322 | Homeschooling Multiple Children: You Can Do it! (Jeannie Fulbright)
By following these five guidelines, you can homeschool multiple children with excellence and ease.
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright Hello and welcome to the Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jeannie Fulbright, and I am one of the hosts here on the Homeschool Solutions Show. While the title of the show is Homeschool Solutions, we don't pretend to have all the answers. Each week we bring you encouraging conversations from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. But it is our hope that this podcast would point you to Jesus Christ, that you may seek his counsel as you train your children in the way they should go. We're so glad you joined us for today's conversation.
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Now on to today's show.
You can successfully homeschool multiple children, and there is a way to do it that makes it easy and enjoyable for the whole family while still providing an excellent education for everyone. I'm going to share with you some of the tools and tips and tricks and guidelines that will really make homeschooling a joy, no matter how many children you're homeschooling at once. And I think that you'll find these guidelines really helpful and a blessing as you implement them in your own homeschool. And I have to tell you that I implemented these guidelines in my homeschool very successfully, and I hope that they will help you as well.
So I've come up with five ideas that you should incorporate into your homeschool so that you are transitioning to the homeschooling of multiple children with effortless ease to make it a wonderful experience so that you won't become overwhelmed or overworked, and your children will enjoy and delight in homeschooling so much more if you implement these methods. So let's begin.
The first thing you must do is teach your children together. Everybody sits down and is learning from the same book— which in homeschooling we call the major book, The Spine. So, for example, in history, you are reading to all your children—from first grade through high school—from an engaging book that explains history in a way that brings it to life and that a high schooler will love and enjoy, but a first grader can glean from as well. Now, of course, your high schooler is going to learn a lot more and remember a lot more and understand the intricacies of the certain things that happened and the individuals and personality. And there's just going to be a lot more than your high schooler is going to get from the book. So it is rich in content, but it is written so engagingly well that your kindergartner or your first grader— they're going to be learning things at a higher level than choosing curriculum that dumbs down the information for young children. Because in truth, your first grader is capable of learning so much more than a grade level book is giving them credit for. They are sponges and their curiosity is active and alive. You want to respect your younger children enough to give them learning materials that builds a strong foundation in understanding the world. And I believe that your first grader is going to glean things you didn't even know they were gleaning if you choose a spine that is enjoyable for your whole family.
There are a lot of subjects you can do together. Bible and devotion, history, geography, science, nature study, all the liberal arts, music and composer study, and poetry. The one subject that you do need to separate your children out with different curriculum is math and some other higher level courses that high schoolers need, such as chemistry and high school physics and those sorts of things. But generally, most of the subjects can be done together with your whole family. So that is the first thing you want to focus on when you are homeschooling multiple children. You do not want to separate them out into grade level curricula that— this is for 1st grade and this is for 12th grade and this is for 8th grade. Because that is a waste of time and it does not build the family unity that learning together will. And there are great things out there that you can use to teach everybody together. You just have to find them. And I will definitely list some in the show notes.
And you definitely want to let go of the methods of instruction that are ineffective and unproductive. And I'm here to tell you that most of those methods are the methods that they're using in the school system, and they have been proven to be ineffective for the school system. The National Center for Educational Statistics shows that American schoolchildren are scoring at the bottom and they drop down progressively lower and lower as the years continue. Fourth grade, they're scoring below average. Eighth grade, they're way below average. By twelfth grade, they are below proficient in almost every subject area. So we need to look at those models and we, as homeschoolers, can toss out those methods that don't work and use methods that have been proven effective.
The trends in international math and science study found that American school children were scoring at the bottom because their curricula was an inch deep and a mile wide. They were covering too much material in one year. Trying to cover every field of science rather than going deep into one field of science. Immersing in a subject has shown to be so much more effective than trying to cover too much material. To really know a subject, we must know it well. We must know it deeply. And this is what countries that are scoring at the top on international assessments in all subject areas— they are going deep into one field, one topic, and immersing in that topic until the children have so much wonderful information that they have almost expert level information. And yes, a second grader can learn—in immersion approach—concepts that seem out of reach. But actually, those second grade minds, those first grade minds are brilliant, and they really can understand far more than we give them credit for. It is so wonderful for them to be given such amazing, in-depth knowledge, and what that does is it creates a love for learning in the young people.
