Homeschooling five children has been a study in cat-herding. I jumped into homeschooling in 2009 with four, one of which was a literal newborn. These are the things I wish I had known at the time:

Don’t stress, you can’t ruin your kids simply by learning at home. 

Teaching life skills is an investment worth making. Sure they make a terrible mess at the beginning, but when they become proficient, they reduce your workload. Eyes on the prize. Short term pain, long term gain.

Load a Crockpot at the beginning of the day, you will be grateful you don’t have to think about it at the end of the day.

If you can’t cover everything in a day, hit Reading, Writing and Maths as a direct focus. 

Pick a good curriculum, but don’t let it become your taskmaster.

Read-alouds go a long way to increasing a love of reading and making amazing memories. Do it even when your kids get bigger. Don’t forget the voices.

Audiobooks, subtitles on movies and TV, typing, and scribing for the child are not cheating.

If being stuck at home with 5 kids aged 8 and under taught me anything, it’s “If you can’t get out, take virtual tours and field trips”. 

Keep it light, keep it fun. Pack your sense of humour.

Walk away if you need a break. Get support from other parents who are doing this and don’t vent to the kids.

And breathe. The kids are going to be alright.

So you’ve jumped into learning at home and multi-level teaching is daunting?

You’ve just started teaching your kids. You had it all planned but it all went sideways. One refuses to not wear their uniform, another needs a lunch bag packed, and yet another cannot even remotely wrap their head around their siblings being in their class and is going on strike unless you get them a desk.

So what to do?

Admit that this is different and that you can all work together as a family to make it though.  They may look at you like you have two heads when you tell them you are their teacher now. Laugh with them. It’s kind of funny.

If your kids are hungry, angry, lonely, bored, tired, in need of a hug or reassurance or feeling unsafe they can’t learn well. Behaviour is communication and you may find yourself playing detective. See the needs and meet the needs first before expecting attention and learning.

Ease into it. Did you know you don’t have to do it all the first day? Many of us celebrate “Not back to school” as a real thing the first day and build up to a full day of learning over the first week.
 You can set the tone, plan something to look forward to and have fun with it.

Do some bookwork and make sure to take breaks. Do what you can and try again tomorrow. You cannot ruin them by doing too little the first day. But you can make them want to leave your school by pushing too hard. 

If you’re worried about making sure you won’t create gaps, looking into something called loop scheduling and you’ll feel better.

Granted some kids are going to hold fast to their routine, and crave what they know beyond what you expect.
That is perfectly okay. If you have kids with anxiety or on the spectrum, expect it and don’t fight it. Stick with what they know for a bit and it may help them relax a little faster. 

Changes come easier with ownership, so talk with them. For those needing things to be ‘just so’ do it out outside of their ‘expected school hours’.

Ask things like:
“This is a list of things we need to fit in our day, How will we get those done?”
“What order do you want to try?”
“What do you like most about school? What are your least favourites?”

If brainstorming is not second nature, say, “You don’t need to answer me now. Think about it for a bit. I’ll check back in with you later today and you can tell me your ideas. Then we can try them for a set period of time and then check in to see how it’s going. If it’s not working, we can try something else.”
Remember, even if something doesn’t work, the sky isn’t going to fall.
Reassure them that ‘different is okay’, and there is more than one way to ‘do school’. We may not be trying to replicate the school experience in our homes, but kids crave stability and when they don’t have it, it comes out in the behaviour.
Take them where they are “at” and shift them to where they need to be with love, gentleness, and kindness.

This will be new, challenging and if you’re like me it’ll help you find every character flaw you’ve got. But that’s okay, we can learn on the fly and grow too, right?

Last thing: if it gets hard, reach out for help.
You do not have to do this alone.

Written by Jennifer Foy. Jennifer is a Christian mom of five who has homeschooled since 2009.  When she’s not off chasing the monkeys in her zoo she moonlights as a homeschool group leader for Beacon of Hope in Hamilton as well as Moderates OCHEC’s Facebook group.

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