People have often asked me just what “school” has looked like in our house. Homeschooling is all about your relationship with your kids. Think about it as you plan the school year. Plan to be with your kids as they learn. I never tell my kids to go do their school. I try to get a load of laundry in while they are getting their chores done and then we do schoolwork together. BE IN THE CLASSROOM! One day I went into the living room because I was tired and one-by-one all the kids drifted in to join me—they are so much more motivated if mom is involved!
I assign their work every day and each child moves at his own pace in every subject. When people ask my kids what grade they’re in they will usually answer according to their age, but they’re really in different grades in different subjects. If they’re good in history and love it they might do two or three years’ worth of history in one year. If math is a struggle they might be a grade “behind where they should be”, but it’s more important to give them confidence. Keep them at a level where they are challenged but not discouraged. When they learn a skill, move on. If they are a great speller there’s no need to give them a list of spelling words to work on all week. If they take the pretest on Monday and get all the words right they don’t need to work on those words all week long. Gear your children’s work to their own needs.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to know everything to teach your kids. It’s good for your kids to watch you learn and struggle, and see how you work it out. When I’m explaining a new concept in, say, math, I will work a problem first while they watch me. Then I’ll watch them do a problem, then send them off to do one by themselves. When they come back to show me the one problem I can see if they got it right. Think how you would feel if you went off and did 15 math problems and made the same mistake in every one—that would be quite discouraging. Most math curricula I’ve seen have far too many problems for a child to do in one day. The reason they do that is to provide busy work for teachers who have different levels of ability in one classroom. When I assign my children’s work I give them 10 or 15 problems a day, and if they get those right and understand them, great—we’ll move and do more the next day. Sometimes we do unit studies, sometimes we don’t. We have read science books on each child’s level on a topic like weather, and at the end of the time they’re studying about that we’ll go to the weather station at the airport. Sometimes it doesn’t work out to go somewhere and I just let them work at their own levels in their science books.
Make school a fun time for your younger children, too. One thing I’ve done that really works it to reserve special materials and projects just for them to do while the older kids do their schoolwork. In the summer, while all the paper, crayons, markers, glue sticks, etc are on sale is the time to stock up. Watch for Staples/Walmart ads to catch the weekly specials until early September, and stock up on special supplies to profitably occupy your preschooler. We would put them away in a special place in the closet so they didn’t get tired of them; they couldn’t just pull them out and do them all day long. Things like flannel graphs and puzzles, playdough, sorting pre-cut shapes, outlining, lace-and-trace activities—things that are teaching them something. In our house, Dad doesn’t ever do any of the academic teaching; some dads might, but he just doesn’t have time. What he did used to do when the kids were little was to correct the schoolwork and encourage them with his attention and a sticker on their papers. During the day they’ll say they want to do a paper just for dad!
I would first of all spend 10 minutes with the little ones while the bigger kids were picking up clutter/doing simple chores. Then, halfway through our morning, while the older kids were snacking, I would again spend approx. 10 minutes with the toddlers/preschoolers. When “school” was over, about noon, I would again spend time reading Bible stories/teaching Scripture verses/character to the little ones while the older ones made sandwiches for lunch. If they KNOW and can depend on time alone with Mom at those specific times, they usually won’t be begging for attention all morning long.
People have asked if the Boyer’s have a quiet classroom. No! I try to squelch distracting talk, but because of the number of children we used three rooms. The kids who were reading would be on the couch in the living room, unless it’s something they really needed to concentrate on and then they could go to their room. The little kids were in the kitchen doing puzzles and learning activities. The kids who were writing were in the dining room with their workbooks and math, and I rotated from room to room. I find that it requires less time to teach the older kids than the younger ones. Preschoolers and the ones you’re teaching to read are the ones who need the majority of your time and attention. When the older kids get into high school they should be able to be self-motivated. You should be able to show them what you want to accomplish during the year and let them pace themselves, bearing more of the responsibility. The big kids get used to a certain amount of noise from the little ones, and the little ones have to learn to hold it down.
Remember to plan for some fun things- special trips to the orchard, museums, recipes to make fun seasonal foods, craft projects, etc. Kids have to learn to do some things they don’t like to do, but remember a little fun makes everything more palatable and memorable.