If we only give them surface level information believing that, "Well, we'll discuss the deeper stuff later," the children begin to dislike education because it is boring on the surface. But once you go deep and you start studying people and things that happened in history, or you start studying that in-depth information about what's really going on with the scientific processes, children actually fall in love with learning because they are actually learning rather than being required to just memorize surface knowledge. So we do not want to use the spiral approach to education. It doesn't work. It extinguishes that love for learning. It makes learning boring and it causes your children to not enjoy their education. And so the spiral approach— out the window. The whole book immersion approach should be employed with all of your children in every subject except math. Children should stay at their level with math. If you teach math concepts before their brain is developmentally ready, they will be impossible to understand and the child will feel like he isn't good in math when he might be brilliant at math when he's actually ready. So don't push them ahead in math, because that can be detrimental.
Another method they use in school is textbooks— dull, dry, drained of living thought textbooks. We want to use living books with our children. Living books are books that bring the subject to life. There is a engaging narrative that draws the children in and captures their imagination. Most fiction books would be considered living books, especially well-written ones, but you can also find living books in nonfiction books. You can find living books in science and history and geography and art study. The way it's written is what makes it a living book. Do you recognize a person writing the book?
Facts and information is not an education, and no matter how eloquently written the facts and information are, they are not going to engage our children and make them fall in love with learning and make them fall in love with the subject at hand and make them care. We want to choose books that make our children care about the subject, and the only way our children are going to begin to care is when they read an author that actually does care about the subject and they convey their passion. They convey their interest. They talk to the reader in the book, talking about what's interesting and fascinating about this subject. They ask questions to help our children begin to mull over the amazing truths and fascinating concepts they are learning about.
Living books bring our children into that passion and love for learning that a dull, dry textbook—which Charlotte Mason calls "twaddle"—does not do. There is so much evidence that choosing living books will ignite that love for learning. Your children come in to homeschooling with an interest in learning. They come into this world with curiosity. Every time that baby reaches for a new thing, constantly looking for the newest thing— that is their passion and desire to learn. And that is a wonderful thing as they grow bigger. They're asking why. They're looking around. They want to understand the world. And then they get into school, and the school system gives them material that makes everything sound so dull and dry. We do not want to do that to our children because our children are curious, and we want to capitalize on their curiosity and jump through those windows of interest that they open and help them to learn everything— whole book, living book, bring it to life.
Another methodology we want to scrap that does not work that is part of the American school system and some other countries that are scoring at the bottom— and that is the use of worksheets and quizzes. In public and private schools, worksheets and quizzes are designed to measure children against each other. They're designed to determine which children are paying close attention when the teacher's teaching and have a really good short term memory, which children are actually reading the material at home that they've been assigned. The worksheet does not engage the children in deeper learning and deeper work with the material. All it does is access that short term memory so they can circle that answer— A, B, C, true, false. And that is not increasing their learning so that it brings retention of the subject. Project based learning has been shown to increase a child's understanding of a subject, retention of the subject, and move the material from the short term memory to the long term memory.
Another approach is narration, which is a Charlotte Mason philosophy tool where you ask the child to tell back the information they learned in their own language, and this can be done with all the children together. Ask them to narrate. Ask them, "So explain to me how the sun gets its power." "So explain to me what you learned about baleen whales." "Explain to me what happened during the Boston Tea Party? Why did they do what they did?" When that information has been read to them, explained to them, when they have to stop and think about it to put it in their own words, there is a lot going on in that little brain of theirs, and neural pathways are being developed as they are contemplating, thinking, really imagining it in their head and then telling you, in their own words, becoming the teacher of the knowledge. You know your children have really learned something when they're excited to explain it to someone else. When one of the parents comes home from work and they're explaining this thing that they learned, that's something that they truly understood and learned. Typically they got excited about it because it was presented well. And they remember it because they've been talking about it. So we want to get our children talking about what they've learned because that is going to increase retention. That's a methodology that works and that can be used together with the whole family. And it's a beautiful way to help your children fall in love with learning.
Again, worksheets and quizzes do not do anything but measure children and whether they've read the material. Because a child who fills out a worksheet and quiz and gets 100 on it, doesn't necessarily love or remember the material. If we use a worksheet after a learning period, the child never moves that information from the short term memory to the long term memory. And if you ask them a year later what they learned, you'll find that they don't remember it at all. I know this from experience.
So another important thing for you to do with homeschooling multiple children is to have the older children help school the younger children. I know it seems like the older children have so much work to do that they shouldn't be taking an hour out of their day to help with the younger children, but the character qualities that an older child will develop are so much more important than the schoolwork that they are doing. Schoolwork can keep. Character cannot. And a child who is giving to his family will learn to give to his family, will learn to give to others, will become a person of deep and profound character. And that is far more important than any lesson in any subject in school.
