Homeschooling with Babies & Toddlers

One of the most difficult things to wrap your head around when you’re considering homeschooling is how in the world you’re going to teach multiple children of a variety of ages in many different subjects… all at once. Not to mention the little nursling in arms or the busy toddler underfoot.

The mess beyond

Most of us were public schooled ourselves, and it’s really hard to break free of the line of thinking where all the 7 year old children go into a classroom together and learn the same things at the same time. Of course, that model doesn’t work well for everyone, but it’s still pretty deeply ingrained in our brains.

I read stacks of books and talked to everyone I could, but I still went in unsure of how it was really all going to play out on a day to day basis. My best advice for anyone standing on the precipice is to just jump. I mean, make your plans first, but then, seriously, just dive in. You can read everyone else’s how-tos, pore over others’ schedules, but it will really all boil down to what works for you and your children. Your children are unique, you know better than anyone else how to parent them, teach them, and help them to grow.

Good stuff

You’ll sort out a rhythm to your days and realize that family learning as a group has a lot of really cool benefits, and that education doesn’t have to be segregated according to age. People will be on different levels, but children can easily work on different things at the same time. That still leaves the littles, though, yes?

In my experience, a baby-in-arms was a total piece of cake. Nurse him to sleep and put him to bed in the next room. Bounce him on your lap while helping / listening / reading and have plenty of baby toys on hand. It’s the busy toddler stage that is a bit more daunting. Or even better – a baby in arms and a busy toddler at the same time!

Coloring

The first step is to create a baby and toddler friendly space. You do not have to have a dedicated school room like mine – even if you’re schooling at the kitchen table, just make sure that dangerous stuff is out of the way and have baskets of age appropriate stuff within reach.

Keeping busy

We’ve definitely had (and will have more) rough days when a little one is clingy and whiny or wants to sit a bare bottom on someone’s penmanship paper — but for the most part, our overall family vibe of learning all the time, meshes well with children of all ages. If I’ve got the older boys at the table playing a more difficult math game, my 5 year old might be sorting counting bears while my toddler is at the child-sized table pounding on lumps of play dough.

You get pretty good at multitasking and being aware of the entire area. I get the older kids started on penmanship and help the toddler clean up his play dough mess. He finds a bag of pattern blocks on his own, and I set to helping my daughter get situated at the computer to do Spanish. If I have to jump up and stop the toddler from climbing into the toilet and using it as a small bathtub, we all laugh (or cry, depending on the day) and get back to work (or go get a snack, or run around in the back yard for a little while).

Flexibility, flexibility, and more flexibility. Even Susan Wise Bauer, who I had imagined to be very scheduled and structured when I read The Well Trained Mind, goes with the flow – check out her School at My House series.

Play Doh!

I keep lots of things in our school room to entertain the younger children including picture books, toys, and games. I can easily read a little board book to the toddler on my lap while the others color maps to paste into their history notebooks. You’ve just kind of got to be willing to adjust the day on the fly. And you know, if something just isn’t working – if there are tears and frustration, I have no problem popping in a Sight Words DVD to entertain the two youngest while we regroup or finish up something they were foiling. Likewise, the two older can pull on headphones and do Rosetta Stone Spanish while I get the littles set up with a box of beads and string — or just cuddle them for a while. Though I have to add, that so far this year, my 5 year old wants to do almost everything the older two are doing, which is absolutely marvelous!

Beading

Some of our favorite ‘keep the littles busy’ activities are:

  • Usborne sticker books and workbooks.
  • A box of beads and string to make necklaces – this one is amazing, if you can teach them not to make a huge bead mess, it entertains the 2+ set for quite a while.
  • A bin of Play Dough, cookie cutters, rolling pins, stuff to make patterns. Release your OCD side and relax while they make an enormous mess, it’ll buy you loads of time. And hey, make some dough together – teaching cooking skills and stove safety and the like? All counts as school.
  • Stamps, paper, and ink. Again, let ‘em get all inked up, you can clean it up later. (We found a crazy cheap full alphabet stamp set at Michael’s and then used one of their 40% off coupons – or Melissa and Doug makes several fun stamp sets.
  • Sewing cards and laces.
  • Basic wooden blocks and our favorite “lego blocks”.
  • Big bin of matchbox cars and playmats.
  • Tons of crayons, paper, dollar store coloring books, free printable coloring sheets, and big rolls of table paper (lots of newspaper places sell end rolls for cheap).
  • On brave days, I use that table paper with finger paints.
  • Fun wooden puzzles and cheapo dollar store cardboard puzzles — either all stacked up and ready for fun, or sometimes I put a few out for a while and then change the puzzles to ‘new’ ones from the cupboard they haven’t seen in a while.
  • One of the biggest hits this year are little plastic animal figures. First I bought them on Amazon and then realized I could get just about the same quality and quantity from the dollar store for zillions cheaper. We have a whole bin of them and they are a hit with everyone.
  • Our kids’ microscope is pretty sturdy, and I’ll let the littles look at pre-made slides on it with a little bit of supervision. They like sticking things like leaves, flower petals, and strands of hair under the light as well.
  • Everybody loves the aforelinked Counting Bears. They get incorporated into lots of play, and I scored two sets for pennies on Homeschool Classifieds.

