29 September 2011

Homeschooling a Larger Family

On Wednesday night I was a Guest Speaker on the topic Homeschooling a Larger Family.  Here are some of the points being discussed.

Every Homeschooling Family is Different.
I need to say at first, homeschooling is a VERY personal experience and will differ from family to family.  Even within a family children can differ tremendously. I cannot homeschool two of my children the same way due to the differences in their personalities.  Every child has a different calling on his/her life, which ask for different approaches and goals for their lives.  So, what I’m about to share for you, is out of our experience as a larger family, it will most probably not compare with celebrity families or any other larger family you know.  This is what works for us, for my children, the calling on our lives as a family.  Do not compare your family, your children with us and walk away discouraged.  If you at most hear some of the principles/strategies we as a family, I as a Mother, have in place, let that encourage you and moving forward in your Homeschooling Journey.  
I need to fill myself first, through Reading and Praying!

All mothers love their children and will lay down their lives for their children, denying themselves privileges, but one thing I’ve learned over the years, I cannot deny myself time to fill me with wisdom and this I do through Reading and Praying. Whenever I get stuck, need wisdom or run into a brick wall (which happens at least a few times, every single day of my life) I pray and search for answers in the Bible and from Experts - people who have experienced the same struggles as I, figured it out and wrote about it.  Thus I constantly need to have a teachable and humble spirit.  We need to admit we have areas in our lives which do not run smooth and need to be fixed.  Pray for wisdom and revelation and then when the Lord send the answer, pursue it, without preconceived ideas.  I’m reading constantly, and implement what I read in my home.  So I want to encourage mothers to read more!  
Currently, I’m reading the most while I’m nursing my baby and making him asleep for his afternoon nap and at night. I will read my Christian Women Blogs (by women with the same goals and values as me) on my iPhone or on my computer - which is easy without disturbing baby, by means of light.  Then I’ve discovered e-books.  I don’t have many at this stage, but the few I have is changing my life (Encourage Your Husband - Nancy Campbell from Above Rubies; Maximize your mornings by Kat at Inspired To Action and  Savoring Living Water by Katie Orr and Lara Williams from Living Devotionally on Bible study.)
I love a hardcover books the most!  Currently there are at least 6 books next to my bed I’m reading.  My goal is to have at least one early night a week to crawl into bed with a book, I’m not getting there yet, but I’m working on it.
As soon as I discover a book that really grab my attention because it is an answer to a specific problem I MAKE time to read it.
Chores and Teaching my Children to Serve

My children is very much involved in the smooth running of our home. We want to teach our children real life.  The need to have responsibilities in a safe environment. Taking care of little ones, preparing meals, cleaning the house and the never ending loads of laundry. I think this is more of a necessity in a larger family than in a smaller family.  It is just impossible for me to run the household while taking care of 8 children’s education all by myself.  (We don’t have a domestic worker - by choice)
Chores and the accompanied responsibility teach them a serving heart, and with a serving heart, anyone can go a long way and they can bring God all the glory they were created for.  Every day I’m surprised by the selfishness of the human beings in my home, including me!  Life is all about ourselves!  We need to be in constant training to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Seldom a selfish, nature driven toddler, child or young adult will change into a selfless, mature, spirit filled human being with a servant heart, overnight and without training.  

Our children have chores and responsibilities, age appropriate every day of their lives, except on their birthday and days they are unwell.  We used the Maxwell’s Managers of their Chores as guide line.
Deep cleaning once a week, happen on a Monday and during these days, we only do maths. Each of my older children have a specific area to clean and we can do the job in two to three hours.
A Rhythm for the Day. 

