Because it is almost September and it’s “back to school” time for most of us here in the United States, I am sure there are oodles of people wondering what schooling is like at J & M Ranch.

First of all, a disclaimer: I get lots of people who actually think that because I have so many children and homeschool, that I must know the Duggar family and they assume we live like they do.

The Duggars Are Pretty Awesome!

Well, we don’t.

First of all, Michelle Duggar has a very sweet voice.  I don’t have that voice. I wish I did.  I also wish I had her kitchen.

Secondly, I have a daughter who would completely disown me if I even alluded to the idea that she wear skirts every single day.

Also, I haven’t had a can of “Cream of” anything in my home in nearly a decade…

So, we’re not like them and we don’t homeschool the way they do.  I do wish some days that we did.  They always make it look so effortless most of the time!

What we have in our little kingdom is very, er, well, unique. 

So, grab some popcorn, you homeschooling moms (and also others who read my blog who just think this is extremely fascinating–all one or two of you!), and begin an incredibly eerie journey on the Homeschool Express as we explore education, J & M Ranch style!

In This Land, I Am Crafty and Have Unlimited Energy For Homeschooling!

There was once a time when I lived in the land of unicorns and sunshine and lollipops and rainbows and thought that I would homeschool like the craftiest, bestest, most amazingly talented teacher ever.

But, that has long since passed.  I have tried so many curricula and implemented so many homeschooling philosophies that it would truly make your head spin.

Unit studies, packaged and accredited, LDS based, classical, eclectic, child led, Charlotte, Thomas, and if there was a John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt I would have tried it, too.

About five years ago, a friend told me about Robinson Curriculum.  I was intrigued, because it wasn’t so much a curriculum as a science experiment, and anyone who knows my family can clearly see that “science experiment” hits pretty close to home.

I figured if this Dr. Robinson fellow had tried it and it worked, maybe I could just apply the scientific method and it would work.  Plus, Robinson made me think of Swiss Family Robinson which made me think of the Disney film version of Swiss Family Robinson, which had a water slide on a tropical island and a pet elephant, so I felt like it was a sign.

I Have Always Wanted A Pet Elephant!

(That type of thought process is often how I make decisions, which can sometimes get me into trouble.)

And it worked.

Must Be A Sign!

I might be lying if I told you it was like a water slide on a tropical island every day, but it actually has become fun.  And we have added a bit of our own flair (like a scripture sharing class and added some Charlotte Mason recommended books to the booklist) to “jazz it up” J&M Ranch style.

Before this curriculum, I was all over the map, and constantly doubting myself.  What’s so great about this curriculum, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you:

It resonated with me as a teacher, and I stuck with it, no matter what.

So, there is the key to choosing a curriculum.  Choose something that works for you as the teacher.

Unit studies is wonderful for other people, but for me, it was a horrific, terrifying nightmare.  Why?

Too many crafty activities.

And in real life, I am not crafty.

Crafts tend to set my teeth on edge and make me feel like I am outside in Houston in the middle of August with 120% humidity and 112 degrees,  being smothered by a wet, hairy dog blanket.

Unit studies made me cry.  And to this day, I don’t know if my kids remember everything they were supposed to learn about ears and classical music, which was the only unit study we attempted.

LDS-based curriculum, which really resonated with some of my friends, made me feel like we were in Sunday School seven days a week.  Don’t get me wrong–the gospel is interwoven throughout our day and in every subject, but this wasn’t the gospel, it was more like memorizing stuff…and then making a diorama or something.

And, I really missed math.  Deep down, even though I am the writer who only hears “blah, blah, blah” when my husband (I love John!)  starts saying anything that even remotely resembles numbers, I realized that for our children’s missions in life, they needed strong math skills.

I actually ached for math.

Pre-packaged, accredited was insane. For me, it was too much school and not enough home.

Also, again with the doilies and the cotton balls and pipe cleaners.

Toilet Paper Roll Crafts: How Can You Know When You’ve Crossed The Line Of Too Many?

I am not anti-crafty (I love buying crafts, believe me!), and my children do that kind of thing occasionally after school, but if I had to do that every day, I would go crazy, and our house would be full of repurposed toilet paper rolls.  Ugh.

Classical education was missing that math I had a gut feeling we needed more of, and Charlotte Mason was just too graceful and lovely and sweet for my family.

Add In A Naked Child Jumping in The Water and Some Mud and Then It’s Me…I Do Love Charlotte Mason Ideas, Though.