I find that rotating the toy and activity selection is important. Plus, if you don’t have loads of space, you can store some things and bring them out later, putting the old and tired stuff away for a while. Generally the basic toys: blocks, puzzles, matchbox cars etc. stay out all the time — along with books, of course. I’ll rotate things like stamps, paints, colored pencils, finger paints, water colors, play dough, microscope stuff, beads, and different boxed games.

Counting Bears

In the beginning, I’d admire photos on blogs and Flickr where homeschooling moms had set up beautiful play spaces with a Waldorf or Montessori feel, and then die of sticker shock over how expensive the really lovely wooden toys and manipulatives were. I started small. A couple of Ikea shelves in my front room with a child’s table set I bought damaged at an outlet store:

School room

I kept a running wishlist on Amazon, watched sales, saved my pennies, searched thrift shops and outlet stores, and homeschool re-sale type sites, learned when office supply stores gave away free supplies for teachers, scoured eBay, and raided ‘retired’ homeschoolers’ stashes. All you really need to homeschool: a library, a willingness to read, and the toys and art supplies you probably already have. Internet is pretty darn nice, too. But over time, with careful spending and searching, you can build up a lot more.

I’ve homeschooled while horribly sick (reading books in bed and PBS totally counts as school) while pregnant, and with a nursing baby in arms, and with busy toddlers underfoot. I am not all that organized, I forget appointments, my patience deteriorates on a regular basis, I have health issues, and have enormous gaps and holes in my own education. But I can do it. And so can you. Pinky swear.

Questions? Comments? I’m thinking about doing a couple more how-to type posts (these were inspired by my friend Tracy), maybe on more specifics regarding different things we do, like what our devotional looks like, how chores mesh with homeschooling, and more on the financial side of it? What say ye. I’m all ears.

Comments

  1. says

    Doesn’t the awesome responsibility of it scare you? How do you know you’re teaching them everything they need to know? I may complain about the public school system, but I guess there’s a comfort in knowing there’s a set curriculum, and testing, and theoretically they’re at least trying to teach them everything they’ll need to get into a good college.

    I know home-schooled kids go off to great colleges too, I just would be so afraid of failing my kids.

    I read posts by people who homeschool and they’re full of spelling and grammatical errors (obvious and numerous, I’m not talking the occasional slip everyone makes) and it makes me worry for their kids.

    Please know I don’t mean any of this critically, it’s just what I struggle with when I think about it.

    • jessica says

      Doesn’t the awesome responsibility of it scare you?

      Absolutely! Periodically I will panic and worry. To soothe myself I do a couple of things:

      1. I remind myself of a John Holt quote I read somewhere that said something along these lines: if you took an underprivileged child out of the public school system and gave him the freedom to explore his world and follow his own interests in a supportive environment, he’d be better off in the long run than he would if he stayed in a remedial system pegged as a trouble-maker and scoring repeatedly low on his testing.

      Surely I can do better than that.

      2. While I found standardized testing all through my own education a complete waste and an inaccurate assessment tool, I will utilize different available testing methods whenever I go into panic mode. I might call one of my older boys in and go over a reading assessment test I find on a university website or do a couple of placement tests math curriculum companies provide with my other child. Sometimes it’s reassuring to know they’re doing just fine… and a lot of the time they surprise you and are doing waaaay better than you expected. And if they’re not? Good, you know where to work with them more.

