Being outnumbered by babies and toddlers: The hardest part of Sarah’s homeschool year


Written by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things

No one likes to be outnumbered. If you’re in a soccer match and the other team has more players on the field than you, it feels like defeat before you begin.

I don’t just have more children than I do hands- I have more children than I do appendages. Juggling three kids under three while trying to teach my older three (13, 11, 9) was my biggest struggle last year, and it was a doozy, if I do say so myself.

And I do.

Being outnumbered is daunting enough. But to have three toddlers? All at once? That’s a madhouse even if you aren’t trying to teach the oldest pre-algebra and cover the details and implications of The Louisiana Purchase at the same time.

My friend Trina recently said that the difference between surviving and thriving is the simple act of savoring… there is always something sweet worth leaning into. And I think she’s right.

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The temptation I faced all year long was to default to survival mode. “It’s really hard,” I would tell myself, “but it’s only for a season. Soon it will be over, and we’ll have calmer days. We’ll be able to get to that history project or read that book together or do more than merely hang on for the ride each day.”

But there’s no savoring in a statement like that. And anyway, I don’t have any grace for tomorrow- for that “someday” when I don’t have toddlers underfoot anymore.

I don’t have grace for it because it’s not my reality.

This. Now.


These toddlers, emptying the kitchen cupboards onto the floor, again. Pulling books off shelves with wild abandon. Filling their diggers with scoopfuls of dirt in the backyard and unloading them into little piles on my kitchen table. Again.

And lest you think my toddlers are the only hard ones, my school-age children picture-perfect, let me disabuse you from that way of thinking. She’s crying over her math lesson. He’s not even trying to name those notes correctly in his piano book. There’s complaining. Bickering. Eye rolling.

Here. Now.

This is what I have grace for. This moment, where I am pulled in too many different directions and I’m unsure of how to proceed, this is what I can turn into a thriving moment by simply learning to savor it.


This past school year, I’ve simplified to such bare bones that on numerous occasions, I’ve had to stop and really consider if home was still the best place for my kids to learn.

There was a lot of doubt. A lot of overwhelm. I cried. It was all probably exacerbated because I’d just written a whole book on teaching from rest and unshakable peace.

I got to live that book in a refining-fire kind of way, and it was hard.

My homeschool does not look like yours. It is quite likely far less impressive than your own. Last year, we didn’t do any riveting hands-on projects or super exciting trips. We read aloud together, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. We made some progress in math, though not nearly as much as I hoped.

Frankly, there is nothing out of the ordinary or wildly impressive about doing the daily things. Math problems, listening to the history audio book, capitalizing proper nouns, hashing out a spelling list.


I’m finding that the hardest part of homeschooling with toddlers and babies underfoot is that the vision that lived in my head since I first dreamed up this crazy idea to homeschool looks nothing like my reality.

There aren’t really that many field trips. I don’t feel like my kids have hours upon hours to pursue their passions. Much of our day is doing the next math problem, writing the next spelling word, putting away the laundry, sweeping the entryway floor.

It’s daily and ordinary and not the spectacular, passionate kind of lifestyle that I once dreamed it to be.

But I’m okay with that. Finally. Maybe?

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I’m still working on being okay with that.

Because I have grace for this life, this reality, not the one I fancy. The savoring happens in the now.

What has helped me to savor, amidst the daily chaos:

  • Simplifying the schedule
    Because it doesn’t really matter if we have the most beautiful, carefully thought-out plan if there aren’t enough hours in the day to get to it.
  • Simplifying the curriculum
    It boils down to stepping off the crazy train, rethinking the model we are operating under, and intentionally setting out to participate in slow, sane education.

It may not be the wildly elaborate and inspired set of homeschooling plans, the most beautiful vision I had dreamed up. But it’s our reality. It’s our life, our education, and it’s what we have to savor today.


Next year, I very likely will be up against the same challenges. Rather than chasing after 1- and 2- year olds, I’ll be chasing 2- and 3. Based on the last month’s happenings, I’m not thinking that’s going to be a mite easier.

But I’ll make things as simple as possible. I’ll let my kids lose themselves in books to round out the edges and fill in the gaps.

