Help For the Harried Homeschool Mom: Tips for Homeschooling

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by Melissa D. Jaramillo

This piece focuses on tips for homeschooling with infants and toddlers.

Another day begins. The "alarm bell," otherwise known as that newborn infant (which you must have thought was a bright idea ten months ago) jerks you out of that not-so-sound sleep. In a daze, you stumble to the rocker and begin to feed the baby. As he eats, your thoughts wander (not that rare of an occurrence now is it?) You know all that MUST be accomplished today but cringe as thoughts of yesterday creep in.

"It couldn't have been that bad?" you try to convince yourself. Ahhh, but it was! Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The baby wouldn't nurse more than 5 minutes at a time, which meant that he was nursing every 5 minutes! Someone stopped up the toilet. Someone else flushed. The toddler decided that she would "help" by getting the container of Kool-Aid mix out. The whole container is opened and dumped on the couch. The kindergartner in his valid try to protect "Miss Innocent" attempts to hide the evidence. He grabs a wet rag to wipe it off. Need you even ask? Of course it was cherry! You needed to turn in a progress report and could not locate the necessary test results. Your child that yesterday knew how to do long division suddenly looked at you as if you were speaking a foreign language. Speaking of which, you realize that Spanish curriculum you ordered (and paid for!) still has not arrived. *Sigh* And that was all before 9 a.m. You shudder, not wishing to relive the rest of the day.

"Today is going to be different!" you vow. You are organized! You are psyched! You have a list! You are crazy or about to be if you don't give yourself a chance to adjust.

Bringing in a new member of the family requires (yes, requires) that you make adjustments in all aspects of your life. This goes for laundry, meal planning, errands, and yes, homeschooling. Without becoming a bit flexible, the more you try to force yourself and your family into your "regular" routine, the more behind, upset, harried, and just plain frustrated you will become. I know -- I've been there/done that 5+ times now.

Here are some ideas that make things a bit more bearable (ha -- or should I say that make me less of a bear! ):

  1. Flexibility: With infants and toddlers in the house, flexibility is a must. To still meet the accomplishments that we need to, instead of having a set daily schedule, we have goals that are to be met by week's end. This allows both parent and child to complete what is required without becoming overwhelmed by those thousand and one "little interruptions."
  2. Planning: This trickles down into almost all aspects of our lives. Taking the time to map out meals, schedules, errands, and "must do's" ahead of time truly does save time later on. At a glance, I know what needs to be pulled out of the freezer for dinner, know that by 2 p.m. we have to be finished with school to make that doctor's appointment, and recognize some areas that we need to perhaps put more emphasis on in completing.
  3. Shopping: While this falls under the planning category, I still want to really emphasize the importance of having a list. Sticking to it and having just one big shopping trip rather than several little ones throughout the week. This tip also helps your budget as well!
  4. Laundry: Stay on top of it. Do 1 or 2 loads per day. Otherwise, you will find that "something" happens in the laundry room. I am absolutely convinced that dirty clothes have a high fertility rate. They multiply until becoming a large mountain requiring oxygen to reach the peak! Consider the frequent laundry cycles as birth control for grimy clothes.
  5. Utilize naptime: By this I mean to perhaps save those classes which require your complete attention for your toddlers nap period. Personally, I generally can't count on my infant being on a set routine until almost a year because I breastfeed on demand. Babies aren't my "problem" as much as the toddler that is busy trying to yank her brother's papers or to feel that since mom's attention seems focused elsewhere that signals the perfect time for running amok! NOT!
  6. Have "school" for your toddler: In her area set aside paper, fat crayons, (NOT markers unless you wish to spend the rest of the afternoon scrubbing down walls and trying to locate the cleaning solution for the carpet!), big things like Legos, alphabet blocks, sorting rings, etc. Include anything that will perhaps manage to occupy her for a few minutes. One thing that I have found is not to allow access to all the above at once. Give one thing at a time until she is ready to move on to something else. As many of you know their attention span is short. By including the toddler in as much as possible you will spend less time tracking them down. Here is one example: During Religion class, I give her a related picture to color. While working with early readers, I may give her alphabet blocks or puzzles. Math? Encourage her to count or sort with the Legos.
  7. Use older siblings to your advantage: When one child needs to work on reading aloud, let him do so with the younger ones. It's a win-win situation. The younger may actually learn something while the older ones feel that pride of accomplishment.
  8. Independent Study: Realize that you cannot (nor should you necessarily) sit on top of your older students to monitor their every move. Get them started and then allow them some independence in study. Remain close by to answer questions and provide guidance of course, but don't feel like you have to sit right there.
  9. Floor time: While most parents don't need to hear this, some do. Get on the floor with your children whether it is story-time, lectures, and so forth. All of these activities can be shared while sitting on the floor. Just a few minutes ago, for instance, we completed a study of Knights in the Middle Ages. I had the infant on my lap (nursing -- now it is a growth spurt going on!), the toddler was on my left playing with her brother's Fisher-Price Knights and Castle, and the older ones were in various positions around as we discussed the formation of castles, the significance of the structure and placement, and various weapons used while poring over a DK book. Everyone was able to learn and feel a part of the "class." They then went on to do their various assignments at the kitchen table.
  10. Organization: Okay – to be truthful I'm still a work in progress. I'm notorious for saving stuff that we don't need "just in case." I admire those that are organized, that are able to sift through the clutter and go so far as to dispose of the junk. Those households and homeschooling in this manner seem to just run more smoothly. Oh well, never said I was perfect.

Here's the bottom line: One of the most fantastic aspects of homeschooling is that we have options. These options enable us to move forward or adjust our pace as needed for any reason. Relax and enjoy your family just as it is. Take pride in those things accomplished and apply patience to those things that weren't. Homeschooling is an adventure that, like childhood, flees all too fast. Your child who is going through his "terrible two's" today, graduates tomorrow. Don't spend too much time dwelling on what you "should have" or "could have" done, but instead look forward to having a brand new beginning each day.

Now, does anyone know how to get the cherry Kool-Aid out of my couch……?

About the Author: Melissa Jaramillo is mom to many. She's passionate about building, encouraging, and strengthening families on this adventure known as parenthood!

Copyright © Melissa Jaramillo. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.