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. What it takes is a mom who is determined and knows how to lead her children to higher things. As the mother of 15 children, I can testify first-hand that the Holy Spirit will equip such a mom to homeschool multiple ages of children.
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 ever add in a bit of 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.
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 first need is for concentrating on basic skills. 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 The Lesson Book for each level.
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. You can even use inexpensive composition books for your notebooking pages.
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.
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. Large family moms don’t have to try and be strong alone; we can reach out and help each other along.
And, to pull everything together, use The Record Book.
This is a vital tool for any mom, really, but especially for those of us who have more than the average number of children. It was developed during a time when I was homeschooling eight children with a toddler and a baby (and two young adults at home). Talk about busy! There was no way I could have kept track of things with a conventional homeschool planner.
Everyone who has tried this record-keeping tool has been blessed. There are places to record just about every possible educational activity you can think of, and ways to make sure each one “counts” towards state requirements and transcript composition.
And it only takes minutes each day to jot down everything you have been doing! No complicated, multi-paged mess to deal with. Just use a few code letters (such as RA for “read aloud” and each child’s initial), a scribble of the activity, and you’re off!
Of course, there is also plenty of room to jot down a few notes, such as a sentimental moment or something you want to address with your children in the near future.