The Children's Songbook - A Homeschool Handbook


I have the best calling in the whole church. I get to have all the enjoyment of being with the cute primary kids without the responsibility of keeping little bodies reverent during the painful third hour of church. I am the primary pianist. 

My favorite part of this calling is listening to the kids sing from the Children's Songbook. In my life I have felt the love of God and received messages from his Holy Spirit more clearly through those simple songs than in any other way.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me as I sat behind the piano last Sunday when a homeschool problem I needed divine help with was answered through a simple children’s song. I've been thinking since then about the messages that the Children’s Songbook has for homeschoolers, and I have found so many! Let me share some of my favorites.

Teach Me to Walk in the Light (#177)

This song has plenty that applies to teaching our children, but the second verse popped out to me this time. “Come little child and together we’ll learn.” A common reason parents are afraid to homeschool is they don’t think they know enough or don’t feel qualified to teach. But homeschooling (and Earth life) is not about becoming an expert before you begin. It is about learning and growing as a family. I think my oldest was smarter than me before he was five, but that doesn't mean I can’t be his teacher. It doesn't matter if you never learned to diagram a sentence or completely failed algebra. When you homeschool you learn and grow together (and find yourself motivated like never before to conquer algebra).

You Don't Have to Push a Handcart (#218)

The song says, “You don’t have to push a handcart to be a pioneer...You DO have to have great courage, and faith to conquer fear. And work with might for a cause that’s right, to be a pioneer.” Although, in recent years homeschooling seems to be more widely accepted and less “weird”, many of us are exploring a completely new lifestyle with homeschooling. It can be difficult and there may be family or social opposition. I receive the most opposition from my own self doubts. But pioneering through the tough spots is homeschool at its best. I can’t count the times that things have gotten hard and I have wanted to give up on this crazy idea of teaching my own kids. But it never fails, after the rocky parts come the beautiful vistas of success and I am glad I didn't give up. I’m hoping that my children will be able to learn from my mistakes and can be better teachers to their children because of the path I've paved for them as a homeschool pioneer.

Search Ponder and Pray (#109)

The first thing every homeschooler does after deciding to homeschool is fret about what curriculum to use. There are thousands of options, which is what I love (and hate) about homeschooling. Sorting through the endless possibilities can be daunting. A homeschool mentor of mine asked me (after I had read every book I could find on choosing curriculum) if I had prayed for help yet. Embarrassed I said, “I hadn't thought of that!” I think I was worried about coming to the Lord with small decisions. But I’ve since learned that the Lord can guide us to help his children. He does care about the little details that are important to us, because teaching His children is important to Him. It’s good to read and study and search curriculum and philosophy so the Lord can guide us to the materials that will help our kids. “The Spirit will guide.”

Every Star is Different (#142)

This sweet primary song reminds us that everyone is unique. It says “Everyone is needed for just what he can do. You’re the only person who ever can be you.” There is no one way to homeschool. There are as many different ways as there are families who do it. Homeschool is constant trial and error. Learning what works for you and your children will take time. I often stress because I am not as consistent and structured as some successful mom’s I know. But one friend said to me she wished she could be spontaneous like me. We all have our strengths. Homeschooling brings out our weaknesses, to be sure, but it also helps us grow. Co-ops are a great way to team up with other homeschoolers and benefit from one another’s strengths and interests.

I'm Trying to be Like Jesus (#78)

Jesus loved the little children. He made time for them. He blessed them. And he taught them. We can try to be like Jesus by following in His ways. We can learn from Jesus, the master teacher, as we embark on our journey of becoming educators to our families. We can study the lessons he taught and learn to teach with love and simplicity as he did. We can learn from his example how to teach to multiple levels at once through the use of stories and questioning. Best of all we can learn to be “gentle and loving in deed and in thought” and prepare as a family for the “day of gladness when Jesus comes again.”

I’m SO Glad When Daddy Comes Home! (#210)

Thankfully I have a spouse who is able to provide so that I can be home to teach my kids. But there are days when I have had just a little TOO much togetherness and “I’m so glad when daddy comes home” so I can hide in the closet and rock in the fetal position while the little darlings suck the life out of a fresh adult. Phew! If you don’t have a spouse to share the load, be extra careful about arranging time for yourself to regroup. Trading babysitting with a friend, asking a visiting teacher for help, or finding a hobby you can use to “escape” are great ways to renew yourself so you do not burn out.

