Schooling With Littles

The most common questions I receive about homeschooling have to do with curriculum and how to manage school with younger siblings. Homeschooling multiple ages and grades can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. If the idea is embraced rather than resisted, it often leads to a richer educational and relational experience.

Seven years into this homeschooling journey, I have a few suggestions and recommendations to share. It is important to remember that every child, every relationship, every family dynamic is different. Attention spans and developmental skills widely vary across ages. Try not to compare your own children to each other. Be flexible and keep trying until you find what works best for you and your kids.

With that said, there are several things that have helped while I was homeschooling with a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, and now finally with three different levels.

1.) Include younger siblings in all lessons as much as possible. Little brothers and sisters love to be part of the action. Make a special spot for them at your homeschool table. Encourage them to try some of their older sibling’s activities. Print off an extra page, make a copy of the worksheet, give them their own paper and pencil. Make it a big deal that they have “schoolwork” to do too.

This might sound easier said than done, and it will probably add some distraction and extra things to manage. It may also require an extra dose of strength and patience. BUT it will make your younger children feel loved, respected, and important. This is great for building family team and rapport.

Homeschooling is really about teamwork. And you, as the team leader, are laying the foundation for your team to be successful. In a team, everyone is important and brings something special to the table. That includes the littlest team members.

2.) Plan special activities just for them.

Littles have a short attention spans. Lessons and activities should be kept brief, include movement, and varied activities. Include younger siblings as much as you can in big kid activities, but give them their own activities too. I’ve created a list of recommendations at my Amazon Storefront.

Child led, Imagination Infused, Play Ideas List

Some ideas to try:

  • Sensory Boxes. Check out a few ideas on my Pinterest board!
  • BOX TIME! Make special boxes for each day of the week. Label five plastic shoeboxes or bins with the days of the week. Add different objects, items and toys that can only be used during “box time.” Switch out the toys or items weekly or every couple of weeks. Items in the boxes could be as simple as a sheet of stickers and colorful paper, or as special as a new toy.
  • Music makes everything better. When emotions seem to be running high, try classical music as a calming agent. It does wonders for the imagination too!
  • Take time to stretch. Every so often, stop lessons, stretch together as a family. Try some jumping jacks or switch to dance music to get bodies moving.

(Amazon Affiliate links included. While it does not cost you anything extra, I earn a small commission for each product ordered.)

3.) Wait for naptimes to “do” school.

This was incredibly helpful to me when my son was born and my daughters were in kindergarten and first grade. I was nursing every three hours and being interrupted more often than that. I tried to “school” the girls, but all the distractions were very frustrating and usually resulted in one of us in tears.

We changed up our school schedule, and started waiting for my son’s naptime to do the work that required more focus and less distractions (reading, language arts, and some math.) This worked so well that we continued to do this until my son stopped taking naps.

4.) An effective behavior management system.

This is a big topic to break down and discuss, so I will save it for another blog post. But, do you have a system of behavior management and discipline that is working for you and your family? In short, the less words and emotion you use, the more clear and consistent expectations are given, the more effective discipline will be.

I really like Magic 1-2-3. I have found success with this program when I was teaching in a special education in a public school classroom and at home with my own children.

5.) Breathe

When homeschooling, especially multiple ages, each day can feel very long. Yet, the days add up quickly and go by fast. Enjoy the age that your children are at. Hard days pass, new challenges come. Don’t forget to breathe.


What Is Education?

Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy and methods motivate me to think about the definition and purpose of education. Her words have helped shape my personal philosophy of education, which gives focus, directs goals and provides reason to what we do in our homeschooling and why.

I believe education is a continuous process of developing character and cultivating knowledge to be used in life. It focuses on serving the individual child as is-mind, body, soul. It respects the child’s able, eager mind and places importance on his/her unique needs and capabilities. It employs teaching methods which encourage learning at different speeds, using appropriate leveled materials. Subjects are introduced though living ideas and relationships.  

