Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moms of Many... Questions and Answers

I am due to be on a Moms of Many Panel Discussion this week along with several other moms. Because our baby is due the next day, I'm not sure I will make it! I thought I would post my answers to the questions fielded so far, so that they are available for the moms to look at if they so desire...Questions are highlighted in red with my answers following in black.

Is there a curriculum that you have found that you think might work for your family because you have a large family? For example because it's really easy for the kids to follow and do on their own or because it explains things really well or even because it's quick to do?

See my post on my curriculum recommendations here...

How much of their work do you correct, how much do they correct and how much never gets corrected? What are your attitudes/thoughts on this issue?

I struggled with staying on top of correcting things for several years. I'd start the year out doing well, and then things would peeter out and I'd get behind. The hardest subject to stay on top of with a lot of children is math. I have found that the best decision I have made is switching to Teaching Textbooks. Six of my 7 children now use TT (the five year old is still too young). TT is a computer based curriculum that grades the math for the child through the seventh grade. My highschoolers grade their own work after each lesson. By this age they should be responsible enough to do this. All other subjects (phonics, grammar, writing) I grade as we go along. We all sit around the kitchen table and work together on the same subject and I oversee and correct on a daily basis. Again my older children are pretty much on their own and check their own work as they go along.

In what subjects do you do "group lessons?" What ages? Do you end up with a lot of squirreliness with the younger ones or bad attitutes with the older ones? More than when they are on their own or one on one?

We do most subjects as a group, although everyone at their own level. I try to combine several ages if at all possible to avoid having 7 different spelling lists or gammar concepts. If your kids are fairly close in age this becomes very doable and makes schooling easier and more enjoyable. We do Latin as a group (ages 7 through 12) as well as geography, history, literature and science. I treat my highschoolers more like college students- they are in charge of their own schoolwork, when to do it, in what order and both of mine have proven to be responsible to get their work done.

As for bad attitudes, this does occasionally happen! Sometimes its lack of sleep or needing a change in routine. There are days when everyone seems edgy and we change what we are doing altogether. Maybe we all go outside, have art time or enjoy some hot cocoa together. My motto is that "relationships are more important than academics."

Have you had the older kids teach younger ones? In all subjects or just some? What are our thoughts about who works with who? Age difference? Personalities? In what ways have you  seen your older children grow from this experience?

For the most part I don't have the older children teach the younger ones. I believe that as their mom that I am the one that chose to teach them at home and that it is, therefore, my responsibility. Although I am sure that it works for some families, I have also seen it build resentment in older children who are given the responsibility of teaching younger siblings while mom is off doing her own thing. Of course there are times, like when I have a new baby or am in bed with a migraine, when older children will step in for me and oversee some of the school work for that day or time period- but they usually volunteer to do this to help me out, for which I am so thankful!

How does each family handle laundry? Does each person do their own? How many loads a day and when do they get done?

For the most part I do all of the laundry at our house. I have the children bring me their dirty clothes from the various hampers around the house on certain days and then I sort them into the correct bins that I have lined up in our very small laundry room. When a particular bin is full, I run that load of wash. I would say that I typically do 2 loads of laundry a day, 5 days a week on average. I have an extra large washer and dryer, so a lot of clothes fit in. I try to start laundry early in the morning, switching out at lunch time, finishing up after school hours (late afternoon). As I fold and hang the clean laundry, I sort it according to each child, and each child old enough to do so, is in charge of putting away his or her own laundry. There are times when the children help me fold a load (especially large loads of socks and underwear!) or switch wash from the washer to the dryer. We also have a "single sock" bin in our laundry area for all of the single socks. About once a month one child's chore will be to match up socks in this bin and put them away. I set aside one day a week to do the ironing (in the time slot between finishing school and starting dinner). If something needs to be worn in the meantime, one of my older girls will iron what needs to be worn.

How are devotions done? Individually? Group? What time of day?

