This is a very real problem, and unfortunately there are no perfect solutions. In the world of outside education, schools with multi-age classrooms separate out children under three, but homeschooling moms have to function under conditions of war.
When I began homeschooling last year, my children were 1.5, 3 and 4 years old. My oldest was absorbing the lessons but the other two were having a field day in my home classroom, pulling materials off shelves, drawing on any surface they could get close to, dumping cheerios underfoot and generally leaving paths of destruction behind them, all within 10 minutes of starting my lesson.
What to do? For me, the start of the solution was to change my mindset. I had to accept that homeschooling was different from the controlled environment of a classroom, and that these issues were part of the package. I relaxed about the messes and got more flexible about how I fitted in lessons for my oldest. For a while I abandoned out home classroom completely, and headed back to the kitchen table where it was easier to manage everyone.
Recently this topic came up again in one of my homeschooling Facebook groups, and a good discussion ensued. So I want to share those collected strategies here, for all moms who might be searching for a solution online. Hopefully some of these tips can work for you:
- Try to get the younger children to "work" alongside the older children. This is important, although it won't buy you too much free time. It adds your younger children to the home school so that they feel included, and gets them learning. They may also surprise you with their early abilities. Even a 2-year-old can try cutting with scissors, coloring and scribbling, doing easy pouring and transfer activities, first puzzles, learning to open and close buttons, sticking stickers onto paper, matching objects and pictures, playing with play dough, stringing beads onto lace, etc.
- Try to get the oldest kids to learn as independently as possible. For me, this has been absolutely key. The more independent your older ones get, the more hair stays on your head. My daughter is now 5 and she is able to work on her own for at least a part of many assignments. Also, for greater independence it might help to choose a curriculum with teaching CDs (ex. Math-U-See) or online classes.
- Use nap times. Many moms use nap times to teach their older children. I do this too (though sometimes I wish I could have a nap myself!).
- Have older children babysit younger siblings. One mom wrote that once she had five children doing official school, she realized that she couldn't teach more than three at the same time, so the others would have to wait and do something independent. She suggested that an older child could make lunch, bake, colour, or go to the back yard, basement or kitchen for a break with the younger children. "Flexibility is key," she said, and that is homeschooling in a nutshell.
- Use staggered learning. Break up lessons throughout the day to make it easier for the younger ones to endure the wait. Also, try lessons in the evenings, after the babies and toddlers are in bed.
- Other ideas:
- One mom recommended the book A Mother's Rule of Life.
- Have lots of snacks available.
- Prepare lots of colouring pages related to the day's lessons.
- Place Lego beside the older children - perhaps so that they can be kept busy while waiting their turn.
- Playpens. These work well for some mothers, but not for all. Some children climb out of playpens early, while others (like mine) could never stand being confined in playpens. If it works for you, great!
- High chairs. If your child can be strapped in a high chair or other seating device and quietly sit there for some time, great.
- Play centres and other toys for young children. Maybe these will work better if they are only brought out at homeschooling time, so they retain some novelty.
Have other suggestions? Help other moms who might visit, and add you own tips in comments.
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