a homeschool life conversation with maren jones

Hello! My name is Maren & I am the lucky wife of Dan Jones.  We met on a blind date in high school & have been married for almost 18 years.  We have 6 children: Averee 13.5, Adelyn 11.5, Owen 10, Reese 7, Gavin 4 & Fisher 3.  We live in beautiful Southern Utah. We enjoy the outdoors; boating, camping, fishing, hiking, traveling, playing games, & watching movies.  But nothing beats a date night, or even better-a vacation with just us two.


Why do you homeschool?

Well, that's a loaded question isn't it?  The short answer is because we truly felt guided in this direction by our Heavenly Father.  We know that this is the right path for our family right now.  We feel like they are in our home for such a short time & we want to use that time to spend as much attention & effort that we feel necessary to prepare them for life.  An academic education is important, but we also wanted the time to teach life skills, morals & values.  Now we have plenty of time to focus on what matters most to us, the peace in our home is palpable.  Our life no longer revolves around the public school schedule & calendar. We have the freedom to do what we want, when we want & how we want.  What a blessing!

What does your morning routine look like?

I wake up at 6:15 to enjoy my Miracle Morning before the kids wake up, which includes prayer, scripture study, journaling, calendaring/scheduling, creative outlets, meditation/affirmations, & quick simple exercise to get my heart & mind going.  I love this quiet time alone, mostly spent with the Lord & his scriptures.  It is the perfect way to start my day.  I am more purposeful & focused when I start the day on the right foot.

Our field trip group with a Ranger at Sand Hollow State Park.

Our field trip group with a Ranger at Sand Hollow State Park.

We eat breakfast together at 7:00 before Daddy heads out the door to work.  We own a landscape company, so sometimes he leaves before breakfast.  We usually have a hot breakfast--it seems to keep them fuller longer.  But we have our fair share of cold cereal too, especially during the hot weather!

The kids have their morning routine of brush teeth, get dressed, comb hair, make bed, practice instrument, & do breakfast clean up chore.  They rotate through the breakfast clean up chores of dishes, clear table, wipe counters & take out the garbage.  While they are busy with their morning routine, I am rotating a load of my laundry (they do their own, but more on that later), showering & getting dressed for the day.

How do you do meals on a typical homeschool day?

For breakfast, I decide what to make & usually have it ready by the time they come down at 7:00.  For lunch, the older 4 kids are on their own.  Mostly they have sandwiches, pasta, fruit, left-overs, whatever they can get for themselves.  Of course I am around if there is something they need help with, but mostly they fend for themselves. Survival skills right? ;)

My kids love to help in the kitchen, so they have a day each week that they plan the dinner menu & help prepare.  I sit down with each of them about every 2 weeks & plan what they want to have for dinner on their next 2 nights.  I like to grocery shop for 2 weeks at a time, so this works perfect.  I have loved this for several reasons: less complaining about the dinners, I don't have to come up with as many meals on my own, they are learning life skills in the kitchen, & I get one-on-one time with each of them...which can be hard to come by in a big family.  They take a lot of pride in their dinners & it's fun to see their progress & confidence grow.

What does your school planning involve?
The curriculum we use (Latter-day Learning-The Family School) is pretty much laid out for us, I just follow along & supplement with extra activities as they come along.  Each weekend I look through the lessons for the coming week, gather & print materials, & fine tune the schedule for the week.  We have a small group that meets for a book club every other month &  holiday parties.  We met before school started & mapped out the year & picked the books for the book club.  We also try to meet up with other field trip & hiking groups when they have activities planned. I found these groups through Facebook & they have been a wonderful addition to our school days. They generally meet on the same day/time each week or month so they are easy to plan around.

How do you teach different ages/different needs?

The curriculum we use is geared towards teaching multiple children of varying ages. The one room schoolroom approach.  They all get the same subject lesson, but then their assignments are geared towards their skill level.  For instance, my oldest will write a research paper on the subject & my 7 year old will draw & label a picture.  It has been a wonderful experience to learn alongside my children. The curriculum we use also tries to incorporate different learning styles into each lesson.  There is usually a video to watch, a story to read, a hand-ons craft or activity, ways to engage the different learning styles.


How do you handle kids acting out, complaining, or not wanting to do schoolwork?

What do you mean?  My kids are perfect angels ;)  Actually something that has worked well for us is Screen-Time Passes.  When they finish their morning work, they get a Screen-Time Pass.  When they finish their afternoon work, they get a Screen-Time Pass.  If they misbehave, talk back, fight or don't finish something, they lose a Screen-Time Pass.  The Passes are good for 30 minutes of Screen-Time to be used on Friday after school or Saturday.  We have a no Screen-Time policy the rest of the week except for the app Duolingo, that they use each day to study Spanish.  Usually they are too busy playing with friends or doing family activities on Friday & Saturday that they rarely use all the Passes they have earned.  So on Sunday, they can redeem their leftover Passes for 50 cents each.  Sadly, screen-time is such a huge motivator these days (for all of us!) that this system has worked wonders in our home, from the youngest to the oldest.

What is the general schedule of your day?

