How I Homeschool with 4 Kids

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Homeschooling can be incredibly rewarding and fun and lovely, but sometimes (okok, OFTENTIMES,) it can be super overwhelming and frustrating.

Even just homeschooling one child can be difficult and hard to find a groove – let alone two kids or more. Factor in age differences and spreads, subject matter, and maturity levels, it’s enough to become a logistic nightmare.

This being our third year homeschooling, (as well as the second year with four kids), I thought I’d share a little bit of how I manage to juggle all the kids and their schedules this year.

In case you don’t have my entire clutch of children and their ages and grades in your short term memory, here’s the rundown of the tiny humans:

Cookie Monster: ~8, boy, 2nd Grade
Gamera: ~6, girl, K
Glow Worm: 4, boy, Pre-K
Sasquatch: 11 months, boy, N/A

I will split the day up into morning, afternoon, and evening chunks. Mostly because that is how my Ink+Volt Planner sets it up and now, my brain is used to it. (Actually, I think most of us think of the day like this. Either that or it’s Wake/Work/Home/Sleep.)

Quick Note: Other than our scheduled classes and activities, I do not plan out minute by minute for the children. That’s because I tend to get derailed easily and it’s too much pressure to keep “on schedule” and too easy to give myself an excuse to give up because it’s 8:30am and we’re already behind.

I have a list of subjects I want the kids to go over at some point during the day and then as long as the kids do them, I don’t really care when they do it.

The picture to the left details what I have planned for each child in terms of classes and what I expect to cover each day with each child.

As long as I hit most of them in a week, I am satisfied. (I look at it like doctors tell you to look at child nutrition: see what they are eating on a weekly vs daily basis.)

Anyhow, here’s a quick rundown of a typical day. I will have another post with my tips for homeschooling multiple children.

Cookie Monster and Gamera playing war games after their lessons. Maybe instead of their lessons

Morning

All the older kids wake up sometime between 6am and 7:30am. They go downstairs after changing clothes and hang out with Hapa Papa. They’re allowed thirty minutes daily of iPad time and that’s when they use it.

Allegedly, they’re supposed to be getting their own breakfast and eating it. Allegedly.

After their screentime is over, they play or read or do whatever – as long as it doesn’t wake the baby.

Whenever the baby wakes up, I hand him over to Hapa Papa until about 7:30am and then Hapa Papa has to get ready for the day. I eventually go downstairs around 8am and we begin the part of the day where I start my “parent” shift.

Glow Worm doing his Chinese homework.

Depending on the day, I either get them ready to leave the house to attend a class or I start them on their daily activities. Since Cookie Monster and Gamera only have a morning class one day a week, I have been experimenting with leaving them home alone for up to an hour while I take Glow Worm to his various preschool classes.

(Therein is my first secret – send your preschool aged children to preschool!!)

I usually ask Cookie Monster and Gamera to either practice piano or do their Chinese homework when I’m out ferrying Glow Worm. Surprisingly, they’re really good sports about it and play through each of their songs five times and then, they typically pick a Chinese book to read. I guess it helps that the bookshelves are right next to the piano.

WHY? How is this safe – let alone comfortable?

Cookie Monster has FINALLY discovered that reading is fun, so now he burns through 2-4 books a day. Not to be left out, Gamera has also started reading because she wants to be like her big brother. They are both obsessed with the Mr. Men and Little Miss series and thankfully, there are 96 books so it’s enough to keep them interested for a good long while.

When I get home, I try to put Sasquatch down for a nap. (That’s my second secret: cram in as much teaching as you can when the baby is napping.) While he is napping, I will work with Cookie Monster and Gamera on topics that require my presence to explain or teach (math and English reading).

For Cookie Monster, we are currently working through Singapore Math 3A, Kumon Division Grade 3, Explode the Code 1and BOB Series 2. For Gamera, we are working through Singapore Math 1B, Explode the Code 1, and BOB Series 2.

Cookie Monster working on Explode the Code.

