Algebra and diapers
Now, normally, algebra has very little to do with diapers. But, when you homeschool all kinds of bizarre connections are made.
We have only a mid-sized family as far as homeschoolers go, but with a spread of ages, we have enjoyed our share of spit up on essays and diaper changes in the midst of pre-algebra class. It's just par for the course. New life is part of life.
I still have much to learn in the area of balance and scheduling, and each new season brings unique challenges that require creative solutions. However, we have discovered some secrets, some tricks of the trade that have helped all of us keep our sanity and find joy in the midst of a diversity of ages and schedules.
Start in God's Word. A number of years ago I wrote "Bible time" in permanent marker at the top of our daily schedule. Regardless of how the morning went before school started, we settle into the Scriptures and refocus our vision for the day ahead. My human nature still takes over at times throughout the day, but with my mind rightly grounded, He has an easier time pulling me back on track.
Make a schedule. This may not hold true for everyone, but I at least need a starting point, a tangible goal for each day to keep us headed in the right direction. Probably only two out of the five days a week do we stick closely to the schedule. But, we do know at least what needs to get done each day that we have school.
Build in flex time. This has made a world of difference. I put in a half hour of "fluff" before lunch each day and we can generally accomplish all of our morning subjects taking advantage of more or less of that cushion each day. If we have extra time we watch a video, read, head outside, or just have free time until lunch time.
Limber up. I will often find myself saying at 10:30, "You should be on your 10:00 time now." That urgent phone call, sick children, lessons that required extra explanation, conversations sparked by Bible time that you didn't want to squelch, or other alterations to the regular schedule will happen. The more kids you have, the more complicated your living situation, the more often you will face the need for flexibility.
Don't compare. My homeschool looks like no one else's because no one else has kids exactly the ages of mine using exactly the same curriculum with exactly the same academic abilities and interests with exactly the same teacher. Yet, somehow I still have to keep digging myself out of this hole. If you need a standard, turn to God's Word. You might never arrive, but you will also find the grace to accept your shortcomings as well. He created you just right to homeschool your kids and gave you all the time He wanted you to use today. I need to constantly remind myself to rest in Him and His expectations for my home. He knows.
Life lessons need recognition, too. It is relatively easy to measure academic achievement, but more challenging (and more important) to evaluate growth in character, ripening of the fruit of the Spirit, and development of manners. Often those "disruptions" really present us with time to teach about the things that really matter. Inside math and English books you will probably not find the value of life, reasons to serve others, need for compassion, or a greater understanding of living the Christian life. Jump on those moments to take knowledge into real situations.
"Don't wish away the season you are in." Marilyn Boyer said this recently at a one-day conference I attended and I have clung to that. Each stage brings challenges and demands our energy on many different fronts. Yet, each brings experiences we will never see again. That little boy will never be four again. That little girl will tire of helping wash dishes. That young one won't need your help reading too much longer. I need to intentionally grab hold of the moment I find myself in and find joy in that child, challenges and all.
Combine as much as possible. I cannot teach my seventh grader algebra while teaching my four year old how to count by 2s. I also cannot teach my fifth grader how to analyze the rhythm of poetry while teaching my kindergartener to read. But, we do enjoy history, science, Bible, and read alouds together on a daily basis. They all take away from the material and conversation at their own level, but we do it together. We also enjoy nature walks, learning basic Spanish, art, lapbooks, and various other odds and ends together. If I had to teach all those subjects at 5 separate levels they would be fortunate to get one class a week outside of their core subjects.
Teaching multiple ages from baby through middle school has brought various challenges, but so many joys as well. I need to be somewhat organized to make the most of this stage, and I need to check my attitude when I am tempted to envy my friends that homeschool "just" one or two children, as if my life would somehow be easier if I were in their shoes. God has placed me here and calls me to trust Him through the busyness of these days.
Yes, the days are full, and sometimes the nights are fuller, but we continue to seek God's design in our everyday lives. It is always a beautiful thing, when I take the time to find it.