Free To Learn


For This Family, Homeschooling is Part of a Lifestyle Geared to Simplicity and Creativity

text and photos by Jacquelyn Toupin

Swimsuits have been taken down from the clothesline, summer plans have been exhausted, and sun-kissed children everywhere are being scrubbed behind their ears and tossed into bed earlier than they’d prefer, as yellow school buses appear daily on morning commutes to work. Meanwhile in our home, we like to kick the school year off with a trip to the beach. We’ll pack up just before noon and arrive to an empty beach in time for a picnic lunch and an afternoon of sunshine and play. This is just one of the many reasons we choose to homeschool our kids; it’s not to spend our days lazing on the sand, but simply to live our lives beyond the constraints of the daily grind, the stuff that gets everyone down.

The seasonal changes and predictable patterns of the year serve as invaluable parts of our homeschooling life; so this September, as it has always been, our focus is on the fall harvest. Typically our gardens are small but mighty, whereas this year, with a baby on the way, I’ve been less than dedicated to growing food and more focused on growing a small human. Nevertheless, we’re visiting the local markets, gathering veggies and herbs from the gardens and the elds, and then drying, freezing, and canning.

Together, we’ll turn our finds into jams, relishes, salsas, teas, medicines, and other marvels that will serve to remind us of the summer’s bounty as we live through the dark days of winter. There really is nothing like cracking open a jar of apple juice, the smell of orchard season fresh and fragrant, and heating it in the crockpot with some cinnamon sticks on a cold December night.



It’s with this vision planted firmly in our minds that we’ll peel and chop and simmer our way back into school time, dreaming of the goodies we’ll be enjoying come Winter Solstice. Our youngest children are quick to offer their help with kitchen tasks. Wildflower, 6, loves to harvest, and she happily brings me a basket or apron full of red clover, peppermint, goldenrod, and fresh peas. Lil brother, 3, likes to stand on the big stool in the kitchen, chopping veggies under a watchful eye. Big brother, although less enthusiastic at 15, will always contribute in any way we ask. Occasionally he’ll insist that if he were to ever need any of the things we are making, he would just buy them.


Although that may be the case, a store-bought item can’t compare to the taste and comfort of a home cooked meal. And there is immeasurable value in knowing where our food comes from, as well as how much work goes into making it. These are lessons we’re excited to share with our kids. Besides, what 15- year-old boy is going to turn down yummy treats?

When it comes to daily learning assignments, we tend to focus on morning work. After math is set aside and we’ve studied some phonics, the focus moves to a novel. It is read aloud to what I hope are listening ears. is fall, we’re working our way through one of the Little House books and tinkering with small hands-on tasks that are related to the historical concepts in the novel. Whether it’s making butter, corn husk dolls, or this year’s nine-patch quilt, there are always adventures and activities for us to delve into together. That means even Mama is learning, although generally my daily lessons are in patience, respect for routine, and appreciation of a job well done.



Our afternoons are left to our whims … and housework, since one of the downfalls of being home all day together is that I never come home to a clean house, nor does Papa Bear. Still, it is with the discovery of the magical world of boredom that I’ve witnessed our children’s vast and wondrous sense of creativity. Some days will inspire quiet reading, colouring, and outdoor play, while others may involve stacks of boxes being lined up, strung together with ribbon and sent o into outer space in the form of a rocket. These activities help me to plan tomorrow’s lesson: planets, perhaps?


This fall, big brother is home with us for his second year. After attending public school for the majority of his education, he opted in Grade 10 to try his schooling at home. Each day he’ll attend online classes through an accredited Ontario high school, listen to lectures, watch PowerPoint presentations, and still, occasionally, find himself in trouble for chatting too much with classmates. (Seriously, there is an option to open a chat box with a classmate during class.) Some things don’t change, school or no school.

His day is more rigorous and structured than that of the younger kids, and he tends to work from morning until late afternoon, tackling all four of his subjects.

What did we learn in his first year of homeschooling that will help us this year? Well, we discovered teenage boys need to be enrolled in activities outside the home, since ours, in general, isn’t exactly motivated to get up and do it for himself. Occasionally a bit of a nudge is needed.

September also marks the beginning of Forest Fridays. Since our house is nestled on a quaint bit of acreage, we like to welcome friends and fellow homeschoolers to our “den,” as we’ve taken to calling a shady grove of evergreens.

In that magical little space, we gather to learn about nature through arts and crafts, science and games. There’s always a camp fire, once I get it rolling. It goes without saying that lunch is a favourite part of this event; often we have items to heat on the fire, depending on the temperature of the day.

I can’t count how many times we’ve had dreams of fresh, cool mitten weather, only to be faced with hot, muggy swimming weather. Just when we think we’ve caught on to Mother Nature’s ways, she fools us; however, no matter the weather there is always a handful of mamas sharing stories, cups of hot tea in hand, while the kiddos run free.

As every homeschooling parent knows, we are nothing without our village. Lucky for us, ours is a small circle of incredibly kind, intelligent and diverse moms. Connected, we share the ups, the downs and even the days that stretch in a straight line for what seems like forever. (January anyone?)

Perhaps I’ve painted too lovely a picture. In case you’re imagining the children and me in starched designer aprons, placing preserves in our alphabetically organized pantry as friends sip tea while seated in handcrafted Adirondack chairs in the woods, let me put an end to that fantasy.

Instead, picture crinkled, tomato-sauce-splattered aprons, if any, along with an old rickety cupboard that also houses two soccer balls, a punch bowl that I never use, plus some hummingbird feeders. And those handcrafted chairs? Well, they’re wooden stumps.

As we all know, life choices come at a cost. For us, that cost surfaces in many ways. While our romantic-sounding autumnal activities are taking place, Papa Bear is, unfortunately, missing out on the fun. It’s not possible for him to enjoy all the goings-on while he is working so diligently to provide us with these very opportunities.

His sole income supports a growing family of five. It’s an income that is necessarily supplemented by our artistic undertakings—our mixed- media designs and dance studio, as well as the workshops we host, sometimes with another artist, when we have time.

We often do without buying new clothing. It’s a good thing we enjoy treasure hunting at thrift stores, seeking out vintage finds, one-of-a-kind discoveries, and pieces that can be transformed into new styles.

We use the library for books, curriculum resources, and movies, and we don’t subscribe to a TV provider or streaming company. In fact we don’t have cellphones.

These choices, although sometimes difficult and often reconsidered, are part of our current family culture and our faith in the blessing of living simply.


We truly believe that by having less, we have more time to explore our inner creativity, our family connection, and our relationship with the earth. Sometimes, though, it does mean more time and effort to keep our household running. Since somehow it’s fall again, there’s a woodshed to be filled with firewood, a cupboard to be stocked with produce, a chimney to be cleaned, chickens to be put in the freezer, and a baby on the way.

It’s no secret that I look forward to winter’s hibernation. ◆

Jacquelyn Toupin and her partner Tyler live with their growing family on a farm that’s been in her family for four generations. You can read about their adventures on her blog, Makin Hays at, and follow their Facebook page, Element Studios, for updates on creative workshops and dance classes. In September, you can also stop by their booth at Mountain Orchards to check out their handcrafted pieces.

Curious about homeschooling? If you live in Ontario, you can learn more online at e Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents:

If you decide to homeschool, notify the school board of your intent in writing. Details are here:

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