Building on a Solid Foundation
- 2010 4 Oct
We have six children ages 9 and under, and only two of them are "officially" homeschooling right now. As you can imagine, our homeschool routine is constantly interrupted and sometimes downright hectic. As we have welcomed each new little one into the family, I've developed different strategies that have helped our days to run more smoothly—homeschooling included, but also home management, work and ministry.
What to "Do" With Little Ones While You Homeschool
It probably comes as no surprise that there are many articles and blogs online that are designed to help us, as busy homeschooling moms, to balance academic education and nurturing our little ones. Some suggest inclusion, which minimizes the often-destructive or disruptive behavior of preschoolers that may simply be cries for our attention. Others recommend the occasional "divide and conquer" strategy that keeps different groupings of children occupied with multiple activities, with Mom bouncing between them all—somewhat like a disoriented pinball in an arcade machine.
Of course, there are tons of suggestions as well for things to do to keep toddlers busy during school time. And while this independent activity time is a necessity (and frankly, a valuable skill for us to train in our children), we are often left with nagging feelings of guilt. I like how Stephanie Buckwalter put it in her review of The Growing Homeschool: "This book spoke to me [about] what to do with the little ones and not feel like you are ignoring them for hours at a time (not that you really can but sometimes it feels like it)." Doesn't it sometimes feel like we're just ignoring our little guys? Try as we might, balancing homeschooling, home management, family relationships, and more often seems like an elusive goal, and we just end up frustrated.
There is no end to the information out there, but in sifting through it all, it seems to me that we run the risk of missing the forest for the trees. We focus with tunnel vision on the systems and strategies that will help us in our daily routines (more things to check off on our to-do lists!), but we fail to take a necessary step back. A big-picture perspective of homeschooling with little ones is a vital starting point to promoting the peaceful home atmosphere that we all desire.
Children Are a Blessing
I'll be the first one to admit that it sometimes takes a conscious effort to remind myself that children are a blessing. God's Word tells us, "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward" (Ps. 127:3). Jesus himself taught that "Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me" (Matt. 18:5). It is vital to remember that the Lord values our children, and so should we. We need to see all of our children—especially, in this season, our babies and toddlers—as precious to the Lord, given as gifts to us so that we might help shape them to serve Him. Easy to say, often hard to remember as we rush about each day, wishing that our toddlers would just learn to behave so that our daily routines would go without a hitch. In the busyness of everyday, and particularly with the added responsibility of academically educating older children, we need to stay grounded in the truth of the Scriptures and sustain the heart attitude that God desires of us in regard to our little ones.
First Things First
Early in our homeschooling journey, I would often describe us as a "homeschooling family." Makes sense, no? As we went along, however, the Lord showed me that even though I might say that, in my heart I needed to see it differently: We are a family who happens to homeschool. This subtle distinction in description helps me to maintain a proper perspective on our day-to-day lives. No matter what else we are doing (schoolwork, chores, or what have you), we try to focus first on our family relationships.
While my oldest does his math problems at the table, I'll walk by and give him a little squeeze on the shoulder. Instead of just asking my first grader, "Is your assignment done?" I'll remind him, "I love you!"—and then ask the question. If my toddler wants to read a book, I try to accommodate her. At the very least, I'll hold her in my lap and flip the pages of her book while I attend to an older child's work or balance the checkbook—whatever the case may be.
It is important to maintain a family focus, especially while homeschooling with little ones. We, as Christians, are referred to throughout the Scriptures as children of God and members of God's family. Galatians 6:10 reminds us, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." If our own nuclear families do not emphasize this mutual service, love, grace, and joy, we do our children a disservice. It is vital that they understand how to function within the family of believers, and this begins with a "family first" mentality in the home.
There is a Time for Everything
For me, homeschooling (and in fact, trying to "do it all" in general) becomes most burdensome when I forget that God's timetable and mine are not always the same. Typically, I try to rush God, or I think that just because God meant for me to do something, it must be done now.
Even if there is a deadline for work that needs doing, it is important to remember that God does not give us more than we can handle and that He will not fail to equip us for whatever task He has given us to do (see Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 13:20-21, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Slowing down in body, mind, and spirit so that we can fix our eyes on Jesus is essential to maintaining peace in an atmosphere that can quickly turn to chaos.
When homeschooling with little ones, it is vital to prioritize and to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading as to how we utilize every moment of our day. Typically, it will be more important to focus on being than on doing and to put people before projects. If we have a right heart and can keep first things first, it is often amazing how much other "stuff" God enables us to accomplish.
Compartmentalization Versus Integration
One of the greatest paradigm shifts in my thinking about homeschooling with preschoolers was moving from a mindset of compartmentalization to an attitude of integration. Rather than scheduling my day to the hilt and checking off academics, home management, ministry, and even child training and discipleship as items on a to-do list, it was immensely liberating to experience the freedom of a well-ordered routine and try to mesh as many of these responsibilities as possible.
If one of my school-age children is struggling with an assignment and I feel frustrated because he is not making the progress I think he should, I try to take a step back and address the underlying discipleship issue—which may be diligence, having an attitude of praise, or surrendering to God's will in doing the task at hand. When we are in the midst of our morning school time and the baby seems fussy, I may excuse one of my older children from book work so he can play with his little brother. We try to integrate learning into this time by singing some skip counting songs, reading aloud from a text book, or doing oral math drills.
As well, we try to minister as a family, emphasize Biblical teaching and training during times of work and play, and focus not just on academics but also on life skills. Of course, it is also helpful to integrate multiple subject areas in our academic learning by doing unit studies or hands-on activities. We integrate our faith into life and then integrate multiple life elements to create a more seamless fabric of everyday existence. This is particularly helpful when homeschooling with infants and toddlers in the mix, because even though we may temporarily have to balance unexpected events, we can be confident that integration will help us accomplish more of what needs to be done.
The Ideal and the Reality
Attending to the more practical matters of scheduling, strategies, and age-appropriate activities is still an essential element in homeschooling with infants and toddlers in the family. However, maintaining a proper perspective on homeschooling with little ones is a vital first step in keeping everything running smoothly in our households.
Of course, these underpinnings represent an ideal, but reality happens—that is why the foundation is so important. When we're dealing with a preschooler who is constantly whining, we have to remind ourselves that children are a blessing. If we are rushing headlong into our school day trying to make sure all of the assignments get done, only to be irritated by a toddler's incessant interruptions—the family first focus can prompt us to put the textbooks down for a few minutes at least. Remembering that there is a time for everything can keep us at peace even when life seems like a whirlwind of activity. And having a mind of integration can enable us to accomplish all of the essentials with less stress and effort.
*This article published October 4, 2010
Cynthia Carrier is the homeschooling mom of six children and author of The Growing Homeschool: Integrating Babies and Toddlers into Your Already Busy Schedule. She also has written, with her husband Marc, The Values-Driven Family and Values-Driven Discipleship. For more information about these resrouces, including free downloads, visit www.ValuesDrivenFamily.com
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct '08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more great homeschool help, download our FREE report—The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom! Click here to download: http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm