Sunday, June 07, 2009

Homeschooling Multiples with Littles

Today we have a guest blogger, my friend Maria Rioux. Maria is responding to a question below about teaching multiple children with littles.

I'm really short on time ... I've written on this before, so I cheated and cut and pasted. I hope you find it helpful. :)
God bless, Maria

You can always love more, but there will always be only 24 hours to a single day. You have to be a good steward of your time. Take full advantage of your time. I read to the children while they eat breakfast and we often listen to a book on tape or the life of some composer during lunch or when we're in the car. Dinner time is especially good for discussions, but so are walks.

When possible, combine things. One thing that combines easily is vocabulary, creative writing, and penmanship. We use new vocabulary words or spelling words to write a story. These can be a whole lot of fun. One child once got rid of 4 words, using them appropriately, in a single sentence. Another child was writing his vocabulary story. One of his words was "azure" meaning "clear blue". His story went: "Out of the azure ..."

Children around the same age can study some things together. They can drill math facts, whatever someone is memorizing (poetry, articles of Faith, corporal works of mercy....), and read historical retellings. I let them ask each other questions but only ones the questioner could answer as well. They earn little candies or pennies this way...and lose them when they get it wrong.

Simplify your life. Organize all aspects of it so that minimal attention is required for those areas that are practically necessary but not objectively speaking all that noble. It takes us about 45 minutes to completely clean our home. Everything has a place and we don't waste time looking for stuff when we want to use it. Decluttering and general cleanliness is liberating as well as practically and spiritually profitable. It gives us time to devote to better things. It's tempting sometimes to hang on to things in case you will use them, but it isn't always all that spiritually healthy. (Exceptions to every rule granted....That's what makes a rule legit, right?) If you haven't used it in 6 months and it isn't seasonal, you probably don't need it. Find it a happy home and you won't have to dust it.

Teach cheerful obedience, perseverance, and submission to the will of God. If necessary, use words.

Develop in your children the habits necessary for them to think on their own. I'm not saying we want to reduce education to this, but it is a good and necessary part.

Teach polite and considerate behavior to all within reason. If the baby is nursing and you don't plan to wean for at least a year or two, this just got a whole lot easier. A baby back pack that's well padded is a biiiig help if you kinda think you might have been a mountaineer in an earlier life....and you don't mind if someone eats your hair or drools down your neck while they nap. Put a little towel around the back of your neck before you start and you'll look athletic and take care of that little unpleasantness at the same time.(G) If the baby goes for baby swings, get an electric one. That way when he really is tired and you've got him all cleaned up, fed, and drowsy, you can gently put him in there and you won't have to wind it up again with that incredibly loooooud mechanism which invariably wakes him up again. If all else fails, you can bring in a stroller and have an older child wheel the baby around to some soothing music until he falls asleep or, if you live in a safe area or have a big yard, someone responsible can take a 20 minute break to stroll the baby outside. That often helps them get to sleep. Babies who are fed and not sleepy are generally in a pretty good mood. Ours liked to be held ... most of the time .... and entertained a little, but it didn't take much to entertain them. When children are very little I tend to keep them with me (1-1 1/2) They usually play quite contentedly at my feet or in the area as long as I'm mildly appreciative.

I have a basket of toys that are for during school time only. This keeps them interesting and special. Water generally adds to the fun so I set up a chair in front of the bathroom or kitchen sink and give the little guy the box of alligators, dinosaurs, whatever, to play with. He's nearby so I can watch him/listen for trouble, he knows the rules (no dumping water on the floor), and he's happy. I also have the little one join in whenever they can. For example, when we're playing an educational board game, he gets to roll the dice for everyone. When we're reading aloud, he listens with the rest of us (though he toddles around and does goofy stuff as well. This is probably a little drastic, but I let the little guys draw on my ankles and feet when we're having a read aloud. If you attack with soap right afterwards and don't let them use very dark colors, it washes off quite easily and satisfactorily. Our little guys liked to be part of things and would scribble happily with a pencil or color a favorite animal picture at the table with the others...for about 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes counts.

