One of the hardest things I find about home educating is juggling the differing needs of my four children. The challenge is to be able to engage children of very different ages. I have found that the older they get, the easier it is. It is the toddler I find the most challenging!
To make my life easier, I have tailored the different curricula we follow so that I am usually only doing one main lesson. For example we recently did a unit study on Ancient Greece. Many of the books, website resources and documentaries are just as engaging for my five-year-old as they are for my ten-year-old. What happens next depends on their age. So, my five-year-old will draw a picture and copy some key words, my eight-year-old will draw and write some facts and maybe a few sentences and my ten-year-old will illustrate a story that depicts a day in the life of a family living in ancient Greece. In this way, we all get to learn together, deepening the lesson depending on the age and capabilities of the child. It also means that I am not trying to juggle three different lessons, finding time for individual attention can be really tough!
What to do with the toddler during our school sessions is what I have found the most difficult. It seems that the minute we bring out the paints we have a twoyear-old sitting in them! So here is my quick list of tips for juggling toddlers and older children:
- Schedule your time around the toddler – in my house, this means that we do some structured activities in the morning when the toddler is happy. He is usually content to play with his own stuff near us and is not as prone to huge meltdowns without undivided attention.
- Create special ‘school’ stuff just for them. I have a little station set up that is just for the littler ones in the family. This includes things like stickers, themed play sets, playdough, puzzles, etc. These are things the two-yearold (and sometimes the five-year-old) can play with without the need for supervision or much input from me. I change the toys around regularly and I pack it up everyday at around lunchtime so it remains engaging.
- Take advantage of nap time. This is when we do our messier activities. Science experiments or painting, or even things that require some really focussed time. Sometimes we use this time just to sit and be together without the insane energy that accompanies a toddler!
- Time trade-offs. This is one of my favourite methods of getting things done. Most days I will pair the children up, one older child will play with the toddler while I have some one on one time with the other child. The games they develop have been really lovely to watch and it will often continue into their ‘free’ time.
- Embrace the chaos. Having little children means that life will be chaotic and unpredictable and exciting and boring and fun and miserable all at the same time. For our older children, living with siblings is part of the education of life. Learning to be flexible, to be interrupted and then resume your work, to put your own needs aside and to have to wait are all exceptionally valuable lessons. The lesson is learned moment by moment; watching a parent being patient, handling frustration with kindness, pressing on for the goal in spite of numerous interruptions, and valuing each child’s needs regardless of inconvenience. It is this insight that really changed the way I viewed my toddler and his endless ‘interruptions’.
To those wonderful parents of small children I would like to share a quotation from Glennon Doyle Melton:
How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated- just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst. At 3:30 today I decided that we should adopt four more children, and then at 3:35 I decided that we should give up the kids we already have for adoption. Husband – when your day is completely and totally dependent upon the moods and needs and schedules of tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats your day is ALL OF THE THINGS and NONE OF THE THINGS, sometimes within the same three minute period. But I’m not complaining. This is not a complaint, so don’t try to FIX IT. I wouldn’t have my day Any. Other. Way. I’m just saying – it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain – an entire day with lots of babies.