How I Homeschool Without Losing My Mind
I get asked almost weekly by someone, "how do you cope homeschooling?" and you know, it's not that bad. I think the reason I do not find it so horribly difficult, is because I have learned how to make it work for us and how not to make it such a big deal. I have also gained much insight into how my children are learning, and that learning is not doing 'school' but is really a daily, lifelong part of life. I also have become an eclectic homeschooler (a mix of this and that) and I do not use a one size fits all system. So let me share my 10 main tips on how I homeschool without losing my mind.
1. I Homeschool Eclectic
I tried to homeschool using a specific curriculum for my kids, i.e the classical method, and it is a solid curriculum, don't get me wrong, but it was not suitable for all of my kids. I realized that it was causing me more stress to follow a system that I felt was good, but my kids did not all agree. So what did I do? I decided to determine each of my kids strengths and weaknesses, and then find the best resources out there to teach them what they needed to know. For example, my son is a bad speller, so instead of using the same spelling book he has used for 2 years, I decided to print-out the most common English words found in books and give him a spelling quiz a few days a week. On days that I was busy, I would make him write out the words as copywork and for retention purposes.
2. I Homeschool According to Learning Styles
This ties in with my first step in a way, because when I saw that my children could not all use the same curriculum, I started looking deeper into their likes and dislikes and felt that I needed to allow them to learn the way they learn best. So for example, my daughter is a reader, so she picks up concepts really fast by reading it in a book or an article. Not all my kids LIKE the same thing, but they all can LEARN the same thing, if I present it in a way that appeals to them. So now I have one child in an online academy, two kids using colorful workbooks, two kids learning the classical way, and one child learning from educational listening and visual methods. It may sound hectic, but actually it saves me so much more strain, because we asked our kids for their opinion, and they chose how they liked to learn. This made them complain less and work at a faster pace.
3. I Homeschool at Different Times
I cannot homeschool all my kids at the same time on most days, I do this only on weekends and when we're having a calm day with no commitments or interruptions. Most days I homeschool my kids at different times of the day, so I can focus on their needs and not get irritable by everyone asking me questions simultaneously. So for example, in the mornings, when my older kids are gone for their Quran class, I will work with my three little ones, and this wont take too long, as they are still lower elementary level. In the early afternoon my older daughter comes home from her alima class, and then works online. If she needs my help, I am available to assist her as I do other things around the house. By the late afternoon, my two sons come from their Quran class and do some of their work then. I am available for them at those times, if they need any help. I found that when I divide my kids into levels, and spread it throughout the day, I am much more able to cope homeschooling six kids.
4. I Homeschool With a Mix of Resources
I do not limit my kids learning to books or workbooks alone. I find ways to keep their learning spicy! How do I do this? Simple! I use workbooks for certain subjects that are best done this way, like writing. I use online resources for other subjects that can be done this way, like math. I use apps, educational videos, games etc. to let them learn subjects such as history and science. I use printable resources such as notebooking or lapbooks for subjects that they dread and need it to be more tempting, like spelling or handwriting. I also allow my children to express themselves with more freedom in their books, so that they feel that learning is not boring or 'schoolish'. I let them doodle on the sides of their pages, draw a picture at the bottom of a page of work they have finished, use gel pens or colorful pens to write with, decorate the cover of their books anyway they like, and so on.
5. I Homeschool Using an Islamic Perspective
I like to use Islamic literature for my children, it is achieving two things at the same time. So when it comes to subjects like handwriting or writing. I make my children learn to write from pages of Hadith and Quran, and for struggling writers, I make them do pages of copywork of Hadith. I also like my kids to read Islamic books for their reading time, and to learn history from the Islamic world of inventions. I felt that they started to develop a love for their work much more, and that it became enjoyable for them to learn about stories of great men and women in Islam. I also feel that Allah swt opens more doors for us when we steer our children towards His Path. This was actually my husband's great idea, so I cannot take any credit for coming up with this one - Thanks honey! :-)
6. I Homeschool in an Organized Environment
This is my favorite! I cannot work in disarray or when my house is a mess. I feel cluttered and overwhelmed. I do not expect my children to sit at desk with their feet straight etc., but I do ensure that they have completed their chores and that our work space is clean and orderly. My children work mostly on the floor because it allows them more freedom. Besides being sunnah, it keeps learning more cosy and less 'schoolish'. There are a few subjects that are best done at a table, or if I see some of my kids becoming too slouchy, lazy or relaxed, but that is a judgement call.
