From Workbooks to Treehouses


With the warm sunshine on our faces, cats curled on our laps, and the peaceful quiet of the Texas countryside around us (albeit with a few vultures circling overhead), we settled in for a lovely morning of homeschooling.

Now most of our days are not spent in the treehouse, but some days, the call of the outdoors is irresistible. That’s one of the things that I love about relaxed homeschooling. We know that learning is not limited to desks. In fact, sometimes learning is best accomplished apart from the traditional desk and blackboard.

Homeschooling hasn’t always looked this way in our family. When our oldest was preschool age, I was determined to make our homeschool exactly like the school classrooms in which I’d taught years earlier.

Yet all was not well. Despite buying the best preschool workbooks available, my son was not catching on to the simple concepts of counting and coloring within the lines. What was wrong with him? What was wrong with me?

Thankfully, a wise, experienced homeschooling mom smiled patiently when I vented my frustrations on her. She simply said, “Maybe you should try a different approach.” From her I learned that reading great books with your child was one of the most valuable gifts you could give and that narration (“Tell me about it!”) was an excellent method of judging comprehension – even better than filling out tests and worksheets.

As the years passed, and the Lord blessed us with seven more children, I became more and more relaxed and discovered the joy of learning beside and reading with my children.

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So how does relaxed homeschooling look in our home?

1. Living books vs. textbooks. For example, reading the stories in Jungle Doctor (by Paul White) aloud to my children gives a wonderful, intimate grasp of the culture, geography, history, and people of Tanzania, plus a real glimpse into medical missions. This sticks in my children’s heads much more than reading a few dry paragraphs on Africa in a textbook.


2. Real life learning vs. academics without purpose. We want to prepare our children for real life. Sentence diagramming may have its place in a very limited sense. But when my kids spend an afternoon with my husband changing the oil on the van, building a chicken house, or installing electrical wires in our laundry room, they are learning very valuable skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. We try to train them for life, not just fill their brains for the sake of “education”.


3. Creativity vs. stifled thinking. When God gives our children to us, they arrive with an enormous curiosity and desire to figure things out. We can destroy this as they approach school age by flooding them with worksheets and textbooks which give them no room for creative thought. For example, rather than sticking with a boxed art program, I have always just provided plenty of craft supplies and the encouragement to think on their own. Despite my complete lack of artistic skills, this approach, with a little guidance and observance of art masterpieces, has resulted in a houseful of children who love to create and draw. God gets the credit for that – not any curriculum!


As you consider being more relaxed in your approach to homeschooling, consider this: Other than our heavenly Father, no one loves your child more than you do. No one knows them better than you do.

Stop comparing yourself to the mom down the block whose children excel in calculus, debate, ballet, theatre, spelling bees, and tennis; not to mention the fact that her children are always flawlessly dressed.

God didn’t give your children that mother. God won’t hold you accountable for the neighbor kids’ hearts. However, He does hold you responsible for what your kids learn. While preparing your children to function well in life is important, it’s eternally important that you train them in the things of the Lord and work on developing their character for His glory.

Would you rather your child have a hunger to learn more and a passion to discover? Or would you prefer that they are adept at memorizing the facts in bold print and taking a test which is promptly forgotten?

I’d much prefer the former. With my whole heart, I believe that a love for learning can encourage a love for learning more about our heavenly Father and a desire to know Him and His Word more.

Stop stressing about the academics and keeping up with the Joneses. Relax and enjoy those children that God has blessed you with – the results are eternal!

gwentoliverGwen Toliver is the wife of John, the mother of five girls and three boys, and the author of Seed Sowers: Gospel-Planting Adventures. Her big family’s Texas-living, missions-embracing, God-loving adventures give her an unending stream of blog material at and

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