How to be an Octopus (or rather, how to school multiple kids at one time)

It almost seems counter-intuitive that I would write a post about schooling children of multiple ages and grades when I now have one child to educate, yes?   But for many years, our table looked more like this:


By homeschooling standards, this is a small group.  Yet, I might be helpful to someone when it comes to managing a table full.

First, no education happens without first having a level of discipline.   Most homeschoolers, whether they use a Charlotte Mason approach or not, are familiar with her quote that ‘education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.’    This discipline that she speaks of comes through the development of habits, and specifically, the habit of attention:

Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.

In “Belinda speak,” set expectations for learning, including sitting down and paying attention.   Even if sitting starts with just 15 minutes to hear a book or complete a math lesson, go and grow from there.  The quote above speaks to the fruit of instilling these types of habits: when a child knows what is expected, and when he understands boundaries, he will be able to work–and play–purposefully and independently.      Here are some thoughts about managing a quiver full:

  1. As much as makes sense, teach your brood together.   While the public school differentiates between a 10-year-old, an 12-year-old, and a 13-year-old, you don’t have to.   Their comprehension and skill sets might vary slightly, but they will benefit from learning together, and you can focus in on one set of lesson plans rather than two or three.  When the oldest studied Homer’s  Iliad and Odyssey, we  held our own mock Olympic games.    Did the youngest understand who was Homer and the mythological details that triggered the start of the Trojan War?  Nope. The time for that is coming.   In the meantime, she simply relished the ability to beat her sister and brother at the games!





2. Older children can help more than you might think.  They can make sandwiches, beds, and laundry loads.   They might even be able to cook and clean.  They can tickle, chase, and dry tears.   Academically speaking,  I have actually been to conferences where Mom would have an older sibling select curriculum for a younger child, because the older sibling had worked more closely with the child.  Being able to teach something is an indication of learning.  Even if your older child is not teacher-ready, he might be able to entertain a toddler by reading, or sorting by colors, or memorizing numbers.



3.  Don’t forget to take full advantage of the moment when little eyes need to rest!



4.  Be sure to take advantage of the home in your school by using more than one area.   As our children grew, the older two decided that the dining room would become the middle and high school.  I hated this idea; the dining room was in the front of the house.  So any unexpected guest saw this upon walking through the front door:



But in hindsight, it gave me years to work with the youngest, with all her “little person” energy, while the older two focused in on their studies with more depth.   Even while we all gathered at the table together, however, I compiled a crate of educational materials for her to work with while the other two studied.


While she played, she learned plenty–Latin prayers, book plots, and a host of other items that helped build her foundation.

An internet search with the keywords “learning centers for homeschool” will get you going with great, inexpensive ideas for learning centers, but I will list one or two links below.

Consider also combining this learning center establishment with a teaching rotation!   If your children are all fairly little, one might work (semi)independently at a math station while one reads with Mom, and still another takes advantage of an art station with lots of crayons, Play-doh, and stamps and stencils.   Of course, the reality is that everyone might at some point abandon their station and want to sit on Mom’s lap, but even in in doing so, they are being read to.  Again, you are training habits by setting expectations.

Be open to a child’s imagination, which will allow him or her to develop areas for learning that are all his own.   What we once  saw as trash from a new washer/dryer set, the youngest turned into her own apartment!


5. Finally, piggybacking on the learning center concept, realize that different homeschooling seasons might require you to focus differently on one child or the other.   As a personal example, our first experience with homeschooling high school required my full attention.   It was more of a learning curve for me than it was for our oldest, and I felt as if enough was at stake until I needed to give it the lion’s share of my attention.   Our son was very independent by that time, and I am now using those precious middle school years to shore up the youngest’s foundation before she takes flight.

