This post is part of our how to homeschool lots of kids with babies and toddlers series. Be sure to read the rest of the series.
It’s a typical day.
I’m sitting at the table with the 10-year-old, supervising the solving of an equation while the 8-year-old is completing some work nearby. The 5-year-old is on the piano, “practicing.”
The 3-year-old also has a math page, and claims to need help even though I really don’t care if he does the math page or not. The baby has just learned to walk, but she’s taking a nap in her crib.
Who am I kidding? That’s not a typical day. That’s an ideal day. That’s the day I kept trying to make happen. It seemed possible. It seemed not unreasonable. And it never happened.
Actual reality homeschooling with many
I’m helping the 8-year-old solve a multi-digit subtraction problem, and there are tears involved. The 10-year-old is staring out the window instead of reading his history, and I don’t know whether to just let him to keep the peace or to reprimand him.
The 5-year-old is pestering for her time with mom, but I just really don’t think it’s going to happen today. Phonics is low on the priority list right now. Where is the 3-year-old? Oh. He’s calling for assistance from the bathroom – loudly enough that the baby just woke up and will be hungry.
Everyone needs me, all day long, all at the same time.
What am I doing wrong? I try rearranging lessons, changing up how we do things, putting the 3-year-old in a play pen, putting the 1-year-old in a play pen. Some things help, many things don’t, and nothing makes it easy and smooth every day.
But I keep trying. I search the internet for ideas. I ask friends. I buy new toys, new tools, new planners.
Some days I’m pretty sure homeschooling is actually impossible.
Finally, we started gaining traction, emerged from the fog, and found solutions that worked.
The solution to homeschooling with toddlers and preschoolers
Yes, these are memories, not our current reality. Now I’m teaching phonics three times per week, we hit our content read aloud time as scheduled, and some days two of my students are part of Morning Time and other than that don’t ask for my help until it’s time for me to verify they’re done.
More is happening in our days, but we get our homeschooling done more consistently.
You know what happened?
Don’t hate me.
It turns out that what I was searching for in those demanding days of diapers and discipline was developing even though I couldn’t see it.
Time isn’t a panacea that will automatically cure all ills. Once the last toddler is reading all the issues don’t magically go away.
You, busy mom of many, are currently putting in the man-hours required to come out the other end with the homeschool you want. It won’t come tomorrow or next week or next year. But it will come. Your efforts will pay off, but it is a long game – the more the toddlers, the longer the game (but the bigger the payoff – amiright?).
I remember being annoyed by the older moms with older kids who seemed so unhelpful by telling me “this too shall pass.” And now here I am. I don’t like to think I’m older, but I can’t deny that I have older kids.
Turns out, that older mom advice was true, even if I didn’t like it.
Here is what I wish I could go back and tell my own annoyed, tired, scattered self:
You aren’t functioning at peak performance, so stop pretending you are.
When you’re in the middle of sleep deprivation and chronic distraction due to many little needs, it’s easy to forget how that affects you.
We call it our “new normal” and expect ourselves to function fully in that place – and that’s unreasonable. Or, we recognize we aren’t functioning like we used to and we give up.
We believe this lesser, tired, cranky self is just the way we are now.
I remember the first time in over a year I had 3 nights of sleeping through the night. I felt like a completely different person.
I could actually finish a sentence in my own head! I could listen to someone and follow what they were saying and make an appropriate response! It was amazing.
Likewise, one year I had a friend with a few little ones come over twice a week. I’d review phonics and read with her oldest and my middle ones while she read to and played with the toddlers.
I couldn’t believe how quickly we made it through material and how calm and collected I felt. It was not the typical phonics-lesson-on-the-couch experience.
At first I attributed it to having another child there. Then I realized that it was because we were uninterrupted.
I wasn’t distracted by where the toddler was and what she was up to. I wasn’t wrestling cuddles, being a human jungle gym while also trying to keep an eye on the letters being sounded out.
This isn’t to say you should arrange lessons without toddlers, and I know we often have no control over how much sleep we get.
What I want you to know is that you’re not operating from a place of peak health and competency and you should adjust your expectations of yourself accordingly. You will not be able to do it all, even if it all needs to be done.
You are an endurance athlete in a rigorous training program.
You’re not merely surviving, however. You’re not just waiting it out, biding your time until you can “be yourself” again.
Muscles build only after being torn down. The most effective athletic training is to push your body beyond its endurance point and go all out, then to rest.
When the training program is over, you’re so much stronger than if you only did a standard, stable cardio workout.
This is the benefit we have. We’re in a training program ourselves at the same time we’re training our kids.
Others might look at the sweat and tears and wonder why we’re doing this to ourselves, but we will emerge stronger, more capable, more competent, and more vibrant.
We can be broken without the rest periods. Take naps. Go to bed rather than folding more laundry. Drink lots of water.
Don’t forsake church or reading your Bible, for that is the spiritual rest our spiritual and emotional exertion needs.
But also do not forsake the race you’re running. Recognize it as a race and run to win the prize – not by trying to bring the finish line to now, but by training so you have the endurance to reach it where God’s placed it.
No solution will make it feel like we’ve reached the end when we’re only halfway through. That’s often what we want – we want to find the smooth and easy path.
But God gives us training, and it’s through accepting the challenges He gives us, day by day, that we grow in wisdom, endurance, and virtue.
We can be grateful for the hard days, the tired times, the crazy hours, when we recognize them as being custom-designed workouts.
Our coach is Jesus. He’s been through worse. He’s given you good work to do, and he enables us to do it.
We all feel like giving up halfway through a workout. It’s normal. It is the hard part. We are tired. We are being pushed beyond our ability. But when we set our eyes on the end and keep going, we receive the benefits.
The solution we actually need in the middle of the baby and toddler homeschooling years is not to long for the days without toddlers or to wait around doing nothing until then, but to embrace the training for what it is: sanctification.
Sanctification is God’s will for us, after all, not success by our standards.
So if you are working despite your weaknesses and failures, leaning on God’s grace, moving forward against all odds, practicing the fruit of the Spirit more than you practice even those pesky phonograms, you’ll emerge from this season stronger and more stable and steadfast than you thought possible – not because the season is over, but because you seized the season for sanctification.
The best advice for homeschool moms
The relative peace and consistency we now enjoy in our homeschool is the fruit of those strenuous, distraction-filled years.
It’s not merely being older – or having older kids – that makes things better. It’s maturity and sanctification that makes things better.
So do not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.
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