Cookie Monster loves to blaze through as many pages as possible and we get a lot done every session. He pretty much likes to work until he doesn’t want to do it anymore and I let him because really, he’s so easy going and agreeable, I don’t mind.

Because Gamera is only in Kindergarten, I really don’t care how much we go through for her. She also has less stamina and complains really quickly so we rarely do more than 15 minutes. I am constantly amazed at how little time passes before she sighs and whines that her hand is sore and that she’s soooooo tired.

Gamera working on Explode the Code.

Now that I’m a little less trigger happy with the yelling and being easily overwhelmed by noise, I will occasionally have them work on math simultaneously. However, it’s still difficult because there are so many word problems in Singapore Math and neither of them can read yet. So, going through the workbooks still requires a lot of my focused attention for reading and/or translating into Chinese.

We don’t do Explode the Code at the same time despite the pages being pretty self-explanatory and repetitive, I have the kids using the same set of workbooks because I am cheap and refuse to pay that much money for the whole set for FOUR separate children.

Transparency sheet over the workbook pages. This way, I can have 4 kids use them!

Instead, I use transparent sheets and they use dry eraser markers to circle and practice writing. (I laminated ten empty laminate pouches and then clean them with hand-sanitizer gel and a cloth.) Since they are in the same book right now, I can’t teach them at the same time. Once Cookie Monster finishes the first book (he’s over half-way through), I can have them work together.

Now that Cookie Monster and Gamera are older and Glow Worm is at preschool so he doesn’t need entertaining, we’ve cut screentime and whoever is not being worked with at the kitchen table is usually playing, drawing, or reading quietly by themselves. If Sasquatch is awake, the other person is keeping him out of trouble.

At some point in the morning, I put lunch in the Instant Pot so that we can have food to eat. Then I go to pick up Glow Worm from Chinese preschool.

Kids playing blocks. Sasquatch destroying things as usual.

Afternoon

In general, I try to make sure the kids finish their work before lunch because after lunch, they are DONE. The afternoon is reserved for extracurricular activities or play dates or just playing. If we are really behind in doing our work and I actually have mustered up some sense of urgency, I might have the kids do more work.

Once or twice a week, I will go through part of a lesson from Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. 1 after lunch with the older three kids. They do not enjoy it but seriously, I take up less than fifteen minutes of their time to cram in some science lesson and then they’re back to playing.

I keep intending to pair the lessons with R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey but honestly, I’m lazy. This will take a lot more intentional work on my part.

Then, we’re off to some class or activity and before you know it, it’s dinner time and Hapa Papa has come home and I don’t even greet him before I hand him the baby and run away upstairs to be away from my children.

Evening

I try to prep on a weekly basis (mostly the science portion – which clearly, needs to be worked on a bit more seriously) and I can really only do that in the evenings or on the weekends. Otherwise, this is also when I’m doing research on curriculum or writing.

Ok. I will be honest. By researching curriculum, I really mean search Guavarama’s blog for what her kids are doing. Or if I’m feeling REALLY researchy, I will search the different Facebook Homeschooling groups I belong to for their advice. And then, I start ordering entire sets indiscriminately on Amazon.

Oh, and to clarify. This is not what I do MOST evenings or weekends. That is merely the time I have really free to do so.

Other Stuff of Dubious Interest

Here’s what our homeschooling spaces look like:

Where most of the homework happens. Clearly, I did not tidy for the pic.

 

The Raskog cart (IKEA) I use to store our frequently used homeschooling stuff (eg: workbooks, pencils, erasers, markers, unifix cubes, etc.)

 

Craft room, piano, Chinese books, Legos, and play dough.

Also, I have been asked before what I do when we have either bad days or if we are sick or somehow end up missing a day or two or five of homeschooling. Do we try to make up the missing days and subjects? Do we double up or add work until we are caught up to where we’re “supposed” to be?

Nope. The answer is NOPE.