Here are other ideas, from me and elsewhere, regarding setting up your home for multiple ages and multiple learners:

Getting Books Off the Shelves and Into Your Child’s Hands

An Aspiring "How To" on Multiple Kids, Multiple Ages

Ideas for What to Place in Learning Centers

Turning Your Home into One, Big Homeschool Learning Center


Happy tentacle management, dear friend.  Be encouraged in Christ, for you can do ALL things through Him who strengthens you.   (Philippians 4:13)

From the Eyes of My Student

So, when the youngest volunteered to write a blog post for this week’s iHomeschool Network Blog Hop theme, “From the Eyes of the Student,” I was reminded of the parts of myself that continue to need work.   I learned–again–about the danger of being prideful, and I learned–again–about showing others grace.   After all, my passions, my calling, and my anointing are mine, and they don’t have to be other people’s passions–including my own family’s.    I could have easily edited this post, or persisted in forcing her to write more, all to impress my readers.   But, rather than worry that her post was not as “deep” and reflective as my own might have been, I need to back up and simply let. her. be.    And if I can close my mouth, who knows where such a straightforward presentation of her day might go?

So, here is a day in the life of my one student–an 8th  grader who has a lot on her mind (but not so much in this post–  😉   )

Normally, I like to wake up early (before I would normally wake up for school) and exercise. As soon as I am done exercising, I like to do my everyday beauty regimen (brushing my teeth, wash my face, take a shower, etc.). Then I head downstairs and eat breakfast that my mom cooks me (that specific morning I had a smoothie for breakfast).




Then I start school. The first thing that I do every morning is do Bible, then after that I’ll do math. Everything else really depends on the day. Some days I have very light school work, while other days I have a lot of work to do.




I finish school pretty early so I always like to stretch, work on dancing, or work on pointe with my free time.


There you have it!  Her school day, a quick summary of her free time, and a small taste of me, the work-in-process.   I think we are both feeling pretty good about ourselves right now.

What Exactly is a “Discovery Day?”

As many of us wind down to begin a homeschool year that coincides with the traditional school calendar, I cannot help but notice the scores of visitors that frequent my Curriculum Choice and Daily Schedule  page.   Since this week is the first of the 4-week iHomeschool Network Blog Hop, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to talk more about what we do.   Let me begin, however, by saying that I won’t try to keep up with each week’s Blog Hop themes.  Too much is going on professionally and personally for me to commit to a weekly post right now, and I’m done beating up on Belinda for not posting as regularly as I’d like.

By the way, her actual planner for any given week might look more like this:

school planner shot 1 2016 rev

I imagine that by now, with our final(?) daily schedule in blog ink, the obvious question for any would-be visitor is,

What on earth is “Discovery Day?!?!?!?!”

I’m glad you asked! (wink)

As I have shared before, this is a brand new season for us in our homeschooling journey: the season of homeschooling one.  You can read more about that here and here.

I have been contemplating for much of this past year how to “manage” our school day—how to have fun but not feel responsible for constant laughs, how to accommodate a kinesthetic learning style while still expecting discipline in accomplishment, etc.  One of the decisions we made together was to consider a 4-day school week.   It’s that moment when everything old becomes new again…

(If you have ever watched the TV series “The Golden Girls,” this would be when Sophia says, “Picture it! 2004!!”)

There once was a mom fairly new to homeschooling who sat in a conference and heard the speaker literally yell at the audience,  “And I HOPE you are NOT HOMESCHOOLING for 5 DAYS PER WEEK!”   Though her presentation style was a bit over-the-top for me, I recognized her intention: she wanted to emphasize to us then-novices that homeschooling was freedom; we didn’t have to conform to what had been our vision for all of our educational lives.

We tried a 4-day school week when the older two were younger.  One of those days was listed in my planner as “Discovery Day.”   It allowed us to step away from the table and do non-academic things that still allowed us to learn.   We cooked, we crafted, we co-oped—we were about as unschooled as this linear-thinking, engineer-by-trade could get—for one day.   That season lasted about two years; the days of traditional school simply became too long.

