Thursday, March 19, 2015

How on Earth Do You Homeschool With a Baby in the House?????

Photograph by Pleasant Trees- Photography by Felicia.  Many thanks for capturing this special
homeschooling moment with the five of us!

At a recent OB appointment, the nurse asked me if this was my first baby.

"Oh no!" I replied. "I have three at home.  Eleven, nine, and five."

"Oh, well at least they are in school." She responded.

I didn't bother to correct her.  I chuckled to myself at all her words implied.

Kids are hard work. (Yes they are.) You've already got three, and now a baby too. (That's above the average by two) That's not going to be easy.  At least three of them will be gone all day.

I really wasn't offended.  Of course, the truth is that my children are not in school.  They are at home with me all day. We home school.  Even though this method of education is becoming more and more popular, the norm is that most children enter daycare early in life and then proceed from there to preschool and kindergarten in some sort of public or private school.  This is not an unloving decision, by any means, on the parent's part, it is just the natural course of things.  My choice to keep my children home is still something that is considered unusual.  No one ever assumes you homeschool.

Admittedly, I am starting this piece before baby number four arrives.  We are just two weeks away from that blessed event!  But it certainly has crossed my mind- how am I going to do this? I have children in fifth and fourth grade, a five-year-old in kindergarten, and an infant perking in my womb.  Once he makes his great escape, he will no doubt be quite attached to me and my breast and I'll be relegated to a lot of chair time feeding him.  So how on earth will I continue to homeschool my older three children, and do it well?

Yes, it does occasionally make me panic.  But in general, no worries.  Many mamas have gone before me in this venture, and what I am constantly reminded of is that the home school and the brick-and-mortar schools just can't be compared as far as effectiveness and purpose.  Indeed, the goal is to give children an education. But what an education is takes on a whole new meaning when you choose to homeschool.  For us it has, anyhow.

I remember when I had Petite, my third baby.  My older two were only six and four, so were in their early days of homeschooling.  Yet very important years. Mister was reading, Brown-Eyed-Girl was just beginning to learn her letter sounds.  I remember being tired the first few weeks of Petite's life. She was born in late August and we had started our school year a week or two before she was born.  After a short hiatus, we picked things up again.  I don't remember things being too crazy overall, though I'm sure we had our days.  What I remember most clearly about that school year was our very last day in May.  Petite was about nine months old.  I was working with her big sister on letter sounds and we were saying "e-e-e-e" together, the soft "e" sound.  Suddenly, little Petite starts parroting us.  "E-e-e" she gurgled.  We all three looked at her in surprise. And laughed and laughed, joyously!

Truth is, my children had such an amazing opportunity to watch their baby sister's first year unfold because we were all home together.  They saw her learn to crawl and walk, to start making sounds, and grabbing things.  They would occupy her and play with her on the floor while I got some things done.  They experienced her first phonics lesson!  What a rare opportunity, full of moments that could never be duplicated.  They would have missed it all if they were in their separate classrooms in a school away from home.

That is what I most look forward to when I think of homeschooling my children with another baby in the house, over five years later.  The memories that will be made, the bonding we will all have, will be irreplaceable.  The education they will receive just by having an infant in the home will be invaluable.

I don't doubt there will be days I want to pull my hair out, lock myself in my room, or cry right along with the baby.  But I know how extremely special these days will be to all of us.

So... I've got the will and the heart for this, but practically speaking, how on earth will my children continue to get an education?  The academic part, that is.

One of the major things I have done this school year is move toward handing off some of the essential subjects to electronic curriculum.  I started my son on Teaching Textbooks math, a CD-ROM program, at the beginning of the year. It includes all the lectures and solutions for a full math year.  I just this week started Brown-Eyed-Girl on the same program.  I also recently discovered the free online program Xtra Math, which helps kids memorize their math facts.  Each lesson is about 5-10 minutes, and tells the kids when they are done.  I also purchased Rosetta Stone's new online reading program for Brown-Eyed-Girl at the beginning of the school year.  She is a slow-to-warm-up reader, and I felt that I just wasn't methodical enough in my teaching.  This was the best $99 I spent this year because her reading is steadily improving, and she is also getting instruction in spelling and other reading elements such as homonyms, syllables, synonyms, sentence structure etc.  These computer based programs still require my help at times, and definitely need monitoring for progress and to make sure they are truly doing the work, but they have taken a burden off my shoulders in these essential subjects.

So often, advice to new homeschoolers is to focus on the three Rs.   Don't worry about science and history and art etc. But for me, those are the things I want to focus on!  The three Rs are the tedious subjects.  But of course, they are the foundation that needs to be built strong.  I have a lot more confidence that my children are getting that foundation now that I have passed math and some reading instruction off to a methodical electronic program. And there is definitely progress!  This  has also allowed me more time to spend with my up-and-coming reader, to make sure her foundation is being built.

As for science and history and literature, I still head these subjects up, doing lots of reading aloud and discussion with the kids.  We are following loosely the My Father's World Rome to Reformation curriculum.  So our history this year began with Ancient Rome and will progress through the Middle Ages and age of exploration.  We use several different resources, but my favorite history resource is The Story of the World by Susan Weiss Bauer.  We actually have this narrative of history for children on audio CD, so we take advantage of our time in the car to get history lessons.  We are using Apologia's Young Explorers Astronomy this year, another text that I read aloud to the kids and then they do the notebooking activities that come with it.  We are also listening our way through The Chronicles of Narnia series on audio book when we are in the car, and we are all loving this!  Again, employing electronic resources is a life saver, and a great use of time in the car!

And of course, I am always reading a book aloud to the kids.  This is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling, and also another family bonding time.  We've built so much"history" together just by sharing these stories.  With a nursing baby, and all the time I'll be spending in a chair, reading aloud will continue to be a major part of our homeschool.

Another fact of life I have come to embrace this year, is that our school day may take ALL day.  We will rarely be done by noon, and shooting for that only causes me and the kids stress. With each new school year, the work load increases on my children and on me.  With each new child, it does too, of course.  I have learned to become so much more flexible with our day.  While trying to keep everyone on task and doing productive work, I'm also giving them some freedom to take a break when need be.  We don't allow any television, video games or fun computer time until at least four o'clock and then, only when all their work is done.  I'm trying to place more responsibility in their court, and recently implemented the ideas in this blog post about using a simple notebook to assign work.

Flash forward:

Baby B is now two weeks old.  We took a week off from school and picked it up again this week.  On Monday, B had his first check-up with the doctor.  Grammy came over to watch the older three, and they worked on their to-do lists from their notebooks (mentioned above) while I was gone.  Later, we read from the Bible and our current read-aloud, The Door in the Wall.  We finished up the Mars notebooking activities while B  was sleeping.  The following days have been similar.

The kids' doctor is very supportive of home education, and she rightly said to me at the baby's appointment, "You make it work because it is important to you."

I don't consider the work I do here at home any easier or more difficult than the work other moms do.  It takes discipline to get up every day and do the thing you have committed to do and do it diligently. Although the dynamics in our home have changed, of course, with the arrival of a new baby, and there will be days that we don't get it "all" done, education will continue to be one of our top priorities because, for us, it's more than books, it is a lifestyle.

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