I’m a very easily distracted person and therefore need to work with a schedule. Every day is divided into half an hours slots.  This way I keep my children accountable to their chores and school assignments without having to stop halfway in my own assignment and remind them (I can get so focused on what I’m doing, that I will totally forget what each child need to do at a given time of the day and only hours later realize the job has not been done.) I’m using the Maxwell’s Managers of their Homes as my guide in Scheduling.
Now I don’t work for the schedule, the schedule work for me. Though we stay on the schedule as much as possible, we are still flexible. The schedule is my safety net especially on difficult, chaotic days.  It is there to keep me and the children on track.  I very easily get bored with the same work day after day, and then goes out to find something more exciting, but that brings insecurity with some of my children and often don’t get long term goals done.  They need to know, during certain times of the day, Mom will be available for them, unless unforeseen situations pop up - baby can need me to change a nappy, or an injured toddler needs some TLC. 
The schedule also have a motivation purpose.  Some of my children need to move around a lot.  They need time to explore a new interest.  On the schedule they have ‘free time‘ during which they can do whatever they want to (playing around, invent something, repair a little one’s car), or pursue their hobbies (Heidi-Mari working on her blog or CJ on his Website, currently under construction).  But since, more than one of them have a difficult time to stay focus on their more formal school work, they need to know they have a certain time to finish their work and if the work is not done by the end of the time slot, he/she will have to finish the work in their precious free time. 
Everything in our home run more smoothly when we have a rhythm of doing things.  And that is what our schedule is all about. 
First Things First - Breakfast!
We will do our Bible work first thing in the morning (after breakfast and chores). Now we are only finish with morning chores around 9h30.  We believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day and make a big deal out of it. But preparing a breakfast of homemade bread and a protein, like eggs, mince or boerewors, is not cleaned up quick-quick. 

Then we also have to take care of our vegetable garden and the first load of washing needs to get into the washing machine.
Choose a Curriculum that works FOR you.

In a sense we are using the Unschooling Approach to educate our children.  I don’t do school at home with loads of textbooks and different subjects.  Our goal is to teach our children to do research - in other words, knowing where to find information, how to discern between good and bad information, how to answer their questions with the information they got. We want our children to learn through real life experiences.  When they are interested in a certain topic, they must feel free to go and do research on the topic.  
This being said and done, we do have individual curriculums for Maths, Languages (Afrikaans and English) and Science.  I’ve experienced over the years the more children I have to formally educate, the more simple my curriculum needs to be.  I need to have the least preparation time for my older children’s work. In the beginning years I’ve used KONOS which I could, in theory, easily incorporate all my children in the same learning experience, but it asked for hours of preparation in finding resources.  Weeks would went by during which I wasn’t prepared, didn’t have time to visit the library or read through piles of books to find the appropriate information, and at the end it was me who got educated and my children got the bit that spilled out, after I’ve been exhausted researching!
Don’t stay with a curriculum because every one else is boasting about it, and you are ambivalent/reluctant to admit it isn’t working for you! Remember if you don’t enjoy the curriculum, it will take all your energy to work with it. If you are a very disciplined person you will stick to it, day after day, but the moment a stressful situation surfaces, the wheels will come off, and you will be in a serious crisis.  
How to work with the different age levels.

May I add, I’m still in a learning curve with this one, and haven’t quite figured it out yet! But we are making progress.

My oldest four are all 3 years apart, though I did try over the years to incorporate some of their work, I couldn’t.  I’m an easily distracted person, so as soon as to many things happen around me, I loose focus, passion and my meek and quiet spirit.  My biggest challenge in teaching across the age gaps, is to have enough time to teach my primary level children the 3R’s while older children need help every now and then. I aim to teach my primary level children to read and write with confidence as soon as possible.  From then they will be able to educate themselves, and nurture their own hunger for information.  They will be able to work on their assignments for at least a day or two without my help, whenever I’m not available due to the need of another child for an assignment, or normal unforeseen happenings in life, like a sick baby, or an urgent errand.
I’m using Instructions in Righteousness, from Doorposts for Bible work and at three levels.  The two older boys (17 and 11), the two girls (14 and 8) and the little ones (4 boys and Danika if she isn’t busy with a chore). 
How do I do the three levels of Bible work?  
Each group, has their scheduled time, while the others still need to finish chores, and when they are finished, they move on to their first school assignment.
We all do maths at more or less the same time, currently 4 of my children is doing maths, (I also rely a lot on Better Late than Early).  During this time I’m open for whoever needs  help with a new Math concept or help with a problem. Next we do language in more or less the same time slot (again I will be available for help and to evaluate finished work) The rest of the morning (after 11h00) is for more specific interests, like science, history, computer assignments, and hobbies. I now expect my three older children to work on their own till 12h00 and I will do lapbooking/story telling with the little ones (the three boys between 3 and 6yrs and Danika 8).