We do family devotions twice a day, roughly at 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, led by my husband. (See this link for more info). We encourage our children to have their own devotions once they are able to read on their own. We pray with our little ones before they go to sleep every night and they pray out loud when they are able.

How are family chores managed? Divided up amongst the kids? Do you do chores or is your "chore" to get the kids to do theirs plus all the unnamed chores?

See my post on chores here... When you have a lot of kids, there aren't too many unnamed chores that get left undone! I do, however, think it is important that you work with your children together in the home to get everything done. If all you do is "bark" orders, the atmosphere of the house becomes tense and it builds a spirit of animosity in your children. Work was created by God before the fall of man, and I think it is important to teach our children that working together to get things done in the home makes life more pleasant and enjoyable for everyone. There may be more work in a big family, but there are also a lot more people to get the work done. I actually find that I have more "free" time than many of my friends who only have one or two kids left at home- they are left to do all of the dishes, cleaning and cooking by themselves! :)

What about meals? Are kids assigned nights to cook?

For the most part I plan all of the meals. I find this easiest to do in 1 week increments and use a master sheet of approximately 30 meals or so to choose from. These are meals that are relatively easy to make and don't use fancy ingredients. I am the main cook, but my girls help with the meal preparation. I usually ask for only one dinner helper (if there are no volunteers, I pick one!) while another child sets the table. I often have my dinner helper fix the salad or make the dressing, put on water for pasta or rice etc. I often have several kids help make dinner, especially when we are pressed for time or when I just need the extra help (like with a new baby just about to arrive). We listen to music and work together- these are some of my favorite times together! I find that my children working along side of me has taught them how to cook, just by helping me everyday. They have a big advantage to where I started out as a newly married wife!

I have also found it helpful to have regular cooking days. I plan 1 or 2 days a month to prepare parts of meals to make meal preparation easier the rest of the month. I buy in bulk (we love Costco and Trader Joe's especially) and spend a day cooking and deboning chickens and browning meat etc. See my recent post on this here....

What is your favorite resource for homeschoooling a large family (a book, articles, CD, blog etc.)?

My favorite resource for large families is Above Rubies ( Nancy Campbell has been very instrumental in my life, both through her books, audio teachings and her free magazine and weekly devotionals. If you ever feel discouraged in your calling as a wife or mother, turn to her resources- she will inspire you in your high calling!

I've grown up a homeschooler and had the opportunity to be exposed to many different homeschooling families in a number of states. One observation I've made is that sometimes the oldest child is given so many responsibilities to care for younger siblings that one or all of 3 things happen... 1. they miss out on being a kid themselves 2. they have a constant sense of responsibility/burden and are taking life too seriously 3. think of themselves as adults and interact with other adults as though they are adults themselves. I'm thinking of the 11- 15 age group mostly. How do you as a mom balance teaching your oldest children how to be responsible, but at the same time helping them enjoy their childhood years? When do you say, "I'm the mom, I'll do it" or "This is good practice, you do it?"

This is a big question to answer! First, I think that we need to remember that our culture has set up a false notion that childhood is extended into the teen years and beyond. According to the Biblical norm, as well as to life just a few centuries ago, a child transitioned into adulthood by age 12 or 13. Young boys could run their father's business by age 14 or 15, and young girls could manage a household by that age as well. We are submersed in a culture where young adults still don't know what they want to do upon graduating from college, so are we surprised that they are unresponsible and self-centered while they are in their teenaged years? The Lord has really taught me that having a large family allows my children to grow up thinking about others and caring for the needs of siblings. It teaches them responsibility and how to work and get along with others. This isn't a bad thing! I agree, there must be a balance. We don't want to work our children to the bone where they become disgruntled and not want to be in a big family. I, too, have seen this happen. We need to be aware of our children and their feelings and plan for times of refreshment and relaxation together. Sometimes this is just a break away from the rest of the family. I try to take different children while running errands, and if finances allow, take them out for icecream or a cup of coffee. Sometimes they just enjoy window shopping or going to a book sale for a few hours. We all can get burned out. If a child feels overwhelmed by something, by all means step in and help, or have another sibling come along side them. As a mother, we need to watch over the atmosphere of our family, whether we have 2 children or 20. We are the pulse that keeps things going. If our children are overwhelmed, we need to re-evaluate our family dynamics and strive to implement change.

