(This post could also be written: How to home school with preschoolers and toddlers)
My days of late have been one of two extremes....amazingly smooth and horrifically chaotic. As these alternating days have passed by, I began to take mental note of some characteristics of each. Of course, my goal has been to discover, what makes a good day, good and what makes a bad day, bad. Today (a "good" day) several things came to mind and I thought I might share them with you....and I'm talking about days mostly at home, specifically the typical homeschool day. So here goes....
It all starts the night before the day....the good or bad day....so come with me to a typical evening that precedes one of my good days....
Key number one: Spend time with God, studying His Word and talking to Him
-He says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, present your requests to Him...." (Philippians 4:6) I spend this time in the evenings before bed, between 9 and 10 oclock. I turn on all the lights in my room to keep me from getting too sleepy. It's the best time for me because I am not a morning person. Typically I get a strange "second wind" at this time anyway. (but also important is to go to bed in time to get enough sleep...for me this means 7 to 8 hours at least)
-Yesterday evening, as I contemplated the difficulty I'm having with Benjamin (3) and Samuel (2), it dawned on me that I could ask my Heavenly Father! And he would help me! It would be for his own glory to help me! He knows everything and He is my treasure...my greatest resource! And not my resource for my own good alone----but my resource so that I can do all things, and specifically here, raise these boys up in His ways to accomplish His purposes in their little lives!
Key number two: Each evening, Plan, Prep and Pick up
-This actually starts each Sunday when I make my weekly school plan. For those who aren't homeschooling, this could just be a list of 'to-do's' or goals for the week. I look at my history plan (I come up with my own history curriculum using the resources I own) and pull down our other school books, and make a plan for the week, just filling in the blank for certain subjects what we're to do, and other subjects just leaving a blank space to highlight when we've completed that particular subject. This is so helpful because as I mark things off, I feel so accomplished!
-Each evening, it is very helpful to go ahead and do any grading that needs to be done, rather than waiting until the next school day. Anything I can do ahead of time, when it is calm and quiet in the house, the better. It just makes such a difference in the next day that it is worth the few minutes it takes. What would take me five minutes alone, would take me 5 to 15 minutes surrounded by 4 children. For me right now, this is basically just grading Micah's math work and preparing his worksheets for the next days lessons.
-I also lay the books that I want to read at breakfast in the middle of the kitchen table, so for us that is the Bible-for Bible Memory, and our Hymn book.
-I have also found that an easy breakfast is so essential to the morning. Since cereal is not something I want the boys to be eating every morning, I try to make something ahead. This week we've had homemade rice pudding (so easy....just cooked rice, milk, sweetener, vanilla---and this time I added butter! and cook this for a little bit) and a gluten free (just oat and rice flour) apple cake. I'm still working on a plan for more easy breakfast ideas, like homemade granola or better yet, something protein and healthy fat rich, like egg casserole. The other side to this breakfast coin is, if my little boys don't eat enough at breakfast they are BEARS, and not just any old bear, they are MOMMA bears angrily protecting cubs kinda bears if they are hungry.
-The boys do have afternoon chores which helps a bunch, but I do still need to tidy up the downstairs before bed....start the dishwasher, declutter the counter tops, and pick up any toys left out. This really helps to get the next day started well.
-I also look over my menu plan and do any prep work necessary for the next days lunch or dinner, pull things out of the freezer, stuff like that. I always have to be a few days ahead of the meal plan to make sure things are ready to go. If it's possible to chop any veggies for the next days dinner, or things like this, it's always very helpful. Also, if you can, take advantage of healthy convenience foods, like frozen fruit. For example, today at lunch the boys had peanut butter and jelly SW's and frozen peaches. I try to keep lunches simple so we may have omelets or scrambled eggs twice a week, PB and J's once, homemade tortilla SW's (when I make these I use a tortilla press and I always make enough to freeze for several more meals), and/or leftovers.
Key Number Three: Stay on Task
-I think I have ADD. Seriously. It can be very difficult for me to stay on task. This is where my printed school plan is so helpful. I also have a general schedule that I use as a framework for our days. But I think the biggest problem for me is....