I’m all Made of Hinges (#277)

“But we have to have hinges or else we will, crack!” Homeschoolers have to learn to be flexible. Don’t stress if things don’t work out as planned. I think as a general rule things don’t work out as planned in our homeschool. Certain times and phases of life will require different kinds of schooling. People get sick, appointments come up, life happens. It’s okay to coast when you need to and roll with life’s punches when family trials throw off your groove.

Saturday is a Special Day (#196)

I can have a clean house or be a nice mom. But not both. It has taken me several years of reconditioning to learn to “close one eye” to messes. By lowering my expectations for the daily state of the house, my homeschool efforts are much more successful. We pick up a bit throughout the week, but we save the big chores for Saturday mornings and put our house back together. Then we can have a peaceful Sunday and are ready to tear it up again Monday. (Visit us on a Friday at your own risk!)

If You Chance to Meet a Frown (#267)

Even though homeschool is the most fun, and you will have the time of your life, some days just stink. And homeschooling can get intense. There is wisdom in the words “If you chance to meet a frown, do not let it stay. Quickly turn it upside down and smile that frown away.” The only attitude we can change is our own, but smiles are contagious and bring light and happiness; and where there is light, darkness cannot exist. Even if we don’t feel like smiling we can turn a bad day right by finding the humor in it and counting our blessings. We will “make the world a better place by smiling all the while.”

I am a Child of God (#2)

Despite my best efforts I always fall short of what I think my family needs or deserves. I find comfort in the very first song in the Children’s Songbook. It says, “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home...” God is my father and he gave me the chance to come to earth and have a family. He will lead me and guide me. He will walk beside and me and help me find the way to teach the special Spirits He has entrusted to my care.

Along with the sweet children’s voices, I will be listening carefully to the Still Small Voice as I sit behind the piano in Primary this SundayI am sure there are many more messages that await in that little blue book for me.

Learn More about Jana.

Harvests of Homeschooling

This Thanksgiving (2013) will be the last for my family before “everything changes forever.” As many people country-wide gather and feast and count their blessings, I’ll be storing in my heart every second of this “last Thanksgiving,” where every one of my children will be at the table, humming and yumming over their food and playfully bantering with one another because they know each other so well. I’ll be remembering the last time I said, “This is the last Thanksgiving before everything changes forever.” That was 18 years ago, when I was very pregnant with our first child, who will turn 18 two weeks after this Thanksgiving. The domino effect of missions, marriages, college, and careers will soon begin to alter everything. It’s as it should be, but it still hurts.

I have many blessings to count this Thanksgiving, but the one I’m favoring is the blessing to be able to homeschool; the blessing of getting to spend so much of these 18 years together. Our family has been together so much more than we’ve been apart and for that I am truly grateful.

For this article, I decided to ask fellow homeschooling mothers what they see as “harvests” of homeschooling. While experiences and insights vary among us, I think you’ll agree that homeschooling has blessed everyone abundantly.

Melora Bracken, of Petersboro, Utah, says, “Every day I reap the harvest of having the delightful company of my girls. I get to experience every moment of discovery, discouragement, and joy at the simple things. I get to harvest THEM.”

Some of the blessings of homeschooling that Jennifer Tillitson, of Weston, Idaho, counts are, “During Halloween time, I have enjoyed watching my children change from wanting to dress up as a storm trooper to a person whom we have studied, like George Washington, Archimedes, and Benjamin Franklin. It has been wonderful to watch them have different role models they want to emulate. They love to study. Especially my older ones. They study for 10 to 12 hours a day and wish for more time. They study things that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to, like Hebrew, robotics, plays, and year-long studies on certain subjects (Constitutional era, or WWII era). My younger children like homeschool because they can get their studies done earlier in the day and have time to further some of their interests.” And perhaps most important, “They have increased in love one to another.”

Sally Bishop, of Logan, Utah, tells the story of a long, patient harvest with her daughter: “I pulled [my daughter] (now 17) out of school after first grade. She was obviously having a reading delay, and while the reading delay did not bother me, her response to it did. She was painfully aware that she was in a different color reading level than all her classmates. It embarrassed her. This anxiety evolved over the year such that in the spring, she would cry in her bed every morning, "I hate school, you can't make me go!" And I did make her go, and it felt like child abuse….

