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The One-Room Schoolhouse
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Homeschooling is a lot like teaching in a one-room schoolhouse because we teach multiple grades at the same time every day. Each of our students needs our attention, so how is a mom supposed to do it all? And the more kids you have, the more potential for crazy there is! I have two boys, I tutor another boy, and I work from home (and working at home as a wife and mother). It can be so overwhelming!

I eased into homeschooling one child at a time, but many new homeschoolers had to jump into the deep end with all of their children at once this past year. For them, it was either sink or swim. I'd like to share some strategies that I've implemented over the past ten years that have helped calm the chaos in our home.

There are two big ideas here. First, check-in and check out with each child so that everyone stays on task. We want our days to be productive and not long and drawn out. Second, we need some strategies that will minimize interruptions and save our sanity. Are you with me?

Let's talk about how to check in and check out with each child. The basic idea is that you will spend some focused time with one of your children, give him a job to do, and then move on to the next child. When I started homeschooling, I taught both boys parent-led, so I flip-flopped back and forth between them all day. I made my own planner with a column for each child so that I could plan what each would do while I taught the other. I kept it open on the desk so that the boys could see what needed to be done and cross off tasks as they completed them. (Side note: Good planning is necessary, but life happens. Plan well, and then be flexible.)

If you have ordered video courses, that doesn't mean that your kids don't need you. Each of your students needs to be able to count on your help each day. The videos are excellent tools to help relieve some pressure, but you are ultimately responsible for your children's education.

So, what kinds of things can you do during that one-on-one time? Parent-led moms will need to use the time for instruction. Video moms will need to provide interaction and practice with necessary skills like reading. Secondary students may need help with planning. Some students will need remediation when they struggle. One of my favorite ways to start one-on-one time is to correct papers. This accomplishes two things at once. You will get some help dealing with that unending task, and your child will review the previous lesson and identify and correct misconceptions. Whatever your child needs most determines how you will spend one-on-one time.

Now let's talk about how to preserve our sanity. I often felt like the genie in the bottle, summoned continuously while I was in the middle of something else. I identified three strategies that made things run more smoothly. I taught my boys to solve their own problems, provided independent activities, and created the "I Need" list.

When children think of a question, it comes out of their mouths immediately—especially if their mom is right there. I can't field all those questions while I teach, so I started to train my boys to solve their own problems. Re-read the instructions, part by part. Read them more than once. Workbooks often list corresponding textbook page numbers at the bottom of the sheet. Open that textbook and look for the answer. And then think about it for more than five seconds. Usually, when my boys stopped to think for a couple of minutes, I would hear, "Oh, I got it." If the child cannot solve the problem, have him skip that section and move on. You will be able to help the next time you check in with him.

Have some independent activities ready for when kids get stuck. If you don't, your child may escape and create his own independent activities. We use some video courses so that my boys can be productive while I am busy. We also treat some classes as independent studies. This will not be an option for every child. In our case, my boys became so proficient in spelling patterns and rules that I eventually allowed them to do worktext lessons independently with occasional help and reinforcement of purpose and worldview.

I often write a few chores on our whiteboard. When one of my boys can't go on without me, he can either pick a chore to complete or go start practicing his instrument. Reading a book is always allowed. When the boys were younger, I also provided hands-on or playful activities that went with what they were learning. Sometimes it was a floor puzzle of the ocean, math facts activities or apps, a typing program, or even art that went along with the content of the lesson. The teacher's editions are full of creative ideas that can be used for independent activities.

In the last couple of years, I realized I could use a better way for my boys to tell me what they needed, and so the "I Need" list was born. This is a dedicated section of the whiteboard where the boys make a to-do list for me. Instead of interrupting while I'm teaching, they write messages to me. They write things like "practice Spanish," "check the math for the quiz," "revise the report," or "buy the item for the lab." This list helps me prioritize what I need to do next, and it helps me give my children what they need each day.

Having a well-ordered homeschool doesn't happen overnight. You have to establish and patiently teach layer after layer of routine. The good news is that you can start today. Pick one routine. Show your kids what you want them to do, and then follow through. It is hard work now, but you will reap the fruit of good training for many years.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Lont - HomeWorks by Precept Consultant


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