Living Well and Learning Well (with Alicia Hutchinson)

Living Well Learning Well Alicia Hutchinson Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Homeschooling and all the other parts of life are intertwined. How can we both live well and learn well as homeschool families? Are there practical tips and strategies that can help? Mindset shifts to change the way we approach our days? Alicia Hutchinson joins us on this episode of Homeschool Conversations to discuss these and many other topics! I can’t wait for you to listen in.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Living Well Learning Well Alicia Hutchinson Homeschool Conversations Podcast

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Who is Alicia Hutchinson

Alicia Hutchinson is the mother to four, wife to Jarrod, and founder of Learning Well, an online community created to inspire and equip mothers to do the work that God has set before them: to be makers of their homes and educate their children. Alicia has been homeschooling her kids for 14 years. Her oldest has graduated from high school and she is still homeschooling her 16, 13, and 8 year old children. You can find her writing at aliciahutchinson.com.

Living Well Learning Well Alicia Hutchinson Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Watch my interview with Alicia Hutchinson

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Amy Sloan: Hello, everyone. Today, we are joined by Alicia Hutchinson. Alicia is the mother to four, wife to Jarrod, and founder of Learning Well, an online community created to inspire and equip mothers to do the work that God has set before them, to be makers of their home and educate their children. Alicia has been homeschooling her kids for 14 years. Her oldest has graduated from high school and she is still homeschooling her 16, 13, and 8-year-old children. You can find her writing at aliciahutchinson.com.

Alicia, I’m so excited to have you here today. Could you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how and why you got started homeschooling?

Alicia Hutchinson: Well, thank you for having me. You’ve really covered it. That has been the last 14 years of my life. It’s homeschooling my children, but it’s been one of the biggest joys of my life. We live currently outside the Twin Cities. My husband and I were born and raised in South Dakota, did a stint in North Carolina where I believe you are, then came back to the Midwest about six years ago. That is where we live now. I write, blog, Instagram, and all those fun things. I think that’s it.

Amy: Did you always know you wanted to start homeschooling or how did you guys get started on that adventure?

Alicia: No, no. I actually was one of the weird people in high school that really didn’t– I had a lot of friends and maybe you didn’t, maybe you did. I had a lot of friends that knew they wanted to have kids. “I know I want to have this many kids,” I would talk to my friends. I know I want to have this many kids. That never really was on my radar. I didn’t really think I would probably have kids. I saw myself doing other more exciting things, more glamorous things, and having kids, but God is just interesting and the way he deals with his people.

When I was very young, I had my first child. I actually had my first child when I was 19 which is the age he is now, which is so crazy to me. It was almost instantaneous when I had him that I wasn’t going to continue on with the plans that I thought I had for myself. In my mind, I want a college degree, a bachelor’s at least. If not more, I want a big career and all the things but it was almost instantaneous. When the doctor put Noah on my chest.

I was like, “Nope, I can’t. This is my life now. I want to be home with him.” At that point, homeschooling wasn’t on my radar either. It’s been a little bit more of, “Oh, this wasn’t on the plan. This wasn’t on the plan either.” We were still in the hospital when I looked at my husband and I was like, “I think I need to stay home.” I did still get a college degree but I shortened. I have an associate’s degree instead of the master’s or beyond whatever I thought I was going to get. Then I decided to stay home.

When it got to be time for him to go to kindergarten, that was the year that all of the public schools changed to full-day kindergarten. The thought of sending him away for the full day, just didn’t sit right with me. It just didn’t feel right. He was taking naps still some days and I was like, “How is this going to work?” We went round and round. We didn’t have a lot of homeschooling where we grew up. There was 700 people in our little community. There was nobody that really homeschooled and it was very foreign to us.

When I presented it to him, said, “I think we should try this.” He was like, “That would be really, really weird.” We decided to send him to just a small private school for his kindergarten year, which was fine. It was totally fine. I loved his teacher. She was a super sweet Godly woman and she taught him how to read. She was really, really sweet but after his kindergarten year, I went back around asked Jarrod again what he thought about it. I just said, “Don’t answer me right now. Just think about what I’m staying here. Here are my arguments for and think about it.”

