by Rhonda Barfield
I’m the mother of four close-in-age kids. They’re “all growed up” now, but at one time when Eric turned six-and-a-half, Christian was five, Lisa was three, and Mary, a newborn. I’ve spent many years enjoying young children. They can be a lot of fun, but parents know the challenges of trying to homeschool older children while the little ones are running around the house.
Here are some ideas that helped my preschoolers (and me!) survive our homeschool times.
I learned to get organized.
We had a “place for everything and everything in its place,” at least for a few times each day. We scheduled pick-up right before lunch, right before dinner, and right before family reading at bedtime. The house could be a total mess for a while, but the pick-up times helped my little ones learn basic chores, and made the house livable for all of us. I also think it saved my sanity as a homeschool mom.
I learned to give my preschoolers “school work.”
All of my young children wanted to imitate their older siblings doing school work, so I obliged them. I gave them fat pencils, washable markers, stickers, plenty of paper, and workbooks (such as dot-to-dot picture books or alphabet and number books I found at Walmart). While the big kids tackled their subjects, the preschoolers did, too, as long as their attention spans could last.
They also participated in unit studies. I remember when we studied the Pilgrims and staged a play about the first Thanksgiving. Eric and Christian, my second- and first-graders, had the most speaking parts, but Lisa and Mary acted out several scenes. They helped to assemble Pilgrim costumes. They made Indian headbands and decorated “buckskin” vests cut out of paper grocery bags. They even helped to make bows and arrows out of sticks. My little girls had fun while they learned valuable history lessons.
I learned to read aloud, a lot.
For many years, we scheduled family reading times early in the morning, right after lunch, and just before bedtime. For the first two sessions, each child chose a book or two, depending on length. While Eric and Christian might request chapter books, four-year-old Lisa loved picture books, and almost-two-year-old Mary requested board books.
This worked for us because we’d read Mary’s books first. Then, in the morning, she could play quietly nearby while hearing the more advanced stories. In early afternoon and evening, she enjoyed snuggling, and the soothing sound of the advanced words helped calm her down for sleeping.
I asked for help.
Lisa was a quiet, submissive preschooler, but Mary had a strong will and loved to push my limits. That’s why I enlisted her siblings’ help. When I hung out laundry in the basement, I assigned two older kids to watch her upstairs. During our afternoon rest time, when I dozed on the living room couch, the two preschool girls stayed in their room with the door shut; I knew I could count on Lisa to wake me if her sister caused problems.
It wasn’t always easy, but I survived homeschooling with little ones in tow. I found some keys to help me enjoy this stage: organization, “school work,” lots of reading, and enlisting help. When combined, these strategies made it much more fun to teach both my older children and their preschool siblings.
Rhonda is wife to Michael, a former homeschool teacher, and mother of four young adults. She’s authored five books—Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home and four on saving money on groceries—plus 120+ articles. Rhonda also coaches students for WriteAtHome.com and teaches piano.