Mothering

Life, with Sinners (Big and Small)

Lately, I find myself trying to encourage myself with the mantra of Psalm 127:3: “Children are a heritage of the Lord… the fruit of the womb is His reward.”  Blessing.  Heritage.  Reward.  Psalm 127 puts “children” right in the same line of blessings as sleep—and, oh, we know what a blessing sleep is!

But when we’re surrounded by toddlers, preschoolers, and infants… parenthood is exhausting.  Things happen during the day and sometimes there are no wise words that pop into my head.  This afternoon I watched two of the children get involved in an argument over a game (the loser unjustly accused the winner of having cheated), and there was something clever and helpful that I should have said, but the words just wouldn’t coalesce in my exhaustion-addled brain, so all that came out was, “work it out, y’all, talk to each other and work it out.”  And laid my head back on the couch, feeling every last bit like I’d just failed at one of the moments I had.  These moments we have as parents are numbered, and dwindling, and yet I couldn’t articulate how to seize that one.

Then, if the children aren’t sinning, I am.  Oh, how many sins are attractive to motherhood!  Over here in this corner of my heart, I have impatience.  Patience, see, is a great help to many situations in parenting, defusing many a situation in children’s hearts before they even have the chance to go far astray—and yet patience is both costly and counter-intuitive.  When someone has just done the exact opposite of what you told them to do, for the tenth time today, patience is evasive.  And why?  Because in this other corner of my wretched heart, I have selfishness.  And possibly anger, that they are forcing me to deal with this yet again, and—how dare they be so selfish?  (Clearly, they’re learning it from me!)  Then there are my other sins, the easier roads; there is laziness, of not dealing with something that needs dealt with, because I’m too tired (see how this all ties back into selfishness…), or not helping with something legitimate because I’m too wrapped up in my own affairs; there is inattentiveness, of not paying enough attention to their little hearts to even realize when wisdom is needed; and there is foolishness, of sometimes joining them in unprofitable activities and amusements because… it’s fun.  And they like it.  It makes them like me.

There are many sins to tempt mothers.

~ * ~

Eliphaz tells Job in Job 5:7 that “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”  And, while Eliphaz is an unfaithful friend, Job himself echoes his words in 14:1—man “is few of days and full of trouble,” he says.  Ecclesiastes 2:23-26 echoes this as well:

For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

In short, life is hard.  Life is broken.  Sin, the fall, our wretched state… everything has been tainted and now the work is endless, the work is full of trouble and strife.  This is our existence on this terrestrial plane.

And yet, did you catch that little glimmer of hope in Ecclesiastes?  “Apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”  Praise God, we are not “apart from Him”!

  • We can take joy in restless nights because we know sleep is a gift from God (Psalm 127:2) and that every minute of precious sleep we get is a blessing from his hand.
  • We can take joy in dealing with disobedient children because we know the fruit of righteousness is the yield of discipline (Hebrews 12:11).
  • We can rejoice in our sufferings because we know they produce endurance (Romans 5:3) and set off a chain reaction that leads all the way to eternal hope!
  • We can love God’s discipline of us because it shows us His love (Proverbs 3:12).
  • We can praise God that our own temptation to sin is not insurmountable—God promises a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).  It never goes beyond our limit, and that is a wonderful truth to rest in.
  • We can be thankful that while we struggle, God has yet given us a Spirit of love and self-control to war against our fleshly impulses (2 Timothy 1:7), and that His grace has brought us not only salvation, but also trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
  • We can run this hard race with joyful anticipation because we run for an imperishable wreath (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Do we live in the present world? Yes.  Are we dragged down and even tormented by it? For sure.  And yet.  We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).  We have hope, we have HELP, we have promises of future sanctification, limits to our present temptations, blessings abounding, and rewards incoming.   While we groan just as creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:22), at the same time, just as creation praises God in the present (Psalm 66:4), we, too, find our rest, our joy, our satisfaction in Him.

