What is it really like homeschooling with a houseful of little ones around? How do you homeschool with a toddler? What about homeschooling with a baby (or 2!)?
We see the golden images online. We read the blog posts with 3, 5, or 7 quick tips for homeschooling with a baby and toddler underfoot. We wonder if everyone else has got it all “together” and we’re the only ones struggling.
But don’t you wish you could step behind the scenes and hear from a real-life mama like you?
What does her regular homeschool day really look like in the midst of nursing babies and keeping the house in some semblance of order? What is going well, and what is hard? And how does she find hope and joy in the messy middle?
Recently I emailed my community and asked how their school year was finishing up. What is going well and what is hard, I asked. One of my reader’s replies was such a great combination of honesty and Gospel hope that I knew you all needed to hear her perspective!
So today we’re going to hear from Mary Kathryn Cone, a mama of 5 little girls ages 6 and under, including 8-month-old twins! She’s in the thick of homeschooling with lots of little kids around for sure! Thank you so much, Mary Kathryn, for taking the time to share your experience.
I’d love to hear your own Behind-the-Scenes homeschooling stories. Please share them in the comments on this post!
A Glimpse into the Day and Life of a Homeschooling Family of Littles
By Mary Kathryn Cone
First, a few disclaimers:
- My qualifications for writing this post are that I responded to Amy’s recent email asking her readers about how the school year was finishing up with a big ol’ list of things I don’t think are going very well. That’s it.
- Homeschooling with a house full of little kids means that I haven’t been doing this long, and what we do is very basic. I am not teaching quadratic equations, the Constitution, long division, and phonics all in a morning, and my hat is off to you amazing ladies who do. I’m not very good at this – yet. But careful practice makes progress.
Just so you know I’m not at the top of the class.
So, what does homeschooling look like in a family of five little girls age six, four, two, and eight-month-old twins? Here’s a glimpse into our day.
I wake up at six to feed the babies one at a time. After feeding, changing, and a little snuggle time, it’s seven and the big girls emerge. Sometimes it’s a joyful stampede, sometimes it’s a sleepy shuffle, and sometimes they are off to the races working out disagreements before they’re out of the bedroom.
As I get breakfast, big girls help with some chores, get dressed, and tidy their room, with varying degrees of initiative. By eight, breakfast is on and the babies are about ready for a nap.
Baby nap time means go-time. It’s a narrow window to do the book work for the morning.
After three curly heads have been tamed and all the teeth brushed, and lots of questions answered lots of times, we sit down to Bible Time.
We start with a spot of beauty: a poem from A Song for All Seasons, which has been such a delight. Then we pray, sing our hymn of the month, practice our memory verses, and read our Bible passage.
The oldest stays put for math as I race to get out the math kit, checking my watch and listening for fussing. The younger girls might stay at the table and draw or play with play-dough.
Sometimes math is fun and quick, sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes it’s put off until after lunch if the babies won’t nap, or there are tears, or the other girls need lots of help with their friendship.
When the babies are up, we’re out of time.
Interesting twin math fact: 2 ≠ 1 + 1. Nope. 2 >> 1 +1. (Or maybe I’m doing it wrong. Twin moms – help?).
At quiet time, the six-year-old does some handwriting practice, and afterward, she reads to me and we do something like narration.
The rest of our day is taken up by normal life. Cooking, hopefully reading to each child at some point, taking a walk around the block if we have the right window of time between feeding everyone and naps. And of course, feeding and changing babies, soothing them and laughing with them.
I try to keep the house one notch below the “it’s driving me crazy” threshold for cleaning and prioritize including the girls over getting perfect results. Often this means mopping at 10 PM. The dust bunny population is thriving – we’ll just call it conservation of native species.
That’s literally all I can handle right now. Can I say that writing this out makes it sound so much more organized than the real-life scramble?
I like to think that the non-“school” part of our day holds good value too.
All day long, the girls learn to play together, to work together, and to share. They learn how to be patient with younger sisters, how to quiet contention instead of fueling it (we sure practice that a lot!), and what makes the babies laugh.
When I make myself slow down and give them jobs, they learn how to cook and bake, clean bathrooms and do laundry. Most importantly, they learn to serve one another. And they have lots of time to use their imaginations.
I think this freedom is good for them, but it is so very easy to compare what they experience to what they might be doing in “real school,” or to what their peers who have more capable and creative moms are doing at home.