I also make a folder for each of my children, with a weekly schedule inside. This ensures that they do not ask me, "what must I do?" questions all the time. I type-up a Google doc with a table which has a few columns for subject, resource, and days of the week (Mon-Sun or whatever your learning days are). Then below, I have rows for the subjects they need to do, and the resource they need to use to do it. I put an icon (a star in our case) on the days that subject should be worked-on. When my kids complete their work on that day, they color-in the star with a pen or pencil (sort of like those bubbles in tests), to show it has been completed. The charts help keep my kids on track, and for me it is a life saver, because with all the hundreds of things on my mind, I can barely remember the date sometimes, so it keeps me on top of things.
7. I Homeschool My kids To Be Independent
Once my children have learned to read and write well, I limit the question-asking and the "how do I do this?" complaint. We fill our home with a lot of resources that are available to them, so that they do not bother me with trivial questions all the time. They can access our library, computer, tablet or even text their dad or grandfather if they need assistance. All my resources have been made kid safe and easily accessible. For example, my son kept on asking me how to spell words, and so I told him to put a dictionary app on our tablet, and now when he needs a word, he simply looks it up.
In the past I tried using a regular dictionary, but how do you look up a word if you can't spell it in the first place right? It became time-consuming and frustrating for my child, and that is what I try to limit in our learning environment the most, so I am ok using technology if it helps us eliminate these issues. When my child uses the app, he punches in as many letters as he can spell, and a list of common words come up, which is why I like it better than a regular dictionary, it also takes him less than a minute to do this, compared to maybe five minutes to look it up in a dictionary book. It might not be the ideal for some, but hey, if you can achieve the same result in a smarter way, I am all for that, Alhumdulillah!
8. I Homeschool, But My Older Kids Go Out For a Bit
I noticed that when my kids hit age 10, being with me all the time, even if we went out for field trips or extra mural activities, was wearing me out. Don't get me wrong, I love being with my children, but I am noticing as our kids get older, parenting gets more tough, because nothing is simple with kids that age anymore (I am sure many can relate to the tween years). My older kids constantly question my authority, have an answer for everything I ask them to do, ignore me too often, and can be a real pain in the behind sometimes ('scuse the language, but I said it as nice as I could to explain the frustration I feel at times).
So I broached my dilemma with dear hubby, who felt the same way - our kids needed to have more outdoor classes, and to get more exhausted and challenged. Alhamdulillah, our older boys started a hifdz program, and our older daughter started an alima class, and they are happier as well. They get to be with other kids, and have other teachers to work with, and me? I get a breather from the arguments, constant reminders and the tons of patience I need to have while they're around. I can also concentrate more on my little ones in the mornings, and that is one of the biggest factors that helps me cope homeschooling all six.
9. I Homeschool With a Personal Touch
Each of my kids have their personal school bag and pencil box, and each of them keep their books and stuff in their backpacks only. Their pencil boxes are filled with all the stationary they will need, and I myself, have a tote bag and a pretty pencil case to keep my teacher supplies all in one place. All my pens and highlighters etc., that I need for checking and marking work are at my disposal (ok I admit, I do have a weakness for stationary, but let's not go there ;-) ). This method, has helped us all to eliminate the running around to get a pencil, sharpen a pencil, look for stuff all the time, which once again just saps the time from learning. It also adds a personal touch so the kids feel that each of them have some individuality, which can be precious in a big family.
10. I Homeschool Without Being in The Kitchen Too Much
My three older children go for their classes during the weekday, and so every morning I make sandwiches for the whole family, even the ones at home. So lunch is made for everyone in advance, and my little ones can take their sandwiches and snacks in a storage container from the fridge, and have edibles until dinner. I also take my meat out the night before, think what to make before the morning, and put it in the slow cooker or rice cooker most mornings when I am making everyone's lunch, then I leave that cooking for a few hours, and my meal is ready for any final prepping just before dinner. This has been a less-mess-less-fuss method that works great for me, alhamdulillah. On warm days, I persuade my little ones to have a picnic outside on a tablecloth while they eat their lunch, so there is no kitchen clean-up as well - bonus!
So there you have it. That is how I am surviving homeschooling six kids right now. I am not saying this might not change in a few months down the road, but it is working alhumdulillah where we are right now. Remember to always leave room for flexibility and lots of breaks. You should never be so rigid that you do not adapt to suit what is best for you or your kids. InshAllah may Allah make it easy for us as parents, and accept all our sacrifices, ameen.