Freedom and Flexibility in Our Homeschools (with Emily Copeland)

Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast
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What a joy to chat with Emily Copeland in this week’s Homeschool Conversations episode. Heading into a new year and a new homeschool semester, her encouragement to under-plan and over-deliver, her focus on relationships and the individual persons in our homes, and her experience overcoming the need to prove herself and moving into a place of homeschooling freedom is sure to be an encouragement!

That’s the end of Season 4! Be sure you’re subscribed to Homeschool Conversations with Humility and Doxology wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss Season 5 coming your way in January!

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

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Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast

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Who is Emily Copeland

Emily Copeland is a Christ follower, ministry leader, and home educating mom of two living in coastal North Carolina. She writes at Table Life Blog where she shares tips, ideas, and resources to help others lead well while educating their children.

Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Watch my interview with Emily Copeland

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Amy: Hello, everyone. Today, I am joined by Emily Copeland. Emily, thank you for joining us today.

Emily Copeland: Thanks for having me.

Amy: Emily is a Christ follower, ministry leader, and home-educating mom of two, living in coastal North Carolina, my home state. We’re practically neighbors. She writes at Table Life Blog where she shares tips, ideas, and resources to help others lead well while educating their children. Emily, here at the beginning, I would love for you to tell us just a little bit about yourself, and your family, and how you guys came to start homeschooling.

Emily: Sure. Like you said, I’ve got two kids and we live in coastal North Carolina. My husband and I have been married since 2002. When we got married, we actually were both in ministry at the time. I eventually stepped away from paid ministry, simply because we moved to a church that didn’t have the position I was in available. It was already filled, so I started volunteering and then we ended up having our first child.

Over time, we realized just with the demands of ministry life it was going to be difficult to be at public school or private school. We didn’t have any experience with homeschooling. We personally never knew anybody who had been homeschooled. I was a public school kid, he was a private school kid, but just the demands of ministry life made us look at this and wonder if this would actually allow us to spend more time together.

I think a lot of people who aren’t too familiar with the back end of a church and how it works, they don’t necessarily know that Monday night can be busy, Tuesday night can be busy, Wednesday night can be busy, Thursday night can be busy, Friday night. The whole week can have something going on. We really started thinking about just all the preparation time that went into things that were happening at our churches, and we realized that this was a good option for us because we could be a lot more flexible and still be a family. That’s how we fell into it. We didn’t know anybody. It was quite a renegade thing to do back in 2009, as strange as that sounds. That’s how we found our way to it.

Jami Marstall Charlotte Mason Classical Education Homeschool

How Emily’s Approach to Homeschooling Has Changed and Grown Over the Years

Amy: I love that. I’ve talked to a few people who have mentioned that there was more of this idea about their family structure that really came first. It wasn’t so much necessarily this driving passion for homeschooling or educational philosophy, but it was what they wanted their family to look like. That was really what got them started on homeschooling. Over time, of course, you learn more and more about what you love about it, and why you want to keep going. I would love to hear how your approach to homeschooling and educational philosophy has grown or changed over the years.

Emily: That’s such a good point, because that was not part of the picture at all when we began, that it has totally evolved through the years. I will start out by saying the church we were serving at at that time had several members who were either teachers at the local public school, or they were employees at the local public school, or they were retired from the local public school, and it was a pretty good school. Unfortunately, I felt like I had to prove myself when we began.

I will back up a little bit and say that I researched, and researched, and researched before we started homeschooling. I read up on all the possible ways to do this and I, very early on, felt led to the Charlotte Mason philosophy. I thought, “Oh, you can do that? That sounds amazing.” I really, really liked that early on. I felt very led to doing that, but by the time it came to our purchasing materials and actually making plans, I backed off of that big time because it looked so different from anything I had ever known or anything I had ever seen in action.

