My college roomie, who just had a precious new baby girl, and who has a little girl who is almost three, and who also happens to be having a birthday in a couple of hours, asked me this question the other day:
It's 11 am, I have successfully baked a loaf of bread, made my bed, hung some clothes on the line, walked to the mailbox to get the paper, and washed the dishes, and this does not include pathetic potty training attempts and breastfeeding. Before you homeschooled did you look at your time and wonder how you would be able to add homeschooling to your day? I was just thinking of you as I was contemplating my hopeful future in homeschooling.
Here is my loooong answer, friend. I would say that in some ways, as your kids get older, it gets easier in some areas and harder in some areas.
Babies and tiny kids = simple schedule, basic needs (food, clean diapers, naps), physical exhaustion from around-the-clock care
Older kids = busier schedule (school, no matter what form you choose), emotional exhaustion from the constant teaching and talking and interacting, less dealing with basic needs (they can help with food prep, feed themselves snacks, go to the bathroom on their own, no need for naps, etc.)
I look back on my years with tiny kids and think that my schedule was so simple. I could plan playdates whenever I wanted, go on daily walks with friends, sew baby blankets and leather baby shoes during nap time, and had the time to experiment in the kitchen and blog often. I look back and think it must have been sooo easy back when I had only 1, or only 2, or only 3 kids.
But when I start to reminisce, I remember the lack of sleep, the crying, the teething, the diaper blowouts, the inability to have any time away from the baby because I was breastfeeding, the horrific pregnancy nausea, lugging the babies around in carriers, toddlers shoving their friends at playdates or shoving books off the library shelves, etc. etc. and I'm so, so, so, so, so, so thankful to have those things behind me.
Life as a parent will always be challenging. There are no "easy" years. Your kids go from keeping you up all night, to throwing ear-shattering tantrums, to arguing defiantly with you, to whining or complaining, to beading and playing with legos and making incredible messes, to jumping off bike ramps, to wanting to explore the neighborhood, to discovering the opposite sex (so I've heard).......and on....and on. However, as someone who has been getting great sleep for over 2 years and who no longer has to buy diapers or pull-ups (HOORAY!!! IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!), and whose kids are all graduated from the church nursery, I can say that physically this stage really feels easier than the tiny kid years felt. Homeschooling is a LOT of work, and it is a challenge to be around your offspring all day, every day, but it is worth it and I am thankful to be in the elementary school years stage as opposed to the infant/toddler stage.
So, as your kids get older and are more independent, you will find some things to be easier. Let's face it, getting sleep makes a huge difference in your quality of life! However, other things will be harder. If you want to give your children a great education you will have to sacrifice some of the things you like to do. You can't do as many playdates or answer the phone during school hours. I personally had to give up sewing and crafts, and rarely find time to blog anymore. I love doing photography, but I don't try to promote my business or take photography classes because right now my focus is on schooling my kids. I don't usually make our bread from scratch anymore, and we use paper plates a LOT to cut my dishes down from 3 dishwasher loads a day to 2. I don't have the energy/motivation to do as many volunteer activities or ministries at church. With my 4th kid, I gave up on cloth diapering and I struggle just to keep up with the laundry my family of 6 produces.
The good news is, we learn as we go. Just as a body builder gradually increases the weight he is lifting, so also, most of us get to start small in this parenting thing and gradually add more weight. Though some are exceptions (parents of multiples, foster parents, folks who adopt several kids at once), we get to have one baby at a time, and adjust to their personality and routine, before adding another, and another, and as they grow, we grow with them and adjust to the new life stage before us. This is why most moms of one look at me and say, "Four kids! I just couldn't do it! How do you stay sane?" I ask moms of 8 the same thing! The reality is that I took it one day at a time, one step at a time. You may be looking at me wondering how I am teaching my kids to memorize their multiplication tables and I am looking at the mom of teens who is teaching her kids to translate the Aeneid from Latin and helping her kids through Chemistry and Calculus and wondering how she does it, but I know, by God's grace, I will get there someday as my "homeschooling muscles" grow! For our family, the sacrifices made to homeschool our children are worth it.
What are the BEST things you can do to prepare for homeschooling down the road?
I've blogged before about how trusting God and having personal discipline are the keys to successful homeschooling. You cannot do this in your own strength. It is hard! The battle for our children is a spiritual one and we need faith in God more than anything else.
Also, if you are going to homeschool, you need to be growing in the area of personal discipline so that you can be a consistent homeschooler.
Considering how much you got done by 11am, my friend, I'd say you already have some great habits down! Wow! It's great that you have found a way to juggle the household tasks and the needs of your little ones. When Ali was 3, I began thinking about ways I could prepare for the homeschooling lifestyle. My parents had paid for Ali to attend preschool for a year, two mornings a week, and so we did that, and it helped her to get into more of a "school mode." The next year, I did home-preschool with her and we would do little craft projects, work in an Explode the Code book, work on the alphabet, etc. for an hour just a few mornings a week. The following year we did a little more, and the next year a little more. Her Kindergarten homeschooling year only required about an hour of work each day, thankfully, since I had a demanding newborn on top of all the other kids! First grade was a little more demanding, and second grade was a LOT more demanding. Homeschooling one child wasn't too bad, but last year, when I was juggling two kids in two different grades, plus a curious toddler, and an active 4 year-old who wanted to do preschool activities and wanted CONSTANT attention, I was on the brink of burn-out! I was so discouraged and weary with homeschooling. I realized I needed a change, and thankfully God brought Classical Conversations into our lives at exactly the right time so that we could stream-line and simplify our homeschooling without sacrificing an excellent education.