After their morning routine, we start school at 9:00.  We begin with a devotional that includes prayer, scripture reading, pledge & songs.  We started with memorizing songs that taught the order of the books in the scriptures, then songs that taught the order of church prophets & leaders.  Now we have started focusing on one hymn a month. 

Then we put on some classical music & the kids work through their check lists that include math, reading (1 hour for the older kids), journal, poetry memorization, Spanish, & gospel programs (Personal Progress, Faith in God).  I rotate through the kids, helping where needed.  My 7 year old gets the most one-on-one attention.  She is a late reader, so we work on that a lot.  This usually goes pretty smoothly, as long as I can keep the 3 & 4 year old from distracting the older kids!  I can usually keep them pretty busy with puzzles, manipulatives, flash cards, or learning videos like Leapfrog's Letter Factory & Word Factory etc.

Then we break for lunch, lunch clean-up chores, regular chores & recess time.  They finish these up while I put our youngest Fisher down for a nap.  He's my baby so I 'spoil' him by laying with him till he falls asleep. Honestly, this is my favorite time of the day.  I get to snuggle with my last baby & sneak in a much needed cat nap!

Next is our Latter-Day Learning Family School subject lesson for the day.  We rotate through science, geography, history, literature, art, music, & Shakespeare.  We study each subject for a unit (about a week) then move to the next.  As I mentioned before, its designed as a one-room schoolroom. So we all do the same lesson, but assignments are specific to their age/skill level. 

Keeping the littles busy (and learning) with a puzzle.

Keeping the littles busy (and learning) with a puzzle.

Last, but not least, I read aloud to them.  This was one of the reason I was drawn to homeschool-more reading time!  We have read some amazing books together & bonded so much through those experiences.  We have learned a lot together & had some great conversations. 

Of course, some days we need to adjust this schedule...we skip the morning work to go to book club, or we leave off the afternoon work to go on a field trip instead.  But this is a pretty typical day.

We have some great adventures with our hiking group.

We have some great adventures with our hiking group.

How do you keep your house clean/laundry done?

As I mentioned, the kids all have chores to help clean up after meal times & they have general cleaning chores as well.  Pretty much the only cleaning I do is general pick up, dusting & downstairs floors.  I don't even clean my own bathroom!  Is my house super clean...as clean as I would like? No. There will be plenty of time for a clean house when the kids are gone.  But my children are learning life skills & contributing to our family.  I live by the motto that our home is 'clean enough to be healthy, but messy enough to be fun!'

As for laundry, each of the 4 older kids have a laundry day.  They are responsible for doing their laundry & putting it away.  If they don't get it done on their assigned day, then they have to wait till the weekend.  So yes, even my 7 year old does her own laundry.  More life skills are being learned & applied-it's awesome! 

Our book club discussions are quite insightful..kids pick up on more than we think!

Our book club discussions are quite insightful..kids pick up on more than we think!

What are your daily essentials (must-do daily things)?

For myself its the Miracle Morning that I mentioned earlier...that book by Hal Elrod has literally changed my life.  It sounds cliche, I know.  But I have always considered myself "not a morning person," even though I really wanted to be & I saw the value in it.  Well, that book has transformed me into a morning person & I love it!  As long as I can start my day with sincere prayer to my Heavenly Father & time with his word in the scriptures I feel like I can conquer my day. Because let's face it--homeschooling can be hard & I need all the help I can get!

For the kids it's math & read aloud time with me.  As long as they get those 2 things I am a happy momma!

Making our solar system mobile.

Making our solar system mobile.

What helps you on a hard day?

Can I say hiding in the closet with chocolate?  But seriously, there isn't anything that chocolate & prayer can't fix! I also try to remind myself that what really matters are the relationships I have with my children & that helps me stay focused during those hard days.

What makes a really great day?

We love field-trips!  We love getting out in the world and exploring & learning together.  Whether its a nature field-trip, or a museum, a hike, or a book club with our homeschool friends...we love spending that time out in the world together.
What do you do to rejuvenate yourself?
I love to read, listen to podcasts or conference talks, but date nights with my main squeeze probably rejuvenates me the most.  Danny is such a grounding & calming influence for me.  He is incredibly smart & insightful.  He is a great listener & I know he always has my back...and my hand.

We love getting outside.

We love getting outside.

What are your long-term education goals for your family?

I hope my kids will keep their love of learning & curiosity.  I hope for them to be good, kind people who contribute to society.  I pray they will be prepared for whatever this life has in store for them.  If that means college, trade school, or no college-it's up to them.  I pray & work hard each day that they will be prepared to take advantage of all that comes their way.  I hope to be able to help them know their Heavenly Father, gain a testimony & be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am excited to see them become all that He can make of them. I am humbled I get to play a small role in all of this.

What do you love most about homeschooling?

The time spent with my children, nurturing our relationships, learning & growing together is what I love most about homeschooling.  They are my favorite people & I love learning right along side them.  They are helping me become a better version of myself & for that I am forever grateful.

Maren is a Christ-following, book-reading, party-planning, cupboard-organizing, food-loving, nap-taking, husband-smooching, adventure-seeking, hardcore deliberate mother.  You can connect with Maren on Instagram @marenjones.