Yes, You CAN Homeschool a Large Family!

The other day I was listening to an interview with a well-known author who questioned the idea of homeschooling a large family.

You Can Homeschool a Large Family

She wasn’t being spiteful or mean, and from her perspective it was true; she only had four children and she was basing her assumptions on her own struggles.

It was actually quite typical. Large family dynamics are often misunderstood. I know I had a hard time understanding from the outside. It took a few years for me to discover that, while this lifestyle comes with numerous challenges, it also comes with the equipment to overcome them all. (Where God leads, He feeds, where He guides, He provides.) What it takes is a mom who is determined and knows how to lead her children to higher things.

This begins with waiting on God, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to conquer, we need to take action.

There is no waiting to hear God’s voice to take charge and keep a cleaned out refrigerator and our family fed. We don’t have to sit in prayer to know that He wants us to keep our kids in line and our laundry clean.

And we don’t have to sit and wait in order to begin to take charge of our lives so that we can educate our children to excellence, even if we do have 15 of them (like Yours Truly).

So, where does one start?

Well, if we have already been called to this task, then God is in it, and we can forge ahead confidently, trusting the Still, Small Voice to give us checks and spark ideas (we don’t have to have a mountain-top experience to hear Him, we just have to trust by faith that He is speaking and then tune in to listen).

First, get a handle on the day-to-day.

Homeschooling a large family takes more than a dabbling, one has to be willing to immerse completely. So many think there is some curriculum package that can be bought that will solve the whole puzzle, but that is naïve. The main ingredient in homeschooling a large brood is our attentiveness.

So, we have to get rid of the baggage, of the mess that comes with modern distractedness. Forget that So-and-So takes weekly trips to do X, Y, or Z, or that there are “proper” things mothers should be doing such as ferrying their children to soccer all spring and summer–we must focus on the prize; to rear children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Now, that may include soccer at some point, but if we never add in all the fluff, we must never neglect the main focus of our mission.

And we are on a mission; a serious, all-encompassing one.

We need to get our homes in order and rid them of clutter. We need to become functioning minimalists; one of everything, and a place for it to boot. We can streamline bedding and personal hygiene and master our meals so our grocery shopping and meal prep are happy and restful instead of nightmarish.

And we need to enlist our “army” to help take care of homekeeping tasks, such as loading the dishwasher, running the vacuum cleaner and folding the towels.

For more on this read Large Family Stress Reduction: Streamlining, Getting Ahead Pt. 1, Getting Ahead, Pt. 2, Facing it!, Keeping Track by Herding, Making Children Behave.

Second, get a realistic view of what education truly is.

It is not about doing everything like a school, and it is not even about doing everything like everyone else who is homeschooling. It’s actually not about the particulars at all. Nor is it about the tests scores or even about college.

It is about bringing up children who have the tools and the verve to educate themselves. It is about teaching them to ask questions and seek the answers. It is about helping them see selfishness as a negative and selflessness as a positive. It is about seeing God in everything at all times. It is about becoming whole people who can stand in the face of adversity and pitch in to help when all others have fallen into despondency.

When thought of in this way, education both focuses and broadens. First, it focuses on impressing the basics, and then it broadens into almost anything and everything else.

The dear author I referred to who was being interviewed in the podcast had many things right, but also many things wrong. She understood the need for concentrating on basic skills, but she didn’t understand that the rest doesn’t have to be hammered in, but can be encouraged through environment and living. Large family life is actually perfect for the creation of an environment with organic opportunities for learning. Siblings who are homeschooled can be encouraged to create their own “culture” of sorts; to enjoy the same books and authors, to have interests and even catch phrases in common that are not according to the current trends, but transcend them in depth and quality. This is an immersion in learning, far better than the mere daubing most children receive when they take only a daily dip in the learning pool at school.

For instance, there are a few themes going around in our discussions of late. One of them is politics; we sit around and talk for hours of the current election cycle and its potential outcomes. Another theme is the study of all things Asian; novels, language, arts, geography, history, religion, ancient forms of war, etc. Still another is creative lettering and all things design, with two oldest children holding online competitions with their Adobe Illustrator productions. The children not only share what they already know of each subject, but they spur each other on to research and find out more to prepare for the next round of sharing!

Next, grab hold of some simple tools to use for basic skills instruction.

For us, it has been the McGuffey’s and other vintage books, along with a free printable worksheet or two.

