The homeschool hack that’s saved my sanity for 8 years

The homeschool hack that's saved my sanity for 8 years
By Jamie C. Martin of Simple Homeschool

Note from Jamie: This year’s FREE Read the World Summer Book Club kicks off June 5th, and it would be an honor to have your family join us! Details and registration here.

So I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but kids can be LOUD.

Like REALLY loud.

Happy loud sometimes. Unhappy loud at others.

And when you get lots of them together? VERY loud!

Confession: I don’t particularly care for loud.

I also tend to be an all-or-nothing person, which shows in the fact that my husband Steve and I added three kids to our family in less than three years. Less than two years separate them in age–and even less separate them developmentally.

After our daughter Trishna joined our family, we had a four, three, and two-year-old. Suddenly, a good portion of my life was loud. And though I was no fortune teller, I was smart enough to guess that I had a decade, give or take, of more loud coming my way.

Some people handle loud just fine. I’m not one of them.

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The three gorgeously loud beings of which I speak

Back in 2007 when I was adjusting to my new life as a mom of three, I didn’t yet know that I was a highly sensitive person as well as an introvert. Looking back with that knowledge, it makes perfect sense that I would find life’s sudden, uncontrollable volume overwhelming.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I knew I had to make life at home at least a little quieter if I was going to survive it, as well as add homeschooling to the mix.

A parent’s desperation–I think that’s how some of the best life hacks have been invented over the years!

My own conundrum led to an idea. One that’s gone on to save my sanity and allow me to continue homeschooling for eight years and counting.

What it looked like then

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I first came up with the idea of “sections” from remembering centers in a preschool I had worked in. It started with the play chart above.

Each child came downstairs in the morning and, in lucky day order, chose the area they’d like to play in after breakfast and morning reading. One child per area.

There might be toys in the place they chose or they could bring toys with them. If they chose the kitchen, they could play in the sink with water and cups.

This helped tremendously. It was not perfect, mind you, but it was better. Sustainable.

Suddenly there was a bit of breathing room in my day–it wasn’t completely VOLUME ON from the first moment we woke up. There was ebb and flow. We used this for most of the morning. The children could change their area if they got bored, providing another spot was free.

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Painting with preschoolers? Sometimes fun, sometimes (you guessed it!) loud

Over time, this concept naturally evolved. At some point we dropped the chart and the kids had assigned areas. At one point, we used a timer so they knew when to switch.

As a maximizer, I tried it all–tweaking as we went along. We even had a season when we did sections outside as well to cut down on outdoor bickering, before moving to the country with a much larger yard.

In all honesty, I should mention that a good part of my energy, at first, went to helping the children learn to stay in their assigned areas. Looking back, this investment of time was well worth it. Sections helped all of us be our best selves.

What it looks like now

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I had no idea at the time, but I had actually stumbled upon something that would aid our homeschooling life tremendously.

As the kids got a bit older, sections allowed me to have nurturing Core Phase time with each child on their own. This was a huge blessing, as I love spending time with my sweet kiddos individually (i.e. not so loud!).

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These were hours of snuggling with a book between us, working on a craft project, or learning handwriting and other skills.

But as the kids reached love of learning phase I was surprised to see how this time naturally transitioned to a more academic focus. My children now had goals of their own they wanted to work toward, things they knew they needed my help with in order to improve.

In the past week, for example, during sections I’ve helped kids with the following:

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When I was busy with one child, the other two worked or played on their own projects–sometimes a continuation of what we’d started together, sometimes something new.

For more snapshots of how this has worked in our family, check out my day in the life posts over the years.

What’s the point?

If you’re a highly sensitive homeschooler, if you also have kids close in age, or if you just need a change and a way to spend time with each child, perhaps this idea is one to experiment with in your home. It’s been a lifesaver in ours.

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But the main takeaway I want to leave you with today is this: YOU DO YOU.

If something in your day is consistently off, don’t immediately assume that homeschooling must not be for you. Get unconventional, try stuff again and again–even if it’s something you’ve never heard of anyone else doing before.

Like me, you just might find that your desperation leads to exactly what God knew you needed all along.

Originally published on April 18, 2016.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.

Comments

  1. This idea sounds perfect, but the problem is that we have 12 people (10 children) living in a twin house. Do you have any suggestions for when there just isn’t enough space to separate everyone individually?
    Shelly’s latest post: Why Should We Homeschool?- Part 1- Safety

    • That would present a challenge, Shelly, but I bet it’s one you could overcome if you really wanted to give it a try! Even if it wasn’t an entire room but just an area of it, or part of the yard, or “fill in the blank” – with a bit of trial and error it might work. You’d know which of your kids could handle being near each other and which would need to be separated for volume control! 😉

      • Maybe do “teams” of either kids who work well together or who can do separate things in the same room together?