And I’ll trust that He’s got this, even when I’m not enough, even when I mess up, and even when the day spins off its tracks and looks nothing like I wanted it to.

Because He does. Because I’m not. Because I will. And it will too.

And that’s worth savoring.

Babies and toddlers — whew! How are you savoring these messy, crazy days?

This post is part of our Hardest Part of my Homeschool Year series.

About Sarah Mackenzie

Sarah is a smitten wife, mama of six (including twins!) and the author of Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace.
She hosts the Read-Aloud Revival Podcast and spends her time running the vibrant, active membership community there.


  1. I think one of the biggest lies perpetrated by homeschoolers is that by being at home there’s more time to do fun stuff. I’ve had my crew (of 8, soon to be 12) at home for 15 years, and not once have I ever felt that I actually have more time . . . rather it’s been a constant struggle and prayer to choose what we will get done in the precious few hours of each day. Simple is my constant mantra. And I just counted and realized that I get to homeschool this coming year with 5 preschoolers/toddlers/babies!!! 🙂
    Anne’s latest post: 2014-15 Officially Closed

    • 5 preschoolers and toddlers! Wowza. 🙂 Yes, that was one of those things I had to kind of come to peace with- the fact that the vision of “hours and hours to pursue their passions” may be true in some homeschooling families, but it simply has never really manifested in mine.

      I do think my kids have more time to read than they would if they were in school, though, so there’s a win.
      Sarah Mackenzie’s latest post: I Am Not An Airplane

      • Ah Sweet Sarah! Bless you for taking a deep breath and learning to savor the moments! My reality this year is my two youngest are my only students. When I started this journey 25+ years ago, I never thought this day would come. 🙂 Quicker than I thought possible, there are no toddlers or babies under foot (unless I count my grand boys) and there still are not enough hours in the day to have the “perfect home school”. Savor every moment and continue to teach from rest.

  2. Kristin says:

    I hear ya’, Sarah!

    I have 6 “school aged kids” right now (ages 14, 13, 11, 9, 8, 6) and 4 preschool/toddlers/infants (ages 5, 4, 2, and 9 months). Ten kids – and it’s overwhelming. Every day. With the oldest hitting high school years this fall, I’m bracing myself for an even wilder ride!

    I appreciate your ideas about teaching from rest. It’s my daily challenge – my daily mantra. Like you, I’m working on it . . . always a work in progress . . .

    Thanks for your perspective so I know I’m not alone!

  3. I’m not out numbered by toddlers, but sometimes I feel like his personality trumps mine. I have 3 kids – 2 at very similar ages and stages, and then our mini boss/toddler.

    I have had to hold tight to what I’m learning about the weaknesses in my character on days when the math lesson was interrupted again. I think the mental strain from all the demands and distractions tempts me to set my vision only on what is hard and robs me of the joys of the good things in my life. There are strengths even when the weaknesses seem to be tested beyond what I can handle.

    At the end of the day, I remember that it’s the people that we value – they value me, and I them. That’s why we choose to be together. It’s not always a perfect fit, but it fits us. I love your book, Teaching from Rest. And I’ll be using the homeschooling notebooks – writing about it soon – but transforming into something all my own. I can’t wait. 🙂 2015-2016 is going to be great! Can you feel it?
    Cara Thompson’s latest post: Curricula: What We Use, Part 1: Preschool and Kindergarten

    • You said, “I think the mental strain from all the demands and distractions tempts me to set my vision only on what is hard and robs me of the joys of the good things in my life” and I couldn’t agree more. Yes, yes, and yes.
      Sarah Mackenzie’s latest post: I Am Not An Airplane

  4. Thanks for the reminder to savor the everyday. God’s Word tells us His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. We have precious gifts destroying our cabinets, but we need to savor them anyway. They are PRECIOUS.
    Leslie’s latest post: Five Great Skills My Five-year-old Learned

  5. I so needed to read this.

    After three deaths in my family this past year and my aging mother having a stroke and rapidly progressing to needing more involved care, I felt like I was hanging on to a cliff by my fingernails. Our schooling was definitely bare bones. Guilt and questioning my abilities became familiar bedfellows. God’s grace remained and His peace has kept me through it all, but it is nice to know I’m not alone in these feelings.

