Laying Down Rails - The Foundations

One of the greatest beauties of homeschooling is having the ability to not just direct our children's education, but to help form their conscience. Long after the math books are closed, their conscience will direct them.

Homeschooling is the beginning of a lifelong formation of our children. What kind of rails are we laying down to help them in this process?

(Do you remember the free Laid Back Summer Planner? This is designed to help you lay down a few simple rails in the summer months.)

Are you familiar with Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of education? Each and every parent (no matter the school situation, educational philosophy, or homeschooling philosophy ascribed to) can benefit from learning more about Miss Mason.

It is wise to be familiar with her writings because we can become better parents by heeding her suggestions. 


 Laying Down Rails: A Practical Approach to Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education

If laying down the rails of education is a new concept to you, it might prove helpful for us to define what we're talking about.

Picture a train track.

When workers lay down the rails, their goal is to create a roadmap which provides direction for the trains.

This serves two purposes. First, it helps the train arrive at its final destination. Second, it keeps the train and the surrounding areas safe from the train's derailment.

"Charlotte likened good habits to rails on which our children’s lives could run smoothly. It is the parent’s business to lay down those rails." — Sonya Shafer

In homeschooling, education is a lifestyle.

Every single thing we do lays down a rail.

We can choose to lay down rails for our children's good. Or not. We don't have to live our lives in two spaces, one of homeschooling and one of home life. In fact, I don't think we're meant to. And when we do so it makes life harder than it needs to be.

Deciding on the Rails

In an earlier post, Gentle Ways to School Through Summer, we talked about using the principle of laying down rails to make for summer learning that goes beyond books. But, in reality, this practice goes further than summer.

Let's start with a question.

What rails do you think you've been laying down?

Now, don't beat yourself up -  but instead look honestly at how you've been redeeming your time as parents. If you're still struggling with a child's inability to complete a task at the age of 16, you've laid down a rail—just not an ideal one. I can speak from personal experience when I say this. 

So where do you begin? Start with prayer and reflection, and then have a conversation with your spouse. Be willing to take an honest look at your children's struggles - as well as your own. Don't be surprised to find the very thing your child struggles with stems from your own resistance to laying down a rail.

(Raising children is, after all, a constant life of sanctification and grace.)


Picking Our Battles

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much..." We don't want to frustrate our children or set ourselves up for failure. Therefore, picking our battles means not choosing to die on every hill.

Here's a simple rule of thumb.

Begin with the thing that gets on your nerves the most.

Seriously. After all, it's the thing that's most glaringly obvious to you.

Before starting on this rail, make sure you've established some simple guidelines that ensure you are meeting your child's basic needs. We'll cover these in just a bit.


Timing is Everything

Use caution when choosing to pick at the scab of a child who's never had a rail laid down. Perhaps you have carefully laid down rails, but they are attempting to jump the track. Consider timing before taking drastic action.

It's possible that your child is too young, or their personality type doesn't lend to it. They may lack the self-awareness necessary to get back on track quickly. It can feel like work. This is why we don't attempt to lay down too many rails at one time.

 Conscience is My Consent - Laying Down Foundational Rails @ Homegrown Learners

Foundational Rails

Before you begin making rules related to homeschooling or discipline, assess how you're doing at laying down some very basic rails - the types of rails a child needs to feel secure, loved, and treasured.

This is absolutely necessary because without these you'll never have your child's consent to be taught. Without this consent, you'll be laying down a rail of your own. It's called "heavy lifting," and it results in tears, frustrations, and unnecessary disciplinary actions.

"Conscience is my consent to staying in God's will." - Rosalie Slater.

I've always loved this quote! It not only makes for great copy work, it helps a person understand that God forms our conscience as we stay in His will. How do we know what God's will is? By reading and applying His Word. This is also where we get guidance as to what rails we choose as our foundation.


