Schooling older children with preschoolers, toddlers, and babies… Can it be done?
Absolutely! But it might be messy!
Though I have been educating my children at home for 6 years now and have always had a baby or a toddler running around while doing so, I am still learning the ins and outs of this topic. So, I share my ideas with great humility knowing that I can still grow in this area. Since only 3 of my 5 children are now school ages, I have many more years to practice balancing everyone’s needs, especially during those morning lessons.
I think the key to successfully managing these years is to daily bathe is God’s grace. The more I chose to view my children as agents of God’s sanctifying work in my heart, the more willing I am to take to take a deep breath before responding. Charlotte Mason speaks to this truth when she said, “This is, perhaps, the real secret of the world’s progress–that every babe comes into the world with an evangel, which witnesses of necessity to his parents’ hearts.” (Vol.2). The more I am willing to surrender my plan for the day the more willing I am to respond with grace. The more I am willing to laugh off the craziness the quicker I am to smile through a rough morning. The more I am willing to see each of my children as being “born persons” the more my compassion and patience for them grows, especially in the middle of lessons.
On the practical side of things, I can think of 6 ways to help navigate the morning lesson hours during these years.
1. Start lessons “on time” as much as possible. In our home, when it is lesson time we drop everything that we are doing (even sometimes leaving the youngest in his PJ’s) in order to get a start on lessons. This means my kitchen is messier than I would like to be before lessons, or that one of my children is still eating breakfast during our Bible time, but I have found that for us, it is more important to be consistent with lessons than to complete those other household tasks that could easily consume the entire morning. Now, when I say “on time” don’t think that we always have our act in gear. “On time” for our family should be at 8:30, but more often than not we start around 9:00.
2.Provide special “activities” for the younger children during lesson time. These special activities or toys are rarely used outside of lesson time, so they maintain their appeal. These activities keep the younger ones semi-occupied, under my watchful eye, and a part of our morning lessons. Learning during this time is not solely reserved for the older children. By being present during our lessons, the little ones are that there are times to be quiet, to not interrupt, and to be respectful of others. As an extra bonus, they passively receive the lessons being taught the older ones and often choose to chime in during recitation practice, art study, Spanish, and Solfege.
3. Schedule a mid-morning break and snack. Filling little bellies seems to help keep little ones happy during morning lessons. (Though their snack often exceeds our official “snack” time.) During our scheduled 15 minute break, besides providing everyone with a snack, I also often try to read a book to the younger ones so they can receive some undivided Momma. It is a amazing how some time snuggled on the couch with a short book can fill their little “love tanks.”
4. Schedule time for older children to play with younger children. In our schedule, there is a time each day when a child is free during their morning lessons to spend time playing with a younger sibling. I encourage the older ones to read to the younger ones or otherwise entertain them while I am working on an individual lesson with another child. For the most part this works really well. The older ones are learning to connect with the younger ones, relationships between siblings are being strengthened, and the younger ones are learning from the older ones. These are usually enjoyable times for them all.
5. Stick to your daily schedule, no matter what. Our morning schedule is not tied to a specific time on a clock, but to allotted times for each subject. I keep a timer running for every lessons so I don’t accidentally go past the time for the lesson and thereby lose the attention of my children. This also helps us move through all the assigned subjects for the day. In order to stick to the schedule, even amid numerous interruptions, I keep the timer running during the interruptions. This might mean that the actual time spent in Geography on one day was 11 minutes instead of 15. Or in some cases, it might mean that a child missed a solfege lesson that week because it was more important to address their heart attitude than it was for them to learn a song about a rabbit eating cabbage. Each day the interruptions occur at different times, so it all balances out. I think it is more important to respect the short lessons than it is to drag out the lesson day.
6. Expect messes and interruptions. I have learned that in the course of a 3-hour lesson day there will be lots of interruptions and lots of messes to clean up. As must as possible I try to start our morning lessons with a clean-ish home fully expecting our home to look like a war zone when we are done. At first that use to bother me, but now I know this is how it is and also know that by the time lunch is over, we will have cleaned up the evidence of the little boys’ morning explorations. So, I now no longer expect to have a spotless home during all hours of the day or to have smooth uninterrupted days with compliant children and peaceful toddlers and babies. With acceptance there is peace.
But truly, the most important thing is to breath deeply, extending grace to yourself and your children, and to take one day at a time. It is all about the atmosphere. The attitude I approach our day with these precious little ones deeply impacts the atmosphere of our morning lessons and our home. It is all about grace… grace for the crazy days so I can be sanctified, and grace for the easy days so we can rest in the peace together.
(This post was inspired by the theme this week over on @charlottemasonirl on Instagram where I was reminded of the Miss Mason quote I utilized.)