January 5, 2011

Teaching When You Have Youngers, Olders, and In-Betweens

My friend Jen T. at Many Blessings, Busy Life and I were discussing tricks for home schooling when you have children of all ages.  Jen gave birth to her 10th baby in November.  Many moms have emailed me with similar questions so it seems like time I just post it.  Here is the bulk of my reply to Jen.

We do a number of different things to get school accomplished with fewer interruptions.  One thing is that mornings are dedicated to teaching the youngest and afternoons (nap time) to working with the older ones if they need it.  As you say, they don’t actually need much help, so my time is usually needed when they get to problem spots or to review their progress for the week and give new assignments. 

During the morning teaching time, we have an area dedicated to a playroom on the opposite side of the basement from where we do school.  I can see what is happening but it is in such a location that it is not a distraction to doing school for the other children.  I know everything in there is safe and we have spent lots of time training on how to play with this and that (don’t eat play dough, don’t mix colors and clean it up before you take out crayons… you aren’t allowed markers or paint without a big person and so forth)  They can play unsupervised if they so desire.  If you don’t have an area you can dedicate, you can easily train a child to stay in a certain area and play with a selection of toys or quiet activities during your teaching time.  One lady I found especially helpful in my early years of child training called a quilt her play pen in a purse. 

At times, when the little ones need more attention, we handle it several ways.  One being that the kids love the opportunity to “babysit” because that means they get to go in the playroom and play toys with the little ones.  We set a timer for 30 minutes or whatever length of time for the lesson I am teaching.  Besides helping me be mindful of the time (We have been known to get absorbed in an activity and forget the time) this is great because the timer makes them think it must be really special if their time is going to run out and someone else is going to get to play.  ☺  After 30 minutes of one on one, usually the little one is ready to play alone again.  If not, someone else gets to go to the playroom.  We also have the rule that if the little one wanders out or is fussing the one on the child on duty loses their turn in the playroom.  This prevents any bickering or other such issues that other mothers complain about.   

It may help to keep in mind, that children will only view the time alone with their younger siblings as an effort and burden of babysitting if they are taught that.  I can hear your family comments now, but you know what is best.  Siblings can and should spend time interacting with each other without issues arising.  It should be a pleasurable time of tying heart strings for all involved.  One of the reasons our children are so close to each other is because getting along has never been an issue.  Being together has never been a choice.  Playtime together has always been a joy.  Because of this, we have the blessing of our older children enjoying watching the youngers and the youngers enjoying being with the olders to the degree that if we don’t go on a date for a while they will tell us we must go out so they can have "their" time.  

A little side note:  Because of such training they also enjoy helping each other which goes a long way in cutting down on interruptions for school.  Ellie has been suffering a bladder infection for some time.  Sometimes it seems she must go to the restroom every five minutes.  While I was working this morning she asked for help in the potty.  Samuel about fell out of his chair asking if he could go help her.    

If you feel you need more motivation, you could offer small awards/rewards (a video on Friday, say) or payment for watching the little ones while you teach.  Perhaps rotate days of the week and offer a video after the other kids go to bed for the one who watched the youngers that day?  Or the one with the most minutes logged gets to go with Mama for her next errand day?  A game at nap time?  How about choosing dessert?  A creative mom could have a blast with this!  

Another, trick we do is there are many things that the older kids can teach the younger kids.  If I need to step away they will step in with those lessons.  For example, listening to a reading lesson or going over phonics practice lists, giving spelling tests, checking math lessons, reading a Science or history lesson to the younger kids… you get the idea.  There are also other things that the younger kids can work on alone such as their Bible lessons or math assignments (once they have been taught the weekly lesson). 

I have the added advantage that Kaitlin is now my full time paid assistant.  She is able to do just about all I can do as far as teaching, although, I might have to tell her what I want taught at the time.  I know that you don’t quite have that blessing yet, but perhaps some of your older girls could be instructed how to teach a subject or two for times when you need to work with younger ones or step away to nurse the baby?

One more trick I use is making the most of the dark evenings and long winter nights.  Since we don’t have our outdoor activities, during the winter months, January-April, I work one on one with the children in the evening.  Sometimes, if there is someone who needs more time than I have during the day, I will have them lay down in the afternoon so they can stay up later in the evening working on a subject or two.  Often these will be activities that we can all do together.  If Allen is home, he likes to sit in on these once in a while or work with another child while I am working with someone.

When Nathaniel and Aedan were both babies and Emma was potty training and life was in general chaos with two kids in diapers who couldn't walk and one nursing and the other on a bottle... I used to get up at 5 am and start teaching Kaitlin and Brianna at 6 am.  The babies would sleep until 8 or 8:30 and then play in their cribs for a while longer.  That allowed me to teach for 3 hours uninterrupted.  Then we had two more hours during nap time.  If we needed more time we would work after the kids went to bed.  Sometimes, I would sit on the floor of the nursery and put out piles of toys and the girls would sit beside me and we would work together.  It is definitely not the ideal situation but in desperate moments you do what you must!  The beauty of home school is that it doesn't have to happen in any certain way.  It is all about what works for you and your family at that ever fluid given moment.




  1. Love reading about your journey!
    Doug and I are fighting a respiratory bug....please pray!
    Big hugs,

  2. DEAR Mama + Kids + Learning together = Successful Homeschool,

    Can I just say "Amen" to this? You should really send it in to a homeschooling site for publication. You have presented some very real and workable solutions here. I hope everyone who reads it will find what they need to help and encourage them.

    Veteran Homeschooling Mom of 6 and STILL learning to make it work


  3. Great post. ;)
    It's funny how different seasons of life have you revamping things you thought you had finally worked out. I have people asking me for advice on homeschooling and yet I still need advice on homeschooling. It's just different aspects of it.
    I agree with gkey, you should send it in to The Old Schoolhouse magazine; a great homeschooling publication.