A child who is helping to teach the younger children will grow in their own confidence, will grow in life skills that will help them for their entire lives. When an older child is teaching younger children something they already know, such as the alphabet, reading, reading aloud to them. This gives the older child a feeling of confidence that they need in life and in all the things that are up ahead for them. So giving them that opportunity also not only just build something really valuable inside our older children, it also builds a unity and joy and oneness between siblings.
And also, I always recommend if you have babies have a 30 minute play period where the older child will take time from their schoolwork and play with the baby while you are working with children who need your undivided attention. And again, that does build family unity. It makes the homeschool go much more smoothly. And it teaches your older children to have a servant's heart and a servant's spirit.
The fourth thing you want to do is encourage your children to grow in independence. When I explain the steps to independence, I always talk about a swing. When your child is a baby, they have to be in those little cup swings and they have to be pushed. Every single time they go anywhere, it's because you have pushed them. They have no ability to push themselves, and then they move into the saddle swings, and they are still used to you pushing them so you continue to push them. But then you encourage them to pump their legs a little bit. And it's very hard and tiring for them, and they'll do it for a little while, but then they want you to swing them. And so you continue to swing them a little bit. But you also continue to get them to pump their legs. And as they continue to work to pump their legs, eventually, they don't need you anymore. They can swing themselves all on their own. They're completely in control. They decide how high they'll go. They own the swing for themselves. It's their experience.
And this is the same for homeschooling. We want to start with small steps in helping them to become independent. Read the instructions for yourself. Once they've learned to read, they can read the instructions for an assignment or an activity. They can read and learn and figure it out. Now, if they have trouble reading for comprehension, you can help them a little bit by asking them, "What do you think that means?" Help them to learn how to discern and figure out what is required of them in the different subjects. Choose material and curricula that allows for them to be independent, that does not require you to do a lot of prep work. You want to choose curricula that fosters independence. I always preferred curricula that my children could do on their own, especially because I was a working mom. I was writing a lot of science books, as most of you know. I wrote all those science books from the Apologia elementary series while my children were young. So it was really important that as I was talking to customers on email and helping others, I would need my children to be able to continue doing their work on their own. And as much as possible, I would choose curricula that allowed that and encouraged that. I chose curricula that gave easy instructions.
Children who have learned to be independent learners will do better as they grow older and pursue education. Children who are independent learners are not learning for a quiz or a test. They're learning because the knowledge belongs to them, and we need to give them a vision for their future, and that will empower them to be independent learners. If we let them know this is your education for you. You're not learning this for me. You're learning this for you because God has a plan for your life, and he wants to use you for his purposes, and he needs you to learn the things that you need to learn in order to be good at the things that God has called you to do and that God has planned and prepared for you to do. By imparting this vision, your children will restrain themselves to focus, and they will be getting knowledge for themselves. Charlotte Mason says, "The knowledge children get for themselves is most valuable to them."
Unlike those who have jumped into homeschooling with both feet and all their children together, when I started homeschooling, I was homeschooling my oldest child alone. So when it was time to bring the younger children into the fold, my oldest child wasn't too happy that she was not getting the undivided attention that she had become used to, and she was jealous. She pushed against the need to read the instructions or to write without me watching her pen moving across the paper or reading things on her own, though she was perfectly capable of doing it. And she had to be independent and it was hard. It was a big change. But she eventually did become independent.
In the end, that turned out to be such a blessing for her because she became a ballerina. And when I say ballerina, I don't mean she just took ballet classes. She actually was training with top ballet companies across the country, and in between her training, she was doing her work independently. She had to be independent, and a lot of the children that are very talented in ballet had come out of the public schools. And so when they go into these programs that have intense training, they're supposed to do their schoolwork each day, then do their training also throughout the day. And so my daughter was capable of doing all the work she needed to do for high school independently because she had learned to be an independent learner early on.
Unfortunately, a lot of these girls in this high school program—and boys too—were not doing their work. And for her, it was easy for her to get her work done to know what she needed to do and to conquer it and then focus on ballet as well. Sadly, a lot of those children—those boys and girls that were not doing their schoolwork during their ballet training—didn't end up finishing ballet. They were not accepted into great programs or they got an injury. There were a lot of reasons why they were unable to reach that career goal of being a professional ballerina or ballet dancer. And what was really tragic about that was that they didn't have other choices. They didn't have opportunities open for them because they didn't have records of their work through high school. They couldn't do well on the S.A.T. because they didn't restrain themselves to do the hard things, to do algebra, to do geometry, to learn to write great essays, to learn to read literature. They were not doing it. My daughter was.
