10 Tips from Homeschooling Moms of Four or More
By Jill Hardy
As a stay at home mom, homeschooling four kids, I’m always on the lookout for ideas that will make life easier. I’ve found myself particularly interested in hearing advice from women with lots of children, who have been doing this longer than I have. By no means am I suggesting that the experience of families with one or two children isn’t relevant. My point is simply that the parents of several children engage in some seriously creative thinking to accomplish ordinary day to day tasks. This article is simply a collection of tips, gathered from ‘Moms of Many’, and is intended to supply helpful suggestions for homeschooling, maintaining your home, and generally keeping it all in balance.
Tip #1: Before you start homeschooling, evaluate your home’s discipline.
Every home has a method of discipline in place whether they realize it or not (I’m using the word ‘discipline’ here to mean training, nothing else). You’ve acted as a trainer, or coach for your child since the time they were born, teaching them to speak, tie their shoes, etc. Homeschooling is simply an extension of that role. Many people, especially those making a transition from public school, find it helpful to set aside a time for reflection, before jumping into that first homeschool year. Is the relationship between you and your child one that will easily facilitate teacher/pupil roles? Do you need to redefine your idea/method of discipline? This is the time to make necessary adjustments, even if it costs you some time in getting to the academics. Much better to address potential problems now, than deal with battles and power struggles while trying to teach math and phonics! Don’t feel like a ‘bad parent’ if you find yourself needing to make some changes. Lots of people have made very positive adjustments that they may never have had the opportunity to address had they not been spending so much time with their kids through homeschooling! Think of your children’s education as a house, with yourself as the architect and them as the builders/owners. This time of reflection is like the foundation. Once the foundation is set, you’re ready to build!
Tip #2: Books and curricula are tools, nothing more.
Remember the house analogy: You’re the architect, and the goals you determine for your children’s education are the blueprint. You’re also the supplier, since you have to provide your builders with the materials they’ll need! We do have a responsibility to our children to research, and weigh the pros and cons of the different curricula available. But the idea that the end result is completely dependent on making the right choice of materials is not only flawed; it could really drive you batty if you let it! Yes, superior tools make a job easier, but they don’t build on their own. Some of the materials you get may not be ideal, but time and money constraints require that you find a way to make them work. Others may simply not be right for the job. It’s up to you to decide where to draw that line. A word of encouragement for those of you who experience ‘curricula anxiety’; the abundance of choices available in the curricula market today wasn’t there twenty years ago, and homeschooling pioneers did very well with what they had available to them. Again, be grateful for all of the choices out there, but prepare yourself for the hard truth that there may not be a perfect curriculum that exactly suits your needs.
Tip #3: Educate yourself about learning styles.
Much has been written on ‘learning styles’ in the past several years, and homeschooling offers a unique opportunity to tailor teaching to a child’s specific personality. But don’t get so caught up in the thought that everything must be specialized that you find yourself dissatisfied with everything that doesn’t lend itself easily to your child’s ‘style’. Incorporate learning style information into your teaching. Moms with several children discover first hand the benefit of using a variety of methods to explain the same thing. It gives you a better chance of being able to reuse that nonconsumable text! You can also teach your child about the way he learns, and help him find ways to adapt information. Of course, there’s always the option to change a book or curriculum that isn’t doing the job. But by not limiting yourself to curricula that are ‘style-specific’, you may enrich your experience with a great program that you may not have chosen had you known that it was ‘visual’, etc. And you will definitely increase your child’s chances for success through college and beyond. Not many professors or supervisors are concerned with tailoring information to each individual’s need, but a person who understands how to take unfamiliar materials and decipher them in his own way will have a valuable skill. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of trouble, you’re right. It may be difficult in the beginning. But as your children grow, it will actually make the job of teaching them easier, because they will begin to realize what it takes to teach themselves.
Tip#4: Effort spent on devising activities for a toddler is not wasted.
Those of you with little ones have probably already found this out the hard way! Try spending time with the youngest child before school time. Filling their need for attention first might help them to give you some time to focus on others. Keep some toys that are only brought out at school time, along with coloring books, paper, and crayons. If you have more than one school age child, consider having them alternate between one on one time with you and playing with younger siblings. There is the possibility that older children may balk at spending so much time with the ‘baby’. If this is the case, try describing this as ‘preschool time’ with the older child as the ‘teacher’. Use your own good judgment about what activities are safe and age appropriate. I’ve suggested some resources at the end of this article, and many ideas that you’ll find could easily be assembled ahead of time. Even if you’re still in the same room, having a productive activity can have a ‘quietening’ effect.
Tip #5: Don’t feel guilty about getting outside help with housework.