I believe education should foster interests, develop lovers of literature and arts, encourage curiosity and creativity, and allow for play and outdoor time. It’s learning that lingers in nature, applauds observations and problem solving, and uses discussion as a showcase to express ideas. Most importantly (for me), it’s education in which Biblical Christianity is the truth and the foundation of all other knowledge.  

This may sound idealistic, too good to be true, but it is possible. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. It’s the way our family strives to live out education in our home. Homeschooling provides us the time, flexibility and freedom to learn in these ways.

It’s always a process. I never feel we do “education” perfectly (perfect is boring, right?) I try to embrace mistakes as opportunities to learn and place high value on educating myself so I can educate others. I am constantly reevaluating and considering the options and the methods; considering each child’s needs as we go. As much as Charlotte Mason inspires me, I would not consider myself to be a “purist.” I use many of Miss Mason’s wonderful methods and ideas, but I use other methods as well. Methods that I’ve found to be effective and valuable through years of teaching experience.

As with many other parents and teachers, I feel a great weight of responsibility to ensure my children are prepared for life, for them to know the enjoyment of living. I cannot do this on my own. Our days are covered with prayer and we rely on a huge portion of grace and God-given strength. Each day, is a new adventure to look forward to. Homeschooling my children is a wonderful opportunity, a time to wonder and grow together as we explore and open the gift of education that is life.

You can learn more about Charlotte Mason and her methods from these books:

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NEVER and NEW

 

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We start our fifth year of homeschooling on Labor Day. It’s hard to believe I’ve been homeschooling for this many years (half the number of years of my public school teaching experience.) It’s amazing to see how quickly my children are changing, growing in beautiful ways, and learning to embrace the unique person God made them to be.

It feels like yesterday when each hour, each season of babyhood and toddlerhood seemed to have no end. I walked around in a constant state of exhaustion. I was barely able to think beyond the diapers and bottles. Some dreams were put on hold, some dreams exchanged with dreams of a good night’s sleep. Survival mode seemed to be the most common mode of my life but this was also a time of great thriving. There was joy, growth, excitement, and a lot of love in between the surviving and thriving. Love so powerful it was the fuel that kept me going. As time kept going, things got “easier.” I still hoped for more sleep but my foggy mind started to clear just enough to think in complete sentences again (not in paragraphs, just sentences…) In this time, new opportunities presented themselves to be explored, embraced and be experienced. New dreams were born.

Right around the time my daughter turned three, I started to think more seriously about what education would be like for my children and what my future place in education would be. I remember walking through our church with two homeschool moms and declaring something to the point of “I will never homeschool my kids.” One of the ladies laughed and looked to the other and said, “She will. Just wait and see.” At the time, I was irritated that someone would dare think they knew me better than I knew myself but I also knew there was truth (and love) in her statement. The next few years proved her right! After much prayer, MANY discussions, and more prayer, we decided to homeschool and I found not only what education would mean for my children but also what it would mean for me. A new teaching position in a new setting. My kids, my home. A position I feel I was being prepared for long before the thought of homeschooling ever crossed my mind.

Fast forward five years, homeschooling is without a doubt one of the best decisions we’ve made for our family.  It is also one of the more challenging things I’ve taken on. It is a full-time commitment, often requiring much sacrifice and patience. LOTS of patience. Patience and grace with my children and patience and grace with myself as we all are challenged to learn, grow, and try new things. Education is a whole person, whole family, all-areas-of-life experience in our home.

At the beginning of each school year, I pray about a verse to focus on, memorize, and pray God will use in mighty ways in our lives. This year, our homeschooling theme verse is:

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

ISAIAH 43:19 (ESV)

It’s a new season, a new school year, new ideas are flooding my head, new dreams are being placed on my heart. In school, we have a newly organized school room, a new “schedule,” new books, new crayons (LOVE the those new crayons,) new skills to master, new challenges to accept, new ways to learn. I feel like this is a start of all things new and I’m praying we would be able to perceive the new things God is doing in our lives in very new, tangible ways. Here’s to a great new year and all it holds!!

