Starting school (with activities for your younger kids)

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats

This year I’ll be teaching six kids.

Let’s pause and let that sink in a bit.

This year I’ll be teaching six kids!

Don’t get me wrong. I love having a big family. I love cooking big meals. And I love getting to the bottom of that monstrous pile of laundry each week. (Yes, it does happen every once in a while.)

But, I’ll confess that teaching six kids has me shaking in my boots a bit. This year we’ve got 10th, 7th, 5th, 3rd, 1st, and pre-K grades going. So, you can just smell the crazy brewing in my head.

That’s last year’s first day of school picture. While I did six last year, too, the game is a little more intense this year.

Planning for the start of school

In past school years, I’ve used the slow immersion method for “back to school”. That means that we start the formal school year with a few subjects. The following week we add a few more. During the third week we add a few more and so on until we are (more or less) working on our full curriculum.

It’s a wonderful way to transition for the lazy daze of summer.

This year I’ve decided to take a different tact. My boys (ages 15, 11, 10, and 8) will start slowly with literature and math the first week, things they can largely do independently of me. I’m jumping right in with my girls (1st grade  and pre-K) with both feet.

I want to make sure that my littler ones have a great start and don’t feel like “an add-on”. They are so excited that school is starting, demonstrating a “joie de vivre” that I wish their brothers shared!

Here’s what I’m doing to build a strong foundation for my younger students’ school year:

1. Have a plan for reading.

I’ve been blessed with six kids who love to read and/or be read to. Family read alouds have always been a big hit. I’ve even had much older children who think they’re too big for a read aloud drift into the room to listen.

This year, I’m going to work through 50 Books to Enjoy with Kids, a book that I coerced my mom to write. She’s worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 40 years and has a passion for teaching young children that knows no bounds.

The book is a reading list of 50 must-reads and includes extension activities to do after you read them. I think it’s a super tool to keeping you reading with your kids. (It’s similar to Five in a Row, but with more easily accessible books.)

While my first grader will have other reading and literature that we’re working on, this will be our “fun reads” together as well as the basis of my four-year old’s “school.” We’ll read at least one story each week and then do the accompanying activities outlined in the book.

2. Provide an imaginative play space.

I think most kids until the age of 8 or 9 love imaginative play. If they don’t have older teenage siblings to pooh-pooh the idea, they like it for even longer. And having a special nook or area of the home for this activity is a great addition to our school day.

Over the years, my kids have loved to have special reenactments of the historical events that we study. Role play is a wonderful way to learn.

We recently converted the cupboard under the stairs into a play closet for my girls. It’s like their very own play room — and quite honestly, a great place to contain the messes they make on any given day. I’m counting on this space to be a good spot for learning and play for them throughout the school year.

Photo by Janel Piersma

3. Set up a craft station.

While my first grader is going to have regular daily activities in reading, writing, and arithmetic and my youngest will be working through stories and hanging out with us throughout the day, they will still have a good amount of free time in addition to the time spent playing in their playhouse or in the backyard.

Having craft supplies organized and within ready reach is a must-have for this age kid. I love this craft center that my sister created and will be implementing one of my own.  Simple collage supplies, crayons, and paper are all they really need or want to spend hours creatively occupied. We’ll have the Playdough handy as well.

4. Assemble daily activity boxes.

While I haven’t been able to tackle the work box thing, I do like the idea of jazzing up a kid’s day with different activities. I bought these storage boxes for my girls last year and filled them with different things to do each week. I’m going to do the same thing this year, offering them different coloring pages, stickers, activity books, and so on, to help them feel productive and purposeful.

Note: I feel pretty strongly that pre-K students shouldn’t be forced into formal instruction. Educational play has worked really well for us at this age. But, I notice that kids of this age really like to have these kinds of activities to do on their own and are generally eager to learn. So, we’ll go with it as my daughter is interested.

I’m sure that there will be plenty of days when these grand schemes fall flat. I’ve learned that — finally. But I’m excited to enter a new school year, thankful that I’ve got at least two very eager participants, and hopeful that we’re in for another year of learning.

Both for me and for my kids.

How do you make your younger kids’ school days special?

