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Whether you homeschool or not, you’ll see why the plea for advice in the amazing letter below prompted my heartfelt attention and reminded me of the old nursery rhyme; “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” I phoned the father and can praise God for the dedication this family is exhibiting. Naturally, secular humanists everywhere will be aghast at what you’re about to read, but “the Smiths” are using Psalm 127:3–5 to validate their conviction that a bundle of children are a blessing from God. Here’s his letter:
I've enjoyed your homeschool articles on the AV web site and need some information. My wife started homeschooling our oldest two children ages 7 and 5 a couple of months ago with the A Beka DVD program. It's gone well, but we are having some difficulty. Besides these two, we also have four other children ages 4, 3, 2, and 9 months. Our challenge is that the attention the four younger ones require limits the time and attention for homeschooling. My wife seems to get frustrated with managing the house, the clothes, and the four others while still trying to do the homeschooling. Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.
Friends know my brief answers won’t be based on personal experience! Instead, I contacted expert moms who’ve “been there.” Two quick points that need no elaboration are, first, the husband should ask his wife: “Please tell me the one, vital thing I’m not doing but could be doing that would help you the most.” And then start doing it. Second, a family this size needs to bring in some measure of paid help for as many hours each week as is necessary. Beyond these two rules, the Smiths should know that with this many kids and being as young as they are, mom and dad’s admirable decision to go with a formal home-school package may be a bit premature. All of their healthy, energetic kids are fully aware of the bonding process that’s already well underway in this close-knit family; a process that has created convictions deep inside each one that life is supposed to be enjoyed together as “Smiths.” Therefore, segregating out the two oldest for several hours each morning makes little sense to the four youngest if not even to the other two as well. Isolating the two older ones away by themselves so they can concentrate on formal lessons will only produce natural curiosity, making distractions and interruptions inevitable. Of course the parents could simply say “no” to this threat, but why fix something—great family unity—especially at these tender ages, that isn’t broken?
Instead, except for those napping or feeding, a reasonable group teaching approach for Mrs. Smith could be nearly identical to the one she’d automatically take with six kids in a small house if no formal education was going on at all. Kids at all ages love to learn. That’s because the Lord created them that way plus blessing them with amazingly sponge-like brains. And, inter-kid competitiveness inspires even more hunger to learn. Fortunately, there are plenty of age-suitable reading, writing and math learning toys, puzzles and games, etc. that the Smiths would be purchasing (or making) even if homeschooling weren’t on the menu. Using these, each child can be engrossed in “his project” while a sibling across the way is engaged in something similar but different enough tailored to his or her interests. Whether the individual child’s purpose of the moment as he or she “play” is knowledge-related or if it’s a hand-eye coordination thing, it’s great that they can be enjoying togetherness as a team of Smiths even though their “jobs” differ. And even daily “mom-helping chores” can be orchestrated to enhance learning. Happily, with mom as the “catalyst-in-chief,” there are plenty of serendipitous teachable moments and adventures in learning lurking all over the place, all the time, in a home like this.
While all this is going on, the two oldest can be shrewdly directed towards low intensity books, toys or programs, that build reading and math skills, while in the chair nearby the two-year old is fiddling with beads, happily convinced she’s “part of the Smith school program” too. Since these are the years of high activity, kids also have to be kept physically in motion or boredom will set in fast when a pro-learning track is the goal. Think also of the good potential that just making up a song or marching around together has, and that can be turned into a light-hearted learning opportunity. Please, no unsupervised DVDs even if they’re “educational.” Experts know that DVDs suck out a child’s brains and zombie-fies them. Better a couple of cans, some string, a few clothespins and a “plan” than to pretend that kids really learn anything when plunked in front of a TV. Even “visually oriented” learners need to combine instructional viewing experiences with hands-on augmentation that will result in the hard-won personal learning "victories" which bring the sought-after, and well-deserved, pats on the back.
For those who spotted it, rest assured that “Mr. Smith” picked up instantly on my comment about his phrase; “My wife has started to homeschool…” He was quick to agree that unless the kids are fully aware that dad is the CEO, Superintendent, and the teacher’s (mom’s) no-nonsense back-up man, this venture will not be all that it could be. Finally, and without fail, the Smith parents must also find a way to get out of the house alone together once a week if they want a lasting, happy marriage. If not, one or both parents will end up being miserable, often wishing the other one would go live in a shoe or some other such place. Formulate a “dating covenant” and stick to it faithfully.
As churches and pastors awaken, we’re fortunate that the U.S. is going to be increasingly supplied with Kingdom Advancing followers of Christ just like the six that the Smiths are so kindly preparing. As a bonus for us, when the Smith boys enter the workforce as adults, these “salt and light ambassadors” will also be helping to bring a timely end to the bitter debates in Washington over which ones and how many immigrants we'll be allowing across our borders to be involved in the millions of job opportunities for which fewer and fewer U.S. citizens seem to be available. (The Smith girls will have their own alternate Kingdom Advancement tasks.) Whether it’s temp jobs picking tomatoes to careers in construction, to engineering to brain surgery, our country needs to be homeschooling and raising our own replacement workers. So, say a prayer tonight for the Smiths and for all those parents out there who would emulate them even though they know they might have to downsize financially and live life, temporarily, “in a shoe.” A crown awaits them, and it won’t be made of leather.