I know it is July, but July in Texas is hot! Too hot for kids to play outside = seven kids and me inside, all day, every day. This means for the survival of all involved, getting back to the school routine is our best option. It also means that when the weather is perfect in the fall we can take days off to enjoy the great outdoors, go camping and enjoy outings with fewer people to compete with.
People that do not homeschool often wonder what our school looks like and how we “do it.” This is not an easy question to answer as every homeschool is different and in our school, every day is different. With 7 kids at home the last couple of years have been the most challenging. Two years ago, I had two teens to help; but last year and this year it is Allison and I and the younger six kids. Last year my health was not very good, so my mom and some women from church came and helped out in the mornings one or two days each week. This year we are flying solo.
This past Monday we started back to school for half days. We cover the subjects that the kids can do independently with little help or supervision. This includes Math, Handwriting, Phonics, Reading Comprehension and Spelling (thank you, AVKO for the DVD option!). In a few weeks we will add in the “teachable” subjects of History, Science, Art, Music and Latin. I have these subjects spread out over the week and my granddaughter will be joining us for these courses as she is homeschooled and in the same grade as my son. Three days each week my oldest daughter will come over and somehow between the two of us we will teach these subjects to the older kids, do an hour of Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten activities with four other children, and manage the three babies–all within a two to three-hour window of time. It’s totally possible. No, really, it is!
So, if you are still curious here is a summary of our first week and the lessons I’ve learned. Keep in mind that I decided to start school on Sunday evening at 9:00 pm! I have worked on organizing the work area for several months. My lesson plans are 90% complete and on Saturday my friend answered prayers by giving me these two shelving units from her garage which just happened to be the perfect size for my storage bins! To add grace unto grace my husband had an old countertop in the garage that was the EXACT size to cover both shelves. This allows me to have a safe place for the younger kids to play while I work and the kids do school. I also found that a picnic utensil container is the perfect tool to organize school supplies and make sure that we always have a sharpened pencil and erasers at our fingertips. I have found that one container of shared supplies is much more efficient and economical than a box or bag of supplies for each child, especially when you have three or more children.
My goal for each school day is to spend some time reading and playing with the younger kids during the mornings, but this week was packed with errands. Monday: laundry and grocery shopping are my two main goals every Monday. This week was my bimonthly trip to Costco, Aldi and then to Walmart. I also had to drop off my husband’s suit at the cleaner’s and take my Suburban in for a detailed cleaning and ding repairs. On a side note, my Suburban is 10 years old and has a fourth row installed to seat a total of 12 people. I decided to spend a little money to clean her up to drive her for another 10 years, God willing. I haven’t been this excited about a car since I was 16 and my parents bought me a brand new Mustang Convertible–Okay, it isn’t quite that exciting, but I really don’t think I’ll ever be *that* excited about a car ever again. Anyhow, Monday went well because Kathleen is staying with us and she watched the littles and Allison oversaw the middles while I was fighting computers and running errands for most of the day. Amazingly the laundry was completely done by 2pm! And FYI, having the teens check their phones in until laundry is completed is a great motivator. Just sayin’. Tuesday: I honestly cannot remember much about Tuesday! At some point the kids did their school and then my husband took me out for dinner and we came home, snuck into our bedroom and watched a stupid movie that we hoped would be a comedy. I did have a Crown and Coke, but it hardly had any alcohol in it, so we’ll just blame the foggy brain on my age and having so many kids. Wednesday: It started well. I worked with the kids on school work. I taught them how to grade each other’s Math (yay for me!) I spent a few minutes with Daniel and Sophia doing school while Kathleen played with Ben outside and the others worked independently. I had to leave at 10:30 am for a doctor’s appointment, a visit with my sister-in-law and to pick up the car. I walked in the door at 4:05 pm, 5 minutes late for my weekly Skype with Lauren and by the time I finished that phone call, our oldest arrived with our five beautiful grandkids to celebrate Daniel’s 5th Birthday! Thank goodness our school includes a class in Home Econonomics and Wednesday’s lesson was how to cook a roast. The teens left for a birthday party and Patrick and I enjoyed our time with the other kids and grandkids. Thursday: I woke up feeling refreshed and excited that I didn’t have to run errands. We did school until 10:30 am and then took a break to meet Grandma at El Chico’s for lunch–Kid’s eat free on Thursdays in July. The babies laid down for naps, but only Ben slept and then he woke up groggy and grumpy, so I’m not sure it was even worth the effort. An afternoon overview of school work revealed that my son hadn’t done a lick of Math in the last two days and my daughter thought she could skip 50% of her Math work. Clarifications were made, tears ensued and well, Joshua, is still doing his Math as I type.
So, here is what I have learned:
1. No errands on Tuesdays-Thursdays. No doctor appointments. No lunch dates. No trips to the store. Tuesdays-Thursdays are work from home days until after 2pm. Also, no phone calls or Facebook or work. School has to be the only focus of this time if we wish to avoid frustration. It is too much to ask a 6, 8 and 9 year old to have the self control and focus to work only on school and not get distracted. I already knew this, but it was good to be reminded the first week of school so that I can make the adjustments. It is very similar to getting into cold water. I like to take it slow and warm up to it a little at a time. I can’t handle the shock of jumping in all at once, and so it goes with schooling 7 children while still balancing the demands of home and work.
2. Preparation the night before makes for a much smoother day. If I take just 15 or 20 minutes in the evening to plan out my strategy for the littles and to be sure I have all the supplies for school, the morning flows soooo much more smoothly. My younger kids love “doing stations.” Stations is our version of Montessori where we have several activities available for the kids to work with. These include painting, water play, coloring, puzzles or any other activity that helps them to learn a concept or improve skills. I have several small stools with small chairs that I lay out with activities. Oversight is required! One of these days I will share my humiliating experience of high expectations, Montessori methods and rice. Hint: It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.
3. Stay positive and patient to get the best results. My husband taught me this one. On Tuesday, (hey I remembered something from Tuesday!) Joshua was piddling on his Math. He had left it to the end and it was dragging on and on. I was busy and so I just kept reminding him to focus and kind of encouraged him to get it done, but inside I felt irritated and was thinking “Just do it, already. You know this stuff. It is all review. Blah. Blah. Blah.” I was sitting in my husband’s home office when Josh came in tears with his Math workbook. Patrick was upbeat with him and told him in a very encouraging voice, “Bring it over here. Let’s take a look at it.” Together they worked a long division problem, one step at a time with Joshua answering all the questions, but Patrick orally walking him through the problem. When they finished Patrick showed him how the whole thing had only taken 90 seconds. He turned the situation completely around by being a motivational speaker. By the time he was finished, Joshua was ready to knock it out and I was certain that Missy and I could teach 11 kids at 5 different grade levels, 5 different subjects in 2 hours a day, three days per week! We really can! Right, Missy?!