Someone asked me the other day how in the world could I homeschool so many children. She was overwhelmed by homeschooling one and worrying about the next year when they would be homeschooling two. She wanted to know what my secret was and how I was able to homeschool so many children.
The truth is (and it may surprise you unless you know me in real life) I am terrible at being organized or sticking to a schedule. People think because I have so many children that organization must be one of my strengths (that and patience which is also not one of my automatic strengths.) While I am not that great at sticking to a very structured schedule, I do think that routine is important and it does help to keep us organized. Instead of scheduling every hour of the day, our day is broken up into blocks of time. We have a block of time for: breakfast and morning chores, morning schoolwork, lunch and recess, afternoon schoolwork, media time, productive free time, evening chores, free time, and bed. Using blocks of time helps the children by being on a routine but still gives us some freedom and flexibility.
Since I am not great at organization, I tend to rely on curriculum that is. I like to use curriculum that has a suggested schedule to follow so I don't have to come up with one myself. It doesn't mean I will always stick to the exact recommendations, but pretty close to it. I also think that it helps my High School daughter to be able to stay on track.
Something else that really helps me is homeschooling 4 days a week. I really need that extra day to not have to focus on school. Instead we can have some fun (like our Art class and going to picnic in the park when possible) and take care of grocery shopping and other errands. We also try to get some cleaning done that we don't have time for during the school week.
One of my "secrets" that may be shocking especially if you do not homeschool is that we do not spend 6 hours a day on schoolwork. Usually my 2 and 4th graders spend 2.5 hours at the most. My 10th grader spends about 4.5 hours per day.
Okay, so those are tips for homeschooling in general, what about the day to day homeschooling of so many children? Well, even though I have 7 children, only 3 right now have to complete all of our subjects. I do not homeschool preschool. That's right. I do not require my preschoolers to "do school." They are in the room listening in with the others and participate as interested. I do spend time specifically with my preschoolers every afternoon reading, and then coloring, counting, playing, doing fun educational things with them. It is not a long period of time (about 30 min during the older children's media time) that we just enjoy doing things on their level. I also do not require my Kindergartener to complete every subject. He too listens in and participates when he wants to. He does do some writing and reading everyday.
The biggest thing that I think helps a homeschool family with many children be successful is to work together when you can. This can be challenging when there is a big age span (there are 5 years between my oldest and second children) but when it is doable it makes life much easier. There are many curriculums made especially for homeschool families and multi level learning. I cannot imagine what it would be like to do a separate curriculum for each one of their age levels! We do history as a group using Mystery of History. We read the lessons, do memory cards, timeline, and mapping altogether. Chelsea does the activity part on her own since they are more in depth for high school, and I do activities with the rest of the children. We do Bible as a group using Apologia's Who Am I? I do Science with the boys together. I am using All About Reading with Alex and Anthony. What we can do together, we do together.
The second big thing is that as they get older, allow them to teach themselves. I spend very little time "teaching" my 10th grader. I am always available when she has a problem, or would like to discuss some things that she is learning. But, the majority of her education is her responsibility. She decides (with guidance of course) what she would like to study for the year. We seek out affordable curriculum that allows for self directed learning (like Math U See, Apologia, Classical Academic Press etc..) She even grades her own Math quizzes and tests. I look over her work and evaluate her papers. The rest is up to her. I believe the skills she is learning now by directing her own learning will better prepare her for college and life.
Even my boys are responsible to a point of doing what work they can on their own. My 4th grader does his Latin and Writing all on his own. I teach him any new concepts in Math and the rest he completes on his own.
Some of my other "secrets" to homeschooling a crowd can be true when only homeschooling one or two children. I have to limit outside distractions. I do not answer the phone (or texts) during our school times. I also do not use the internet or if I have to I go straight to the site I need. The computer can suck me in (especially if I check my email or facebook real quick.) Those distractions can get our day behind and then I never get caught up. If I get off track, I can also forget to go and take care of the things I needed to in the first place. I also have learned to be able to teach with noise and distractions. When you have children there is going to be noise! We try to keep them busy with quiet things while I am reading but there will be times when there is background noise and I just have had to get used to it. I also have learned that I have to forgive myself. There are going to be days where I forget to evaluate a paper or realize I haven't looked at Nick's Math all week. Some weeks are like that and it will be ok.
Homeschooling to me is not something to be looked on as just another chore that mom has to complete (like folding socks.) I enjoy having the opportunity to teach my children. I enjoy the blessing of being home with them and watching them learn and grow. Whether you have one child or 20, homeschooling is doable and enjoyable for you and your child.
So, homeschooling mamas. Any other tips or tricks you would like to share when homeschooling more than one child?