I like the vintage books, first of all, because of their excellent quality. Secondly, I like them because they are affordable and reusable for any number of children. I also use them because they are not labor-intensive or time-consuming, which allows me to make sure my children are building important skills while making time for the other areas of our lives, such as folding laundry and making PBJ’s!

For more of my thoughts on this subject, you can visit the Mom Delights YouTube channel and read about placement in this post.

Finally, use the rest of your energy, money, and time to encourage children in all the other areas of learning.

This can happen more organically; gardening in the spring, learning how a baby is formed in the womb while you are carrying one, running a small family business to help with the bills, taking care of things so that you don’t have to burden the budget with constant replacing, singing and playing for family worship, creating to include beauty in your home, the list is really endless.

There are also ways to tackle this intentionally, such as reading historical or science-based books and novels out loud, or even scheduling viewing YouTube video of science experiments, etc. (We like using our Roku for times like these, since watching on a larger screen helps us all to enjoy at once.)

Notebooking is a terrific way to pull all of our extra learning together and record it, both as proof and for enjoyment later. I actually still have notebooks filled with evidences of our learning experiences from 20 years ago.

Online learning is another option. We currently have a number of computers available for this, but they are not the “latest and greatest,” just a hodge-podge of units that were bought used or donated by extended family members who were upgrading. They work perfectly fine for what we need, such as a few months spent over at Khan Academy or learning a language with Duolingo (our current one is German), or perhaps gaining some keyboarding skills with any of the number of free courses available.

And here is a marvelous truth: Unless we are rearing septuplets, none of our children will be at the same place at the same time.

It’s like this: you teach the oldest reading and basic writing, then assign them independent work. Then you focus your time on the next one coming up, and so on. At a certain point you can have the older ones step in for you and continue listening to someone recite their reading lesson or handle a dictation exercise so you can change a diaper, switch a load of laundry, or field an urgent phone call.

Photos of our large family homeschooling

Also, the tiniest should not need formal instruction; just plenty of attention, some reading aloud time, and hours upon hours to play with open-ended toys and materials (such as blocks, Legos, and play dough). This has been proven to bear much more fruit than a set program which will demand a mother’s time and attention.

Besides all this, you have so much information and support right here at your fingertips on the Internet!

When I started out helpful information was nil to none; there were no blogs or Facebook pages or chats or anything else. I tried to take advantage of every resource I could get ahold of, but most days I was feeling my way along like a blind woman in a wind tunnel.

These days there are so many documented cases of success, and failure, that we can all learn from each other. We can yell out and warn about the pits dug to trap us, or shout back and suggest course changes that will lead us to the heights.

This blog can be one source, but there are so many others. This is why I use my Facebook fanpage to promote other sources as well as my own, and why I encourage everyone to do the same.

Large family moms don’t have to try and be strong alone; we can reach out and help each other along. If there is any lesson homeschooling a large family has taught me it is that:

United, we can STAND!

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Yes, You CAN Homeschool a Large Family!

  1. Love this! You give some great reminders to keep priorities in check and focus our attentions where it matters most. As a momma of ten, I have learned many of the same things, and yet sometimes I forget. Lately I have fallen into a comparison trap, and beating myself up regarding so many things I “need to do” because I see other mothers – who I admire- do them. My husband has been gently reminding me that those women do not have ten children, and none of them has a baby. 🙂

    Your blog is a breath of fresh air. I wish you were my neighbor. 🙂

    • Bless you–I wish we were neighbors, too! Yes, when we compare we come up short, but God sees as individuals, what a blessing!

  2. This was wonderful!!! Your homeschool approach sounds a lot like ours. Just because our method is relaxed doesn’t mean there isn’t structure and order. It means that we have learned to sway in the breezes of large family living

    • I like that, “sway in the breezes of large family living”–it can seem like that at times, and breezes are actually refreshing, nes pas?

      • Yes! I love swaying in the breeze! For the longest time I compared myself to other moms who were a lot more regimented than me or used a boxed curriculum for every child and I thought they were doing things so much better than I was. I would try and mimic them and end up totally frazzled because that’s not who the Lord made me to be. Thank God for such sweet relief!

        • I think we have all done that; trying to fit into someone else’s shoes when they are the wrong size. The results are so painful!

  3. Hi there, I am mom to 3 and need your advice. Oldest is 11 and youngers are 6 and 5. I started teaching the 6yo to read last year with First-Start Reading(would you consider this a labor intensive curriculum. I suspect it is but needed a more seasoned moms advice)? I switched to Phonics Pathways and that is working better. I was considering trying FSR with my 5 yo in the fall, but hesitant if it will become to labor intensive and “schoolish” for our homeschooling family. Don’t laugh-but I am becoming a bit panicked about how to do this with my oldest still needing a lot of hand holding and my younger two both needing to learn to read-6yo son is still not “getting” it, and 5yo daughter is ready. Advice is much appreciated!
    Thank you Sherry!