He thought about it for the weekend and he’s like, “Let’s try it for a year. Let’s see how it goes.” I was then pregnant with our third baby. He was just like, “That’s going to be a lot on your plate with the new baby and homeschooling.” We tried it for one year and that was 14 years ago. Now, he’s completely converted and he’s the one now that tells everybody we’re lifers now. We thought we would take it year by year but looks like we’re probably going to be homeschooling all four of our kids all the way through.

Amy: Oh, I love that story and just how the Lord in his Providence takes these things where you’re like, “I’m heading this direction.” “Oops, you’re going to go over this way.” “But I’m going to head this direction now.” “Okay, well, I’m going to adjust you over here.” The king’s heart is like waterways in God’s hands. Often, that’s our lives as well. We keep moving forward and the Lord changes the desires of our hearts.

Alicia: Isn’t that good, that we don’t get what we want all the time?

Amy: Yes, exactly. It’s like that country song, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” I’m just listening to that in the car the other day and belting it out and my daughter was like, “Oh, mom.”

Alicia: Oh, boy. Oh, boy.

Amy: Anyway–

Alicia: There’s some good theology in this song.

Amy: That’s right. Hey, I love country music. I can’t help it. All right.

Alicia’s growing and changing approach to homeschooling

Well, so you started this like, “Oh, I will never homeschool. I think I’m going to homeschool.” How has your approach to homeschooling your philosophy of education grown and changed over those 14 years?

Alicia: Well, I think it just changed from– I never saw what homeschooling– At the very beginning, there was just a handful of homeschool blogs out there. There wasn’t Instagram. Maybe there was Facebook, but I wasn’t on it. I wouldn’t have known anyone to follow anyway that was homeschooling. It went from that school-at-home approach to much more we are doing school at home but in using the blessings instead of working against it. Does that make sense? Sometimes we try to set up a school in our home which is the very thing that we’ve tried to break out from. It took a couple of years to embrace that.

I don’t need to think about this as a school building. I don’t need to take attendance. I don’t need to be so rigid in my approach. We can use lots of different things. We can switch things up halfway through. We don’t have to be bound to curriculum if it doesn’t work for us. I think just like letting go, letting the learning process happen. Also, in my approach of, “Okay, at this age is when they need to learn how to read. At this age is when they should be able to do multiplication. At this age–“

I learned now that trying to force those metrics onto our kids really does so much more of a harm than a good because they’re all so different. The more I’ve let back, not let go, and in the way of– not like I’m saying we’re not doing school because I’m just going to let you guys lead the way — like I’m still leading. I’m still in control of the homeschool. I’m the boss of the homeschool, but I’m not so rigid in my approach. Why are you eight and you’re not doing these multiplication tables yet? The book says you’re supposed to be able to do this.

Just reading the room as far as the stages and the development that each kid is at, and letting that be the guide instead of a checkbox in a curriculum that has no idea who my child has never met them and never will. That has helped me so much because I’ve found the looser I hold those things, the better things go. The more freedom it feels we have and everybody’s just more comfortable and knows that mom’s not going to freak out if I don’t know X, Y, Z by this date like it’s okay. We’re going to grow into that and not really be as worried about looking at other people and, “Oh, well, they’re reading already or look at how much they’re doing.” It’s not about that. It’s about your individual child. It’s not even about comparing child A to child B, they’re all individuals. As soon as I feel I grasped that, that’s when there is just a huge– just deep breath, a collective deep breath that I had in our homeschool, like I can chill. It’s going to be okay. I think my poor oldest, he’s always the guinea pig.

Maybe you notice this with your oldest too, but he’s the one that probably took the brunt of it the most, but he’s also the one that showed me like, “I’m just fine and I didn’t learn everything at the same rate as everybody else, but I’m a functioning semi-adult.” He’s 19. Not quite adult yet, but getting there rapidly.