Even in the midst of our daily struggles and our sleepless nights—we cling to His grace, and it is enough.

Time Management

Meditating in the “Night Watches”

A few weeks ago, I talked about the importance of feeding our souls even when we feel like we’re too tired to eat, and today I want to share some practical ideas for how busy/sleepy mommies can find time when no time is to be found.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)

The Bible, On Reading the Bible

One of my favorite motifs in the psalms is this idea of meditating on God “in the night watches.”  David was on the run for so much of his life as a military man, and he mentions repeatedly how much he enjoys finding time to spend with God in the night.  Psalm 63:6, Psalm 4:4, Psalm 16:7, and the non-Davidic Psalm 119:55 and Psalm 119:148 all talk about meditating on God’s word at night, on their beds or during their watches.  Mommies of infants have many “night watches,” and I have found it a very useful, quiet, contemplative time to dive into Scripture.  My mind might not be as fresh as it is in the morning, but the general stillness compared to the day is a great value.  The Proverbs 31 woman thought nighttime was a redeemable time as well; in verse 18 we see that “her lamp does not go out at night.”  (And we also see that she rises early—this is a woman who burns the candle at both ends!)  So, despite the strong cultural push to read Scripture first thing in the morning—I have read some authors who say resolutely that the only way to be a well-fed mother is to get up at 5am and have that time marked out before the children get up—Scripture is not so rigid.  Reading “in the night watches” is valid, too.

There is another Scriptural precedent that is worth looking at, though: in Daniel 6:10, we see that Daniel had a plan.  He had a custom, a habit, of marking out regular time.  It wasn’t haphazard and he didn’t try to work it into his day at the last minute.  Again, one can be far too rigorous about this, but, for me personally, I have learned that I am a person who definitely needs to make a plan.  If I am just expecting to spend time in Scripture and prayer “sometime,” then it isn’t going to happen.  Don’t underestimate the value of thinking ahead and doing things in a regular order.

Lastly, while Scripture talks about clear times when people sat down and actually read the word, there is another word that comes up frequently: meditate.  Joshua 1:8 commands the Israelites to “meditate” on the Book of the Law “day and night.”  Psalm 1:2 says that the righteous man “meditates day and night” on God’s law.  Isaiah 26:3 says “you keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you.”  We cannot just read our chapter a day, mark it off our list, and go on with our own pursuits and thoughts for the other twenty-three hours of the day.  Rather, God’s word should permeate us and be continually before our eyes and hearts (Proverbs 4:21).  Keep thinking and praying, even when the book is closed.

When to Read

Wake up early – If you are busy dawn to dusk and can’t imagine finding time in the middle of your day, then, by all means, follow the suggestion to simply move your alarm earlier.  It is worth the fifteen minutes of lost sleep if you get up and spend that time with God.  This is a solution that works for everyone.

With your coffee – Most of us have morning routines of some variety or another.  Mine involves coffee!  Many of us reach for our phones or computers to check our email or Facebook.  Whatever you do in the morning, put off the Facebooking, and get some time in the Word first.

At lunchtime or naptime – If you have a child who still naps, this is an easy time to set apart.  I have taken my tablet in with me as I sit with a child who struggles to nap, I have read in a nearby room while my children eat lunch, and I very often sit and read while my younger kids nap.  I just prioritize it above the other things I might want to do at naptime, like laundry or homeschool.

In the car – Perhaps you have a car drop-off line to take your kids to school, or maybe you drive somewhere regularly and can listen to Scripture as you drive.  Most of us spend a lot of time on the road.  Use it.

While you’re waiting for dinner to cook – If you’re a fan of the Instant Pot, then once you push that magical “start” button, you’ve got at least twenty minutes before you have to be ready to plate it.  Use that 20 minutes.  If you’re making scrambled eggs for dinner, bring your Bible and prop it up on the counter and read it while you stir.  Even better, listen to an audio Bible and keep your hands and eyes free for the food.

