Your Guide to Homeschooling with Littles Underfoot
My children are 7, 5, 3, and 1 right now during this Christmas season in 2020. We also have 10 chickens and 2 kittens! Our tiny home is busy, full, and always moving in one way or another. But how to manage formal lessons for bigger kids, gentle learning for the younger ones, while juggling the baby, AND the rest of home life? Well I am not an expert and I definitely do not do this job perfectly, but we have been able to balance this wild and crazy life of homeschooling a bit and I am here to share about it!
For this special acronym, you can listen in on the Charlotte Mason Show podcast HERE Episode #31 or read below!
We are mothers called to SERVE our families and I think with a little work on these first four letters, we will be able to master the last.
S: Stick to those habits!
Habits of the heart, hand, and home.
Habits of the Heart:
Of the 60 or so habits that Charlotte Mason recommended, two should be top priority for parents: the Habit of Obedience and the Habit of Attention. For me at this stage of the game, I focus on the Habit of Obedience and the Habit of Peacemaking. Ever since my children were tiny, we’ve asked our kids: “What is your job?” To which they reply: “to listen and obey.” and then “What is our job?”, to which they reply: “To take care of us.” We discuss that we as parents cannot do our job if they do not do theirs. We talk about boundaries and the safety they become for us as created beings, similar to how a fish cannot survive outside of water, a bird meant to thrive through flying in the air, and we will also suffer when we do not listen to the good commands of our Heavenly Father. We simply ought to raise our children to listen and obey. And if we are called to homeschool, it’s a must.
We personally work on this habit not through authoritative means but through attachment parenting and connection. The premise being that our children will WANT to obey when our connection with them is strong, at least that has been our experience. Hold on to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld is a great book about the importance of parent orientation/connection over peer orientation. I highly recommend reading that book.
The second habit of the heart is the Habit of Peacemaking. Can I get an AMEN?? Ha. In our home, we frame everything under the umbrella of the Ultimate Story of God’s Story. Everything is framed under “Is this using God’s wisdom? Is this of the King?” or “Is this trusting the snake?” when it comes to our words and our actions. We simply must have an emphasis on peacemaking in order to live life together in this way. It was Cindy Rollins who said: “Motherhood is the place of dreamy hopes and crushed fantasies and the hard, hard work of sinners in relationship with one another.” We have to learn how to get along. And the fruit of this is just so beautiful. We are early on in our journey but seeing their friendships blossom from learning to live with one another day in and day out is just so amazing.
Habits of our Hands:
Stick to that habit of a daily rhythm! Children thrive when they know what to expect, when they live in predictable conditions. Keep mornings reserved for duty, for lessons, and afternoons for leisure. Find your flow, your groove and then stick to it! We switch things up on the weekends, enjoy more unscheduled days, but for the first four days of the week, we stick to a rhythm.
Habits of our Home:
Please don’t hate me for this one but I think it is very important to keep the habit of tidiness. My house is not incredibly clean by any means! but it is tidy. We ought to have an organized school area, organized stations, everything in its proper place and an overall tidy home. We feel chaotic in constant mess, I think our kids do too. A tidy home means a tidy mind and we have to have organized thoughts to juggle the demands of a homeschooling parent. This is not meant to be mom-shaming, I am simply sharing the things that help me personally to not fly off the handle under the immense pressure of raising and educating with small children. If I am feeling behind on a thousand things in the home, I just won’t be able to handle my tasks at hand quite as well.
Mother Culture and the filling up of your cup.
A cup can only spill what it contains. We must have good things pouring into our head, our heart, and our mind. Good things that fill us up, good things that we enjoy. We need to be rooted in the Living Word of God because it truly does shape us. Whatever is going on inside of us is what we are going to pour out to our kids. We simply cannot do this job running on empty.
Side note: I never thought motherhood at this point would involve so much poop. I have a baby, a potty-training toddler, litter boxes, chicken poop up the wazoo, bigger kids who still need help with…well I will stop there. There is just so much poop! No one can keep up this kind of work without some major beauty and goodness filling her up to keep going day in and day out.
R: Relationship First
Connection over Correction.
Remember what we’re doing this all for anyway. We want what’s best for our kids. We want to be with them. We want relationship and connectedness. We want them to thrive and we’ve made the choice to homeschool for that chief end. So I think it’s important to keep in mind that before any academic achievement or task, we connect with our kids first and foremost.