-During school hours, avoid following your children's "lead"----be the leader! If one of the little boys wonders outside and onto a tricycle or into the garden and is having so much fun, I tend to think...."oh, they are having so much fun. I don't want to make them come in." And honestly, I really don't want to deal with a temper tantrum either. So I adjust our whole schedule based on this child's whim (and in the end I feel super stressed out). Now, there are times to deviate. Maybe a child found a Luna moth or a baby garden snake, or falls down for goodness sake! Stop what your doing and go down these sorts of "rabbit trails"! But, for the lesser things, albeit fun things, like a child wanting to paint, go outside, or take an impromptu bath, just say no and redirect them Definitely plan in your days free time where your little guys can do more of what the moment inclines them toward, but during your school time, stay focused! Our afternoons from about 3:00 to 5:00 and each Friday are free time for the kiddos. (Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you or I have a detailed plan for every thing our little ones do. There is freedom within the activities we plan...freedom to play in the sandbox, the basement, the backyard, the playroom, etc, as desired (within reason of course!). Freedom to color what they want when you have them coloring, etc.etc. It's just you have planned and directed what they are to be doing at certain times of the day because you know that activity allows you to accomplish the education of your other children. Make sense?
Key Number Four: Go with the flow and Seize the Opportunity when it arises
-Now you think I'm crazy right? Let me explain. Let's say from 8:30 to 9:00 You have planned to do Bible and Hymns at the table with your older children and your younger ones you have planned to play with the wooden toys, train set, blocks etc., in the living room. At 9:00 oclock they are still playing super well so you decide to go ahead and squeeze in some work that was planned for the afternoon, right then. You seized the moment and you got more done then you had originally planned for the morning. So instead of switching the little guys activity, you let them keep on playing and adjusted your schedule accordingly. This isn't taking a "rabbit trail"....it's not fixing what isn't broken! :)
Key Number Five: Preschoolers need time outdoors in the morning
-Don't expect them to wake up, eat, and then be ready to sit down and do puzzles or draw. Get them out in the cool morning hours where they can run out all the energy God has given them. Let them delight themselves in snails, earthworms and pine cones Buy a hundred dollar picnic table from Home Depot and set up in the backyard, so you can keep an eye on the little ones, while you do spelling and grammar with your older child...which leads to key number six....
-You may also benefit from time spent outdoors in the morning...on a walk! A prayer walk! For the past two weeks I have rolled groggily out of bed at 6:45, threw on some comfy clothes, downed a glass of water and headed outside for a 20 minute walk. I stretch for a few minutes when I get home. I can't tell you how much this walk has helped me!
Key Number Six: Give Older students instruction early so they can then work independently
-A couple days ago, Micah didn't finish his school work until 5 o'clock I realized that I needed to spend time with him as soon as possible, going over his new grammar lesson, giving him his spelling test, going over his writing assignment, assigning him his daily math work, so that he could get on with these things. I typically do this while Andrew plays with his little brothers. That's another helpful tool---let older siblings help!
Key Number Seven: Enjoy your Children and enjoy God with them
-Remember the Psalm that says, "You have made my days no longer than the width of my hand; My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath." Psalm 39:5 (New Living Translation) Our lives are not only short in comparison to eternity, but we also don't know which day will be our last, or our child's last. God has ordained the number of our days and he hasn't told us how many they will be. The opportunity to care for the little people God has entrusted to you and me is so precious. When you look at them, really look at them, you can't help but be in awe of their Creator...and you can't help but realize how precious they are. They see everything with fresh wonder, their excitement is over the smallest of things, their questions so honest....
-In the minutes, hours, days and weeks of your life, enjoy everything with them! We love our bird feeders! We marvel together at our backyard birds! We delight in afternoons together at our local parks....we love to read stories together and learn about what God has done in history---biographies are the best! God has given us so much to enjoy! Find your serving niche and ya'll do it together! I don't think me or the boys will forget being sung an old fashion love song by an elderly man at our local nursing home. These are the moments...every moment. Light a candle at breakfast, learn to sing the Psalms and sing in play and in work. Smile, hug, give piggy-back rides....love...love deeply... from the heart. (1 Peter 4:8)
(and remember...this was written by someone who has learned from countless mistakes and will continue to learn from mistakes...these are my goals, my desires, and prayers. I'm on this journey with you!)