After dinner – At our house, everything kind of calms down after dinner.  Daddy is home, the children are tired and settling down in advance of bed, and the baby is asleep early.  Great time to sneak off somewhere and read.

After bedtime – Just like anyone can set their alarm to get up fifteen minutes earlier, anyone can stay up fifteen minutes later.  Again, it’s useful to grab a tablet and sit down with Scripture while urging a toddler to sleep, or waiting and working with a preschooler to stay in their beds… or failing that, before you lie down for your own night’s rest, take those minutes to spend with God first.  I am most often an after-bedtimer, because our kids go to bed early and I find I am less distracted than at any other time in the day, and I’m a “night owl,” meaning my brain is wired to be most attentive at night, even on my most tired day.  I read earlier in the day if a good opportunity came up, but my “dedicated” time is before I go to bed.

The bottom line of every single scheduling idea is it is worth it.  It’s worth it to get up early, stay up late, get behind on the laundry, miss a bit of socializing, whatever.  The time is there, we just have to make the decision to take it.

Planning to Read

One thing I have realized recently (as I read through the Bible, ironically! :)) is that people in the Bible read chunks of the Bible.  In 2 Kings 22, Hilkiah the priest finds and they read the entire Book of the Law to King Josiah.  Ezra does the same in Nehemiah 8.  In Daniel 9:2, we learn that Daniel has been methodically studying Jeremiah.  The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 has been reading through Isaiah.  None of these people were just reading a verse here and there; they were reading whole vast sections, and God blessed their efforts.  There is a lot more to Scripture than just little soundbytes that make it on Instagram quotes or get printed onto bookmarks.  Context can hugely change the meaning and depth of those verses, even widely quoted ones like John 3:16.  Don’t just read the Bible in little tiny pieces.

But at the same time, reading a whole book like Isaiah can take a really, really long time.  Time that many of us really don’t have in our day, at least not without arranging babysitting in advance.  Here, too, I don’t want to be legalistic and say the right amount is XYZ.  I have learned that the “right amount” hinges on many different factors.  To me, if I am reading such short segments that it is hard to get the gist of the passage, I’m not reading enough.  If I am trying to read such long segments that I fail to do it at all, then I’m trying to read too much.  There are different seasons and different situations.

Similarly, there is a time to read the Bible through cover-to-cover, and there is a time to stop and realize, hey, I need to read Job right now.  Or I need to read the Psalms.  I need to read the Gospels.  Romans.  The New Testament.  Be purposeful.  Don’t be one of those people who never reads Haggai–Haggai has some convicting illustrations about how sin taints every thing we do.  All the books are God’s word and all of them are useful and helpful to us.  But, again, Scripture doesn’t tell us to read it according to the table of contents!  Pray and seek the Spirit’s leading about even which book to read.  There are some great reading plans out there (one featured in that post, a bunch more linked at the bottom).

Other Moments to Seize

Beyond the simple time we spend reading God’s word, there are many other ways in our days that we can purposefully turn our focus on Him.

Put Scripture in our houses.  I mean this literally: write it on notecards and stick it above your sink.  Put it over your washer.  Get mugs and decor with Scripture.  Keep it before your eyes.

Listen to Scripture-saturated music.  Worship music, in general, is very helpful for keeping us centered, but I love Scripture-based music even more!  Seeds Family Worship, Songs for Saplings, Jamie Soles, Scripture Lullabies, Steve Green’s Hide ‘Em in Your Heart, Rain for Roots, Shane & Shane… all good names to look up to start with, and I’m sure there are many more.

Read Scripture with your children.  Whether it’s family worship, “Bible” class in homeschooling, or mother-and-child Bible studies, it’s amazing how much of an impact “simple” presentations of Scripture can have on me when I’m presenting it to my children and trying to answer their questions.

Listen to it in the car.  All those minutes of driving can be turned to worship!  Audio Bibles, Scripture music, worship music, sermons—redeem the time!