Idea for Rail One: Build a Strong Family Connection

We can't assume that just because we're homeschooling we've built a strong family connection. If we look to Scripture, we see some simple but effective (funny how God's Word is like that!) ways to build a strong family.

  • Pray as a family. Yes, you may be tired at the end of a long day. Or perhaps you're out-to-eat for your meal. Nonetheless, stick with the habit of prayer—talking to God—thanking Him, petitioning Him, and allowing your children to begin to have regular conversations with the Lord. This creates a lifelong habit.
  • Play as a family. Game nights, outdoor games, and playing sports together. These are ways you can build trust. It also builds the ability to get along. It teaches how to win and lose graciously. These skills will serve your children for life.
  • Worship as a family. Don't neglect your church life. Worship as a family as often as possible. And let the life you live at church be the one you live at home. Being real in front of your children can inoculate them against leaving the church later. Be open and prepared to answer the hard questions about their faith when they move into their teens. Your faithfulness is a powerful witness to your children.
 Building Strong Connections at Church - Laying Down Foundational Rails @ Homegrown Learners

(Church is such an important part of our children's lives - worshipping as a family, and seeing our fellow church members as FAMILY builds community, love, and an innate sense of responsibility and service to others. I love watching my son modeling for younger ones in our church!)


An idea for Rail Two: Build a Strong Community Connection

Serving in your community teaches your children that the world doesn't revolve around them. It also helps them see how their service, no matter their age, makes a difference to the world around them. Here are a few ideas to connect with your community:

  • Get to know your neighbors. Building appropriate relationships with your neighbors helps form a community bond. As homeschoolers, we're sometimes afraid of this idea, but we need not be. If we as parents are involved in building neighborhood relationships, our children learn to trust others and our families can be a witness to others.
  • Volunteer in your community. Your church may have a program that serves the poor or indigent in your community. This is a good way to get involved in serving. Christmas baskets, collecting and sorting clothes, and serving meals are all ways you can volunteer in your community.

Idea for Rail Three: Build a Strong Personal Relationship with God

While this rail is listed last, it's really the foundation of all other rails. Your own relationship with God is key to forming your conscience. It also helps in keeping your heart aligned to His will for your children and home. It is a vital connection to the other rails.

Create and build your own rails in this personal relationship:

  • Study your Bible
  • Make prayer a priority
  • Reform yourself without waiting for others to reform
  • Pray for your children
 Laying Down Foundational Rails for Your Children

Laying down rails is a lifelong pursuit. 

If you are intentional, you will establish habits that will serve you, your children, your family, and your community. When you lay these foundational rails, it will make laying down the rest of them an easier pursuit.

And ultimately our pursuit is one of raising children who are able to look outside of themselves to love and serve others - and ultimately God. This lifestyle of homeschool affords us such beautiful opportunities to impact His kingdom for eternity, doesn't it?


A Few Resources To Help Lay Down Rails

Laying down the Rails : A Charlotte Mason Habits HandbookLaying Down the Rails for Children: A Habit-training Companion; Books 1 and 2Habits: The Mother's Secret to Success (Charlotte Mason Topics) (Volume 1)For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and SchoolA Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning(TM)Laying Down the Rails -- Workshop DVDA Charlotte Mason Education: A Home Schooling How-To ManualWhen Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy for TodayConsider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical TraditionCharlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series


Are you laying down rails for your children?

Share them with us in the comments below!


Homeschool High School: Follow That Child (an update)

I had no idea how much my last big high school post would resonate with readers.

So many parents of middle and high school homeschool students struggle - and they struggle in silence.

It's been a year and I'm still receiving emails from people who have gained peace of mind and a little courage from our story. I've heard countless stories of children who have been pushed through the "correct" course for them in middle and/or high school, only to discover a decline in their child's love for learning. 

When you witness your bright-eyed child lose their drive and delight it pulls at your heartstrings. It is a feeling of helplessness I can't quite describe.

But here is the SPECTACULAR news about homeschooling: We have CHOICES! 