    So, thank you for your transparency. It was a blessing to me.


  6. The biggest takeaway from this is (for me), there’s grace for right now–in whatever stage right now happens to be. Grace, and more grace, if we’ll receive it.
    Hannah’s latest post: A Different Story (from the ones you’ve probably heard)

  7. I homeschool my 6 yr old, 2 yr and 3 month old. I feel like this parallels my life!! I’m saving it and reading it every time we have “one of those” days. My toddler is a tornado 24/7. This article is Godsent.

  8. I’m sitting here nodding my head. I have an 8, a 6, a 4, a soon to be 2, and a new one due in November. I’m looking at a much simplified year, because I can’t face pushing too hard with an infant. We’ll likely read out loud a lot. Thanks for the encouragement!
    Kessie’s latest post: Shark eaten by super predator–but not another shark

  9. I’ve got 10 children here at home (and 1 adult child), and, boy, do I know how you feel! Our kids are 21, 16, 15, 13, 11, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4, and 2, and after getting completely overwhelmed when my youngest was a baby, we resorted to unschooling them. That lasted about a year and a half, but the lack of structure was not good for our family. So right now we’re REALLY relaxed homeschoolers, and, like you, we pretty much stick to the very basics. 3x a week we do creation science related activities (cross-curricular) and we do Life of Fred math the other 2 days. Our everyday activities include a short bible lesson, copywork from the bible lesson, a read aloud (On the Banks of Plum Creek), and silent reading for the readers or Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for the 5 and 7-year-olds. That’s it. And I don’t hesitate to forgo “school” if something comes up. This little bit of structure is great for the kids because they really need some sort of routine, and it’s good for me because it keeps my fears about their education at bay. I still honestly believe they learn far more by exploring their own interests, so they still have plenty of time for that.

  10. The overwhelm of little kids got to me last year, and we quit for awhile. It was our first year, and kids of 6, 4, 2, and 9 months aren’t really that far into structured learning yet anyways. It was a good intro into the chaos though. Since then, I’ve re-evaluated what my strengths (planning) and weaknesses (implementing in the midst of interruptions and daily life) are, and I’m trying to find a way to make it all fit together better. I’m tucking away your advice to find something to savor in the moments though. That’s much better than being in survival mode until who knows when…
    Katherine’s latest post: What I’m Up To Lately…

  11. I love this post!

  12. Meredith says:

    I think I’ve (finally) started to savor this time by deliberately TEACHING the little ones. Now, 3 1/2 and 20 months are really little, so they’re not learning anything overwhelmingly “academic”, but when the 3 year-old shouts out the correct sound in the phonics song (that I’m singing with my 5 year-old), it is cause to stop singing, look into his eyes, smile, and savor. The sheer enormity of what they are actually learning by playing in the dirt and drawing with sidewalk chalk (or maybe eating it) is cause for celebration. However, for all the savoring I do, when our new baby arrives in November, I will be hiring a teenage girl for a couple hours a week, because that’s how we will manage to do our math worksheets with a newborn AND a 2 year-old (and an almost 4 year-old).

  13. Beautiful and thank you! I just have one toddler in the mix with my 14, 13, and 11 year old. The only time there aren’t tears (whether mine, the older kids, or the preschooler) is when I don’t enforce electronic gadget shut-down. I love your honesty and humility. Prayers for continued strength and grace.