This is especially important for the smaller children! Focus on the smaller children first thing, prior to formal lessons. This will help with all children but particularly the clingy ones. They know when we are trying to push them off. Once we fill their cups with attention and snuggles, they will (hopefully) play a bit more independently.
Relationship first, don’t sacrifice this for productivity.
Find your tribe!
Find those kindred spirits! Reach out to a friend when in a bad mindset or overwhelmed. They will empathize and we need that! Call someone for physical help if needed, a family member or a friend. My mom will sometimes come to sit with my younger ones so I can have uninterrupted time with my biggest on the days where I just can’t keep up the juggling. This is only a season and this too shall pass! Bottom line is we need quality friendships and support to do this job well, at any stage!
E: Execution of Lessons
Here’s where the magic happens so pour another cup of coffee and grab the goldfish!
We’re going in! First thing first, start with the child, not with the lesson plan. Children are born persons, you know the planned schedule, but feel them out. Put before your child the next right thing for them at that time. Perhaps you combine composer listening with the language arts packet for something pleasant to listen to. Perhaps you follow up morning time with math because your child is fresh and you know it might be more difficult later. This part is hard to describe but once you start, and you have your lesson plan and your child, you’ll know what I mean. Are they resistant with narrations? Maybe they need some extra cuddles, affirmation, or some extra calories. What is causing their distress? We know our child best so tune into them and do the next right thing. Also, think about schooling fours day a week instead of five days with small children. It is much easier to do a little bit more for four days rather than adding in a whole other day at the end of a long week.
How we execute lessons:
Put an older child in charge of a younger one in a nearby room. We make the pack n play a little “nest” and the three little ones will play in there for a good while! Give them little occupations or little jobs to do! A spray bottle of water and a cloth, go check for eggs, chore cards, etc. They love to feel like they are a valuable part of the family and that they get to contribute in little ways. Designate messy stations for a short period of time. Montessori things, music and silks, rice trays! (This is where the habit of organization and tidiness comes in handy) Once little are occupied and happy, then work alongside older child. Keep in mind you will still be bouncing and/or refereeing!
We designate “school time” from 9-noon including little breaks. Prior to this is chicken duties, cat duties, breakfast, self care, relax, etc… but that 9-noon window is when the juggling act is greatest but then afterwards, we are done with the hardest part! Phonics and preschool fun is woven into that time only when child is showing readiness or interest, otherwise imaginative/creative play is encouraged. For gentle learning for the little ones, set an invitation of learning at a nearby table, bounce between the one with formal lessons and the younger ones needing interaction as well. We have our den as half dining room and half schoolroom, so my oldest (and sometimes kinder) will work at school table and the younger ones be at dining table on other side of the room. If that isn’t working, (and often it won’t) then the smaller three will be in another room playing with bigger brother “in charge.” This has worked so far. And if I can’t fit in the reading or math lesson for my second born, I’ll save it for the afternoon. It doesn’t take long.
Babies are the wild cards! Sometimes they’re on your hip, playing with the older ones, eating in the high chair, playing with dried pasta on the table top, and sometimes you’re hunched over nursing them while reading from the natural history book. I have no easy solution for the babies. Mine is often with me, playing at my feet, nursing, but also I have had great success with allowing my kinder age son to play with her and “be in charge” so I can have some time without her for a while.
Lunch is at noon and mandatory quiet time is at 1:00. Phew! Afternoons are when mama isn’t holding it all together quite so much. After quiet time, there are scheduled “dessert” items such as nature study, poetry, painting/brushwork etc. while weaving in the housework. That’s how we’ve done it so far!
So once we have a pretty good handle on the first four letters, I really believe we will be able to reach that last letter of HOW to execute lessons with little ones underfoot. It takes practice and so much patience but it has been done! We can do this! Let’s SERVE.
And don’t lose sight of the bigger picture! This is holy work and every bit matters.
Do one thing at a time, but do it with all your heart, just to please Him.Sarah MacKenzie
***And just a note to model repentance. There will be days when we mess up, it all falls apart, we snap. On those days, repent! It is a powerful thing when those in authority (us mothers) humble ourselves and say that we are sorry. Repentance heals relationships and is essential to a homeschool life lived together.