In our home (and most others, I’m sure), when life happens—births, deaths, illness–academics tend to grind to a halt so that we can deal with the immediate needs of the family. New homeschooling moms ask me frequently how I handle homeschooling with a newborn in tow. Having introduced three new babies to the family while attempting to teach my older two children their 3 R’s, I’ve discovered that this aspect of homeschooling family life is not a bug. It’s a feature.
It is tempting to throw up our hands in despair over the horrible job we’re doing with “school” because real life is getting in the way. In fact, we shouldn’t want school getting in the way of their real lives! It doesn’t bother me at all when babies cry in the middle of math. We can get back to math later. Right now, we’ve got a new family member to learn! The schoolin’ must be done, though, after the shiny wears off, so here’s how I squeeze in, not the new baby, but the academics:
Go un. I am not an unschooler by nature. However, in the face of distractions, the path of least resistance is the best path to take, academically. One thing I’ve learned from my unschooling friends is that children learn, even—maybe even especially—when you put the books away. Forget about the flash cards (unless your child enjoys them enough to pick them up for himself) and be more spontaneous in your approach. I’ve found that my children don’t learn any less this way, they just learn less testable things (which I’ll rant about some other time).
School while your baby sleeps. I’ve always loved the most often given, but most rarely taken advice to first-time mamas: sleep while your baby sleeps. I wish I’d taken it myself, because now that I have other kids to take care of, that opportunity never presents itself. I have to teach history while my baby sleeps.
Nursing mamas are great teachers. I do read-alouds, discussions, and instructional time on the couch while I nurse my newborns. This doesn’t go so well as the baby gets older and more distractible, however. With older babies, nursing time is usually one-on-one with the baby.
Let them learn each other. Give an older child a chance to change diapers, help with baths, and put the baby to bed. I shudder to think how inexperienced the mother of my first-born was. Let this experience teach him some basic baby care. Not only is he learning important life skills, he’s getting to know one of the most important people he is ever going to meet! (Please note that I am not advocating forcing your older child into an unpaid nanny position.)
Field trips: Believe it or not, now is a great time to take field trips. Newborns expect you to walk the floors with them anyway, so why not walk the zoo instead? Don’t get too ambitious, of course. You’re still recovering from childbirth, right? Just make sure you pack a lot of extra diapers and wipes. You don’t want to be an hour away from home with no diapers when the baby has one of those explosive newborn poops. You might have to sacrifice your souvenir t-shirt for a make-shift cloth diaper.
Each season of life brings its own challenges. During times of “normalcy”, when the only thing that’s changing is the calendar, the challenge is…OK, I give up. I don’t know what that challenge is. I’m still waiting for a time of normalcy so I can write about that.
During times of upheaval, though, the challenge is finding the best way to deal with changes. Children grow in every situation. That’s just what they do. Our job is not to make sure that we have a list of subjects checked off every single day, but to know which lessons are best taught, and when.
“There are lots of things that never go by rule,
There’s a powerful pile o’ knowledge
That you never get at college,
There are heaps of things you never learn at school.”
–L. M. Montgomery