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.

Why I Homeschool

This year marks the beginning of our third year homeschooling and looking back, it seems inevitable that I ended up choosing this for my children.

However, until 3-4 years ago, I fully looked forward to (and expected to) walk my children to our local elementary school, then have them walk or bike to our local middle school, and then walk to our local high school (which is less than a five minute walk away).

I was a little worried about how I would manage the drop-off/pick-up for so many children (even then, I had visions of four kids), not to mention all their extra-curricular activities, but ultimately, I figured that millions of families do it every year. Surely, I would make it work.

But as the years progressed, I got more and more into my kids learning Chinese and wanting them to surpass my own abilities. That, of course, would take up at least a Friday night or a Saturday morning in Chinese school.

Plus, as I learned more about all the untold stories of America, both in terms of rendering peoples invisible as well as the mythologizing of America, I was already anticipating even more supplementing.

And then, of course, because I’m Taiwanese as well as secretly Tiger Mommyish, I firmly believed in my children taking as many extracurricular activities as possible because that is when their brains are most pliable.

So while none of any one of these things were that problematic on their own, the combination of them all was causing me a lot of stress.

And then I heard from my friend, Hotelier, that she was going to be homeschooling – and doing it in Chinese and BOOM!

A whole world opened up.

I stalked a bunch of homeschool Yahoo! groups and read a bunch of books for at least a year before I ultimately decided to homeschool and withdrew Cookie Monster from our local elementary school.

Of course, I didn’t really have these reasons crystallized in my mind when I pulled Cookie Monster out of school, but over the years, I have thought about it some more and distilled my reasons to the following:

1) I have two mutually exclusive beliefs:

a) Children are over-scheduled.

b) Children should learn as many things as possible.

I have these visions of what a childhood should look like. We all do (though they be different). For me, I see childhood as huge swaths of empty space. Plenty of time to play, read, laze about, watch TV, and daydream.

The idea of a childhood full of being shuttled from school to after school programs to home to homework to sleep to wake only to do it all again – that makes me feel claustrophobic.

How stifling.

And yet.

How else can I prepare my kids for the pending zombie apocalypse? (Or more realistically, their future?)

How else can they be well-rounded humans unless they take music lessons? Play sports? Learn coding? Survive the wilderness? Carve their own Davids? Perform calculus in their heads faster than a computer?

How else can they do these things unless they take classes? And if they are in “regular” school, how can we do these classes unless they are after school? And if every moment is filled with classes, when will we be a family? When will they be children? When will they live?

I have four children. Let’s just assume my kids each take two classes. That’s eight classes a week. Since there is an age spread of seven years between the oldest and the youngest, they cannot all be shoved into the same classes – assuming they even have the same interests.

I WOULD ONLY SEE MY CHILDREN IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR OF MY MINIVAN.

This was not acceptable to me.

2) Chinese language retention.

Everyone knows that once kids who were previously fluent in Chinese (or any language, really) starts full time school, their Chinese immediately takes a nose-dive and their English improves by leaps and bounds.

Of course it does.

It’s not some giant conspiracy (although it often seems to be). It’s just math.

There are only so many waking hours in a day. And if the majority of those hours are in English dominant spaces, how could our children not eventually become English dominant?

From what I recall as a child, though I didn’t exactly resent speaking and understanding Chinese, I certainly did not enjoy giving up every Saturday morning to weekly Chinese schools for my entire pre-college education.

Who is to say my children would be equally un-resentful?

Plus, having been a product of those weekly Saturday schools and finding them to be unequal to the task of what I personally would like for my own children, I knew it would require even more effort on my part (and thereby, my children). That would require even more of the already limited free time my kids would theoretically have.

3) I fundamentally disagree with how and what schools teach – particularly in areas of history and social studies.

This is the one that took the longest for me to eventually realize.

I mean, where to start?

Personally, I find that school teaches our kids information (and not always good information) but don’t actually teach our kids how to learn. Like, how to best read a textbook in order to retain information. Or how to take good notes. Or how to study.

And all those tests! What is the point of tests, really? I mean, even as a hyper-competitive person, I recognize the futility of tests.

When in life are you, as an adult, in a situation where you absolutely have to have everything memorized without access to a calculator or Google or a reference book? I mean, you obviously are required to be competent. But ultimately, if you don’t know something or cannot recall some random fact, you can find out.

Also, just like I have a huge problem with Sunday School, I have a huge problem with regular school.

It turns out, the older I am, the more anti-establishment I have become. (Not entirely, I do enjoy my creature comforts.)

But I was particularly disillusioned with how our children are inculcated with the Myth of America (from when they are very small and first learn of the pilgrims and Squanto and the first Thanksgiving) and how even in college, they may never be shaken out of their myths or confronted with the horrible realization that everything they learned about in school was a lie.

Isn’t that how we ended up with Trump?

Isn’t that how we have people who deny the Holocaust?

I distinctly recall a moment in 7th grade World History class. In a textbook of several THOUSAND pages, there were exactly two pages on the histories of China, Japan, Africa, and South America.

