People sometimes ask whether it is possible to home educate older children when you also have younger children to take care of. Whilst it isn’t necessarily easy some days, it certainly can be done.
It isn’t always easy for people who are not familiar with home education to get out of the normal mindset of traditional schools. From my own experience, it took a while to realise things which I now look back on and think were so obvious, yet it pays to remember them first and foremost when it comes to home education.
Firstly, parents have always been a child’s primary teacher. It might sound obvious but so many people overlook that they have been the ones to teach their children to talk, to walk, to speak and to eat. They have been teaching their children every single day since the day they’ve been born yet still they say, ‘I’m not a teacher’ or ‘I’d be no good at teaching’. They don’t realise that they already have done and already do until it is pointed out to them.
Secondly, you do not need to have lessons for six hours a day. A home educating day is not the same length as a school day and so you do not need to worry about doing ‘schoolwork’ from 9am until 3pm. Schools have various interruptions throughout the day. Assemblies, changing classes, time for students to settle, time for disruptive students to be dealt with, lunch breaks, playtimes – they all mount up. When it comes to working out the actual time children are settled and learning it is far, far less than the six or so hours we first think of. Simply because a child is at school for half a dozen hours a day it doesn’t mean that they are learning for half a dozen hours a day.
And thirdly, there is no right or wrong way for a child to learn. The ‘right’ way is whatever method or methods suit a child.
Keeping these three things in mind creates a good base from where you can show people that home educating is possible, and home educating with younger children is still possible!
A great deal of things can be done whilst holding a baby. How many parents have learnt the art of multi-tasking and doing something with one hand whilst holding a baby or toddler in the other arm? Many of you already read with and talk to your older children while nursing a baby or while rocking a toddler on your lap – you’ve been home educating with a younger child without realising already!
Babies and toddlers often nap during the day. Establishing a routine is a great help in running a household whether you home educate or not – but doing so and home educating will allow you to schedule in anything which might require more concentration for the older children or might need you to be more available – carrying out science experiments or doing messy play, for example.
Our kitchen table (a.k.a ‘The Everything Table’) is where a lot of family activities take place. While the older boys work through their workbooks at one end of the table (shown in the photo above), you’ll often find another child or several sitting at the other end…
If the younger ones want to do something around the kitchen table whilst the older ones are working it’s important to try to keep them occupied. If their attention is focused on something they are likely to be quiet and less disruptive for the older ones. We have a couple of shelves which holds a range of art and craft stuff and different activities suitable for the younger children. These are kept separate to their normal toys and games and so it is a novelty when they are able to play with them. Keeping a variety and range of these products means you can rotate them and bring out one or two new things each day.
The activities do not need to be expensive and you don’t need anything in particular. Whatever your child is interested in is sure to work well. A supply of puzzles, colouring books, paints and paper is all you really need. We were very fortunate as, once we had made our decision to home educate, a nursery school in a local town was closing down and selling off all their equipment and supplies. We managed to buy a wonderful selection of activities for pre-schoolers for peanuts!
Younger children love to have their own ‘worksheets’ too as it makes them feel so grown up just like their big brothers and sisters, so keeping some colouring sheets or their own workbooks with their name on always goes down well too!
Also, remember that your older children do not need you to be sitting with them constantly as they learn and do things, so you can go and be with or deal with your other children or household chores whilst the older ones are busy carrying on with something they’re working on. One thing that home educators have in common is that they become great ‘self-learners’, and become extremely capable at researching and finding things out for themselves. They also become very resourceful learners and show great initiative – both fabulous skills to have as an adult!
Finally, remember that if you are having a bad day where the baby won’t settle, the toddler won’t stop crying and the house is a tip, it’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up about it! We all have bad days and down days where it seems nothing goes to plan and nothing seems to get done. Let the children have a reading day, or let them choose what they’d like to do, if they want to do something different. It doesn’t mean you’ve ‘failed’ or aren’t doing things ‘right’. Take advantage of the flexibility that home education offers. Allow yourselves some down time if you need it and start again tomorrow.