Have you seen the video where someone is trying to line up a litter of cute, cuddly kittens? If you haven’t, let me spoil it for you: it doesn’t work very well! As you can imagine, it’s a full thirty seconds of constant redirection, repositioning, and mayhem. To everyone watching, it’s hilarious, but to the poor person trying to herd those kittens, it was exhausting.
This image hits close to home for homeschool moms of multiples. Some days, homeschooling multiple children is very much like herding cats. As soon as you get one seated, another pops up and wanders off, and the day is similar to the old whack-a-mole game.
Can you relate?
I know I can! Many of the moms of multiples that I meet love the idea of a literature-based education, but they have no idea how it actually works in a real family. After all, ideas look great in a shiny catalog or on a pretty blog, but putting them into practice can be another story. I know because I’ve been there.
This overwhelmed feeling is particularly noteworthy among mothers with young children. So I dug back to my earlier years with my children and pulled out an older schedule. Here is a peek into my world a couple of years ago when I had a preschooler, first grader, fourth grader, and a fifth grader.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Morning
We are fairly early risers and always have been, so we start our day at 7:00 by getting dressed and eating breakfast. Ideally, my kids would make their beds and do their daily chore, but realistically, that only happened about half the days that it should have.
By 8:00, we were ready to gather in the living room for our first round of Couch Subjects. During this session, we would do our Bible Study and Memory Work. As we went through the year and improved our attention span, I began to sprinkle in poetry readings and missions studies, such as Window on the World. Usually by 8:30 we were wrapping up our first Couch Subjects session. With littles, you don’t want to tax their attention span. Instead, start small and allow it to naturally grow with the course of the year.
Rule #1: Always work with the littles first, moving youngest to oldest.
I have found that if I start with the older kids, I will never make it to the younger ones.
You also want to catch the littles when they are fresh, so 9:00 was a good time for us to begin our preschool day. While my bigger kids went off to start working on their Math and Language lessons, I would sit down at the table and work with my preschooler. We would go over all her work for the day. At the beginning of the year, I would sit with her until she completed her work for the day, but within the first six weeks, I was able to get her started and then send her off to finish her activities independently.
Of course, in preschool, this included some handwriting practice and a lot of fine motor activities. After my one-on-one session with my youngest, I would pull my first grader in, and we would read through the scheduled books in HBL A. Then, my preschooler would go off to finish her work, and I would work with my first grader on her lessons. We would go over what she had already started, and I would introduce any new concepts or go over any questions she had.
Rule #2: Never allow interruptions when working one-on-one.
Always insist that the other children skip the section if they are stuck and go to their next assignment until you are available.
By this time, we were all ready for a break, so at about 10:00, we would have recess. The kids would go out to play, and I would have thirty minutes to do some housework. At 10:30, I would call them in, and they would grab a bag of goldfish and settle in for the morning read aloud. At this point I was working on two separate HBL levels. So, I would pull a Read-Aloud from either one, but I always chose a book that I felt everyone would enjoy reading together. This did mean that a book here and there would be skipped in one HBL or another, but I always continue reading aloud even in the summers, so I never feel guilty about skipping the occasional Read-Aloud during the school year.
Rule #3: During Read-Alouds, keep hands busy.
In the younger years, that might mean giving them a snack of goldfish, raisins, or cut grapes. In the older years, puzzles and handiwork make fine listening activities.
At 11:00, I would turn my attention to my older boys. They would each get their own one-on-one time with me as well. We would review what they had completed, and I would answer any questions they had. I would teach a new concept as needed. At times, they would become frustrated or we would not quite finish up within the allotted thirty minute time slots, so I would make a note to meet with them again in the afternoon.
Rule #4: Keep littles quiet and busy during tutoring sessions with siblings.
Try a special quiet toy box, puzzle, or coloring activity. Or you may find that this is a great time to allow screen time for your littles.
By noon, we were ready for our lunch break and another recess.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Afternoon
Usually by 1:00, I would put my girls down for their naps, and then I would tackle my boy’s HBL books. I always enjoyed this time because my boys were at the age where they were curious about everything in the world. We enjoyed long discussions, stemming from the books we read together. We would also work on projects during this time.
Rule #5: Even when younger children no longer nap, they still require some quiet time every day.
Set up and implement the practice of Quiet Time in your home until your child is ready for full days.
By 3:00, the house was a buzz again with everyone awake and ready for the final stretch. This was always the perfect time in my house to sneak in those fun science experiments that everyone wants to watch. Around 3:30, we would wrap up our science and I would make the final rounds for the day. I would answer last minute questions and go over math problems one more time. Then, we would set a timer and make a big cleaning sweep through the house so it would be clean when Dad returned home.
Rule #6: Constant communication with your spouse is a must.
Although you are not in a public school setting, purchase a daily folder for each child's work for Dad to see. I also put a daily behavior and work log in their folder so my husband knows how they each behaved. This feedback provides another layer of accountability for both me and the kids, and it keeps Dad in the loop and equipped to squash problems before they get out of hand.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: The Evening
I have always held to a pretty strict No Homework Policy in the evenings. After all, our school is all homework. In the older years, it may become more and more necessary, but in those younger years, I try to have a clear-cut school day. However, my husband does come home and check folders. He will look over their work and help when needed, and he is also happy to listen to them read in the evenings while I make dinner.
Rule #7: Establish expectations and routines early and spend time modeling and practicing those expectations.
As children become lax at meeting those expectations, take some time off to re-establish the flow and reiterate the rules and routine.
Every family is different, and every family’s day will hold at least some variations. That makes us unique. However, implementing a literature-based education is possible. Combining HBL levels and encouraging age-appropriate independence will help your family reach that goal. As with every curriculum, it won’t be perfect. Some days, you’ll feel amazing, and some days, you’ll want to give up. You’ll skip a book here and there, and you’ll neglect science for a week or two (or three!). But it will be okay. You will be amazed at how much your family will learn and grow together.
Don’t worry...when you start this journey, you’re going to feel like you are herding cats and playing a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.
Rule #8: Give it time, and be consistent.
Your hard work will pay off.