I take the first have half an hour to prepare whatever I need for crafts or resources (since our home language is Afrikaans, using internet resources is not as simple.)  I always have to translate or retype work into afrikaans, which takes  up a lot of time, but is essential.  I also have Josua assigned for Baby Michael during this time.
We will do lapbooking till 12h00, then we will all stop for an hour for lunch. 
On days with less extra murals, the older children are mainly busy on Monday and Tuesday, I will be available for evaluation of their science and history.
What about Little Ones when I’m Busy with the Older Children?

I always try to do the little ones’ bible work before the older children, so they do get specific attention from me.  Then they are free to go and play. I know the ideal is to keep them with me, the whole morning, while helping the older children, being able to instruct them in their every move, but it is not that simple.  I cannot expect of them to sit for one to two hours playing in the same room (my house don’t have a big enough spacious room), they are all kinesthetic by nature and need to move, be loud - be CHILDREN!
Something I’ve tried for years, was putting up ‘stations’ with activity boxes to keep my little ones busy while I’m busy with the older children.  Sadly it didn’t work for me and my children.  Firstly I wasn’t consistent enough to put out the different activities at night , we don’t have a big enough room for activity stations and my children wanted to do the activities with me, not alone.  So at the end they, as well as I were frustrated.
When taking into account my older children, they have a tough time concentrating when little ones are making noises with their cars and airplanes, laughing and being children at our feet. (At least two of my older children are just as easily distracted as me) So when their Bible time is finished they go play outside, thankfully summer is here, and they just love to play outside.  Being very close in age have its pros and cons.  They are very best friends and can play for hours, but they are immature and foolish and like to have their own way.  Some days they just play for hours without a war, but other days they will pick a fight from the moment they open their eyes. This is very much related to their diet and the atmosphere in the home. MSG, sugar and a stressful, hurried atmosphere is the guarantee for a day of chaos.  

Familiar routines, loving atmosphere, good balanced breakfast has the potential for a more peaceful day. 
When the little ones has a rivalry, I try as far as possible to drop whatever I’m busy with and go and sort it out.  Finding the guilty party, most probably expect him/her to sit at my feet for a certain time. But then there are times when I just have to finish a new Math concept or a piece of difficult reading, then I will send out one of my two older children and they will try and defuse the conflict. If not they will bring the guilty party to me. 
The little ones also need to learn the discipline to wait if I cannot attend to them immediately when I’m busy with older children and older children need to learn patience in waiting, when a little one needs me.  This is all part of training for life.
Blood Sugar Levels, Mood Swings, Bright Children and Fellowship.

Mood swings are directly related to blood sugar levels, so breakfast is our main meal of the day and will always include a carbohydrate and a protein. As long as blood sugar levels are balanced, I can expect my children to be bright and not throwing tantrums or jumping off the ceiling.
Around 11h00 the children will have fruit as a snack. 

By 12h00, CJ and Heidi-Mari will start preparing lunch, also a carbohydrate (we bake our own spelt bread) and some leftovers from the previous night (I try as far as possible to prepare enough protein with dinner, to use for the next day’s lunch - chicken, mince, boerewors or tuna, if there wasn’t left overs). Lunch is always at 12h30 and nap-time by 13h00. This routine helps me as well as them.  Me, knowing a short break is at hand and they know what to expect next.
Dinner is very important to us.  Christo works a whole day away from home and we want to fellowship with him around the meal table with a delicious, well balanced meal.

CJ and Heidi-Mari each have the responsibility once a week of preparing dinner. We will often fellowship around the table from 18h00 till 19h30. This is a time of sanctification from the world outside. We do allow the little ones to leave the table after everyone finished eating.
Planning Extra Murals and Running Errands.

