And as a new homeschooling mom, I thought this was a bad reflection on me. Or worse yet, a sign that we weren’t going to make it very far into this adventure. After all, if writing a well-crafted sentence was like pulling teeth, how would we ever manage research papers in high school? If I couldn’t cram the multiplication tables into those little minds, how would we ever tackle Calculus? And don’t even get me started on Chemistry.

My First Homeschool Conference

I was definitely going to need some help from somewhere if we were all going to make it through this little adventure in one piece. And that’s when a friend invited me to attend my first homeschool conference. Multiple days of speakers and breakout sessions and workshops. An exhibition floor packed with homeschool vendors that seemed to go for miles and miles. Yes. Surely I can find the perfect curriculum and lesson plans that would solve all of my problems and get us back on track.

I did find help there, but not in the way I expected. It just so happened that the very first speaker I heard on the very first day of the conference was a man who started his talk with a history lesson-the history of the education system we know today. He connected the dots for us something like this:

A History Lesson

During the Industrial Revolution, factories began mass producing all of the goods and wares Americans needed. Those factories needed workers. A little later, as our country was facing the ravages of the Great Depression, one of the problems to solve was the number of men out of work. Since children were in the workforce, a quick fix to improving the jobless rate was to get children out of the workforce. Give their jobs to the men who needed them. But where would the children go while their fathers and some of their mothers were at work in the factories? Well they should be in school. And, the speaker explained, compulsory attendance was born.

How long can we expect to keep the children in school? Well, mom will probably let them go when they’re about 6 years old. We can expect them to stay until they want to start their own adult lives, so probably around 16 to 18. But what are we going to do with them for these 12 years? Well, we need more factory workers. So we’ll educate them with all the things a good factory worker needs to know in order to be productive. And, he said, the education system’s scope was born.

But there are a lot of families relocating and moving west where jobs are more plentiful. What happens if the children start school in one city or state and move to another city or state? Well, we need to standardize what is taught at each grade level so moves are as non-disruptive to the learning process as possible. And, his lesson concluded, the education system’s sequence was born.

What’s the Point?

The point of this snapshot in history? The almighty scope and sequence that could get homeschool parents so worked up about a child’s intelligence or ability to learn actually had very little to do with quality education, especially outside of traditional school systems.

Instead, he said, we should take our cue from Michelangelo. When asked about his method of sculpting, Michelangelo referenced one of his most famous works, The Angel.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

That day I came to understand the goal of homeschooling. Each of my kids was a block of marble. If I can learn to see what they are capable of becoming, then it is my job to carve until I have set them free. Scope and sequence might be a helpful guide along the way.  It was not a measuring stick of our success or my children’s intelligence. No single curriculum would do the carving for me. The same stroke would not guarantee success for all of my kids.

New Goals and New Freedom

There was such freedom in this knowledge. And that launched me into a new journey-getting to know my kids and figuring out what education really was. So my new goal was to teach my kids how to learn and to love learning. If they launched as adults who were lifelong learners, they would be able to fill in any gaps they had in their education for themselves as the need surfaced.

On most days, I enjoyed the freedom this newfound knowledge provided. I was free to enjoy spending time with my kids without the pressure of completing every lesson plan. Free to deal with bad attitudes, character issues, and sibling rivalries without the unfinished workbook pages claiming educational failure. And I was free to enjoy Jeff’s days off in the middle of the week as quality family time without feeling like we had to do school because that’s what everyone does on Tuesday mornings. And a few years later, when we knew we were going to lose my mom to breast cancer, I was free to set the school books aside for several months so that we could make the most of the time we had left. School could wait. Mom couldn’t.

But it was actually a conversation that I had with my mom, years earlier that occasionally snuck in and replaced the freedom with fear once again.

What about College?

When Jeff and I were first considering homeschooling, both of our families had plenty of concerns and even more questions. Almost the entire family on Jeff’s side were public school teachers-ranging from kindergarten to college. So our decision to homeschool probably seemed to come out of left field. That’s certainly what I would have thought in their shoes. So we kind of assumed that my family would be easier to get on board with this strange approach. In some ways they were, and in some ways they weren’t.

You see, I was basically a first generation college graduate. In my entire family, and believe me when I say it’s a big family, only one uncle and a couple of cousins had earned college degrees. I had been raised with the very clear expectation that I would earn a good scholarship and go to college. I did. And so did my brother. Naturally, then, my mom’s biggest question was: What about college? If you homeschool my brilliant grandchildren, will they still be able to get into a good college?

That was a fair question. Again, you have to remember that this was 20 years ago when colleges were not as homeschool friendly. At that point, from what I could tell, the only way through the door was by getting a GED-a General Education Diploma. Then, do very well on the SAT and ACT, not to mention having a strong homeschool high school transcript and possibly portfolio.

ABCs to GEDs

It was the most overwhelming and discouraging thought at the point we were about to launch into homeschooling our first preschooler. And because I couldn’t entirely answer her question with any certainty, nor could I stomach the insulting thought that after all the brilliant education that would certainly take place in our home, each of my children earning GEDs might as well be scarlet letters they were forced to sew on all of their clothes, I did what most of you would probably do too. I tried to distract myself with other thoughts and never really look that question squarely in the eye. After all, college seemed like an eternity from preschool. We had time to figure it out, and I was sure we would.

But this question started devouring my peace at a whole new level once I started moving further and further out of the box, out of the scope and sequence, and out of the traditional schooling format. This enormous finish line of making sure my kids would be accepted to good colleges started to speed toward me like a freight train. I had no idea how I was going to face it.

If I can’t document the perfect high school transcript, how will they get into a good college? If they can’t get into a good college, how will they get a good job? If they can’t get a good job, how will they build a good life? If they can’t build a good life, what will happen then? Will they grow up to hate me for robbing them of a decent future? A fighting chance? A happy life? Am I risking their future by changing their present?

More Possibilities Out of the Box

What I had no way of knowing during those early days of homeschooling is what the college landscape would look like today. Even if I had come up with the perfect plan back then, I had no guarantee that it would work 15 years later. The internet was barely a thing back then. How could I have ever predicted its impact on our lives in general, and on higher education specifically?

All I could do was trust God would show me what to do and how to do it the closer we got to that point. And that’s exactly what happened. The very approach I was so worried would restrict and limit and possibly even damage my kids did the exact opposite. It broadened our possibilities.

With Jonathan, we discovered how homeschooling through college could be done-even in place of high school. With Joshua, we are learning how the apprenticeship model can effectively launch a career in the film industry. Who knows what we’ll learn with Jenica and Jordyn? I’m sure it will be a perfect fit for each of them. Most importantly, I have seen what’s possible once I dared to get out of the traditional education box and focus on guiding each of my kids personally through the adventure of becoming lifelong learners.

Featuring: Joshua Moore & Jeff Moore
Editing: Laura Hobbs, Jeff Moore, Joshua Moore & Lydia Wong
Music: Jeff Moore

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