“So, after homeschooling for a while, it became evident that her reading delay was substantial. But she didn't seem to be dyslexic or have an easily identifiable reading disability, so we just read lots and lots of books. A few years later, I had horrible bronchitis and couldn't read aloud every day, and I helped her discover books on tape/CD. That child could devour a 25-hour book on CD in less than 2 days.

“The summer she was 11, and Harry Potter 7 was due to come out, she flipped a switch or something. She went from struggling to read aloud Magic Treehouse books, to reading Harry Potter 7, literally overnight. Not only did she read the entire HP7 book by herself, but the week before its release, she read a fanfic version of HP7 that was over 700 pages of pdf document, at the computer, over a week's time. She read over 1000 pages in 2 weeks that were several grade levels above her ability just the month before.

“As a means of motivation, I encouraged her to log all the books she read on her own. I gave her ledger paper, and (not really understanding her OCD nature yet) she glommed onto that. She still keeps that log, 6 years later. Several years ago we calculated how many pages she's read, and it was well over 50,000.

“Her reading ability is not the main harvest here; it's her joy in reading, joy in learning and CONFIDENCE. I knew, considering her hyper-awareness at being behind in first grade, that if she had been pulled into resource (and she would have been, maybe even for several years), it would have crushed her.”

Melissa Draper, of Smithfield, Utah, has noticed that homeschooling makes for more frequent communication in her family, which leads to more open communication. She’s even noticed a change with her adult children who weren’t homeschooled because they see that she is there for them. Also, Melissa loves that, “My husband is more actively involved with their education. He digs into what speaks to him about WWII, he learns ballet moves so that his daughter can practice hers with him, he puts up with Shakespeare because we're in a play and then he finds out that he really loves Shakespearean comedy. He holds them accountable more for what they are learning and less for getting assignments in on time because of the atmosphere in our home. The assignments are just a manifestation of the learning going on.”

I think we all have probably noticed another blessing Melissa has appreciated: “Increased understanding for me in the gaps of my education. This has helped me understand what I truly want my children to learn about and where to focus my efforts. It has also helped me realize that each person's education can and will be different if it is to serve them. When a person's education serves them, they are equipped to serve the world.”

Finally, Melanie Showell, of Amalga, Utah, sums up the harvest well. “Homeschooling is like my garden. You work hard planting, pulling weeds, feeding and watering, amazed at how your little plants are growing. Sometimes it seems your garden isn't progressing into the beautiful plants you would like them to be. There are frustrations! Every time you turn around you see another weed. You pull it, and before you know it, another grows right where you left off. You get tired. You cry and yell for more help, but alas the bulk of the responsibility is on you. By the end of the season, you want to quit, to let someone else worry about all of the fruit in your garden. You decide to head for one last perusal of the garden. Much to your surprise, you find that there are weeds all around your fruit, threatening to destroy them. Yet amazingly enough, your precious fruit is much larger than you anticipated. The fruit has multiplied beyond your imagination. You say to yourself, ‘How did this happen?! How did you spread and grow into this beautiful plant with so much to give?’ And that is the moment that you realize all of your sweat, all of your tears in nurturing this garden was worth it. Yes, your little plants have grown! They are surrounded by weeds! Yet they are beautiful, and bearing the most delicious fruit you have ever tasted.

“It tastes of love shown to a younger sibling, or help given to mother, when the child could have gone playing. It’s the peace that comes when everyone is choosing to love one another, instead of serving their own selfish needs. Yes there are still weeds threatening each tender plant, but my tender plants are growing faster than the weeds. They’re stronger than the wind. They are becoming who God intended them to be. That is the greatest harvest of homeschooling I have seen in my family.

“It isn't always easy. Sometimes the wind and rain blows on the gardener so strongly that the gardener is tempted to quit. Yet, the tender plants are waiting for their gardener to love them enough, to protect them enough from the weeds, wind and rain. As they reach for the sun, you smile, knowing it will be worth it.”

