In my imagination, I am the perfect teacher: knowledgeable, patient, fun. My children are the perfect students: eager to learn, capable, never have to be told twice. We sit together at our backyard table (for some reason, my idealized homeschool vision always has us outside in perfect weather), and we are joyfully engaged in whole-family learning.
Everyone — even the baby — is hanging avidly to every well-chosen word that drops from my smiling (always smiling) mouth. I give a well-received lecture or reading, and then we act out some major historical event. I am secure in the knowledge that my children will always remember everything we’ve learned, because of all the fun we had learning and acting it out.
In reality, it is never (NEVER) like this. We do homeschool outside sometimes, but the wind blows our papers
around (somehow, there is no wind in my imagination). In reality, I am juggling the baby on one hip, struggling (and usually failing) to capture the attention of my middles, and never able to go far enough, fast enough for my eldest.
The reality is that it is a real challenge to homeschool with little ones. A grueling battle, engaged in daily — with results that are barely discernable in the day-to-day, but which, over time, really do come to fruition. These are the three most important things that I have discovered over the past few years of homeschooling.
1. Plan for Short Terms
Forget the year plan, the semester plan, and even the term plan. Think shorter. Little ones go through different stages quickly — and you need to readjust your schedules and plans accordingly.
The newborn who sleeps and nurses all day actually gives you a lot of time to focus on sit-down school with your bigger ones. Learning to read, for example, can take place cuddled on the couch together while you breastfeed the baby. More active work can be saved for those long naptimes.
But within a couple of months, that newborn has turned into a big baby who may have his own opinion about naptime — and you may find that you need to adjust your schedule around baby. Similarly, there is a time when a toddler begins to take shorter or less consistent naps, and you may need to do some tweaking of the schedule to accommodate this.
Plan for short terms, maybe monthly or bimonthly. It is much less discouraging when you’ve planned to adjust for a change in baby-schedule. If you’ve planned for it, it is not a failure in your schedule, but something you have expected to happen.
2. Plan Classes for Your Big Ones to Teach the Little Ones
Do you have a certain class that’s hard to get done with the little ones around? Perhaps your eldest child really needs some help — and quiet — during Math. Or maybe the middlest needs some extra quiet during spelling. This is a great way to get your older children to help you with the younger — happily!
- Go to the dollar store and buy all kinds of fun little projects: wooden 3-D puzzles; paint-by-numbers; ceramic figurines and wooden ornaments for painting; little square artist’s canvases; construction paper, markers, glue and a Things To Make book; the messier the better. Choose things that will appeal to your children, things that will be novel, that they haven’t done before — and choose LOTS!
- Take a big ol’ box and fill it up with all of these treasures. Show the children — but it’s look, don’t touch! The more anticipation you can build up, the better.
- Tell the children what these treasures are for — it’s for their special time with their big/little brother/sister. Special, one-on-one time. Tell the older child that they will be teaching art class to their little sibling.
- Schedule a time for each younger child to be kept busy by an older child — your older child will keep the little one busy while you are working on that Math work with your eldest, or tutoring your middlest in spelling.
- Don’t let this session go on for too long. It has to stay fresh for it to work. Twenty minutes to half an hour, depending on the attention spans of your children.
- Be sure they are set up outdoors, or in a room where you don’t mind the inevitable paint spills.
- Keep it fresh — fill up the treasure box regularly, and don’t let your children into it other than during this special art class!
3. Don’t Try to Accomplish too Much
You need to be flexible in your goal-setting. Homeschooling is most frustrating when you feel that you aren’t accomplishing what you’ve intended. Sometimes, you just have to adjust those expectations. What is most important for each child? If you get that done, you are getting somewhere, day by day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
We do Math daily, but the other subjects vary from term to term. Reading is important to keep up with, especially with new readers, but once they are reading independently, you have some more flexibility with how you incorporate it into other subjects.
Attempting perfection only leads to burnout. Decide what’s most important, and stick with that.
What tips do you have for keeping school going while you have a houseful of little ones? I would love to hear!