Look. My kids are in 2nd grade and Kindergarten. I cannot imagine any scenario where they are learning stuff that absolutely requires us to be at a certain point by a certain date.

This is the whole point of homeschooling: to work at your own pace independently from other kids!

And though some folks could argue that my kids are way ahead in Math so that’s why I don’t worry, Cookie Monster is really behind in reading. He’s in 2nd grade and still doesn’t know how to read English.

Despite it being an intentional decision on my part to emphasize Chinese literacy at the expense of his English literacy, I do have bouts of insecurity about my choices when I hear of his peers reading Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Plus I, myself, was reading 5th or 6th grade level books at his age. I have to willfully forget what stuff I was learning as a kid his age. Otherwise, I start freaking out.

At least Cookie Monster’s Chinese tutor says he’s at grade level for kids in China – I have no way of verifying this statement without undue effort on my part so we’ll just have to all take his tutor’s word for it. This is vastly superior to my current abilities so YAY!

Anyhow, what was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Do I “make up” our work?

The answer is still, “No.” I just continue where we were at our normal pace. It does, however, take a few days to ease back into homeschooling when we take days off. Not because the kids aren’t willing – but because I have completely forgotten the rhythm and how to homeschool my kids and think every day is Saturday.

This year, I also intentionally cut back on their classes and activities. In actuality, I only cut their weekly outdoor education class and combined their twice weekly one hour M2 class into a weekly two hour class. Although now that I think about it, I added kungfu for Glow Worm but since that merely requires us to attend kungfu an hour earlier and Cookie Monster and Gamera work on their reading during Glow Worm’s class, it works out.

In addition, every two weeks, PharmGirl and I trade off teaching sewing or knitting at my house. We just started this so I have no idea how this will work or last. Thus far, Gamera really loves the sewing projects PharmGirl is teaching and is underwhelmed by my attempt to teach her a knit stitch. Cookie Monster has ZERO interest in either subjects so I am only going to force him to learn how to knit with ZERO success.

Just these small adjustments have made a HUGE difference in my stress levels and I no longer feel as if I am always rushing from one thing to the next. Thus, secret number three: consolidate classes into larger blocks of time and/or cut classes to increase time at home.

This way, I also don’t stress about Sasquatch’s nap time because a tired baby is a cranky baby.

I am not completely satisfied with my laziness and I know I need to add more history or social studies – and I mean to. I really wanted to start incorporating the Black History is American History course that I bought but honestly, I am not used to prepping for any lessons quite just yet.

I am barely doing science – I am not sure I can handle prepping history, too. And the course is super easy – but it still requires me to go to the library and borrow books. And read. And teach.

Yes, I know. I am truly mediocre.

But, hey. I do what I can at the moment.

Anyhow, I don’t mention the baby too much because honestly? He’s my fourth child. We ignore Sasquatch a lot and he basically wanders my house and plays with the other three kids when they’re not doing their work.

Like I said, I try to cram everything in during his 2-3 hour nap. On days he’s being difficult and refusing to sleep, we get a lot less done. Or, I am just really ok with letting him do whatever he wants as long as he’s safe.

In terms of actual schooling/teaching that I do at home (vs the kids taking actual classes), it is very minimal. At most an hour per kid. That’s because my kids can finally read. Well, they can read Chinese anyway. And they can read it well enough that I no longer have to sit next to them as they read aloud to me.

Now, because I want to make sure their pronunciation or reading is correct, I will still occasionally have them read aloud to me once every week or two. But for the most part, they have complained that reading the books aloud makes them too thirsty and it takes too long so now, they have started reading silently – AND TO THEMSELVES. It is a beautiful and wondrous thing.

And that’s my last secret: once your kids can read independently, your workload decreases a lot.

Alright. That’s all I can really think of for now. Did I miss something? Is there something you’re dying to know about our daily life that I did not mention or detail enough? Let me know in the comments.

How to Jumpstart Your Kid’s Chinese

**You can find an updated version of this piece, along with exclusive new chapters, in the ebook, (affiliate link) So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

It’s been awhile since I posted about Chinese language acquisition. I try not to post about this subject unless I actually have something either new to say – or more likely, a new way to present classic truths.

