The number one question that I get asked as a mom homeschooling a large family is “How do you do it all?” With my gaggle of seven kids in tow, ranging from ages two to fourteen years, my response is always, “I don’t!”
Large family moms don’t have to “do it all” because there are methods to our madness. Whether it is home life or homeschool, large families learn to treasure the benefits and blessings that come with having so many children (often so close together), and these families also learn to navigate the challenges that are guaranteed to crop up.
One of my all time favorite memes is the one that says, “I don’t have ducks or a row. I have squirrels and they’re everywhere!” That meme is funny because it’s true. The reality is that large families come in all styles. Some large families run a tight ship and others, like mine, have organized chaos. Both of these methods work, but sometimes those in the latter category need a little dose of structure, and those in the former category need a little dose of flexibility to make things work.
The Benefits of Large Family Homeschooling
If you have been a large family mom for long, I probably don’t need to convince you of the many benefits that come with large family learning. Socialization, which has somehow become the cornerstone of education in our society, is not a problem for large families. Socialization in a large family homeschool setting happens organically, without force. Older kids learn how to care for and share with those younger than them. Younger children learn to pivot from the older siblings so that mom is not “spread too thin” when teaching so many students. Tasks like household chores and cooking can be shared among those of the appropriate age.
The old adage “many hands make light work” comes to mind. Mom can appear like she is getting it “all” done, but really she becomes very skilled in training and delegating while managing her own list of responsibilities.
The reality is that we know this is what large family living could look like, but we often don’t know where to start or restart if we have cultivated bad habits over the years. I would like to share with you below some of the tips I have garnered over the years through my own experience in this arena.
Let Them Be Little
Whenever a young homeschooling mom asks me for one piece of advice, I tell them to skip preschool and wait until their child is six or seven to begin formal lessons altogether.
My first child I did preschool with and she turned out great, so my argument is not that it is harmful. My argument is that it isn’t ultimately effective in the ways we think it will be, and in addition to that, it drains a mom of the vital energy she needs for the children who do need formal lessons.
Before you check out over such a preposterous notion, take a look at this study from Cambridge and this one from Stanford. There is overwhelming evidence that play time for young children is the best teacher.
I have shared studies from some of the world’s most notable institutions which are largely based on public education, but you won’t have to go far within the homeschool realm to find this same approach being encouraged in home education. Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, has this to say about the early years.
“To form in his child right habits of thinking and behaving is a parent’s chief duty… To nourish a child daily with loving, right, and noble ideas we believe to be the parent’s next duty.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 228
“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 4
Let your little children be little for longer. Their education will not be delayed because you delayed formal lessons. Instead, when you do start formal lessons at the age of six or seven, your child will be able to soak up the information quickly, as opposed to what would have taken weeks when he was younger. Your child may also develop a stronger confidence in his abilities because he will have immediate success in remembering basic addition and letters at a later age, instead of drilling facts and laboring over letters at an age before he has developed even fine motor skills.
Taking on this approach to homeschooling my large family, has removed so many years of unnecessary burden. My littles play together during the time that my older children are receiving formal lessons from me.
Develop a Morning Time Routine
Morning time, also referred to as circle time or morning basket, is a part of the family’s routine that brings everyone together in the morning. This is not a time for lecturing, but a time for the entire family to start their day off right together. When my children were little, I would do morning time around the table while they were busy eating and sitting in their seats. As my children have grown older, we have migrated to the living room where we lounge and do our daily read-alouds. It is also a great time for poetry, song, and memorization work.
Morning time is the perfect time to delegate the day’s tasks. School work, chores, meals, appointments, etc. can be covered so that everyone is on the same page about that day’s priorities before breaking to their own corners of the home.
Developing a morning time routine in our home has been vital to keeping our large family synced together. We stopped doing it for a while due to life getting busy, and my children begged me to begin again. In the same way that eating dinner around the family dinner table gives a sense of tradition and togetherness, a morning time routine brings the family together for a moment of sweet togetherness before the chaos of the day’s schedule ensues.
Integrated Learning for Family Learning
There are so many types of homeschooling curriculum on the market. Some families choose to do all their school online and others choose to do all workbook based schooling. Neither of these were for my family. I wanted to read with my kids, learn with them, but I did not want the stress of doing it all myself. Then there is the question of how do you do that with so many kids at different grade levels?
Integrated learning using the classical method with a dash of Charlotte Mason was the eclectic solution for my family. Integrated learning is another term for “unit studies.” The unit study method immerses the student in a particular topic by using several subjects taught together. The child then approaches that topic from a number of different perspectives and really gets to know it in a far more intimate way that other methods just don’t provide. Of course, some topics will not interest a child, so he will fly through those more quickly, but there will be those that capture his imagination and really spark a passion to learn more.
A curriculum that provides an integrated learning style and follows a classical method of teaching at the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric levels allows the homeschool mom to read much of the material to the family as a whole. The younger kids can learn alongside their older siblings, and they can do many of the activities and projects together. This kind of curriculum will break down age-appropriate literature for each of the grade levels for more in-depth, independent reading or teaching. In my experience this idea of learning together has once again lightened my burden over the years so that I am not teaching each child individually, but all my children as a whole. It spurs many a conversation around the dinner table because my children all know what their siblings are learning.
There are a few integrated learning style curricula on the market, but our family’s choice is Tapestry of Grace. You can find Tapestry of Grace Lesson Plans in Homeschool Planet’s Marketplace to make your homeschool planning a breeze!
Large Family Schedules
I was the type of homeschool mom who rebelled for years against planning anything including my homeschool. I like to be one of those spontaneous parents. We purposefully do year-round homeschooling for this reason. I realized, however, as we added more students to our homeschool roster and one of those students moved up to high school that my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to homeschooling would not continue working for us.
The reality is that when there are more people involved, even those who do not like structure need to adopt a little structure into their lives. In my case, Homeschool Planet is the perfect planner for my “Type B” personality. It is easy to fill in with assignments and chores using my favorite feature – the assignment generator. My children have their own login where they can see what I expect of them and can check off when they have completed the required tasks. For all those days that I forget to lesson plan or just don’t feel like it, I go in and back date it with what was accomplished.
Homeschool Planet offers this large family mom the perfect guilt free solution to her rebellion against structure. Homeschool Planet also assists this large family mom in structuring her planner with all the pre-made lesson plans offered for popular curricula publishers in the Homeschool Planet Marketplace.
If you haven’t already, you should try Homeschool Planet’s 30-day free trial with a free lesson plan!
Find Your Own Groove
Navigating homeschooling a large family comes with its own challenges, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives. In the end, each large family has to find its own groove. What works for our family, may not work for your family, but I do recommend that if you are feeling like something needs to change for you to find some sanity, consider adopting one or a few of these methods to bring the family together. Whenever I am struggling with feeling overwhelmed or the kids just don’t seem to be getting along, bringing the family together for conversation, food, games, or even learning always seems to help us reset, refresh, and begin again.