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Home Education Magazine

September-October 2003 - Articles and Columns

Questions and Answers - Laura Weldon

Baby Blues
How do other families homeschool with babies in the house?

Why is homeschooling perceived as an upper-class luxurious lifestyle, instead of one lived by the splendid tightwads we are?

Baby Blues

I have 3 children, ages 7, 5, and 10 months. Our youngest is very active and does not require much sleep. It has gotten very difficult for us to do any projects or games or help the older ones with reading or math. Reading to them is impossible--if I separate the baby (in her crib or a gated area with toys where she can see us) she screams, of course wanting to be included. If we join her she grabs and rips the book. Reading to one child at a time while the other one plays with her works for only a very short time.

She has major separation anxiety right now, so using a mother's helper (even Grandma!) also only works for a very short time. My husband works long hours, so we don't have time while he's home for more than dinner and bedtime rituals. How do other families homeschool with babies in the house? - Busy Mom

"When my youngest was about the same age as your youngest, he was quite restless at home. He seemed to be happiest when we were out and about (carried in a backpack or sling), so we had one year of what I called the 'Field Trip Curriculum.' We minimized our 'book' learning that year and took every opportunity to go out every day possible - to museums, nature walks, sports classes, arts events, farmers market, group field trips, you name it. We were happy to be living in a place rich with opportunities for meaningful outings. The year went by quickly and the next year our learning took a different course, but the Field Trip Curriculum served us well for a year." - unsigned

"We usually do things we need to do early before the baby is awake in the morning. We also wait to do the mom and kid teaching until the baby is asleep at naptime. My son sleeps anywhere between a half-hour to two hours depending on how tired he is. A lot of my daughter's work she can do on her own which she does in the dining room where my toddler can't see her. If she has any questions on a certain thing she will come to me then go back to the dining room. We keep the indoor porch, dining room and kitchen off limits to my son by baby gates. He is growing up knowing these places are off limits to him so it's no big deal for him." - Samantha Natalia Texas.

"I also have a 15-month-old who thinks she is my son's age. It's very challenging. The best thing I've found to do is to catch them at a time when they are both sitting still, such as during dinner or lunch or bath time. I take that time to homeschool as I have a captive audience sitting at the table or tub, and the baby is contained in a high chair or tub. Then, so I can have one-on-one time, I try to just give the baby something to play with that is age-appropriate but has to do with what I'm working on with my older son. For instance, if my son is using tantagram blocks, which are too little for her as she chews on everything, I could hand her bigger, age-appropriate similar style blocks. Or, when my son is working on handwriting, I give her a piece of blank paper and some crayons or pencil and she feels like a big kid and involved in the same activity. - unsigned

"I have a 14-month-old and my three oldest will turn 4,6, and 8 this summer. We have been homeschooling since they were born. I have gone through the vast array of emotions over my duties as "teacher" and as mommy. Because of the two youngest, it is extremely difficult to get any amount of educating done. We are constantly interrupted. The oldest two are not quite old enough to do much on their own. The more I try to concentrate my day on homeschooling, the more stress I am under and the grouchier I get. I have come to the conclusion that because of the ages in our household, the best thing is to relax and put structured education on the back burner for a while. I have to remind myself that I don't agree with the ages that the system feels children should be schooled and my children are so young yet. Unschooling can be a wonderful way of life if you can get over yourself. So for now, I am just going to enjoy these young years and if we learn things that would fall into the system's requirements, great. If not--oh well.

The other night my oldest would not go to bed so we sat in front of the computer looking at math lesson plans. After I got over my initial frustration at his late hour and bedtime defiance and my insecurities of seeing all the things we hadn't gone over yet, I realized that in one hour he learned quite a bit of information that might have challenged him if he tried to learn it sooner. So instead of postponing affecting him negatively, it actually was a positive thing! I have seen this play out again and again; they just pick it up naturally and easily. I have no doubt that whatever time I need to devote to my little ones will not short change my older ones at all." - Kathy Stallman

"Naps and mandatory quiet times help keep the sanity in our homeschool! Although our toddlers don't always want to be put down to nap, we simply insist, making regular naptimes a ritual in our home. Much can be accomplished with the older child that would simply be impossible with a toddler under foot. Also, our well-rested children are much more content and manageable than our sleep deprived kids! A helpful book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth, M.D., taught us that most children simply are not getting enough sleep. He says, 'The children who slept less not only tended to be more socially demanding, bratty, and fussy, but they also behaved somewhat like hyperactive children (and)...are also more likely to become fat kids.' By scheduling a regular nap for the little ones, and even a mandatory quiet time for the older ones our homeschool days remain peaceful, productive and healthy." - Bridget Adams, Bellingham, WA

"Your children are all young. It seems to me that they don't require formal style education such as sitting and doing worksheets. A rich environment filled with opportunities to learn on their own, and at the same time safe for their little sister, teaches all of them the lessons that they are developmentally ready to absorb. I have five children, two of them foster children, all under the age of eight. We homeschool and learn together in the natural course of the day.

? Let them all help you measure, mix and bake in the kitchen. My youngest likes to stand on a chair and fill containers in the sink while I cook with the older ones. A beach towel on the floor under his chair keeps water spills contained, and we're together and happy. Sometimes he wants to cut with a knife so I let him 'chop' mushrooms or cut bread with a butter knife. He is 17 months old.

