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The Early Years -Balance & Respect

Part II

Note: This article is Part II of a series. Part I introduced suggestions for how to create an Early School environment for children of pre-school age which was in keeping with Charlotte Mason’s methods and principles. This article gives ideas in helping parents include or occupy toddlers and preschoolers while also teaching formal school to older siblings.

Homeschooling is hard. You are a parent and a teacher at the same time –often with children of different ages and needs. One of the most difficult parts of being a homeschooler is trying to allow smaller children to live a happy, well-adjusted life while simultaneously attempting to educate the children ready for formal school. Homeschooling, especially during this “season”, cannot and should not be perfect. It would not be a reflection of a real family if it were. All that can be done –each day– is the best that can be done for that day. And as Anne from Anne of Green Gables [slightly adaptably] says “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet”. Going forward each day with good intention is going to achieve much more than you think at the end of this homeschooling journey. In an effort to make this “season” a little easier, here are a few suggestions for how to manage homeschooling older children while still caring for younger children:

1. Consider starting the day with some exercise –take a family walk; play hop-scotch; jump rope, etc. Allow everyone to expend a little energy in whatever way best works for your family.

2. Very young children want to be seen and heard. Most often their disruptions are meant to gain that attention –in whatever way they can. Starting each day by paying attention to them first can often meet their needs long enough so that teachers and parents can direct their attention somewhere else –at least for a brief amount of time. Create a very special time for your toddlers and young preschoolers by reading 1-2 books of their choice. Be sure to actively discuss each book after reading, based on their needs. Children need to talk and feel heard –small children are no exception to this need. If the books don’t bring about a specific discussion, then discuss something else –anything of that which they would like to have a conversation. The cuddles, attention and conversation offer a quality connection. Make sure that your older students are aware that this time is reserved for the little children and interruptions should be reserved for only what is important.

2. Consider having teacher intensive lessons with formal school students while smaller children nap or have quiet time. This sets aside a section of time where disruptions are minimal, allowing both teacher and student to concentrate. Consider rotating these teacher intensive lessons, so that if only one is successfully completed [before interruption], then the following day the other lesson can take priority. It would be better to have 2-3 of lessons in math per week that were completed and where the student received all attention needed for it, then to rush through math lessons all week –simultaneously creating bad habits.

If this became a pattern [only achieving math lessons 2-3 week], then you could supplement lower elementary students with math games, cooking, math concept activities, etc. to help create balance. Older students could complete practice/review problems, make use of online math videos [for review –not new concepts], etc. These independent activities keep them moving forward without needing your explicit instruction. This arrangement is done with the idea that it is only a temporary one, used only during this particular “season” of homeschool life. Once all children have settled into a routine or have moved out of these much younger years, then daily lessons in skill subjects such as math would resume.

3. To manage schedules with children of varying ages, consider reading aloud to students during snack or mealtimes. This allows for some books to be read while toddlers and preschoolers are otherwise engaged. You might also choose one book in audio format for older children to listen to while in a quiet space.

4. Another option is to have older siblings take turns in spending time with smaller children. They can read books together, work puzzles, play games, etc. This allows the teacher or parent some time to work with another student. Either arrange this in the schedule or just be sure that the older siblings are aware of how important it is to help you in this regard. Be careful to be respectful of older siblings and their needs so as not to create resentment. Keep these sessions moderately short and alternate siblings, if possible.

5. Keep a basket or cabinet of quiet toys and activities that young children can only have access to during lesson times. This helps keep interest levels high. Your basket might include special cookie cutters and toy rolling pin that can be used with salt-dough or Play-Doh. Perhaps the only time they can use these items is when the basket is pulled out. Consider making or buying a rug of a town and adding toy cars and people to it. Here are a few more ideas: expo markers and erasable books, Do-A-Dot markers and activity books/paper, stickers and sticker books, Lincoln Logs, pattern blocks and puzzles. Small children also love water play. Fill a tub or bucket with water, add water toys or plastic cups and spoons and allow them to play nearby. Make good use of your library –many good libraries offer book with activity kits and audio books designed for very small children. Also, make sure that you allow your toddlers and preschoolers to have access to interesting picture books. Keep a book basket or low shelf meant just for them.

6. Be sure that you are including the toddlers and preschoolers in as much as they can be included. Small children can enjoy nature experiences, music appreciation, picture study and even many of the books read aloud. Allow them to play quietly nearby or to leave the group as needed. You may need to spend a little time teaching your youngest children how to leave a group, but it can be done. Have a small table already set up with their basket or one specific activity from it on the table. Let them know that if they are quiet, then they are welcome to stay, but if they don’t want to stay, then they must do “a”, “b” or “c”. The latter being alternatives such as a) look at picture books; b) play with puzzles or blocks or c) color a picture. [These are examples –so, certainly adjust them.]

9. Change up the setting by doing school outside when the weather is nice. Older children will love the change and younger children will have much to entice and interest them just by being outside.

10. This is certainly the right time to begin instilling and training children in good habits. Respect for others, putting things away correctly, waiting your turn, knowing when to be quiet and when it’s okay to be loud, etc. will also lend themselves to creating an environment where learning is treated with great respect. Not only will this pay off later, but it will make balancing these two different aspects of life –nurturing small children while educating older children– a little bit easier.

11. A few unconventional ideas include the following: hire a teenager or utilize a grandparent to act as a “Mother’s Helper” for 1-2 hours a day for a couple of days per week; complete a teacher intensive lesson when a second parent is home [or have them teach it] or consider altering the schedule. This could be done in many different ways. The goal would be to allow for more opportunities for short, one-on-one lessons to take place. Perhaps teach a shorter day but do this across 6 days and not 5.

There are so many different ways to make this achievable, so be flexible and always alter ideas to better fit your own family. Most importantly, know that creating an environment where learning is prioritized is what will pay the richest dividends in the end. Remind your formal school students that what their younger siblings are learning each day is just as important as what they are learning –it just looks different. Respect both ways of this idea is the ultimate goal.


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