 

(PS. And just so I do not mislead people, I still wish I got more sleep and there are still days of survival mode living. BUT when those days come around, we are learning to close the books and eat some ice cream. Ice cream is the magical cure for many things. 🙂 )


How We Came To Homeschool and Why We Do- Part 1

how we came to homeschool and why we do

If you asked me a ten years ago about homeschooling, my opinion would have been quite negative. To put it bluntly, I was ignorant to the whole thing. With limited knowledge of homeschooling, my perceptions came from common misconceptions of homeschoolers and the lack of exposure I had with homeschooling families. My training as a public school teacher and my teaching experience only compounded my strong opinions. I thought that the public schools had the best access to curriculum, services, and educational experiences. I thought “socialization” at school had to happen in order to form a well-rounded, well-adjusted child.  I was way off.

Then we had kids. A funny thing happens when you have them. The moment you look into the eyes of your newborn, the familiar world you once knew seems to change. Holding life in your arms, you are left to navigate a “new” and unfamiliar, selfless world. Constant time and attention is directed to the needs and growth of another human being . You find yourself questioning why you believe what you believe and you start prioritizing your values and obligations. Things that you once held high in importance are let go and you realize that certain things (like faith, family, friends) matter so much more than you ever thought. And oh the decisions, you spend constant hours thinking about, dwelling over, and making decisions. In momentous decisions and small choices you want to do what is best for your child and set them on a path of faith and a good life.

When my first born was about to start preschool, I knew my husband and I had decisions to make about school. By this time, I had been out of the public schools for about three years.  With increased state testing (which I had always disliked), changes in education policy and procedures, news stories of bullying, faith and social issues under fire, my opinion of public school was not as high as it once was. I knew public school WAS NOT the best choice for my family. So what was?

Also, by this time, I had become great friends with a homeschooling mom. She was awesome and her kids were normal, well-adjusted, and socialized! The more I asked her about homeschooling and the more she told me, the more my opinions on homeschooling started to change. My friend choose her curriculum (which I loved), went on a ton of “field trips”, and made her own school schedule. Her children had plenty of opportunities to “socialize” through church activities, baseball, cub scouts, and other unique opportunities.  Was this the best choice for our family?

The thought of homeschooling started to weigh on my mind more and more. Even when I declared that I would NEVER homeschool, part of me knew that was untrue. I had seen the positive impact of homeschooling on my friend’s family. I wanted a family like hers. The teaching did not worry me. It was the “other” stuff which I think boiled down to what other people would think. Who? I am not sure. I constantly prayed for help to decide what to do. I did my research too- reading books, articles, blog posts. One day, I do not remember the exact day or moment, I felt that I had been given a answer to my prayers. I strongly felt that “yes” we were suppose to homeschool and that we needed to have enough faith that it would work out. A sense of peace washed over me and the weight was lifted. I became really excited about all the possibilities homeschooling would do for our family.

At that time, we did not have everything figured out. We actually had two options for schooling.  We had been offered a full scholarship at a Christian School. But at that time, we had spent so much time researching and praying and I felt so strongly that this was God’s plan, we turned down the scholarship. I was so blessed to have my husband’s support.  My youngest daughter went to the Christian preschool while my oldest daughter and I started our first year of homeschooling together. It was a blessed year full of learning experiences for both of us. When my second daughter was about to enter Kindergarten, it was an easy decision what to do-HOMESCHOOL.

100s Days Smarter

September 1st, will start of our third year of homeschooling. It amazes me how the journey began and where we are now. We still do not have everything figured out and are learning as we go. I think homeschooling is definitely a calling and not for everyone. I feel blessed that we live in a country where we are given the freedom to choose which type of education is right for our children. I certainly do not look down or differently on anyone for making a choice of public or private school. I like to believe that we, as parents, are all trying to make the best choices for their children so that together we will raise up an generation that will kind, good leaders, and good stewards of this world.  But as for my family, homeschooling is where we will be educating and bringing up our little world changers. 

Stay tuned for the next post- Part 2: What We Homeschool