Monday, July 11, 2011

Are You Homeschooling With a Baby...and Maybe a Toddler, Too?

This is my "I've been there" story:

Each of my kids is about 2 years apart.  The smallest span is 20 months and the largest span is 26 months, but it is safe to say we have had a new babe about every other year.  There are numerous blessings with this arrangement.  My kids are the best of friends.  (Don't think this means they don't argue or nitpick!)  There is always someone around to play dress-up or share a story or push you on the swing.  Hand-me-downs don't have time to go out of style before being passed to the next child and bath time can be a big party since I can plop two or three little ones into the tub at the same time. 

The close spacing has had its share of challenges, too.  I haven't gone one day in over 8 ½ years without changing a diaper, and there have been many months with more than one child in diapers.  Collectively, I have spent 109 months nursing so far.  (Do the math and you'll find that means I even tandem nursed for a bit.)  The noise level in our house can be intolerable, sometimes from silly squabbles and sometimes from nothing more than many voices talking at once.  Loading kids into the van is a bit tricky, too.  Two of my kids can strap their own seatbelts now, but 3 of them still need help with the buckles. 

Perhaps the toughest challenge has been homeschooling the older children with a baby in the mix.  When Benjamin was born in 2008, Gavin was in 1st grade.  Maddie was doing a bit of phonics work at the table each day, but that still left me with a 2-year-old (Owen) and an infant.

February 2009
 I've spoken before about how Owen defined the term "high needs child."  He has always been sensitive to noises, colors in his food, tags in his shirt, cooking smells, strangers, and crowds.  He had a difficult time playing alone and needed to be entertained constantly.  Every issue--big or small-- was a reason to cry and he cried multiple times a day, every day.  If Owen had been my only child, perhaps it wouldn't have been as difficult, but tending to him while teaching two others and caring for a baby was a daunting responsibility.  

The school year after Benjamin was born was tough.  I knew that homeschooling was the right way for us and that thought kept us hanging on, but there were days I didn't know if we'd make it.  Of course, I knew we'd all physically get through, but emotionally, I was a wreck.  We'd have good school days and then we'd have days where I would try to teach Gavin his math lesson with a clingy, whiny toddler in my lap and a baby putting an eraser in his mouth and trying to tear the pages out of the book.  I wondered why in the world we were even attempting to do this!  

If I had any doubt that we weren't called to homeschooling, I would have closed up shop that year, but I knew I could never send my kids off on the big yellow bus.  We were home for a reason and those reasons hadn't changed.

May 2009

Summer break was a God-send that year.  Images of the school year haunted me all June and July, though.  I dreaded starting back up again.  I knew when school commenced, I would have a 2nd grader, a kindergartener, a 3-year-old, and a 10-month-old crawling explorer, but somehow, though the days were still hard, the summer break had changed us.  I felt freer to stop when we needed to stop, to do our school work sprawled on the floor if it was the easiest way to keep up with the littlest ones, to go to the library and call it school, to remember that life is learning and that the atmosphere of our home was more important than cramming academics.

September 2010
I had the chance to do it all again two years later when Alaine was born.  She was due in mid-September so we started our school year in early August, allowing a 6-week jump-start before the rigors of schooling a 3rd grader and a 1st grader with a pre-schooler (Owen), toddler (Benjamin) and a baby!  Alaine had other plans.  She made her appearance 3 weeks early.  We took a 2 week break from school and then began to ease back in.  I was prepared for tears.  I was prepared for confusion and taking lots of breaks.  However, it went much more smoothly this time.  Owen was a little older and enjoyed doing his own workbooks at the table and Alaine was a quiet content baby.  Benjamin was...well, Benjamin was 2.  He had his toddler breakdowns, but it didn't get me down this time.

January 2011
My mom has said many times that homeschooling with a baby is the easy part.  It's homeschooling with a toddler that's the challenge.  At 10 months, Alaine is standing alone and taking a few steps.   She likes to get into our school drawers.  I caught her with purple marker on her hands yesterday.  It seems as though we will have a full-blown toddler by the time school resumes in August, but still it doesn't scare me as much as thinking of   homeschooling with those dangerous postpartum, weepy hormones.