When we built our family room we decided to put a swing in there. Since Jean and I did the building, we knew what the joists would support. I wouldn't want an older child to swing on it, but anyone 10 and under can easily have fun regardless of the weather. When Adrienne was on chemo and could not be out in the sun, it gave her something fun and but not too taxing to do. Will loves it. He twists himself up and them lifts his legs off the floor and spins. It's not hard to put a swing up.

Sometimes I'll have older siblings play/read to the toddler. I stagger who plays with the baby so that no one has the job for more than 20 minutes. One side benefit of this is that all the children have developed close relationships with their siblings and each is both comfortable and competent to care for others. It fosters a kind of loving service and forgetfulness of self which is all to the good and hard enough to cultivate. Children are gifts in so many ways and bring out the best in each of us.

Someone always has some independent reading to do around here. Since our toddlers always looooved the shower/bath (and I have yet to meet one who doesn't) you fill the bath, make bubbles, get toys and plop him in there. Then you get the other child to sit with him in the bathroom while you work on whatever with whomever while the 2 year old plays and the older child watches out for him. I can always get a good 1/2 an hour of work in this way. After a bath, young children look like very sweet wrinkly raisins.

When things get rough and we have to work we pull out the secret weapon: Fluff. She doesn't sound impressive, but she gets the job done. Fluff is one of our outside cats that'd rather be an inside cat. She's very gentle and rarely scratches, though Will may drive her to desperate measures one of these days. If Fluff has lost her appeal, we have people take Will outside to play, again in shifts.

Sometimes we put on a video for Will. We almost never watch network TV, but we've got scads of videos. I like to put on the Animal Alphabet. It's a nature show with an animal for every letter and a song (and it really helps teach phonics). Any nature show will do, though. The library has wonderful ones. There's this really fun one called "Walking With Dinosaurs" (which also serves as fodder for our "How do they know that?!?" cannon) and it has a companion one about a little Allosaurus that grows up. He's called Big Al. I never imagined that I would have to comfort children distressed over the trials in the life of a computer-generated dinosaur. Then's there's the Magic Schoolbus, DK Animal Adventures, and all kinds of nature videos set to classical music. If that's all you did all day, it would obviously be a bad thing, but, used prudently, I see this as a good thing and a blessing to a very busy mom.

Computer games ... There are good ones and bad ones. If your child is having fun and learning worthy things while punching a keyboard, there's no need to feel bad about that. Just because Laura Ingalls never learned that way and had to lug around a slate everywhere doesn't mean that's what's best. There are wonderful and thoughtful computer games for math drills, reading practice, spelling...anything under the sun. The issue for me would be how much time do we spend on the computer and what do we spend that time working on? Around here it's a treat, reinforcing what we are working on in more concrete and personal ways.

We follow a schedule in terms of when we rise, eat, do schoolwork, and clean up pretty closely, though there are days when we pitch it completely, sleep in a bit, and wing it. We designed our own curriculum (a mix of Classical and CM methods) and have made it available online at no cost. If you'd like the link, write me and I'll send it to you along with a short description of how we implement it. We follow our syllabi pretty closely, though some things are not as necessary as others and these get the boot whenever we're over-loaded. These two things...ordering the day and having an academic plan for the year .... keep us feeling peaceful and also keep us honest. If we're behind, we know it.

Our homeschooling works best when I'm right there, not distracted by some other thing that needs doing, or worse, that I'd prefer to be doing, and when I do not allow myself to be duped into thinking that throwing in a quick load of laundry or something will help keep us on track over-all. I really need every minute in order to do justice to each child, and an interruption means someone will get shortchanged. Our kids love their school day when I work with them, and work both happily and hard with minimal encouragement. When I am not as available ... someone's math takes longer than expected, or Will needs a snuggle and a story, or the dog got into trouble, or the plumbing is a problem and I have to work on that ... little ones have a hard time maintaining focus and motivating themselves. They tend to daydream or grow disheartened by what seems like a lot of work at the moment. While I am not an integral part of every lesson, I am the support ... the reason, in part, why every child tackles whatever with gusto. I give them confidence, even when confidence isn't completely justified. If it is, in fact, beyond them, they know I am there to help. If I am not there, for whatever reason, even things which would require minimal gusto suddenly become overwhelming. Knowing that, my absence better be based upon a good and necessary reason.

