The morning light sifts through the trees, casting shadows on the worn dirt path. Birds call back and forth as if they are talking to one another. A gentle summer breeze whispers through the leaves of the oak trees, beckoning all to come near and enter into the refreshing shade. No one who enters that wood, except for one, really knows how special it is. In this quiet place, battles have been fought, kingdoms have been won, heart-wrenching decisions have been made, and amazing things have been discovered.

No one knows, except for one person, that the worn dirt path has been a throne room, the deck of a ship, and a busy street. Yes, that path and wood are special. You see, that path is the one on which I have walked since we moved into our house more than 10 years ago. I am that one person who has played and dreamed there for the past 10 years.

I found the spot not long after we moved to our house and five acres in central Texas almost 11 years ago. Ever since then, it has been my place to think my problems out and work out my stories. Having time to do that has been my favorite part of being homeschooled.

In today's homeschooling world, it is very easy to get overcommitted. I see families all the time who are involved in so many good activities that they have trouble doing any of them well. I have talked to kids who feel so overwhelmed with all the co-ops and other groups they're part of, and I feel sorry for them. I feel that they are missing out on the greatest blessing of homeschooling—free time.

Now, don't get me wrong. Co-ops and all those other activities can be very good and helpful, but as you all know, you can have too much of a good thing. Time to learn and explore on my own has been the best part of my homeschooling experience. I spent two years learning what life was like in the Middle Ages and reading every book I could find on the subject, just because I wanted to. I loved the time period so much that the first book I ever wrote was set there. My mom let me teach my younger siblings a small unit study about it because I wanted to share what I had learned with them.

However, the real value of making sure that kids have plenty of free time is that it teaches them things they could never learn in a textbook.

I know things about animals that your textbooks never taught you. Did you know that chickens snore at night? Yes, it sounds funny, and it is like begging the raccoons to come and eat them (chickens are rather stupid animals). Raccoons are very smart animals; they can figure out how to get into just about any chicken coop that is. You can't just put a simple latch on the door; they will lift it right up and help themselves to fresh chicken. Did you know that every goat has its own personality? Did you know that ruby-throated hummingbirds won't share feeders with other hummingbirds? All of this I learned in the free time I had, not from a textbook.

I loved having the time to go sit on the hammock and look up at the green leaves and watch them move in the wind, or stop to watch a colorful beetle walk across the path. I loved watching the creek carry a yellow leaf downstream or a turtle make his slow way across the road. The time doing just about nothing was fun and relaxing.

But by far, I am most grateful for all the free time to pursue and develop my love of writing. Writing is one of those things that takes time and practice to develop well. Since my first book, which I started when I was 11, I have worked hard to become a better writer. At first it was just learning the basic grammar and spelling that I needed to know so my family could read my stories without asking me what I meant by something every few minutes. (I figured out how to use the computer to run spelling and grammar checks.) As I began to write more and look at writing as a career, I studied things like how to grab people's attention and keep it, as well as more advanced subjects (and since you're reading this article, that means I learned the basics well enough).