Why do Large Families Homeschool?
I must admit, I’m not much of an expert on all of the traditional styles of homeschooling. I’m often inspired and encouraged by quotes or ideas I read from folks who subscribe to Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Classical, or other homeschool methods. But I can’t say as we land solidly in any of those camps. Instead, our choices and decisions are influenced most heavily by needing to homeschool a large family.
How do you define “large family”? I have eight kids. At the time of this writing, the oldest is twelve and the youngest is a baby. But my family certainly isn’t the standard. I’d propose that you fit the definition of “large family” if you are homeschooling multiple children and struggling to manage the schedule and needs of different ages and grades.
In Large Family Homeschooling the Philosophy Comes First
As with any homeschool style or method, the foundation is our philosophy of homeschooling. Large Family homeschooling isn’t about trying to be Charlotte Mason, Classical, Unschooly, etc. and adapting it for the large family. Large Family homeschooling is a philosophy of its own.
It is our goal and desire to journey through education as a family-centered experience. Relationships, and family life don’t get in the way of homeschooling – they are the central focus of homeschooling.
This doesn’t mean that our kids don’t attend classes or activities outside the home, or that they don’t have friends besides their siblings. Rather it means that we make decisions about outside activities with a focus on the family as the core of life, branching out from there into the world.
Many homeschool families do this, even if they wouldn’t have thought of themselves as “large family homeschoolers”! With a large family, however, we are sometimes forced to reexamine our choices and intentionally align our priorities simpy for the sake of sanity and survival! You might say that the pressures refine the perspectives.
Homeschooling with Under Age Learners
Some large families have only one or two children who are official “school age”, but have one or more younger children who also need care and guidance throughout the day. This is challenging for any homeschool family.
Large family homeschooling helps to reshape the perspective on this challenge. If our goal is to see family as the core of life, then babies and toddlers are not an interruption to the day, but an integral part of the learning environment.
Does this mean that I graciously welcome every poopie diaper blowout in the middle of morning time, or am glad when the toddler tries to climb the school room shelves when I’m deep into explaining a math concept? No. No it does not.
But it does mean that as I walk through my day, I am modeling for the other children and including them in the process of embracing little people as a regular part of family life. “School work” may be interrupted by caring for little ones, but true learning is still happening.
Another aspect of our homeschool day that is affected by our family dynamics are the incidents of sibling conflicts. With eight children, there are many different combinations of sibling pairs, accounting for many different interactions and sometimes spats.
I’ll be honest, there are times when I’m working through a conflict with one pair and I have another (or maybe even two other) pairs of kids waiting for their turn to tell on each other! Some days it seems to take an overwhelming amount of time!
But learning how to live graciously with others, learning how to respond appropriately, even when the other person is in the wrong, isn’t merely a inconvenience to the home education process. Rather, it’s one of the foundational things we want to model, teach, and encourage.
As our children engage in activities outside the home, they’ll meet all kinds of people. We don’t have any control over those other people, their backgrounds, and their social skills. However, within our home and amongst our own children, we can encourage both parties in a dispute to abide by the same standards of personal interaction.
Our home is somewhat of a relationship lab. Especially as our children grow to adults, we won’t always be able to protect them from unkind people or prepare them for every relationship struggle they might face. But we can give them a strong sense of what healthy relationships look like and how to love others even when they are not easy to love.
Large Family Homeschool Planning: One for All or One-on-One
I was a school teacher before I had kids. So you might not be surprised to find that when I began homeschooling, I started with a very school-y model. Everyone had their own textbooks in each subject and I balanced a lot of teaching, checking, and correcting.
It wasn’t long, however, before we reached a critical mass of still-young children who were also school aged. It was just not possible for me to balance all the separate lessons for four children each and every day.
There are two main ways we’ve handled this and we’ve used many different combinations of these two approaches throughout the years. One is to do as much as we can all together as a family. The other is to find ways the children can work independently.
Most of us were raised in the public school or another traditional school setting. It can be incredibly hard to break free of a ridgid “grade level” mentality. It’s also hard to let go of the idea of an objective, universal “scope and sequence” in each subject – skills and ideas that must be learned in a particular order. There’s actually quite a lot you can learn all together, even with children of various ages, and even with math!
The other way to make homeschooling multiple ages work is with things that can run mostly on autopilot without much input from mom. This could include a co-op class or hiring a tutor. However, online programs and digital apps can be a great opportunity for some “outsourcing” that doesn’t require leaving the house or having someone in. Virtual help can be on-demand, flexible, and on your schedule.
I think most homeschool moms would tell you that their homeschooling method isn’t simply a way to decide which textbooks or resources to buy, but rather an all-encompassing lifestyle that shapes the culture of the home. This is certainly true of Large Family Homeschooling!
Lynna Sutherland blogs at Homeschooling without Training Wheels and is the mother of eight, great, always-homeschooled hooligans. She loves to encourage parents (and herself!) to remember the freedom and flexibility that are benefits of the homeschool lifestyle. For more information, check out Lynna’s eBook “5 Myths that are Killing Your Multi-Age Homeschool” or sign up for the free “Sibling Strengtheners” email challenge for some ways to help strengthen sibling relationships in your home.
Do you have tips for large family homeschooling? Share them in the comments!