      3. The E. D. Hirsch Jr. books are great to keep on hand for this purpose. He’s written a series for each grade: What your _______ Grader Needs to Know. You could build an entire curriculum around these books. They were written for parents to supplement their public-schooled child’s education and they are great – they help you know whether or not your child is learning everything they ‘should.’

      Lots of parents will do end of term assessments and end of year assessments, and even if your state doesn’t require it, there is usually no reason your child can’t go participate in standardized testing if it makes you feel better… I just think there are better ways to sort out what your child’s milestones are.

      There is definitely comfort in utilizing the set curriculum of a public school – but I didn’t like what that curriculum was setting out to achieve. I read John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education and it was very eye opening. The same comfort can be found in using a boxed curriculum program at home – you still know that your child is meeting standardized requirements and milestones but you’ll be able to customize his/her education on a much more personalized level.

      The 4th thing I do to soothe myself is not worry about other homeschooled kids. My focus is my family. I know I have giant holes in my own education, but the cool thing is, I get to learn right along with my own children. I don’t have to know everything, I don’t have to stand in front of them and deliver a big lecture on the countries of southern Europe. I can pore over the maps with them, learn the memory songs, and fill in my own holes as we go. I hope as we get into more advanced language and grammar that I’ll become a better writer. I can’t wait!

      Not critically taken at all – I’m happy to answer questions and clarify matters. I hope this helps!

  2. Crystal says

    Yes, please!
    I love the idea of loose and free with cobbled curricula but I must face facts and as of now and in the past, my brain just can’t seem to leap forward without someone telling me, step by step, exactly what to do. My hope is to wean off of this issue…starting with a Sonlight full curriculum so I can “follow the recipe” so to speak, and then, with experience, be able to put it together myself. How-tos such as yours are very helpful to me! I tried home schooling when my daughter was in kindergarten and fell apart. She is in public 3rd grade and my son just started kinder there. I hate it so much but with my track record, my husband is leery of agreeing to try again. So I research constantly and try to learn from my mistakes. Thank you for sticking with it and bringing hope to someone else that LOVES organization but rarely sticks with it!

    • jessica says

      That’s exactly what Sonlight did for me. I tell people it was nice to have someone there to hold my hand. As I used it for two years I realized that I didn’t need it as much as I thought I did, and that’s partially because Sonlight did a good job in guiding me along. It’s a great program.

      Though I don’t like re-creating public school in the home with something like K-12, I know a lot of people have said the same thing about that program as well. It ‘held their hand’ and then after a year they had more faith in themselves and could do their own thing.

      I think all of us ‘fall apart’ periodically. I used to tell the would be cloth diaper users that they just had to make the decision. Commit to it, and then agree to conquer any hurdles that came along ie: switching brands if their diapers were leaking, trying a different pattern if the fit was wrong, etc. The same thing is true for homeshooling. You make the decision and commit to handle any problems – and be open to switching things up.

      What was helpful for me was incorporating a myriad of things I liked from lots of different educational philosophies and pedagogies. I could take a little unschooling, add it with some classical education, mixed in with literature based learning and a Montessori/Waldorfish environment and tweak it all to my liking. During periods where I was ill, we went more unschoolish. If something wasn’t working, we ditched it. We found learning opportunities in everything from computer games (sneaky way to get a reluctant reader reading more) to nature walks.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Crystal says

    Mom24,

    My kids TEACHERS send home handwritten and typed notes with the most horrific spelling and grammatical errors. I cringe and I die a bit every single time.

    An example: “We must teach the kids how to control thereselfs”. That was from the desk of the most highly recommended Kinder teacher with 25+ yrs experience. Yes.

    Also, kinder used to be a time when kids explored, played and were allowed to grow developmentally. Not anymore. My child’s curriculum in kinder is a former 1st grade curriculum. Most are not ready for this and are and will continue to struggle until development catches up. Think of the damage that will have ravaged their young self esteem. My daughter was a late bloomer with reading so I put her un private school were she was nurtured and allowed to grow at her own pace. Now in 3rd grade, she reads on a 5th grade level, with excellent comprehension. But at 6 yrs old you would never have believed it.
    There are as many ways to mess up home schooling as there are bad teaching methods in public. It’s true. But the public system is so incredibly broken with no hope of being fixed. I don’t imagine that the ignorant home schooling parent is the rule, but the exception. However, that is not the case, in my PERSONAL experience, with public school teachers in my tiny little rural Texas town (couple of hours from OMSH!).
    I just wanted to throw my opinion in the ring and truly mean no offense. I know that without voice inflection, intent sometimes gets lost in written comments.

