Multiply (Yourself) and Divide (Your Work)

What mom doesn’t sometimes wish she could clone herself in order to have more hands, feet, and laps? Add on teaching duties for several children and you may start to fantasize growing a few extra heads like the mythical hydra. Years ago I counted the number of subjects I was teaching at different levels and came up with something over twenty. I don’t even try to count now with seven students because it would depress me. Nonetheless, the better job I do thinking through and using ideas to multiply myself, the less crazy I am and the more we get done.

Many strategies exist for teaching a houseful of children from combining groups of kids for subjects like history, science, foreign language instruction, and Bible to artfully using technology in order to temporarily bring another teacher into your home. We certainly use these tactics, but watching Amanda a few days ago with Ben reminded me just how much I value another technique - older children instructing younger ones. The great thing about this is that it is beneficial to all involved – the younger ones who get more one-on-one attention and instruction, the older child who cements his knowledge and learns how to teach, and you who are able to multiply yourself!

Many times this relationship between older and younger children happens very naturally and spontaneously. Yay! Your job in those cases is simply to encourage it to continue. In other instances you need to be more active in helping your children work together. Some pairs of children work better together than others, and often the greater the age gap the more effective this is. I only rarely pair adjacent siblings. Also, initially my kids sometimes think that getting a sibling is second class to getting mom, so it takes some effort to assure them that in the end working with a brother or sister means more mom time in other areas.

Here are a few examples to get you thinking how this can work out in your home. When a child learns to read he needs lots of oral practice, so reading to a sibling allows him to do this and entertain the younger one as well. You can have children work in pairs for spelling practice and math drills. Often in our home I’ll ask an older child to stop and explain a math concept or a Latin assignment if I am busy with someone else. Today I had Faith (10) give a reading lesson to Ben (5) and help him with his phonics workbook so I could sit with Amanda who was finishing a critique. These types of interactions occur almost constantly, and are one of the benefits of homeschooling. Most of the time this helps foster warm sibling relationships, though if a younger child does not respect the older one, you’re going to have issues.

You can go beyond this spontaneous help, though. At times I have scheduled an older one to tutor a younger child. This was especially important last year when I had an extra (non-family) student for the first semester. In Kara’s senior year while she was taking a Master Naturalist class (like the Master Gardener program) I had her write lesson plans and then use them to teach nature studies to the PK and elementary students. Last year I had Kristen teach writing to Peter throughout the year. Thinking through which siblings will work well together and actively planning that in the schedule can make a huge difference in daily peace and productivity.

Not only in school subjects, but also in chores, it’s a great idea to have siblings working together and teaching one another. That was what I was seeing as Amanda was supervising Ben in the simple job of putting away his clothes. I had told her that I didn’t want her to do it for him, but to teach him how to do it himself. I’ve also had times where I have had children apprentice another one in a chore that was currently the older one’s. “You can pass this job on to your brother when he can do it well,” I’ve said. Instant motivation for the older one to be a good teacher.

It sounds self-serving, this idea of having older children instruct younger ones. But as wonderful as the benefits already mentioned, something even more significant is going on: the older one, himself, receives lessons in how to teach. Note the three generations mentioned in the Deut. 6 passage below: you, your son, and your grandson. Parenting is not just about raising one generation to fear the Lord; we need to have a multi-generational approach. We need to not only teach our children, but also teach them how to teach so they can instruct our grandchildren! So look for opportunities to have your children teach one another. Not only will it help keep your (single) head from exploding, you will be giving your kids a great start in instructing the next generation!

Deut 6: 1,2 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.”
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