Jai Tracy: Faces of Homeschooling

jai tracy: faces of homeschooling

Meet Jai Tracy and family! Jai is a pro at rocking being a wife, mom, teacher, and writer. Yet, it’s apparent from the first time you meet her, she is wise and down to earth.

Tell us about your kids.

My two boys are witty, clever, daring, determined, competitive, loud, smart, and silly. They make me laugh a lot and pray a lot.

My 2nd grader loves to build things and take things apart. Mental math is his superpower.

My 4th grader loves baseball and art. He’s an avid reader. If he’s too quiet at any given moment, it usually means he’s holed up somewhere with an issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.

Both boys are athletic and are rarely without some sort of ball in their hands. Well, a ball or some sort of food item. (They eat A LOT!)

Watching them grow into little men leaves me awestruck. They truly are two of my best blessings.

Favorite thing about homeschooling?

I love that I get to be there. When my son collapses into tears because the math problem is just “so hard,” I get to be right there for it all.

I get to lay my own frustration at Jesus’ feet and lean hard into His grace. And then I get to help my son walk through his frustration to see the crazy beauty that comes only through struggle.

“Your brain is getting stronger,” I tell him, and I encourage him to take another go at it. And when he gets the right answer, I get to cheer. We can do a dance right there in the middle of our schoolroom.

Then we can be done with math for the day. We don’t have to be chained to a page full of multiplication. Sometimes two problems, well done and well understood, really is enough.

Yes, we often do more, but homeschooling allows me to weigh it out. Sometimes we break for cookies and read alouds. Homeschool lets me be right there for each of these little victories. I cherish that.

Most frustrating thing about homeschooling?

That moment when you can’t find the rock salt you bought for the online experiment that won’t print because the printer keeps giving you some funky error message and you’re berating yourself because “good” homeschool moms are more prepared than this.

All the while the dog is barking incessantly at the delivery guy on the front porch.

The children are fighting again over who gets to use the fat pencil you thought you got rid of, because who can even sharpen the stupid thing?

Then your phone alarm is going off in the middle of it all reminding you that it’s time to pray for the country you committed to pray for this month!

Honestly, frustration comes in waves. For me, most of it is the little things that “intrude” on what is supposed to be a seamless day.

When the experiment doesn’t work. Or it does, but the kids are totally unimpressed. Or when the argument over the fat pencil turns into an all-out wrestling match.

Or when I don’t stop to eat, and my hunger leads me to be short with my kids. Or when everyone wants to pet the dogs instead of doing copywork.

Homeschooling really is schooling in the middle of life. My homeschool planner has a place for “Math” and “Language Arts,” but not for “Brother pushes brother into bookshelf and we have to go to the ER for staples to the head.”

Life doesn’t take a break, and sometimes that can be frustrating.

Biggest blessing that you didn’t expect?

I had no idea how amazing it would feel to watch my children “get” a concept, like reading; math; science; or heart issues — anything, really. Seeing them truly grab hold of something is so very sweet.

Why did you decide to homeschool?

My husband and I were both traditionally schooled, and that was the plan for our children, too. But as kindergarten grew closer and closer for our oldest, we began to waver.

We decided to explore homeschooling. After attending one MPE conference, we knew it was the path for us.

We love the way homeschooling allows us to share Jesus with our kids, and I am passionate about the freedom it gives my children to explore their interests.

We appreciate traditional schools and love the work teachers are doing, but we’ve found homeschooling to be a great fit for our family.

Have you homeschooled the entire time with your kids?

Yes! Five years and counting.

How important is getting plugged into a local homeschool community for you and your family?

When I first considered homeschooling, my “community” was one friend. I remember she invited me into her home, taught me how to make kefir, told me why I should drink raw milk, and introduced me to Ruth Beechick.

She sent me home with copies of the books When You Rise Up and Dumbing Us Down. She patiently answered my endless questions about how many hours a day she did school, whether my son’s pencil grip was okay, and how to tell if my kefir grains had gone bad.

She was my introduction to homeschool and just what I needed in those early years.

As my children grew, so did my need to enlarge my community. I joined the Homeschool Hookup Facebook group. This is an incredible army of homeschool moms (and dads) that offers online support and meetups for homeschoolers and their parents.

Plus it’s the one place I can post a question about Handwriting Without Tears and get 10 responses within an hour. Such awesome support!

I also enrolled my children in a twice-a-week enrichment center. This has been amazing for us. Here my kids have found their best friends, been taught by wonderful teachers, and done all the “schooly” things.