    • Dearest Wendy,

      Have you ever heard of Dr. Raymond Moore and his wonderful books about learning? He and his wife were some of the pioneers of the modern homeschooling movement, and his books, especially one entitled, “The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook,” really helped calm me and give me confidence.

      One of his main themes was not to rush formal instruction. I know this flies in the face of everything we are hearing today, but there are also many studies suggesting that children would do better if we let them play more and then placed them in front of books at older ages.

      In your case, this would mean that you may not need to be focusing on your six year old for at least another year. My nine-year-old just started reading independently this last month, although now she is confident and voracious. I will still need to take her through the McGuffey readers for a number of lessons, but this typically takes us only 15 minutes a day. I did this starting back in November (she was finally ready and feeling a bit down about not being able to read, so it was time) by taking her through a phonics program of my own creation (formulated after some other great methods) coupled with the McGuffey’s Pictorial Primer. It only took us the allotted 15 minutes a day, with just a few minutes spent using flash cards a couple more times a day during the most intensive first weeks of the program.

      There is a great book, Reading Rescue 1-2-3, that you might find very helpful.

      I would not worry about the five-year-old at all right now–my own children who read later caught up very quickly and have become extremely well-read in a very short amount of time.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Hi Sherry,
    I also have a curriculum question. I am expecting our fifth child in November. My oldest will be 11. Our learning has become much more relaxed over the years, in part due to necessity, in part due to my own change of view in regards to education. I agree with your post whole-heartedly. However, I still struggle with teaching and encouraging writing. My kids don’t write on their own, and while I can make them do some copywork and dictation, it all ends there. Do you have any suggestions? Vintage books? It’s not so much about grammar that I worry but about expressing their thoughts, opinions, creativity. They love reading, too , but somehow it doesn’t translate into writing. Thanks for any help. I value all of your posts very much.

    • Dear Tamara,
      Have you ever heard of Charlotte Mason? She suggested that children use first oral, then written narration to encourage writing. According to what she has suggested, children are not ready to express themselves in writing until they have two things in place, first, a good understanding of the world with an ability to express themselves in oral language, and a good grasp of the mechanics of writing so that it does not seem so intimidating.

      I have put these ideas in place by first allowing my children to take each of the McGuffey lessons, or anything else we have been learning together, and then having them discuss and describe and then draw about it. As they beginning to build their reading vocabulary and as I am able to give them a good foundation in spelling, they are assigned a short written narration for each lesson and required to write about other areas of learning in notebooking pages they create. The length of the writing gradually increases as they further develop their abilities.

      At a certain point it seems easier and easier, and along the way we can begin to write letters and original stories.

      Other ideas are writing notes back and forth to your children (my daughter does this with her little girl) and encouraging them to create “comic books” with written captions and conversations.

      I hope these suggestions can help! You can even gain more clarity by looking up Charlotte Mason Narration.

  5. I’ve been praying for help and guidance. I was led to this post and links to your supporting posts. My prayer was answered. I have much work to do. Bless you for your devotion to ministering to mother’s.

    • Praise God! I’m so privileged to have had a hand in answered prayer! I hope to put up more soon to help you further.

  6. Hi Sherry,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to reply. Your advice is very helpful and encouraging. Very true about waiting. The world says “Your Kinder needs to be reading!” But, to what avail? I am so appreciative of your blog since we do need to “cheer each other on.” “Keep on sisters!”

    Blessings,
    Wendy

  7. Sherry,
    You are always a breath of fresh air. Like many of the moms here, I have also been part of the “comparison trap”, looking at other h.schooling moms and feeling like I fall short.

    This year, the Lord has me focused on teaching my children *how* they learn. He led me to many right-brained schooling techniques and resources. I am *slowly* learning how to teach my struggling learners *how* they learn. One of the big pieces of this new cirriculum journey is PATIENCE. Just giving them right-brain tools for learning, and watching to see how it works. I feel convicted that I need to be willing to switch things up or teach*new* techniques if my methods are not working for a particular child. This is the path I am on at the moment.

    Lisa ( mom of 7 ranging from baby-15)

    • Yes, you have described it well; homeschooling is a journey of discovery, both for the children and the parents. I pray God’s speed as you go along His way.

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