    • We’ve always done “room time,” same basic concept. We’d do it in the afternoon, after school when this introvert mom needed some space. We’d have it for an hour and I’d use it for bible study, or exercise, or sometimes just sitting quietly with no one talking to me or each other. Just a quiet break in the middle of the day for everyone. It’s been a wonderful thing for all of us, as now the kids ask for room time to also get some space. When we lived in a smaller house and some kids shared rooms we had “areas.” One would get the blue couch area, mine was the green couch area (in the same large room), some would get bedrooms, or reading chair areas, or outside. It was just a time to be quiet with some books or toys, it didn’t need huge amounts of space. When my kids were little we started “blanket time” which was just that they had to stay on the blanket with whatever they wanted to play with. It was in the same room as others, but just started out small 15 minutes to start training a young child. It can be a lifesaver when a mom needs to get some cooking done to keep the kids out from underfoot!

    • Lauren Heimann says:

      Take a look at Montessori classrooms–I’ve been impressed in my visits at the way a bookcase or a potted plant have been used to section off spaces so that individual kids feel like they each have their own space while they’re all in the same classroom.

    • Hi Shelly,
      Sorry I am a little late to your question. We have found that if we move the bed times until later at night that works for us… We have 10 under our roof…. Since most of the time in the evenings they want to spend quiet time in there own rooms after dinner. It makes the most sense that there is more awake time then and sleep time in the mornings.. So the kids go to bed at 11pm all days except sunday night is 12pm. (Monday being our Saturday) They tend to get up around 9am, breakfast at 11, and dads home before you know it. Family dinner and sometimes a show or bible time..followed by bed routine and quite time playing in their room until lights out…this also give dad and I time as well each night. It’s not the norm..but neither is unschooling 😀

    • We don’t have enough space for my 5 to be seperate in the house. I have read about using headphones for quiet time. I really like this idea so I am going to think about it some more. Hope you find some good ideas!

  2. I am a list person and it is very helpful to me to sort of have a roadmap (with lists!) before I get started on an idea. Does each section have a predetermined intention or is it just the geography and being in a different place that naturally creates a different environment and different kinds of discovery? I would love some ideas of what to put in each section to cultivate curiosity and interest. I am really contemplating how this could work for us… Thank you!!

    • Hi Kelli! For the most part the different sections did not have any kind of rules about what to do in them…though someone could of course add that in if they wanted to. It was more for the purpose of matching short attention spans and give everyone a change of scenery now and again. Certain toys were kept in certain spots, though, so that would naturally lead to different types of exploration and play. You could, though, depending on the ages of your kids, take this up a notch and make like a science area, a reading nook, etc, which could be really fun!

      The kids knew that at some point they would also have time with me, and then I’d usually let them choose what they wanted us to do together. It was an excellent way to make sure I prioritized that type of quality time that can sometimes go by the wayside. Hope this helps!

  3. When I last saw you (2008?) I was so impressed with this morning routine. I remember Trishna playing at the sink. It reminded me of my favorite preschool play time. Can’t wait to see those three in action SOON! xo
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Why We Read

    • You know, I always felt kind of weak and embarrassed back then about not being able to handle “all kids, all the time,” but now when I mention this to folks like you who have actually been in our home, so many of them talk about how they enjoyed seeing what we did. Can’t wait to see you soon, too!!

  4. Thanks for sharing your great ideas, Jamie. Too much noise gets me every time! You mentioned you started this when one of your children was just two years old. I would love to know how that worked early on. I have a toddler under two with a short attention span who can’t always be trusted alone. Is this a realistic idea for a child this age, and if so, what did training them to stay put entail for you?

    • I’m trying to remember, Brianna. I think at that age I used pack n plays quite a bit. We had a sunroom with glass doors, so even with doors closed I could keep an eye on what any littles were up to. I think at under two it might be a little different, yes, but you could experiment to see what might work (definitely a lot of trial and error was involved with our sections). Or maybe assigning an older child to be with the toddler could be an option?

      • Thanks…all good ideas I need to do more of. We also have a glass door enclosed sunroom, which is located right off the kitchen. Let’s just say it’s come in handy and been a big favorite feature of our house! 😉
        Brianna’s latest post: He is the Sky

    • Oh and highchairs–definitely highchairs, but close by to Mom so they felt part of the action!

  5. Oh, my. I think you just saved my life and my homeschool. Thanks! 🙂

  6. This is a fabulous idea! When we brought our third child from China home (5th child) I started blanket time for my own sanity. I like area time even better!!

  7. Thank you for this! I needed a change in our homeschool days. My middle child is a fluent reader and my oldest isn’t, it is the cause of great frustration and I needed to figure out more individual work time!
    Pamela’s latest post: books we have loved this year

  8. I’m curious how long/what periods of time you do this for? My kiddos are currently 18mo, 3.5, 5, 7, 9. I too am highly sensitive and the noise all day kills me. Though I’m an extrovert, I CRAVE quiet time. For now, I have a mostly quiet-ish naptime (for about 1.5hrs) when the younger 2 are napping in the afternoon. And maybe that’s all there will be? I think I’d feel guilty that I were not helping them to get along and be with one another more? Like I was hindering them by just separating them instead of helping them learn to live with each other. Does that make sense? What are your thoughts? It sounds quite lovely really. 😉

    • I get what you’re saying, Terra! In my experience, my kids have SO much time together because of homeschooling (like their entire lives!) that I feel like they’ve had plenty of time learning to live together even with doing this to maintain a minimum level of peace. Without doing this, in my case, I think I would have burnt out, ended up having to put them in school, and then they’d have even less time together learning how to get along and be friends.