Amy: There’s that quote I see that goes around the internet and it talks about we sometimes think school is the important part of homeschool, but it’s really the home. That’s the important part of homeschools. Those relationships, it’s acknowledging the unique personhood of each individual person in our home, whether that be our children or sometimes even ourselves too. Our personhood matters in the homeschool too, but it makes such a difference if we’re trying to squash our family into a school model. It’s just not going to work. That’s a system. We’re in a relational family. We can’t expect it to work the same way.

https://www.aliciahutchinson.com/

Homeschooling Perspective

You mentioned you’ve graduated your oldest son. Congratulations! That’s very exciting. I would love to hear from that perspective, and you’ve already started talking about it a little bit. Just that perspective that homeschooling gives you over the years, but what are some of the things, especially when you were a younger mom, maybe you’re worried about homeschooling those teen years that now looking back on it, you realized you didn’t have to worry about quite so much?

Alicia: There is something about the daily grind where we’re just like, “Oh my gosh, they’re never going to learn–” Not just academics, but for me, it was more like, “They’re never going to learn how to close the door when they walk out the door. Are they ever going to get this?” It feels now having teenagers, having some older kids that I wish that I would’ve been a little bit more in the moment and not worried so much.

We always hear that, “It goes so fast, just to enjoy it. It goes so fast.” It really does. The high school years, especially, I don’t know what happens. My second is already a sophomore. I don’t know. I don’t know what happens. My third child will be a freshman next year. That surprised me how those older moms that told me that were very right and that how really effective homeschooling is because we have all of this nervousness like, “Oh my gosh, I am their main educator for 12, 13 years. What if I’m not doing very well?”

I realize that really, if you take homeschooling seriously, if you’re diligent, not obsessive, but if you’re diligent, if every day you have a plan for the day and you are engaged and involved and taking it seriously, it’s exceedingly efficient. It’s so much more efficient than I thought it was in the moment. I can tell that now with my oldest, just watching him pick up books and still want to learn. That was one of my big goals when I decided that homeschooling, we should try this, was I want them to love to learn.

I didn’t really like to learn until I was old like 20 something, 25 maybe, pregnant with my third baby. I was just like, “Ugh, I don’t want to open a book.” I’d like to read, but I wasn’t really interested in learning because I just feel like there’s so many parts of the system like you mentioned that extinguish that. It doesn’t promote that. It makes it just very staunch and very boring and very blah so much of the time.

When I see him now as a functioning young adult, as somebody that’s picking up books and reading them, books that I want to read, I’m like, “Well, can I read that when you’re done?” That’s rewarding and it just goes to show that homeschooling really is so effective. It might not look like– again, my plans are not always the best plans. Your child might do something that you were like, “Oh, I wasn’t guessing that you would do that,” but that’s okay. That’s not for us. That’s not our business.

We’re just doing the job that God’s put before us right now, which is to homeschool our kids and to do it well every day. It’s bittersweet because I didn’t realize how much I would miss him. He still lives at home, but it’s just different. It’s just different. I would start it all over tomorrow. I would start him all over tomorrow as a first grader again. It’s hard. I cry a lot more now than I’ve ever cried just because I’m like, “Oh, this is so hard,” but there’s goodness in every stage.

Amy: You’re making my heart hurt a little bit. My oldest is a junior and I’m just like that same thing like, “Oh, there’s so a little time left and I would do it all over again even though there have been days I wouldn’t want to do over again.”

Alicia: Not every single day, but if there was an option to, “Hey, do you want to do this again?” I would totally do it again,

Amy: Hopefully, I would do a better job this time around too.

Alicia: Right, like can I take back the knowledge I have now.

Helping the homeschool day run smoothly with multiple ages

Amy: Exactly. You mentioned in there this idea about being disciplined and having a good plan for your day. What are some of the strategies that help the homeschool day run smoothly, especially you’ve had that experience like I have of balancing the needs of multiple ages at the same time?

Alicia: I would definitely say with multiple ages, which most of us have, most of us are trying to balance lots of different stages and ages, to combine as much as you can. That was my trick because there was just no way I was going to do seven different subjects with four different kids with seven different types of curricula. There was just no way. We start our day together every day, all four of the kids and me. Even my 19-year-old who has graduated, he joined us. We start in our morning meeting with Bible.