“Okay, children, we are going to go outside and sketch what we see in nature,” I said to my sweet faced little angels.

“Yea!” They booked it outside and seemed to be only half-heartedly observing nature.  Mostly they were playing.  The toddler was disrobing and running around naked.  Once he was caught and I had given him a bath, the children showed me their “sketches.”

My son had drawn a picture of a one-and-a-half legged, severely mauled toy dinosaur that had been left in the grass since last spring.

That was the end of Charlotte Mason for me.

My problem was that everything sounded so prosaic and perfect on everyone else’s blogs and at all the homeschooling conferences.  Every curriculum everyone else tried seemed to be AMAZING and THE ANSWER.

Why wasn’t it working for me?

Well, I finally figured it out, about a million dollars later.

This or that curriculum would never really be  THE ANSWER.

Because the most important part of teaching anyone is not found in a curriculum, it’s in the love behind it.

And, because that really isn’t marketable or profitable–or even really explicable–you won’t find that on any website or program.  Oh, there might be a cursory acknowledgement somewhere, but no one is going to tell you that just about any decent curriculum will work if you put enough heart into it.

So, I relaxed and looked at our family objectively and realized that we (meaning mostly I) needed more real life and less lollipops and rainbows.

I needed to realize that I was never going to make a miniature Indian village with my very own adobe clay that I just whipped up that morning (even though I thought I wanted to).

That Will Never Be Me.

I was never going to take all of my children on a field trip to the art museum (even though I love the museum.  And, yes, I did try it once.  It was fine, except for my 10 year old who exclaimed, “I feel like the ceilings are caving in on me!” as he clutched the sides of his head in horror and hid underneath the benches until it was time to go.  And, oh yes, there was also the matter of the hungry baby who wanted to nurse in the middle of the exhibit…and then, oh, yes, there was the issue of the two year old who insists on being carried only in an outdoor backpack–not the kind of thing people want to see in a museum…but aside from that, it was great fun!).

I needed to realize that just because one of my dearest homeschooling friends had her own smithy, goats and cheese making equipment, that wasn’t going to work for us, because I wasn’t her.  And that was okay.

I needed to realize that we as a family just weren’t into co-ops and field trips and mentoring and mentoree-ing, and basically, homeschool wasn’t working consistently for me because I had spent all those years trying to copy someone else’s idea of a perfect home and school while neglecting to have confidence that I could create a perfect home and school based on our own unique quirkiness.

So, that’s where the Robinson’s came in, and it just fit.  Oh, not at first.  At first, I balked, because it wasn’t flashy and pretty enough.

Plus, I’d spent several years curriculum hunting and hopping and it was kind of a crutch and a personal hobby for me.

My kids balked at all the math and the consistency. And the sugar-free way of life.  And the tv-less existence.  But that was where we were headed, anyway.

And I stuck with it because I knew it was right for me as a teacher.

Whatever you decide to use, here is a key to success:

Choose something and ask yourself (and God, if you are inclined to do so), “Will this work for me and with me as a teacher?” And then


Even if they cry.  Okay, if they cry too, too much then there might be something wrong, but maybe the child is spoiled.

At least consider that to be a possibility.

Sometimes, children don’t want to do hard things.  So, they cry. They manipulate.  They act like it’s not their learning style.

But, we are trying to teach them to live in real life.

In real life, sometimes we have to sit and feel stifled.  Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t kinesthetic, or visual, or auditory…sometimes we just have to because that is what is required.

Yes, some children have different learning styles.  And, really, I don’t do any formal teaching until my children are eight years old, anyway.  Guess what? When they are eight, children should be capable of sitting still for some period of time and listening, or reading. Even if they are doing it outside, or upside down, or in the quiet of the library, or twirling their hair.

They should be able to (within reason) adapt to the curriculum that works best for you as the teacher.  Because in the end, you have to be the one to love it or it won’t work.  Because that’s what gets embedded into them–the love you have for what you are doing, whether it is eclectic, classical, or Thomas or Charlotte or a hodgepodge of all of it.

Most of our greatest education comes from the heart–from a love for wanting to increase our knowledge and wisdom.  Sometimes you need a desk, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes that requires math and sometimes it doesn’t.   That’s not a curriculum or a homeschool philosophy, that’s just common sense.

And most of the homeschoolers I know have a lot of that.

(I do have some curriculum recommendations. They can be found on my Curriculum Recommendations Board at Pinterest.  I thought it would be prettier to post them there. 🙂  Hope you enjoy them!)