The word of the Lord is bread.  It is more to be desired than fine gold.  It is life-transforming, sustaining, encouraging, sanctifying, useful, practical, supernatural, and completely effective.  Just like we make healthy meals for our children, it is essential that we be attentive and make sure we are getting fed spiritually as well.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part II)

Two weeks ago, I covered the first three things I’ve found helpful in large family homeschooling, and today I’m covering the last four. 🙂

Identify who needs the most help, and schedule it.

Along with independence and check-ins, sometimes students just need direct teaching.  Especially first-graders and below.  Or in later grades, they may need help with particular subjects, or help to get started for the day with particular subjects.  I make a list of “with Mommy” needs, and then I make a block schedule so that those “with Mommy” times don’t overlap.  I don’t plan to teach the first grader how to read as I simultaneously make sure the fourth grader is understanding her grammar lesson!  It’s important to plan ahead on this, so that we don’t end up, indeed, in the middle of phonics, and an older student is unable to move forward because they need my assistance.

I think of our schedule blocks in one of three distinct ways: either totally independent, semi-independent, or with Mommy.  I match up the “totally independent” times with a single “with Mommy” time, but it’s usually okay to have many of them working semi-independently at the same time, so I schedule those together.  For example, math.  Even first graders can “independently” work through math problems, and even twelfth graders are sometimes going to need some pointers.  So we all do math at the same time, and I bounce around from one to the next as they need me.  I’m there.

The key thing is to use your time carefully, and plan ahead.

Do things together.

Every day, we have a “circle time” (or some families call it “morning time”), which seems to work best for us perched in the middle of the morning—so it’s kind of a break—and we do some subjects together, or partly together.  We work on a hymn.  We do exercise.  We read the Bible.  And then the lower grammar stage kids and I do history together, while the upper grammar kid reads her version (a more advanced version, but the same historical topic) nearby.  They also do science in large groups, and sometimes literature can branch across multiple grades.  Basically, if something can be combined, and then worked at slightly different levels / with slightly different expectations, then that’s a big time-saver.  If all of my school-age kids were doing completely difference science, history, phys ed, and so on… it would be chaotic.  It’s a lot easier to have a unified subject and then do different testing options, different essay assignments, etc. per grade level.

Notably, this has limits.  It doesn’t work for all subjects—grammar, math, spelling, etc.—just the more subjective ones, and even those, it will probably reach a limit of usefulness around high school.  But for the younger grades, it’s a good way to save energy, keep our focus, and build sibling relationships while we’re at it.  Also—this is how homeschooling groupwork is possible!  Working in groups is a great feature of traditional schooling, and in homeschooling, it’s further enhanced by being able to reach across grade levels.  It also provides opportunities for those top tiers on Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, as older students can begin to think about how to explain and formulate things to younger students, or even invent fun projects to help the younger ones understand better—a process which fosters their own understanding in a very natural way.

Farm things out.

Homeschoolers are often quick to encourage one another that if you can’t teach a subject (like high school math or science), find someone who can.  And a huge proportion of homeschoolers do that.  But it has a special benefit to large families—it frees up our time!  For the past couple of years, my kids have been doing a science class through videoconferencing.  I’m perfectly capable of teaching elementary science, but… it was hard to find the time to teach the lesson, much less do the experiments and lapbooks, etc.  Now they have a videoconference session every week with a real teacher who actually walks them through the experiments and expounds on the lesson.  They have a quiz at the end of the week that requires them to have read and understood not only the chapter, but also the “classroom” lesson on the subject.  They know how to do the experiments from her demonstration well enough that they can do it without my help!  It’s awesome.

