More than 15 Homeschool Hacks from a Mom of 15

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.

More Than 15 Homeschool Hacks from a Mom of 15

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.

The latest book I have read that is also of note is Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. Or, you could even try my own book, Homeschool Sanity.

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.

Assignment sheets title graphic

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.

crates for organizing homeschool supplies

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.

hymnbooks for singing

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.

pencil boxes

pencil box contents

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!).

color coding school supplies

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.

learning basket

24. Have interesting books just laying around the house for the kids to “discover.”

books to leave around

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.

basket of library books

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.

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.

mini chalkboards

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:

If You liked this post, here’s another that is very helpful and explains homeschooling methods:

Oh, and this one is good, too:

 

 

58 thoughts on “More than 15 Homeschool Hacks from a Mom of 15

  1. I love these ideas! Homeschooling 9 at home, is not the same as homeschooling 4. So many of the blog and pinterest ideas I see are just simply not practical in my household. I am organizationally and creatively challenged 🙂 and need some one to just give it to me straight and to the point. Reading these posts has been great! I love your pictures. Nothing fancy, just what works. I’d love to hear more about how you plan your school year since we headed into that season. You’d think after doing this for 17 years, I’d have it down pat, but each year I find the need for inspiration again!

    Thankyou!

    • Dear Jeanette,

      I totally understand. There are many times I need inspiration, even after 27 years! Thank you for the comment about the photos; yes, we do try to be as neat as possible, but we certainly don’t live entirely “pin-worthy” lives.

  2. I wonder what do you use for math? Thank you for your ideas. It’s inspiring. I’ve also come to realize that a bit of one on one time is oftentimes better than time spent in workbooks.

    • I am using vintage books for math along with a few modern supplements until the children go past decimals and percents. Then we branch out, some do well with Saxon Algebra, and a few are better at business math (I am using Barron’s EZ right now for one child, it’s cheap and effective).

      Yes, I think workbooks were formulated so that kids can look like they’re learning when they’re really only killing time.

  3. Love this list! I loved your last list too. I have so many of your ideas going in our house – some that I got from you years ago, some that I’m planning to try later, and some that have arisen naturally as our family has grown. Thank you so much for sharing!! Love it!

  4. Yes, more, when you have time, pleeease! 🙂
    Also, can you compile a basic book list? I have a lot of books already but am always searching for more good ones to fill up that family library … thank you so much. I love your blog.
    Blessings!

    • I will try and post more this next week–don’t miss my upcoming post on scheduling. Oh, and I totally understand about the booklist–I’m constantly on the look-out myself.

  5. Thank you so much. We are just starting this great adventure this year and are super excited for it. I am glad to know that I am doing things right like the pencil box idea and the crates. Now to endeavor on curriculum choices.

  6. Thank you! I am a homeschool mom of 10, ages 17-2. I stumbled on your post as I was trying to plan school and trying to figure out how I was going to fit all the stuff in that I am “supposed” to be doing! We do “school” just as you have described, so your post (and the fact that my oldest just got her first college acceptance letter today, woohoo!!) was just the reminder I needed that I’m already on the right track! Thank you for all of your tips, there were lot’s of jems I haven’t tried but will!
    Blessings!
    Susanna

    • Even though we often have to be tough and stand independently, it is also wonderful to feel as though we are not alone. I think a lot of us are naturally led to the type of homeschooling that I’ve described, but we feel sheepish about admitting it. I’m glad I could be one that has encouraged you on your homeschool journey!

  7. Can I just say that I am so glad as a mom of 13 that I already do all but one of these ! Even though I am down to teaching 6 kids now, there are still so many needs with older kids and grandkids. I read this to glean more info to make life run more smoothly , but you made me feel like I am doing fine . The only thing I never tried were the cardboard wall spacers. Phew. OH and the pencil boxes. REALLY NEED THESE ! My main “flip out” trigger is when the kids say they can’t find a pencil , when I just gave them each several pencils only a week before. God bless us mamas !

    • Dear Kathy,

      I can really relate. When I was younger it was about juggling the needs of the tiny ones with the needs of the older ones. These days it is juggling all of the other stuff that comes along with having grown kids and grand kids. It was something that surprised me at first. I am hearing over and over how us veteran moms of many have come to many of the same conclusions. Interesting, isn’t it?

  8. THANK YOU!!! I have 7 children, and it’s been mass confusion until this summer – when I finally started implementing or planning to implement nearly all of these! Someone else mentioned above – Pinterest has great ideas – for 4 or less kids! But 7 (or more), there’s hardly anything out there. We have finally evolved into a Charlotte Mason/unschooling/eclectic adventure, which has been practically perfect for us. Now to delve into your list even more closely and see what else I can change up to make it work even better. And to dig around your site for even more posts!

    • I love comments like yours! I have observed that a lot of us who have large families and are serious about homeschooling eventually come to these same conclusions. I hope you find food for your soul and spirit as you rummage around here.

  9. Loved this!!! We seriously don’t have room for each of the kids to have their own pencil box, so I have a large cup on the table. I find that 2 large packages of pencils is the bare minimum that my 5 kids need. (Where they go, I know not) lol. I also keep erasers and dry erase markers there. When it looks med full, I refill! Before it ruins my day! Wish I knew where to get old math texts!