Despite the fact that I was automatically led to that kind of nature-based, and literature-based homeschooling, very child-centered in a lot of ways, I put it all on a shelf and I said, “Oh, no, this needs to look like a classroom. This needs to look like a classroom inside our home,” because I’ve got all these people and I need to prove myself. That was so not a good thing, but it’s just the truth of how it started.

Over time, I realized that we had freedom, and it was time for us to take advantage of that freedom. I really, really got off of that kick, of feeling like I had to prove myself. We were probably about three or four years into it before I started gradually shifting to what I felt led to the whole time. I will say, it’s been really interesting because my son is five years older than my daughter. My daughter has had a much more Charlotte Mason-inspired experience than my son, because he’s the guinea pig, and we’re molding and moving along every time.

It’s really nice though, because he still has a lot of that inspiration in what he does every day as a high-schooler, but it’s with our own spin on it, because he’s grown accustomed to certain things over time. I would just say ultimately, you’ve got the roller coaster ride. You start, “I’m going to do it this way, but no, I’m coming down, I’m going to go do it this way.” We’ve just done our little roller coaster.

It started off feeling like we needed to really prove ourselves, and then we’ve, over time, come into these moments where we can just relax and do what’s right for us.

Amy: I think so many moms are going to resonate with that and recognize that how many of us spend so much time worried not just about what we think would be best for our family, but then also we add on the burden of what everyone else is going to think about what we’ve chosen for our family.

Often, we know what would really be best, but we second guess ourselves, or let other people’s questions or ideas sidetrack us from really that perfect, unique, little pathway for our own families. Ultimately, as we go through those ups and downs, we end up finding what we wanted to do originally was probably the best thing anyway. We can forget about the naysayers or forget about the questioners and just do what the Lord’s called us to do.

Emily: That’s absolutely it. I say all the time, my only homeschool regret, if you will, is that I didn’t trust myself more from the beginning. It is what it is, because you learn things along the way. If I had just trusted myself from the beginning, I can almost guarantee there would have been some smoother years there in the beginning. There still would’ve been a learning curve, but we wouldn’t have wasted time with curriculum or methods that really were not for us after all, if I had just listened to what I knew to be true from the beginning.

Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast

Favorite Parts of Homeschooling

Amy: Now, you’ve found what works for you. It’s also good to remember, it’s not too late. You don’t ruin everything just because you have a year or two where you’re distracted. That’s encouraging, I think, for all of us to remember. What are some of your favorite parts of homeschooling?

Emily: The togetherness, it’s amazing. I go back to life in ministry and I think about all the people that I know who are so busy doing all the things. It feels like I’m hearing, “Oh, we just wish we could be together more.” You realize there are so many people out there who basically just live under the same roof. They sleep under the same roof. They just don’t have that time.

I think homeschooling is such a gift because you don’t have to sacrifice the time you have with your kids. You can really and truly walk with them every step of the way, and you can model learning. Just that posture of learning, that we all need to have as adults. Your kids get to have a front row seat watching you learn just as much as you get that front row seat with them. I think the time together is invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I would say that is my number one favorite gift that comes with homeschooling.

Amy: Do you see that togetherness also playing into the relationships with the siblings? Because I think you said there’s a five-year age gap. That reminds me of my own homeschooled experience. I was four years and five grades separate from my younger brother. I really am thankful that we were homeschooled, because we would never really be in the same school, or had the same set of friends if we had followed a more traditional path of education. As it was, we were best buddies all growing up. I really am thankful for that experience. Do you see that playing out with your kids?

Emily: I definitely do. First of all, my son is my oldest, and my daughter’s my youngest. They have wildly different personalities, and yet I really believe this time homeschooling– They’re best friends. They will tell you that, “Hey, my brother’s my best friend.” “My sister’s my best friend.” That is what they had together. Yes, there are times when they might drive each other nuts because of their personality differences, but at the same time, they’re still learning those invaluable skills, of still having to love people, and come alongside them, and get through what they need to get through, even if attitudes are less than perfect one day.

