Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a much younger mom with several little kids, living in a perpetual cycle of pregnancy, breastfeeding, mommying, and homeschooling. In fact, I gave birth to six wonderful human beings in that decade, and somehow we all lived to tell the tale!
A few statistics:
- The two farthest apart kids were around 3.5 years apart in age. (kids 1 and 2. After that I got reckless. lol)
- The closest two kids were about 13 months apart in age.
- When the 6th kiddo was born, I actually had 3 kids under 3 for a few weeks. Woo bessie!
- And I also did a gig where 4 of my kids were in diapers at least part time for quite awhile. (People always act like this must have been horrible for me, but really, diapers were the least of my problems!)
- We homeschooled from 1997-2003, then kind of splintered off into some public school/some homeschool for a couple years, and then went back to the majority of the kids being homeschooled til now. My oldest graduated from homeschool. My 2nd child graduated from public school. My 4 remaining teens are all homeschooled with no changes in sight.
We started homeschooling in 1997 when my oldest was 5. (yeah. 19 years ago!) He had been joined by a little sister that was maybe 18 months old, and I was newly pregnant with my third child. From there we grew in size, age, and number until there were six kiddos. When the final baby was born, my tribe was 10, 7, 5, almost 3, not yet 2, and newborn. GO BIG OR GO HOME, right?
This is the cutie crew I was working with in the spring of 2003. (Is it any wonder that homeschooling became overwhelmingly difficult for me during this season? That’s a story for another day.) And what does my oldest have in his hand? His pet gerbil, of course!
I’m going out of my way to tell you this because here is what I notice: Moms with young kids tend to feel like other moms with young kids are the only ones that have ever gone through this stage of life. Once a person has kids that are all grown up and looking like a really cool rock band in the pictures they share on facebook, people are not thinking about how you all looked rolling into church 13 years ago with runny noses, stinky diapers, bed head, and 8 year old kids claiming they can’t read in Sunday School. I promise you, it wasn’t glamorous. At all. But we made it through, and I have some seriously awesome, smart, beautiful, wonderful, talented kids today. See?
Today I was reading in one of my facebook groups, and a mom was sharing about how defeated she felt. It’s three weeks in to her first year homeschooling a kindergartener and a preschooler, with a 2 year old and new baby on the way. #Nobigdeal. lol
She talked about how it all feels like herding cats, with nothing to show for it at the end of the day except exhaustion, some tears, and wondering how this can ever possibly work. How will they get their school work done with all this little-kid-action going on? And did I mention that soon they’ll welcome a newborn baby into the family, to really spice things up? Yeah. And she wanted to know, is it always this hard? Will it get better? Is it even realistic to try to do this? How do I DO this?
I saw this post earlier in the day, passed it by initially, but couldn’t get this mom out of my mind. I was remembering how those days used to be at our house. Toys strewn from stem to stern. Spills. Crumbs. Chaos. But also so many sweet and beautiful days filled with walks, gardening, baking muffins, going to the library, playing with friends, playdough, singing, and so much more. Sometimes it would feel like this can’t possibly work out. And other days we were in the zone and I could see how lovely and valuable this lifestyle of learning together can be.
Today I want to share with you some ideas that worked well for us, and maybe will be helpful to you all as you blaze a trail through the craziness of real life, and find a path and a peace with the way homeschool works for you. Some affiliate links have been used.
Reading to the kids all together is great. We have loved the Sonlight books for many, many years, and my kids would always beg for more. There’s a great variety of science, literature, history, and more, all delightful and appropriate for gathering up your little ones to enjoy.
I can remember times, though, when toddlers that grabbed at pages and wiggled and shrieked endlessly made it impossible to enjoy a nice book while snuggling on the couch. In that case, try audio books! You can wrangle a toddler, nurse a baby, clear the table, and STILL have something worthwhile going on. You can get them through audible or your library. Our library has a ton of audio books that have a physical book that kids can look at while listening. (great for new readers, pre-readers, dyslexic kids, and pretty much everybody else old enough to be trusted with a book) Terrific if you’re getting one kid down for a nap or nursing the baby, and still want something productive for the older ones to do. Audio books are also great with headphones for quiet times, and to listen to in the background while playing with playdough or blocks or some other activity.