      We also have an “afternoon study time” which used to be the kids’ rest/nap time. But like I say in the post, it’s all about finding what works for you and what you and yours need. If you check out some of my day in the life posts from when the kids were younger, you can get a deeper feel for times and how this has practically looked for us. Hope that helps!

  9. Hi Jamie,
    Thank you so much for this! Sometimes being in the thick of things makes it hard to find manageable solutions. I’m also an HSP introverted mama, with 4 children under 9. There are days that I just want to hide up in our room due to all the noise. This routine might just be the thing that I’ve been looking for – an answer to prayer. Thank you!
    Danielle’s latest post: Serving in Obscurity

  10. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate Simple Homeschool. Your information is so insightful, so similar to our way of doing things in our home. I have shaped my homeschooling using much of the information you have provided. I get so many great ideas from you! I just wanted you to know that – and how helpful you have been to us. This info. is fantastic for us as I have a 5, 8, and 9 year old that I homeschool and just the perfect amount of room and space for them to practice this. I LOVE it! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!

  11. Thanks for the link! I wish I had done this 10 years ago! 🙂 It would have been a life saver. Now that my kids are older, they are naturally finding separate corners when they need to, although it would be nice if I took more control of it and got quiet time when *I* needed it too!
    Amy’s latest post: Lessons I’m learning from Ernest Shackleton

  12. I have been struggling through how to get some quiet time each morning to read my bible and collect my thoughts before the day runs away, without noise and interruption. This might work!

  13. Thank you for this! I was just telling someone the other day how one of the most difficult parts of homeschooling is all the sibling bickering! When I happen upon a blog post that expresses my experience so well it makes me tear up. Wow! Someone else actually gets it! I never thought of separating the kids.

  14. This is a wonderful idea! I have 3 kids aged 4 and under and this sounds like a great new way to let them have some time apart (especially since the older two gave up napping)! Thank you for this.

  15. Rebecca says:

    This is perfect timing. I love this idea and I think it might just be the change I desperately need right now. I am also a highly sensitive mama and I’m at my wits end with all the noise and activity of my 6. Homeschooling if very challenging for me and since we can’t afford private school and public schools are getting worse than ever, I feel a bit trapped in our crazy homeschooling days…. yeah some good days but the bad ones are building up heavy on me. I’m going to make a chart tonight. Say a prayer it works!

  16. Nicole Caraccilo says:

    God bless your heart! I have been at my witts end, I am a single mother of 3 boys ages 2,7, and 13 -they are all about to have birthdays in october- anyway, I am a highly sensitive person with anxiety and an introvert; i hate noise. I CRAVE silence. The main problem I have in my house is that these little God given beings, make noise-it hurts my brain, it startles me and makes me jump, it is just horrible, it harassesses me all day long, and ruins our projects that are ment to be fun, and makes me feel guilty for yelling at them about the noise(yea the irony i know) but you may have given me an idea as good as gold! Thank you so much! 🙂 Do you have any more ideas?

  17. This is encouraging to me simply to know that I’m not the only one who is overwhelmed by noise. It is a severe sensory overload to me. I often feel like a scrooge and terrible mom when it’s too much for me. (Not saying that for affirmation fishing, just being blunt 🙂 ). When my kids are really loud, I just send them outside because I do like that they are playing together, and they are enjoying it. But sometimes my sanity can’t take it! I know they say someday I’ll miss this, but sometimes I can’t fathom that. lol

  18. So. You all will one day miss this 😆 says the mom of an almost 18 year old who is now an apprentice in the workplace and an almost 16 year old off to college next year. But ladies. Routine saved my life! I live in a small house, no other homeschooling families,around, and so zones in the home and a daily routine helped us all. You are not supermoms. You need to recharge. Even if just an hour after lunch. And its sooooo good for your kids too! It teaches independence and self occupation. Your kids get plenty together time and having a mom who had her time to herself, puts you in a better position to give one to one quality time. Home school should be a journey of discovery, not a chore. Be kind to yourself x

  19. Ginger says:

    Jamie, I am curious about the online piano lessons but the link does not seem to be working? Can you tell me the name of the program you like?

  20. I love the encouragement to keep trying different things instead of assuming homeschooling is not for you. So good!
    June’s latest post: Why I don’t make my bed: 7 Reasons

  21. My children’s energy can make me feel like I’m in front of a drumline. My whole body starts to vibrate. It’s odd and super uncomfortable. If they can go outside, it’s great. If not, we have to figure out ways to “simmer down”. Glad to know I’m not alone 🙂

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