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Practical Homeschooling® :

Easier by the Dozen

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #78, 2007.

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Mary Pride


When my children were younger, it was common to meet total strangers who could not help but comment on my family's size.

"Nine children! You sure must have your hands full!" was one typical comment.

Another comment I heard frequently was, "I don't know how you do it! I only have two, and I'm overwhelmed!"

I am now going to share with you my amazing secret.

It's not that I'm a radiant saint, as anyone who knows me will be happy to agree!

I also don't have some special "gift" of motherhood. (In fact, right up until the day of my marriage and for months beyond I kept insisting that I never would have children!)

I've also never been independently wealthy... never had a nanny, housekeeper, or maid... and, thanks to a sluggish thyroid, I actually need more sleep than the average mom.

Here's the big, amazing secret (shhh, let's keep our voices down):

The first two kids are harder to handle than the next dozen.

Why 1 + 1 = Almost Impossible to Handle

Let's explore what happens when you have your first child or two and they are under age 5.

  1. At least one of them likely is not toilet-trained (unless you try out the Diaper-Free method outlined on page 8 and it actually works-let me know if it does!).

  2. You have to feed them and/or clean up huge food messes.

  3. The supply of dirty laundry is never-ending.

  4. They don't know how to amuse themselves or each other, so you have to be "on call" as the play buddy all day long.

  5. They have no sense of personal safety, so you also have to live in a state of constant paranoia, anticipating every crazy and unsafe move they might make in order to protect them.

  6. They can't be ignored, no matter how tired you are. When that wail goes off, you have to get going even if you just fell asleep for the first time in days.

Clearly, if this state of things persisted, and just got worse with children 3, 4, and 5, no human being could handle the job.

This is why so many young parents give up and get themselves sterilized after the birth of their second child.

Here's what they don't know:

Once the oldest turns 4 or 5, it all starts getting better.

Sibling Power

We hear so much about "sibling rivalry" these days. To my mind, serious sibling rivalry is a cry for the parents to do a better job. Sibling snootiness, a much more common condition, is a direct result of the age-segregated public school, where older sibs learn to avoid contact with their younger brothers and sisters for fear of contaminating their social standing.

If you start training your children to support each other and to help each other at the earliest possible age, and if you homeschool them, even your young children can start being a blessing, rather than a burden.

Older brothers and sisters just naturally love the new baby to pieces. I have always encouraged our children to hold the baby, with supervision, and in a safe, sitting position. This way, they start bonding from the start.

While you are nearby, a kindergartner can play games with the baby in his crib: shaking a rattle, rolling a ball for him to roll back, making funny faces, dancing for the baby.

Gawky preteens feel "cool" while demonstrating their art and science skills to the awestruck younger set.

Lordly teens can babysit, help with diapering and feeding, take little ones on a walk, and correct their homework.

I'm not suggesting the children do your entire job for you. The point here is twofold: (1) to instill "family spirit" and (2) to train our children in preparation for the day when they will have their own families.

Many of you reading this are already doing all this. I've heard many times from vendors, museum staff, and others that "you can always spot the homeschooled kids because the older ones are helping the younger ones."

Younger parents, take heart. The day will come when your children will gladly amuse and help each other. Your 24/7 shifts as "amusement park director" won't last forever!

Chore Power

I remember how shocked I was when, at my very first homeschool meeting, the speaker said she never vacuumed her house. "The children do it," she said, "so I can have the time to teach them."

I was raised by a mom who felt it was her mission to do all the housework... with the sole exception of the dishes, as we got older. My childhood memories are of my mom looking exhausted as she singlehandedly looked after each baby, did all the laundry, cooked all the meals, did all the housecleaning, plus volunteered for various church, community, and alumni activities. The spectacle of her dedication sadly is what made me decide as a young teen that I was never going to have children. I didn't think I could manage the workload!

Another factor was that, thanks to the New England public-school culture of "cutting" each other down, I and my six siblings didn't get along that well with each other or our parents. It was the Sixties and early Seventies, and youthful snottiness was in the air. Common sense dictated that I wanted no part of having kids who were like me at that age!

It's true that raising a gaggle of lazy, entitled slackers who show you no respect is a thankless job. But it doesn't have to be that way.

As Italian educator Maria Montessori discovered long ago, children are born empathetic (wanting others to be happy and feeling sad when they aren't) and with a desire to work and feel needed. She came up with a method of education which included small household chores for even the littlest ones.

It turns out that young children don't feel oppressed when asked to help out-they feel empowered.

Of course, the wise mom will usher her children gently into the world of work with chores that are more like games. Tossing sock balls into the laundry basket and putting away the pots and pans on low shelves are two popular "beginner" chores. You can buy tiny mops and brooms from Montessori suppliers, or wait until they are just old enough to handle the vacuum (boys especially love machines that make loud noises!). Even the littlest tot can "fetch" things for Mom and Dad (who would be smart to share how thrilled they are with the help). Kids tall enough to reach all items safely can set and clear the table. Older children can do the dishes and their own laundry.

As much as you can, put on a "happy face" while doing your own chores. Children pick up their parents' attitudes, and if you do housework with a "woe is me" attitude, you'll soon hear it echoed back at you. On the other hand, if you work cheerfully, you can expect the same from the small ones trailing after you.

For some reason, interviewers always want to know how large families manage to do their laundry. We love the method where each family member has his or her own laundry bag to gradually fill up with dirty laundry. This way nothing ever has to be sorted!

The truth is that many hands do make light work. The more kids, the more hands... once they are old enough to understand what they're doing, of course!

No More Baby Talk (Well, Maybe Just a Little)

Another common concern young moms have is that they will literally "lose their minds." This is often expressed as, "I'm afraid if I spend all day with my small children, I'll forget how to talk to adults!"

Some thoughts here. First, all your children won't be that small once you get past the first two. Second, if you talk to your children in as grown-up a manner as possible, you will soon find you have reflective little friends with excellent vocabularies.

I'm not suggesting that you should never enjoy cooing to a baby. Across all cultures "baby talk" is natural. But there's no reason to settle for a sole diet of "ooey gooey Baby Snookums" talk.

Reading aloud is an excellent way to build a child's vocabulary. I don't have to tell you to do this-many homeschool parents are so anxious to get started on reading aloud that they begin while the first baby still is in the womb! (It's doubtful that unborn babies are actually soaking up any of that Shakespeare, as they are in the position of someone listening to a conversation while they are underwater and inside a thin, flexible container. So no guilt feelings if you wait until they're born and a few months old before beginning the bedtime tales.)

The point to remember here is:

The conversation quality in your house improves dramatically after the oldest child learns to read.

Once again, a library card is the homeschooler's best friend. Even at an early age, you and your children can develop shared interests via the world of books.

Beloved literary classics are only part of the story. One of the great joys of parenthood is that tingle you feel when one of your children expresses interest in one of your interests.

A Family Culture

You will find, as your children grow older, that you are developing a "family culture." You have read the same books, watched the same movies, and engaged in many of the same activities (even if they were "just" homeschool projects). And as with most cultures, the more contributors, the richer the culture.

The years when all your children are under age 5 are as tough as it gets. These are the years when you, the parents, are laying the groundwork for your family culture of love, support, and shared interests. It's a ton of work. But it doesn't last forever. As your children start growing up, they can contribute more and more.

When you only have one or two very young children, it may be hard to imagine... but children really are easier by the dozen.


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