  14. Tristan says:

    This has been my life our entire homeschool career so far and we’ve been homeschooling from the very beginning with the oldest now a 9th grader. I’m pregnant with #9 (due this fall) and in my 15 years of marriage I have been pregnant 13 times. That means I’ve always had pregnancy, baby, toddler, miscarriages, etc happening during every school year. I also have been blessed with a 3 year old with medical needs that take time for care every single day multiple times a day (and at night!) – the child who also had 14 surgeries before he turned 3.
    This fall I’ll have a baby and be back to four children age 4 and under, with five kids above that homeschooling. Long ago I accepted a few things:
    1. I can not do everything so I much prayerfully choose the best things. Good things have to be let go to make room for the very very best. Reading aloud, math, and filling their mind with ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty.
    2. There is only one of me so multi-level teaching is essential. Group studies are a sanity saver. This year the whole family does history together. The 7 younger kids do science together leaving me just 1 other science to teach – biology to the high schooler.
    3. If I’m not teaching them to work independently I’m letting us all down. Yes, we have our group work. But beyond that there is still individual work to be done. I can’t just teach the whole family Algebra 1 this year, I’ve got children learning fractions, subtraction, addition, and even just learning how to count to 5. I chose a curriculum where I only “teach” a new lesson once a week (Math U See). The rest of the week they practice, practice, and review all on their own. If they get stuck I am there, but that still means that generally 4 days a week they can work on math without my direct involvement unless they have a question. Each child has learned to use an assignment sheet and knows the day isn’t finished until they’ve done what’s on their list. This has also been helpful because they learn dawdling affect their free time, not anyone else’s. We do family and group subjects first in the day and if you drag out your individual work the rest of the day and miss outside time and fun happenings it’s your own fault.
    4. Love on them, love them, love. If I’m not spilling over love in our day to day encounters then we’re rubbing against one another and there is friction. I can never love too much.

  15. Three toddlers?! I think I’m going to faint just thinking about that! I’ve only got one 15 month old that is making homeschooling near impossible these days. She is always climbing on the table! I’m thinking about taking all the chairs out to the garage, we can just stand to eat and school!
    Good think she’s so cute <3

    • Haha–our 14 month old climbing on the table is driving me nuts! We finally just turned all the chairs on their sides unless we are at the table. It adds to the “lived-in” look I’m going for 😉 Yes, it is a wonderful thing toddler are so cute!

  16. Yep…every bit of it. I have medically intense kids that keep me on my knees and ever aware of the fragility of life, the fragility of me, the fragility of my kids….but it is, a unique blessing to be able to go, “Ok, breathing..or history….breathing…or math” Funny how those kinds of things hand your perspective to you, ready made on a silver platter. I LOVE Charlotte Mason’s style of education, but dang it, my kids love to breathe and go to the doctor a lot as well….I bet CM would modify her “wide and generous” education to “Yes, wide and generous…but first things first.” Yes? You ladies are doing lovely, lovely, work, keep up the real.

  17. Patricia says:

    He is enough.
    When I was starting high school with my oldest two, my youngest three were 4, 2, and 1. I remember feeling so inadequate. I felt like I was cheating my oldest two from the education they deserved.
    However, what I thought was a weakness ended up being a strength. They learned to learn on their own what I was not able to teach them. They were so well prepared for college because they were independent learners. They will both graduate from college this year, praise the Lord.
    For my younger three it ended up being a good thing also. Because I was so busy trying to do what I could with the older two, I was not pushing the younger three so much. It gave them the time to just be kids and play. Then when I was able to dedicate more time to them, they were ready.

    Don’t be afraid Sara, and don’t be discouraged by any negativity out there. The Lord honors our efforts, and wherever we fall short, he is able to do abundantly more than what we can imagine.

  18. Cameron says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post, especially for mentioning that you don’t have hours and hours of free time for exploring passions. We didn’t have that this year either, as our first official year homeschooling our oldest (of 3) for kindergarten, and I kept feeling like I was doing something wrong. I also wish we had more time for reading aloud; our days with an almost 6-, 3.5 year and 17 month old look very different than I’d imagined. All the stuff that needs to get done around the house is still there during the school day, and though a lot falls by the wayside, we still need to eat and wear clean clothes (mostly). I’m encouraged that not everybody’s days look like their visions. 🙂

  19. Im bookmarking this article so I can return and read it when our 7th baby is born in the winter. I’m schooling ages13,11,9, and 6 with a 3 yr old, and 1 year old. I can identify with a lot of what you said. Sometimes I feel kind of guilty that the kids don’t have a lot of time to pursue their interests bc we are usually doing the things that need to be done. But they are happy kids and appreciate the extras we do get to do. Thanks for the great article!

