It doesn’t take a genius to educate a large family at home, but it does take quite a bit of focus and ingenuity. This is especially true when considering the direction and logistical details for another year of learning. If you are like me, you can use any help you can get, and I am always on the lookout for homeschool hacks and helps.
Since I am not a genius and I struggle with both focus and ingenuity, I have spent countless hours on my knees consulting with the Master and asking for His leading and guidance. Thankfully, He has both blessed my faltering efforts and seen fit to endow me with creativity beyond my understanding over the years. Since you may also benefit from the results, I thought I’d share some of them here:
1.Educate yourself first.
Before you order even one workbook, make sure you research learning. Even those who have been formally trained as classroom teachers realize home learning is a totally different ball game, with different rules and strategies to boot.
Reading reviews on different curriculum is not what I have in mind here. Just because something comes highly-recommended does not mean it is right for you and your children, or even that it is right for anyone at all. But how can you tell? The first step is to delve deeply enough so that you can come up with your own philosophy of education, or at least your own direction (it doesn’t have to be some formal, educationaleze-ridden document–it can be as simple as, “I want to educate my children so they can have a good life, so I will be giving them important tools and immersing them in real-life education” or something to that effect).
Fortunately, there have been many well-written books, articles, and blog posts (and even videos and online courses) produced on the subject. My favorites have been by those who cast the original vision for the rest of us; folks like (but not limited to) Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Ruth Beechick, John Taylor Gatto, Karen Andreola, and Susan Schaeffer McCaulay.
2. Ditch formal preschool and Kindergarten.
No, this doesn’t mean I advocate sitting four and five-year-olds in front of a TV or computer monitor for ten hours a day. Instead, involve them, include them in daily chores and activities, read aloud to them, talk to them, and give them huge blocks to spend playing.
In addition to our basic research at Stanford and the University of Colorado Medical School, we analyzed over 8000 studies of children’s senses, brain, cognition, socialization, etc., and are certain that no replicable evidence exists for rushing children into formal study at home or school before 8 or 10.
Taken from The Moore Formula
3. Concentrate on the basics.
As a mom of many, your time is precious and interruptions are inevitable. It’s best to spend every minute you have available on giving your children foundational tools of learning, such as reading, writing, and basic ciphering leading into higher math.
4. Group the rest of learning together as much as possible.
Read good literature aloud and allow your children to grasp what they can, each at their own levels. Then use these times to branch off naturally into other areas, such as history, geography, science, etc.
4. Buy reusable curriculum materials.
At our house it is the McGuffey readers and their counterparts for just about everything concerning language arts and arithmetic. These can be passed from child to child, and we do the written work assignments in cheap composition books instead of in expensive workbooks.
5. Keep crafts “corralled.”
OK, so I admit it, I have some crazy creative kids! I mean, in the beginning they turned everything into craft projects; their food, electronic devices, their shoes, their hair, and on and on. Even digital watches were immediately taken apart and made into something else.
If I offered some paints and paper, there was certain to be out-of-bounds experimentation going on somewhere, somehow. This is why I learned early-on to keep the craft supplies under lock and key until such time as I had been rested and relaxed enough to handle them (the supplies and the children) with a sweet, kind spirit (of course, as the children aged the restrictions were loosened). It is obvious this did not harm them at all; not a few are actually making their living being creative as grown adults!
6. Keep tutoring to 15 minutes at a time.
There were years and years when I had an infant, a few toddlers, a preschooler or two, and a few older children who relied on me for just about everything. This meant I had to tutor struggling or beginning learners in “snatches.” I read aloud while the baby nursed, I sat and did phonics while the baby played for just a few minutes on the floor, I did spelling while the toddler distracted herself by scribbling on a piece of paper, etc.
Fortunately, I have learned this is actually optimum. Younger children, especially, thrive more on short, intense lessons than long, drawn-out sessions. Which brings us to the next point:
7. Consistency is king.
This one may just set you free from unnecessary angst. It follows the old formula for physical fitness; Intensity, Time, and Consistency.
Intensity: Instead of giving a child a number of not-so-good workbook pages a day hoping he/she will catch on somehow, why not sit and focus both of your attentions solely on the task at hand, as I suggested above, using flash cards, a chalkboard, etc.?
Time: This is not about the amount spent every day, but the span of time you spend, such as a number of years.
Consistency: Little children have trouble staying focused for long stints, and they also forget easily if things are not reinforced daily. By taking those 15 minutes every. single. day. it will be like laying one brick upon another, and soon you and your child will have built a huge home into which he can house the rest of his learning experiences.
8. If nothing else gets done, make sure there is at least read aloud time.
There are just going to be those days with one interruption after another. If all else fails, make sure you read aloud together for at least 15 minutes, even if it is at bedtime.
9. Remember you are not “stuck” to any certain hours.
This is one of the things we often forget when we are making our plans; we have a-l-l d-a-y l-o-n-g to get the job done! We can have a session first thing in the morning, break for chores and play, have another session just after lunch, and then do some book work or read aloud just before bed. We can even have different children doing different things at different times. We fit academics in according to the needs of the family, not the other way ’round.
And, as we realize more and more that learning happens all the time, we lose our fears and become more confident and happier as a whole.
10. Discussion is a learning activity!
Don’t discount this very important principle! I think children may learn the most, not from textbooks, but from adults simply sitting down and talking about different things, such as history, or philosophy, or politics, or just how to get the business of life done. Some of our favorite times are when we push back the dishes and sit around the lunch table sharing thoughts and opinions. Sometimes the children ask me questions, other times I sit and listen to them as they try and make sense of life here and the life to come.
