How do you keep a baby/toddler occupied while teaching the older children when you have a chronic lack of energy?

How do you keep a baby/toddler occupied while teaching the older children when you have a chronic lack of energy?

Posted in Tough Questions

Home education is not as easy as it could be because not only do we each have pre-conceived ideas to re-think and re-evaluate, but the society around is generally not at all supportive and sometimes downright anti. We began home education at a time when it was only the lunatic fringe and house truckers who would do such a thing, so we know how isolated, misunderstood and marginalised one can feel at the prospect of teaching at home. But we have also discovered the most difficult obstacles were in our own minds: pre-conceived assumptions about what “home schooling” (as opposed to “home education”) was all about, and what constituted “teaching” and “learning”. Re-thinking these things actually helped in the area of lacking energy!

There are a number of things one can do in regards to a toddler. Have special toys that he/she can play with only during those occasions when you need intensive time with the other(s). Do your intensive work when the toddler is having its nap. Have the other child(ren) care for the toddler while you are doing individual work with another….it then becomes part of the other child(ren)’s home education in “child-care”.

Sometimes you can play with the toddler yourself while having that intensive time with the other child…. Barbara would be nursing our newly-adopted son (and I mean physically nursing, as she had to go through a relactation programme to get her milk going… exhausing regime), while teaching our 6 year old how to read. We have three older ones who were sometimes available to care for the baby, but he is very clingy, so generally she had to do everything while holding onto him. (This is also good training for the other children, as they see before their eyes the commitment some babies require of their parents.) Note that there is intensive time needed to teach little ones to master reading (and listening), writing (and composition and spelling and comprehension) and arithmetic, the three Rs. General knowledge at the primary and even intermediate level can be gained by fun, relaxed family activities of reading, telling stories, going on field trips, doing projects, playing games. This covers subjects like geography, history, technology, sciences, art, literature, music, P.E., etc. You only need to worry about the detailed content if the child is going to sit exams for paper qualifications or is aiming toward tertiary study. By then one of the major aims of home education should be in place: to have instilled into the children such a love and desire for learning, that they will be almost totally self-motivated to pursue subjects at the upper-intermediate and high-school levels on their own.

To conserve or gain energy, you may need to have a total change of lifestyle. First, you may want to abandon all pre-conceived ideas of turning your home into a school. Much of how schools do things is a result of logistical requirements (one teacher to 25 children) which simply do not exist in the home education situation (one parent/teacher to a couple of children). Even so, some families can make their home into a school and run it with excellent results. Most seem to adopt a very casual approach, an educational lifestyle that ends up being totally comprehensive and immersed in the context of the everyday social reality of the home, the community, the workplace and the marketplace. Learning is taking place all the time in all these places without textbooks, pre-written timetables or programmes or any notes. What this means is that you may want to plan a rigid 2 hours or so a day, but beyond that you can have general aims. For example, do pages 24-25 of the maths text and pages 17-18 of the grammar text this morning, and in the afternoon we’ll do some art and then maybe read a biography or something else to do with English history.

OK, let’s look at tiredness. Being tired at the end of the day is often a good sign that you’ve put in an honest day’s work. If the tiredness is not relieved by a good night’s sleep or the Lord’s day of rest, then do all the sensible things: have a proper physical check up with your doctor and have a good look at your eating, drinking, viewing, exercising and sleeping habits. Cutting down on red meats and dairy products, drinking more water, getting to bed early and not staying up late watching the TV or reading while (and this is the worst) snacking away on chips and fizzy will make a world of difference in most cases. I struggled with guts aches and migraines for something like my first 35 years, just accepting them as part of life. Then somehow I noticed a connection between migraines and how much cheese I ate. As I explored dietary connections it became obvious almost immediately that certain foods caused me great problems: peanuts, cheese, coffee, eggs, milk, ice cream and saddest of all, my favourite maple syrup recipe which I’d make myself and would use to smother a huge pile of hot pancakes dripping with butter. Once I eliminated or strictly reduced these items, the problems stopped!

Be aware also of the fact that your entire metabolism changes with time and with changes of lifestyle. These changes may take place over a period of time and be firmly in place before you are consciously aware of the change. For example, you may have gone from a relatively care-free fit and trim jogger, working out at the gym, playing squash reqularly to a parent with many pressing responsibilities and no time now to chase the squash ball around the court. Yet during this time of transition, your eating habits may have remained the same. For many of us in this situation it means we are carrying more weight than we should, which certainly contributes to tiredness.

So three areas of investigation are warranted. First, how can we modify our entire diet, not only the volume of what we eat but also the variety and proportions and when during the day? (Home education pioneers Raymond and Dorothy Moore eat breakfast and lunch and virtually nothing in the evenings). Second, how can we work into our weekly schedule some pleasureable physical exercise, true recreation? Mums with little ones may feel they are running around all day as it is, but stop and analyse just what it is you do physically — lifting infants and toddlers in certain ways can be doing yourself lower back damage. Third, how can we cut down on the stress of our responsibilities? That is where re-thinking the whole area of what constitutes “home education” comes in. I have a farmer friend in California who solved his farm’s weed problem while lying in bed… his mind he re-defined what constituted a weed.

Re-think your household chores as well. Because home education is a lifestyle, a certain amount of orderliness and tidiness may have to be sacrificed….the dusting may go undone, as with the vacuuming and bed making. But they don’t have to necessarily….the children need to learn these tasks and to pull their weight around home and learn about responsibility, teamwork and routine in the process. We have six children aged 20 down to 3. Neither my wife nor I have washed a dish, hung out any clothes, cooked regular meals or mowed any lawns for years!!! But just as you must set reasonable goals and expectations and standards of excellence upon your children when home educating, so with yourself. Do not expect yourself to be super-mum…it is only creating a rod for your own back. Life is full of trade-offs, and it is no different with home education. Coffee mornings with the “girls” may have to go or be replaced with support group get-togethers. You may have to ask others not to call-by or phone up between 9am and noon (or whatever you work out as your most productive times) as you will be permanently busy during those times training the next generation of God-fearing, thinking-beyond-the-box leaders of this country. Local support groups or a single other home education family can be a tremendous support in so many ways, from swapping resources and ideas to giving each other a morning a week without the children (or a certain “one” child!), so you can catch up on other stuff. Once you begin to see that education is a lifestyle and not a 9 to 3 activity, once you begin to experience the academic benefits of a tutoring situation, once you taste the many socialisation and family advantages by being together for extended periods of time, you will find these benefits far outweight any difficulties. At this point the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” principle kicks in, and you’ll be away rejoicing!

From Keystone Magazine
January 2001 , Vol. VII No. 1
P O Box 9064
Palmerston North
Phone: (06) 357-4399
Fax: (06) 357-4389
email: craig