My Favorite Things

I have a confession to make. I spent most of the week before public school started fantasizing about sending my kids back to public school. I was feeling tired and worn out after a busy summer, and the lure of spending my days alone, in my clean, quiet house was almost more than I could take. Of course, once I took a moment to really think about how I feel about public education, I knew there was no sending them back. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn’t do much to change my attitude. In the midst of all my self-pity, I managed to drag our family to homeschool park day. I sat there and visited, discussed up-coming plans, new curriculums and books while the kids ran and played. Enjoying a beautiful summer day with friends helped clear away my bad attitude and reminded me of how much I love this lifestyle: the freedom, the love of learning, the joy of new discoveries and the incredible blessing of time with my children.

I went home with renewed commitment and a grateful heart. Over the next few days I started noticing all the amazing things that are part of our lives because of homeschooling. I knew there would be more hard days ahead (there always are!) so I made a list of my favorite things about homeschooling. That way I will be ready the next time my commitment wavers.


1.  Time to pursue passions and develop talents. People look at me funny when I say one of the hardest things about homeschooling is dealing with all the creative energy. However, sometimes being peppered with questions about everything from chemistry to robotics while fielding requests for assistance with writing, art, math, the piano, guitar and the sewing machine (all at the same time) can be a little overwhelming! Really though, I love seeing their enthusiasm for life and their intense interests in so many different things.  I love the sound of music and eager voices that fills our home. 2.  Family closeness. I’ve had so many mothers tell me they could never homeschool because their kids would kill each other. That always makes me sad. I wish they could see how tight-knit homeschooling families are. My children truly love to be together. We spend hours and hours working and playing together, which has created relationships in our home that are better than any relationships outside the home. What a blessing to be best friends with the people we will spend eternity with!


3.  Time to explore. Last week we spent a Tuesday morning exploring some caves near our home. As we climbed over boulders and shimmied down chutes I thought of all those children sitting in school. I was so gratefully to literally be able to learn “outside the box”.


4.  Greater opportunities to study the gospel. Last week I found my 8 year old daughter asleep, long after bedtime, in the chair in her room. Her scriptures lay open on her lap. My children love to study the scriptures, hold devotional and family home evening, and memorize Articles of Faith. There are many wonderful parents outside the homeschool community who do these things, but I know it is much easier to instill a love of the gospel when children are not pressed for time and sleep. 5.  Freedom to develop a sense of self. When my children were young I worried that they would have a hard time developing their own personalities. I feared that spending so much time together would make them all alike. Boy was I wrong! Rather than encouraging conformity, homeschooling has allowed them the freedom to be whoever they want to be. My oldest loves art, science, and swimming. His younger brother loves computers, biking, cooking and the electric guitar. I really have never seen two siblings with more diverse interests.

6.  Opportunities to learn real life skills. Reading, math and history are all important things to know, but every homeschool mom knows that some of the greatest lessons are learned “outside of the classroom”. Taking care of a home and garden, caring for young children, shopping smart, and knowing how to access resources in the community – these are all incredibly valuable skills that blossom when we educate our children at home.

It’s true that homeschooling is not for the faint of heart. It can be a lot of hard work. Fortunately, even the hard days are full of amazing blessings!

Trusting the Process

Ahh - summer, nothing to do but relax and enjoy vacation, unless of course, you’re a homeschooler. Then it’s time to attend homeschool conferences, study up on the latest homeschool books, clean out your schoolroom and plan, plan, plan for the next school year! In the midst of all this educational flurry I think it’s important to review the history of homeschooling. Many homeschoolers don’t realize that the modern homeschooling movement started in the 1970s, fueled primarily by the work of John Holt. Holt was a disillusioned educator who felt that the public education system was damaged beyond repair and that children stood a far better chance of success at home. He was quick to point out that recreating school at home was unlikely to be any more successful. He said that, “children, without being coerced or manipulated, or being put in exotic, specially prepared environments, or having their thinking planned and ordered for them, can, will, and do pick up from the world around them important information about what we call the Basics. “

This belief - that children who are placed in an enriching and supportive environment will learn everything they need - inspired an entire generation of homeschoolers. They proved that children could go on to lead successful and enriching lives, without the restraints of formal education. Unfortunately, the homeschool movement became so successful that many companies started to see it as a prime business opportunity. As the years went by, homeschool curriculums multiplied exponentially.  (I could use my Rainbow Resource catalog for weight lifting).