Taking even 15 minutes to look over everyone's list for the day before we start helps me mentally prepare for the leaping from subject to subject, grade level to grade level, to come, which otherwise sometimes leaves me feeling frazzled and scattered. I have a hard time switching between math and art, with a quick question on catechism thrown in now and again or a dash to the potty with someone who thinks he _might_ make it. Though we try to structure the day so that everyone is working on the same sorts of things at the same time, no one ever does so at the same pace, so it isn't long before I'm juggling four different subject areas at the same time. That is tiring. It might be less tiring if I were an expert in each of these areas, but that is not the case.

I limit interruptions, but that's only workable with older children. Fat chance the toddler can do this or even should, though he can sit quietly on my lap for a minute while I finish up whatever. Children just beginning their schooling need loads of encouragement and I'm more lenient with them on interruptions as well. We work on it slowly, stressing charity. As excited as we are to see your beautiful "B", it'll have to wait just a second while so and so and I finish this problem. For older children (7 and up) I will look over your whatever, but only when it is done. I do appreciate the beauty of your work, but I do not want to see it by degrees, while I'm trying to teach your sister math....How do you like to learn math? You have to work on your own and then bring it to me when done ... not before...unless you have a question.

When a child gets out of line...lazes off or behaves inappropriately (this generally takes the form of not working well with your sibling on some joint project or daydreaming out the window while you're suppose to be focused on "X") I ask whether or not they'd do this if they attended a brick and mortar school. No. It would be embarrassing. It's never even a question. This annoys me. If it's that obvious, how come I have to suffer it? Do I know enough not to make okra for dinner?!!!? There's a parallel there, but it won't be apparent to okra lovers. Persons who love okra are the exception. No one knows what to do with them.

More than anything, our efforts must be joint ones. We are all here to accomplish God's will, not to be tyrannical. A young child should have enough trust in the judgement of his parents to support the decisions they make for his well-being. It wouldn't hurt to explain why we do what we do, but it shouldn't be necessary. Unquestioning, cheerful obedience is so undervalued in our society. It's as if to
require this is to attack the human dignity of another. It would be helpful to go through some biblical accounts of unquestioning obedience and how pleasing it is to God. I also like the story told by Liz Elliot of a missionary family out in Africa. The little 5 year old is playing under a tree. His father comes out on the porch and tells his little boy to come to him. The little guy does. When he gets away from the tree, the father runs up, grabs him tight and runs back to the house. They look back and see a poisonous snake hanging down in the branches above where the boy had been playing. The father took the opportunity to explain the value of unquestioning obedience. The boy did not say, "Just a sec ... I'm almost done with the castle wall...." , "Why? What do you want?" or anything like that, and it probably saved his life. (To be honest, our children would have died, unless I was holding out an ice cream.) Children, even after the age of reason, aren't all that reasonable nor that objective. In addition, they have almost no experience. If you're working at persuasion here, you've already lost a significant amount of your rightful authority. We teach our children about trust when we require them to do what they do not fully understand or appreciate. Isn't that what God asks of us throughout our lives? I have several very strong opinions about what would be the best plan for my life right now, but I know better than to hold on to them. I realize that this is not God's plan for me, and His plan is good. It's definitely way better than anything I could dream up, regardless of how unlikely that seems to me when I'm being emotional about things. It's when you start relaxing and enjoying yourselves that things really begin to click. It is such a privilege to have the opportunity to wonder along with our children, and to delight in them (I don't think I'll ever appreciate the gift of children as I should, but homeschooling sure gives you opportunities!). Homeschooling can be daunting. It's a big job. It's a job for which you are particularly well-qualified as no one knows your children better nor cares for them more.


Marinela said...

Really nice article :)
thanks for sharing :)

Kelli said...

Wow Maria,
I really cannot thank you enough. I have several friends who are trying to work out the some problems and will be directing them to this blog post. In fact I think I will print this off so I can highlight your ideas as I read.
I would love a copy of your curriculm if you would be so kind to email it to me.
God Bless you,

Kelly said...

Great article! I would also love a copy of your curriculum. Thanks so much!
God Bless!
Kelly (not the same person as the last comment)

anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
louise001 said...

Hi Thanks for the post - I homeschool 5 kids of which 2 are still littles - your article helped me alot!
May I please have a copy of your curriculum?
Thank you so much!