And today is that day. Lucky you!

Since 2017 just started, I figure many of us are taking stock over our past year and planning for the new one. And perhaps, like many of us, your kid’s Chinese has started to backslide and you want to kick it back into gear.

Well, without further preamble, here is the absolute, top, most effective, number one thing you can do to help jumpstart your kid’s Chinese (waitforit):

Speak Chinese to your children. 

I know. Collective groans from both speakers and non-speakers alike.

I get it.

Unless you immigrated over relatively later in life, English is likely your dominant language (or at least, the dominant language you think in and communicate with your children).

The thought of communicating in Chinese with your children is likely exhausting (it certainly is for me), and requires constant upkeep and vigilance. The ease and speed at which I slip into English with my kids is something to behold – and really hard to correct course after awhile.

But it can be done.

And then, of course, if you don’t speak Chinese yourself, the possibility of communicating in Chinese with your children is improbable and implausible (though not impossible, I suppose). This article will have limited application for you, but all is not lost. You just have to be more creative and likely, have to pay for it.

Look, I am totally beating a dead horse and Captain Obviousing it here, but seriously: Speak Chinese to your children.

Your common sense likely confirms my brilliant advice.

How did your kids learn English? They heard you speak it. They heard everyone around them speak it. Everything they consumed speaks it.

Thus, the quickest and most efficient way for your kids to learn Chinese is to hear you speak it. The more Chinese they hear and eventually comprehend, the more likely they will speak it. (After all, how can you expect them to speak Chinese if they do not have the vocabulary to express themselves in it?)

I could spout all these language acquisition facts at you and they would most likely bore you to death.

Also? It probably won’t change your behavior because facts without a plan of action don’t really do anything.

So, how can you change your Chinese speaking (or lack thereof) habits?

Here then, are some of my tips:

1) Start small.

Perhaps start off by speaking to the kids for 15 minutes a day and then increasing by 15 minute increments each week. Any time increment will do.

Or maybe, speak only Chinese at meal times. (Although, if your kids are picky eaters and every meal is a battle, don’t add this additional stress to your life. It just isn’t worth it.)

Or maybe, read/tell Chinese stories before bedtime. (Again, if bedtime is normally a contentious time, don’t add more pain to the routine. Choose a different time.)

The point is to just start small, do that consistently, and when you start getting good at that, to increase your Chinese speaking time.

2) What if you can’t speak?

Hire a tutor to just TALK with your kids and play and read or discuss things or go out to eat. Hire someone to do “life”with your child except do life in Chinese.

Hire (or ask family members or friends or beg/borrow/steal) someone to do the activities I listed in the previous point with your children. This can be in person or via Skype or however you manage to do it.

Yes, this sucks that you will have to work harder that parents who speak Chinese don’t have to deal with. But hey, that’s life. We all have different advantages and disadvantages. But somehow, we make it work!

3) Speak Chinese.

I know. Captain Obviousing again.

But really, after you start small and scale up, there really is nothing more to it than the doing of it.

No amount of media, playdates, whatever, can replace you just speaking Chinese to your kid already.

You are the easiest and quickest source of Chinese for your children because you are in their lives and have to be with them.

Speak Chinese to your children.

Yes. I know. My tips suck today because really, other than the “Start Small” piece of advice, I don’t have anything else.

I have totally misled you.

Sorry. (Not really.)

But, Mandarin Mama, you say. My kid won’t speak back to me in Chinese! How will me speaking to them improve that?

Welp, its hard to speak a language and have a conversation if you don’t have the necessary vocabulary with which to speak. Many children aren’t willing to speak Chinglish and use Chinese for the words they know and subbing English for words they don’t.

In that case, just repeat what they said in English in Chinese. Offer them the vocabulary they need.

But what if my Chinese isn’t good enough?

Hey, I get that. And really, the only solution to that is to speak and get better. 

