I remember the first day of our homeschool adventure. I had purchased a set of Kindergarten books for our daughter, set them up on the shelf when they arrived, and did everything I could imagine to build up the anticipation of our “first day of school.” When that day finally arrived, Rebecca was dressed in her new “school outfit” and we pulled the books off the shelf, opened the pages, and began our adventure together. It was then, that the 3-year-old and baby BOTH wanted attention. WHAT?!?!
I had prepared for OUR first day of school, but I had not anticipated what to do with the other little hands in our home. For the first few years of our adventure, that became one of my biggest challenges – keeping ALL the hands busy. Well, as I’m sure many of you can imagine, those other little hands stayed busy, but it was often a destructive busy which just made the rest of my day filled with cleaning up messes. I remember my 3-year-old son asking me if he could “awrange” the pantry. What a great idea, I thought…….but I didn’t realize the “awranging” would include the flour bag. That’s when I decided I needed to come up with a plan for ALL of the hands I had been blessed with. I’ve tried many things through the years, but these have been some of our favorites and easiest to implement.
1) The obvious – Do school with the older ones while the younger ones are napping. Homeschool is great because we can determine our own schedule. There were seasons when it was easier to plan on “Mom time” school around nap time. That gave me devoted time to really help a child with phonics or certain areas they were struggling in. But what to do when the nap times became shorter or eliminated…..
2) Older ones read to younger – I would often have an older child read to the younger ones while I worked with another child one-on-one. This was great because the older ones had extra reading practice, but I began to notice some other great benefits. We often read stories or books and then discussed things we learned or ways that the characters chose to be disobedient, obedient, kind, etc. I remember my older daughter reading to her brothers and asking them about what they read after she was done. She was benefiting from the time with her younger brothers, as she was learning to look for discussion items in the reading (critical reading skills), and they were forced to really pay attention to the story and not just the pictures.
3) Have a “School Box” – Fill a plastic tub or box with items that can only be used during school time. This might be some homemade play dough, string sewing cards, puzzles, books, etc. Fill it with anything you like that doesn’t require much Mom instruction. The key is to use the box ONLY during school time. Most of the items we had in the box were things they had access to anyway (markers, coloring pages, etc.), but because it was in THEIR school box, they felt that they had a purpose for the time I was working with my other children. I also kept some inexpensive gold stars around to put on their “school papers” when it was time to put the box away.
4) Make your own manipulatives – We would spend one day hunting for similar sized rocks when we were out walking, and then, the next day I let them either use paint or markers (depending on the child, the age, and what school tasks I was doing with an older child), and they made their own math manipulatives. We talked about sorting by size, so they would paint them the same color or design based on size. Another time, we would make sets and paint a set of different sizes one way and another set the other way. If you use paints, I recommend spending the money for small tipped paint brushes. It requires even the youngest child to spend more than one swipe to get the item completely painted. If you don’t have access to rocks, use a variety of beans or look for small wooden dowels, etc. After they had their manipulatives painted, we would then use them to practice counting.
5) Sewing on paper – Once my children were a little older (mine started when they were around 5), I let them use my sewing machine (after some lessons), and they would sew on paper. I used old needles or ball point needles, as they are not as sharp as regular needles. I would draw squiggle lines on a paper or different designs or even used old pages from school books with letters or numbers on them, and the child would “trace” the lines with the sewing machine. This was a HUGE favorite with my children because this task was more of a reward for helpful behavior, etc. It was a great way to develop some hand-eye coordination, too. I was fortunate enough to have a sewing machine that had speed controls, so they were never able to get going too quickly, and of course, we spent time before their first solo session discussing and practicing sewing machine safety. Believe it or not, my children were always very careful, and they became good at sewing a straight line after a few sessions!
6) String Art – You can find many patterns for string art on the internet. Use one of these patterns or make your own. String art is a great hand-eye coordination activity, and my children were content for long periods of time. You can find string on sale at craft stores or go visit thrift shops and look for yarn. Yarn can be easier for smaller hands to use.
7) Paper mosaics – We always had leftover pieces of construction paper around our house, so I would take the pieces and tear or cut them into smaller pieces (or let older hands do this task). Then, using some glue sticks or Q-tips and regular glue, let younger hands create mosaics. Their designs can go on construction paper that is used to send grandparents “love you” cards or use them to make decorations for bedroom door handles. The tedious task of picking up the smaller pieces will either thrill some children or drive some crazy. If you are dealing with the latter, then I recommend…..
8) Lego creations – Most homes have Legos. If you don’t, then I recommend scouring thrift stores or going online and buying the pieces – not sets – so you can use them for some creative activities. I would draw out a code on paper by using markers for the colors and then specify how many of each color or size brick they needed to use. (8-red bricks, 7-thin bricks, etc.). The child would then have to hunt for those size/color of bricks (which would sometimes take a LOOOONNNNNGGGG time), create something, and then come back and tell me a story about the item. Depending on how school was going with my older children, I might even take the time to write out the story that was being dictated to me, and then it could be shared with Dad when he came home. This was always exciting for the younger ones because they had “school” to show Dad.
Regardless of what you choose to do to keep all the hands busy while you work through your homeschool, remember that closing up all the books, gathering all the hands and going for a walk or snuggling on the couch is ALWAYS an option. Your homeschool days may seem so overwhelming with little hands that discover the flour bag when you are focused on a math lesson, but those moments really are fleeting. Before you know it, those sewing cards will turn into costumes, and the stories that developed from a Lego creation might one day become a book or movie script, or all the hammering of nails for string art may turn into a construction trade. All of our time with the little hands we’ve been given is part of their homeschool and will help mold them into the adults that walk out our doors. Enjoy the time and craziness and make some memories along the way.