There are also in-person classes—piano lessons being the only one our kids currently do outside the house—but there are also much less interactive but equally useful ways to “farm things out”: DVD lessons, websites, apps, etc.  I was writing spelling words on our board for about twenty minutes a day before I realized… man, I bet someone videotaped this.  And, sure enough, the company had a DVD!  Twenty minutes saved—and that was just one student.  Now three of them are doing the same kind of spelling, so I’m saving an hour a day by using the DVD.  Flashcards are another good example of something that took so much teacher time and is done just as well, or better, by using a website.  Preschool is something that is not necessarily accomplished in a busy large family house, but… there are whole DVDs of preschool programs!  Our fifth child dutifully did about two hours of “preschool” via a sort of one-way videoconferencing type of thing every single day through 150 lessons.  We also “farm out” typing, and sometimes phonics reinforcement (Reading Eggs and Headsprout).

I do find kids don’t learn as well remotely as they do in-person, so I try to keep it fairly limited to either things that are super interactive (videoconferencing) or strictly drillwork (typing, math facts, spelling), and I try to follow-up regularly and make sure what I think is happening is actually happening, and useful.

Pick curricula carefully.

There have been many times when I have looked at a curriculum and thought, wow, that looks great, but will absolutely not work for us!  Some of the things I started out with–A Beka K5, Teacher-Led, for an example—are just far too teacher-intensive and time-consuming to be tenable now that I have older students.  I find something that has worksheets for review rather than oral drills for review works better, simply because it allows me to move on to another student.  Much homeschool curriculum is written with the expectation that you’re going to have hours to work one-on-one with your student.  And in large families, of course, we simply don’t.

So sometimes classroom material works better, especially classroom material that was designed for a one-room schoolhouse.  In addition to, you know, actually old curriculum like McGuffey and Webster, there are many Amish and Mennonite schools that actually still operate that way and produce curriculum that is designed for brief teacher explanations followed by independent student work for reinforcement and expansion.  These pretty much universally work well for us, although they are not always necessarily what we want—the math, for example, starts to turn into consumer math rather than college-bound math once you get into high school.  Still, many of the subjects are very useful.

In short, the main thing to watch out for is that some curricula that is written expressly for homeschoolers incorporates a lot of teacher time because it anticipates one-on-one interaction continually.  So it is something I have learned to watch out for right at the beginning—a curriculum may be fantastic and get excellent reviews, and yet be simply beyond our grasp.

Now, though, a caveat: some teacher-intense curriculum is worth it.  I tried doing The Logic of English a couple of years ago, decided it was waaaaaay too teacher intense, and set it aside.  But I came back to it, eventually, because my more independent-working curriculum was just simply not working with my son, and I was spending more time trying to get him to be independent than I would have if I had just stuck with the teacher-intense curriculum!  It’s also possible to modify curricula so that they are more independent.  So, I really don’t mean that this is a “rule” so much as something to be aware of—whenever I sit down to evaluate a new curriculum (or even to consider how an old one is working for us), I take careful note of how much time it will demand from me and how it will fit into our schedule and schooling method.

 

Value: wisdom.

Old Wisdom, Time Management

When You Get Out of Bed

One of the things I much enjoy doing is taking some bit of the Puritans and trying to make them more accessible to modern audiences—a habit that began with my trying to translate a systematic theology into a five-year-old’s vernacular.  There is so much wisdom from long ago, but sometimes it’s so hard to get to.  Even tiredness can make reading the Puritans impossible.

Anyway.  This little piece sprung out at me.  It’s very loosely based on “Meditations for the Morning” by Lewis Bayly. 1611.  Things to think about when we get out of bed in the morning—little reminders to our souls.  I love how Bayly makes little, mundane things echo with eternal significance.

~*~

Six things to ponder when you get out of bed in the morning…

sunrise-sun-morgenrot-skies-163255

1: The gift of awakening.

Just as God kindly awakened you from sleep this morning, one day, He will awaken you from the sleep of death.  Just as the rising sun makes the morning sky a glorious delight of color and the joy of a new day filled with possibilities, one day Christ and all His angels will come in a morning far brighter and greater when He comes in judgment.  As the animals this morning can see the ordinary light of day, you, with the eyes of faith, keep your eyes on the glorious light of that great coming Day!  Just as God awakened you this morning, so the last day is coming when we will awaken into eternal redemption.

