Its 9.30 in the morning. You are in your pyjamas, carrying your sleeping baby in the sling because you dont want to risk putting her down – she might wake up and cry again. For another two hours. You figure your shower can wait, and head off to the kitchen to make yourself a soothing cup of herbal tea, hoping for some breakfast at the same time. There you find your two-year-old building a Tupperware castle on the kitchen floor, mindless of the fact that the nappy he is so comfortably sitting on is leaking a brown, smelly substance out the sides.

As youre trying to move him into a position where you can reach his bottom around the sling, your four-year-old calls you, demanding that you come help him fix the train tracks, which have managed to break apart yet again. Your, “Not right now darling, Im just changing a nappy and then I can come help you” is met with a frustrated scream and the sound of something snapping in two. Master Four rushes into the room, “Its not my fault, the stupid thing just broke by itself” and thrusts the broken pieces at you. Your darling two-year-old takes this opportunity to run giggling and bare-bottomed into the kitchen, and the baby wakes with a startled scream and starts crying. “Thank goodness hes going to school next year, at least then I will have one less to deal with” you think to yourself.

Home educators often worry about how to find the time to teach one child (or more) when there are still little ones in the home. The image of sitting your child down at a desk while calmly explaining the mystery of phonics flies out the window when you have a sibling dispute erupting right next to you, children wanting a breastfeed, nappies needing to be changed and mounds of dirty laundry beckoning to you.

One solution is Natural Learning, which takes a lot of the stress out of home educating. Everyday tasks (like cleaning, cooking, and baby care), as well as interpersonal and relationship skills, are best learnt in the home environment. For more information on this style of home educating, have a look at my articles over the last few issues of Natural Parenting Magazine, and also Belinda Moores article in Issue 3 about Learning Naturally.
Another great sanity saver for home educating parents is the use of Unit Studies. Whether self-designed, downloaded from the internet, or purchased as part of your overall curriculum, unit studies can cater for any number of children at different ages, at the same time. You all study one topic with different types of activities designed to suit the age, maturity and interest level of each child.

If you were doing a unit study on dinosaurs, your 2 year-old (y.o.) could be colouring-in, your 4 y.o. matching up homemade pictures, your 6 y.o. writing a story, your 8 y.o. doing a crossword, your 10 y.o. charting geographical distribution and your 12 y.o. examining weather patterns and meteorological impacts. At the end of the unit study you could combine it all into a trip to the museum, and have a dinosaur party to celebrate, including puppet show and dinosaur-shaped bikkies.

Using a set Curriculum or Correspondence course with a child who is not yet an independent reader requires creativity and prior planning to make study time run smoothly. Most educational materials require at least some reading, so parents have to spend a lot of time helping their child. Set bookwork can also be more difficult for very active children who have problems sitting still and concentrating for longer periods.

Not all of the materials in your course may need to be completed, especially if your child has a good grasp already of the subject matter. Some children dont need a lot of repetition to master understanding, so always be guided by your child, not the workbook. For those times you do have to sit down with your child to concentrate on bookwork, try the following ideas:

  • Childproof the area around your younger ones, preferably keeping them close to you. You will feel safer, and they will be happier. If your schooled child cannot concentrate with this, then try having a separate “study corner” ” maybe you could hide behind the bed with him while the other children are playing on the other side of the bed.
  • Plan what your other children should be doing at this time, and organise activities / materials beforehand. Have playdough, special toys only used at school-time, pens and paper for colouring-in and so on, all ready at hand.
  • Have short periods of activity, maybe 15-20 minutes, before changing to something else. This helps alleviate boredom and minimise arguments, and gets your children to leave it on a good note. You could use “activity centres” and move your children onto the next activity regularly, giving them plenty of warning beforehand of course.
  • Use older children to play with younger ones. My 4 y.o. happily plays with my now 2 y.o. for half an hour, while I concentrate on handwriting practice with my 7 y.o. I give them toys that can only be played with during this time, and have them in a separate room to avoid distractions.
  • Get together with other home educators, and take turns doing activities with groups of children. One parent can look after one or two activities each, and the children take turns with them all, like a round-robin. Or one parent looks after the littlies, giving the other parent a chance for some individual bookwork with their child.

“Schoolwork” need not be for six hours a day, five days a week, so dont feel that this is what you have to aim for. If you want to have a sit-down” session with your child, start off slowly, and gradually increase the time. Stop if either one of you is getting frustrated ” remember that you are a parent first, and the relationship between you and your child takes precedence over teaching. Remember that what your child doesnt seem to be learning today, they will more than likely pick up easily next week or month. Give yourselves some “down-time” make allowances for ill health, new babies, growth spurts and all those other things that are a part of family life. Your children will still learn, and so will you.

Internet Links
(Mainly American homeschooling sites, quite a few of these are Christian) not homeschooling, but great fun for kids activities specifically about unit studies, and while youre there, have a look at the rest of the HEA website.

Any books by Valerie Bendt (unit studies)
“Managers of their Homes” by Terri Maxwell (Christian homeschooling book about organising yourself and your family)
“Homeschool Burnout” by Raymond and Dorothy Moore
“The Home School Manual” by Theodore E. Wade Jr and Others
“The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling” by Debra Bell