Fast-forwarding a few years, at our youngest’s request (as indicated by her enthusiasm when I suggested 4 days of school rather than 5), I began to revisit the inception of the discovery day.   It came to me in reading Sally Clarkson’s Educating the Whole-Hearted Child.   If you are a regular reader of my blog, you have seen me reference this book often; it really is a home education bible for me, and for the fruit I want to cultivate in our homeschool.   Without sharing too much of her intellectual property (simply put, buy the book if you want more) Clarkson’s “Home Centered Learning Model” includes five study areas:

  • Discipleship studies—the foundational study within the home, Bible study
  • Disciplined studies—what are commonly called the three R’s
  • Discussion studies—humanities and arts
  • Discovery studies—(more on that in a second)
  • Discretionary studies—the study of living


Mrs. Clarkson describes discovery studies as “the study of learning.”   Its purpose, in her words, is ‘to s[t]imulate in your children a love for learning by creating opportunities for curiosity, creativity, and discovery.’ (Clarkson, page 67)   Though science and nature are listed as “discovery studies,” I also see it as a respite from the notebooks, textbooks, etc., and an opportunity for the kids to pursue their passions.   Or, as we often say to them, “What do you do when no one is asking you to do anything??”    Too often during the summer, the real answer to that question would be to text on the new appendage phone, or to sit in front of the computer or the television.   So, as a friend of mine said (in a more recent conference, ironically), I’ve had to ‘remove some things’—at least during the week.

This morning, our first discovery day took us to a nearby park on the lake, where she ran, but mostly walked, and enjoyed the gentle grace that comes with early morning.

what discovery day looks like aug 2016

That’s perfectly okay.   Exercise is a passion of hers, as is health and nutrition.  She recently made a decision to become a vegan, although we are still in negotiations about all those new dietary changes.   The happy compromise thus far has been vegetarianism—a life change that her older brother gently ushered into our lives.  Who knows?  She might follow in his footsteps and try to convert that into a life’s vocation, and in the process, she might just add a few quality years to her mother’s life as well.


So, that’s what “Discovery Day” is all about.   What are you doing to create opportunities for curiosity, creativity, and discovery?

How Home Education Equalizes Educational Opportunities

For the second year in a row, we have begun school on the road.   This year’s trip didn’t leave us soaked, but it is a watershed in American history:

Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School.

front of central high school little rock pic 1

This majestic institution, built for $1.5 million in the late 1920’s (the “separate-but-equal” Paul Laurence Dunbar High had to raise its own funds from the black community), was once at the epicenter of national turmoil, the tumultuous aftermath of a simple idea.  The legal argument based upon this idea went all the way to the Supreme Court.    African-American homeschooling pioneer Paula Penn-Nabrit (niece of Attorney James Nabrit, who fought alongside Attorney Thurgood Marshall in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas) suggests that the real source of the fight was markedly different than its resolution:

‘I really think there has been a broad-based misunderstanding of the controlling argument in the historic Brown case.  That case didn’t turn on the argument that in order for black children to receive a good education they had to be educated by and in the presence of white people.   The argument was that it was not possible to support the premise of separate-but-equal in the absence of unequal funding and facilities.’   (Nabrit, pg. 61)*

The desegregation of public schools became one means of securing that equity in funding and facilities.

The story of Little Rock’s Central High School, in the wake of this court case, became legendary.    There are literally hundreds of images online of the Arkansas National Guard standing in front of the entrances, with then Governor Faubus refusing to give an order for them to stand down.   It doesn’t take much research to see the angry, racist faces holding up signs that suggested that school integration was synonymous to communism.   And then there are the “Little Rock Nine,” the final group of black students who survived a variety of weed-out rules, familial threats, and sundry persecutions to eventually walk through the front doors in pursuit of an education.   The monument below, prominently displayed at the Arkansas Capitol building, does not show the storied 101st Airborne Division that surrounded each of these kids and accompanied them individually to their classrooms.   Also missing are the faces of hatred that were held back by heavy artillery as these students climbed the stairs.

little rock nine in 1957 pic 1

I won’t use this space to recount details of their history; there are plenty of places where you can read it for yourself.  One of my personal favorites is Melba Patillo Beals’ Warriors Don’t Cry.   What struck me during this second visit was how the fight for quality education has evolved, but yet, how much the battle cry remains the same.  U.S. House Speaker John Boehner stated the following in 2014.