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28)

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)

 2: God’s provision for you in your sleep.

The enemy is as a roaring lion, walking about to devour you (1 Peter 5:8, Job 1:7); who knows how near he came in the night when you slept, and yet God hedged you and watched over you and guarded you with His angels.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8)

3: The alarm clock.

pexels-photo-280254 When your alarm clock wakes you up, remember Peter, and how he repented when he heard the “alarm clock” of his day—the cock crowing (Luke 22:61-62)—and consider the final call of the last trumpet, which will wake us all up at the last day.  Consider your state if God called you this very morning, and change your habits so that you would be ready!

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44)

4: God is watching. Angels are watching.

Remember that God sees your lying down and your rising up and knows all your ways (Psalm 132:2-3).  Remember that the angels, who guarded and watched you all night, are also watching how you awaken and begin your day.  As you go through your day, remember that they are watching you, and the Lord God is watching you.  Remember that you are in the fearsome presence of God and in the sight of His holy angels.

Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24)

5: Getting dressed.

holiday-trip-packaging-8434 As you put your clothes on for the day, remember that clothing was a gift God gave Adam and Eve to cover their shame—the shame of their sin.  God made the first clothing from the skins of dead animals—another sober effect of human sin.  Therefore, don’t be proud of your clothes.  It should be humbling that they are necessary.  Even the prettiest clothes are still just a covering-up of that shame of sin and fallenness to which we are born. Remember that He still provides our clothing, just as He does for the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28).

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31)

But just as your clothes cover the shame of sin and keep you warm, remember and be certain that our souls are covered with the righteousness of Christ (Matthew 22:11, Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Philippians 3:9, Revelation 19:8; Ephesians 4:24).  Take care that despite being richly dressed in human terms, that you are not naked and filthy in the sight of God (Revelation 16:15).  But, with His righteousness as a robe, our shame may be covered! Our souls may be shielded from the firey cold that will bring eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13).  Consider how blessed our nation would be if every fine set of clothing covered a soul similarly sanctified—and how heavy the judgment for those with such outward blessing and adornment who are yet so inwardly naked and filthy.

6: The coming day.

Think of your plans for the day.  Consider that God’s mercy is renewed to you this morning, every morning, bringing you new life (Lamentations 3:23)!  This morning, He made the sun rise again to give you light.  Don’t let today’s sunlight burn in vain!  Give Him thanks.  Plan to glorify Him in obedience and devote the day to following His commands.  Take a moment even as you roll out of bed, or before, to honor him as the day springs forth, confessing your sins, asking pardon for all your shortcomings, thanking Him for all He has done for you, and asking His protection over the day for the church, yourself, and everything belonging to you.

Homeschooling, Large Family, Time Management

Large Family Homeschooling Six Lessons from Homeschooling Five (Part I)

This year feels different than ever before.  I have finally realized: I am not limitless! 😉

I am a second-generation homeschooler—and an only child.  My mom was an amazing teacher and it seemed like we did everything.

Life as a larger family has meant my kids have many advantages in the form of their built-in siblings that I didn’t have as a kid.  They learn many things.  They can do group work, and big projects.  Sometimes they learn something better by explaining it to a younger sibling.  Sometimes they can learn by each others’ insights.  Many, many advantages.

And yet: I am a teacher of many, our own little one-room-schoolhouse environment, while my own student experience was with a 1:1 teacher-student ratio.  I cannot teach the way my mother taught.

Here are the first two of six guiding points that I continually come back to as I homeschool our kiddos (currently 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, and preschool).

Foster independence.