Story of the World audio CDs are great for most ages, and many libraries have them. That’s another good option for background listening without needing to put full attention into it at this age. Great for listening to while playing with playdough or building with blocks or drawing!
Baking and Cooking: Practical Math
Baking together! A homemade cooking or baking session a day (or less often, whatever works for you) is great for measuring, counting, taking turns, etc. Plus it’s fun to eat muffins you helped make! Think of all the things that go into making something: Reading, sequence, measuring, pouring, stirring, changing to doubles or halves if you’re making a different amount than the recipe calls for, substitutions, cooperation, taking turns, clean up, and kitchen skills! Seriously, moms–all of this counts. Look at a Montessori catalog sometime and see how many things exist to help your children to learn these very skills. It’s real stuff with value. Honest. (and let me tell you–it is nice when you eventually have a 13 year old that can make a pan of brownies without you having to be involved except to eat one. Start working toward this goal now!)
Nature walks are good for littles with wiggles. Fresh air, sunshine, a clean breeze, a change of scenery, and some vitamin D is good for everybody including mom. Nature walks can be organized or spontaneous. Maybe you look for a certain color on your walk today, or gather some cool rocks or leaves. Maybe you’ll start a collection. Maybe a windowsill will feature some of your recent finds. Maybe you’ll make a poster or start a little book where you let the children tell you what they saw and you write it down for them. Find opportunities that seem reasonably doable for you and give it a try. Don’t turn it into a difficult, regimented thing. Just enjoy and see what’s out there and notice what your kids get inspired about. Maybe once they’ve walked awhile and then gotten home to eat a muffin, they will be still enough for you to read a little about nature or something. Perfect.
And if you live someplace where you have sidewalks and store fronts and not that much nature? That’ll work too! Look for the letter S or the color green everywhere you go. Wave to the lady across the street. Discuss what happens at the dry cleaner, jeweler, and accountants office. Bake cookies and take them over to the firemen. There’s lots to learn in the town and city, too! And you can collect and journal about your adventures just as well.
If your child is ready to learn to read, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons takes under 20 minutes a day, with no prep time. It’s inexpensive and works for a lot of families, so might be worth a try for you. Many libraries offer programs like Hooked on Phonics and others to teach children to read, so you may want to look into what you have access to in your local area. Whatever you do, keep it realistically short, and if your child seems overwhelmed or unhappy, take some time off and circle back to it when they seem ready. That might mean try again tomorrow. It might mean try again in a month. It might mean try again after Christmas break. A kid that is stressed or crying is not a kid that is learning, or loving to learn. You have the opportunity to give them a positive learning experience, so let it be, and don’t worry too much about the time frame. Many children really click with reading more around 7 or 8 years old. For most kids it is not realistic that they will be reading at 5 or 6, so don’t worry if that’s the case for your kiddo.
A simple math book from Horizons or Singapore or even walmart or a parent-teacher store works for youngsters. You can get a general Kindergarten level workbook for less than $10 here. Often they are quite happy to Do School in this way, for short bursts of time. At these young ages they are learning very basic concepts. You do not need to spend a lot of money on this or give it a lot of stress. Practical math is all around them, and most basic workbooks will give them what they need. A page a day or so is fine. No need to make it heavy handed or unpleasant.
Jumbo puzzles like Melissa and Doug floor puzzles can teach a lot and develop important developmental skills. Some of our favorite floor puzzles from over the years were the Alphabet Train, world map, United States map, the solar system, animal themed puzzles that raise awareness about endangered species, the rainforest, farm animals, and more, sea creatures, presidents, and many others! Doing puzzles is great for the mind and the content can be an easy jumping off point for learning things.
