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Practical Homeschooling® :

Wonder Mom Does the Math

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #54, 2003.

Homeschooling can be fun, especially in a big happy family.
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Mary Pride

I have nine children. And I homeschool. Every time I admit this, over the phone or in person, I get one of two reactions. Sometimes both!

  • "That sounds really hard."
  • "You must have LOTS of energy!"

This is a big step up from a couple decades ago, when the usual reaction to a large family was, "Don't you know what causes that?" and the usual reaction to homeschooling was, "Isn't that illegal?"

The only problem is that they still aren't getting it right.

I'd love to believe that I'm a wonder worker - I like the name "Wonder Mom" - who has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal moms. True, I can bend spaghetti in my bare hands... change the course of dirty diapers... and fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way! But I'm still not entitled to the red cape with a big gold "W," because every homeschool mom I know can do all the above.

This is not to imply that homeschooling isn't hard - it's just not really hard. Thanks to all the great resources and online help available, today homeschooling is more like joining the Boy Scouts than the Marines, if you get my drift. (Pregnancy and birth is like joining the Marines - everything is downhill from there!)

Also, I do not have lots of energy. Tiny trickles of energy is more like it. Some mornings I feel like it would take a crane to get me out of bed. Nor am I a super-scheduled whiz. I am constantly amazed at those readers who write "Day at Our House" diaries in which they get up at 6:00 or some such hour. The only way I see 6:00 a.m. is if I didn't manage to fall asleep before then!

Nonetheless, I get a lot done - just like all of you.

In this column, I would like to encourage those of you who have "larger" families - which today means more than 1.8 children - to relax and enjoy the ride. So if you have 1.9 children or more, this column is for you!

The Math of Large Families: Multiplying Kids, Dividing Effort

Let's talk math.

In real life, couples often have one or two children, then they do some math-style multiplication. They reason, "If I am dead on my feet with one toddler, three would kill me!" They multiply the effort to raise one child times two, or three, or four, and head off to get sterilized. Ironically, their ability to multiply leads to them not multiplying!

However, Family Math doesn't work that way. Parenthood is more like a initially steep curve (the period when you have one or two kids under the age of 4) that then starts to decline over time. Because, amazingly, kids grow up! The Wild Child turns into Mommy's Little Helper. The six-year-old who has to be read to becomes the eight-year-old who reads to her little brothers and sisters. The scrawny nine-year-old turns into the hefty Lawn Master and Trash Tamer.

Basically, if you make it past those first sleepless years, and train your children to be peaceful and helpful, it just gets easier and easier!

I love this saying of homeschool pioneer Gregg Harris: "What's God's reward for good parents? Teenagers!" We have a houseful of these now, and aside from their distressing tendency to empty the refrigerator on what seems like a daily basis, I can't see a downside.

The Math of Large Families: Adding Workers, Subtracting Work

The difference between "I can't handle this!" and "I can easily handle this!" is how much your children are willing to work. (Keep in mind I'm not talking Third World sweatshops here. We're talking about doing the laundry, dishes, and homework).

Here Family Math comes to our rescue again.

I'm sure you remember those algebra problems, in which two men - let's call them Pat and Mike - were working together on some typical manly project, such as building a wall. If Pat could finish a wall by himself in 10 days, and Mike would take 8 days, how long would it take the two of them together?

The answer to this question worked out exactly to 4-4/9 days for Pat and Mike's combined efforts. But even in eighth grade, I knew this was nonsense. It all depends on how much Pat and Mike like to talk! Let's not forget the "fun factor," too, which says that jobs go faster when you have companionship. Or the competitive factor, as in "I bet I can finish this wall quicker than you can."

Our foremothers used to say, "Many hands make light work." You might want to embroider that on a sampler and hang it on your wall, because it's true.

Many kids also make a messy house, especially if they're there all day. But set a timer for 5 minutes and tell everyone to pick up until the timer goes off, and messes magically vanish.

We have a Dish Kid, a Vacuum Kid, a Trash Kid, and several Cook Kids. Since I have so many kids to go around, we also have a Lawn Kid, a Garden Kid, and a Supermarket Shopper Kid. None of these jobs is overwhelming by itself, and now I don't have to do any of them! (And now you know the secret of how I have time to publish this magazine!)

My Laundry Secret

We don't have a Laundry Kid, because my Coast Guard Cadet son Joseph told me how they do laundry in the Coast Guard Academy. Each cadet has his or her own laundry bag. They fill it with dirty laundry, take it to the machine, and dump it in. It is not mixed with other people's loads. After the wash comes out, it goes right into the bag and immediately back to the cadet's room, where it is hung, folded, and/or ironed as needed. Now that all my kids are 10 and up, they can each do their own laundry - and nobody has to sort the socks!

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