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As of this writing we will begin our 12th homeschool year in 3 weeks.  Oh my, the summer is flying fast!  But I’m excited about the future and more than any other summer, I have spent most of this time ruminating, cogitating and planning the coming school year.

My thoughts on being an “underwhelmed mom” (not my original term – keep reading and I’ll explain :-) come in 2 sections.  The first is about our school room and the second is about our teaching plan for the coming year and this inspiring homeschool mom I met named Joanne Calderwood who originated it.

I started the summer by repainting our schoolroom

My good friends will laugh because, I suppose I do it often, but, truly,  I love repainting a room.  It’s a meditative process and it refreshes my spirit.  I was inspired by this photo of another homeschooler’s schoolroom.

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It’s clean, decluttered, and very inviting.  Once again, there is that white woodwork that makes everything crisp.   Her paint color is Gray Wisp by Benjamin Moore.

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She was going for something close to Renovation Hardware’s Silver Sage.  I tried several similar colors, but light makes a huge difference and so I went with Sherwin Williams Sea Salt.

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When I first painted this schoolroom about 5 years ago, I used yellow.  Of course, that was after I’d painted it cream on top and red on the bottom and we were using it as a formal dining room which meant we never used it :-)  Times change!

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It was actually called Popcorn Kernal from Benjamin Moore or #310.  I love this yellow and it has served us well.  It’s also in the entry, the hallways and my husband’s office.  It’s a nice butter yellow.

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Back when we had 3 children, I was thinking we needed happy and energy and uplifting and “let’s get lots done.”  But now I have 5 children with one coming soon and I guess I’m a few years older and there is more than enough energy for all who live here.  Haha!  Now I need peaceful, serene and sedate to attempt to bring down that energy level  just a bit.

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Also after looking at lots of schoolroom photos (just google it and then click on “images” – there are tons!) I realized that having STUFF on the walls AT ALL, kind of stresses me out.  It’s clutter.

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I gravitated to the rooms that had all the furniture, books, desks, etc in the lower part of the room, but that had plain painted walls on the upper part.  (That picture above is currently the only thing on the wall.  I’m hoping I can keep it that way.)

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I know I sound like a broken record, but I’m always on the search for what will produce a calm, soothing spirit in me.  (Hmm.  Wonder why???)  And paint is an easy fix.

A little aside:  This is my spot.  The blue couch.  I love to sit here.  This was my grandmother’s couch.

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I have a desk in my bedroom, so I don’t really feel the need for one in this room.  I just need a good spot to sit.  I like the view from this angle.

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Of course kids are usually bouncing all over the place and pulling books, games, etc out and so it’s usually a mess, but Dad has them all out on various errands today, so I get to clean it up and take pictures for you :-)

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And this is my stuff.  (above)  A small table (or 2) for my books and tea and coffee and master binder and that box has stuff I need for school or things I want to look at (like homeschool catalogs!)

It’s important to have your special spot so the chaos can just revolve around you and you are still happy and content!!

Ok.  On to part 2!

I discovered a lady named Joanne Calderwood

She spoke at our homeschool conference in May of this year.

Over the next several weeks as I told my husband and kids the multitude of things Joanne said in the conference or in her book, I would always preface it with “Ok, ya know that lady at the conference from Tennessee with the 8 kids and the planners and the book…well she also said….”  That was so cumbersome that now I just say to everyone here “My good friend Joanne says….”  It makes them all laugh :-)

Anyway, she has a book, some student planners, some audio CD’s, DVD’s and ebooks.  Her website is

Now listen carefully because I really think she has hit on something huge.

I’ll try to put this in a nutshell.  She and her husband live in Tennessee.  They have 8 children about ages 11-24.  Four are in college or have graduated from college.  The other 4 are still at home.

When she was pregnant with her 4th child (might have been 5th), it was a tough pregnancy and she was on the couch the entire 9 months.  She said to her kids things like “Just go do your math,” or “Go read your history book.”  She was NOT teaching because she COULD not.

She worried (being a previous classroom teacher) that they would be way behind since they had seemingly done nothing, but tested them at the end of that year and, lo and behold, they tested with flying colors.  (I’ve heard stories about gap years like this a multitude of times.)

Hmm, she thought she was possibly onto something.

As the years went by she increasingly let her kids have more autonomy, learning on their own, yet keeping them accountable.

Finally her oldest child took the SAT test and made a perfect score.

Wow!  She says he is NOT a genius.  He said, “Mom, the answers are all there (multiple choice.)”

She thought it was a fluke, but then her next 3 children all perfect scored one section of the test and almost perfect scored the other section.  Four children doing that well could not be a fluke.

An Interesting Study

She then came across a study in 2003 of perfect scorers on the ACT and SAT tests.  The author had 160 participants in his study.  He interviewed them and also their parents.  There were 2 particularly interesting facts:

Focused.  Motivated.  Passionate.

What these students had in common was that they were all focused, motivated and passionate.  Joanne thought “Well, my kids are focused on their schoolwork SO they can get it done, they are motivated to GET it done to then be able to do what they really love (a business, a sport, an art, etc) and they are passionate about that thing they love to do.  So I guess it makes sense.”

Also, 80%  of the study’s participants were from public school, 20% were from private school and 1 was homeschooled.  The author, in fact, said that he thought homeschoolers were probably at a disadvantage in perfect scoring.


