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Question: Sometimes in the morning I am figuratively and literally surrounded by kids who need my help. Of the seven kids in our family, four are actively homeschooled. The oldest is in college and on her own (sort of!). The 17 year old is a junior in high school and a special-needs student who needs close attention when reading. The 13 and 11 year olds get along well enough by themselves on some subjects, but not others. The 8 year old requires a lot of attention because he has a hard time paying attention. Besides all of this, I have a 4 year-old who longs to be on my lap at all times which means she is trying to oust my 16 month old. Whew!! I've tried to distract the youngest two with a box that only comes out at school time, but it doesn't work for very long or consistently. I've sometimes used the older boys to work with the younger, or to sit with the girls, but it still seems like I have a great deal of chaos. I've even resorted to using the TV as a distraction, but I don't want to make that a habit. At this point, I am seriously considering splitting up the day into shifts, so to speak, and teaching two at a time. This, however, brings howls of protest since everyone wants to be done with school as soon as possible. Will you help?
Answer:

Dear Mom,

Bless your heart. You really do have a busy day when you get started. I was in nearly the same position just a few years ago. Let's see if we can sort out some ways that may help you. I will give you the best of what I discovered when we were where you are now.

I do not like shift teaching. I tried that and found that it was entirely too difficult, for me. When the school day traditionally ends I am glad. I have other interests and pursuits that we as a family need to attend to and we need the break to get outside and run around, etc.

I think that it is a blessing that the two middle boys are fairly on their own. Certainly the children that need special attention should receive priority when scheduling one on one instruction. The "babies" are probably the biggest challenge. Let's start at the beginning.

I have always prepared a lesson plan for each of the children. I usually try to keep this up to date and filled out for at least 2-3 weeks. I write down what I expect the student to accomplish for the day. It is understood that they will work from this planner independently and highlight the subjects that they have completed. This really frees me up to devote time where it is needed, because I am not trying to assign work while we are in the middle of our school day. At the end of the day each student brings me their books and their planner and we have "checking time." This is a time that is set aside to review what they have finished and how they did the work. At this time I give out stickers, etc.

I believe that all students, no matter their skill level, should learn to be responsible for their work. It is important to help our children develop a healthy work ethic and a diligence to work. It has been my experience that this feeling of finishing work on their own lends itself to productivity. Just the action of crossing off the completed work makes the child feel that they are moving ahead.

A planner also makes it possible to assign different workloads for the different students in your homeschool. Some children can be expected to accomplish more than others. I can use the planner to interject during the checking time extra tasks that I might need to have a child do or feel would supplement a lesson. For example, my daughter is studying Mesopotamia. I suggested that she could earn extra credit if she would draw a map of the ancient cities. As it happened she finished early today and now has something to keep her busy until everyone else is nearly finished.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in our house. If you are finished with school, you may read quietly or craft until everyone is nearly finished. You may not go outside or pester others. Reading is always allowed. In other words, you do not have to fold laundry or wash up the dishes or do chores if you are reading or crafting. I can not tell you how this got started in our house. I am certain that I was not wise enough to start it, but it has helped greatly to keep the house a little quieter during school hours.

When I had two babies in the homeschool, I always felt swamped by their needs. They were never the type of children that could be distracted by anything less than sitting in the middle of the table where the other children were working. I had to give them my undivided attention. This was hard. At the end of some days I felt that I had literally "cheated" everyone in the house. I felt that I had not given the children the time they needed for schooling. I always felt badly if I had to get older children to change diapers or rock a baby while I did something that was most likely unrelated to school. This was hard, but one day I was given an enlightening moment from the Holy Spirit. I was in the grocery store waiting in line when two teachers from the public school came and stood behind me. Because we all knew each other, we struck up a conversation. They told me how they bet I never had days when I felt that I didn't get anything accomplished, when everything that I tried to do with the children was botched, or that certain children needed me more and I was unable to devote time to the class as a whole. I let them continue telling me about the hard day they had just finished. One of the teachers said that sometimes she felt like she had more days like the one she just described than the fruitful kind we all pray for. In the end we all agreed that sometimes just showing up to be there for the children and working the best we could to meet all the demands was by far the greatest challenge. In so doing we felt the greatest rewards for our efforts.

By the way, I do give homework. I feel that some assignments are better taught during the day for a reasonable amount of time (15-20 minutes) and then let the child do the work on their own at the end of the day on their own time. I grade this effort the first thing the next morning. The children seem very proud of these efforts because it feels more grown up to do homework. I do not know how that got started either. Perhaps from listening to their public school counterparts. It works for us and gives me some extra time in my day.

I think that videos for the babies, used at a time when they are normally ready for a nap and needing to wind down, are fine to use. I am sure that your children are bright and would not enjoy sitting in front of the television for very long because they would find it boring. However, if you can get them used to watching the videos during a time when they normally would be resting, this may actually free you to work one on one with the more difficult problems you encountered through the morning.

Start homeschool early. This is probably my best piece of advice. The earlier I get started in the morning the more we are able to finish before the "itchy, I want to finish and go outside and play, wiggly time" starts somewhere after lunch. Certainly highschool aged students will have more work to do on into the afternoon, but hopefully the subjects that require your time will be over.

In the evening, if your husband is able, get his help with the subjects that have been particularly challenging. Perhaps while the others clean up the kitchen after supper.

These are my best suggestions. I am certain that you are doing a great job. There is no doubt in my mind that you have much you could offer in the way of advice. I am equally certain that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get the work finished and do the Lord's will with the challenges you have been given.

You are an inspiration to me. I will think of you when I feel pushed or busy here in my homeschool. Thank you for your uplifting letter.

Dear Jesus, we know that You are the giver of time. What a precious and priceless gift this gift of time is for us here on earth. Empower us through the Holy Spirit to find ways to use our time wisely and productively. Let us feel that we have worked fruitfully at the end of the day, though we may not have accomplished all we set out to do. We love You, dear Lord, and rest in Your strength while overwhelmed by our responsibilities. Amen.

I hope I have helped a little bit. I will pray for your needs, please pray for me as well.

Sending out a prayer,

Rita Munn

   
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