Thank you to Emily for help with this post
Gemma-Rose is now seven. She is our youngest child and so it’s been a few years since we’ve had a baby or a toddler in our family. It’s been a long time since we’ve had to work our homeschooling day around the needs of a young child. For us, homeschooling is relatively easy. We have a lot of freedom to do what we want, whenever we want. But…
… we no longer have a gorgeous little bundle to hold or a little toddler who delights us with her beautiful budding personality. Yes, babies and toddlers are a real blessing which we will not experience again.
I think back a few years. How did we cope when our family was younger, when we did have babies and toddlers whose needs had to be fitted into our homeschooling day?
From a distance I remember the good times:
I am reading to the older children who are sprawled on the floor. Gemma-Rose is on my lap feeding. Soon she will sink into a deep sleep, and I know if I don’t move, we can enjoy quite a few chapters of our book before she wakes up and needs my attention.
We are walking around the garden centre. Sophie looks gorgeous with her white hat jammed onto her head. She is quite content to sit in the moving stroller as we look at all the plants, comparing the different species, trying to decide what we’ll buy to take home.
We have taken our books outside and we are sitting under the crab-apple tree. Sophie is sitting in the sandpit next to us. Every now and then someone buries her feet in the sand and she giggles.
My lounge is a mess. There are toys strewn from one end to the other and Imogen is sitting right in the middle. She thinks the other children are playing with her. She doesn’t realise we are having an interesting discussion.
The boys are outside with Gemma-Rose. They push her on the swing and chat together. Inside, the girls and I are sewing.
I am helping Imogen with some writing while I sway from side to side: there is a baby in the sling who will stay asleep as long as I keep moving.
We are visiting the museum or park or walking down a bush track. There is a baby asleep in the sling… and a toddler who is being carried or bounced along. We are walking slowly which gives us a chance to talk about what we see.
The older kids are involved in their own projects. If they need help they will have to wait. I am asleep on the bed with the baby.
Yes, there were lots of good times. But I’m sure there were lots of difficult days too, days when I was so tired I didn’t want to think about juggling babies and homeschooling. There were probably days when I ran out of ideas on how to cope, when I just wanted to sit down and give up. But we must have coped because here we are still homeschooling after nearly 20 years.
But I realise not much of this is very helpful to families who are wondering if it is possible to homeschool older children while giving attention to younger ones. In particular, is it possible to unschool when there are babies and toddlers in the family?
So I have asked for some help from several mothers who are right there at the thick of things. They are not seeing things through rosy glasses like me. They haven’t forgotten. They know exactly what it is like to unschool with children of all ages.
Sue, I think you should add “pregnancy” to the title of “babies, toddlers, and unschooling”–because I think that is another challenge to figure out, don’t you?
It’s something I’ve struggled with recently, as I’ve felt so exhausted and uninspired, nearly hoping the DD (5) won’t ask to work on her sewing or do anything too complicated, glad that she and DS (18 months) seem mostly happy lately to just play outside together, tooling around with sticks and bits of grass and those tiny, tasteless wild strawberries that are everywhere.
I’ve been trying to remind myself that I need to take the advice I’ve given others, and remember that there are seasons, and that the children learn WITHOUT me making it happen! That’s part of what appeals to me about unschooling–the ability to live together as a family in all our ups and downs, sometimes very scheduled and plan-oriented, sometimes completely winging it and apparently doing little. But appearances can be deceiving; think of the hidden life of Jesus, all those years we know so little of as he grew quietly in his family, preparing for the great public ministry to come. Was that a waste of time for him because it wasn’t flashy? Obviously not!
Even in my best times, having a baby turning into a toddler is a good reminder for us all to be patient with each other, to love each other right where we are. DD must learn to wait to hear the longer books she picks out, because we know that DS will probably lose interest during them and we want to honor his excitement about joining us to read. DD has learned to be a wonderful teacher, showing her brother how to sound out letters (he loves imitating her!), teaching him how to “cook” in their play kitchen, reciting books to him while pretending to read.
We can always take advantage of the moments when DS is happy on his own, napping, or running an errand with Daddy to do things that are too dangerous or difficult to do with him around. It focuses our time together in some good ways–makes me pay attention. But at the end of the day, if I’m honest with myself, one of the most important things for my children to learn is to be good, kind people, full of gifts such as long-suffering love, empathy, and compassion toward one another. How else will they learn–how else will I learn?!–if day by day they aren’t challenged by the presence of littles who “mess things up” and “get in the way”?
It reminds me again of what the Lord keeps telling me when I get frustrated managing my toddler at mass. He will not come in some imaginary, “spiritual”, idealistic place I’d like to be. He will only come to me in my real, messy life. I need to be ready to seek the Lord while he is near to me here, to my real life, because that’s what the incarnation really meant and continues to mean, I believe.