They absolutely have a friendship, and a bond, that I have no doubt they would not get otherwise. It’s really something to watch.

Amy: My oldest and youngest are boys. I have three girls in the middle, so the oldest and youngest are separated by 10 years. I often think about that with them. They have this opportunity to have this brothers’ relationship. Even across such a wide age spread, I’m thankful they have this time together, but certainly not wanting to communicate it’s all roses and unicorns all the time, because best friends, worst enemies, all of those sibling dynamics. We’re all together all the time, which is great, except when it’s not so great.

Emily: Oh, yes. Look, mine share a room, so I get that. They share a bunk bed. He’s got his own little perch up top and the thing about him is he’s very in a box, he’s very orderly, and she is an explosion at all times, because she can’t contain all of her ideas in one place and in one moment. She literally– it’s something to corral, I’ll be honest with you.

Yes, that’s one thing we have to talk to them about all the time. “Hey, you’ve got to respect. He can’t function, he cannot focus in a room that looks like this,” but she still needs her space. I think that they really learn a lot about just being people, meeting each other’s needs in real time. I think that’s life skills, you have to do that with employees your entire life. I’m going to chalk that up to being a good thing.

How do we choose the best things in our homeschools?

Amy: As homeschool moms, Emily, we are inundated by opportunities, and information, podcasts, and blogs, and curriculum catalogs, and all these amazing opportunities we have. There can be so many good ideas that we can sometimes feel overwhelmed, because it’s not like we’re choosing between a good option, a bad option. There’s just a lot of good options, and we can’t do them all. How do we know if we’re doing enough in our home school, and then how do we choose the best things for our own unique families?

Emily: Okay, I have said this before, and I truly believe this, first of all, if you’re stressing out about doing enough, you probably are. In fact, you can probably slip that question and ask yourself if you’re doing too much. I have found in my own experience, of trying to fill in all the possible gaps, that there are many times where you’re doing way more than we need to be doing, and for no reason at all.

I think a lot of times, rather than focusing on enough, let’s look back and go, “Okay, is it too much?”, and then you can piece together, fill in more if you just absolutely feel like you need to.

On that note, I would also say that the idea of enough or too much really can change from season to season. I’ll say just quite honestly, for example, my daughter, even though we have been hardcore Ambleside Online, since she was like, five or six, we’re backing off from that this year, because that’s way too much for her in this season, I have learned that a global pandemic will show you really quickly if you’ve got a child who is inclined to deal with anxiety. For me, this is a season to push pause on that and to go, “We may come back to that later on but that’s too much right now, it’s just too much.”

We’re going to flip our plan, and we’re going to move to Five in a Row. We’re going to go back to that. We did that in preschool. We did that her kindergarten year, and we’re going to go back to Five in a Row because I need to go back to something way more gentle for her right now, because that meets her where she is, right here right now. Is that what I would have planned this time last year? Absolutely not. We would have been chugging right along, going into the next year of Ambleside Online, but I’ve got to meet her where she is, and in this season, that was too much. I do think it’s important to always be evaluating what that looks like from season to season.

On that note, as far as knowing for your individual family, yes, you’ve just got to pay attention to what your people are going through. Whether that’s your family collectively, and what’s going on in the overarching scheme, or if it’s your kids individually. Like I said, my daughter, we’re working through some stuff with her. My son, he’s chugging along, he’s doing fine. We’ve decided to do a five-year high school plan with him instead of the traditional four years, but that also took taking a step back and going, “Hey, what if we added an extra year? Would that help you? Would you feel like you had more time to pursue your interests?”

It took having that conversation to really know what was going to work best for him. I do think that a lot of times, it’s just really stepping back before you plow ahead with your planning, and really just seeing what your people need and the season they’re in.

Amy: I love how you’re focusing on the relationships, on the people, the individuals in your home, instead of just a checklist, as if our children are somehow like machines, or mechanical, that we just push buttons and do the right thing, and pull levers, and we just move forward mechanically. Because we’re not, we’re persons as Charlotte Mason would say, children are born persons, and our children need us to be aware of who they are as individuals.