What? You have to expend effort?

I know.

This is how I feel about most parenting and adulting.

Sucks.

But the more you do it, the easier it will be.

But what if we talk about complicated stuff I simply don’t have the vocabulary for?

Hey, I get it. If I have to talk to my kids about the Birds and the Bees or even bullying, I likely will not be able to with any semblance of nuance or sophistication.

I can choose one of three options:

a) Conduct the conversation in English. 

This is the easiest option and totally legit. After all, this is likely not a full time experience and will not affect your children’s overall Chinese fluency.

b) Conduct the conversation in Chinglish. 

A little more difficult (and likely, what I end up doing) and subbing complicated vocabulary with English. At some point, it may become ridiculous. Then switch to English.

Again. Unless 80+% of your conversations are deep and complicated, I think you will be fine.

c) Conduct the conversation in Chinese. 

Of course, this requires a lot more preparation and work. I am not a fan of this option but I am a lazy sort.

If you are confident enough or want to take the time to do this, by all means! That’s great.

But again, choose what works for you.

Look. Speaking Chinese all the time (or as much as possible) is a lifestyle change.

It will be uncomfortable and awkward. And then it will become easier. And then it will be normal.

Before Cookie Monster (7) was born, I rarely spoke Chinese. I hadn’t really spoken Chinese on a daily and regular basis since I left for college at seventeen. That’s over a decade of not speaking or dealing with or thinking in Chinese.

So, when I had Cookie Monster, I figured I would just copy my parents and speak to him in Chinese and that’s how he would learn to speak and understand it.

I did not realize how difficult it would be.

First of all, I felt ridiculous speaking to my child at all since he was an infant.

Second, it was really hard to switch from over a decade of speaking and thinking predominantly in English to Chinese. It was really hard.

And who would blame me if I slipped up and stopped speaking in Chinese? It’s not like it was a cornerstone of good parenting. But it turns out that teaching Chinese to my kids is a super hardcore value of mine and eventually, it took over my whole life.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be like me and revolve your life around Chinese. But I am saying that it requires effort and intention and continual follow-through.

And now, seven years later, my Chinese vocabulary has expanded, my literacy has (mildly) improved, and speaking in Chinese to my children is like breathing.

To be honest, it is STILL hard. I am constantly looking up words and translations and yelling at my kids to speak in Chinese and to remind myself to speak Chinese during Chinese playdates with my mommy friends.

But overall, it is now a way of life. A conscious way of life, but completely doable and attainable.

It just takes time and consistency.

Speak to your kids in Chinese already. 

Why I Am So Insistent On Mandarin Immersion

As many of you know, I’m very gung-ho on raising my children bilingual in Mandarin and English. The English part is relatively easy since it’s the majority language of the Bay Area. (Although sometimes, you’d be rightly surprised!) Plus, it’s the language Hapa Papa speaks to the children, the language Hapa Papa and I speak to each other, and the language of the bulk of TV and media. English surrounds us.

As for Mandarin, for now, it is the main language in which I, my mother, and the kids’ teachers speak to my children. I have a ton of Mandarin DVDs, CDs, apps, and various books and media for my kids to consume as well. Both their preschools are in Mandarin, (one teaching traditional with zhuyin and the other teaching simplified).

I used to worry about the kids learning simplified Chinese characters because truthfully, I hate simplified Chinese. I feel it butchers and guts the rich history and meaning of the Chinese written language – a ploy by the Communist government to rip their citizens from any connection to the heart of being Chinese.

I know, it sounds so 1984 – but consider this: the traditional character for love is 愛. The simplified character is 爱. To the illiterate eye, it might not look any different at all, but for those of us who are literate (or in this case, semi-literate), the simplified character has literally ripped the heart out of love. For you see, the character for heart is 心 and it is no longer in the simplified word.

How can you have love with no heart?

