As a homeschooling family, our home is more than a just a place to hang our hats and gather around the table at night for a hot meal. In addition to the calming hum of laundry spinning at rhythmic intervals throughout the day, wet little footprints dotted across the kitchen floor signaling a day spent outdoors and, what seems like a continuous cycle of food preparation, consumption and clean-up, we are also tackling the undeniable challenging task of providing a home education for our 2, 6, 8 and 10-year-old children.
On any given day one could walk through our home and take note of the varying objects cluing the visitor into the reality that our home is a haven to a mixed age group of children. A chalkboard being ‘painted’ with water by our toddler, muddy boots by the back door signaling my six-year-old son’s adventure in our very wet backyard the previous day, a wall covered in artwork showing — amongst other things — a water-colored bowl of fruit painted by my artistic eight-year old son, and an edition of Little Women laid lovingly on the side table in our living room by my ten-year-old daughter with a voracious appetite for the written word.
Every corner and nook is well lived in and used to maximum capacity. Add phonics, poetry, math, literature, art, science and history lessons to that mix and folks, you’ve got a genuinely full, bursting-at-the-seams household.
When I first started homeschooling it felt easy to set aside the hour or two each day of concentrated time that it took to give my two small children the lessons that I felt they needed. After a few great picture books read, a phonics lesson completed sans interruptions and a successful counting, rhyming or game session with my daughter, I walked away feeling confident and quite satisfied with a sense of peace that would carry me through the remainder of our day.
As the years went on my sense of satisfaction sadly turned into irritation and that feeling of peace in our home was quickly replaced with a fervent air of chaos. I often felt angry when I did not accomplish all of the lessons or tasks that I had so carefully planned or when a fruitful moment was interrupted by a crying child or bickering siblings. What was this life I had created? I often lamented over the fact that my vision of an ideal homeschooling journey was being derailed and headed down a set of tracks that was destined to lead to nowhere.
As our lives changed, so did the dynamic and ease of our homeschool life — a new baby being born, a curious toddler probing every nook of our home, a child for whom reading was just not coming easily and a feisty daughter in the midst of her nine-year change.
I was at a crossroads in the life of our homeschool. It was time to decide if this vision of home education and vibrant family life was worth living out or if it was time for us to follow our cultural norm of loading up my precious little ones on that big yellow bus each morning. The temptation to give it all up in exchange for more order, more quiet and more cleanliness in my home was overwhelming at times. I’ll admit that I often fantasized about what it would be like to choose the life that the rest of my neighborhood had chosen. It all just seemed so… easy.
But after more than a decade of traveling on this journey of motherhood one of the truths that I know to be true is that easy does not mean the same thing as simple.
And a simple life was indeed what my body, mind and soul were yearning for. A simple life for my family that included: a life pared down to the important parts, deliberately choosing activities and outings that would enrich and energize my family rather than drain them of their precious reserves, and a shedding of all false assumptions and ideas that were not authentic and resonant with the parent that I was being called to be.
With my vision for homeschooling recast and a newfound sense of purpose, energy and patience I set out to build and maintain a nurturing and nourishing home life and homeschool for my four children.
In many ways restoring healthy to my homeschooling required me to dig deep and ask some really tough questions — some obvious ones and others that seemed to be stubbornly lurking in the dark corners of my ‘big ideas’ about what a thriving homeschooling environment looked like. I pondered questions like “What do I most enjoy doing with my children?”, “Why did I choose to homeschool?” and “What sort of virtues do I want to encourage in my children?” Then the even tougher questions such as “What virtues do I as a mother need to practice and live out to be the person that my children need me to be?”, “What do my children need on a daily basis in terms of ‘food’ for their bodies, minds and spirits to grow?” and the toughest questions of all, “Am I really enough for these little ones?”
It has honestly taken years to ask and answer some of these questions. Others I am still weighing in my heart and seeking direction on. But I knew I had come to a point of possessing enough insight and purpose to continue on this journey of homeschooling my beautiful, big bunch of children at varying ages and stages.
Today I can certainly not claim to know it all or to have arrived when it comes to being a homeschooling parent of multi-aged children. But I do know what it takes to continue in the direction of building a thriving and peaceful home life and homeschool!
As we enter into the warm, slow, long days of summer, I would encourage you to ask the some of the same types of questions if you are on this incredible journey of balancing the needs of two, three, four (or more!) children, as you set out to provide a thriving and peaceful homeschool experience.