Homeschooling preschool through first grade takes a lot of teacher time.  There’s no way around it!  Kids can’t read directions until they can… you know, read.  But as a mommy when I have seven kids nine-and-under wandering around, I can’t take two hours for each kid one-on-one to do their school.  Not if I still want to sleep, or to feed anybody dinner!  So, from the very beginning, this is a major priority: work towards independent learning.  Initially, this is impossible.  With some kids, it remains impossible for longer than others!  But it is something I consciously have in the back of my mind at all times, and I try to encourage them to try to do it yourself before asking me for help.  If they ask me for help—“did you read the lesson?” “did you read the directions?” “did you try to do it?”  Important questions!  I also give them rewards and incentives.  And also, “I will gladly help you, but I want you to try  it by yourself first.  I want to see you try.”  Magic words.

There is, however, an important balance here: I have to be available for questions, and make it crystal clear to them that I am available for questions.  Otherwise, you end up with empty workbooks and, “but, Mommy, I didn’t understand and you were busy!”  Ask me how I know! 😉

Independent learning is a great skill to have, so I have no regrets trying to impart it to our children… but there’s a balance.  It does take attention to see how children are reacting to independence.  How responsible are they with their work?  With remembering to ask questions when they need to?  Do they need pushed toward more independence, or do they need reminded to stay in close?  Most importantly, how does the child deal relationally with independence?  We have some children who really benefit from quality time—whose learning ability absolutely skyrockets when they are sitting next to us one-on-one.  It’s important to notice that and be intentional about that quality time to make sure it still happens.

It’s also good to consider the best way to implement a specific curriculum for independence.  Sometimes all the instructions are right there in the lesson for the pupil to read, and they really only need help if they don’t understand something (more on this in part 2!)… other times they might need some real, dedicated instruction before setting out on their own part of the learning quest.

Plan check-ins.

When you’ve got kids learning independently, there is one area that is bound to turn into trouble: they can get off-track, and you can miss it.  Sometimes kids won’t tell you they don’t understand, and plow ahead anyway.  Sometimes they think they understand, so they go on.  Sometimes they’re doing fantastic, but would still benefit from you noticing it and encouraging them!

So it is necessary to check in.  Every subject, every kid.  Regularly.  What it looks like may be wildly different from one kid to the next: with our oldest (who excels at independence and enjoys it), I mostly only check her output, that is to say, I read the papers she writes, and for many of her subjects, I make sure she does the quizzes/tests and I check them, myself.  I mostly don’t check her daily work.  She is motivated and capable and, importantly, she usually does actually come to me and ask questions if she isn’t sure she’s understanding something correctly.  So it’s rare that she gets off-track.  With her younger siblings, depending on the subject and the kid, I may check the quizzes (most of our subjects have a quiz every week or so), or I may actually check every single day’s work so I can provide more immediate feedback.  Worst-case scenario, they get to sit next to me at the school table and I keep a sneaky eye on them through the entire subject (or even the entire school day).

It varies.  But regular check-ins are essential.  Think about how often each child needs a check-in, and on what subjects, and actually write it on your calendar, unless you’re relying on a periodic check like quizzes.  Not only do regular check-ins prevent your school year from getting seriously off-track, but they teach accountability: your child knows they are going to be called to account for what they have done.  This also teaches them responsibility and honesty—sometimes the hard way!  If I find out someone has been shirking their work, and not for a good reason, they make it up… specifically, they make it up at a time that they would have otherwise been free… on the weekend, in the evenings, etc.  I try to be kind about it (no missing exciting outings or guests) but also insistent enough that it is a drag that they don’t want to repeat again.  Or I’ll remove other privileges (like computer time) until they get their work caught back up to where it should have been.

Importantly, regular check-ins also help make sure I am aware of how they are doing.  What is their learning style? How are they coping with this new curriculum?  What is not working?  How can we fix problems and make everything run more smoothly?  It’s a chance to sit back, give them my full attention, and see what I might need to be doing differently.

Coming in Part II…

In two weeks, Lord willing, I’ll be coming back to this subject to add four more things that I’ve found crucial to large-family homeschooling… including thoughts on choosing curriculum, knowing our kids, spending quality family time together… and other things.