With six kids under age nine, this seems to be one of the most common questions I’m asked these days…how do you do school with babies and toddlers?
I’ve never been a morning person, although I have tried hard (at times) 🙂 So that rules out the wake-up-early-and -get-it-all-done-before-the-little-kids-wake-up method.
I make a list for the two “school kids” every night, and leave it on the counter where they will theoretically see it and start on it when they wake up. (Actually I suspect DH gets them started, because I am sleeping or nursing a baby in bed so I don’t really know for sure what happens before 8:30 am). Most days, they get in a good chunk of independent work in the morning. Mainly Kid Uno, since Kid Dos is dependent on me for most of her work. This may include handwriting, drawing, outdoor time (at least one hour every day), some written math, art projects, memorization, music practice, etc. Meanwhile I am wrangling younger kids, cleaning, paying bills, putting winter clothes on the little kids so they can play outside…
Then we have lunch. I don’t eat with the kids. Sometimes I read them a story from Egermeier’s. Sometimes I nurse a baby. Sometimes I check my email or put in a load of laundry or work out…
Then Kid Cinco and Kid Cuatro go down for naps. And naptime is when we do all the other school stuff. It is basically a race to get it done before the little kids wake up. Which doesn’t really allow for leisurely discussions or interesting rabbit trails, because I must check off my boxes to make it look like a productive school day! Just kidding–sort of. Some days are more enjoyable than others, and some days just don’t really work out the way I intended, and some we finish earlier than anticipated which gives us a little down time, and I am still not always happy about “giving up” my naptime break (I used to be able to use it for reading or hobbies or cleaning or whatever) because it makes my day REALLY LONG…but that is what works for us during this phase.
Once a week, we have a day where we do our together stuff…this is singing a hymn, reading One Small Square, Among the people, Saints, Lamb’s Shakespeare, and filling in their timelines (every 3-4 weeks). On the other afternoons, I alternate between Kid Uno and Kid Dos with their separate readings and math and narrations.
Kid Tres kinda does his own thing in the afternoons. His only schoolwork is handwriting, which takes all of five minutes a day, and I haven’t started reading or math with him yet…so he plays solitaire Othello or Nerf basketball or looks at books or draws or does puzzles or plays legos.
Most days we finish somewhere between 4-6pm. If we’ve had a morning out of the house, or if we’ve had friends over, we will probably have a lighter school day in the afternoon. We almost never go out between 2-4 because I am a stickler for naps for little kids. We rarely do any school on Saturdays, but often the kids’ weekend activities count toward my checklist for them. Things like ballet class, art projects, a hike, learning a new chore, listening to music, and so on. DH will often take the older kids out for a few hours on Saturdays so I get a kid break. Those are nice times for recharging, planning, hobbies, catching up, and thinking uninterrupted thoughts. And two of my goals for this year are to use the weekends for kid dates (so they each get some one-on-one time with parents), and to read aloud more to the younger kids. During the week, I probably spend about 2 hours a day reading to the older kids, and my voice is a bit worn out by evening, so the little kids get fewer stories than I think they should. Still trying to balance those needs.
So that is what our general schedule looks like. It’s actually quite different from the Charlotte Mason ideal of morning lessons, done by lunch, and afternoon free time…but I am not her, and she was a teacher, not a mother of six children! My priorities are outdoor time for everyone in the morning (my kids seem to do better with sitting down after they’ve used up some energy, and I do better after they’ve taken their noise outside for a while), and naptimes for the under-fives while the older kids work through their mom/teacher intensive subjects while it’s relatively quiet and I am available. So far, so good!