We can talk with our high schoolers, LISTEN to our high schoolers, and ultimately follow them to design a high school education that works for them! We don't need to be motivated by fear or the need to follow the crowd.

If you are willing to put on those running shoes and keep up with your high schooler, homeschooling them can be a beautiful, refining process for everyone!

 Homeschool High School: Follow Your Child

In short (and if you don't know our story,  read the post from June of last year), the Classical Conversations Challenge program wasn't a fit for my daughter. It wasn't a fit for me, as her teaching parent. 

We were so heavily invested in the "method", however, that I felt we didn't have a choice but to continue. I felt as if we would be failing if we QUIT so close to the finish line. After all, I had been reading all of the wonderful stories of children who had graduated from the Challenge program and were doing beautiful things. 

What I didn't read was:

  • stories of children who were bogged down, uninspired, and overwhelmed
  • stories of children who had lost their love of reading because of the extensive reading which Challenge requires (especially Challenge I and II)
  • stories about children who ceased to learn effectively from their parents
  • stories of children who NEEDED outside teachers

Many times I don't think a homeschooling parent wants to admit they might not be the best teacher for their child in the high school years. The relationship dynamics and difficulty of subject matter sometimes necessitate we do some serious outsourcing or dare I say it -- put them in a traditional school. 

(After all, we look at Instagram and read blogs and see homeschool parents guiding their children through high school and they make it look SO easy!)

Many times I don't think a homeschooling parent has the fortitude to stay in their own lane - the peer pressure is very real in some circumstances.

Many times I believe we operate out of a place of fear - fear of the outside world and its influences and fear of the unknown.

Many times I think we find something and stick with it - regardless of if it works or not - because it is what we KNOW. 


This is what I can say with 100% certainty after Anna's junior year:

Always listen to YOUR child. Keep tabs on the pulse of your family. If a change needs to be made, have the courage to make it.

I'm so glad we made the change - my relationship with my daughter is so much better because of it.

Homeschool High School - Follow that Child

Social/Emotional Goals for the Junior Year

Each child is so different. 

For my sweet Anna, she needed to prove to herself that she could do hard things - that she could write her own destiny and succeed. She's always been my strong-willed child and this serves her very well. 

In July of last year my mom passed away. My mom and Anna were very close - my mom was her biggest champion (in only that way a grandparent can be, know what I mean?). Getting over that loss was hard for Anna - and I KNEW I had to pick up where my mom left off and champion her every bit as much - and honor the way she wanted to learn and the environment she wanted to learn in.

Challenge was never a "fit" for her - I can't quite put my finger on it, but something never felt right. Because we honored her decision to leave Challenge and try something new it deepened her trust for us and it also gave her so much confidence in her abilities to adapt to CHANGE.

Her schedule this year was such that she had four academic classes in 4 different places. She had to listen to different sets of teachers and juggle syllabi and logistics. She's nervous about going away to college one day and wanted to prepare herself ahead of time. 

It is now June after her junior year and SHE DID IT! We are in such a different place than we were last year at this time and the growth has been exponential. 

She's driving herself everywhere.

She has a job.

She's looking at colleges - taking the ACT and SAT.

She handles her schoolwork 100% on her own. 

She has a sweet friend base and has been busy with friends all year long.

She spends free time journaling, drawing, practicing lettering, and playing music. Most of all, things just CLICK now - it showed me just how badly we needed to make a change.

 Homeschool High School: Follow that Child


Academics in the Junior Homeschool Year

The academic integrity of the junior year was important to me.

My daughter and I sat down at the end of last school year and considered many factors.

Her biggest request was that she learn everything in a more traditional way.

She is a person that needs schedules, lists, and someone to be accountable to. 

Our goals were:

  • college preparatory coursework
  • taking at least one class at homeschool classical school in our area - to have a friend base and activities, etc...
  • AP coursework in the hopes of getting some credits for college
  • time for a job and volunteering



The next step in science was Chemistry. Anna was fortunate to take a wonderful Chemistry class at a local classical school. 

