Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 1.47.49 PM Homeschooling, especially with multiple-aged kids, can be really difficult.

There are so many logistical, practical details that continually need to be worked out, and many of us get so overwhelmed, that we end up stuck in a place where we simply accept (however unhappily) that a certain level of stress, frustration and discouragement is just part of life.  We are tired. We are disorganized.  We are discouraged that we’re always on edge, or that we lose our temper too much and fail to be the kind, patient, loving mom we want to be to our kids as we teach them.  We pray for grace day by day but often feel we’re stuck on a crazy spinning hamster wheel.  At least I do.

Guess what? There is hope, mamas.

Little by little, we’re going to make it.  It’s going to take dedication and grit and stick-with-it-ness, but if we remain humble, disciplined and willing to learn, we can find a place of peace–imagine teaching your kids from a place where you are mentally and emotionally relaxed and joyful!  If Michelle Dugger can keep that smile on her face as she raises and home schools 19 children, I know I can too.

I am continually amazed what I am able to glean from other veteran homeschoolers, moms of large families and through reading many books/online resources. Each time I find a new solution that works well for the stage I am in with my children, I am so grateful.

 

Today’s post is about putting some new strategies into place that will provide a calmer, more peaceful homeschooling environment where kids are learning happily and mom is not frazzled and on edge. I am currently homeschooling my four children, ages 8, 6, 4 and 2.

So really, that’s two school-aged kiddos (1st and 3rd grade) and two non-school aged, but very needy/demanding littler kiddos.

 

This year when it became apparent that I had to keep my six year old at the table with me a little longer, my four year old son lost his playmate for that hour or two, and let’s just say I’m pretty sure he and the toddler formed some secret evil plan to undermine my school-time each day. I’d shoo them off to play together, but that didn’t always go so well, and even when it worked, it was only for like 10 minutes and then they’d  be BACK at the table, along with their noise and toys and craziness.  Argh.  I kept working with it, but it was testing my patience and I hated that my eager first grader who was making strides in reading and math, and needed some concentrated 1 on 1 time each day, was continually being distracted by their antics.

I decided to seek some help.

I knew about Teri Maxwell’s Managers of Their Home book but the last time I looked at it, I just felt overwhelmed by it, and also that it didn’t quite apply to our stage at that time.  But this time, it was honestly heaven-sent.

I was inspired and encouraged as I read through it, and decided to get started immediately by:

1) putting my kids and myself on a schedule for the morning which would include

2) chores and expectations for their morning routine of personal hygiene and care, and

3) a set-schedule for school time, with expectations for who was doing what and when.

 

I also knew I wanted to try her suggestion to have each of the older children in the family (in my case, that includes everyone except the 2 year old) take turns for 1/2 hour at a time “watching” the toddler / baby so that I could have concentrated, distraction-free time at the table with 1-2 children at once, all morning long.

 

And finally, I knew for it to be effective, I’d have to set up some activity “stations” that the kids could choose from when it was their turn to watch the 2 year old.  They would have to be responsible to manage their station by playing fairly, keeping the toddler happy, and cleaning everything up completely when they were finished.

 

We have only been doing this for one week, but already, I’m calling it my sanity-saving-system because it is working so well, and guess what? The kids love love love it.

I wanted to share it with you so that some of you could draw some inspiration and perhaps put a few of these things in place immediately in order to alleviate stress in your homeschool situation.

Of course, I’d encourage you to get Teri Maxwell’s book, but to get started right away, you will want to assign 1/2 hour blocks of time to each of your children to watch/play with your younger child(ren) while you remain at the table working with the others.  In fact, the entire morning (really, the whole day) is broken up into 1/2 hour segments

 

Just to give you an example, this is how our mornings are looking:

6am Mom: up early!  <— more on that another time, but for me, everything pretty much hinges on this.  This is when I can read, pray, exercise, and plan.

7:30 – Littles up, playing, Mom: Daily meal-prep in kitchen

8am – Breakfast and Family Devotions / Prayer at table, Daddy leaves for work

8:30 – Big kids: Rooms, Chores, Hygiene, Dress for Day – Mom: 1 on 1 time playing with and loving on Caleb (age 2)

9-12 SCHOOL TIME

9:00 – Josiah (K-4) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (Mom does Math at table with 1st and 3rd grader)

9:30 – Joshua (age 6) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (3rd grader does indep. work (daily grammar, phonics, silent reading, copy work) and Mom works 1 on 1 with Preschooler).