Wooden puzzles are also great, and are especially good for the little ones that may ruin the paper-covered cardboard pieces of floor puzzles. We’ve enjoyed the upper and lower case alphabet puzzles, animals, and many others.
The Lauri crepe rubber puzzles are also terrific. They are quiet, durable, can get chewed and slobbered on by the baby, can go in the dishwasher, and give you years of service. I also love the lacing puzzles they have, which are great for hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity.
Fun and Effortless Memorization
Young children are natural mimics. They love to memorize catchy tunes and sing songs and show you how smart and clever they are. Take advantage of this developmental stage by giving them good things to memorize!
Even if you are not in Classical Conversations, if you can get their memorization CDs and play them in the background, you all will learn a ton. The Timeline Song is full of hundreds of historical events throughout the history of the world. Your children will be dazzlingly brilliant when they know this epic 13-minute song, and they will forevermore be delighted every time they learn about an event in history and say, “Oh YEAH! The Punic Wars! We know about that from the Timeline Song!” Seriously–it’s cool, and very helpful on down the line. (We still find it valuable in high school.)
The Classical Conversations CD includes many other catchy memorization topics. Skip counting is an invaluable tool for future math learning and is so easy for young children to learn. The CC history memorization songs are also catchy and helpful. The science facts will prove useful as well.
This young age can absorb so much information through song memorization, while having fun and playing. You can literally just play those songs in the background or while you’re in the car, and let the learning happen without forcing anything.
Field trips to interesting places are wonderful for kids of all ages. Concerts, events, the fire station and post office! A little bit of everything, as you have the time, energy, and ability for it. All of it is excellent and over the years you will have seen and done so many interesting things with your children!
Educational TV and Movies
Educational programs are great, too, and can be a sanity-saver for a weary mom. Even if you are a No TV family like we are, you can watch a lot through your computer/ipad/kindle/phone/DVD player/netflix/whatever. Amazon Prime and Netflix offer so many great shows for younger kids, like Liberty’s Kids, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Between the Lions, and others. (they tend to come and go as far as availability goes, but often are quite inexpensive to purchase) Your library probably has a good selection of videos you can borrow. Learn sign language! Learn to speak Spanish! Learn a ton about science thanks to The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy! No need to avoid these excellent means of visual learning–your kids will love it, it’s easy on you, and YES, my dear, they are really, truly learning.
Rethink Your School Day
It may help you to let go of thinking you will be having an official School Day. For some that works, for others it doesn’t. Think about what a regular day is like in your life without Homeschooling. First think about all the great places where learning already exists, and know that yes it really does count! Does your 5 year old help you bake? Do you read a bedtime story? Do they color and play and imagine? Do they like to tell you their stories? Do they collect little nature items from around the yard? Do they help you in the garden? Say hooray and know that you have a nice start on a natural learning environment. Good job!
Then think about where you can fit in extra learning in a natural way. Maybe at 9:30am it’s a good time to bake muffins, and by 10:30 they will be ready to eat for a little snack while you all listen to an audio book or CD, or maybe you can even read to them.
Maybe once the 2 year old is down for a nap the others can do some floor puzzles. Perhaps you can also get in a reading lesson and a math page. Bravo!
