Homeschool, Life

A day in the life, Part 3: Teaching small children…

The thing I struggle with most as a homeschooling mom is balancing my time between three demanding children (all born in three years) who all are at different levels and have very different needs.
For the ages of my children (2, 3, 4) it is impossible and impractical to do more than two hours of structured learning a day (math, history, writing, etc…) I have scheduled our structured school time from 9 to 11, and in the afternoon we try and do something educational that’s more fun and creative like nature study, science or art.

If you’ve checked out the curriculum we are using for this year you’ll notice quite a few books on our list. Most of these are books that will be repeated in older years so I’m not concerned about them remembering every detail, I just want to expose them to the stories so they will be familiar later and more importantly get them in a routine of learning so that it will be something they always remember doing.

I prefer doing math and history first because I think they are the most difficult subjects and if I wait until they are tired it won’t be pleasant. I also find that it’s nice to take a break after one hour and do something fun, music time, drawing, foreign language, something that they enjoy doing, then finish off with whatever else I can fit in until they reach their limit. In the afternoon we come back to do the fun things like art and science.

Schoolwork breakdown:

Here is an example of how much time we spend on each subject during our 9 to 11 timeframe (on a good day of course!):

Math U See (15 minutes)
History of the World, while the boys play with pattern blocks (15 minutes)
Burgess Bird Book, pattern blocks (10 minutes)
50 Stories retold, pattern blocks (10 minutes)
Alphabet floor puzzle while listening to Book of Mormon scripture mastery songs (10 minutes)
Kindermusik (15 minutes)
Now we are Six (5 minutes)
Book of Virtues and copywork (15 minutes) while my 3yr old works on SmartPad ABCs
Workbox System

I have seen this sytem on several sites, I just happened to run across the idea on this site and thought it sounded like a fabulous idea. I planned on waiting though until my boys were older and could do it on their own. However, after moving I was really struggling to get my boys motivated to do school again and thought this might help them to visually see what they had to do before going out to play. I picked it up from for around $50.
My three year old helped me put it together, he put all the knobs on himself. I gave him the bottom three drawers (ideally they’d each have their own set, but anything I buy now will have move with us in a small uhaul trailer next fall!) He was so excited to open his drawers the next morning. 
At night I put the things they will work on for the next day in their drawers and put them in order of when they should be done (for us math is always first and history second). Put things they will need like pencils or crayons in there too. They open each drawer and when they are finished they can move onto the next drawer. Both boys have really enjoyed this system and it is not such a struggle to get them to cooperate!

What to do with babies?

A few questions have been asked about what to do with younger children while you’re teaching older ones. This is a struggle I’m sure all moms face and I haven’t figured out the perfect solution yet (not sure there is one!) I have heard that moms of lots of children teach to the older child and let the younger ones listen in. Unfortunately my boys are not the sit-quiet-at-your-feet kind of kids… SO…I have been trying some new solutions and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

Here are some of the other things I try:
#1, send the youngest to his room to play (or let him roam the house and deal with the messes later)
#2, let all the boys play in the sand box, with blocks, or some other hands-on activity while I read to them
#3, go out on the grass and let the little one run while I work with the older ones
#4, wait until the little one is sleeping (which works great except when he’s boycotting naptime!)

#5, call it a day and go to a museum or park where they can at least learn something!

How to keep young ones motivated:

Since we’ve moved in with Grandma & Grandpa, the boys would love to wake up and go ride their bikes or play in the sand box first thing in the morning. After their daddy left and we finally stopped traveling every few days, I knew we needed to get back into our routine. It was a fight to get them to come sit for school rather than run around and play all morning long so I tried several things. What seems to work the best for us is to get the boys started on an activity at the table such as pattern blocks, puzzles, drawing, building blocks, etc… so their hands are busy but their minds are relatively free. Then I read to them from our books. I find my boys do SO much better when they’re able to multitask and things are much more interesting this way.

And you may think they aren’t listening- but they are. Today my son asked me “what’s cuneiform?” We’ve been studying Egyptians in SOTW and last week we talked about the different ways they kept records. He might not remember what it was, but he remembered the word several days later!

The workbox system (above) which has worked wonders. And kids love stamps and stickers. I have a date stamp and when they finish any written work (the only written work at this age is math, copywork and any worksheets) I let them stamp the date on their paper and put a sticker on it. This is their favorite part about finishing and they get so excited about it.

I also try to do something fun in the afternoon if they get all their schoolwork done. Usually a trip to a museum, park, a special craft or game, computer time on Starfall More or, and occasionally PBS Kids cartoons.

I think the most important thing to remember with small children is that it needs to be FUN. If they are bored or unhappy it’s time to try something else. I do not want school to be a chore, I want it to be a way of life.

What do you do to with your little ones to prevent them from destroying the house while you’re doing school?

Did you miss Part 2: Our Homeschool Schedule?

Continue to Part 4: Organizing it All


1 thought on “A day in the life, Part 3: Teaching small children…”

  1. Whoa! You do school for a lot longer than I ever did when my oldest were that age (4,3,2 and 1). Or maybe looking back we did do that amount of time every day but not all at once – 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there. Part of it I think is our lifestyle of farming – one has to go when it is time to rake or bale or the cows get out.

    I think teaching a child to play by themselves for 15 – 30 minutes at a time is a HUGE lifesaver for mom. You have a lot of good tips to keep littler ones busy while the older ones do school. Rotating toys per week can also help.

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