How I Homeschool with 4 Kids

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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.

What Our Homeschooling Looks Like

img_0563

When I first started seriously considering homeschooling, I had a really hard time visualizing what the day to day life would be like.

Did they all sit around a kitchen table and a white board and have a Little House on the Prairie type one-room classroom for all ages moment? (I really envisioned Mennonites with their little white caps and old style dresses.)

Were they all avidly doing unit projects where the mom did all this meticulous research and thus ended up teaching the same topic at different depths for each child (and for all subjects)?

How did they arrange their days? Was each day the same? Was the day fully packed? How did they manage teaching multiple children? How did they manage different interests?

And seriously, WHAT ON EARTH DID THEY DO ALL DAY AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT EVERYTHING IS CONSIDERED SCHOOL?

Oh. Ahem. I may or may not have freaked out about it internally when I started out.

Anyhow, what helped the most was searching for and seeing examples of people’s daily/weekly schedules. I LOVED the people who posted their excel spreadsheets or their planners. LOVED them.

I saw so many examples that I finally just sucked it up and made my own spreadsheet instead of buying the sample sheets and special homeschooling planners.

Turns out, even though I loved MS Excel, I hated working off a spreadsheet schedule. It made me so angry and frustrated. I decided paper would be better.

I put a printed sheet in a sleeve protector and used a dry erase marker to mark off each day. Then I would take a pic as a "record."

I put a printed sheet in a sleeve protector and used a dry erase marker to mark off each day. Then I would take a pic as a “record.”

Also, I made a checklist of all the stuff I wanted the kids to do/achieve each day that I would regularly check off each day so I could make sure I was hitting the things I wanted to get done during the week. I kept it up a few months, but then I stopped using them because it was no longer useful.

I also started off with pictures of things I wanted Cookie Monster to accomplish each day and have him choose which things he wants to do from those pictures. That lasted about a week.

In fact, if you are just brainstorming or considering homeschooling, know that you will likely come up with all sorts of great ideas on paper – but that you just don’t end up doing in real life. Not because they aren’t great ideas (because truly, they really might be great ideas). But because the ideas don’t fit into how you live your life.

IMG_4418

(Left) Pictures of things to do that day (Right) Pictures of things that are done or not in use.

That’s ok. Totally normal.

Because really, how will you know if something will work for your family unless you try it?

You can’t.

So don’t feel bad if you had planned on doing something and then you dropped it after several days/weeks/months. (Or shoot, sometimes, you just KNOW it won’t work and after several minutes, you’re like, NOPE.)

Anyhow, I think this September, I finally got the way I plan things down (as well as scheduling wise). So, I’m very pleased to let you know the nitty gritty details until you beg me to just STAHP it already and go away.

So, here is how I keep my life and schedule in order now (so that I can be sane).

1) I make a paper master schedule for the entire week.

I only reference this master schedule during the beginning of the school year when I’m still trying to plan the classes and nail down timing. It is helpful for me to see the big picture and have a general idea of which days will be free and which days will be full.

After this initial planning phase, unless I am adding another class or activity, I rarely refer to this page anymore.

Now, I’m going to be annoying because I hate posting full schedules for my kids because I do not think it is good internet security to have people know where we are at any given time of day. (Even if they are abbreviations or otherwise cryptically encoded.)

However, I hope you know how to draw up a weekly schedule in general and don’t really need my help. But just in case, I have the time down the left side (in hourly increments) and days across the top. Then I draw tiny blocks of time for each kid and class.

For simplicity’s sake, I try to lump my kids together as much as possible so I rarely have to just take ONE kid to a class.

2) Once I know my schedule, I input every formal class into my Google calendar. 

And because I am scatterbrained and can barely remember what day it is, I have alarms and timers to tell me when to leave for class and when to pick up my kids. It’s a sad, regimented life wherein I live and die by the timers, but otherwise, my children miss class or are stranded.

3) For subjects I teach at home, I just have a list of the things I want to hit on a given day and write them down in a planner. 

Then, I cross them off when I do them. For Cookie Monster, I spend about 30 minutes per subject. For Gamera, I spend about 15-20 minutes because she has a MUCH lower attention span. (And quite frankly, it is to keep me sane.)

The following pic is a mock up of what I write in my planner. I particularly like how the planner is separated by chunks of the day without actual times so that I have more space that it is not anal retentive and I can just write down what I would like to accomplish during that block of time. (I use the Spark and Volt planner and I HIGHLY recommend it.)

You’ll note that I do not write down the timing or schedule of the classes and what I plan on teaching. That’s because if it’s a scheduled thing, it’s already in my phone and if it’s not, I want the freedom to just get it done sometime during the day. (Preferably by 1pm because otherwise, it’s really not happening.)

Mock up of a weekly schedule. I cross off the items I have covered.

Mock up of a weekly schedule. I cross off the items I have covered. I guarantee you it is not normally this neat.

4) This year, I have found that the less I plan for the day, the more likely it will get done.

