Monday, August 20, 2012

Homeschooling A Larger Family


We just started another school year, hoping to get in quite a bit before the new baby comes in November. I realized that it is my 14th year homeschooling, and that I'm not even half-way there if I continue to homeschool all the way through with my 10th child! Needless to say, I've learned a lot along the way. It's different homeschooling 7, compared to 2 or 3, and I've really had to change the way I do things.

To be honest, there have been many frustrating days, sometimes weeks, and to be transparent, even years when I really wasn't satisfied with how things were going... too many gaps, too many projects left undone, finding out a child had been doing something wrong for several weeks, feeling like I spent more time getting mad and irritated, instead of patiently teaching my children. I struggled for years to "get it all done" and wondered how others did it. The hardest part of being a mother and a teacher, is finding the right balance between the two. How do we teach our children well, while still keeping our home well also?

The first thing that must become a priority in our day is spending time with the Lord. (I hope to write a post on that soon.) In the midst of our busy lives, it is easy to try to squeeze this time into only a few minutes or to ignore this all together. After all, God sees how busy I am! But let Matthew 6:33  be your constant guide: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

Second, sit down and carefully write down what needs to get accomplished everyday. Include everything you can think of- dishes, meal prep, laundry, vacuuming, ironing, as well as school subjects that need to be tackled. Also add to this list extra activities like music lessons, dance or taekwondo etc. I would also add in things you have thought of including into your schedule, but aren't sure will work. Now take time to pray over this list, and prioritize... your daughter may want to take a certain class, but with a new baby coming, this may not be a priority this year. Could it wait another year? Could you carpool with someone closeby to help out?

One lesson I have learned is that it is more important to be a family than anything else. This might be hard to swallow at times, but being a family unit is more important than getting the academics in place. We can also easily become slaves to a schedule and forget to enjoy our children! It is easy to become so busy, that life feels harried and hectic, and all of our joy is zapped. We feel drained and irritable, wondering why we are homeschooling in the first place. Although we personally haven't done this, I know of families that get involved in everything, and really spend very little time at home. This is often hard on families, and often doesn't work in the long run...

I have found it best to do school together as a family as much as possible. I didn't think this could work if you had a lot of kids of all different ages, but it can work with a little organization. Plan your schedule in 30 minute increments and have as many children doing the same thing at that time period. For example, we start school at 9:00 with spelling, handwriting and grammar. So for the first 30 minutes, 4 of the children are doing their spelling, handwriting, and grammar at the same time around the kitchen table. I sit at the table as well and am available to teach and help as needed. During this time I also check their work to make sure it is being done correctly. This saves a lot of time in the long run, keeping the schoolwork to be checked to a minimum. We cover subjects like spelling, handwriting, grammar, math, phonics, reading and writing together between 9:00 and 11:00. I spend most of my one on one time with the younger children who still need lots of help, while giving instructions and being available to the older children. At 11:00 we gather around the table and the 5 youngest students and I do Latin together. We finish around 11:45 or so and break for lunch and clean-up. At 1:00 we put the baby (the 2 yr.old!) down for her nap and do a Unit Study until 3:00. Our unit study includes geography, history, literature, science, writing and art, as well as fun activities interspersed throughout. (Bible is done together as a family at 8:00 am and again at 8 pm before bed). Dinner prep starts at 5:00, so I basically have 2 hours for various housework activities (laundry, ironing, office work, de-cluttering...) between the end of school and before dinner prep. This is a great time for kids to go outside and play.

My highschool-aged children do their schoolwork on their own. Once your child is in highschool, he or she should be making his or her own schedule. I give my teenaged children the subjects that need to be covered (and they help pick these according to their gifts and interests- isn't homeschooling great?!?), and they put together their own schedule to get their work done on time. I do not micro-manage them; I am merely available to them if they have a question or need  clarification. I do read and correct papers, of course. I find that my children love to tell me what they are doing and learning with very little prodding from me. We have a talking relationship and so I know what is going on with them. I think this is a great opportunity for your young adults to become responsible for their own work and managing their own time.

I know there are families who choose to let their older children teach their younger children. I recently heard a mom of 12 speak and she said she never teaches her children, with the exception of phonics until that child learns to read. I personally don't like this approach for 2 reasons. One, these are my children and God has called me to be their teacher. Two, I think this can often create a resentment in the older children who are always "doing school." I'm not saying that children cannot help eachother. I think it is actually natural for older siblings to help younger siblings, and they often really enjoy this, and it is beautiful to see :). I just really believe a homeschooling mother should be involved with her children. I have also found it motivates my children when I am present and showing an interest in what they are doing.

Although I did Sonlight curriculum for years, it became extremely difficult to keep up with a growing family. I love the literature approach to schooling (living books compared to textbooks), but I no longer had the time for hours of reading to the children everyday! I recently turned to the unit study approach and have really liked it. I have found it very helpful for all the children to be studying the same subject at the same time. Younger students can read easier books on the subject, while older students can read harder books on the subject. Even non-school aged children enjoy "doing school" by coloring (scribbling!) maps and being included in the activities. This was a huge time saver for me. I could pay attention and teach all of my children simultaneously, and enjoy it in the process. After all, if you aren't enjoying what you are doing, your children will most likely not be enjoying it either.

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