Dealing with tender little tykes while teaching the other children in your home can test the inner strength of any mother. Without proper preparation, getting schoolwork done when there are constant needs and interruptions by the little ones could cause your priorities to shift. If this is your situation, do not despair. It is possible to care for them and complete the day’s school work calmly and even be successful, too!
Homeschooling is really a lifestyle, not just an educational method. From the day each child was born, you became his teacher as well as his loving parent. Thus it is important to view your home with a Christian mindset in guiding your children, rather like a gentle shepherdess toward your flock of lambs. The world sees young children as problems to be endured and pushed away. Christ sees them as valuable people to be brought near and blessed. If you do not like your children, you will not enjoy them as God intended. You will feel that they are pests who get in the way of learning. On the other hand, our Christian homeschool lifestyle lets you include your little ones as they follow you through your day instead of shutting them out. If you will view them as valuable little people, you will wish to keep them nearby to participate in learning. With such thinking, you will have the right mindset to welcome them into your version of a sweet old-fashioned nursery school. While you cannot eliminate the stress that it involves, you can, at least, simplify it to make school time for the older ones manageable and more peaceful.
Before you will gain any real peace in this goal, you will have to plan to keep a good schedule so they can enjoy security and routine. You will also need a standard plan for training their behavior. The continual sacrifice that this will involve can be daunting to a new homeschooler, but the rewards of choosing this way will make you glad when you see the benefit of it. Preparing a simple, but consistent schedule and posting it will give you a guide for your day. Spend a couple days writing down what happens each hour and pray for wisdom before posting it on the wall. Stick with it until Christmas and adjust it as needed for next semester. Allow time for training their behavior. If you persist in helping them to obey you the first time you speak, their new respect for you and your words will help you teach them more effectively and you will be rewarded well for your effort. However, if you do not take notice and control their actions promptly, it results in more noise and disorder that ruins joy and makes learning more difficult. You will face this choice all year, every year. Delayed action only adds to your trials. Calmly correcting them does tax your strength, and it will take extra effort on your part to be consistent; but, if you will make it your main priority at first, change will come quickly and give you hope for better days ahead.
All of you were born with creative minds from God, so pray for His help to see your children through His eyes, learning to enjoy them and keep them close. Creatively use the following ideas for a springboard to launch ideas of your own that fit your circumstances. I hope these will encourage you in the goal of learning together with joy.
- Limit access to other areas of the house in some way while you are teaching. Being together in one area helps to keep the rest of the house cleaner and you will know what the little ones are up to before clutter strikes. If your tyke strays out of the room, you can simply bring him back, give him something to do, and return to teaching. I have found that conditioning a young baby to an open playpen (in which he can see and hear you) in the schoolroom for only about one hour each day around the same time will usually buy you time for detailed subjects like math and language.
- Any child that is four and under not only needs to see and hear you but he will need touch and attention also, at regular intervals, in order to be content during school. For less intense subjects, I have often held the baby or even nursed him under a light blanket while going around the table to help each student and answer questions. With babies, I sometimes needed to take five minute breaks every hour or two for “cuddle time” or just to help one in some way, perhaps a diaper change with some cheerful talk or handing one a different toy or book with a few sweet words or looking at something together.
- Each child’s real need for food, warm clothes, a drink, clean diapers, and affection should be lovingly met first. He will then more likely to sit nicely on your lap or the floor for a short time with a toy, book, or activity while you instruct the others. When you take time to meet needs first, they are more contented to play happily alone for awhile afterward, so be certain that your toddler’s physical needs are met before tackling any major subjects and before putting babies in the playpen or on a blanket near you. A three or four year old can have a little desk or play area near you instead. Later on, you will discover that injecting knowledge in this way, by letting him listen while he plays, will help you immensely when it is his turn to begin schooling.
- When your students are all busy doing their spelling words or some simple subject, let your baby or toddler “do school” with you for one to five minutes depending on their age and attention span. Some homemade flash cards with the letters, numbers, colors, or shapes will give them some lap time and increase their brain power and thinking skills. Do not overwhelm them with doing them all at once. You can cut pictures of animals or objects from magazines and put them on construction paper borders with clear contact paper and flip through those, too. A three or four year old may be ready for some simple school readiness pages as well. Make a big deal of learning and praise him for progress in “school.” He will learn to love school before he ever begins formal class work.
- Regarding quiet things for play, a special box used only during school hours can help them to look forward to quietly spending time with you. Put general household objects in it that are small, soft, quiet, and safe and change them as needed. Hand them only one object, with another in readiness. Let your children help you with neat ideas for the box.
- Do not be fooled into thinking that your students need perfect quiet for learning. They are already used to the little noises of siblings. Little, happy noises are okay. Your students will learn to concentrate on their own work in this way. It is the real noise of crying, loud toys, unnecessary talk, tapping of pencils, and running around (among other things) which are the most distracting and should be squelched right away. Naturally, television and videos are a big no-no, unless they are truly educational. Toddlers can enjoy these with the student while you work with another child.
- Ignore the telephone unless you are expecting a call. Unplug the phone if you need to during tests or when you are teaching hard subjects. Train your friends and family not to call in the morning unless it is important and keep the conversation short.
- Between subjects, let that older child watch the baby for 15 minutes while you teach another one. Baby would also love sitting in another lap just as much as yours, especially when big sister is doing her reading lesson aloud.
- Maintain a calm atmosphere. A gentle spirit in dealing with problems is invaluable. If your baby is screaming, you must stop the lesson and calm him and meet his need. Meanwhile have your student read over that page, or start a different subject while waiting for you, if you need to go and change or feed the baby. When your toddler climbs on the table yet again or dismantles the lower shelf of books, just consider it one more opportunity to teach him self-control and the meaning of NO swiftly and kindly. Whatever lesson was in progress can be resumed afterward. If a problem persists, it may be necessary to remove that tyke to his crib or send him out for reading time with a sibling for the remainder of that subject, but return him to fellowship soon. If you isolate him too often, too long, or too meanly, they can become more undisciplined, irritable, or worse.
- A one hour break for lunch and indoor play will give all of you time to relax and let you start that laundry or even prep for dinner to save time later.
- All children, four and under, need a nap every day at the same time for an hour or two. They will be much more cheerful for the rest of the day. The others could observe a quiet hour as well by reading or doing simple learning activities. A regular early bedtime (by 8pm) is wise for their growing bodies as well. Your nerves will benefit, too.
Now, it may happen that your best efforts fail at times. Interruptions will occur, someone will get sick, or you may have one that tries your patience hourly; but, maintaining a basic schedule and prayerfully dealing with each surprise in your week will help you to get more accomplished than you could have otherwise. Do not despair. Continue to keep your little lambs near you, including them as much as you are able. Examine your heart before God to discern any laziness or unkindness, and choose to do better and serve them with a sweet spirit anyway, doing good for them all day. When you become weary of each day’s noise and labor, seek rest in the Lord. Pray often for strength to do the right thing and for guidance in unusual situations. Your efforts will be fully blessed eventually, and the results will help you smile with joy!
© 2010 Melanie Lippert
Joyful M.O.M.S. / Ps. 113: 9