That may be that the curriculum plan that our friends, all the cool kids, that we’re like, “Oh, that’s going to be a great fit,” it may just not be a fit for our individual children, either in general, or for that time, and saying no to it now, doesn’t mean you’re saying no to it forever. It just means right now, this isn’t what’s best for my child or for our family. That’s so important to not have the curriculum, or the system that we’re following, be our masters. We’re still in charge of discipling our children, paying attention to them, and really caring for them as individuals.

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Emily: Yes, and if something’s not serving them well right now, it’s okay to not use that anymore. Like you said, you can always come back to it if you want to, but there’s a long way just to address what needs to be addressed right here, right now, because it’s really your only shot to do so.

Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast

How can we create a doable, flexible, realistic homeschool plan?

Amy: Yes. Well, when it comes to actually creating that daily plan, that semester plan, as we’re moving from the big picture to actually now we actually have to know what we’re doing when we get up in the morning, how do we create a doable plan that keeps us on track and keeps our children on track, but is flexible enough to shift and change with the realities of daily life?

Emily: Right. My favorite thing that I’ve learned over the years with this is to build in a margin day. We do this on Fridays. Fridays, I literally plan maybe one or two things, and they’re easy, quick things that don’t require a whole lot, and then I don’t plan anything else. If, for some reason, we didn’t finish a lesson on Wednesday, well, guess what? That can roll over ’til Friday, and it’s going to be okay. Same thing if you don’t want to do it weekly, you can do it monthly. You can have saved two or three days near the end of the month, where you can play catch-up.

It is such a relief, to know that you’ve got time built into your schedule, and you can tackle things that just didn’t happen because life happened instead, and you can do that without throwing yourself completely off track. I do believe you’re never truly behind, I get that. That’s great, it’s a wonderful thing to hold on to, but realistically, even if you’ve got goals you set for yourself, you really can get thrown off, and it gets really discouraging if you keep having to mark through and mess up your planner, or you move too many things around. It feels like you’re never going to finish.

I do really, really, really think having those margin days, it’s such a lifesaver. It really, really is. I absolutely say to build that margin into your schedule.

 Then also, just realistically, be real with yourself about the expectations you have for yourself and for your children. Like I said, I’ve only got two kids and mine are five years apart, but I can tell you, without a doubt, the hardest years of homeschooling so far, were when my daughter was a toddler. It was fine when she was a baby and she slept more, but she was into everything. It made it really difficult to sit down and do math for an hour with my son at that time.

If you’ve got little ones, you need to make sure that you are building into your schedule, plenty of margin, and I would say to plan less. Really and truly give yourself the time and the room you need to do what you need to do. If that comes in the form of that less is more approach, then so be it. It’s not going to last forever. It’s only for a season, but I think you’ll really benefit and have a much less stressful experience if you’re not trying to do all the things every day.

Amy: I think what you were saying is so smart, and I think it’s so important to have margin and white space in our home school schedule. I’ve never thought to actually consider it a margin day. I love that idea. I have talked to moms before about the budget analogy. If you created a family budget for your money, and you had every single penny allocated but something’s going to break, and all of a sudden, where’s that money going to come from, because every penny was accounted for?

You would never think to yourself, “Oh, I really want to go to Hawaii, so I’m just going to put that on the plan,” if it doesn’t actually match up with your family’s spreadsheet. So often that we do that with our home school planning, we have all these great ideas and we don’t actually see that there’s no possible way to fit that into the actual 24-hour day, even if you did 6 days a week, goodness.

Emily: Yes, I’ve never thought of that with the budget, but that makes total sense, because it’s an exact parallel. If you give yourself that room, you will use it, but it’s almost like you have to have it, or it’s not just going to come out of thin air.

Amy: You have an emergency fund with your money. We need an emergency fund with our time, too.

Emily: It’s called Friday.