And comparison is not necessarily “the thief of joy.” Self-centered comparison, tying our worth to our excelling of others, certainly is. But if we can praise God for the mother we admire so much and learn from her to the blessing of our own families, fantastic!
All this can still be hard to remember, though, as I search for some validation that I’m doing “enough” or that my girls are “on track.”
I tell myself that when the babies are no longer nursing and bottle feeding and I have those three-ish hours a day for other tasks (yep, really. Three hours), things will be easier. But then the babies will be walking, and then they’ll drop a morning nap, and my second daughter will be schooling too.
It just isn’t going to get “easier” for a while. But hard does not mean bad – more on hard work later.
So, what is going well or not so well as we finish the school year?
I completely dropped the curriculum I had started the year with and kept up with just the basics, and we still have a few weeks of math to do when we are so ready to be done.
I’m afraid my daughter is “behind” because we’ve really only done the three Rs and a little history we glean from stories.
I do my best to leave no honestly curious question unanswered. “How far back does your tongue go? What would happen if you didn’t have one?” etc. That’s a delight!
My girls have settled into the routine of school, and my second-oldest is excited that she’ll start math and reading soon. We have scripture and hymns tucked away in our minds that help us tie gospel strings to daily situations.
I feel a mixture of satisfaction, disappointment in myself, and uncertainty.
I’m exhausted, and I need to plan much more specifically for next year, but first I need to plan the time to plan! Finding a babysitter for five children including infant twins is no small thing. Drinking coffee at 10 PM and working on it at night isn’t a good option – not if I can fall asleep while feeding a baby and reading Llama Llama Red Pajama to a toddler at 1 PM. I’m spent, and I have no idea how to get my head around next year with a new co-op and two kids schooling.
Encouragement in the midst of a quiet, baby-filled life
So, where’s the encouragement in this description of our full yet very quiet baby-filled life? In Christ, of course.
These little years may sometimes feel like years of waiting until children are a little more independent, big enough to do “real” work, but there’s no waiting room for life.
The little years are big years for grasping the heart of Christ. These are the years of tenderest hearts, of glad helplessness and complete trust in those who care for you. They are years we must take care not to make our little ones stumble by giving them small thoughts of God’s love for them. Years to point them to Jesus by showing them tenderness, faithfulness, and forgiveness, all day, every day. Years to keep their hearts full, drop by drop.
God’s word tells us, “By the sweat of your brow you shall bring forth bread.” – Genesis 3:19. Cultivating this garden in our homes will be hard. Thorns and thistles grow much faster than good fruit. But we can remember that we plant and water, but He yields the growth, and that hard work can be joyful work when we offer it to the Lord, remembering that Christ worked harder and suffered more than we can comprehend in his life of perfect obedience, purely so that He could be worthy to go to the cross for us.
The other day, I picked up a crying baby and as I held her close, she stopped crying and rested her head on my shoulder. This happens many times a day, but in that particular instance I paused to soak in the joy of comforting a baby, of being that person who makes her safe, who fills her needs, who comforts her.
A verse came to mind: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” (1 Thess 2:7). That’s Paul speaking, but he is showing the heart of the Father, as we see in Zephaniah 3:17: “He will quiet you with His love.” It is His joy to comfort us. He is not annoyed, enduring our fits of worry as we tend to endure a toddler’s tantrum while inwardly simmering. He is not rolling His eyes with His arms crossed as we flounder along.
It is His joy to quiet us with His love, as it is my joy to quiet my daughter. How would I feel if she pushed me away and kept crying, determined to figure it out on her own? We must not humanize God by saying that He would have “hurt feelings” if we decline His comfort, but He is glorified when we are satisfied, at rest, in Him.
So let’s rest in Him and allow Him to quiet us with His love. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” – Isaiah 49:15
Christ is Gracious
I’m told every so often, “Give yourself some grace,” and I know it comes from a heart of understanding that this is a demanding season, but I’m here to tell you, that’s not the answer.
I have no grace to give. There is no such thing as grace, there is only Christ, who is gracious.
The problem is not that I’m not meeting my own expectations or the perceived expectations of others, but that I am measuring myself by them in the first place.
We serve Christ as our king, and He is gracious.
So don’t give yourself grace. Go to Christ and receive His grace as you keep on doing your daily work for His glory.
It is His joy to give it.
Mary Kathryn is wife to Josh and mom to five little girls who keep things lively! She dreams of a little farm someday and enjoys learning new skills with her girls in the kitchen and garden.