Maybe you will find that daddy can read a science book at bedtime to the bigger kids each night. Learning doesn’t have to be limited to 8am-3pm, you know! Maybe a little practice writing their name while you’ve got a little one in the bath in the evening. I don’t know exactly what it will look like for you, but I know that for most families you will find natural spaces within your existing routines and practices to enhance in ways that give you an opportunity to bring in other parts and pieces of their education that you want for your children. Keeping in mind what’s realistic for you and your kids is helpful. Not feeling pressured to stick with each thing forever can be helpful too. 🙂
In Acceptance Lieth Peace
One of my favorite all-time quotes from a poem by Amy Carmichael is, “In acceptance lieth peace.” Often our stress and worries come from wrestling and resisting what IS, and trying to change things that cannot be changed. I have found that being able to accept how things are has given me a lot of peace over the years, especially when it comes to the demands and challenges of motherhood. Yes, it can be so crazy when you have a bunch of little ones. (or even just one or two!) It goes with the territory. Some days you will take naps or give up on school and go to the park. You may decide to put some of the kids into preschool, Mother’s Day Out, or public school for awhile. And that’s ok too. Homeschooling will still be here for you when you’re ready. Some days you will be able to see so clearly all the sweet and good stuff that comes from all the investing you’re doing in your family. And those days will often give you strength to get through til you have another one.
The truth is, time changes everything, and this season will not last forever. (though some days it certainly will feel like it!) As you invest and love and encourage and go along day by day, all of that good stuff is stacking up into something more powerful than you can imagine. I love this verse from the Bible:
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good.
At just the right time
we will reap a harvest of blessing
if we don’t give up.
I hope that some of these ideas might help younger moms as they work to figure out how homeschooling can work for them. I’d love it if you’d leave a comment sharing other great ideas, or to ask specific questions if you need suggestions for other areas that haven’t been mentioned in this post. 🙂
I thought I was doing okay today…then I read your email and had to work really hard to keep from bawling! Expecting baby #7 in 10 weeks, will have a teenager in 8 weeks and feeling behind and defeated in every aspect of life. Thank you so much for showing that they can grow up, stay out of prison and mom can live to tell about it! There is hope yet!
Aw, Jenny! I so, so understand those feelings! The stage you are at can be very challenging. When my oldest was 10 and our 6th child was born, I was at a breaking point. We had to make some changes so I could do my best for each and every one of them. It was scary. It was good. It was right for us. And we got through it and I would not want to go back and do it again! lol This Large Homeschooling Family gig is not for the faint of heart! Hugs to you. Take your vitamins. Yes, there is hope.
I’m not alone.
I have 3 kids. Almost 4, 2.5 and 9 months. We are hoping to homeschool and we will start something this year. But most of the time I feel a little crazy. I wish to have a large family close together and homeschool them.
My youngest is 9 months old, he had been my worst sleeper yet; however, my mind keeps saying “can we have another one,” or “I wonder if I’m pregnant now,” or “I hope my period starts soon.”
And then I meet others who have done/ are doing something very similar. It sounds hard and as our family grows I realize more and more how hard what I dream about is and will be.
Some days it is overwhelming and I wish to hide or run away, but other days I’m so glad for what I have. three wonderful different people that learn so much and teach me about myself.
Anyway, thanks so much for the helps it gives me some great ideas, and hope that it can be done.
Yes, Rosemary! You are NOT alone! I understand what you shared so well. 🙂
I have 5 kids and my oldest is 9. We just started our 4th year of homeschooling and let me tell you the first week this year was the hardest week of my entire life (I’m not sure why it took 4 years to get to that point… running on adrenaline that entire time? I’m don’t know.) In any case, I started a blog to show what homeschooling with littles really looks like (the non-pinterest version). That it is sometimes messy, loud, frustrating, overwhelming, and discouraging. Things don’t always work out. But at the same time it is doable, beautiful, rewarding, peaceful, full of love, and miraculous. It is incredibly fulfilling and I know that bad days (and weeks) are always followed by good days (and weeks) because we are following our hearts and doing what is right for us. I love having a large support network of people who know what it is like and can show support. You are right, it isn’t for the faint of heart!
Hey Anna! Yes, it’s all the things rolled into one big beautiful crazy messy life! 🙂 Glad you’re blogging. You’ll love looking back on what you wrote during these days.
Lol! I have to say, your kids now really do look like they are from some super cool rock band. So sweet and awesome! 😉
They are pretty cool kids! You’d never know what a hot mess we were when they were little. lol
Thank you for the encouraging words. I’m homeschooling a 3, 4 and 5 year old.