Working as a Homeschool Mom

Amy: I love that. Emily, last year I actually did a whole little mini-series with talking to all sorts of different moms who were working full-time or part-time while homeschooling. It was so encouraging. I think a lot more moms are facing that, even probably more over the past year or two. There are moms who are working outside the home, working inside the home, part-time, full-time, all these different things.

It can be really tricky, but it’s also encouraging to hear from other moms to know this is possible, you can do it. I would love to hear from you a little bit about what your work life looks like, and then what would be your strategies, or tips, or encouragement for other moms who are trying to combine and balance homeschooling with their work commitments.

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Emily: There are times I’m better about this than others. If I’m being completely transparent, this is not a month where I am rocking this. I am many days right now, just flying by the seat of my pants, as they might say, but usually it’s not that way.

Most of the time, I have my website that I’m running, and I’m writing, and doing all the things that come with blogging. I don’t necessarily know that everybody knows what a list of things are involved when it comes to running that website, and maintaining the website, and doing all the back-end tech stuff, and then also writing, and creating the content. There’s really a lot that goes into that. In addition to that, I also have some client work that I do that involves graphic design, and product creation, and things like that. I love doing those side jobs also.

With that said, there’s a lot going on. I really think the key to all of that, especially if you’re working from home, is to be upfront with your family about what you’ve got going on. If you’ve got deadlines, they can’t help you make dinner that night, or do the house cleaning, or run errands. They can’t help you do any of that if they don’t know you’ve got those deadlines. Be upfront about the times when you’ve got extra projects, or you’re specifically working on something, because if you’re going to get help, it’s going to be because you’ve been upfront and you’ve said, “Hey, I could use some help in this area right now. I’ve got a lot going on.”

I would say being upfront helps a lot.

I would also say creating boundaries helps a lot. If you don’t respect your time and if you don’t use your time efficiently, you can’t expect other people to respect it. If that means friends call and ask if you want to go meet up for this or meet up for that, you may literally have to say, “You know what, I can’t today. I’m working today, but what about Friday? Can we do that Friday? That would be much better for me because I’m not working on Friday.”

Just be real about your own expectations and your own schedule the same way you would be if you physically left your house to “go to work”. I think that just being honest about what you’ve got going on helps whether that is your own family or external commitments. Guarding your time, and then I would also just say, you’ve got to be committed. You’ve got to be focused.

I think one of the hardest things about homeschooling and working, especially when you have something that’s a flexible job, if you will, is, “Oh, hey, they’re doing this math lesson right now, I can check my phone and see what emails have come in.” It feels like you’re always distracted because you’re trying to do 10 different things at one time.

I would just really caution against that as much as possible. Try not to do that so that when you’re homeschooling, you’re homeschooling, you’re all in, and your kids don’t lose your focus, because I find that you can really waste a day having your kids waiting for you to come back and pay attention. It’s not modeling attention very well. It’s not modeling good habits very well. I do think it really goes a long way to even guard your homeschooling time, just as much as you’re guarding your work time. Wherever you are, be all in and let that be it.

Amy: That is a really good encouragement, and a reminder for me as well, because I also am trying to balance these things and so often it is, it’s like you’re trying to multitask, but really what you’re doing is not giving your all to either side. Sometimes that’s appropriate, sometimes you have to do that, but to just be more intentional with the time direction. Then your just encouragement to talk, use your words. We tell our kids, use your words. It doesn’t help anybody if you’re all miffed in your head because somebody didn’t magically know you needed help if you haven’t used your words to tell them.

Emily: Yes. I can be really bad about that because internally I can be thinking, “Why didn’t they notice this, this, this and this? It wouldn’t have been that hard,” but my goodness, I could have said something. I really could have said something. Most of the time, if I’m irritated or feeling overwhelmed, it was completely avoidable. I have found that it’s just better for everybody if I am upfront about what I have going on.