And as it turned out, my daughter was offered a job at a professional ballet company. She was offered a job at the Orlando Ballet to dance professionally at the age of 17, and she really prayed about it. And I prayed about it. I knew that this was a dream and I was going to let her pursue her dream. But she came to me one day and she said, "Mom, I think I want to go to college instead." She had some friends that were not ballet dancers—not very many—but she really saw the excitement that they were exhibiting about looking at different colleges and going to college. And she said, "Mom, I just think I want to go to college." Well, she was able to transition from focusing on ballet all day long every day to focusing on getting a great score on the S.A.T. and getting into college. And she got into college on scholarship. Because she had learned to be an independent learner as a young child, she was able to continue her education under very strange circumstances that most people were unable to accomplish. And the children that did not end up dancing ballet but did not restrain themselves to do their work independently ended up in careers that were not what they would have chosen for themselves if they had been given the opportunity to experience college and the college life, as my daughter did.
Jay Wile, who many of you know, has written wonderful science curricula for homeschoolers, was a college professor and he found that his top students at university were those who had been homeschooled. And he learned later that the reason they were such great students in college is because when they were in high school, they were learning independently. They were in charge of their curriculum. They were in charge of every aspect of completing it and reading the teacher's manual. And that's what we want to do. When we encourage our children to be independent, we teach them to read the instructions, we teach them to grade their own work and we put them in charge of their own schedule, we allow them to have control over their homeschool experience, and this is what gives them the autonomy that they need to do well in college or career. As children get older, we want to allow them the opportunity to plan their own journey for graduation. In fact, I created a book called My College Roadmap. It's available on Amazon, but what it does is it gives children—it gives middle school and high school students—total control over planning their course towards college admission. And it's very autonomous. It has a personality evaluation in the beginning so they can think about possible careers. And I think it's really helpful for a child to kind of have some careers in mind when they are considering their future, because if they have some possible careers, they will restrain themselves to do the hard stuff now. So encourage independence. Hand their education over that to them and allow them the autonomy to be in charge of it.
And the fifth thing that I believe is so important in homeschooling multiple children is that you make sure that you are helping your children to keep their eyes and hearts focused on the Lord because the Holy Spirit is capable of helping our children to learn, helping our children to understand the material they're learning and helping our children to do well and to restrain themselves, as I talked about before. We want our children to truly find strength in Christ. Where they are weak, he is strong. And as we help our children to keep their focus on Jesus, we will see the fruit that he develops in them so clearly and they will be able to be independent, to help with the younger children, to love what they're learning, and to help you choose books, to be in charge of their schedule.
We have to trust that the Holy Spirit really does love our children and wants to be their ultimate, their primary teacher. Charlotte Mason talks about how God has continual access to the thoughts of our children, and we want to give them the kind of education that allows God to work in the hearts of our children through the margin we give them. And we do this by beginning every morning with a focus on the Lord— Bible reading, prayer, hymn study. Spending time focusing on the most important thing will actually help our children to accomplish all the other, less important things like their academic studies. And they will have a better attitude, they will have a sweeter spirit, they will be more diligent if we take that time—and I mean, take some good time in the morning—to do that. They will be more productive. They will be more efficient. They will actually complete their work. But if we are depending on the work to get completed without God's help, we're going to find that we're going to have a lot of tears and we're going to have a lot of frustration and inability to understand what they're learning.
There's a lot that goes into having a successful homeschool day, and we need the Lord to be the number one help in our day. And it also helps us to get our spirits right to get our hearts in the right place, to spend time with the Lord first thing in the morning and teach these children that God comes first, and God takes the most time in any subject. And he will then give you the excitement and the joy that learning is if you are allowing God to do his work in your children's lives and their hearts. So those are the five steps that I believe will help you in homeschooling multiple children at once. And I know you're going to have a great and successful homeschool. Feel free to email me at JeannieFulbright.com, or visit my website to learn more about the Charlotte Mason model. And in May, I will begin hosting the Charlotte Mason Show, and so I'm really excited about that, and I really hope that you will join me there. Thank you and have a blessed day.
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