We’re reading through different books of the Bible, discussing it. We have these little notebooks that they keep in the back of their Bible so they take notes in there if I have something I want them to write down, talk about theology, we talk about missionaries, we read missionary stories, church history, that kind of thing. That is 19 down to 8. Everybody’s getting something different because they’re all at different developmental stages, but we’re all together. That, I feel is the beauty of homeschooling. You can combine so much.

I would say you can combine almost everything, except for maybe math, might be tricky, and maybe language arts, but even some language arts, I would say that you could combine. Right now, my eighth-grader and my 10th-grader are basically doing the same things for language arts. They’re doing a logic course together, they’re doing a history course together. Then with my eighth-grader and my third-grader, we’re doing science together with Apologia Science.

Combining as much as we can to save my sanity, but also to create that closeness together because I can say, “Hey, Sophie, can you help Vera with her science notebook and just make sure she’s got the swing of it while I make lunch?” They’re working together and it’s creating that closeness, that family unit closeness that I just want so much to instill in my kids, but also I’m not juggling three kids right now that I’m actually doing school with times seven subjects. That’s 21 different things. There is just no way. That is my one big tip.

Then the other thing too is to know what my day is going to look going into it. I just have a routine that at night, I sit down, they have very simple notebooks that I write out what they’re going to be doing for the next day. I’ll even write down chores sometimes that I want them to do so then when they get up, they have that, and I know what they’re doing and they know what they’re doing. That really helps to just waking up with a plan and also just to think about my day either if it’s the night before, which is typically when I do that, or the next morning getting up before them, even though they’ve grown up. Well, actually it’s easier now that they’ve grown up because they sleep later. Just to get up before them and get a handle on my own self before they wake up, get dressed or get my workout in, read my Bible, have a cup of coffee so I feel we’re not all waking up at the same time, and frantically like, “What are we doing today? What’s the plan?”

It feels like if I wake up first, I have their notebooks ready, I have a plan like what’s for dinner tonight, what am I making for breakfast? It’s just not a huge thing. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it just helps things click along a little bit better and every day is busy. If you have those things in your day that you know are happening, just helps everything feel a little bit more grounded.

Amy: Yes, something as simple as just looking at your calendar the night before for the next days that you’re not waking up in the morning, like, “Oh, I forgot about that appointment,” and running around hassled and screaming, trying to figure out how you’re going to make it work. Just look at it the night before something that doesn’t take that much time, but it can just really make it less stressful in the morning. In our morning time that we have where we all gather together, that’s also, we’re all like, “Give everyone the heads up if anything is out of the usual, especially for the day schedule.”

“Okay. Mom has a podcast interview at this time. Don’t forget you have an appointment at this time.” That way, we’re on the same page and can look out for each other too.

Pursuing Joy and Peace and Living Well

Well, homeschooling and the rest of our life is all intertwined. It’s not like we have the homeschool part and the mom part and the life part. I love the tagline on your website, which is living well and learning well. I would like to hear more about what you mean by that and how can we pursue joy and peace living well learning well, not only in our home schools but also in these other aspects of our lives.

Alicia: I just think I love that scripture when Paul is talking about when he’s finished the race, when he is run the course, he wants to be able to hear, well done good and faithful servant. I’m not doing this for a reward, but I do know this is my purpose on Earth right now. Who knows in 10 years, it may be different, but right now, I have four kids that are in my care and so I want to do it well. I want that to be my main focus. I want to not let the world muddy what that’s supposed to look like.

I know what it looks because I know what God says about it so I know that these are my kids to take care of right now. Living well just means taking care of our house together, having a purpose each day, sitting around together, reading the Bible, having things throughout our week that connect us even though it’s crazy, hectic, and overscheduled sometimes, but having just intention and purpose throughout our day. Then learning well together, it’s just the homeschool aspect of that whole idea of like, “I know I’m supposed to homeschool my kids and I want to do it really well.”