    Any spelling errors you can attribute to the phone on which I’m typing (prepositions!)ha,
    but the grammar (and run-on sentences are my own!

  4. Natalie says

    Yes, please! Keep the posts rollin’! As a brand new homeschooling mama of three “littles” (4, 3 and 1) I love reading all of your ideas. While I cannot implement most of them right now due to the fact that they are all still so little, your ideas are saved in my mental filing cabinet.

    I do believe that the best way to do this is to (1) make the decision (which does involve a lot of study and pondering and prayer) and (2) jump right in! It was a year ago that I started studying this out. I felt moved in the direction of alternative schooling and though fearful as I was of people’s reactions and my ability to do it, I just started reading as much as I could on the subject.

    Earlier this year, we bought the Sonlight P4/5 core package to “try it out”. My four year old enjoyed the books, as did I (well most of them, anyways) but I learned that I do not like a structured day-to-day schedule. I don’t like to read one chapter, close the book and go on to the next subject.

    This year, I have just set up some monthly themes and some ideas for us to do each month as we learn and live together. I can really see my 4 1/2 year old’s mind open up to new ideas and it is so exciting to be able to fill it with good things.

    I’m so excited for this homeschooling journey and grateful to blogs like this (and many others) that help me feel a little more connected to others who think the same way. :)

    • jessica says

      I had issues with this too:

      I learned that I do not like a structured day-to-day schedule. I don’t like to read one chapter, close the book and go on to the next subject.

      I liked how they made sure you were getting the book read, but I ended up having children in a million different subjects going waaaay ahead in the schedule. Last year, in week 8, I was flipping ahead to week 25 to check off my older boys math and reading. It got kind of crazy to keep up with where they all were and I realized, ‘Hey, I don’t need this IG anymore.’

  5. Crystal says

    I also wanted to apologize in advance if I perpetuated your comment section into debate mode. I know from the past that this subject can get unruly and isn’t your favorite thing :)
    Your post today is about your homeschool and how it works, not about public vs homeschool. After I posted my opinion in answer to the previous commenter it occurred to me that I might not be helping to keep this space from devolving into debate. I won’t be offended if you think this might be the case and need to remove my comment. Thanks again for sharing your lovely ideas and approaches for homeschooling.

    • jessica says

      That’s okay – you’re right, I don’t like contention, and I don’t want this place to turn into an argument. If it does, I’ll rethink letting your comment stand.

      I’d like to, though because you did make good points: many public schooled teachers have holes in their own education as well. And I was very disappointed to find how much Kindy had changed – it stressed my little one right out and turned someone who was eager to learn into a very reluctant reader — we had to work on that for a full two years before he got up to speed. I know things would have been much different if I’d kept him home that year.

  6. Rose says

    I’m homeschooling my 7yo, and starting some lessons with my 4.5yo, and I have a just turned 2yo running around wreaking havoc. Thank you for this post. I have read so many places about activities to keep littles occupied and busy, looking for a magic answer, to allow homeschooling to happen for the older kids, and I feel so inadequate because nothing I set up keeps his interest for more than a few minutes. This sentence really struck me though: “If I have to jump up and stop the toddler from climbing into the toilet and using it as a small bathtub, we all laugh (or cry, depending on the day) and get back to work (or go get a snack, or run around in the back yard for a little while).” There is no way on earth my oldest would ever just “laugh and get back to work” when the youngest is doing crazy stuff like licking the stamp pads or breaking raw eggs in the kitchen (both of which happened on Wed). He has as-yet-undiagnosed issues, (we’re thinking SPD and Asperger’s) and the interruptions just totally and utterly destroy his interest/concentration/ability to think. It *always* results in him whining and crying and flopping around on the floor unable to do anything, even write one two-digit number, and I quickly start to lose it with both of them. I think I’ve finally figured out that 1) my toddler may be a little more challenging than some, but most of all 2) it’s not all his fault, the oldest is just unable to handle it, and he doesn’t do much independently yet. We gave up and went for a long walk in the woods on Wednesday, and that was good for all of us. We will now make “Wednesday Walk in the Woods” a regular thing, since it’s one of only two mornings a week I have all three of them — the younger two are each attending preschool two mornings a week (one day they both go and then they each have a different second day) so I have some concentrated time with the oldest. Thanks for helping me pinpoint where some of our problems lie.

