Homeschooling a big family is an intense, challenging, rewarding job. Besides love and commitment, homeschooling involves preparation, assessment, management – and it helps to have a healthy sense of humor. If a homeschooling parent were only giving lessons and correcting worksheets, one might say it was easy. However, most homeschooling families are also doing life without outside help throughout the school day – juggling laundry, phone calls, meals, and more. Many homeschooling families include members who have a wide variety of ages, abilities, and needs. With all this, it’s understandable that homeschooling parents of big families may feel overwhelmed sometimes. If you are a homeschooling parent (big family or not) perhaps these tips for success will help you in your homeschooling journey.
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1. Start with Reasonable Expectations
We all start homeschooling a big family with different expectations. At first, I expected my homeschool classroom to function like my former second grade classroom with fresh white boards, neat rows of chairs, and students quietly raising their hands. I even considered taking attendance, so everything would seem orderly and official, like a traditional school. However, instead of a quiet homeschooling classroom, there were constant interruptions. There were potty-training toddlers who needed assistance. There were questions and service calls and runny noses and pots bubbling over on the stove. However, I suddenly remembered that we didn’t really want our homeschool to be exactly like a traditional school, and it caused me to revisit why we started in the first place. It can be helpful to examine your family “why” and nail down what is most important to YOU. For many big homeschooling families, the “why” includes a desire to spend time learning, growing, and expanding their world together. Having reasonable expectations is a great place for big family homeschoolers to start.
2. Keep Homeschooling (and Life) Simple
The best tip to homeschooling a big family is to keep life as simple as possible. One of the biggest temptations as homeschoolers is to compare with other homeschooling families, but don’t fall into that trap. Other big homeschooling families may take lots of trips, get involved in clubs and co-ops, and create fancy projects. Do what works for your own family, and keep it as simple and stress-free as possible.
Some big family homeschoolers buy shiny new curriculum packages, and some of us make do with secondhand books and freebies. Whatever your resources, you can have a great large family homeschool, if you use what you have consistently and efficiently. One way to increase efficiency in big family homeschooling is to combine subjects together. Studies show that an interdisciplinary approach (combining subjects together) can promote retention. It can also involve many ages at once, cut down on worksheets and correcting, and make learning more enjoyable. This approach is used in unit study curriculums, and there are oodles of these curriculums available. However, you can also combine subjects with what you already have. Consider trying one of these ideas to combine subjects and involve many ages at once:
- Write a rhyming poem about math concepts (writing + math)
- Create a map of the United States, using blue yarn for major rivers and chocolate chips for mountains (art + geography)
- Write an imaginary interview with an ancient world changer (writing + history)
- Trace your body, then outline and color body systems (art + science)
- Write and give speeches about the benefits of sleep (writing + speech + health)
Here are some ideas that will ease the stress and make your big family homeschooling life more manageable:
- Insist on an hour of quiet reading everyday. It will offer a relaxing break for everyone, and enrich everyone’s learning.
- Use a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Put the food in the pot in the morning, forget about it, and enjoy an easy supper.
- Prepare a few meals on Saturday and freeze them so you don’t have to cook next week.
- Simplify birthdays. At our house, the birthday child gets to pick their own menu, dessert, and movie. We usually just gather with family (that’s a big crowd), but sometimes they choose one guest to invite.
3. Insert Quiet Time
Busy, big family homeschooling parents need to get enough sleep, healthy food, and exercise. In addition, carving out a few breaks or rest periods will help parents be better caregivers, teachers, and spouses. Experts say that taking a brief nap during the day helps our brain, prevents fatigue, and boosts alertness. When homeschooling a big family, it may seem difficult to find the time, the space, and the quiet to rest or take an actual nap. In our busy big family of 13, the baby / toddler naptime was sacred, and we turned it into a quiet time for everybody. During this hour (or more) everyone enjoyed quiet activities, such as resting, reading, or coloring.
If you decide to establish a quiet hour, it might be challenging at first. But once everyone knows that mom is taking a short break, and quiet time is non-negotiable, it may become the best part of the day for older ones to have time to themselves, and for everyone to refocus and recharge.
4. Try Field Trips When Homeschooling a Big Family
Although it’s great to establish a solid homeschooling routine, sometimes it’s okay to break out and do the learning elsewhere. Family field trips can be highly educational when homeschooling a big family, and research tells us that field trips can stimulate learning, trigger curiosity, and provide benefits to teacher and student. Perhaps a family field trip sounds chaotic, and maybe you are asking:
- Aren’t big family field trips expensive?
- How can we involve all age groups?
- Are homeschooling field trips worth the hassle?
Fun and educational field trips can be inexpensive or even free, and you can start looking for ideas in your local area. Years ago, I organized an educational tour with our small town bank. They showed us the basics, and student interest accelerated when we got an inside look at the ATM machine. Next, a bank employee taught us how they check for counterfeit bills, and I knew it had been worth it. Another local field trip brought us to the water treatment plant, which offered a free open house. This opportunity gave us a fascinating look at science in action, and became one of our favorites.
If you can go beyond the local area, and take a family road trip, do it! The flexibility of homeschooling allows big families to visit museums and historical sites in the off-season, avoiding crowds and premium prices.
Finally, field trips can be an ideal morale booster. If your large homeschooling family ever encounters a mid-year academic slump, maybe it’s time for a field trip!