Well.  At that,  Joanne called him and asked about that comment.  He said it was because, typically, homeschool parents can tend to be “helicoptor parents.”  Hovering.  Spoon feeding the information to the kids instead of allowing them to do it on their own.”  Ouch.  I’m sure their is truth in that though.

As Charlotte Mason says “Let the children get at the books on their own.”

Very interesting.

She makes very clear that this is NOT unschooling. The children have schoolwork to get done and then they can do whatever else they want to pursue.

The Procedure

Her procedure now is that at the beginning of the year, she hands the child a stack of books and a planner and says “Here are your books for the year.  Get through these and then you are done.”  She helps them plan their year with the planner (she says a planner is ESSENTIAL and I like hers.)

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It is divided into 4 9-week quarters.  She makes goals with each child about what they need to get done per quarter, and then per week and then per day.

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Once they can read pretty well, (about 3rd grade) they can begin to be on their own. And Joanne doesn’t care if they do their school in their room, at the table, or on the trampoline.  Whatever works for that child is great.  And if they want to get ahead and then get more free time at the end of the day or week or quarter or year – GO FOR IT!  That is what we want to see!  Motivation!

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Of course she keeps tabs on them and helps them which becomes less and less as they get older.  Once in high school they are really self-teaching the way we, as adults, are when we want to learn something.

Our children are much more capable than we sometimes give them credit for.

The great thing about this is that, now mom is not near as overwhelmed as she normally is.  In fact, Joanne calls herself  “The Underwhelmed Mom.”   She focuses more on the younger children (2nd grade and below) instead of trying to “occupy” them while teaching the older ones.  What a nice idea :-)

Free College!

In addition, this side benefit of scoring SO well on the college board tests has given ALL 4 of her older children FULL college scholarships.  So far, they have paid NOTHING for college.  In fact, 2 of the children have RECEIVED money back for going to those schools (this typically happens more in a private university or college.)  I like the sound of that.

My husband and I talk about college all the time and it is a much different picture than when we were kids.  The value for the money spent is sometimes highly questionable.  But this is another conversation…

Check It Out

Ok.  So I think anyone that homeschools should read her book, and actually she writes it to all parents.  It’s called The Self-Propelled Advantage. This is the Amazon link and you can read a few reviews there.

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Also, peruse her website and you will get the idea.  Check out the planners.  I have one for my oldest 4 children for this year.  I plan to help Luke, 7, with his, teaching him how fun it is to check off what he has completed!  We will see how that goes.  He may be too young for it.  (I guess I should say I’m not receiving anything for this post from Joanne.  I just think her stuff looks great.)


I have spent the summer planning school for the children, getting curriculum and books that lend themselves to self-teaching.

My Favorite Things

I will continue to do my favorite things with them as a group:   Reading the bible, discussing it, reading devotions.  And reading great literature while they are working on something with their hands.  Everyone loves to grab their stuff and head to the couches.  Jewelry making, knitting, legos, coloring, paper dolls, etc.

I’m excited to do my favorite part of homeschooling and then have them do the rest (Of course, I will be guiding, managing, answering questions, etc) so that I can do the other things I should be doing without the high level of stress to accomplish it all.  In addition, this is heading down that path of giving ownership of their education to them.

The Down Side

The down side to all of this, my good friend Joanne says, is that after a while, it feels like they don’t need you anymore.  But I suppose that is the goal.   Sniff. Sniff. :-)

This is certainly enough for now.

God bless you in your endeavors this year!


  1. joanne says:

    Allison! First of all, I love your pic of feeding/tending sheep. That is precious.

    Secondly, I love the way you take color to create mood. That is inspiring. I just painted my room a gray with only ONE thing on the wall. And I love it! You encourage me that plain walls are okay.

    Thirdly, your kids are so blessed to have you as their mom. I’m excited for you as you dive into your new school year! Trust your instincts!

    Finally, I wish I lived in your neighborhood. Coffee on a regular basis? I can think of nothing I’d rather do!

    Thank you for your kind inclusion here on your blog. :)


    • Joanne,
      Thanks so much for your comment! That color/mood thing is so “key and vital.” Maybe it is especially for the visual types (of which I am!) And thanks for the encouragement with these babes and yes! Coffee on a regular basis would be awesome! Keep up the great work encouraging all these moms and dads! It’s so important :)

  2. Sheri says:

    My good friend Joanne rocks! Glad she has other good friends like you. *smile*
    Mama’s encouraging one another is a beautiful thing! great post!
    ps… we are going on our 12th year also. =)

  3. Nancy Ann says:


    I love your home and your colors!

    I wonder if the reason 1 homeschool student earned a perfect score was because statistically there were more public school kids than both private and homeschool. In other words with a larger pool of kids than, yes, there will be more students who get a perfect score. My husband works for a University and says more and more students are coming into college not prepared to be independent, they need lots and lots of hand holding. It is a regular topic of conversations among faculty and staff.

    • Nancy
      Yes, I would think that is definitely a factor! Good point. I think I was mostly surprised at the reason he gave for homeschooled kids possibly being at a detriment but I get it! And a VERY interesting comment by your husband! I hadn’t heard that before. But I’m not surprised at all. Thanks for commenting and adding to the topic!

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