If I could go back to that super-difficult year, there are two things I would tell myself:

1) Recognize that it is hard.  It is very hard.  Also recognize that it will get better.  So what if you skip math (or science or phonics) for a week... or 4 weeks?  There won't always be an infant in the house.

2) Don't feel guilty about letting the little ones watch more TV than usual.  Don't feel guilty about handing out more snacks or letting the toddler go all day in just a diaper.  Don't feel guilty about serving peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day.  It is all about survival at the beginning.  If survival mode needs to continue for months, that's okay, too.  Looking back, you'll realize that a few extra hours of TV and an extra helping of goldfish don't really matter in the long run.

What does matter in the long run is happy memories and a happy family.   



  1. ohhh i love this post. we've always done school during nap time, but this year i'm changing it up a bit. so it's encouraging to read this post. WE CAN DO IT!! :)

  2. Thank you for this post! It IS HARD to home school with little ones and good days are almost always followed by 3 not so good days but I've learned that it's okay. It's just the way our life is.

  3. We'll Definitely be experiencing this over the next school year. Emahry (4) will be doing some preschool activities, but probably transitioning to kindergarten after Christmas. Jonathan (3) will be doing some preschool activities with her, but will continue with preschool all year. Eliya ( 18 months) will be joining us at the table or on the rug, but will be doing more toddler activities and the newest addition (due in August) will hopefully be a very quiet baby, content to nap precisely during school time everyday :)

    Thanks for the encouragement, Kristin. I'm sure I'm going to need it.

  4. This is very encouraging to me, as I'm about to embark on my homeschooling journey with a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 5-month-old. Our days are so busy sometimes that I barely get to do anything but keep the kids fed and diapers changed! But I do feel called to it and I'm sure it'll work out somehow. I have a tendency to get a vision of perfection in my head and not want to turn the TV on, serve certain snacks, etc. So it's good to know that to do things like that is okay and normal.

  5. Ack! Thanks for this! I'm not sure why I'm all weepy reading this, but I am. We will be {more or less} starting our homeschool journey this fall. And I will have a Kindgartener, a three year old, and an almost one year old. I'm overwhelmed just typing that! Ha, ha! We did K4 with Bob Jones DVDs this past year, and we've been doing some math through the summer, so at least that gives me a little bit of "schooling" under my belt. But I'm still nervous. So anyway...thanks for sharing, it was really encouraging to me that I WILL be able to do this!

  6. This post and the one you wrote about 2-3 hour school days have really blessed me. Being our first year homeschooling (with a Kindergartener, preschooler, toddler, and newborn), your advice and encouragement have really helped me to see that a 4 hour school day doesn't mean I have to sit at the table with E for 4 uninterrupted hours. Thank you!

  7. Somehow I missed this post!

    So encouraging considering I'll have a 7,5,4,2 and 11 month old when we start the school year! (Our largest gap is 26 months and our smallest gap is 14 months!)There were days when I thought that I had bitten of more than I could chew and then in that instance God's grace was there to gently remind me that he takes care of me. My needs. My shortcomings. My stress. He has called me to homeschool and he's not going to leave me in my time of need. I think homeschooling has caused me to call out to HIM in so many more ways. I always remind myself that doing what God wants brings much blessing but doing it on our own or what we want reaps NO fruit!

  8. I am so *right.there* only I'm at 4 kids instead of 5. It was fun to re-read my previous comment when I thought schooling a Kindergartener, 3 year old, and 1 year old was going to be hard. LOL! That was a breeze comparatively. It's a season - a hard season. Thanks for being willing to admit that and to encourage us to preserve. I think sometimes I fear that we will get stuck in the season of "hard" and never get out. Which is faulty thinking. I too am learning to reevaluate what is important and relax. Thanks for your encouragement!


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