A friend recently asked me how I homeschool with preschoolers underfoot. I know from talking to other homeschool moms that this is often a source of frustration. Here are some of my thoughts after nearly completing our first year of official homeschooling (kindergarten), with a three year old and baby/toddler.
I think it is easy to see your preschooler as an impediment to your efforts to homeschool and, whether you intend to or not, you start to view her as a problem to overcome. Kids pick up on this easily and I think it makes them act up more.
Excluding preschoolers from school time altogether makes schooling a lot more difficult, in my opinion. I found that it worked best for us to integrate Clara into our school activities as much as possible. We always start our day off with Bible, scripture memory review, God's world news, and poetry. This takes about a half hour and Clara is as much a part of this as her big sister. Sophia also participates until her Cheerios run out and then she toddles off to play.
I also try to give Clara the first fruits of my attention! I have found that if I give her the first 10 minutes of my time and give her 100% of my attention during that time, she is much more content for the rest of the morning. Her love tank, so to speak, has been filled up and then she usually is happy to go off and play on her own. I usually use this one-on-one time with Clara to work on her phonics.
We also have special toys and activities that Clara may use only during Meredith's school time. She also has some simple workbooks that she loves.
Sophia is currently taking naps twice a day but I foresee the morning nap ending soon. We try to capitalize on her nap time as much as possible!
To be honest, we get interrupted a lot. Either Sophia has special needs or Clara acts up. I think that if I had an only child, we could knock out school in about two hours! Instead, it takes 3-4 hours.
At first I was resistant and a little resentful of all the interruptions. Throughout the school year, however, God has really helped me change my attitude. He has opened my eyes to see the benefits and character building opportunities that interruptions provide.
My prayer at the start of the school year was that God would help me in making the shaping of my children's moral character a number one priority. If I didn't have younger children at home, we would not have very many opportunities to learn to give, and love, and serve. When the kids fight or disobey or are unkind, we can take 20 minutes and work it out. In a homeschool setting, we can afford to take time to make thinkgs right and restore relationships, and learn how to please God and live out the Christian faith. In fact, if it takes ALL morning to work on discipline issues, I should be thankful for that opportunity to teach my children what is infinitely more important than math or the eight parts of speech. All of that can come later, after a good foundation of developing their moral character is laid.
When we are interrupted or have had to work on discipline issues, that is what God had for us that day. I need to accept that as from His hand.
I think it is good for Meredith to have to share her time and her mom with her younger siblings, and learn to work well in a family setting. She is learning to be more flexible and patient. Clara is learning to be more respectful.
All of this doesn't mean that the interruptions are always easy. But I have become more welcoming of them since my eyes have been opened to the gold mine of learning opportunities.
Having said all of this, I do have one time in our school day where Clara is absolutely not permitted to interrupt and that is when Meredith is reading out loud to me. Clara knows that this is sacred time. It is important for Meredith to not have interruptions while reading so she can keep her train of thought. If Clara interrupts during this time, she is strictly disciplined. I have to pick my battles!
The last thing I will conclude with is that I believe I (accidentally) did the best thing I could have done several years ago to prepare for homeschooling and homeschooling with preschoolers. I kept Meredith, and the other two, home for preschool. I wasn't planning on doing this (I have had a hard time with kids ages 2-3 and would have loved the break!) but Kevin really wanted me to NOT put them in preschool and because of his encouragement, and because preschool is expensive, I kept them home. This laid a good foundation for us. The kids have never known anything but being at home and learning at home. They have always had to accommodate each other and I have had to learn how to get things done with them with me at all times. It has made the transition to homeschooling a lot easier. They know how to be home all day and entertain themselves!
Now I need to stop typing because I hear that Starbucks is having a happy hour with 1/2 price frappucinos. I hear one calling my name!