I had the desire to home school my children long before they even arrived in our lives. I had wished and prayed many times for my mother to home school me, and passion for individualized education had been a seed that was planted early on in my adult life.
Homeschooling is a tough choice, by any measure. Taking on dual roles of educator and parent can be overwhelming and sometimes all encompassing, but it can also bring an incredible amount of joy as we watch our children navigate the roads of their own making, cultivating a sense of self-worth that is inspiring, and a passion for learning that is intensely unique to them as individuals.
Two years ago now we gave birth to our third child, and with him a large age gap between our children. Our oldest are 7 and 5 years apart from their younger brother, and this coming summer we welcome yet another addition to our loving and growing brood.
With these two siblings comes the challenge for all of us to home school across the ages. To engage our older children in the same activities that they have always enjoyed, and to keep them challenged and growing, while still meeting the needs of the younger babes. It is not an easy balance, and one that I am sure will continue to present challenges as we add a newborn into the mix., but it is essential that we look at each of our children as individuals before we determine how best to create an environment that is successful for everyone involved.
The rhythm that we create as a family, that makes up the tone and flow of our days, has become an even more central part of success as our family has grown. Knowing what each day will bring, what we will be focusing on, helps not only myself to be organized and efficient, but my children to get into the groove of their day easily.
Having set days for baking, for outdoor science lessons/exploration, for writing projects, for Latin and mathematics, helps us to look at the schedule and immediately know what the day will entail. The children know what materials to gather, what to pack in their rucksacks, and what kind of preparation will be necessary to ensure that they are ready. On those days where we head into the mountains or the woods for science lessons and explorations, their packs are filled with their explorations kits, their science manual, their field journal, and a small camera. They gather snacks that are easy to take outside, and prepare themselves for the elements of the season that we are in.
For the younger babe, he is beginning to see the flow of the days as well. As his brothers gather their hiking books and sun hats together, he knows he will be enjoying his day on his mama’s back, splashing through puddles, or chasing after secret animals in the woods that only he can see. He knows that when the lesson books come out, it is a day that means time at home, quietly playing with the many baskets of toys, play silks, and drawing materials that are gathered in their homeschooling room.
As a parent of children in many different areas of life, having multiple activities at hand for each of them has been the only thing to keep me sane, and to keep our schooling in a positive place. I know that in the course of a day I might have to teach mathematics to different ages of kiddos, while managing to watch the third explore the art of watercolor, or divide food into color categories sitting on the floor. Each of them needs my full attention, and each of them needs to be learning what their minds are yearning to explore. Having dozens of things to choose from in very close proximity is what keeps it all flowing, what allows them to explore and expand, while still keeping me engaged with each of them individually. You would be surprised how well multi-tasking can go if a room is set-up to accommodate the needs of many ages and stages. It takes a bit of planning, but it is certainly well worth the time and effort.
Of course, there are those days where no amount of planning can prevent chaos or disorder. The only thing to do in that moment is to surrender, in whatever way seems most fitting. On those days where I just know that something is off, I will encourage a lot of reading, creative free play, baking, or even a quiet warm bath and mama snuggle time. The choice to home school is one that honors the individual child to their fullest, and not every day can look the way we want it to. Some days the need to let go of expectations can bring about the best learning experiences, and can help foster a sense of intuitive understanding for our little ones, and ourselves.
Homeschooling across the ages takes some good planning, lots of patience, and a conscious rhythm that honors each family and child as individuals. It has its challenging moments, that is for sure, but it also creates a unique family dynamic that helps foster understanding and patience in all of it’s members.
Ideas for toddler play during lessons
Sorting beads, beans and buttons
Embrodiery for little hands
Yarn play with lots of different colors
Light box exploration
Tactile/water play indoors or out
Drawing and coloring
Clay work (rolling, shaping, sculpture)
Toddler aged board games
Collecting nature items
Finger knitting (after the age of 3 is best)
and our personal favorite, bubbles.
Heather Fontenot, co-editor and publisher of Rhythm of The Home, lives with her family on the Front Range of Northern Colorado. As a writer, doula, and yoga teacher, Heather has a passion for natural and creative living, and spends as much of her time outdoors as possible. She loves to knit, sew, garden, and homeschool her three sweet little ones. She writes the blog Shivaya Naturals, where she chronicles her life as a mother, artist, and gluten-free baker. Heather’s first book, Naturally Fun Parties for Kids was released in March of 2012.