    • jessica says

      I dealt with some of this. My oldest has OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and when he was 7, the craziest things drove him to tears. Either his own work (perfectionism) or his siblings being too loud or being germy (he would have melted down immediately if someone were licking the stamp pads). It is definitely a challenge but not impossible, and he’s so much better now at 9 than he was at 7.

      We got him a therapist for a while which helped a lot with the OCD and anxiety without resorting to medication. And we had to get creative, but a lot of times the frustrating things provided an opportunity for us to work on his breathing techniques and relaxation.

      Doing a lot more along the ‘unschooling’ lines helped a ton during this period. It was kind of an odd balance that a lot of the radical unschooling purists didn’t like as I had to combine structure for my 7 year old with a much more loose approach.

      I also had a 2 year old we nicknamed “Captain Destructo” he was so busy – climbing on top of the washer and dryer, scaling closet doors and breaking them, dumping out dish soap and peeing in it… it was insane, he was darling, but oy… soooo busy.

      I think your Walk in the Woods is fabulous – definitely read some Charlotte Mason and a lot of John Holt. The John Holt stuff helped me immensely throughout our most challenging moments. Feel free to email me if you want to talk more…

      You’re doing great!

  7. says

    Yes, please keep the homeschool how to posts coming! This is our first year homeschooling, and Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m doing the best I can, but there are those days, when I want someone else to tell me how to do it better, ya know? Also, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my feelings! My daughter is 4 – almost 5, but she is autistic, and is like a toddler. This post gives me some ideas besides tv to entertain her while we’re doing school. Thanks!

  8. says

    I do not homeschool my four year old – she is currently attending a private preschool that we love. However, long term we won’t be able to afford this school and I am soooo not impressed with what I’ve heard/seen so far regarding our particular elementary school.

    Hard choices will have to be made and though I’m enthusiastic about homeschooling – my husband, not so much. I am currently and will continue to supplement whatever education road we, as a family, decide to walk. Last year I was speaking with an acquaintance regarding my struggles of choosing the right educational path for my daughter and she (rightly) told me that “It’s all what you put into it”. I took that advice to heart.

    I really enjoy your homeschool posts as I like to incorporate a lot of education into our play, etc at home and try to soak up as much education/resources as I can.

    Please – keep them up!!

  9. says

    Your “box of beads and string” is missing a link – and I’d love to see which one you recommend!

    • jessica says

      Haley, it’s just a plastic ‘sorter’ from Michaels – I got the cheapest one they had for a couple of bucks. I had most of the beads already from some giant bead bag I bought at a craft store a few years ago, but we added some sparkly beads (with glitter) from Michaels as well. The string is plastic and flat, found at Michaels, too.

  10. Jan says

    I think it was on one of your (many! heh) blogs that I read a quote from someone who said that of COURSE they were home-schooling their children, but that they were also taking advantage of the public school system. I like that, and it’s the way I approach it. My kids (7 and 5) love their public school, and they are learning the basics and I also love to read about homeschooling because we do lots of learning at home, too.

    My particular school has a parent-run art curriculum (one parent volunteer per classroom) and I’m spearheading starting up a science version this year.

    So count me in as someone that loves hearing what resources you use to find cool ways for your kids to learn, even though I’m totally not a Homeschooler-with-a-capital-H.

    • jessica says

      Jan, I wish all public schooled parents would realize that they homeschool too. I mean, hello, who teaches their children how to walk? Go to the potty on the toilet? To handle a fork and spoon? Manners? Etc… ALL parents are teachers ;o) And your last sentence? Cracked me up.

    • says

      Ya know what? This just totally hit me. I have 4 kids and I love the concept of Homeschooling but I am Terrified. (Also with a capital letter!) Overall I am happy with their very parochial educations, but I feel like I’m wimping out on my responsibility to educate them myself.

      I just need to focus on homeschooling (little h) as a way to supplement their traditional educations. Thanks for that lightbulb.

      Oh, and Jessica, thanks for continuing to inspire me.

  11. Emerson says

    I think my biggest question about homeschooling is how and when the parents choose to mainstream the kids. Have you decided about if/when you will be sending them into the school system? I remember in high school, we got quite a few homeschooled kids in our classes, as they were at the point that the instructor needed some specialized knowledge (calculus and the like) but I also heard of some families waiting until college/university to go mainstream.