  20. This year I will be schooling a 16, 12, & 7 yr old…AND trying to do it all with a 3, 2 and a newborn due in just 2 weeks. I am a tad bit worried… this will be our 5th homeschooling year. I came across this article today. It might even help some you all here. 🙂
    Jana’s latest post: She’s TWO

  21. While I wasn’t in the thick of homeschooling like you were, I felt very overwhelmed managing 3 kids (5, 2, & 2) this year just the same. I have toddler twins and I caught myself in this awful web of longing for tomorrow and jealousy for moms who are innocent to the true difficulties of twin boys climbing all but air and conspiring together to undo, what felt like, all my work (as sweet as they are, they are still active boys). What you wrote is absolute truth. All God wants of us is to embrace what today brings. He only wants the fish and bread we have–he can make miracles with that. I’ve been praying to St. Therese. I’m asking her to show me the little way. I’m trying to move from moment to moment and not judge the outcomes of my work but enjoy the work because it is there & much more of what surrounds us is good when we put on the right perspective. I can truly, truly say that, for me, being mom to twins is H A R D, even more than I would admit here online or even to some close friends… that hard. But in a beautiful way it has broken me. It has helped me feel peace for, like you said, surrendering to savor what I have in each moment. So grateful for you, Sarah! Thanks for this!
    Ashley Anderson’s latest post: kindergarten at home!

    • Mother of twins unite! Ashley, I had twin girls last year, they are #’s 8&9 for our family. I have teenagers, who are very helpful, heck so are my 8 & 9 year olds! But twins! Even with all the help in the world, they are so.exhausting. It is like running a marathon every day, & then working the night shift nursing them. Just know you are not alone, even veteran moms are brought to their knees (ok, I often lay prostrate) by the TWINS, lol. I am surprised at how it is much harder than I am even willing to admit to my husband, because where do you start? lol!). I will join you in asking St. Therese to hook us up with her ‘Little Way’.

  22. Kim Devers says:

    I have to say that, after using your spiral-notebooking “system” all summer, I have so much more peace of mind. Not only do I have a reference to what comes next, I’ve got a record of what we’ve finished. We use the notebook to communicate with little drawings and notes. It is also a way I can quietly assess what might need tweaking. Please, do savor the craziness of toddlers and babies…my youngest of 7 is almost 9! I recently re-started homeschooling after having all children in various schools. I do not regret any years we spent homeschooling. What I do regret are the times I did NOT teach from a state of rest. We are having a great time and it’s not perfect! How wonderful that we are not perfect…right? Congratulations on the lovely new book! And thank you for helping me find the tools I needed to give me the courage to homeschool again.

  23. I pray to be overwhelmed by lots of kids to chase. But God hasn’t designed it that way, and so we have just 1 to teach and love. I often feel like I’m “less than” all you awesome moms of many, but I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the focused time with my one and SAVOR every minute. It will go too fast. It already is.

    • Sarah Jo says:

      God asks us to be faithful with what he’s given us. You are being faithful! Rest in that and continue to savor that precious child!

    • I am there with you. With one alive here with me and four awaiting me in heaven, I often read articles like this and feel completely inadequate to say that I too have days that are just plain difficult. It’s good to see I’m not alone <3

  24. This is beautiful! It is so easy to try to hurry over the hard parts of parenting and homeschooling, but all we have is the now. Such a great reminder. Thank you!
    Carolyn’s latest post: Should Harriet the Spy be a Role Model for Girls?

  25. Sarah Jo says:

    Thank you, thank you for continuing to speak to my anxious heart that says I am not doing enough and my children would receive more from a local school. While that may be true, I have to remind myself of the value of this homeschooling gig. Much like investments in God’s kingdom, this is not measurable and it might not reap dividends that I can show to others or are even measurable in my children’s aptitudes, but I believe it is good and worthwhile because it’s what we feel God is calling us to do.