What I have noticed in my own family of 9 going on 10 children is that each one finds his or her place of what they like to do. Although my oldest (17) doesn't care for cooking, she really enjoys doing the dishes. She has been doing them since she turned 12 and is a pro at loading the dishwasher and cleaning up after all of our meals. She listens to music and doesn't want any help (in fact, she gets mad when we try to clear plates or stack dishes because we disturb her method of doing things!). I never planned for things to be this way, but this is her contribution to our family, and I am so thankful for all of her hard work in this area. My next daughter down really enjoys helping with cooking, decorating and working on the computer. She takes and edits pictures and helps me with my blog (it would take me forever to figure that stuff out). My just 10 year old loves to straighten up and organize as long as she has an ipod to listen to. She is my best organizer; it's just in her nature. I don't remember ever taking the time to teach her, she is just naturally programmed that way. She also is the "mommy" to her youngest sister. She loves to give her baths and get her ready for bed, which is a huge help for me. My oldest son at age 15 can fix anything. He is a good painter, can work on our vehicles, has done woodworking in our home and does most of the yard and outside work on our 7-acre farm. Each family member contributes according to the gifts God has given him or her. It is beautiful to see how we are all members working together!

How do you handle clothes for your kids? For example, switching winter and summer, making sure they all have what they need in the right size, economical ways of finding clothes, etc.

I keep almost all of my clothes to pass down the line to my other children. I store them in large plastic bins and label the sex and size range in that particular bin. There are 8 years between my oldest son and his twin brothers, so I only keep PJs and coats from him to pass down, the rest I give away to my sister who's son is closer to his age. (I find keeping clothes for 8 years does not do them justice, plus the twins need 2 of everything and like being the same!). But with my girls I am able to re-use almost everything.

I of course try to shop sales and I try to do a lot of my shopping online to save time. Many sites now offer free shipping on orders over $50 with free returns. I have done well with The Children's Place, Gymboree and my favorite place is still Old Navy, especially for basics like tees, sweatshirts and jeans. If you are a card-holder they offer 40%  off sales several times a year, which brings huge savings for a large family. I do occasionally shop at second-hand stores, but I find that I end up paying the same price for used clothing as I do for brand new things at Old Navy. With my older girls, especially, it gets much harder to find decent clothes for less, and requires more work and searching! Boys are definitely easier when it comes to clothing.

As for switching clothing, that tends to be a chore, although now that I have older ones, they do a lot of this on their own. This past season, my 10 and 12 year old daughters did all of the clothes switching for their 3 little sisters (ages 2, 3 and 5). They tried things on them and made piles and put off-season clothes away for me and labeled everything. I didn't have to do a thing! Of course, they also were dying to get out the newborn baby clothes out and helped me sort, wash and hang them up for the new baby about to join our family. Once the new season's clothes are out, I go through and make a list of things each child may still need (shoes, socks, new underwear, a shirt to match a particular skirt etc.) and then try to shop for these items as I am able to.

Had you to do it over again, what would you have done in the early years to help you  streamline cooking, meal planning, and grocery shopping for your family later on when you have less time?