    As someone who is studying to be a teacher, and will be decidedly in the mainstream (upper years of high school, specifically), I’m always interested in what makes parents decide to homeschool instead of going the traditional school route. I don’t think I would ever keep my future kids home and educate them myself, even though I’ll be qualified to do it, but I may change my tune when the time comes. What made you choose to do it?

    Thanks for answering so many questions, it is enlightening to read.

    • jessica says

      Emerson,

      I don’t think there is a set-in-stone answer to your first question. It’s going to be different for each family. My brother never went to high school *or* college. He started his own business when he was 15 after teaching himself programming languages and now works for a big company in New York for six figures. My sister wanted a high school experience and went to a private high school and then graduated from college and teaches Autistic children.

      I also don’t think you can decide when your children are young. I have no idea what paths my children will end up taking. Will some skip high school and go to college early? Will some have an entrepreneur streak and just not need mainstream education? Will one wish to take part in organized sports, school choir, or drama? No idea, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

      As for specialized knowledge, a lot of homeschoolers who continue to school at home right through the upper grades find mentors and tutors for subjects the parents can’t help with much. There are loads of resources online, and many homeschooled students start taking college courses when they hit that point.

      Does that help?

      Now, the second part of your question – how I decided. That’s a very long story. My mom homeschooled my two youngest siblings and I got to see it first hand, I loved it – it looked like something I would have enjoyed. My own public school experience, despite being in honors classes in high school, was less than stellar… you can read the whole (condensed) story here: http://balancingeverything.com/category/home-education/how-it-all-began/

      My primary motivating factor for homeschooling stemmed from what I read in John Taylor Gatto’s works. I highly recommend this: The Underground History of American Education. I think it’d make for a very interesting read for someone training to become a teacher. :o)

  12. jessica says

    Today is our Wild Day and we’re headed out with our Nature Journals — I’ll catch up on any more comments this evening – thanks everyone!

  13. says

    Read the post and i’m inspired! (Now i’m going to have to find the time to go through the comments though too, sigh lol) Mine are only little, so it’s nice to see what your little one does in the meantime! I love these posts, keep ‘em coming : )

  14. says

    This is our 6th year of homeschooling. Sixth. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I also can hardly believe I have a high schooler in my home. How is that even possible?

    I sit here reading and nodding — so much wisdom.

    • jessica says

      Alissa, you’re one of those moms who I always figured had it in them. ;o)

  15. says

    Thank you for posting this! This year I’m homeschooling my 12-year-old brother with two littles of my own, 3 and 18 months. And pregnant with #3 to boot! I’ve been struggling to find activities to keep the 3-year-old entertained. We do have some things on hand, but this gives me lots of ideas to work with. And it’s also reassuring to know I don’t have to stress if not everything goes to plan. I’m a plan and structure person, so it’s probably good for me to get used to the flexibility that’s needed since we do plan on homeschooling. Thanks again.

  16. says

    Well said! We are using the same approach, Charlotte Mason, in our homeschool. I used to think of myself as a TJEd homeschooler but I was always drawn to CM’s ways. They just made sense. So, this year, we are trying it out and so far I think this has been the smoothest start and the kids feel like they really are learning. They enjoy the structure and short lessons. I now say that we are using the Charlotte Mason approach. We try to throw in the TJEd principles though.

    This will also be our first year using Nature Journals. We are WAY excited about those. I’ve enjoyed your posts about that, by the way.

    The toddler {and preschooler for that matter} are hard sometimes. I’m 99% sure my 3 year old has ADHD. He’s EVERYWHERE and won’t sit still to save his life. He also finds it very fun to pick on his sisters. And my toddler is, well, a toddler. You know…

    We’ve found it helpful to get as much done in the morning as possible, academically, and then have a quiet hour when the boys go down for their naps. And while they’re still sleeping, we’ll finish up any reading or whatever we were unable to finish with the boys running around.

    But I believe you are right when you say that you have to do what works for your kids and your family. My day looks VERY different than I ever thought it would. I envisioned other homeschooler’s days.

    • jessica says

      I can’t even stand how much I love the nature journals – I can’t believe I didn’t think this up on my own.

      But I believe you are right when you say that you have to do what works for your kids and your family.

