Are you interested in homeschooling, but find it intimidating or overwhelming? Or maybe you already homeschool and need some advice about making your days run a little smoother? These tips would have helped me immensely when I started home educating a few years ago, and I’m so happy to share them with you today.
I use Charlotte Mason’s method with my large family, and I love it. If you read Mason’s volumes or look at pre-packaged Charlotte Mason programs or curriculums, though, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So many short subjects and long book lists and somehow we’re supposed to also spend like six hours a day outside? When am I supposed to do laundry or prepare the 133 plates of food my family needs every week?
My tips are for large families, families with multiples or kids that are very close in age, or anyone who needs home educating to be a little bit easier to execute (and really, who doesn’t need that?). I’m currently learning alongside my oldest three kids and have found that even with just three students these tips have been sanity-saving.
Let’s dive in!
Tip number 1: Remember who is in charge.
This is one that I have to remind myself constantly. There are so many wonderful “authorities” when it comes to home education, and especially Charlotte Mason education, and it’s easy for me to feel like I have to do things exactly their way or I’m not doing it right. Miss Mason didn’t give us a system of education, though, with rules which must be followed in order to arrive at precise results. Her intention was to develop a method of education, based on certain principles. The fact that Charlotte Mason education is a method and not a system is the most freeing thing about it! (see page 9 of Home Education, Method a Way to an End and System). Mason encourages mothers to take her method and apply them to our particular children in a way that works for them. Notice that there are no books mentioned in her 20 principles: you do not have to use a particular set of books to teach with Mason’s method. You do need to use living books, and so you need to teach yourself how to determine whether a book is living, but once you feel comfortable doing that you should feel free to use whatever books you want. The book list starts to feel more like a diving board and less like a ball and chain.
No matter what method of education you follow in your homeschool, or what curriculum you use, remember that you are in charge and get to make the decisions.
Tip 2: Think of your homeschool as a one-room schoolhouse.
This tip sounds very “Little House on the Prairie” but I promise I’m not suggesting that we all return to the ‘good old days’ of frontier living. I love my indoor plumbing and Amazon Prime subscription way too much for that. As homeschoolers, though, we need to move away from the mentality that we have to divide our children into different grade levels in order to educate them. The practice of dividing children into different grades based on age came about from practical necessity and not because it benefits children. As education moved from one-room schoolhouses to public schools, the schools needed a way to handle the volume of children they were teaching. Initially they divided into groups, similar to Charlotte Mason’s “Forms” with several ages learning together. Eventually, though, it was decided that students would be split up by age, and each age would have a corresponding grade level. There is plenty of evidence that this division is detrimental to kids academically and socially.
“Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material.”
Stuart Miller, Inside a Multiage Classroom
As homeschoolers, we have the perfect opportunity for multiage learning. Dividing our kids into different grades based on their ages unnecessarily complicates things. Now, even though I consider my homeschool a multiage learning environment, I keep track of what grade my kids would be in if they went to school. The biggest reason for this is that it lets me avoid the dilemma of what to tell the doctor or Aunt Sue when she asks what grades the kids are in. If you ask any of my kids what grade they’re in, they’ll tell you! This year Ella is in Kindergarten, Jack is in second and Emma is in third.
So how do you actually apply multiage learning at home? That brings us to our next tip:
Tip 3: Combine, combine, combine.
Chances are good you’ve heard this one before, but it’s so integral to how I educate my kids that I had to include it here. Whenever possible, teach your kids the same thing at the same time. It will save you so much headache!
When I first started homeschooling a few years ago, our kids attended a Homeschool Tutorial, which was basically like a part-time private school. They had a uniform and teachers, and attended school two days a week. The three days they were home with me, we had homework to complete for each subject covered at school. When it was just my oldest attending, we were able to keep up with it (though I was frustrated by the amount of busywork she was assigned and was just starting to learn about Charlotte Mason). We added my son the next year, and I was completely overwhelmed. My kids were only in Kindergarten and first grade, which should have been so easy! But instead I was teaching lessons from two separate history time periods, two different science topics, even different art and music. It was exhausting, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that by sending my kids to this tutorial, I was missing out on the freedom that should come with home education.
We left the tutorial after our second year there, and I educated my oldest two kids at home using Charlotte Mason’s method. They were 6 and 7 at that point (they’re 17 months apart), and because of their different strengths and weaknesses, I was able to combine them for literally every subject: phonics (which meant repeating some things for my oldest, but she needed the review), math (again, the review only helped), history, art, singing, geography, literature, etc. We do it all together, and it’s wonderful!
Emmaline and Jack are close enough in age (8 and 7 right now) that we can easily do everything together, on the same level. When I added Ella (5) this year, I still combined everything I could, even though she’s a bit younger. She does her own phonics and math, but joins us for everything else.
Learning things together as a family is one of my favorite things about home educating, and I’ll continue combining lessons as long as I have students at home with me.
Do you have any tips for making homeschool a little easier? I’d love to hear them!