Using the Apologia Chemistry text she learned so much and had a GREAT year. 

For difficult subjects like this the Challenge model was hard for us. We found it much easier to learn a subject like Chemistry from an expert and in a structured manner rather than self-teaching from a text with limited support from a Challenge tutor. Anna also had the opportunity to get someone on one tutoring for the math parts of Chemistry, which can be quite difficult. 

Some kids can self teach quite easily, but others need more direction and assistance.


AP Language & Composition

I can only describe this class as a 100% God thing. 

Anna enjoys writing and we both agreed she needed lots of feedback on her writing as she approached college. 

As we sought to earn college credit and also have a rigorous, Christian course, the AP Language and Composition offering from HSLDA Academy came onto the radar. This class was the perfect fit for Anna!

One thing I have learned about my daughter is that she thrives when there is a personal relationship with a caring adult. Her AP Language and Composition teacher was demanding and firm, yet caring and full of constructive criticism. Anna spent the year learning the finer points of writing and how to write in different styles. 

What we learned this year is that Anna can WRITE.  She sat for the AP exam a couple of weeks ago and felt very confident. If we hadn't put her in a traditional class with instruction and constant feedback from an expert, I don't think she would have had quite as much confidence in her abilities, and it certainly proved to her that she can tackle a difficult subject and do well.


AP European History

This course was TOUGH. We had both heard horror stories of the difficulty of the class and the AP exam, and I think the stories were accurate. 

We've always had a great experience with Memoria Press Academy, (Anna took Latin I and Latin II through Memoria in 9th and 10th grade) so signed up for this online course. The subject is EXTENSIVE - and they had to run through the material so quickly to cover everything that I think Anna lost interest early on. (She's also not a big history buff.)  

I think no matter she would have taken this course it would have been tough and not so interesting.

(She did enjoy her two big term papers for this class. She received excellent feedback and it reinforced to her that she is a GOOD writer. I was thankful  she heard this from two AP teachers this year!)

In all honesty, I think I could have designed a history class for her with living books that would have been much more engaging, but she wanted to take a full load of high school classes from other "teachers" (not mom!) - to prove to herself she could do it. 

Lesson learned on this one: you can make it through difficult things and you will survive what many call the most difficult AP exam of them all!  God uses it all for good, doesn't He?

(Plus, she now has a notebook full of pretty notes - she brings her creativity into everything she does!)

 Homeschool High School: Follow that Child




Anna went on the same path for math that she has been on for all of high school - Mr. D Math. 

Mr. D has been the perfect fit for Anna - she isn't a "math" kid, but Mr. D has made it approachable and dare I say sometimes even enjoyable for her. 

She attended the live sessions with Mr. D (which she claims are a must!) and it all went well this year. 




This is being done this summer through Monarch - a simple self-paced health curriculum that checks off this requirement for graduation.

Music/Piano & Guitar lessons

Anna kept up with her piano and guitar lessons this year. 

As I let her have more freedom she decided to spend much more time with her guitar - she played in our church several times and for our monthly special needs music program. She also helped her guitar teacher with a Ukulele Club for younger homeschool students. 

Homeschool High School - Follow that Child


Moving on to Senior Year

We're taking a little while to catch our breath this summer and then will finalize plans for her senior year. 

Where did the time go? I'm not quite sure I can make sense of it yet. 

It really does seem like she was just playing school with her American Girl dolls and begging me to read just another chapter in a book to her. 


Thanks for joining me on this journey of homeschooling a high schooler. It's been quite a wild ride, but one I wouldn't trade for anything!


Are you homeschooling a high schooler?  Can you relate to anything I shared above?


You might also like:

Stop Telling Me Why You Can't Homeschool (High School)

How to Reach Your Teen Homeschooler's Heart