I have learned to actually track these times and record them as formal learning, often with a short description of the topic matter.
11. Make the atmosphere do the teaching.
Play classical music while you are cleaning the kitchen. Limit gadget time and instead fill shelves with books on every subject imaginable. Plaster the walls with maps. Create displays of natural finds such as animal skulls, skins, special rocks, etc. Take daily walks and talk about things as you go along. Be an active learner and talk about what you are discovering. Go all out and applaud those who are learning on their own and encourage discussion on their favorite topics.
12. Put the older children to independent learning.
Once an older child is able to read and write on their own, give them some specifics in the form of an assignment sheet and turn them loose for a few hours a day. Simply check in every-so-often for attention and accountability. If you have done your job in preparing them with the tools of learning you will have practically worked yourself out of a job :).
13. Develop accountability tools.
Spirals are great for this, but I found them too time-consuming, so I created these assignment sheets which you can download and use for free.
14. Take advantage of group games.
A large family means lots of people, and lots of people means loads of fun playing games together! Games are like clandestine learning machines; Chutes and Ladders, Uno, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Monopoly, and our family favorite, Apples to Apples, are among the best.
15. Use crates for kids.
Remember, I have crazy creative kids, so they had a lot of trouble keeping track of their books and supplies. Instead of wasting time every day trying to track down their materials, I decided to give each child a crate, basket, or whatever works at the time to place everything in.
16. Have a place to keep finished work from which to build portfolios.
For many of us it is important to keep examples of work to present either to officials or evaluators. In order to do this automatically I have two systems; one is in binder form and the other is a rolling cart with drawers. I place notebooking pages and artwork in the family binder and other worksheets, essays, etc. in the prospect drawer for that person so that I can compile a portfolio with little to no effort.
17. Keep a family binder.
As mentioned above, we like to keep the best of our notebooking endeavors in a huge binder that I have labeled with the current year. I actually have some that are 20 years old which my oldest children contributed to. It is such a joy to go back over their old work and remember the preciousness of each person at different ages and stages.
18. Store future worksheets and printouts in individual binders.
Besides the huge binder, each child has his own. If there are some things I want to cover over the next few months I simply print or copy them, three-hole punch them, and click them into this binder so they can be taken out and used as we go along.
19. For Bible studies, read the Bible!
Such a simple concept, but oh, so effective. For years and years now we have had the habit of taking a chapter at a time, splitting it up according to the number of our group, and then taking turns reading aloud and discussing. We usually have some reference books available as well, such as commentaries, dictionaries, atlases, and the like so that we can all gain greater understanding. Even the little kids sit and listen, and one of their greatest accomplishments is when they can read well enough to be included!
All that’s needed are some Bibles (you can access commentaries, atlases, and dictionaries online) and a simple 1/2 hour in the daily routine.
20. Enjoy music together.
We listen to music throughout the day and experience it together, and we also sing hymns and other songs acapella while we do our work or while we are riding down the road.
We were given a set of discarded hymnbooks, so one of our favorite things is to sit and sing hymns aloud together at least three or four times a week just before or after Bible time. In this way we are effortlessly building quite a repertoire of memorized songs along with their spiritual and theological concepts. In this way I have covered both the hymn memorization suggested by Charlotte Mason and touched on music instruction as well.
21. Save time and aggravation by keeping separate homeschool supplies handy in pencil boxes.
There is nothing so disruptive as a child who sits down to do some seat work and can’t find a pencil, or some colored pencils, or some scissors or a glue stick. This is why I have invested in pencil boxes and check to see that they are well-stocked periodically from my stash of supplies bought at back-to-school sales in August of every year.
22. Color code with colored/patterned duct tape.
I have too many children to go with a simple system, so I have taken advantage of the current colored and patterned duct tape craze to personalize supplies and materials (keeps a lid on unnecessary bickering, too!).
23. Keep your mind on track by bundling books and materials into baskets.
Some days my mind is simply fuzzed-over with huge lists or challenges. This is when I love to grab a basket with my read-alouds, flash cards, etc. already set in place. For some reason having a tangible representative of what I am supposed to be doing next keeps me on track.
24. Have interesting books just laying around the house for the kids to “discover.”
Anyone is smart enough to realize that no school or curriculum can cover everything, and most of the things required are never really learned or retained anyway. It’s much better for children to become inquisitive and learn and investigate on their own than to give them the feeling they must be constantly force-fed knowledge.
Still, there are some things they resist but I wish they would be interested in, so I don’t push but just make it very easy for them to “find.” One of the primary ways I do this is to research, reserve, and check out books on these different subjects from the library. Then I simply leave them in baskets and stacks all over the house for the times when I am not looking…
25. Use study carrels.
This one is especially important if one has a lot of children using the same dining room table. I have made my own from huge sheets of cardboard I gleaned for FREE from Sam’s Club (I found them as separators between layers of boxes of tissues). I placed items on these boards which I found on sites offering printables for mini offices as well as creating some of my own (if you like I can do a tutorial on this idea some time).
26. Use mini chalk boards.
While we don’t do “school at home,” I have found that having a chalkboard or whiteboard handy is very helpful when explaining phonics, spelling, and arithmetical principles. There is something about using these devices that brings clarity and gives a learner the opportunity to try out new concepts with less fear of failure.
I found some nice, tiny ones at our local Dollar Tree that have been perfect for a lot of uses. We have also gone hi-tech by purchasing a few Boogie Boards for some of the children as Christmas presents.
Sadly, I have to stop here for now, but I’ll continue compiling. Perhaps you could help by sharing some of your best tips below: