Julie Lyles Carr: Encouragement for the Accidental Homeschooler..

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Encouragement for the Accidental Homeschooler..

I found this sweet email waiting for me in my box the other day, a virtual cry for help from a precious mom of seven.

She writes:

Help! God has called me to homeschool all 5 of my school-aged kids this year! I was only planning on my 6th-grader for this year, and recent developments have rearranged my plan. I am scared. Please share your thoughts on schooling a large group with a 3 and 2-year-old in the mix. I consider you the expert with a similar temperament to mine. The last time I was doing this, my 2 oldest were 5 and 6 and I only had 2 little ones besides. I need prayers and good advice on giving everyone the help and time they need from me. Thanks so much! I treasure your voice in my life. ;)

I myself went from 1 of 8 being in public school, with 2 and 3 of 8 being in preschool and 4 of 8 an infant at home with me to a full elementary/preschool homeschool population in the fall of '99. I had homeschooled 1 of 8 for her kindergarten year and then she decided she would like to hit our local public school. She had a great experience in 1st and 2nd grade, but by the end of her 2nd grade year, her interest in dance had become a passion and she knew that she wanted more time to be up at the dance studio. With the present school schedule, there was simply not enough time to pick her up at 3:45 pm, throw her in the car, rip across town with her trying to memorize spelling words and then stay at the dance studio until 8 pm.

Our subsequent seasons of homeschooling have been marked by periods of smooth and periods of rough. And I have definitely found that the most difficult seasons to navigate in terms of student traffic have been when there is a marauding toddler in the house--or two, as the case is now.

Though I don't have a magic panacea that can institute instant ease, I have found a few tips and tricks along the way that help. We make full use of our high chairs and the twins are presently doing 'schoolwork'. This involves paper and crayons, counting blocks, puzzles and the like. One of the things that has kept some of our toddlers mesmerized is an eyedropper and an icecube tray...you would be amazed at how long sucking up water in a dropper and then transferring it to another cube in the tray will keep even the most fidgety occupied. In a perfect world, I have an ideal of reserving certain toys for 'highchair school time.' But suffice it to say, that would require a level of discipline and organization that only resides in my fantasy life at the moment.

I've also adapted our schedule so that certain older kids have a 15 or 30 minute session playing with the toddlers. It gives a nice study break for the older student and when these sessions are combined in sequence with a couple of the other kids, it can yield a nice chunk of time for me to focus on the other students.

And then there's the Queen Mother of the Homeschooling With Toddlers Tip, the one that is so important and so necessary for sanity, organization, tutoring time, grading and planning. And that would be called Toddler Naptime.

Now understand, I haven't always had great nappers in the house. And when 5 and 6 of 8 were in the toddler stage, the worst thing I could have done was to have had a concrete schedule. We were in the process of an absolutely crazy move and I was living a couple of weeks in one location and then a couple of weeks in another, with many, many hours on the road sandwiched in between. If 5 and 6 had been on strong schedules, they would have forever been living upset and out of sync. We just had to gut it out.

But with the twins, 2 of 8 helped me put them on a gorgeous schedule that has become part religion. They head to bed each afternoon at 1 pm and usually give us a good two hour stretch. We study, study, study during that time and it is amazing what we get accomplished during those two toddler-free hours. The big kids know that we will be in buckle-down mode and they work accordingly.

Of course, with any educational plan, public, private or home, beyond the curriculum, beyond the schedule, beyond the challenges and accomplishments lies the need for grace and good humor. My primary goal in our homeschooling is to teach my kids how to be auto didactic, how to go look for information, how to carefully read instructions, how to have honor and excellence in completing their work, not just because my eyes are on it, but because it is a reflection of their character. There are unforeseen messes and naptimes that get interrupted, the occasional necessary errand and the last minute project. But it's all part of learning how to maintain a strong work ethic in the midst of distractions and noise and toddlers.

Containment, entertainment, naptime, with a sprinkle of grace. That would be my survival recipe of homeschooling with a toddler set on the loose.

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