I am homeschooling multiple children of varying ages, including having an infant and a toddler. Most days I feel like I’m just in survival mode. How can I get and keep our homeschooling on track without neglecting the little ones?
First, it is important to keep in mind that you are in a season, and seasons come and go. I know from experience that it is easy to feel “stuck” in a season when you are in the midst of a long one, and you start to think the season will never end. The reality is that even if you have many children, and every year you have a new little one in your arms and a toddler or two at your feet, there will indeed come a day when you find that your youngest one is now all grown up. When you arrive in that new season, you will wonder how the time could have flown by so quickly. If you are able to savor the moments from one season to the next instead of just surviving them, you will better recognize what a blessing each season really is (while in the midst of those seasons, instead of merely in hindsight).
Second, keep in mind why you are homeschooling. Have you ever written down your mission statement for homeschooling? If not, prayerfully write it down now. Next, post it somewhere visible to remind you daily of why it is you are homeschooling. At the same time, if the overarching theme of your mission statement does not include I Corinthians 10:31 (“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”), then I encourage you to re-evaluate the goal of your mission.
Once your heart and mind are set on building your homeschooling on the foundation of God’s glory, then it will be far more natural for you to embrace Christ’s promise that if He has called you to homeschooling, then He will indeed see you through it. His promise is to bring you through it not just in survival mode, but in victory mode (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:13 NKJV]). You can experience Christ’s strengthening by incorporating some tried and true homeschooling tips to help make your homeschooling with little ones go more smoothly. I have four main pieces of advice in this regard.
1. Set up a labeled container for each center (like Bible, Reading, Language, Writing, Listening, Social Studies, Science, Math, Arts & Crafts, Music, etc.). Be sure to include a Preschool container with activities your preschooler can only use during “school” (so that the child will look forward to learning center time).
2. Place appropriate learning materials in each box. Include as many hands-on materials as possible.
3. Place the filled and labeled containers on a designated bookshelf unit.
4. Determine when the centers will be used. For example, perhaps you have a busy time in the morning with a nursing infant, or toddlers that need your attention, or a child who needs individualized school attention. During such busy times, announce that it is Learning Centers time. Another option is to set aside a specific time each day just for Learning Centers. During Learning Centers time, your children will be responsible for independently completing a specified number of activities in each of the designated Learning Centers.
5. Providing your children with a checklist on what centers to do (and perhaps even what activities to focus on within each center) will help prevent the “I don’t know what to do in the center!” blues.
Teach Most Subjects to All Your Children Simultaneously
One surefire way to experience homeschool mom burnout and the never-ending feeling of being in survival mode is to try and be supermom by teaching multiple subjects to multiple children at multiple learning levels. When I was homeschooling our multiple children with little ones in that mix, my motto was, “Teach to the older children, and let the younger ones glean what they can.” In other words, I would plan my lessons around the learning needs of my older children. I would then have all my children, regardless of age, sit in on those same lessons. I knew my younger children at that time would eventually become the older children later, so when those same (or related) topics came back around again years later, they would glean more at that time.
Of course, it helps to use a curriculum for each subject that offers activity suggestions for multiple age levels (Mystery of History is such an example), or plan your own age appropriate hands-on activities to go with the lessons. It also helps to choose subject related read-aloud books that will appeal to multiple ages, as opposed to reading out loud textbooks. In addition, be sure to let your little ones play quietly in the same room, or even do some quiet age-appropriate crafts, while you are teaching your lessons to the school-aged children. You may be surprised by what even the little ones pick up on during your lessons. Finally, your older children can study the subjects more in depth on their own to glean even more than what you are able to teach to all the children at the same time.
It is not necessary to cover every single subject every single school day. Make your daily focus the “Three R’s” (being sure to include Bible study as part of reading and writing). Rotate the other subjects throughout the week.
My most chaotic “survival mode” days of homeschooling with little ones happened when I did not plan ahead. I am not talking about planning ahead by a year or months or even weeks. I mean there were times when I did not even plan ahead by a day. Homeschooling one day at a time on a wing and a prayer is a recipe for disaster. I had to discover my optimal “plan ahead” window of time (one to two weeks for me), and then spend one to two days every period by planning and organizing my schedule and materials for that upcoming period. I had to be flexible with my plans as life tends to throw a lot of curveballs (especially when you have little ones), but I learned to at least come up with a skeleton plan that was essential to helping me stay ahead of the curves.
In addition to the option of using a handwritten planner, or even a Word version of a typed planner, there are also plenty of online homeschool planning programs that can help you streamline the planning process. For my children, who much prefer to have a daily checklist outlining their assignments, it was important for me to find a planning program that can easily print out my plans in checklist format. Personally, I have found the best value for a paid homeschool planning program to be the iPad app called Homeschool Helper at http://www.homeschoolhelperapp.com/. If you want a totally free program, a basic Internet search will yield many results. You will probably want to give a few of them a short trial period to see which one you prefer. To get you started on some free options, you can check out the following programs:
http://blog-next.learnboost.com/free-management-software-for-home-schools/ (Be sure to sign up as a teacher or administrator, not as a parent.)
http://www.learning.com (This is a fantastic program that offers more than just a way to digitally organize your homeschool plans.)