What do you most love doing with your children?
I know that I love sitting with one or all of my children snuggled close to me as I read a good book aloud to them. This is something that can be done simultaneously with all ages. There is even room for a nursing baby in this scenario and a wiggly toddler!
I love to see my children learning practical skills and working with their hands, so it is important for our family to bake, craft, color, dig, plant, repair, clean, draw, paint and knit together. While the older children are knitting and purling, the younger ones can finger knit and the youngest still can simply sit and play with yarn or help mama to make a yarn ball to play with. Coloring can be done with virtually all ages and even the youngest of toddlers loves to help with household chores.
What do your children need on a daily basis in terms of ‘food’ for their bodies, minds and spirits to grow?
Being outdoors is not only a want but a need and vital component to the whole person development of all children. Sometimes it is difficult for me to put down my meaningful adult work indoors and invite my children into the beauty of the out-of-doors. I have never been disappointed by an afternoon spent outside watching my children run, jump, climb trees, dig in dirt, splash in even the smallest of puddles or simply explore the smallest crevice in the sidewalk. The life that is breathed into their lungs and limbs from even the shortest bout of outdoor time is certainly a necessity for their growing bodies and minds.
Even the smallest child wants to know that they are contributing to the greater good of the world. Making meaningful work part of our daily life has been critical in satisfying the ‘need to be needed’ and also to keep our busy home running well and staying tidy and organized. We have found assigning chores helpful to each child — both daily and weekly — and find that they take delight in ‘special projects’ like helping mama bake a cake or daddy to build new frames for the raised bed gardens. It is amazing to see their confidence and cheer grow as they learn new skills and work meaningfully alongside a trusted adult!
Why did you begin this homeschool journey?
Most families that begin homeschooling can provide a long list of reasons that they decided to educate their children at home. Sadly, over time some of these convictions and reasons fade into the background of the day-to-day process of keeping up with children and the demands of family life. It was helpful to me to remind myself of why I chose to keep my children at home with me and to believe that I was indeed ‘enough’ for them! Reminding yourself that you are capable of teaching your children practically anything you put your mind and spirit to is empowering enough to balance meeting the needs of the most tactile of toddlers to the most temperamental ten-year-old!
What sort of virtues do you desire for your children?
Once I realized that learning to wait patiently for a sibling to finish a reading lesson with me while they played quietly with their younger sibling was not a detriment but instead a blessing to this child’s character in the long run. I was able to put my false sense of guilt to rest and see all sorts of situations in which my multi-aged children were learning beautiful and life-long virtues during our time of homeschooling. Instead of looking at all of the ways that my children were not learning a lesson in the downtime of our homeschool day, I began to see the little ways in which they were learning more than any lesson book or art project could teach them- lessons in patience, sharing, sacrifice, love and joy taken from seeing another experience joy. What a rich environment indeed!
What virtues might you need to practice and live out to be the person that your children need you to be?”
In my life it always seems to come back to a patient love that is not only realized at the start of each day but that is also tended to and practiced with a sincere discipline throughout the remainder of the day. This is the virtue that makes it possible to sit and listen to a struggling reader take his time on a passage, or to play the memory game again with your kindergarten-aged child even though your laundry pile is reaching new heights, or to take the time to show your daughter how to successfully sweep the floor instead of snatching the broom away and doing it yourself (because after all it is quicker and easier, right!?). Being patient with each child’s needs and wants entails calling upon that deep maternal love on a moment-by-moment basis instead of reacting from a place of selfish irritation or prideful resentment. Being able to do so will be a life-saving skill in your homeschooling life.
In addition to taking the time to ask yourself these tough questions this summer I would also encourage you to simply be present in the moment with your children and to enjoy them. At times it feels like being a manager of our homes is an overwhelming and joy-stealing task when we take our eyes off of the very reason why we are doing this all in the first place. Take time to stop and steal a moment with each one of your children (in addition to all of the other good things you are already doing for and with them!) and do something spontaneous and joyful — take a slow walk around the block, smell a flower with them, follow that trickle of water down the driveway and see where it leads, trace a letter or shape on their palm, tickle them, kiss them, hold them (no matter their age!), love them.
Jill Houle lives in Connecticut with her husband and four homeschooled children. She strives to find beauty in the mundane, dreams of a homestead life, a spare moment to create and write and seeks to live out her life’s vision with intention and grace each day. You can find her at HomeGrownLife.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.