Sometimes homeschooling is about surviving the day, putting one foot in front of the other. With six kids under six, I have a lot of those days.
These are my top tips to make tomorrow smoother than today.
Plan, but not too rigidly
Plans are a starting point, not a road map. You might need to diverge from your plan to make the day (or week or year) work. That’s okay. But you need to start somewhere and have an idea of where you’d like to go or you might go nowhere.
Especially younger kids need breaks throughout the day. Some of them I plan, some I don’t. With so many moving parts, routines work much better than a schedule for me.
Some days you might need to bail on most or all formal schooling. Have a few backup plans for days like that. Maybe it’s educational cartoons or videos. Maybe you go to the park or a nature preserve. The grocery store can even become a classroom. You can find learning opportunities in day-to-day experiences. I don’t see these as a complete education (opinions might differ), but they are a great way to connect learning to the world at large.
Prep ahead of time (food and school)
Some of my worst days are when I wake up with no idea of what we’re doing and don’t have time to think about it before the kids get up (see “plan” above). If I don’t plan, I can’t prepare for the day. If I’m not prepared, I always feel behind.
With six kids five and under, I need to have a quick and easy idea for lunch. If I want to do any formal schooling, I need to know which subjects we’re doing, have the materials ready, and invent some way to keep the littles from destroying everything.
Make two lists: must and nice-to-do
If you’re day goes down the tubes, what do you need to get done? (I mean this from a homeschool perspective, not bare survival.)
Usually the highest school priorities in early grades are reading, math, and maybe handwriting. In later grades you might expand reading to encompass all of language arts and add some other subjects depending on priorities and interests.
If your kids are young and you’re facing morning sickness, crabby kids, illness, or some other sling or arrow of outrageous fortune, it’s okay to let some of it slide for a bit. Magic School Bus or National Geographic can become science. Liberty Kids can be American history. Instead of doing a read aloud, find audio books online or from the library. For older students, choose curriculum that is more self directed. Maybe pre-recorded video lessons are in order. Let someone else be the teacher.
It might not be your ideal homeschool, but it’s better than running yourself ragged. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Speaking of which…
Take care of yourself
If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be short tempered, tired, foggy, and generally not useful to anyone else. You can check out my post about self care for some self-care ideas.
Feed yourself a balanced meal–in fact, multiple balanced meals–each day. I often resort to shakes made with Greek yogurt or my husband’s super yummy homemade shake mix so that I don’t have to stop and sit down to eat. Get caffeine if you need it in whatever form you need it. I use a travel mug for my tea so I don’t have to reheat it 437 times per day.
Do a little self care so you have enough physical and mental energy to devote to homeschooling. This might mean getting up before the kids for a bit of quiet time, prioritizing workouts, or scheduling a bubble bath after the kids are in bed so you know you have something to look forward to.
If you’re always dragging and dread the day to come, your kids will pick up on it. Like the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Manage your expectations
I find that I get frustrated when reality does not turn out the way I thought it would. Often it’s my own fault for expecting something that was unlikely to work. Let me give you an example.
Homeschooling five year old twins is vastly different than homeschooling a high schooler and a fourth grader. Although the latter couple of kids might have more work overall, they are much more independent and able to work for long periods. Their school day might be a four or five hour chunk all at once so that the rest of the day is free. You can expect more of them and be a little more hands off, so you can double time it with household chores or your own work.
The five year olds? There is no hands off. In fact, if you’re not engaged their hands will be on everything. They need you involved pretty much all the time or directly overseeing them. Most things will take at least twice as long as they should. You might do school in 5-15 minute spurts throughout the day instead of scheduling a 60-90 minute block all at once.
If you find that your days aren’t meeting your expectations, maybe you need to change methods. Or maybe you need to reevaluate what you’re expecting and change that to fit your and your kids capabilities in your current circumstances.