10:00 – Eden (age 8) chooses activity station and plays with Caleb (Mom works 1 on 1 to do reading with 1st grader while Josiah chooses a station to do on his own).

10:30 – Josiah (4) and Caleb (2) choose a new station and play together again (Joshua does journal writing and spelling semi-indep and Eden and mom work 1 on 1 in writing and read-aloud).

11:00 All little boys free to play together or choose stations, etc. while mom continues to work with Eden in Science and/or History until just before noon.

12:00 – Lunch Time

12:30-1:30 FREE PLAY TIME

1:30 Baby goes down for 2 hour nap & Boys go outside to play, weather permitting or play quietly indoors ( ha ha ha ha).  Eden finishes up any remaining school work, then has free play time. ….

 

So this is only part of our day’s schedule, and I KNOW I still need to address the later hours of the afternoon right before Daddy comes home (which are notoriously the witching hours for homeschool moms) but even this little morning schedule has been LIFE-CHANGING for our home school!

 

Suddenly, I wasn’t being interrupted 2,389 times as I tried to get school done at the table.  Everyone LOVED the stations, and did a great job cleaning them up when the timer went off. The big kids totally rose to the occasion when it was their turn to “babysit” Caleb.

First of all, they felt like they were getting recess/a break from school work, which all kids love, and secondly, they felt very mature getting to be in charge of the baby and all. It worked great for Caleb too, since he already had 1on1 time with Mommy first thing in the morning, and then had such willing, engaged playmates for the remainder of the time.

Before I started all of this, I brainstormed with my oldest as to what stations we could set up,  and what would be enjoyed.  I then grabbed empty bins from around the house, and also bought 4 or 5 more so everything could be nice and orderly (another key to success).

As we worked together and got each bin set up, the enthusiasm just kept building.  The kids were so eager to start school time the next day, because they couldn’t WAIT until it was their time to watch Caleb and choose an activity station. From day one, it was awesome, and I knew I had found something really, really good.

I feel like I just got a better grip on life and homeschooling using this system.

Mamas, this is totally worth giving a try if you are struggling with maintaining your sanity as you juggle school and life with multiple ages! Start by planning out a little schedule and then: get organized.

And for pity’s sake, don’t go out and buy all new stuff.  Organize what you already have.  When it comes to toys and art supplies, we have SO MUCH, it was actually kinda ridiculous as I began gathering.  I could have done 10 MORE bins if I wanted.  The problem is that our kids’ things are usually all scattered about the house or their rooms, or the homeschool area, and everything’s all crazy and mixed up (and driving me even MORE crazy).  Putting every activity into its own bin was probably the most helpful thing I did. It also allowed me to assess each bin and see what I needed to add.  For example, I bought more glue and glitter, etc for the Cut, Paste and Create bin, and also printed off a stack of do-a-dot papers for the Do-a-Dot bin. It felt really good to organize all of our clay into one sturdy bin that is accessible to me and the kids when we need it.

And guess what? The kids appreciated the organization too.  They were so eager to open each organized activity set and get going right away with their play or creativity.  Another of Teri Maxwell’s suggestions I may try is to rotate the availability of certain bins.  If play-doh is only available on certain days, or every other week, it will keep it from becoming overused and boring.

The bottom line here moms: don’t give up.  Don’t accept that crazy and frantic and frazzled are just the new norm for you and your kids.  And certainly don’t believe that by putting a schedule together, your home atmosphere will feel stifled and rigid.

The truth is: Kids and adults alike thrive from routine, and FREEDOM comes when you adopt a clear set of expectations. Start with only scheduling your morning, or maybe only trying a 9-11am set schedule.

Write it out, and be clear as you share with your kids that they each have a job to do during that period of time.  Post a master schedule somewhere where you can all see it.  Use a timer and keep yourself, and your kids accountable.  {In fact, Teri Maxwell shares how it’s very important to keep things moving along and switch up the school tasks and the stations every half and hour even IF everything seems to be going smoothly.  Part of the reason for success is because the whole morning is ordered into 1/2 hr segments and so it moves pretty quickly.  When things are allowed to be drawn out beyond that, boredom or fighting can more easily set in}.

Finally, begin brainstorming activity stations that will be meaningful and fun, and start to get a few organized. Just start somewhere. Next, I’ll be sharing what is in each of our bins, and where we store everything, so be sure to stop back to see it all!

(CLICK HERE to read PART 2)

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