      So true, I think that very fact is what makes it so daunting. Like another commenter said up there, it seems like it’d be nice if someone could just say Do It This Way to Succeed. Only… that can’t work, because our children are all so unique!

      Thanks for your comment!

  17. Zsofi says

    thanks for all this! I noticed your boys have piano and violin, are you teaching them? What do you use? Music is where my knees start to tremble otherwise I am pretty confident about my teaching skills…
    thanks a million again, amazing blog, my favourite in fact!

    • jessica says

      I wish! I’m not musical at all – that part on the schedule is me being hopeful. We’re trying very hard to figure out how to get my oldest a violin and lessons in the Suzuki method. My second oldest wants to take piano badly, so I’m also on the hunt for a good teacher for him, and I’d like to go the Suzuki route with him as well.

      Thanks!

      • says

        Suzuki method rocks! I took ten years of Suzuki-method piano and about three years of Suzuki-method violin. I highly recommend it.

  18. Sharilyn says

    Plastic Farm Animals. Best toys ever. Well, okay, right after Lego. But way cheaper. Seriously, I loved these when I was a kid and my kids loved them too. They can also be great math manipulatives…

  19. says

    So… what about if/when one of your kids is asking for public school? My three year old is watching her little friends go off to preschool and asking when she can go to school. While I don’t believe in letting my three year old make decisions for herself on this level, I also know she would love it! Putting her little backpack on, new games with new kids- she would eat it up. I’m just not ready to send her off. I believe in making each decision year by year, but this one feels like it is already upon me for next year!

    So. Back to you. How do you approach it when your kids are asking to not homeschool anymore?

    • jessica says

      I think that depends on the parents. If the parents are very convicted to homeschool – trying out public school just may not be an option.

      If parents don’t have a ‘burning testimony’ of homeschooling, maybe they’re okay letting a child try out public school, or homeschool some children while they public school others.

      It’s going to be different for every family depending on the path that brought them to homeschooling in the first place.

      For us, my oldest was really in love with the idea of school and being such a social little creature I thought he’d love Kindergarten. I also thought that Kindy was like it was when I was in school: stories, art, low-key letter learning, play time, etc. Uh, no. It was much more intense and he had homework. The shine definitely wore off quickly and I pulled him out.

      I’m pretty convicted about homeschooling and feel that it is the right choice for our family, so now, even if I have someone wishing they could get on the bus with their friends, we’re going to sit down and talk about our decision process, why we’re doing what we’re doing, the problems we see with the public schools in our area and as a whole, etc. etc. Maybe we’ll take a field trip and tour some of the local elementary schools, maybe we’ll tour some of the private schools around and talk about schooling choices in other parts of the world.

      Generally, I’ve found that if one of my children is getting the itch to go to public school (it’s only happened a couple of times) it’s a friend-related issue and not an academics problem. So we’ll talk about what our purpose for education is and make sure lots of other opportunities for playing with friends and socializing are made available.

      All that said, the pre-schools here are pretty harmless, and if I had a 4 or 5 year old really excited to go, I might let her for a couple of days a week and see how it went, or enroll her in some iFamily (our homeschool co-op) classes for her age group. My 1st loved pre-school, my second hated it with an unmatched passion, and my 3rd wasn’t interested at all (wants to do school with us).

      I hope that helps!

  20. says

    All of this is so interesting and helpful but besides that, the picture of your baby nursing is killing me. I mean how cute is that?!?!

  21. says

    I don’t home school and don’t really have any plans to officially do so in the future, though I did do a homeschool preschool a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, I find these posts so interesting. So many of these ideas are things I can do with my kids now or in the future to help them continue learning at home. Plus, I’m always curious as to how my homeschooling friends each do their own thing so it’s fascinating to me to get a peek into how your run your days. I also loved reading your convo with Jan about how we all teach our children to some degree. So true!

