Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeschooling...with Littles

I received the following comment on my "Year in Review" post:

AmyJane said...

It's interesting to read these reflections--these issues are the exact reasons I put aside the notion of homeschooling after much research and prayer. It takes some SERIOUS dedication to do it well.

The other thought that was actually the tipping point for me was that I found that in many homeschooling families, the younger kids (babies and toddlers) seemed quite ignored while the mom's attention was on schooling the older kids during the day. Given that I feel very strongly about the birth to three period as being incredibly formative, and my (very limited) experience with home preschooling and having to make a baby wait a lot, I decided that I couldn't make that trade off. What are your thoughts about your littles and how they are affected? I know there's also the opposite, quite lovely idea, that they are able to learn along with the older kids, but does that play out for you?

(I hope you're okay with the candid questions....I think homeschooling is great when it's done well, but it seems like an incredibly demanding undertaking to do it well!)
As far as I can tell, there are two questions posed here:
  1. How are my younger children affected by me homeschooling the older children?
  2. Do my younger children actually learn along with the older kids?
Oh, there's just so many reasons behind the way I do things the way that I do them...where do I begin?

Well...I, too, believe that 0-3 years old is an important developmental time...but probably in a different way than a lot of people think it is.  I think a 0-12 month old baby should have all its needs met immediately in order to create parental bonds, make him/her feel secure and loved and all those "Hey, I feel safe here" reasons.  (Which is a lot of the reason behind why this last year wasn't as productive as I would have liked it to be--I was very busy with nursing Monkeyboy, taking care of his immediate needs and fighting sleep deprivation from being awake with him during the night.)

My beliefs change a little bit once they hit the one year mark in that I think they need to start learning that the sun does not revolve around them and that they will have to wait their turn from time to time; and I expect them to actually start entertaining themselves a little bit when they are 2+ years old.  A baby has my full attention; a toddler has to start to learn to deal with the fact that they are not the only person that I am responsible for in this household.  It sounds so harsh...I don't bark at them to leave me alone or anything, but there are other kids in our home that have just as much right to my attention as the toddler does.

I'll walk you through our schedule as it stands now to show where the kids are throughout the day, keeping in mind that the schedule does a lot of evolving from season to season:

Breakfast is at 7:00AM.  I clear the table at 7:30AM and if someone hasn't gotten out of bed by that time, they don't eat breakfast.  It's my way of helping them develop the habit of getting out of bed in the morning.

Devotional starts at 8:00AM, after morning chores and getting dressed and all that stuff is finished.  Everyone attends, except Michael (who is at work by this time), and we sing and read and pray together.  I used to let them color, but found that they were ignoring me in favor of each other's artworks, so now this time is a practice in being reverent.  They did not like the change, but adjusted after a week.

We do the majority of our homeschooling during Monkeyboy's morning nap.  He takes a nap from 8:30-10:30AM and also at 2:00-4:00PM.  We can usually square away Math and all five Language Arts (Penmanship, Phonics, Spelling, Grammar & Writing) subjects during his first nap.  Bluebird is very much engaged, Penguin is engaged for most of that time and Junebug likes to tag along with Penguin during her Math and Phonics lesson.

I run into the problem of Junebug not "having anything to do!"  This has been a problem in the past few months, but I could generally remedy the situation by just letting her sit in my lap and letting her tag along with Penguin's phonics and math lessons.  I've focused a bit of attention in the past months on stocking up a "Preschool Area" for her disposal, full of puzzles, chubby beading projects and things like that.  My kids also have un-restricted access to all the art supplies in the house all the time.  She has lots of options to choose from, and I expect her to make choices for herself.

At 10:30AM we take a half hour recess, where they have a snack, I change diapers and move laundry around, and the three girls play outside.  If there's some extra time, I'll do some work in the garden with Monkeyboy pulling himself alongside me.