Freedom Flexibility homeschooling Emily Copeland Table Life Blog Homeschool Conversations Podcast

What Emily is Reading Lately

Amy: That’s just good life advice right there, probably, outside of even homeschooling and work life, just be upfront with people. It’s good. We’re here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I’m asking all of my guests this season. The first question is just what are you reading lately?

Emily: I have to confess, I’m really bad, if you want to say bad, about reading multiple things at once. Usually I have a stack going. On my Kindle right now, I am reading Raising Worry-Free Girls by Sissy Goff, I alluded to that earlier. That’s been a really good one for me to work through so we can get in front of anything that might be developing and go ahead and use the tools that are available to us, to even pass those tools along to my daughter. That’s been a really good book.

I am also reading, along with my son, Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Chronicles. It’s the Austin Family Series, and I’m working through The Young Unicorns right now. He’s been reading those, he loves those. I like to know what’s going on in his literary world, so I’m reading those as well. I’ve just started that one. Then the other happens to be Madeleine L’Engle also. I’ve just started her Genesis Trilogy. I’m literally in the very first book of that.

I actually love her nonfiction. He loves her fiction, and I like her fiction, but I adore her nonfiction. I’m happy to be opening up another one of those. I got it for Christmas, and I’m just now having a chance to open it. I’m working through the Genesis Trilogy and I’m working through some of her fiction, and then on the more parenting end, I’m working on Raising Worry-Free Girls.

Amy: I read her memoir, A Circle of Quiet, a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed that.

Emily: Oh, I love that, whole series is so good, so life-giving.

Emily’s Best Tips to Keep the Homeschool Day Running Smoothly

Amy: My final question here is, what are your best tips to keep the homeschool day running smoothly?

Emily: I mentioned a little bit about the less is more philosophy. I still hold on to that. I realize, yes, there are times when you really do have to get things done, but when it comes to your planning, I don’t know if you’ve heard that whole expression, I think it applies to work, but under-promise, over-deliver. I think we could look at our homeschool plans that way also. Why don’t we under-plan but over-deliver? I think when you plan to do less, “Okay, great. I got it done, I’m good,” but if you over-deliver, “Hey, wow, we really did it today. That’s great.”

When it comes to the plans, I think it’s just such a relief because you don’t feel like you’ve been defeated before you even start the day. I really believe in the under-planning so that you can over-deliver. Then, that way you’ve got time for exploration, you’ve got time for curiosity.

Right now, I’m not going to show you, but over to this side, my kid has a whole pile full of Magna-Tiles in the floor. Earlier today, she was messing with Snap Circuits. If you under-plan, you have time for those creative endeavors and we don’t want to be so busy that we don’t give our kids time to explore, and to experiment, and to learn on their own. Yes, that’s it. That’s my ultimate thing as far as a smooth day, whether it’s for you, yourself leading the homeschooling, or whether it’s for your kids. I think it’s really good for us when we under-plan and over-deliver.

Amy: I think you and I have a similar approach to planning there. I often say I like to plan like a pessimist, and then execute like an optimist. Go in assuming everything’s going to go wrong and plan accordingly, and then it makes it a lot more fun to actually execute the plan, and it goes much better than I anticipate it. I’d rather it be that way or the other way.

Emily: Yes, I like that. It’s the same thing is if I’m here, here’s what I’m going to give you today. If I give you so much more, we all feel like rock stars.

Find Emily Copeland Online

Amy: Exactly. Emily, where can people find you all around the internet?

Emily: Okay. I am at I believe pretty much everywhere social media-wise, I’m at TableLifeBlog. On Twitter, I’m Emily_Copeland, but I don’t exclusively talk about homeschooling there. Sometimes there’s other stuff mixed in. Instagram, I spend the most time there, but yes, I’m @TableLifeBlog there, and same thing for Facebook, and even Pinterest if you still want to call that social media.

Amy: I will have all those things linked up in the show notes for this episode over at Thanks so much, Emily, for joining us today.

Emily: Thanks for having me.

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