I try to cram in as much teaching from me as possible on Mondays and Tuesdays since we have most of those days free. I have also found that I work better in the mornings – so the more I can get done in the morning, the better. After lunch, it is usually much harder for the kids to want to do anything, let alone me.

At most, I teach Cookie Monster about 1.5 hours a day and Gamera about 45 minutes a day (I focus on two things: math and Chinese literacy). Then there is about another 15-30 minutes of them doing Chinese homework for their tutor and piano practice for Cookie Monster.

I do NOT teach them at the same time because that only causes me anger and I get frazzled and overwhelmed easily. I have them take turns being taught. If Glow Worm is home, I have them take turns playing with him. If he isn’t, I have them take turns playing whatever they want. The only rule is no screen time during the sessions because that really distracts the kid I’m supposed to be teaching at the time.

We watch 1-2 Chinese science videos during lunch time about twice a week. I even count the kids watching TF Boys music videos as Chinese and homeschooling. (Hey, it’s CULTURE!)

5) The rest of the time, they play. 

I don’t care what they play. I try to limit screen time so the majority of the time, they are making a mess of the house with each other. (I also try to make them clean up, too. That has varying levels of success.)

Left to their own devices, my children actually play really well with each other. They even beg to play in the back yard. I usually try to have them play outside in the afternoons since that is when my yard has the most shade.

Sometimes, they do a ton of art and water color stuff. Sometimes, they dress up. Sometimes, they play with dolls. Most of the time, they pretend to shoot and beat the crap out of each other. I honestly try to interfere as little as possible because I truly hate playing with children.

Their playing is super handy, too. I often nap during this time (although I have been known to blog, too).

6) Ok, that’s not true. They also go to classes.

As you probably have surmised, I outsource a LOT of my kids’ schooling. After I did all that research on Unit Studies and all sorts of homeschooling curriculum, I realized that I hated doing that stuff. I liked the idea of it, just hated the application.

So, I solved my problems the way I solve ALL my problems. I threw money at it.

I realize that YMMV on this type of solution depending on your financial situation. However, just know that if you are part of a charter, they usually provide funds and you can always use those funds (for us, we get about $2500 per kid this school year) and ONLY those funds for classes.

For my kids, I have them taking classes with a Chinese tutor, piano, kung fu, math class, and outdoor education/science class. And yes, I submit these all to my charter school for reimbursement.

So, that’s what homeschooling looks like at our house. Because I am lazy and impatient, I limit the number of things I expect to teach my kids during a given day. If a particular day has a lot of scheduled classes, I tend not to schedule anything from my part.

There is nothing that crushes my spirit quite like high expectations. So, I find that the less I put on myself, the more likely the things I really want will happen.

I’m sure as the kids get older and their subjects get more complicated, I will outsource less and less. But by then, they will be able to read so I can just have them read their texts in English or Chinese and then we can discuss. Or they can write. I don’t know – I imagine I will go through huge growing pains at that point.

One bridge at a time.

For now, this is what is working for us. I’m sure it will all be shot to hell when Baby 4 arrives in 4-5 weeks.

Oh, just remembered. You would probably like to know what our homeschooling space looks like. I have made a few changes from last year, so this is still a work in progress.

My front room has all the arts and crafts stuff as well as all our books and materials. I originally saw this room as the main homeschooling room, but that is not what happened. This room is now where the kids play and do arts and crafts and I oversee very little because I’m lazy. Everything is out or within reach (and often a mess) but they have a great time.

In fact, as you probably surmised, our kitchen table is where all the magic happens. It used to look like this:

img_0562

All the markers and pencils and stuff my kids would need sat permanently on our kitchen table.

img_0561

Somewhere buried under all that crap are their workbooks and things they should be using.

If your kitchen table is like mine, it’s where things go to die and be buried under stacks and stacks of mail for months at a time until we have guests or a party. Then everything gets thrown into a bag and hidden in the laundry room and finally, after a year or so, I finally go through them and throw things away for reals.

In other words, even though I ostensibly had the homeschool stuff within easy reach, it was really hard to identify and find the stuff we needed.

Finally, I gave in and re-purposed my Raskog cart I was originally using in my dress up closet (I bought a similar cart to replace it) and since I like this color more than the boring beige I got and I didn’t want to wait the two days for Amazon Prime to deliver to my front door, I reorganized everything the other day.

I got two cheapo magazine holders that I stole from somewhere else and put the kids’ workbooks and activity books in them. I also put all the pens and pencils and miscellaneous materials in the cart. Now my kids can easily find their books and often, Gamera will just go to the cart and get out what she wants to work on without my prompting. (She particularly likes to work on mazes and connect the dot workbooks.)

img_0559

Top: workbooks and activity books, pens, pencils Middle: more coloring materials Bottom: unifix cubes for math

img_0560

Ideally, what my kitchen table should look like. It does not look like that right now. It has only been two days. However, the kids work on the side with the watermelon. I usually sit with them as they work on math and I write or surf the web.

Anyhow, hopefully that covers most of what we do. If I missed something you are particularly interested in, let me know in the comments and I will try to answer there or address it in a later post. I hope this helped!