I just finished your article and it is comforting and encouraging! Thank you! I HUGE help to me too, is just doing my best to read the Bible and pray Every Day!
Thanks so much for linking to New Things! I’m a veteran homeschool Momma too, and now watching as two of my little band of four venture into this wild wonderful world with their littles. Those days were hard, but SO worth the time and energy and tears spent. How often God showed up in the midst of my chaos and brought sweet consolation to my busy, hectic, overflowing days.
I love the way you write. I am homeschooling my five year old and I also have a one year old. I find that I am finally getting a little bit of something that is working for us. We plan four broad activities a day and tick them off as they are completed. We do those same activities for a week. On Saturday he gets a day off and a reward. Then we start again. This week we are doing reading, maths, play dough and collage. But we are getting creative with how we do it. Maths while I feed the one year old, iPad while I bath him, plenty of audio books thrown in. Play dough while watching play school. I love your blog post because it relates to how our day goes. Many ups and downs, certainly not a structured school day. Its rather how can we fit in our schooling stuff around everything else. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. It’s lovely to hear of others experiencing the same things.
Alicia, it sounds like you are doing a terrific job finding a routine that works for you. Bravo!
Thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad I have been able to be an encouragement to you. You aren’t alone!
Thanks, Erica, for sharing. I’ve been learning to look at homeschooling in this same way: real-life learning, learning all the time, and to count all those times we’re not intentionally sitting together doing something too! Then I see that a lot of learning still takes place.
Yes! Creating a learning environment that works for you and supports your goals and values makes it very doable! 🙂
I wanted to thank you for not saying something along the lines of “they grow up so quickly. Cherish each moment. Be present for each moment” blah blah blah. Sometimes, I just want to reach into my computer at those well intending blog authors and just give them a good whack in the head! Mothering is hard and sometimes we have break downs and find ourselves crying in the bathroom and that is ok if we aren’t cherishing each moment that day because sometimes we just need to sit in the bathroom and cry! This is my first year homeschooling my five children. My oldest is entering the pre-puberty phase and I don’t know who he is anymore and my three year old is in the midst of the Terrifying Three’s and then of course I have a baby who follows me everywhere I go, crying. This year has been about learning how to let go, like you said. I am still having a hard time. I wrestle each day with trying to make things go the way they should and it stresses me out. I am a perfectionist so it makes it hard. God has been telling me everywhere I turn to let go and to release things to Him. Anyway, thank you for these tips and reminders! I always love reading stuff from a pro homeschooler! And, you know what else? Thank you for saying it’s ok to have some kids in public school because I felt like if that happened, I failed. But, if God is leading us to put one or more in public school down the road, then I have not failed.
Some seasons are just tough, and we get through them the best we can. Right? No shame in that, sister. None at all.
Yes, we had some years when we had one or more kids go to public school. It was the right decision, and we have no regrets. I learned so many important lessons from that experience. I learned that every educational option has its own set of gifts and challenges, that homeschooling is not for everyone, that there are some amazing and wonderful teachers and educational opportunities for children in school, that my kids were better off when I used my own brain to make decisions instead of being afraid and worrying about being judged by others, and so much more. (One of these days I will need to write a blog post about this.)
I can recall so many instances of seeing that whole “cherish every moment” and then I’d see, like, a hundred dried boogers attached to the wall next to a child’s bed, and think, “Nope. Not every moment!” hahahahaha I cherish the kids. I cherish the time I have with them. I cherish the relationships that have grown from the decades of investment I’ve made with them. But life is still life, and we don’t have to play pretend about it.
Hang in there, Melissa. The stage you are at is so challenging! I remember some of it. (and blocked out a lot more) I believe that LOVE is the most powerful thing you’ve got going for you, and you have the wisdom to know how best to apply it from minute to minute. Hugs.