I think Elisabeth Elliot has a quote where it says that, I’m going to just butcher it, but something about just reassuring to her to know that all she has to do today is to do God’s will and so I just want that to be like the tagline of my life. I’m just getting up, I’m doing things that I know God wants me to do, but I want to do it well. I want to not be obsessive and controlling about it, but just not get hung up in the weeds of what are other people doing and getting too sucked into Instagram.

That comparing thing where you can look around and say, “Oh, I don’t do it like that. I want to just stay in my bubble a little bit,” and just do a really good job. I think that we all have that ability to do if we stay committed and stay focused on what we’re supposed to focus on instead of looking at other people or all those things that, we, women tend to do a lot of the times.

Then I think too, that there is a lot of messaging out there. “It’s so hard to be a mom and it’s like driving me to drink and that thing.” There’s like that messaging and it’s so difficult like how could anyone do this job? It’s hard. There are very difficult days where you’re like I how do I do this? Am I just failing in every aspect of my life right now? Because it just some days are just like that. I do think that if God has given you your children, which if you’re listening as a mother, God has, and he’s not going to just abandon you to just figure it out. We can find joy every single day. Sometimes it does take some searching for, instead of waiting for.

Looking at the little things and just being thankful and grateful and finding that joy every single day. I tell my kids sometimes when it’s like, “Oh, this day. Oh–” like a lot of grumbling and complaining, I do it too and so feel like, “Okay, they’re sounding much too like me right now.” Just to remind them this is the day that the Lord has made let’s rejoice even if it stinks, even if this day is garbage, let’s find some joy amidst the muck anyway so it’s not easy but I do think that God gives us the ability to find the joy.

I do think that there’s peace there like you mentioned, how do you find the joy and how do you find peace? I do think that when you look to the little things and you’re not sitting there waiting for like, “Oh, if I could just wait for the potty trains to be over.” Oh, if I could just wait for this stage to be over if I could just wait until,” you what I mean? We do that all the time but if we just pause and find the joy today, there’s a lot of peace in that. For me, there is, anyway.

Amy: It reminds me of the verse I was talking to my kids about earlier this week, that in Ephesians verses that you’re going to walk in the good works that God has already prepared for you from before creation and just how freeing that is too. God’s already prepared the good works that he has for you today for you to walk in them and so he’s already taking care of it. You can just walk forward, trusting in him in that way.

Learning Well Magazine

I think that you told me before we started recording that you have a fun new project coming, or I guess, I don’t know if we call it a project, but something fun coming up that you’re starting so tell me about that.

Alicia: We have something fun coming up. As we’re recording this, it is just a cute little baby magazine but, right now, we are working on creating a print magazine, a quarterly print magazine that will encompass all the things that I like to talk about, blog about, share about on Instagram, like faith, homemaking, homeschooling, and motherhood. I’m really excited about it. Like I said, right now as recording, I haven’t seen the real hard copy of my hands quite yet, but it’s coming. I think by the time that this airs, it should be out in the world.

The plan and the idea behind it is to just the whole idea of living well and learning well with our families, with our kids. We have chosen a scripture as the theme for the magazine and so all of– it’s also coming out seasonally so each issue will be based upon the season or the scripture that we’ve chosen for that, for that issue. We’re really excited about it going to be offered as a subscription or single-issue purchase. I found there’s going to be different contributors each issue. It’s exciting. It’s something that I have never done before.

It’s been an interesting process, but very fun as well. I hope that your listeners will check it out.

Amy: I will make sure to have all the information and links to that in the show notes. I’m really excited. Obviously, I write online, I do podcasting online. I’m very thankful for the information online, but I often miss just the days of the hard, the glossy magazine that would come in and you hold in your hand and you cuddle up in the bed. You can’t cuddle up with your phone reading a blog post quite the same way.

Alicia: No, and actually that was a big I’ve had– At this point, it’s been pretty mom, but I have told a few people and I’ve gotten the question several times, but is it going to be offered as a digital and magazine too? It’s actually not because my goal with it is, is to like bring back a little bit of the physical copies, the hard copies, get people off their phone. I know it’s so hard to become unaddicted from the screen, it’s very hard to break that.

