May 9, 2012

Give Up on Homeschooling With Toddlers

Today, this request was posted to one of my homeschool support groups:

Anyone have advice on schooling with pre-k-ers and toddlers around?  It seems whenever we do school, they decide it’s time to start fighting.  They are two and four and we have only been homeschooling for two months with my 2nd and 3rd grader.  Some days I'm in tears and I need some advice, please!

Here was my response:

Dear Friend,

I am in the exact same situation as you, and I share your tears!

My first advice to you is:  Give Up.

1. Give up thinking you will have a complete "homeschool" day every day, or even most days.
2. Give up trying to have EVERY child learn and complete EVERY thing s/he needs to do EVERY day.
3. Give up thinking that this isn't how homeschool is supposed to be.
4. Give up thinking that this day, week, month, or year is a total waste of time.
5. Give up thinking you essentially can run a daycare AND a school without incident, daily.

GIVE UP this entire problem to the Lord!

1. Remember that "homeschooling" isn't just about school.  In fact, frequently the reasons we originally chose it specifically were not just academics!

2. Remember that every child is unique and the Lord has something different planned for each child to learn from Him (through you and his/her siblings) each day.....and it might not necessarily be phonics nor algebra today.

3. Remember there is no definition of how homeschool is "supposed" to be.  Oh, you might have had a vision of it alright.  But remember, God's ways are not our ways, and if you expect to be His pencil, then you just have to go with the flow of how He wants your homeschool to be written out.  Remember why you are doing this and listen for His voice.

4. Remember that NO day is a total waste of time.  The minute you stop saying, "Ugh!  Why!!??  This isn't what I had planned!" whenever you encounter a problem or a deviation from Your Plan, and instead say, "Lord, what on earth are You trying to teach me in this?", that will be the minute you turn your frustrations over to Him and seek His guidance to redirect the time seemingly wasted on Today's Train Wreck to turn it toward His Greater Purposes.  Even breaking up a fight or cleaning up the dog's vomit can be done in His service toward the virtue of humility.  Nothing is wasted if we give it to Him.

5. Remember there are thousands of people in the world who are paid a tidy sum to mind children of only ONE age group at a time.  You are Air Traffic Control for multiple age groups, disciplines, and activities!  So please go directly to your stash of stickers and give yourself a big, fat, gold, star one right now (go! I mean it!), because that is exactly what St. Peter is doing beside your name in The Book Of Life!  Homeschooling isn't the easiest thing to do, but if the Lord is calling you to it, it's the right thing to do.

REMEMBER, be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)!

Now, I can just hear your response:  "Okay.  Thanks, lady.  That's very nice on the spiritual side.  I got it.  But, I still have to send completed tests in to Seton, and make sure my toddlers don't kill each other, and teach the older kids to read before they go to college!  Your thoughts?"

Okay.  So, here’s how it goes down in our household:

- The third grader is able to do much of her work independently, so I can send her off to read/work and report back to me (mostly) reliably.  Occasionally I have to check in on her as a gentle prompt to stay focused, but if I give her one subject at a time, she usually does well.  She may choose the spot in which she works, but most often she stays at her desk in the school room (formerly our dining room), unless it's silent reading.  Then she likes to curl up and retire elsewhere.

- The first grader can't quite read fluently yet, so he requires my hands-on help.  He stays in the school room 100% when he is doing school work.  He's also marvelous with the three year old, so on breaks I send him off so those two boys can play together and get rid of the ants in their pants for a bit.

- The pre-k five year old also requires my hands-on help.  She, too, stays in the school room 100% when she is doing school work.  However, her work is quicker and much more lightweight, and she doesn't necessarily "school" all day every day, so she frequently is in another room playing babydolls or something.

- This means the three and five year olds, when playing, are BANISHED from playing in the school room during school time.  They may come ask me questions or ask for help, but they absolutely may not play in there.  Toys also are banished from the school room (otherwise, it would look like Candyland).  That being said, the school room is open on one side to the living room (where the train table is) and on another side to the kitchen (where all those snacks are!), so it's not as if they're playing unsupervised off in Nebraska somewhere.

- If the three and five year olds are duking it out, I follow the same rules as any professional boxing match -- disengage them and work it out in seconds, or else go to your (figurative) separate corners.  I can't keep taking 20 minute intervals to rationalize conversationally to wee folk why they can't beat the tar out of each other.  "No!  Here's my directive on the item in dispute.  Now git.  We'll discuss this later."  Usually after one or two tiffs (and threats from mom of Solitary Confinement), they decide playing together is more fun than fighting.

Friend, I beg you, PLEEEEEASE give yourself (and the little ones!) more than two months to establish a homeschool habit and settle into your own routine!  I've only been homeschooling a few years and I know moms who have been homeschooling as many as 15 years, and even then we all still have days with tears.  I have days that run like proverbial clockwork ("Wow!  Why doesn't every day run like that?") and days that seem to be a total wash ("Okaaaaay.  That was a real ‘character building’ day!").

Either way REMEMBER -- you are trying to raise children who eventually will grow into decent people and faith-filled Catholics, who will know, love, and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.

That's it.  That's the goal.

Give yourself more time to settle into the rhythm of homeschooling.  Find a good, local, Catholic, homeschool support group to surround your children with good peers (and yourself with other great moms!).  And be assured that in homeschooling, not every day will be perfect, but every day will be blessed!!!  :-D

Buona fortuna!

....but my line always is open for a shoulder to cry on!  ;-)


Anonymous said...

From Kathy T.:

This one made me literally laugh out loud - because its SO true!! Oh, didn't we ALL have such pretty little dreams of our enthusiastic little scholars, eagerly presenting themselves every morning for their assignments, cheerfully completing chores and wonderfully profound dinner conversations every night!!!

Then reality arrived, with its ungrateful little cretins, screaming that their schoolwork was a mental prison and they were dying from the strain and the A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. amount of time a child can take to find the nouns in TEN sentences!!! The house that always looks like a goat threw up. The fending off of phone calls and requests for favors because "you're not busy because you're at home."

No matter how prepared you are - beginning homeschooling is always a culture shock. But Maria is right - you will find your feet and, in the words of Carol Burnett, you will be SO glad you had this time together.

Kathy T.

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing woman, wife, and mother! I am so proud of you and the work you do with our wee peeps! I thank and praise God daily for the blessing that is you, my dear, beautiful Maria!

Ave "Dad"