I actually feel that I have much more time now that I have some older children to help with the bigger things of running a household (cleaning, cooking, babysitting). Life is full and busy when you have a houseful of little ones that need to go with you wherever you go. I would encourage a mom with young children to take the time to teach little ones to help out with various chores. It takes time on our part to teach them to do things well, but in the long run it will really pay off. If you have a houseful of littles, remember that this is just a season. Seek out help and don't set your expectations too high. Keep decorating simple (I have heard moms who put knick-knacks away for a season). Cook simple meals, even if you repeat the same meals every week- this will make shopping and food prep much easier. Use only non-iron clothes and try to have the children wear things for several days before washing if at all possible. Use disposable diapers! Use only 1 bathroom to cut down on cleaning each week. Rotate toys so that the kids don't play with everything everyday creating a big mess. Try to keep life simple; I think we often make it more complex than it needs to be. I learned I could do without a whole lot when our family recently lived in a RV for 2 years! And remember there is a day coming when you will have older ones to help out and life will be a whole lot different...

One of the challenges of having a large family is trying to find time to spend individually with each child. How do you (and your husband) handle this?

This is a challenge, especially in our busy, fast-paced society. Living for many years in  rural Montana, I became more of a "home body" which I think really helped me spend time with my kids. I continue to try to be home as much as possible, because after all, we "home school!" It is easy to fall into the trap of going here, there and everywhere- even if the activities are good and involve school or church functions. I think as homeschooling moms we spend more time with our children then when we send them off to school all day. I know going to a Christian school growing up, I was usually gone from 7 am until 4 pm, and later during volleyball season with practices and games. Add music lessons and homework onto that, and I spent very little time with my parents one on one.

Even though I have a lot of children, I am with them all day. One mom I respect, says that our children can benefit from us being a mom "corporately" not just individually. Just as in a church setting, we are ministered to corporately, so it is in the home. All the children can benefit from and spend time with mommy together. As I mentioned earlier, I do try to take various children with me on errands and shopping trips. Older children get to go to plays, concerts and movie nights. Often if a child needs to talk or spend extra time with you, he or she will let you know, if not by words, through their actions. As a mom, I have spent many nights talking with one of my older children on the sofa or at the kitchen counter about something that they needed to talk about. These times are almost never planned, yet we have the privilege to be there for our children when the need arises. My husband also tries to take our sons on "manly" errands and to look at jobs or pick up supplies. Our oldest son has been working with my husband since he was 12 (and he is almost 16), so they have many opportunities to be together.

Have any of you ever been in a place where you still wanted to have more children but your husband said "no." How did you handle your "grief" without being disrespectful or unsubmissive to your husband?

Although I haven't been in this position, I know that ultimately it is God who changes hearts (he changed mine!). I would encourage any woman in this position to bring her requests to her God, daily if need be. Instead of nagging and preaching at her husband, she must choose to be joyful in her submission and continue to respect her husband's authority, even though this may be hard to do (especially when we feel like we are right) I have read of amazing testimonies of husbands wanting vasectomy reversals and desiring to have more children. God is a God who loves life, and He can work in our husbands (as well as in us as women) for His glory!

What if you're in a place where you find that routines (meals, chores and laundry) plus school work is taking all day? What have you done to streamline your routines so there is margin in your life?

Meals, chores, laundry and school do take up most of life! Again, as I said earlier, I think we need to try to simplify our lives as much as possible- with meals, clothes, how we decorate and clean our homes... If school is taking too much time or is adding stress to your life, it is probably an indication that you need to make some changes. Do the bare minimum with your little ones- they don't need a whole lot of science and history. Read them good books. I have found that my younger children will spend hours looking at animal encyclopedias and copying pictures and words, making their own books in the process. They are learning about God's world (all without me!). Give your children good resources. There may be seasons in your life where they need to listen to books on tape and watch educational videos while you are dealing with a colicky baby, a family crisis, or working on tax preparation... Life is always going to be like that. I have also found it very helpful to have a cleaning day. We do school 4 days a week and take Friday to clean our entire house, because I have a hard time functioning in a mess! See my post on that here...

I would encourage any busy mom to plan and prioritize her time. Start your day with the Lord, take time to stretch and exercise, eat healthy food so that you have the energy to serve your family. Discuss with your husband and pray about what needs to get accomplished every week, and then set daily, attainable goals to meet those needs.

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