‘In America, a good education is the great equalizer, something that gives our children the chance to fulfill their potential no matter how they fared in the lottery of life. That’s why the more we can do to empower parents to pick and choose the schools that best meet their kids’ needs, the better. It’s one way for us to live up to our billing as the “Land of Opportunity.”  (

Where does homeschooling fit into this whole scenario?   Well, for African-Americans, it might be the best solution for the continuing institutionalized racism that defines public school systems.   Antonio Buehler articulates it well in his post entitled “Black Kids Should Homeschool.”   He speaks very candidly to the fact that not much is expected of our students, anyway, and so the  challenging opportunities are limited or non-existent.    Teri at expands on this crisis, speaking to the lack of inclusive history in public school curriculum (a subject that is near and dear to my heart).

What is there to do with our opportunity as home educasavannah at central high memorial garden little rock pic 1tors, even for those parents who cannot or who will not homeschool?    We can make the most of what we have, whatever that means for you.   You might not be in a position to take extended field trips once per month, or even once per year, but you can take action each day.   Passion?  Determination?   A commitment to learning?   Excellence? That is the spirit behind the real fight for quality education, then and now.

  • Pray over your children.
  • Serve others.
  • Spend intentional time with your family.
  • Read to your children, no matter the age.
  • Discuss their opinions on current events (which means you have to allow them space to speak, and you must listen).
  • Make them learn, but let them play.
  • Expose them to music and art.
  • Give them something to think about.


little rock nine in 1997 lrsd
Little Rock Nine Reunion in 1997, original photo appears at Little Rock School District site (


‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.   Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, author, speaker

*Penn-Nabrit, Paula. Morning by Morning: How We Homeschooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League.  New York: Villard Books, 2003.

It Might Not Be the Perfect Start, But…(it will still be good)

My mind began to drift on yesterday as I listened to Pastor—not the normal sundry thoughts from what’s for lunch to why is it always so cold in here, but purposeful drifting.   I would almost call it life application thoughts.   You see, our pastor has been speaking for months now from Psalms 1, about the blessing of being planted.   He has been talking to us about how to flourish in life.   So as I pondered the life application of yesterday’s particular message, I could not help but reflect on how quickly we are approaching the beginning of our new school year.  Honestly, I am so far behind where I want to be in many areas of life (including blog updates—can you tell?), but strangely at peace with it all.   I thought about my earliest days of preparing for the next homeschool year, and how my process differs radically from what I do now.   I thought about this photo, sent to me by one of my homeschool friends who, in one of life’s many ironies, no longer homeschools, but she saw it and thought of me:

he is doing something in your life through homeschooling


I have thought for weeks about what has the Lord has done—not in the children, but in me—over our years of homeschooling.   One of the many things he has done for me is to teach me grace.   And perhaps that is why I am not pulling my hair out about what is not in place, and what is different than I want it to be, and that always looming gap between my perfectionist vision for our family and where we truly are.   So, in the midst of all the “your best homeschool year ever” and “how to plan” posts that are and will continue to flood the homeschool community during this time, I thought to write about a few realities.   I pen this not as a flirt with pessimism, but because my heart is that we would all have our best year ever, and we should speak these things—but that only comes, at least in part, by covering all of your plans and promises with a gentle grace.   Here, from my perspective, is the reality of those early days/ months/ years:


The first year is an adjustment—for everyone.  One of the best nuggets of advice I received from a veteran homeschooler is to look at the first year as an experiment.   Chances are you have not stepped into the role of parent and home educator before.   Also, your children are learning  to deal with you in this dual role.   There are approaches, books, and a host of tools that you will learn about as you go, as well as understanding your children and yourself.   Even for the veteran, a new baby is an adjustment for everyone.   A debilitating sickness is an adjustment for everyone.   Show your family the grace they-and you–deserve.

