Welcoming a New Family Member
- Melanie Hexter Home School Enrichment
- 2010 10 Oct
Over the years, my husband and I have accepted the role of unofficial greeters in our area for families new to homeschooling. Because we lead an annual "Home School 101" workshop and are present online, new families find us, migrate to us, and ask us lots of questions.
From one new mom, I was recently asked a common question that hit home for me in a fresh way. We have just welcomed our sixth child, so when a new-to-homeschooling mother asked, "How do I homeschool my 5-year-old with a newborn alongside?" I had to pause and answer the question for our family too.
Her question prompted me to pray for wisdom, do a lot of thinking, and ask my five kids (ages 6 to 15) what we should do to keep up formal learning now that the baby is here. Time for a balancing act!
Perhaps, rather than expecting an infant, you are preparing to move an elderly parent into your home. Or perhaps you are about to adopt a child or welcome an exchange student. In all these situations, how do you keep schooling? Even adding a four-footed family member, like a puppy or a farm animal, can be a challenge to continued homeschooling efforts.
As I tried to answer my friend's question and apply the answers to our own recent family growth situation, the Lord put some answers on my heart. First of all, I told my friend to give herself lots of grace! God knew He'd be giving her and her husband this baby at this exact time in their lives. He also knew their daughter would be 5 when her new baby brother arrived. God isn't surprised by their fatigue, their challenges, and their new stresses as they add the baby to their family and routine. I suggested that she take it easy, let her body heal, and focus on getting the baby to sleep well. Only gradually would I suggest she add more schoolwork back to her routine.
With a spring due date, our family's plan was to take an extended spring break. But homeschooling, by definition, is flexible! We don't have to follow the traditional school calendar. So take your break whenever life demands it. Your children may be setting aside their math and reading for a while, but they'll be learning all kinds of other life skills.
The first days and weeks of adding a newborn, or any new family member for that matter, are a new season of life. Like springtime, this season is full of change, beauty, and sometimes challenges. But remember that it's only a season. My friend will create a new routine, including bookwork with her older daughter, soon enough—but I don't want her to miss the beauty of her present situation with her infant son.
I also suggested she set baby-step goals right now. The baby won't allow her lots of time, but she may find ten minutes here or there to get things done. Sometimes that will be a shower for her, another time it might be one load of laundry, and another ten-minute chunk might be reading with her daughter. It's unrealistic to try to do school in one long stretch the way she did pre-baby.
Gradually, my friend will move toward getting the baby on a good schedule—eating, awake time, and sleeping—so she'll know when to anticipate one-on-one time with her older daughter. I told my new-to-homeschooling friend about my favorite Christian resource for early child training: Babywise by the Ezzos. While I don't agree with all their advice completely, overall their wisdom is wonderful and a major reason I'm able to have a large family, still do schooling, and juggle as many balls as I have the past 15 years since my oldest child was born.
When she does gradually get back to some formal learning, I suggested that my friend decide what's most important to her and prioritize her daughter's learning. If concentrating on her daughter's reading is most important, and math next, then rate reading #1 and math #2. When they have a few spare minutes, they can tackle priority #1 together. At the end of the day, if her daughter only gets one bit of schoolwork done, at least she's done what's most important! If she also manages to get to #2 later in the day, great! Although it might be just ten minutes of reading and another ten minutes of math, at least they are doing what's most important for their family.
Another bit of advice I gave was to multitask when possible. When the baby is sleeping, my friend can fold laundry at the kitchen table with her daughter seated next to her, doing her math. They can read a book together on the couch while feeding the baby or do nature study on a walk with the baby in the stroller. If her daughter finds a feather, or an interesting rock or leaf, she can bring it home to identify it from a guidebook or online resource. That's science!
I prepared for the arrival of our baby by investing in additional school resources for our older kids. For history, I purchased two G.A. Henty stories as mp3s for my kids to listen to when I'm not able to read aloud to them. I suggested to the new homeschooling mom that she find a good source of instructional DVDs like the Moody Science series, Schoolhouse Rock (remember those from when you were a kid?), Liberty's Kids (cartoon stories of early American history), or books on CDs (Black Beauty, Boxcar Children, etc.). Her daughter can watch or listen to these while the mother tends to herself or cares for the baby. Afterward, if she asks her daughter to tell her about the audio stories—to narrate back what she's learning—or draw a picture of what she's hearing or watching, she can gauge her comprehension. Those movies or CDs will be worth the cost and be great learning tools!
As the baby grows to take fewer but longer naps, they can establish nap time as the primary school time. That may not mean schooling early in the morning, as they used to do, but perhaps right before or after lunch. Whenever the nap happens and schooling takes place, at least it will give my friend some undivided time with her daughter.
Finally, I wanted my friend to realize that homeschooling is tutorial. The 15 or 20 minutes per day that she gives to her daughter are easily equivalent to an entire day of instruction in an institutional classroom. At 5 years of age, that's plenty of formal time for reading and math skills . . . and probably more interaction than she'd get individually from any classroom teacher, however caring. I reminded my friend, and later myself, to focus on quality, not quantity time, when the baby comes. I need not worry that my kids will fall behind their peers academically. The tutorial method is far superior.
Some of my children are older and can do much of their schoolwork independently. I have asked them to do as much as possible solo now that our baby has arrived. To my 15-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son, and 11-year-old daughter I have also recently given the responsibility of correcting their own math problems. When they miss a problem (or two or three or four!), they are to bring me their work so we can rework their mistakes together. When I give them a reading assignment, they are newly responsible for figuring out how many pages to read each day in order to finish the book according to my stated schedule. Less spoon-feeding from me, more responsibility from them—it's a good step forward for all of us. I suspect these new habits will stay with us long after their baby brother has grown. I also ask them to help their two younger brothers (ages 8 and 5) with some of their schoolwork when I am occupied with the baby.
So if you find yourself asking, "How can I keep up with homeschooling as our family grows?" remember that you are not alone. Life happens in the midst of homeschooling for all of us. Family growth, via a newborn, an adoption, a grandparent joining the household, or the simple addition of a family pet, doesn't mean learning has to stop. Real-life learning will supplant bookwork for a while, and that's okay. God is in control, and He will equip us to handle the balancing act.
Melanie Hexter and husband, Matthew, welcomed newborn son Lawson and celebrated their 20th anniversary within a span of two months. With six children and three pets, they have experienced plenty of "welcome to the family" transitions in their eleven years of homeschooling in Ohio. Feel free to contact them with any new-to-homeschooling questions at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Request your own FREE sample copy by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.