This is just my small part of encouraging people and myself to sit down with a cup of tea or a cup of coffee and read something real that you can highlight our dog year and save and keep out on your coffee table and have your friends look through when they come over. Just encourage that just screen-free, however, we can make that work. Let’s do more of that.

Amy: I love that. I can’t wait to see it. That will be something to look forward to. Alicia here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I’m asking all my guests this season. The first one is just what are you reading lately?

What Alicia is reading lately

Alicia: I just finished– speaking of Elisabeth Elliot, I just read a biography called Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and it was really good. I’m just so intrigued by her story. Then I’ve also discovered that I think it was her granddaughter put a bunch of her teachings in podcast form. I read the book and then I’ve been listening to her podcast, which are just so good. Also, just total fluff reading, I just finished a book called Good Neighbors. It’s totally weird and it’s one of those mystery type.

Now I’m looking at all my neighbors, “Oh my gosh, are you mentally deranged like all the people I just read about in this book?” It was good. Just something to zone out and I don’t know why that would help me go to sleep, but it does. Just helping to just chill out at the end night. I just finished both of those.

Amy: I find murder mysteries incredibly relaxing. I think it’s because at the end, justice is served, everything is resolved and it’s just nice to have that justice and peace and order. You know it’s coming at the end of the book.

Alicia: Maybe that’s it. Because this definitely did. Well, it was a weird ending, but it was good.

Alicia’s tips for helping a homeschool day run smoothly

Amy: Alicia, what tips would you give? You’ve already given quite a few that would relate to this question, but if you were going to synthesize things down to one, what would be your best tip for helping a homeschool day run smoothly?

Alicia: I would say besides what we said before getting up early and having a plan. Meal plan for me is a must. Just going to the grocery store one time a week. You’re not running out, go do that, helps a homeschool mom so much because the last thing you want to do is drag all of your children to the grocery store for like an onion or something like that. That helps a ton to have a menu plan. If I don’t, my week is just not good. Also, on the menu, meal plan vein, I like to have freezer meals.

If you’re making a lasagna, make two lasagnas and put one in the freezer. If you’re making tacos, double the taco meat and put some in the freezer, just so you have that to pull out, it’s really handy. If you have somebody sick in your house and you can’t cook as quickly or easily or if you’re busy doing your things, that’s another thing that really, really helps me.

Also, just something that I see a lot of new and bright and shiny curriculum and I know that a lot of it I’m sure is wonderful, but also to new homeschoolers out there that have used something that worked really, really well for their family, keep using it. They’re going to make the next grade level, keep buying that, keep using that for your family. Because personally, I have spent so much money and so much time on math curriculum. I always go back to Saxon because it just works for our family.

I’m like, “Why did I do that? Why do I keep trying different things when I know this is what I’m going to go back to?” Some people hate Saxon, some people love it, which is that’s the beauty of homeschooling. You don’t have to all use the same thing, but I would just say, if something works for your family, then use it and don’t be distracted by all of the new, bright, shiny things all the time. Sometimes it’s easier just to keep your head down and just do what you know works for your kids.

Amy: Such good advice. I think that faithful consistency, even if it’s something simple is so much more valuable than trying to always find the perfect next best greatest thing. Just be faithful, be consistent, do something simple every day and that’s going to serve you a lot better in the long run. Well, Alicia, where can people find you, all around the internet?

Find Alicia Hutchinson online

Alicia: You can find me probably the easiest place is aliciahutchinson.com. That’s my blog, my website. Then on Instagram, my personal page is @overatalicias and then I also have Learning Well, is my homeschool of page on Instagram where every week, every Wednesday, we feature a new homeschool mom. She walks us through her day in life, which is really, really fun.

Amy: I will have links to all those things in the show notes for this episode over at humilityanddoxology.com. Thanks, Alicia. Have a good rest of your afternoon.

Alicia: Thanks, Amy. You too.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

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