  10. Had to check this out from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s facebook post!
    I’ve just got 7 and 5 are old enough to be official students, but it was a pleasure to see how many things you mention match my own style of teaching.
    Since I was homeschooled from 2 grade on, I knew there wasn’t any great advantage in trying to copy a formal school. I had decided at high school graduation to find a way to teach my own kids using “real” books that had the biggest impact on me compared to tests.
    My mom also taught me about how quickly the brain fries without a daily dose of math or phonics for the younger ones. We may not get anything else besides Bible (that Daddy is in charge of), but if we are at home, we do 10 minutes of math for all of our future sanity!
    I’m going to try out some of your organizational ideas. We’ve got nearly enough cubbies, but none of them are assigned to an individual- yet. Thank God for thrift stores and hand me downs. 😀

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I like that, “The brain fries without a daily dose of math for the younger ones”–so true!

  11. Thank you for the homeschool hacks! This is our first year and I no longer care to count the number of times we’ve changed curricula. The first instinct was to replicate school as much as possible so as to feel better about taking the kids out of school. It is true, parents must educate themselves first.

    • I can really relate–I did the same thing when I started out–that’s why I spent a number of years educating myself. I did do a lot of experimenting on my first kids, whom I affectionately refer to as my “guinea pigs”!

  12. This blog post makes you my new favorite person! I only have 5 but your tips are encouraging (I’ve been living out #6 for several years now ;-)…good to know it will work) & several are new ideas. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  13. Thank you so much for posting this. I happened to have a discouraging day of homeschooling today trying to balance the needs of so many little ones:) Your ideas and philosophies set me free, thank you!

  14. Thank you for sharing your hacks. One thing that has helped us (schooling 3 out of 5 very creative kids) this year is keeping the crayon box and pencil cup in the middle of the table. It never moves, not even for meals… (I’m lazy!). It encourages me to read posts from veteran homeschooling moms. It’s a real daily struggle , especially with the little ones at foot. For all my short comings as mom and teacher, I’m surprised at how much my children and I have learned so far.

    • That’s a great idea, Rachel. Kids need to have that access, and what a nice centerpiece :). I think you’re right, it’s not only our children that are homeschooled, but we as moms learn so much beside them!

  15. Thank you for sharing your tips. Pinterest has become invaluable as related to my homeschooling experience. We start each day with my children reading an affirmation. As the affirmations are accumulating, I have them reading the previous affirmations as a reminder then choosing the day’s affirmation. Now if I forget to do it, they actually remind me! This is exciting because initially they didn’t understand it’s significance. Now they do.

  16. Hello to be honest with you I just started my first year in homeschooling and I feel completely lost. I don’t think I’m doing it right but I haven’t had any “help” due to I like to see and talk about the different things I can do but not read as much plus I haven’t had to much time since I just had a baby while getting ready to homeschool. I just want to know if someone would have the time to email me or contact me and go more deep in to it. I be happy to talk to any of you.

  17. This is so so much like we homeschool!! (Except there are only 2 students. :)) Really, though I see so many similarities in our homeschools! I call our method “relaxed homeschooling”. I didn’t coin the term, but it fits our homeschool. I love this and will be pinning it, so I can refer back to it!

    • Yes, it is definitely a bit more relaxed. It is uncanny sometimes how good ideas seem to grow and sprout among us simultaneously, isn’t it?

  18. I have been homeschooling since our eldest of five was born. He is now in his second year at Michigan State University! One thing that helped me stay calm & focused with all of the kids’ schooling was using a priority board. I just bought a posterboard from the dollar store drew grids with each kid’s name & a list of priority goals. When all else failed & we didn’t know what curriculum to use or what time what schedule to follow or I was too busy with another kid, we just looked over to the priority board & focused on something off it. For example, if “master 6’s multiplication facts” was listed under one of my children’s name, he/she would work on that using games, flashcards, worksheets, etc…if he/she has nothing to do at the moment.

    • What a great idea! With so much going on all at once, we all need something visual to keep us focused. I just might try it out myself…

    • I remember those days! I’m so glad you could be helped by making a visit here, hope you will come back as we make improvements to try to bless you more!

  19. This has been such a help to me! I’m a mama of six and this is our sixth year homeschooling. I think I’m officially in that February/March burnout rut. I went looking for some inspiration and found it here! Thank you a million times over!

    • I understand about burnout this time of year, Jeniffer. We mamas of many can really feel it sometimes, can’t we? Taking a break and just enjoying yourselves and having a bit of free time can really help, too (we call it “auto-didact” and write down what we do naturally in school terms.

    • I’m glad you found us, too, Lorenzo. We get in ruts sometimes, too. It’s great when learning becomes fun again!

  20. This is such a helpful list. I really appreciate what you say about limiting the arts and crafts to times when it can be beneficial for everyone. It’s easy for me to feel guilty for not giving the kids free access to this. But then, when I do, I feel guilty for the house being trashed…
    Lots of very helpful, practical thoughts. Thank you!

    • You are very welcome, Shiloh. I truly understand “mom guilt” and have to counter it often in my mind!

  21. I recently found a medium-sized lazy susan that someone was throwing away. I saved a handful of slightly larger tin cans (like crushed tomatoes), cleaned them, and filled them up with pens, colored pencils, markers, etc. Now i just leave it out on the work table, and it has worked great for us. And I’ve found that the baby wipe containers work great for crayons, glue sticks, scissors, etc.

    • I love the Lazy Susan idea–it’s so fun to repurpose things! We have used the baby wipe containers for all sorts of stuff, too. Thanks for taking your precious time to share 🙂

Leave a Comment