Articles by Donna

Home Educating a Gaggle of Kids

The most common question I hear from non-homeschooling folks is “how can you find the time to teach each child what they need in each grade every day?”

Now my first thought is “WHEW, I’m tired just thinking what that would mean if I did homeschool my children that way.”

My second thought is “Just how much do I want to explain and how much will they understand?”

So I usually end up just saying, ” I don’t teach–my children learn on their own.” This often results in people looking at me as if I suggested my children can fly or become invisible and most of the time the conversation ends there. Sadly in our culture, a child wanting to learn and really enjoy it is a rarity at best and seen as strange at worst. It’s a shame that all learning isn’t as natural as a typical day at the home of the Family Knox.

Since we are all usually up late, we sleep in. So sometimes I can get up before the gang, and do some computer work or school stuff or even have a cappuccino all alone. Then one by one they come round. Breakfast is the main need for the moment and my twelve-year-old daughter, Hannah, is the maker of the morning meal. After the meal, she is also the cleaner upper of the kitchen. Everyone eight and older has a room to keep clean along with laundry to start, a yard to clean and the younger ones get to tag along the older ones to help out. In our “schoolroom” which is mainly where our computer is and tons of books, hangs a white board on one complete wall. This is where we post chores, information and where little ones spend hours drawing with markers. So I post all work to be done for the day and a reward for the one who finds all my lost pens I just bought.

Once inside work is done, then it’s outside to the fort. We have a Mulberry tree that has four trunks. A few weeks ago during a storm, they all split and spread open so the kids have been building themselves a fort there, dragging all manner of “stuff” to make it more comfortable. Lately I have noticed I am missing a lot of things and I think it is amazing what they can do with a roll of aluminum foil (helmets), old metal bedposts (swords and staves), and old skirts (capes).

When they suddenly feel hungry, it’s lunchtime. Usually the ten-year-old daughter does it, but often enough each child is on her own. In the afternoon, someone will bring out a math book or a vocabulary book and we will spend some time on that. A book is read and discussed or a poem is copied and hung up on the wall. The little boys are bringing in bugs and strange looking rocks for all to see. A male rabbit just had babies (!?!) and everyone is quite in awe of that. The horse stands at our living room window looking in waiting for someone to come out and brush him and talk to him. Our six large rescue dogs need food and some attention also. Often while I am studying my midwifery books, my children join me to look at pictures and ask questions. Sometimes when I am watching a video on birth, my seventeen and sixteen-year-old sons will happen to walk in. At first they immediately left, but now sometimes they hang around and make comments and learn things. If a laboring mom calls, I bark out orders about dinner, chores, meal clean up, babysitting responsibilities and post it on the whiteboard. It’s like an alarm went off and everyone leaps to his or her duty station while I am gone until dad gets home.

Then dinnertime comes along and everyone tackles his or her room again except the twelve-year-old who begins dinner stuff. Usually she has plenty of help chopping and cutting and cleaning up. In the evening, dad reads to us for about two hours from the Bible and a book of choice. We are reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Twin Towers. Though my littler ones wouldn’t miss listening to the story, they mostly play with their little men or color or even nap. I may think they are not catching anything about the story, but later I hear them incorporate characters, plots and particular quotes into their own playing.

As I look back on my day I think about the “schooling” we have accomplished. Math, Cooking, History, Science, Nature Study, Bible, Literature, Family Skills, Pregnancy Information, Farm Animal Skills, Biology, Vocabulary, Logic, Communication, Interpersonal Relationship Skills, Volunteer Service and even Listening Skills. For our family, learning is simply a wide brush of knowledge that colors whoever it touches and how ever much it can at the moment. Grades and age appropriate materials have no place in the day to day learning experiences.

If I don’t use a set curriculum, how do know what subjects they are learning? What they need more of? I listen to them and I watch them. I take the normal typical things they do and assess what they are learning and what more they need as far as resources and guidelines. My seventeen-year-old wishes he were an only child so things will never get messed up (family living skills). My sixteen-year-old has been restoring an old car at his grandpa’s house. They are unable to find a few key parts and are having to decide its not worth restoring, thus losing the money already in it. They, of course, have already found another old car to work on (auto mechanics and logic skills). My fourteen-year-old son loves things about Egypt and spends a lot of time researching hieroglyphics. Recently I found a 2 volume set of a hieroglyphic dictionary for $10.00. He was thrilled with the books and I was thrilled with the price (ancient civilization and vocabulary). Hannah, my twelve-year-old, is learning a lot about cooking and serving 11 people, as she is mainly responsible for meals now (math, logical thinking and communication skills). My ten-year-old daughter wanted to be a midwife until we went to the dentist and now she thinks a dental hygienist might be the ticket to wealth and fame (career training). My eight and six year old sons are simply little boys at this point. Carefree, in the dirt, playing with cars and having fun (fine motor skills and cognitive skills). My five-year-old daughter is in the kitchen with the older girls, chopping with butter knives anything she can and taste testing everything. And my three-year-old is simply the three-year-old. The Queen of the house, the holder of everyone’s hearts.

How does one explain this kind of learning to anyone who is still trapped in the government school mentality of forcing information and demanding learning? One can’t.

So I will carry on my daily life of listening to my kids, learning about each one in ways only being with them everyday can provide and refusing to dampen their spirits with “teaching.”

Home educating many children is not a challenge after all because in reality they educate themselves

I am there with them and they are here with me and that is all that’s important.

Donna Mitchell
This article was originally published in the
September/October 2001 issue of HELM
(Home Education Learning Magazine),
and subsequently published online in the e-zine

Educational Freedom Press was a service of