This year, our homeschooling life includes two children in formal lessons (in 1st and 2nd grade), two younger children (ages 4 and 2), and a new baby on the way! As you may imagine, there are a lot of opportunities for distractions, interruptions, and challenges. Yet the opportunities for family time, sibling bonding, and creating our family culture are abundant.
When we decided to homeschool, we were drawn in by the many benefits academically, socially, and beyond. Yet one unexpected blessing of homeschooling has been the ability to foster relationships between our children.
The sibling bond is a special one, and doing school together allows them to strengthen their friendship and make memories together.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges. Here are six tips I’ve learned over time to help make family homeschooling a success.
#1: Organize your homeschool rhythm.
When organizing our homeschool schedule, it helped to not only consider the needs of my school-aged children but the needs of my little ones as well.
Taking time to invest in my youngest children before school starts has been a blessing to them as well as our whole family. There have been many days where we don’t start school as early as I would prefer because I’m reading to my preschooler or taking care of my toddler. That’s part of the beauty of homeschooling: You can not only meet educational needs but developmental ones as well.
We also appreciate the flexibility. I can’t tell you how many times a lesson has been interrupted to feed a baby or change a diaper! This is part of learning, though―my children see firsthand what it’s like to care for someone else.
In our homeschool, we seek to develop not only our children’s minds and bodies, but also their character. It is my hope that my children learn how to work hard at school, and also how to be patient when their lesson is interrupted due to the needs of another.
#2: Minimize the mess as much as possible.
If you’ve ever had a toddler, you may have realized just how delightfully destructive they can be!
While it may sound overly simple, organizing our homeschool space to cater to my little ones has made a huge impact on our joy as homeschoolers.
I quickly realized that a mess of papers, crayons, books, games, toys, and more was causing me unnecessary stress in my homeschool. After spending some time organizing our space to be more toddler-friendly and investing in some locks for our school cabinets, I realized just how much that mess had been affecting me―and how much more peaceful things felt now that it had been drastically lessened.
Now my toddler has access to toys during our school day, but our space and the mess he can create feels more manageable. We can also rotate toys occasionally to keep things new and interesting for him.
Finding out what works for your family may take some organization and adjusting. However, finding a good solution that works for you, your school-age children, and your little ones is worth the time and effort.
#3: Create consistent homeschool habits.
We’ve also realized how essential good habits are to our homeschool and family life. By establishing helpful family habits, our days can run more smoothly. This may look like creating a morning routine to get ready for the day, tidying the school space before moving onto the next lesson, or regularly cleaning up together after meals.
Working together with our children to establish these habits not only benefits our family now, but it cultivates character in our children that will benefit them for a lifetime. But don’t feel like you need to create every habit at once. Focusing on the development of one habit at a time will result in steady progress and keep adults and children from feeling overwhelmed.
#4: Look for family learning opportunities.
Combining lessons when homeschooling multiple children is a great way to learn together and move efficiently through the school day.
In our home, we combine lessons wherever possible by looking at which lessons are based on content and which are based on a skill level.
Content-based subjects are those which center on a specific topic, rather than a specific skill level. Depending on your schooling, this may include subjects such as history, geography, literature, art and music appreciation, and more. You can often include multiple children in lessons about these subjects.
For example, my first and second graders do their history lessons together. We read from our history book and pause to narrate. I’ll have them take turns narrating the passage we read. While I often notice a deeper understanding from my second grader and his narrations are frequently more developed, I am able to meet them both right where they are in their abilities. Although they’re at different levels, our lesson works well together because it’s based on a book we can all enjoy.
Skill-based lessons are often subjects such as math, handwriting, and learning to read. These lessons typically work best on an individual basis so you can meet the child at their individual skill level. To make this work with multiple children, I try to take advantage of nap times or other times of independent play while I work with a specific child at their skill level. (This is also where those habits and routines can come in handy!)
#5: Find modifications to include younger siblings in lessons when possible.
Meeting the needs of my toddler and preschooler, while also completing lessons with my older children, can be a challenge. While I want my little ones to feel loved and valued, I also want to give the time and attention necessary to my older children.
In our family, the little ones are always welcome to join us for lessons, but they aren’t required.
This may look like sitting on my lap as I read our literature book or drawing or coloring while the older children work on handwriting. They also love to join us for activities such as painting or singing!
Often, my younger ones love to draw on a dry erase board while I do math lessons with an older child. It’s very sweet to see my first-grader adding sums on his dry erase board while my preschooler draws a house on his.
We also keep several toys and puzzles in our homeschool room for the little ones to play during lessons. Our guidelines are that they can play, but they must not be too noisy and they must be respectful. I also try to make extra connections with my little ones before school, during our snack break, and after lessons to avoid any feelings of being left out.
#6: Keep the big picture in mind.
On the days when it feels overwhelming to meet the many needs in my home, it helps to remember the many blessings of our large family. I hope that one day my children look back on their homeschooling days with gratitude, thankful for the time we spent together as a family making important connections. I hope they have wonderful memories of learning, creating, and adventuring together.
Homeschooling with multiple children is worth every interruption, every distraction, and every difficult day because it is important work we are doing for the ones we love.