We’ve been homeschooling for almost 8 years. And I’m fairly certain it took us 7 of those 8 years to finally find a good groove! Part of it is because of so many life changes in the early years (3 kids between ages 4 and infant) and my massive change in how I taught as I realized I needed to relax and let learning be a bit more fun. Another piece is something we’ve just started doing this year (Classical Conversations), but more on that in another post.
If you’re wrestling through your first year or few of homeschooling and wondering if/when it will get better, take heart! There will always be variations on the horizon, but it does get better and easier (though for some slow learners like me, a bit more gradually! :D) and one day you really will feel like you’ve hit the jack pot!
So now that I’ve been through this circus a few times over, I think I finally have a good idea of how to make homeschooling work with little ones around. Our youngest is 3 this year, then we have Grade 1, Grade 4 and Grade 5. I realized my biggest struggle in the past was actually my own – not preparing things in advance and trying to scramble around last minute, layering stress onto our day and typically ending in a frustrating outburst from me.
Thankfully, this past year I’ve finally learned my lesson, pulled up my socks and grown up. I’m now planning in advance and it makes all the difference for the sanity and flow of our day! Below are some more tips
How We Do Homeschooling With Littles
Schedule your older students’ work. I have used a basic weekly planner from Homeschool Creations and one that’s more indepth from Not Consumed (this one contains loads of good extras for tracking work). But the key to success with any planner is to keep it simple and use them! I schedule our Grade 4 and 5’s independent work on Sunday nights for the week as I catch up on corrections. If I don’t, we scramble all week long.
Outsource and make some subjects independent. Let’s face it. There really is never enough of mom to go around! So what do we do about it? Get your students to do what they can independently. We do reading, writing, English and spelling all fully independent from grade 3/4 up.
We do outsource some of our students’ subjects. That doesn’t mean we hire a tutor or turn on the tv/computer for every subject. But next year, our science for the older students will be online with worksheets to track their progress, leaving time for me to cycle back through our favourite, Apologia’s Zoology, with the younger ones. Math for our 6th grader will also be a video teaching the lessons with me following up on the work with him (phew! We’re heading into Algebra territory, egads!)
We also let our homeschool groups / co-ops handle the hands-on science stuff. That really takes the pressure off me (yes, pun intended! hee hee) and allows the kids to learn in a group environment.
Order books ahead of time from the library. On Wednesdays I order books for our history or science lessons coming up, as well as whatever I’m planning on doing with our younger students.
That way they’re ready to pick up on Monday on our way home from our Classical Conversations tutoring, and I’m not running back and forth to the library all week long.
Spend 1 on 1 time with the youngest first.
This truly is the key to whether we have a successful day or not. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but sometimes it can be hard to do when your schedule is weighing heavily on you and you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. But spending that first hour with your littlest really does fill their bucket to give them enough so you have time for the others later. Maybe it means pushing a subject or something you would normally do in the morning to the afternoon, but it is worth it! Trust me :0)
Be flexible. None of this works unless you can learn to let things go and be flexible. I know there’s so much on our plate as homeschool moms – meals, housework and chores, lessons at home, lessons outside the home, and on and on. And I know everything seems urgent. But as my good friend and homeschool mom Colleen says, if you don’t choose which ball that you’re juggling to drop, you’re going to drop them all. You simply cannot do it ALL well, every day. So choose what is most important, and go from there! If you get a little math, do some reading, write and create together, you’re doing just fine.
Stock up on supplies. I’ve built up a pretty decent stash of toddler and littles friendly supplies for them to play with.
I’m not talking fancy toys (though a few of the educational ones are definitely helpful to have on hand!) but simple things like lots of magnets, felt boards, pom poms, toilet paper rolls, straws, big beads for making designs or stringing, dot markers, stickers and art supplies. These are our go-tos each week – you can have more or less, but it’s always a good idea to have things on hand and let them get a little messy and creative.
Printables. Printables, printables, printables.
I’ll do another post on how we homeschool for “tot school” and preschool, but I love printables for my littlest learner! There’s so much out there on the internet it’s easy to get overwhelmed pinning ’til kingdom come and never following through on many of them. So my rule is to stick with a Letter of the Week (it doesn’t have to be in alphabetical order), pick my printables and books to go along with them, then an activity or craft that fits into the theme. These are my go-to printables for each week:
This Reading Mama printable packs (available in a bundle or for free as individual sets on her website)
Confessions of a Homeschooler Letter of the Week (also free on her website if you print each one individually, just search for “Letter of the Week L” or whatever letter you’d like)
Homeschool Creations Printables from A to Z (also search her site by letter and you’ll find post ideas)
I don’t always print everything in advance because with young ones, you HAVE to be flexible. We do child-directed activities with parental guidance – IE I ask her if she wants to do this sheet or that, if she wants to use dot markers or magnets, and if she’d rather just do a table activity or play with a toy, that’s cool too. I want her to enjoy learning and at 3, this is hardly the time to lay down hard and fast rules for her to follow.