  22. MaryAnne says

    I love your homeschool posts. I had to pull my academically gifted but socially challenged 5 year old (Asperger’s and sensory issues) out of our county’s early intervention program because they couldn’t meet his needs and in fact made most of his issues worse, to the point of being borderline abusive. I started doing some homeschool activities then (I’ve been reading your blogs for years, and I do think reading about your adventures helped a lot with my willingness to just dive in and follow his lead) and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to keep going, but I work full time and I just didn’t think it would work. My mom is a retired teacher who was providing childcare, but she’s gotten sick and really can’t do it anymore. So he’s off to public Kindergarten and loves it so far. I’d like to start homeschooling when he’s in 1st or 2nd grade. Hopefully I’ll be able to cut back my work hours significantly in the next year or two (thanks to my fiancee who wants a mostly stay at home mom not only for our future children but for his soon-to-be stepchild). I love reading about how you make it work. My biggest worry (aside from finances, so yes, please to a post on this) is pulling a kid out of school who doesn’t hate it. Our district has average class sizes of 31 kids, including Kindergarten. He loves going, loves having fun on the playground and in PE and music and the library, but he’s already saying he’s a little bored academically and it’s only his 2nd week. I’m not sure how to explain to a 5 or 6 year old that he won’t be going back with the other kids next fall.

    • jessica says

      MaryAnne, he sounds like such a great kid! I think I’d start by teaching him about all the different school options there are – maybe take a field trip to a Montessori school, a Waldorf school, a private school, etc and tell him that lots of families have school at home, too. If you’re excited about it, he’ll be excited too – especially at that age. You can ‘sell’ it by telling him how you can explore his interests together and have more one on one time to do the things he wants to do. My kids all loved the idea of having shorter school than their PS friends and having more time to play.

      See if you have an active homeschooling group in your area. You could go to some activities with them – museum trips, swimming, co-op classes etc. and let him get to know some of the other children.

  23. says

    Even though my kids are back in school this year, getting work done w/ “The Toddler” around is still an issue in the afternoons, so I love this post with absolute ideas, links and photos. I’ve had the counting bears in my amazon cart for a while, I’m going to order them now. Those and some do-a-dots.

  24. says

    I’ve mostly handled homeschooling Annalie while also caring for a baby by going full-on unschooling. Well, probably I wouldn’t qualify as a hard-core unschooler, because we do still use workbooks and this summer she took a standardized test as required by our school district. (It’s one of several options, and was the easiest for us; also it was greatly reassuring because I was worried about her scoring above the 75th percentile as is required, and she scored in the mid-90s on everything, whew!)

    Sometimes I still worry we’re not doing enough. The first half of last year we did the Sonlight Grade 1 core curriculum pretty faithfully, working ahead in several subjects at Annalie’s request. When Elliora was born in late November I figured we’d take December off from school and reassess in January.

    Ha. Hahahaha. HAAAAA.

    Everyone in the house (including my mom, who was here to help out) was horribly sick in December. That includes poor wee Elliora, who ended up in the hospital for four days with RSV. So January, we pretty much spent recovering–both getting our physical strength back and dealing with the fallout from being sick at Christmas and not being able to take care of daily details like cleaning the house. Then at the beginning of February, Annalie was sick with strep throat. And then in March we were traveling. And then, and then, and then…it was June and I realized we’d somehow managed to only do a few scattered days of sit-down school here and there, and we still had a third of the 36-week curriculum unfinished. This led to my worry about how Annalie would do on the standardized tests, and wondering how on earth I was going to homeschool the following year when my baby wouldn’t even be content to be nursed in arms, but would want to grab paper and eat pencils and crawl around creating mayhem while we were trying to do lessons.

    Then I read this:

    http://motherbynature.ca/2011/09/a-grand-unified-theory-of-homeschooling/

    and I relaxed a lot.

    It’s true that while it’s important to build a foundation of learning while children are young. But because we homeschool, we’re not bound by schedules or curricula or even grade levels. If we unschool another year while there’s a toddler in the house, and during which we will be moving cross-country in the middle of the school year (Hey, great opportunities for learning on a cross-country road trip!), that’s OKAY. If Annalie is fighting me on reading on her own, that’s okay for now. We’ll keep reading out loud to her, and encourage her to play games on the computer that will get her reading, and help her exchange emails with her friends and grandmas, and when she’s ready she’ll zoom ahead and be reading chapter books before we know it. If we wait a year before doing any kind of formal math instruction, when we do get around to it she’ll be that much older and better able to handle abstract concepts and more difficult computations.

    Meanwhile I’ve been joking semi-seriously that this year, we’re unschooling and Annalie is doing an internship in child care and home management!

    • jessica says

      I think most of my comments on this post are books!

      Thanks for your input – isn’t it great how we can tailor our homeschool to fit with the family’s needs? It’s marvelous, and a huge exercise in letting go sometimes ;o)

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