When homeschooling a crowd, you will run into situations where you need to focus on a subject with one child, leaving you with the dilemma of what to do with siblings while you are doing lessons. Your child(ren) may take this opportunity to lose their ever-loving minds, so it is best to have a plan in advance!
Several of our school years have included the birth of a new baby, and I have learned a few lessons along the way for this unique crowd situation. My first piece of advice for a crowd that includes a new baby is to take advantage of your flexible calendar. I cannot emphasize enough what a gift it was to schedule maternity leave for myself for the birth of our 5th (yes, it took that long for me to realize this option…learn from my slowness to think outside the box!). We started in early July to be able to reach the halfway point in our year before taking Thanksgiving through the New Year off. This beautiful gift to ourselves allowed plenty of time to adjust to the new baby without having to focus on lessons. You don’t have to start your year early to gift this time to yourself. Just give yourself the grace to finish later than you might otherwise. That flexibility is one of the best perks of homeschooling!
With a toddler in the mix, I find a fun coloring book and a few large crayons will be plenty to keep them occupied for hours while you focus uninterrupted on your older child(ren). Oh, wait. No. No, that only works for 13.2 seconds before they resume their reign of chaos that will require your constant attention. The best thing to remember about toddlers is that they thrive on novelty and exploration…and chaos. Keep a bin of items they only get to use during school time, and when you need them to be distracted, hand them something from the bin. Touch and feel books, Busy Books, Duplo Legos, wooden puzzles, lids and plastic tubs for leftovers…whatever intrigues your little one. You can even use this planned disaster area to teach responsibility and cleaning up after yourself, but, let’s be honest, the smaller the child, the bigger the mess, and you will likely be the one cleaning up. The main idea is that they WILL make a mess while you are occupied, so make sure you give them materials and space to do just that in a way you find acceptable. If all else fails, plan focused lessons during nap time!
For other school aged siblings, I have found that trading off subjects works better for us than a “block schedule” where everyone is doing Math or Reading at the same time. This allows you to set some children up with work they can do independently while you work one on one with a child needing your attention. If they are too young to work independently, try some of my tips for early education to keep them engaged while you help a sibling.
No matter the mix of ages in your homeschool crowd, you CAN have a successful, enjoyable school experience. Remember to give yourself grace and don’t be afraid to make changes to your plan if you find things are not meeting your expectations. And, reasonable expectations? That’s a post of its own for another time!