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About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. My daughter is just shy of three so we aren’t doing anything formal yet. Lots of reading and time for imaginative play. But I love learning from someone further down the parenting and homeschooling road than myself. Thanks for sharing and I hope homeschooling six kids goes very well for you this year!
    Steph’s latest post: A Food Binder

  2. Love this, Jessica! We’re starting our oldest this year and I’m excited and scared all at the same time!
    Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: On My Nightstand: July Reading

  3. I love your approach to school w/ young kids. I feel the same way for my (almost) 3 year old, he doens’t really need academics at that age, but he so much wants to be like big bro & sis that I’m giving him a little.
    Also, love the idea of printed sign pictures to commemorate the start of the school year and LOVE that you took one of yourself. I never thought of that, but yes, I should have a picture too! 🙂
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: Homeschool Planning

  4. Homeschooling 6 children is incredible! My son is 2 and we just found out we’re pregnant with our second child (horay!). While I know in my heart homeschooling would be an incredible adventure for our family, we’re pioneers in this area for our family & friends and get a LOT of push back from them. Having just transitioned from public school teacher to stay at home mom when we moved from NY to Colorado, this is a very overwhelming time for us! I hope I have the courage and strength to push back and embark on what I think will be a wonderful journey for us in the years to come!

    • I was once in your shoes. A former teacher-turned homeschool mom with parents and in-laws who all worked in public education. Talk about push back and raised eyebrows. You can do it!
      Jessica’s latest post: 12 Ways to Save on School Stuff

      • Shelly Smith says:

        I agree with Jessica! You can do it!! Just remember that ONLY YOU are held responsible for the decisions you make regarding your family and how God is leading you to educate them. I tell myself this often, as I also have MANY public school teachers in our extended family! 🙂

  5. Excellent post! I am home educating my 7, 5 and 4 year olds (2nd, k and Pre-k) and feel a bit overwhelmed with how to organize our classes now that two are “formally” in school (i.e. the tracking portion). I love your suggestions for my K and Pre-k children and will definitely be implementing these. Off to check out the reading list ideas next……………thanks!

  6. 6 kids! I only have 2 and I am shaking lol ! ~> We also have work boxes, kinda. I bought these hanging magazine rack from offic max. I bought one for each child. There are 5 pockets on the mag. rack. (we do school 4 days a week ). In the pockets, I have every thing they need for that day. In the last pocket is almost like a everything pocket. Like extra paper, stickers, pencils, ect. It really helps me as it allows my children to be a little more independent 😉

    ~>Learning how to homeschool isn’t easy, but it’s worth it! ~> Keri, Proud HS’ing mom to DD & DS <3

  7. Can you recommend a good label maker if you use one? I know this alone will NOT cause me to be organized but I’m ready to get the little bit of help it will offer!

  8. Oh I loved this post!!! We are in the same boat exactly, We are homeschooling 6 of our eight kids this year, while the younger to tag along behind us!!! I love and relate to how keen your little learners are and the older teens – less so!!! Great post!!!
    se7en’s latest post: Se7en’s Celebrities: Katherine Marie

  9. Very helpful! I’m starting my first year with my oldest son in K, while his younger but eager sister (3) tags along. I didn’t force formal education on my son, and I don’t want to do that with her either, but I know she wants to be involved too. Thanks for the idea on independent activities – those will be handy when I need one-on-one time with the Boy!
    Tiffany @ DontWastetheCrumbs’s latest post: {Counting Crumbs} Eating From the Pantry – Easy Peasy!

  10. Any chance you are going to blog about the 50 books as you do them. I have bought your mom’s book and am planning to do this with my girls. Would love to see some of your activities.

  11. I was planning on purchasing that ebook after the summer-thanks for the reminder! I think I’ll use it with both kids-my 5 y/o will be attending public kindergarten, but my 2 year old will be home with me. (unlike his sister at that age, who attended a mom’s morning out a couple of times a week).While I certainly don’t plan on doing anything formal with him, I do want to have a few specific things each week that he & I can do together while Big Sister is in school. I’m looking forward to the beginning of the school year in 9 days!

  12. Great ideas. My hubby and I got a good laugh from your pic above! Can totally relate, but by half. 🙂
    Kerry @ Made For Real’s latest post: Color Your World – Purple

  13. Where did you get the 4 plastic containers? I. Old sure use some.

    • It’s supposed to say I “could” sure use some.

      Just so you know in Internet Explorer it thinks I am spam and says there’s a security question to answer but none displays. I also tried emailing you through your form and that also says I am spam. I tried 4 times. On the iPad it worked. Just thought you should know

    • Those are just cheapo plastic shoeboxes. My sister put construction paper in them to hide the contents and increase the visual appeal.
      Jessica’s latest post: Win a Copy of The Penniless Princess

  14. We instead are beginning our school year with a celebration of homeschooling. My son asked to bake. Cake that represents how he feels about homeschooling, pink and red to show his love of it. Of course, we can’t avoid learning even on a celebration day since learning is all around us. 😊

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