So, my advice for you to build up your homeschooling muscles would be:
Begin having school time each morning for 30 minutes-1 hour. Read stories, learn letters, count, or do fingerpainting or other preschool crafts. If you want a book I recommend Mommy, Teach Me, which has tons of fun ideas, or Slow and Steady Get Me Ready.
Read a TON on the subject of homeschooling. When your kids are in full-blown homeschooling mode, your reading time will be more rare, so take advantage of the before-school years to read up on all of the homeschooling methods and styles. Talk to friends who homeschool and ask them to share favorite resources and ideas (hey, you are already doing that...hence, this blog post!)
The Well-Trained Mind
Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling
Educating the Whole-Hearted Child
Simply Homeschool: Having Less Clutter and More Joy in Your Homeschool
Echo in Celebration: A Call to Home-Centered Education
Homeschooling posts here at Faithful Homemaking.
Simply Living for Him
Get into some good habits. Challenge yourself to work on one new habit at a time. Whether it's rising before your kids, having a daily devotional time, exercising for a little bit each day, making your bed, reading an intellectually challenging book, or whatever, start developing more personal discipline wherever you lack it. You may wonder how a small thing like making your bed each day would help you homeschool, but it does! Building great habits into our lives, one small step at a time, helps us to be more disciplined in other areas, and then in even more areas...growing like a snowball rolling down a hill. If you are disciplined in your morning routine, it will be much easier to add homeschooling into your family's routine than if you are the type to get up at 10 am every day and stay in your pajamas until dinner time. It sounds like you are already doing really well in this area! Kudos!
I love minimalizing and I think it is crucial for a homeschool mom! The less you have, the less you have to manage, clean, care for, put away, store, keep track of, protect, and fix. Before you start homeschooling, get into a habit of living simply, having fewer things, fewer commitments, and fewer distractions. I promise you that this will help you be a more-effective homeschooler!
*Master Basic Homemaking Skills
This doesn't mean you need to become a Pinterest Project Queen or a Martha Stewart to homeschool! What it does mean, is that if you get into the habit of frugal shopping, menu-planning, once-a-week or once-a-month shopping, bulk or freezer cooking, and setting up a home-keeping routine (example: FlyLady), you will find it easier to homeschool. I could not homeschool without a menu plan and cupboards loaded with ingredients to make meals for the whole week. I. Just. Couldn't. Do. It. When you are homeschooling more than one child, or older kids, it is like having a part-time, or even full-time job outside of the home. You have to get into "working mom" mode. In order to make dinner happen, you need to have a plan ahead of time. After a day of teaching, you then have to face the household chores, and if there isn't a plan for dinner, you will feel like crashing and burning. Moms who work outside the home do one of the following: start dinner before work in the crockpot, heat up a freezer meal when they get home, grab take-out or pizza, or make something very simple and quick at dinnertime. And you will too. A homeschooling mom is a working mom. You will find that you cannot perfectly keep house and have incredible school days simultaneously. Yes, the kids will do chores and help you clean. Yes, they will do some of their schoolwork on their own. No, I have never met any woman who is able to keep a perfectly clean home and still homeschool well. It just cannot be done. You only have 24 hours in a day and there is not enough time to keep up with all of the messes they create from being home all day as well as giving them all of the spiritual training, guidance, discipline, character, academic experiences and assistance with schooling that they need. You will learn to juggle the best you can and sacrifice the lesser for the greater. I don't fold clothes, they go straight from the dryer into the kids' clean laundry bins. I've cut them down to 3 outfits each to make laundry simpler and they have few toys. Dirty dishes often clutter the counters during the school year. During the summer, I could keep up with dishes and laundry, but in the school year...forget it! You have to learn to be okay with it, or homeschooling isn't the right option for you. When the school day is done you can work to catch up on household chores but there will be always be more to get done than you can do, especially if you are homeschooling multiple children or have babies and toddlers at the same time that you are schooling older children.
*Train Your Children
During the little years, your kids are figuring out that they aren't the center of the universe. Even if you aren't doing math equations and spelling words at this age, your children are "learning at home." They are learning to respect authority, obey, pick up toys, help set the table, pray, worship the Lord through song, be kind to siblings, share their teddy bears, etc. Kids who have not been trained/disciplined are extremely difficult to teach in school (ask any public school teacher you know!) So, during these younger years, focus on training them to obey well and enforce the rules of the home. Help them to practice kindness with friends and siblings. This is a continual growth process (as anyone who knows my 5 year-old Justus can attest) but the important thing is that you are working on it during these little kid years.
I hope this lengthy post answered some of your questions and gave you something to think about! Because I know you well, I have full confidence that you, in God's strength, can do this, and will do an excellent job schooling your gorgeous little girls (and any future kiddoes that may come along) at home! Happy Birthday Roomie!