One of the common challenges in homeschool families is finding the time to teach younger children when so much time is dedicated to helping their older siblings with assignments.
I have a four-year-old and a second-grader and, let me tell you, it’s tough! Even tougher for my friends with four children or more. Preschoolers often like to fight for your attention when they see you giving so much of it to their siblings. I’m here to tell you, that’s not such a bad thing and you can use this attention-seeking to your advantage.
When your preschooler sees that learning seems to get and keep your attention, they’re more likely to want to be included in whatever learning their older siblings have going on. At least this was the case for me. I know it’s tempting to let younger children go off and do their own thing, but try adding small assignments to their routine that help them feel like a “big kid.” You may find you have a little more peace during your homeschool hours.
So, here is my day in the life of my four-year-old on any given homeschool day. This glimpse into our world illustrates how I manage to balance time between my two boys. As a side note, you may notice on my blog that I refer to my four-year-old as a preschooler and kindergartner interchangeably. That’s because according to his age he is technically in preschool, but he’s acquiring many skills that meet kindergarten requirements in our state.
A Homeschool Day-in-the-Life of My 4-Year-Old
8:30 am: Devotional
Let’s start with devotional. We’re currently using Our Daily Bread for kids, which we love. The daily devotionals are short, sweet, and to the point. They also are a great inspiration to delve into the Word of God. Both kids enjoy me reading aloud and will sit quietly and attentively while I do so. In previous years, I made activities for my boys to do while I read the Bible aloud. Some days, my preschooler is just not into sitting still so he goes off and plays with his toys, which is totally allowed. That leads us to…
Tip One: Let your little ones have off days. We all have days when we’re just not feeling something. Allowing them to choose something else to do instead shows that you understand and respect their feelings. It also reduces the likelihood of your little one making a scene which can cause disruption and set the tone for the rest of the day, making it difficult for you to maintain the patience needed to work with your older children.
9:00 am: Basic Skills Fluency Practice
This is my second-grader’s designated reading time. Since I have him read aloud to me, I need this time to be pretty quiet. This is when I break out my preschooler’s favorite activities. We use the Hooked-on Phonics Fundamentals workbook, which is full of educational cut and paste activities that keep my preschooler busy and happy. During this time, my little one practices fluency with basic skills like letters, phonics, numbers, counting, shapes, and more. He is also engaging those fine motor skills necessary for handwriting. So…
Tip Two: Have independent activities on hand. Give your little ones activities you know they can do on their own to help build confidence, independence, and fluency while you take time to work with older children.
9:30 am: Reading Fluency Practice
My preschooler and I practice reading fluency while my second-grader works independently on to his spelling curriculum. We are using the Hooked-on Phonics curriculum and are supplementing with Bob Books. Hooked on Phonics has its own set of starter books, but he seems to like the Bob Books more. We borrowed our Bob Books from the local library and are allowed to have them for 6 weeks at a time. We spend no more than 15 minutes practicing reading. Another 15 minutes is dedicated to storybook read-alouds.
Tip Three: Schedule one-on-one learning time with your little one when older kids have independent work.
10:00 am: Handwriting Practice
My preschooler practices handwriting while my second-grader and I delve into his language arts lesson. I love dry-erase books for handwriting practice because children can practice as much as they’d like without accumulating paper waste. The books we love for handwriting practice are the Kindergarten dry-erase workbook and the Sight Word workbook. I taught my preschooler how to follow the arrows, and to always write from left to right to ensure he’s writing letters, numbers, and words properly. Now, he can pretty much work on his own. Therefore…
Tip Four: Train your little one to work independently during homeschool off-hours. On weekends or when all your older children have completed their homeschool assignments, take just a little time to train your younger children to work more independently on key skills. This may take time and patience but is well worth the investment when you find yourself running from kid to kid during busy homeschool hours.
10:30 am: Everyone takes a snack break at this point.
11:00 am: Geography
My boys do geography together. We use a curriculum base called Beginning Geography and supplement with YouTube videos, library books, hands-on-learning, and kinesthetic activities. This is a great time of day because my preschooler really looks forward to it. He may not understand everything we learn about, but he enjoys doing the corresponding activities.
If you’re wondering how I teach two grade-levels one subject, here’s an example:
This week we’re learning about reading directions on a map using a compass rose. My main objective is for my preschooler to understand that north is up, south is down, east is to his right and west is to his left. Aside from looking at real maps I had on hand, we watched a Youtube video that explained what compasses were used for and how to use them. To challenge my oldest son, he watched a documentary on the history of the compass rose. Later, we made our own compasses using supplies I had on hand. Then we played a kinesthetic activity where the boys had to jump toward the direction I shouted out. It was so much fun and something both grade-levels could enjoy.
Tip Five: Don’t be afraid to include your little ones in on the lessons. This is especially true if the age gap isn’t that wide between older siblings. In my case, I can use a curriculum base designed for grades k-2 and it’ll work for both of my boys. Last year, we used a science curriculum designed for first and second graders and my preschooler was able to do all of the lessons and experiments with us. Children are sponges at this age. You’ll be surprised by what they pick up on.
12:00 pm: Science
Both my boys also learn science together. This year, we are really loving interactive science notebooks. This is actually my preschooler’s favorite part of the day because he loves cut-and-paste activities. Whenever we finish a lesson, he often asks if we can do another one. I use the same supplemental method for science that I do for geography. We read books, do fun activities, and include hands-on learning and experiments whenever possible. That points us to…
Tip Six: Interactive notebooks are a win for everybody. You can find free or low-cost interactive notebook lessons just about anywhere, for any grade, and any subject! This works especially if you have children with larger age gaps. Everyone can sit around the table with all their supplies and work on their interactive notebooks. Works for us!
1:00 pm: Lunch and Recess
2:00 pm: Math
I save math for the end of the day because it’s my boys’ strongest subject. Plus, it’s also a subject that my second-grader can do on his own unless he’s learning a new concept. I like to work one-on-one with my preschooler on the days when my second-grader isn’t learning a new concept. We use math link cubes to practice addition and subtraction. We also practice number sequencing and counting to 20, 30, and beyond. Every now and then we’ll go over basic and 3-dimensional shapes, but he pretty much has that information stored in his brain.
Additionally, I try a variety of hands-on activities that I just make up myself. Matching number quantity to the numerical value is one of the activities we do often, and we can use just about anything we have on hand to do it. I also make use of our addition and subtraction flashcards and have my preschooler use cubes to determine the sum or difference. So…
Tip Seven: Save your little one’s strongest subject for the end of the school day to cut down on frustration. If you happen to need to sneak away to teach your older children new concepts, you can start the younger ones off and they can hold their own until you return.
Our school day typically ends around three in the afternoon. This is not an everyday schedule as we have fieldtrip days, co-op days, and playdate days pretty regularly. This is, however, the schedule we fall back on to keep us on track.
I’d like to end this post by saying there will be a day when none of this advice works. Take heart, it happens to the best of us. I will say that each semester gets easier. Before our winter break, it was much harder to keep my preschooler engaged and occupied. After winter break, things seemed more manageable. Your family will live if you do away with curricula for a moment to meet the physical, educational, emotional and social needs of your younger children. A break from monotony is always a great idea!
Now it’s your turn: How do you balance homeschool with your children? Give us some ideas that have worked for your family in the comments below!