At any rate, I am Taiwanese so of course, I am a bit biased. And now that Cookie Monster and Gamera have been in both schools for at least a year with no ill effects to their ability to recognize both traditional and simplified characters, I’ve decided that our children’s minds are incredibly agile and able to understand that the same character can have different physical representations. After all, aren’t most letters in the English alphabet like that anyway (albeit on a much simpler scale). There are upper case, lower case, different fonts, cursive, etc. Tons of ways to render the same letter totally different. And yet, no one bemoans that it is too difficult for our children to learn to read English!

I realize that was quite a tangent for something that most people couldn’t care less about, but to many of us Taiwanese Americans, it’s a pretty big fucking deal.

Either way, it’s good for my kids to learn to read Chinese – simplified or traditional. I just want them to be literate!

In fact, one of the main reasons I’m pushing so hard for homeschooling is Mandarin language retention. Through personal, anecdotal, and empirical data, once kids start regular school in English, you can pretty much count on their Mandarin to take a nosedive. It’s a sad but universally acknowledged truth. And the only way to combat that Mandarin attrition, is through a LOT of concerted effort.

Now, I know that officially, I have to homeschool my kids in English – but still. Their exposure to Chinese will be far more at home than at school. And also, at home, I can teach Chinese as well. This way, I don’t have to send my kids to additional Chinese schools either on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. Once all my kids are done with preschool, I can go back to Taiwan at any time and spend months there, too. (The only limiting factor would be time away from Hapa Papa.)

So, why do I want my kids to be not only fluent but also literate in Mandarin? I can give you a bunch of reasons such as the value of being bilingual/multilingual, communicating with my family in Taiwan, retaining cultural heritage, etc. But truthfully, one of the dominant reasons is because I know they will be judged and I want to remove one barrier in life to people questioning my children’s identities.

Growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese), I often felt like a foreigner and like I didn’t fit in. Of course, I was smart and fluent in English and could converse with my peers, but that didn’t stop me from noticing that none of the “pretty” or “popular” girls looked like me. None of them ate what I ate. None of the media I consumed had people who looked like me. None of the fashion magazines gave advice on how to do makeup for Asian eyes or dress for our skin tones and figures (or lack thereof!).

I was invisible.

Then, on the few occasions I went back to Taiwan, I felt stupid because though I could speak the language, I couldn’t speak Taiwanese, and I couldn’t read or write at peer level. My family would always find it amazing that I could even speak Chinese at all. But then, occasionally tease us for cultural or pronunciation errors. I didn’t dress right, move right, or even communicate right and even awash in a sea of people who allegedly looked like me, I was picked out to be an ABC even before I opened my mouth.

I was dismissed.

Now, keep in mind that my spoken Chinese is actually very good – and people are often surprised that I am an ABC. However, as soon as I try to read something, it is evident that I am. (Although, with technology, my literacy has greatly improved to that of maybe a 2nd grader. Okokok… maybe a 1st grader.)

Since my kids are multi-ethnic, I can only imagine this “foreign feeling” to be even more heightened. To feel as if they are not really Taiwanese and not really white. (Forget anyone thinking they’re also Japanese. That pretty much never comes up.)

Of course, to my eyes, I think my kids look Chinese, but I do realize that my eyes are lying. Plus, since I’m used to seeing so many multi-ethnic kids, I think my sample size is a bit skewed. One thing for sure, whenever we head back to Taiwan, EVERYONE can tell my kids are mixed. And immediately, the assumptions and presumptions come flying.

My children are dismissed as not really Chinese. (No one says it, but I can feel it. Being a minority helps a person attune to what the majority is thinking.) People are surprised that they can speak and read Chinese. (In a way that is unintentionally insulting. Like, “Oh, good for you! You can walk and talk and not wet yourself!”)

My children are a novelty.

So yes, being bilingual is a great thing in and of itself. But one of the primary reasons I am so adamant is because I see their fluency as armor. As a way to say, “Fuck you” in whichever language they want to any who would dare underestimate them.

They will NOT be ignored. They will NOT be invisible.

Judge them at your peril.