As more and more children left public school, the charter schools saw the opportunity to capitalize on the movement by offering online programs. While there is good to be found in all of these options, it’s important to remember the philosophy that homeschooling was founded on: that children don’t need a fancy environment or “special” books or programs, they don’t need specialists or professionals to teach them. What they need is an environment rich in educational opportunities and love. I have a friend who calls it creating a vacuum. When our homes are full of books, games, conversation, and ideas, our children can’t help but be sucked in. As hard as it is, we have to “trust the process”. Not only trust that children will learn when given the opportunity, but also that the Lord will provide the ideas, people and resources we need to help them in their journey.

I will be the first to admit that at times the responsibility of educating my children seems mind boggling and overwhelming. But, as the years go by I am constantly amazed by the small miracles that seem to flow through our lives and how the Lord provides for my children’s needs. The examples are too numerous to list, but one blessing stands out in my mind. Last year I attended a homeschool parent meeting held at a local private school. While I was there I had a conversation with the school’s director. She is a former homeschooler and an inspiring teacher. She mentioned that she was starting a dyslexia tutoring program at her school. When I told her about the work I’d done with my profoundly dyslexic son, she offered me a job working for her as a tutor. That offer provided me with numerous hours of training that have greatly improved my ability to work with my son’s learning disabilities. She taught me so much about the gift of dyslexia. Another unexpected blessing came over the course of the year, as her voice of wisdom and encouragement gave me the courage to keep homeschooling my teenager through high school.

This is only one example of the many ways the Lord has blessed our homeschool. He knows our family’s needs and He knows how much I love my children. I have to remember that He loves my children too and that He has a plan for each of them. As I put my trust in Him, rather than the commercial interests of the homeschool movement, He will provide for our family’s every need.


Last week I had the opportunity to be with a group of LDS homeschool moms for 2 ½ days. What an amazing group of women! We had congregated as a planning committee and that was the focus of our meetings, but as you can imagine, we took the time to network too.

I am grateful that I was privileged to be in the company of such strong and dedicated women. We were a diverse group, some just starting out homeschooling, some having done it for 20 years or more. Some of us had large families, some small. Most were from the east coast, a few of us from the west and mid-west.  But 2 things bonded us together- our testimony of Jesus Christ and the desire to do the best we could for our children.

We had our “required” planning meetings, but as we planned for the homeschool conference next spring our thoughts went to all the homeschool families across the nation and what their challenges were and we brainstormed what were the best ways to help them. That lead us to talk about our own struggles, then how we met the challenges. We offered encouragement, ideas and shared the inspiration we had received in our own lives. In other words, we talked and talked and talked.

When we weren’t in our formal meetings we talked about the challenges we faced as moms, as parents in today’s world. We talked about canning, gardening, our favorite recipes, home births, herbal treatments, church callings, etc.  We talked about toddlers, teens and tips and tricks to help cope with the ups and downs of family life.

At one point it seemed that all we were doing was talking, not planning. But the talking was what we wanted to do. It was wonderful to talk about our favorite subject – homeschooling- with a group of moms who understood exactly what we did each day and why we did it. It was safe to talk about the challenges as well as the joys of homeschooling.

We were coming to the end of our time together and I was a little worried that we would not accomplish all that we needed to before we all went home. But a remarkable thing happened. After all the discussion and commiserating and supporting we had done, we suddenly saw the meat that we need to plan into the conference. The meat that homeschool moms everywhere needed to be able to continue homeschool their families with confidence and faith.

One of the things we discovered was homeschool moms need to have joy in what we do. Just as President Monson told us in October Conference 2008 we need to find the joy in the journey of our homeschools now. Not when we don’t have toddlers anymore, not when we finish the math text book or when we finally get our homeschool room organized. We are homeschool moms because we want to have an active part in our children’s education.  We are homeschool moms because we want our children home with us.   We are homeschool moms because we value the lifestyle homeschooling brings to our lives.

So let’s look for the joy in our homeschools this new school year. Let’s take  time to spend with our children, just because.  Let’s not worry so much about what we are not doing and focus on what we are. Let’s not have our schedules so tight we cannot stop and smell the roses or we will be late for our next activity.

Men are that they might have joy. We moms need to homeschool in ways that we might have joy! I pray that in each of our homeschools we might make it so.