China, in all its 5,000 years of history was reduced to a few paragraphs.

China, a country that invented paper, gunpowder, and the compass, among other things, was explained in half a page. Of World History.

I was enraged. (Mostly because I was Chinese and wanted to learn more about my people.)

Clearly, World History meant the only world that the publishers thought mattered: the Western European World.

Fuck these people.

I realized that a lot of this “corrected” or expanded view of history is what we go to college for – but why? Why waste so much time teaching our children such a fictionalization of our world only to perhaps knock it down in college when they’re older?

Oh, right. Because white supremacy and patriarchy.

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to support white supremacy and patriarchy.

My kids are going to be woke, y’all. They’re going to be woke as fuck.

There are other reasons why I am pleased to be homeschooling despite the obvious disadvantage of having to be with my children for so much of the day, but these are the main driving forces.

I’m sure if you ask even one hundred other homeschooling families, you will get an additional one hundred reasons.

But you will find, that like all things, these families all end up looking like what works for the main homeschooling parent and their children. It is the ultimate in a customized education – for better or for worse.

Thanks for reading, friends. I would love to hear why you do or do not homeschool in the comments.

 

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 6

I really cannot believe September is mostly over already. I mean, that is both good (because I’m closer to birth), and bad (because I’m closer to birth). Whichever it is (likely a mix of both), it’s time for another round of what I reluctantly learned from homeschooling for September 2016.

1) Provide enough time and space for the kids to work.

This way, there is plenty of time and physical room for the children to work out a problem or figure something out. No one likes to be crowded or cornered in, figuratively or literally.

I also won’t be constantly looking at the clock, worrying that we have to leave in X minutes and harping on them for not moving faster. I have learned to just forget starting any type of homeschooling if there are about 15-30 minutes before we have to leave. Some of you might still be cool and calm and relaxed within that time frame. I am not that person.

2) Schedules (loosely held) are good. Too rigid: not good. Too lax: also not good.

I used to vacillate between the extremes of rigidly adhering to a schedule and then, if it gets blown in any minor way, just give up and completely blow off the schedules entirely and do nothing.

Apparently, there is a middle ground!

To bastardize a Bible verse about the Sabbath, the Schedule is made for your family, you are not made for the Schedule.

If it helps you to be as closely aligned to the schedule as possible, do that! But know that if life happens and you have to readjust your schedule or even blow it for a day/week/month, you will be okay.

Alternatively, having NO schedule whatsoever is also not helpful (at least for me). I think kids benefit from knowing generally what happens day to day isn’t going to be constantly shifting (or at least, certain days of the week follow a certain schedule). This type of stability is grounding and provides “sign posts” throughout the day/week.

It also mimics real life, to a certain extent. The majority of life is repetitive and scheduled. (That is, unless you are the most interesting man alive, a super hero, or on a reality TV show.) It’s good to get used to keeping to some sort of schedule.

3) What is the hurry anyway?

My brother says there is no point in rushing to be finished first at anything because it’s not like you gain anything by learning addition faster than everyone else.

Eventually, you will learn addition. So what’s the big deal?

I agree to a certain extent. I think at least in homeschooling, if you finish and learn something early and young, it frees you up to learn the things you truly want to learn.

Anyhow, I do like my brother’s point, though. There really is no hurry and no huge change in life changing events or abilities if you go slower than the norm. Eventually, your child will get it.

Right now, the way I apply this is if I or my kids get frustrated, I just stop. I either personally walk away (or tell my kids to go away) and either come back to the subject later or just stop altogether.

This is especially helpful if my kid is no longer listening to me.

There is no hurry. Chill out.

4) Keep mornings, Mondays, and Tuesdays as empty as possible.

I get the most work done early in the morning and early in the week. If I don’t get it done during that time, I feel a LOT of stress because I just feel all our unfinished business judging me.

I feel as if I’m a bad parent. Especially a bad homeschooling parent.

Thus, I find it better just to get things done and out of the way. I tend to slack off in the afternoons (hey, I’m exhausted all the time) and near the end of the week.

It’s almost as if my brain just freezes and says, “Nope. All done. Brain full. No room.”

Anyhow, I take advantage of my higher energy levels in the mornings and have the kids get as much as possible done.

5) Few things nip complaining about doing homeschool work in the bud like threatening the kids to go to regular school.

My kids, at most, have 1-2 hours of homeschooling instruction a day. I tell them if they complain and hate me teaching so much, they can go to school ALL day at our local school.

This terrifies them.

After all, I have spelled out, in great detail, how little free time they will have (my kids have SCADS of free time chasing after each other and watching screen times), and what types of things they have to do to “earn” video game and screen privileges.

They usually get back to work quickly when I threaten them with “Real” school.

Alright. This about sums up my latest homeschooling lessons for this past month. Good luck with everything else, my dear readers. (I’m about to keel over right now so I will be off to bed.)

Happy Monday!