  26. Shawndel cortese says:

    Your year sounds much like mine. Ours was so difficult I actually pursued a job and was ready to put the kids in school. I was completely convinced that private school was far better than the chaos we experienced at home. Even though I was offered a job a small Christian school and my kids would attend there too, my husband knew it would be too much for me (we six kids too). I turned down the job. This summer I have been listening to your read aloud revival podcast and a cd from our local homeschooling conference. Slowly the lord has restored my heart and given me his eyes once again to see the value and the importance in what i am doing here. It has been a very hard journey. With two toddlers, a kindergartner, 1st, 2nd and 4th grader the task seemed daunting and overwhelming. I have no clue what this year will turn out like but I do know that i am approaching this completely different than i did last year. I am simplifying and bc of our current living situation i am going to try and out source as much work as possible. As you said in the post, this isn’t my ideal. This isn’t my version of my homeschooling dream being played out. This is reality and were living it out right here and right now. I can either be frustrated and angry everyday or I can savor each passing moment knowing,as I’ve already seen with my olders, that time does fly and my toddlers won’t be this innocent forever. I praise god for your ministry. Your post and RAR bless my life so much. Thank you for your honesty and transparency.

  27. Sarah,

    A friend turned me on to your blog a while back. I have two boys (12, 8) that I removed from public school last year and we homeschool. Homeschooling was something I never believed I was equipped to do myself. My oldest son has 4 diagnosed mental disabilities and that was something that scared me to even attempt to handle myself. After a lot of prayer regarding his school performance, God changed my heart and mind. Between homeschooling and his therapies, we have been blessed and he is thriving. There are still ‘those days’, on both our parts–but we are hanging in there. Whenever I feel the pinch of stress, I visit your page (or book on my kindle!) to help find a place of rest and suggestions .

  28. Simple. That word calls to me. We are starting our second try at homeschooling this September and I’m using much of your wisdom. Simplify the curriculum, the schedule, and use notebooks. Thank you for the advice you give!

  29. Thank you for this post! We will be starting school this week, and I’m beginning to doubt that we will survive what the year holds for our family. My school-aged girls are 10 and 8 and we have a 4, 2, and 3 month old, so this is just what I needed to read. Thriving is what I would much rather do and it truly is all about perspective. Thank you, Sarah. You are an inspiration!

  30. I hear you! It’s always been a struggle for me too. But, yeah, He’s just there to help us get through “those” days. Great post!

    homeschool curriculum

  31. Love this article, I have been simplifying our homeschool since reading your articles all summer. I have dropped unnecessary subjects, started using the notebook method (ours is a composition notebook) and started spending more time reading aloud…. and oh the peace! We only have 1 toddler underfoot right now but it still took some serious adjusting. I love simplicity, I now realize less is more…. As a homeschooler that can sometimes be a hard lesson to learn .

  32. This is a wonderful article. Thank you for being transparent and real so that others (me!) can be inspired by you. I am a busy mom of 6 as well: 11, 9,7,5,3, and 7 months. Four boys makes my house pretty rambunctious. I love having a big family but it is the hardest job I have ever had to do in my life! So rewarding yet challenging. Smiles and frowns within seconds of each other. I find the joy in the midst of the chaos. Enjoy your journey…every moment you can. Blessings.

  33. b.a.extraoridinaire says:

    I’m really enjoying reading your articles. My mom had twins, and I remember those crazy days since I was old enough to be heavily involved. Both my parents are teachers, and my siblings and I all were, to some degree, home schooled. I’m starting my own family now and always on the lookout for resources. So happy to have found you! I was pointed in your direction by MyHumbleKitchen.

  34. Thank you so very much! Jamie, thank you for the e-mail I received last week. Coming just a few days prior to beginning our homeschool year, it was so timely. Thank you for listing all of the “Hardest Part of My Homeschool Year” series in so perfectly organized a fashion that it was easy to locate THIS post. Sarah, thank you for this post!!! This past year, through foster care (and outside of foster care), our family has grown from 2 children, to 6 children (and a grandbaby). This fall, I began my homeschool year with a 7 year old, a 5 year old, a 2 1/2 year old, a 23 month old, and a 16 month old. Three Toddlers and two to homeschool. Your post could not have been more relatable…pragmatic…affirming…encouraging! Sincerely, thank you! Love to you both! Prayers for your families and rich blessings!

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