? Let them create in ways that include the baby. My kids use an old camcorder bought at a garage sale to film 'plays' they put on. They dress up each other, the dog and the baby. There seems to be little script or plan, but the debates on how a princess should act or why a giant might be in a bad mood are priceless. The baby is thrilled to be included. When he's tired of being whatever character they've assigned him he toddles off to find his own fun.

? Spend a good part of the day outdoors. A sandbox stocked with unusual implements, some wheeled toys, a few things to climb on and something different added occasionally make for happy, well-exercised children. Some days I'll bring out a few old sheets and the kids use them as capes or curtains to hide behind bushes. One hot day I brought out big house painting brushes and cans of water so they could 'paint' the house and shed. Another time we made an assortment of juices, then they played at serving each other as if they were in a restaurant using bikes to ride up to the 'drive through' deck and place their orders.

? Let them use real objects whenever possible. When my kids play office they love post-it notes, an old telephone, an even older typewriter, a calculator and anything that can serve as a briefcase. When they play hospital they love to use white fabric strips for gauze, an old stethoscope and a clipboard. Real objects validate the importance of their play, and play is the genuine work for their stage of life.

It is important that whenever possible, the baby is given the same, but not more, rights to use the toys and tools. You don't want to tell the older ones to keep the baby happy at any cost, as that's the method for developing a monster! Sometimes a little fussing is okay. Distraction remains a miracle solution at this age.

It is also important to include the baby. My little ones may insist on sitting closest when we read books, but they weary of it and get down soon, leaving the book reading for the ones who are interested. If they were marginalized, left in playpens or gated out of the room they would justifiably feel angry or despairing.

They are fiercely driven to learn. Including them allows them to feel safe enough to play nearby when the activity isn't of interest to them. Babies and toddlers who are separated, especially those left to cry themselves to sleep, are the most clingy and difficult." - Natural mothering enthusiast, Arizona


At a homeschooling conference last year, a difficult question was posed: Why is homeschooling perceived as an upper-class, white bread, luxurious lifestyle, instead of one lived by the splendid tightwads we are? Most homeschoolers I know are just scraping by, with only one parent working full-time (or occasionally a single parent, displaying magnificent financial creativity to homeschool her family). How can we change this perception? - Frustrated cheapskate

"I think our society has a misconception about 'scraping by' in general. A lot of people see scraping by as a bad thing, something that only the wretchedly poor and destitute have to suffer through. Maybe they associate 'poor' with 'uneducated,' and if that's true, then maybe they can't believe someone who is so poor could possibly be smart enough to educate too. Also, I think a lot of other people compare homeschooling to something like a private school setting, and only those with money could possibly afford it. But none of this really matters, does it? Most people simply don't see the need for homeschooling because the government already provides public schools. Until more people are capable of thinking outside the box, we homeschoolers/unschoolers are going to be viewed by some as....mysterious nonconformists." - L. Wayne

"Not much one can do to change public perception until a critical mass of homeschooling occurs. Then everyone will know several families (of all sorts) who homeschool and these stereotypes will fade. Currently the stereotypes are even more damning than just being upper-middle class. Homeschooling parents are seen as jailers!

There's a sitcom on currently called O'Keefe's which portrays a homeschooling family which has 'let' their two oldest go to public school on a trial basis after the kids begged to 'be like other kids.' These homeschoolers are eggheads with minimal social skills and outdated clothes. Their father functions as a benign autocrat, 'teaching' them at old school desks and keeping them somewhat isolated.

I saw the show once, and it did have one line worth repeating. The youngest child tells a librarian that he doesn't watch TV, as his father says, 'Watching television is like letting popular culture urinate in your eye.'

Also South Park, that foul and sometimes hilarious cartoon, recently featured a character who was homeschooled until he too begged to be 'allowed' to go to school and have friends. This child had no idea how to get along, react to abuse or fend for himself. The parents were lectured by other children to not hide their offspring from real life. Happy ending, the child was permitted to start school.

Considering that television reaches more homes than any print or broadcast media does, I guess these are the stereotypes that people are exposed to. We've got a ways to go." - Alana Stoat

"I guess people figure that no couple would choose to live on just one income these days unless they could do so very comfortably. I've talked to mothers who say it's simply impossible these days for a family to live on one income--unless the family is very rich. I also have noticed that homeschooling is sometimes seen as for the elite--for people 'too good' for public school." - Cathy in CA

"We know farmers, accountants, artists and former teachers who homeschool. Single parents, stepparents and foster parents who homeschool. Most of them are frugal and joyously so. We know of one family that takes elaborate trips and expensive lessons. Their children tell our children they'd prefer to stick around and do stuff with their friends!

Like life, there's a diversity. Instead of seeming elitist, homeschooling is assumed to be a way of life guided by love and commitment. Shopkeepers, museum employees, librarians and others have told me over and over that they love to see homeschooled kids out and about, learning as they go.

So talk it up. Tell others what you are doing. Point out how you manage. Write an article for the local paper, or call and offer to be interviewed. Suggest books such as Your Money or Your Life and Choosing Simplicity. Share the delight inherent in living frugally, as you are spending time together. Learning together. And living the example of what is truly valuable instead of substituting material things." - Louisa, Cleveland Heights

2003 Laura Weldon


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