5. Praise Your Children
Praise often and equally when homeschooling a big family. Being generous with praise and affirmation helps to create a warm and loving atmosphere in the home, and it is contagious! There are two basic ways we praise our children: specific and unlabeled. Both types can be helpful, but specific praise gives clear-cut affirmation for their positive behavior. Here are some better ways to praise our kids.
Specific praise commending a child’s specific behavior seems to work best, because it affirms exactly what a parent likes and expects. Examples of specific praise include:
- I like how neatly you wrote your report.
- Way to go sharing with your sister!
- Thanks for helping Dad without even being asked!
Unlabeled praise is a vague statement of approval. Examples of unlabeled praise include:
- Way to go!
- Good job!
In a big and busy family, it can be challenging to praise our children often enough, but it’s never too late to start.
6. Listen to Your Children
Purposeful listening is such an important way to understand our children, but sometimes busy homeschooling parents find it difficult. When homeschooling a big family this can be hard, especially when your attention is divided. When I am multitasking, and a child wants to tell me about his lengthy dream, I can be a poor listener. As the mother of many, one way I deal with such situations is to make eye contact and say I would really like to listen, but I cannot right now. I ask them to write it down, and I will read it with them later. Or, I ask them to take a raincheck and we make an “appointment” for later that day.
7. Develop Lifelong Learners
Studies show that a child’s home, family, and daily life are crucial influences on his or her ability to learn. So, what you are doing as a homeschooling parent is life-changing and invaluable –you are providing a nurturing environment where lifelong learners are launched. Once your students learn the basic skills, they will be able to enjoy learning for the rest of their lives. Here are some ways to promote lifelong learning in your big family homeschool:
- Allow curiosity by answering questions and directing students to find the answers themselves.
- Encourage problem solving. Make space for students to make choices and solve everyday problems by themselves.
- Urge creativity, and make space for art and imagination in your homeschool.
- Model resourcefulness, finding ways to make do with what you have in the home before buying, or fixing things before throwing them away.
- Expand your family’s world. Most big families cannot afford to haul everyone around the globe, so bring the world to your dinner table. Invite international students or missionaries over for a meal, and learn about other places and cultures.
Why do large families homeschool?
Large families often choose to homeschool in order to cultivate close family bonds, create personalized learning experiences, and maintain a nurturing environment that fosters their children’s growth and development together.
How can I keep young children busy while teaching older students?
Keeping everybody busy and happy while homeschooling a big family is a challenge, but it can work quite well. Some families set up a child-sized table or a few small stations where young children can work quietly. These stations may include coloring, picture books, and tactile play. It may take some preparation and training, but young children can be occupied in meaningful ways while you work with older students.
How can I teach my children everything they need to know?
Whether students are enrolled in a public school, private school, or a homeschool, they will never learn everything. So, unburden yourself and realize that your job as a homeschool parent is simply to equip your students with the tools they need to keep learning throughout their life.
How can I teach my children subjects that I never took in school?
When your child is starting the early grades, it’s easy to be an expert. However, when students get older and tackle more challenging subjects like calculus and physics, parents can function like a coach who advises and assists. Upper grade students have mastered the basic skills they need to be lifelong learners, and you can cheer them on and guide them as they solve problems and find answers.
How can we interact more with other homeschooling families?
Big homeschooling families are all unique, but they also have a lot in common. Consider reaching out to other homeschooling families through your church or local homeschooling group. Homeschool social media groups often post book sales and field trip opportunities. Building friendships with other like minded families is a way to encourage each other and swap wisdom.
How can I balance homeschooling with household chores and other responsibilities?
To maintain balance in a big family homeschool, prioritize simplicity and establish routines that involve everyone. Assign age-appropriate chores to your children, ensuring that each family member contributes to maintaining the household. Consider preparing meals in advance and utilizing slow cookers or pressure cookers for stress-free cooking. Additionally, incorporating quiet reading time or designated breaks during the day can help you stay organized and energized for both homeschooling and household responsibilities.
What are some strategies for adapting lesson plans to accommodate a wide range of ages and abilities in a big family?
One effective strategy for big family homeschooling is combining subjects in an interdisciplinary approach, which can involve multiple age groups at once and promote retention. Utilize unit study curriculums or create your own activities that engage learners of different ages and skill levels. Encourage collaboration and peer learning among your children to foster a supportive and inclusive educational environment.
How can I keep my homeschooling curriculum affordable while still providing a high-quality education for my children?
Successfully homeschooling a big family does not necessarily require expensive resources. You can use secondhand books, free online resources, and local libraries to supplement your curriculum. Focus on consistent and efficient use of the materials you have, and remember that a loving and nurturing environment plays a significant role in your children’s learning experience. Look for free or low-cost educational opportunities within your community, such as local field trips or workshops, to enrich your homeschooling experience without breaking the budget.
Final Thoughts on Homeschooling a Big Family
A big, happy homeschooling family is a big investment of time and work, but it’s also a priceless treasure. Successful large family homeschooling can help make life simpler and stress-free, and can make the homeschooling journey more peaceful and pleasant. All big families brings unique needs, ages and abilities, so resist the comparison trap. In the blink of an eye, those little ones will grow up, so enjoy the time you have now as a homeschooling parent, and keep inspiring your students towards lifelong learning.