If you can afford it, that is! When you decide to keep your children at home to school, you’ve added a responsibility that many parents have delegated to someone else. In the case of private schools, they are paying someone to assume that responsibility. If you have the means to pay for someone else to handle some of your domestic responsibilities, there’s no more shame in it than there would be for paying someone to educate your children. Traditional maid services aren’t the only option out there, you can hire an acquaintance to come help out with laundry (one mom I know has done just that), or come up with your own inventive solutions.
Tip #6: Your kids can do more around the house than you realize.
By and large, the trend that I’ve seen in large families is to include children in daily household responsibilities. And the list of those responsibilities has ranged from taking care of younger siblings (in the teen years) to helping with laundry (at age 3). If they contribute to the mess, they can contribute to the clean up! Develop a list of responsibilities that they can ease into, and increase it as they get older. And if they ask if they can do something, let them try! The results achieved by a small person using only water may not make your floor look like it does after you’ve mopped, but it may buy you an extra day or two before it requires thorough cleaning.
Tip #7: Spend time planning ahead for meals.
This can be as in-depth as ‘bulk cooking’ (cooking several meals in advance to keep in the freezer), or as simple as thinking about lunch at breakfast, and dinner at lunch. My personal modification to the bulk cooking idea is to cook large portions of meat at one time, using some of it for that night’s dinner, and freezing the rest in entree sized portions. This way, I have it on hand for those nights when I find myself facing the stove with little prep time and/or energy! Experiment with variations of systems until you find what works for you.
Tip #8: If you struggle with ‘scheduling’, try routines instead.
What’s the difference between a schedule and a routine? A schedule is generally a timed plan; routines are regular, habitual procedures. Programs and systems that use schedules to get people organized can be wonderful things, and I’ve included some links to popular ones below. If you’ve tried to implement a schedule into your homeschool and found that it didn’t seem to fit with what you were trying to do, try and develop some routines. They don’t have to be done in the same order, or even at the same time each day, but you might set some general guidelines (before breakfast, before lunch, etc.). Experiment with a school routine. Are there things your children can do on their own? Make up a list, and get them in the habit of doing what they can on their own before they come to you. This may take some time to develop, but just as with other worthy habits (diligence, punctuality, etc.), the benefit will be that it will save time in the future.
Tip #9: Take time to keep family relationships healthy.
You may be concerned about all of the ‘togetherness’ of homeschooling. After all, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, doesn’t it? From what I’ve personally witnessed of homeschooling families, the opposite is usually true. One mother of seven told me that aside from requiring siblings to treat each other well, she considers a ‘Family Night’ to be of great importance to their family’s peace. She and her husband also have a ‘date night’ with just the two of them as often as they can. A ‘Family Night’ might seem like overkill to some, I mean, aren’t we together all day, every day, already? Well, yes, but don’t underestimate the power of setting aside time just for enjoying each other, if it seems to be all ‘business’ lately. Sometimes we’re spending less time together than we think, between rehearsals, music lessons, and sports. And while you may have reasons that preclude your going out of the house on a date with your spouse, there is something to be said for taking some one on one time for each other every day. It may not be until the kids are in bed, or it may just be a few minutes on the couch after dinner. Children can let you talk to each other for a short length of time, although it may take a few tries!
Tip #10: Remember why you do what you do.
All of the moms I talked with mentioned a sense of spiritual responsibility concerning their children when asked about their reasons for homeschooling. They would also tell you that since their ‘commission’ to homeschool is rooted in their faith, it is that same faith that sustains them when doubts or hard times hit. There will be times when it will be enough to take a hot bath and a two-day break. But there will definitely be times when you find yourself wondering, ‘Why am I doing this?’ You probably have ‘heart reasons’ for deciding to homeschool your children. Examine them well, and be ready to reaffirm them to yourself when those hard times come. Knowing that those times will come is probably the best information you can have, along with knowing that other people experience it, too! But even the best advice won’t make decisions for you, or magically pull all of the pieces into place. Forming your family’s own homeschooling style is something that takes time. Ours is still developing after four years, and it continues to develop as I encounter and incorporate new ideas. I hope that these tips can help you in the ongoing process of living out the decision to educate at home. Your homeschooling journey may not be bump free, but you can make it a great ride. So hold on tight, and have fun!
Toddler Theme-a-Saurus by Jean Warren. For more activities, try PaulasArchives.com under “Preschoolers.”
The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias (Learning styles)
Managers of Their Homes by Teri Maxwell (a scheduling guide). Their website is titus2.com
Sink Reflections: FlyLady’s Baby-Step Guide to Overcoming Chaos by Martha Cilley. Or check out her
website at flylady.net
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