"Do you have tips for keeping younger siblings occupied while you are working with your older children?"
When I first had to deal with this situation, we were foster parents and had added three children to our family within the span of 3 days. We went from a family with 2 children ages 11 and 7, to a family with 5 children ages 11, 7, 4, and twin babies who were 8 months old. Needless to say, we took a few weeks off to get the hang of our new life.
As God would have it, we were able to adopt those very precious children. I began to master the "Short Burst" teaching theory. That is, I would let the older boys do their work until they had a question. When they came to a section or chapter where a teaching lesson was necessary, we would hold said lesson during the twins' nap times or later in the evening when the twins went to bed.
As the littles got a bit older, that is to say, old enough to keep things out of their mouth...I began buying tape! Lots of glue, tape and safe craft supplies. I had a basket of crafty things sitting out for the boys to use whenever they wanted. I even gave the twins whole rolls of tape... bought from the dollar store in bulk....to tape the snot out of their rooms while I got things done with our older children.
Sometimes they would write on their bedroom walls with markers and spill glue on their floors, and that was fine. So what if their walls were artsy, crazy looking. Friends who love us don't care and people who care will just have to get over it. I'm busy teaching.
Sometimes, I'd walk into their room and find a maze of tape from door knobs to curtain rods to bed posts. It was fun to see what they would do with the "stuff" and gave me just enough time to throw in a lesson when the need arose. However, this only works for a short while because eventually everything that can be taped and glued is taped and glued. They lose interest in writing on their walls because it didn't bother me and they would again be running around the house whining and otherwise reaking havoc trying to gain moms undivided attention. So, other ideas must be implemented.
As time went along, I began teaching the "big" things while the younger kids were napping. Again, once our kids are old enough to read, we can allow them to do much of their work on their own; But for the moments when we really need to "teach" in order to introduce new concepts or drive a point home, this is the time to take advantage of naps or grandma's offer to take the younger crew to her house once or twice a week.
There is nothing wrong with asking for help from family and friends or even paying a teenager to come over for an hour or two per week to babysit the littles, so that we can introduce those topics that need our undivided attention.
When and if all that fails, I found that taking a break was the answer. Sometimes we just need a school holiday to regroup, re-plan and rejuvenate. All of that is A-Okay! Why? The answer lay in the homeschooling vs. Traditional Schooling Equation.
There are 180 school days in the average school for traditionally educated students. Multiply that by 12 years and we total 2160 days of schooling for traditional schools. Homeschooled children are in their learning environment 365 days a year. So let's divide their limited 2160 days by 365 days per year. That equals 5.9 years of schooling! That's it! We need to accomplish 5.9 years of schooling from birth to age 18!
So RELAX! Enjoy the time with your little ones, get as much done as you reasonably can, and KNOW that you have plenty of time. Taking time to smell the roses IS an option. Take a week off or two or a month if you need that time. Think about altering the school week to include 3 or 4 days of instruction with 1 or 2 days off per week. Maybe school every other day through the year!
WE have ALL the power! There is no reason to stress ourselves or beat ourselves into the ground when family life is hectic. Our time is precious to our family. WE bought the curriculum, we Rule the curriculum. It does NOT rule us. If we use it all, great...if we don't, that's our prerogative.
Relax, take a break and enjoy the kids that God has given us because they grow up SO fast. Time is fleeting...we need to catch it while we can.