The afternoons, differ a lot.  Extra murals are four of the five days of the week, though Mondays and Tuesdays are the most.   I try to incorporate as much of their Extra Mural activities in one day as far as possible, around the same time and in the same location.   Since my children are all individuals, with different personalities and callings on their lives, we try to expose them to a wide variety of sports and cultural activities and they choose within our budget what interest them. They were allowed to have one extra mural each, but a few months ago the older children started showing interest in Tennis, and now they all play tennis too.  It is so interesting how God guides us on what interest each child. We never strive to find their interest, we trust God to show us and He is trustworthy with every child.
I also do my weekly shopping in between extra murals, so I don’t need to drive again.    So planning is crucial.  Every beginning of the year I earnestly plead with God to combine the different extra mural activities on the same afternoons, and to work out the logistics to make it possible.  We just went through it again, some of their extra murals change, and my Mondays were hectic, driving 80 km in total.  I didn’t mind but it is exhausting to me and the little ones. So I earnestly prayed that God would intervene if Satan was stealing time from our family.  Two weeks ago God miraculously intervened and my driving on a Monday was cut in half!

Since we feel very strong about dinner and being together as a family, so if any of the children’s extra murals are after 16h00 and it is not one of the older children’s turn to prepare dinner, we don’t do and definitely no extra murals after 17h00. The meal table at 18h00 with every one present, is a priority. We need to feed our bodies, minds and souls and God will provide in another way if one of the children need a specific activity and its practice is after 17h00, we don’t compromise on this. I need to be at home and dinner on the go by 16h30.  I don’t sit in traffic after 16h00 if possible at all.  I don’t do visits after 16h00 and I prefer to have no visitors leave later than 16h15.
Evening Refreshing and Preparing for the Next Day.

The half an hour before bedtime for the little ones, around 20h00 is Christo and my coffee break.  The older children will clean the table and kitchen, while we chat about each others’ day, with little ones all over us, and that give them much security.
Going to bed early enough to rise early enough in the morning is one of my biggest challenges.  I love being up late - in the quietness, I can focus on writing, reading or just talking with my best friend. But then I’m not able to rise up early enough before my children and be ready for the day.  So I’m currently part of the Maximize your Mornings challenge at  Inspire to Action to rise early enough to have quiet time with the Lord and some exercise time before most of my children wake up. I have an accountability group and that helps me to establish a life time habit of rising early.  It is amazing the difference in a day, when I rise FOR my children and not WITH my children, spending time with God, planning the day and a little exercise.

May you press forward, dear Mothers, raising a godly generation for God’s glory, preparing them for the high calling on their lives!
With love


Taryn @ Hayes Happenings said...

thanks for sharing this Linnie. I always like to take a sneak peak into other homes and pick up tips for how to manage things well. As you say, all families are different so we shouldn't compare. Instead we should embrace the differences and enjoy the ways in which we can share great ideas that we may never have thought of ourselves! I appreciate your purposefulness in trying to organise your life to suit your heart's desire and your beliefs without letting the schedule dictate. I am much like you (easily distracted etc etc) so a lot of what you say resonates deeply :-) Thank you for your honesty and grace. :) I'm sad I missed the mother's matters talk. We used to have bible study on a Wed night, but now it has changed to Tuesdays. Maybe I can join in future! :) yay!

Anonymous said...

Dear Linnie WOW! This is one of those awesome posts that I am going to print out and read and study and absorb slowly. So much good stuff in there! Thank you for taking the time to write it - such a blessing and encouragement to me. lots of love! Karyn

Natalie said...

My life sounds very much like yours with our 8 children. It is nice to read someone else's story and see that mine is not too different. It is a constant juggling game and we need to constantly change how things work in the house to get things running as smoothly as possible. This year we added a cow and chickens into the mix and again had to re- shuffle things to include barn chores. The kids do love the barn chores though and our days are much better since I intentionally set up a schedule(I really dislike schedules). Our days do go much better now and we accomplish much more in a day. Thank you for sharing your days with us.


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