After recess is "Everybody Together" time, from 11:00AM-1:00PM.  Since Monkeyboy is awake and Junebug has done so well with me being focused on the older two children, I scheduled this time for activities that we can all do together, for the most part.  This is when we do our History or Science lesson.  In the future, when everyone is school-aged, we'll be doing History and Science together always, so now's just as good a time as any to do it with everyone present.  Bluebird is technically the only one who needs to pay attention for History and Science, as I don't expect work in those subject areas until a child is in the First Grade, but everyone can play with LEGOS or Thomas train tracks on the floor while I read the lesson out loud.

Then, if we have an activity to go with the lesson, we do that together as well.  The Littles love science experiments and art projects just as much as the Bigs.  I have to help the Littles, obviously, but it's time well-spent.  Bluebird is required to do write-ups and narration pages afterwards, and I can sit with her and help her because my Littles are generally content to wander off and explore by themselves for a bit after so much stimulation.

Next is Reading Time, where I read a book to each child.  Bluebird usually has to go off by herself to read her Literature assignment for the day...but sometimes she sticks around in order to hear a favorite story again.  (All the Littles usually sit around to hear everybody's story love to be read to!)

After that, I prepare Lunch while everyone plays whatever they feel like playing.  We eat lunch together and talk to each other and clean it all up together.

By then it's 2:00PM and Monkeyboy goes down for another nap, and if we haven't finished something, we do it then.  (This next school year will see this hour scheduled for Latin, starting in the Second Quarter.)  If all the schoolwork is done, then Bluebird and I do some chores while Penguin and Junebug amuse themselves with a little bit of video-watching or computer game playing.  I am not a fan of television, video games or computer-time for kids; but this time of day is Quiet Time and they are far more quiet with these activities than other activity choices.

At 3:00PM there is a house-wide Free Reading time.  Everyone gets into their beds and reads for an hour.  It's a HUGE deal when a child is deemed too big for naps and is allowed to stay awake for Reading Time!  (However, sitting in their bed usually makes them sleepy and they fall asleep's nice for them and helps us avoid the "I'm-too-big-for-a-nap-but-still-need-one" crankiness that can happen in the evening when they start weaning off their naps.)  I try to read when I can, but usually use this little break to do something that needs intense focus on my part, like paying bills...or a little bit of reward knitting.  ;)

We have a snack at 4:00PM and try to clean up the house a bit and play outside.  (Starting in the next school year, Bluebird will do her piano practice at this time.)  Then we embark on the usual Evening Routines that any family would have, public-schooled or not.  We play trivia games during dinner in which we all ask questions of each other to answer; I use it as a review session for school.  I try to read out loud to everyone again in the evening after Family Scripture Study so their brains get a little more stimulation.

So, in answer to the questions, I think homeschooling works fine for my Littles.  I don't homeschool for the warm-and-fuzzy reasons that a lot of people seem to be doing it for; I homeschool because I want my children to have a very traditional and classical education that is largely unavailable in my public-school options.  I want my children to study grammar, logic, Latin and the Great Books (way more than three per semester!); and I've yet to see all of these subjects offered in their entirety in the public sphere of education.

I like homeschooling because it draws our family closer.  This was not one of the reasons I chose to homeschool, but it has come about because we do spend our entire day with each other.  When I sent Bluebird to Kindergarten for those three months in 2009, I was deeply saddened by how much her "loyalty" seemed to shift from her family members to her classmates.  Her younger sisters were "babies" that were just plain dumb and her teacher (a lady that I knew, and liked just fine) became the authority of all knowledge in her world.  Other parents told me that this was completely normal and part of growing up; I disagreed.

I think piling a bunch of same-aged kids into a room for hours each day is actually damaging to their development.  I believe that separating a child from their family for a majority of their day is damaging to the family.  Our bonds and ties lie with the people we spend the most time with; and, having experienced what I've experienced in the past two years of Bluebird's school career, I don't want to turn over the joy that I have felt in watching her grow and learn to someone else.  Through homeschooling, I get to witness every little step forward that they make instead of hearing about it after it's happened.  I miss out on nothing in their lives.  I love that.