It will not go as planned.   I laugh when I occasionally reflect on my vision for homeschooling before we actually put pen to paper.   I romanticized a Charlotte Mason homeschool in which we spent hours outdoors finding rare animals and laying on blankets.   Then, as the actual first day arrived, I had a revelation: Charlotte Mason doesn’t school in the Texas heat.   Charlotte Mason’s students are probably not running from bees, wasps, and dragonflies while their pencils are moving, or trying to avoid ant beds.   After trying for a number of years to fit our square peg into a round hole, I am totally at peace in saying that we have a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool.   By the way, we also finally bought an outdoor patio table this year.   After days of getting it set up, the youngest might be the only one to actually use it for school!

patio furniture in process may 2016

Here is another thought, while I am on the subject of plans.   I do keep a planner for each child, fully completed with their daily assignments.   But I have backed away from yearly or even quarterly plans.  I work month-to-month.  Am I suggesting that you don’t plan?  Of course not.   I am suggesting, if only for myself, that I don’t want to be so married to a plan until I can’t hop in the car with hubby on a work-turned-field-trip outing.  I want to visit a friend in the hospital if I choose to; I want to help my aging in-laws as my husband needs.  And I want to teach my children something about life and priorities as I make those calls.

You will buy something you cannot use.   I thought about this particular truth because it saddens me to meet moms who will get so excited about homeschooling and then grow even more discouraged because they picked the “wrong” curriculum.    Sometimes curriculum won’t be a good fit for your family, or its changing needs and dynamics of living.   That is why it is critical that you partner the curriculum that interest you with the realities of your life—time needed to teach it, doctor’s appointments, scouting, dance lessons, traveling husband, school-on-the-road, etc.   And consider that “wrong” purchase your homeschooling baptism; welcome to the family.   Tweak that curriculum, sell it, bless someone with it, and keep it moving.  No time for beating yourself up—you have too much to do.

God is doing something in you.  This is where I began.   If we embrace homeschooling as the life-changing journey that it is, school becomes a tangible offshoot of what the Lord is doing intangibly.   Do I sinfully worry about my children, and take on the care that the Lord told me is His?   Yes.   Am I afraid for what they learned—and concerned for what they didn’t get?   Absolutely.    Do I take it personally when their stars don’t shine to everyone around them as I think they should?   No doubt.   But the Lord is doing a work in me, and allowing me to see something: as Pastor stated so directly, what keeps us from showing more grace and mercy is the turmoil within us.   What I’m most worried about, truth be told, are my failures, my shortcomings, and my supernatural ability to get in the way of any plan I lay before Him if it doesn’t go as I think it should.   The more I learn to give Him my cares, the more peace I have that, when I see “me” in my children, He saw it first, and He has it under control.


Your first day/month/year might not be perfect.   Looking back, the days and seasons that I thought were perfect had everything to do with me, and the way I like to run the house and school.   As one example, there was a time when we held school from July to April, so that I could garden and enjoy the coolness of the spring mornings.   I’m not as confident in saying that the kids enjoyed giving up half of what the children around them considered summer vacation.   This year, we’ll begin in late, late August after we drop off two for college.  We will start with a field trip—right after I started listing a few items in my planner.   Oy.   But, we will have a good year—perhaps our best year ever.

The final challenge from Pastor: Infuse.

infused water april 2016

As one whose Facebook timeline is ripe with pictures of my herb and fruit combos in pitchers of water, this mandate immediately resonated with me.   The point of infusion is to allow your subtle presence to slowly change the environment, and then to take over everything.   When I speak of “your presence” here, I am really speaking of Christ in you, which is another thing God used homeschooling to teach me: humility.   It’s okay to say to our children, “We’re learning this together.”   It lets me off the hook, so to speak, from perfection, and allows me to learn alongside the kids.

Hmmm… maybe I paid more attention than I thought I did (lol).   Let us allow God to do His work, and let us infuse the best that we can—whatever that looks like in this moment.  Wishing you your best homeschool year.  Ever.

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