I get that twice a week is too much for some people, but for us it’s been perfect. I’m only five years in, but I can already tell that community is huge in this homeschooling journey.

Just knowing someone else understands toddler life, struggling readers, or math meltdowns is so key. I encourage every homeschool family to get connected. Join groups. Swap curriculum. Find friends. And if you can’t find friends, find me!

Advice for families just starting to homeschool?

First, you’ve got this. You really do. Take time to know your kids and understand how they learn best.

Buy curriculum, but don’t be bound by it. Let it work for you. Remember, you don’t have to make home look like school. You can string Christmas lights in your homeschool room in the middle of March. Or you can make tunnels out of chairs and blankets and do school in a pretend cave. You can pause every half an hour for a one-minute dance party. Or NOT if all that feels too chaotic for your family!

The idea is to make your homeschool just that — YOURS. Try your best not to compare. It’s okay if your friend’s child is reading the Little House series in kindergarten and your child isn’t. And it’s okay if your child actually is the one reading way ahead.

Just be where your kids are. Go slow when you need to, and soar ahead where you can.

Talk to your non-homeschooling spouse. Keep him or her in the loop. But above all, listen to God’s heart for your children. Ask Him to show you who they are, and then, believe Him.

What does a typical day for you look like?

We are routine-over-schedule people, so our days have a similar flow but vary in the details. We enjoy slow mornings and usually start school around 10.

We like to begin our days with the Bible and prayer. From there, we typically move into read alouds — Story of the World, Aesop’s Fables, or whatever my kids are into that day.

After reading, we head into our core subjects. I tend to school in an interest-led, project-based way, so this part of our day may look different.

There are seasons when we work mostly from the curriculum, but there are also seasons where our core subjects are filtered through various projects.

In the afternoons, we head outside for backyard baseball, sip tea (me) and hot chocolate (the boys), play games (Star Wars Monopoly is a current favorite), or head to the library or to sports activities. Our days are full!

How do you juggle your responsibilities as mom, teacher and writer?

I am a writer! I also teach kindergarten at our enrichment center and teach online writing classes for Brave Writer. When you throw homeschool teacher, wife and mom into the mix, it can be a lot to juggle.

I try to approach my schedule by asking what is most important at any given moment. Usually, that’s homeschooling, so, that’s where my efforts go.

But even in the middle of homeschooling, sometimes I need to choose mom over teacher. Asking myself what matters most helps guide me.

That, and a calendar!

Honestly, I don’t write as much as I used to. I’ve had to let go of a couple of writing gigs for this season of life. But I think it’s critical for moms (all moms, not just homeschooling ones) to remember the woman who existed before kids.

So, I still carve out moments to write. It looks different these days. I’m not writing for blogs or magazines much anymore. But I might post a piece on Facebook or Instagram. I make space in the early morning or late night when the house is quiet.

Sometimes, though, especially when I teach Brave Writer classes, I work right smack dab in the daytime. I think it’s good for my kids to see me pursuing my own interests. I will tell them, “Mom is working right now.” And they get it!

What resources have been beneficial to you on your journey?

I’m a word girl, so many of my resources have been books.

I mentioned When You Rise Up by R.C. Sproul Jr. and Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. Both of these heavily influenced our decision to homeschool.

I’ve also drawn much encouragement from Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest. My copy is all marked up with passages I return to over and over again.

Julie Bogart’s A Gracious Space series is my morning go-to. She’s also releasing a new book, The Brave Learner, that I can’t wait to read.

Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert helped shaped the way I school to this day.

Beyond books, the MPE Conference, the Women’s Day of Encouragement, Facebook Homeschool Hookup group, our enrichment center — all of these have been stellar resources for me, too.

My favorite resource, though? Veteran homeschoolers. I love talking to moms who have been there.

Thanks so much, Jai Tracy!

About this series, Faces of Homeschooling…

You have heard them before – the stereotypes that some people believe about homeschoolers.

You know, like when people think that all homeschooling mothers wear homemade denim jumpers or that all homeschooled kids are shy, socially awkward geniuses who are not ready for the world. Maybe you have even heard people say that all homeschoolers are conservative Christians and that we all think alike.

As fellow homeschoolers, we know that these stereotypes do not represent reality. We also know that there is plenty of diversity within the homeschooling community, not only in demographics but also in why and how we homeschool.

In short, homeschoolers do not all look the same, think the same, and act the same.

At MPE, we want to highlight these differences by introducing you to some local families enjoying their unique journey of home education.

We hope these interviews will encourage you as you homeschool your children in your own special way!

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