I'll stop there before I cause any toothaches.  :)

The Littles don't suffer because I'm investing time in The Bigs.  The Bigs play with The Littles, just as I would play with The Littles if The Bigs were at school.  From my experience with Bluebird being in Kindergarten for three months, she was away for so many hours a day and then had homework to complete once she got home.  Had she gone to full-day school, I don't know when she would have time to play with her siblings.

I do wish I could read more to The Littles, but they've realized that Bluebird can read now too and so they'll ask her to read to them as well.  (She's happy to oblige them if it means showing off!)

Overall, it's a win.  The worst part of homeschooling is that it's really hard for me to keep the house clean.  It can get pretty bad sometimes, I won't lie.  I used to cringe when I'd read or hear that from another homeschooler, but now that I'm actually going through it...I'd much rather have the learning and the bonding going on instead of a pristine house.  In the long run, that's what is more important to me.  I'm trying to "grow" the kids into chores, and keeping this place clean will get easier as they get older and stop making so many messes and learn how to clean up and help out around the house.  The chapter of Littles is difficult and messy.  It just is.

I hope this answers your questions, AmyJane.  None of it is said in a condescending or self-righteous manner.  (I have experience with people interpreting my written words that way, so I just want you all to know that that is NOT where I'm coming from.)  Homeschooling works for my family and myself.  We like it.  It doesn't mean that Michael and I love our kids more or that we're better parents than anyone else...ugh, please don't read that from my words.  I am content with our lifestyle and see no benefit in hiding my happiness with it.  (I also acknowledge that I am far from being a expert on the subject!)


  1. great post! Let me know if you want to borrow Lingua Latina I or Latin for all Occasions for teaching ideas... well... they're fun for getting excited about Latin anyway.


  2. Thanks for your thoughts, seriously. It sounds like you have a system that works well for your family. I'm ceaselessly interested in how homeschooling works for different families, probably because not a week goes by that someone doesn't tell me that I should consider homeschooling Patrick, mainly because he is so academically advanced. And every tim I hear that, I reconsider, repray, etc. However, in our family, it seems to be the wrong choice. Patrick has actually thrived in a preschool class this year, learning social and emotional lessons that he wasn't learning at home with me and his sisters. And the little girls seemed to really need me to devote a bit more time to them during those hours. Anyway. I think each family has to find what works for them and I'm glad you've found a way that works for you!

    (Incidentally, I've found a HUGE number of homeschooling families that are comprised of mainly girls--I know FOUR homeschooling families that have three girls in a row followed by a baby boy! Do you think that the children's gender factors into the decision to homeschool, even subliminally? )

  3. AmyJane, you ask questions that I consider often. Nonetheless, I have homeschooled my kids since the beginning--none of them have ever gone to school! I have six kids: BBBGBB ages 12-2. It does concern me that my younger kids don't get as much attention as my older kids. But I continually remind myself that no child grows up in the "same" family, even siblings. The older children have a different experience than the younger ones. This is what birth order is about. Younger children tend to be more patient, more self entertaining, more observant than olders. It will be different for all the children because of their positions in the family.
    That said, I do make sure my younger kids get extra attention during our school day. The first part of the day is geared toward them and their interests (reading with mom, littles projects, etceters) They are worked into every activity that we do. Older childrens' challenging projects are scheduled for littles' naptimes. And I can think of a more enriching environment for a child to grow up in than in a homeschooling family. They are surrounded by reading, books, field trips, mathematical converstaion, enriching media, books on tape, library trips, etc. It has made my younger children into sponges who I hardly have to try to teach them the alphabet or how to count by the time "school age" comes around!
    I love homeschooling, and I find it hard, too. I would never presume to try to convince someone to homeschool--it is such a life changing decision. Keep going with what feels right for your family.

  4. There's no guilt in either decision unless you're kicking against the pricks. Yay for good mommies, homeschooling, public schooling or... other-schooling alike!


Comments make me happy! Thanks for sharing!