If you're new to homeschooling, or if you have a second child on the way, you may find the prospect of teaching more than one child daunting. You may wonder, "How will I keep both kids on task? How will I keep my toddler busy when I'm working with my older child? And how will I stop them from spending every waking moment fighting with each other?"
You may be surprised to learn that, although issues relating to all of these concerns do surface from time to time, they are not as overwhelming or as serious as you might think. In fact, after the initial adjustment to homeschooling (which takes a few months to a year), teaching a couple of children is actually easier than teaching only one. Games, performances, and new discoveries are more fun when shared with others. Different interests among siblings also expand the learning opportunities for the family.
Strategies for Learning
One of the biggest homeschooling challenges is keeping babies, toddlers, or preschoolers occupied when you're working with your older kids. This may take some clever juggling, but with a little ingenuity, learning can become a family affair.
My older daughter, Jessica, was four when Amanda was born. We turned "nursing time" into "reading time" each day. A weekly trip to the library provided an ample supply of books, which we kept near the nursing couch. Each time Amanda nursed, I'd read one or two books aloud to Jess, and then we'd talk about the stories afterwards. By reading books on a variety of interesting topics, we covered an amazing amount of material.
Toddlers aren't quite as flexible as infants (often they're not flexible at all!). It takes a little more planning to keep them occupied. I decided to box up a portion of the toys littering our floors and keep them out of sight. (One mom I know used old pillowcases and had sacks of toys in her garage.) If Jessica needed my attention, pulling out one of the toy boxes for Amanda occupied her long enough that I could give Jess the help she needed. When we were done, the toys were again put away and saved for another day.
Three-, four-, and five-year-olds are a little more independent. For these kids, your homeschooling bag of tricks should include a few of the following items, put aside for those times when you'll be helping their older siblings:
- Crayons, coloring books, pads and paper
- Washable markers
- Building blocks
- Stickers and reusable sticker book
- Simple puzzles
- Two chalkboards-one hand-held and one large-and chalk
- Play dough
- Books on tape (or CD) and a tape (or CD) player
- Special dress-up clothes
Have your youngster choose one activity at a time and set her up nearby, but not close enough to distract the child who needs your help. When all else fails, go outside! I loved to sit on our porch and work with my older daughter while Amanda used her bucket of sidewalk chalk to give our driveway a new look.
Older Kids Helping Siblings
A great way to remember information is to teach it to someone else. Large homeschooling families have an advantage, in that older siblings can help teach the younger ones. Older kids are usually cooperative when asked to help out or read to a younger sibling. One mom asked her older kids to read and record a few books for the younger kids. They decided to add sound effects, funny voices, and music. Making the tapes became a family project, and provided hours of entertainment as well as learning.
When Jessica was 11, she organized a Colonial Theater Workshop for a group of her sister's friends. Based on the American Girl Felicity Series, they did a colonial craft and then practiced a play, complete with (homemade) costumes and props. The workshop went on for many weeks, with the seven-year-olds learning about history under the watchful eyes of their eleven-year-old "teacher."
As kids grow older, learning together becomes an option. Jessica and Amanda enjoyed their joint foray into Native American culture. For nearly two years we read great books, attended pow-wows, built a long-house, visited living history museums, attempted to speak Lenape, and tried Native American recipes. Despite the age difference, both girls learned a great deal.
Homeschooling families often join forces to explore different topics with all of their kids. We once studied Medieval History with about a dozen other kids over a period of several months. The moms picked a day convenient to everyone, and we met each week. After focusing on medieval crafts and activities, we ended our exploration with a giant May Day fair and feast with all of us in simple costumes, of course. The children ranged in age from 5 to 12.
How about gathering a few friends and forming a geography/culture group? Each child (or family) chooses a country. Older kids can read and learn about the culture; younger kids can do costumes, food, music, or other special activities. Meet once a month with the club in a library room, or rotate homes, and have the kids display their projects and share food explorations. This idea can be expanded to cover just about any topic science, art, social studies, etc. Sometimes called "unit studies," this type of learning is fun and even the youngest family member can join in.
Educational Videos and DVDs
I have to admit that the television has helped me maintain my sanity on more than one occasion. When you absolutely must focus on one of your children, it's helpful to have educational videos and DVDs handy. Our library has a wonderful selection, and we make it a point to pick up a few each time we visit. I also record PBS nature shows and documentaries, as well as other specials that might be of interest. Limiting daytime TV watching is always a good idea, but used judiciously, videos and DVDs can be lifesavers!
Although the number of children you homeschool certainly has an impact on your homeschool adventure, family dynamics, rather than size, determines how successful you will be. Successful homeschooling families value their children's input and respect their individuality, but teach their kids that all family members must contribute, cooperate, and do their share. Larger families may have to work a bit harder to establish these principles, but the rewards of living and learning together are certainly worth it.