School the Littles First

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School the Little Ones First {How to make sure your younger children get enough homeschool time}Even though some of the curriculum and the ages of my children have changed, the principles remain.  If I make a concerted effort to school my younger children first, I am much more apt to give them the focused time they need.  Get my book, Large Family Homeschooling, for more on this topic!

Large Family Homeschooling eBook | by Amy Roberts of

I’ve written about how we homeschool our younger children, and I’ve mentioned that I school my little ones first, but I wanted to give you a concrete scenario for what works for me.

After our morning chores, we start our school day.  The older children dig into their independent work. My 9 year old daughter usually chooses her math worksheets or her Sonlight reader.  My 12 year old son does quite a bit of his work on his own, so it could be anything from math to Latin to spelling for him.  My daughter’s favorite place to work is on the couch in the living room, and my son often heads downstairs where he has access to a computer for math (Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra) or a CD player for his spelling (Phonetic Zoo).

This leaves the kitchen table free for me and the two littles, also known as the 6 year old and the 4 year old.  Now, if I could get by with not schooling my 4 year old, I would, but he is bound and determined to “do school” too, so he hops up to the table with his Rod & Staff ABC workbooks as soon as he sees me and the 6 year old sit down.  However, he knows that his older sister’s work comes first.

Lia has two formal subjects:  Math & Phonics.  The rest of her day is made up of lifestyle of learning type activities, much of which are self-initiated.

There are times when I am busy with the baby and she starts school on her own (simply because her siblings have done so, not because I’ve told her to).  When this happens, it isn’t uncommon for her older sister to step in and help her with the directions on her worksheets.  Math is almost always first whether I am working with her or not.  While she enjoys math, it doesn’t hold a candle to phonics!

Late last Spring, I made a leap…an expensive leap…a leap I feared would be a colossal failure.  Praise the Lord for husbands who encourage their wives to take leaps despite expensive risks! I purchased Phonics Museum from Veritas Press.  Now, I know you can teach phonics without spending a fortune, but for some reason *I* couldn’t teach phonics without a set program that forced me into a set routine day in and day out.  This program offered that along with the artsy flair so prevalent in our homeschool.  Yes, there was a price tag, but sometimes you get what you pay for and sometimes you NEED what you pay for. The bonus is that my daughter LOVES it!

{You can read my full review of Phonics Museum here.}

So, we sit at the kitchen table and do our Phonics Museum lesson with the 4 year old patiently {sort of} sitting on the other side of me, following along with much of his older sister’s lesson.  Once I can let Lia loose with her phonics worksheets, I turn my attention to Keian.  By this point he is nearly jumping out of his skin in anticipation of what *his* next lesson will be about.  We usually work through 2 pages from his workbooks and call it good.

Now, WHY do I school the littles first?  The answer is simple.  If I did not school them first, I would not school them at all.  It is so easy to get caught up in all the neat stuff my olders are doing and accidentally let the entire day slip by without doing one single lesson with my youngers.  Oh sure, they can speak a fair share of Latin because they hear it over and over while my son practices his pronunciation, and sure, they listen in on the Sonlight books, but there has to be some sort of purpose to their learning.  Without the ability to read and understand numbers, they will only drift along.

Like Kimberly at Raising Olives, we believe teaching a child to read is a priorityOnce they can read, the whole world opens up, and more importantly, the whole Bible opens up. This is why I school the littles first.  They need me to facilitate the opening up of their world!

Now, you tell me…what does schooling your littles look like?  Have you found it difficult to “fit them in?”

31 Comments on School the Littles First

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31 thoughts on “School the Littles First

  1. That sounds amazing! I don’t have little ones yet, but I would love to homeschool. My brothers and I were homeschooled for elementary school, and then my mom had to go to work, so we went to middle & high school. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Right now our oldest is doing most of her schoolwork herself. The curriculum still has her going through stuff she learned last year in 2nd grade, so she enjoys school better if I just let her go at it and let her come to me with questions. Since she remembers everything she learned last year, I don’t have a problem with it. And until she gets into stuff that she doesn’t know, it’s what works best for us. Shouldn’t be much longer and we’ll get more into actual teaching here LOL.

    Our youngest is only 2, so we do a LOT of self-initiated stuff with her. For instance: she had a huge interest in learning her colors, so we got out blocks and made a game of it. Now she knows her basic colors. She’s interested in learning numbers now that she has her colors down, so anytime we see a number, we’ll just tell her what number it is. She recognizes numbers as numbers, but the only number she knows so far is 1 lol

    At least for a small portion of time that our oldest is doing school work, our youngest will have a pad of paper and some crayons or a pencil and draw or color too. Because she wants to sit at the table just like her sister.

    Right now, that’s what schooling looks like around here. Well, the official stuff anyway. They’re constantly learning via their questions which are often turned into lessons … or helping us cook … or whatever. 😉

  3. Oh my goodness. I have a four year old as well useing the rod and staff workbooks. i focus on the younger kids first as well. then closer to lunch i meet with each of my older two (also doing sonlight). after lunch we see what is left. the younger ones are done by 11 or so and they are ready to play.
    thanks for sharing. it’s fun to get the inside scoop on other homeschools. :)

  4. I have a 4 (nearly 5) and 6 year old too. I start the day with a Bible lesson with one of them (either one) using Doorposts’ gender specific studies. The other does independent work, and then later on we swap around. Both mine are fully competent readers though, so that makes it a little more like having older children. My son (4) can read any word he chooses, but he doesn’t have the understanding, so his work does require a little more supervisation/interaction.
    After lunch we do lessons together – they’re both doing the same health, geography, art, sewing, music and cooking lessons, so we work together through them (not all on the same afternoon!).

    I’m intrigued to read that your son is learning latin. Do you know latin yourself? What latin course is he doing? I started teaching my children German (I learned it myself for a few years), but I couldn’t find an affordable course to work through with them at this age, so I gave it up for the time being…

    • We tried Prima Latina years ago and quit after only a few lessons. It was so overwhelming. However, my son was determined to learn Latin this year (I really have no idea why, but being an English major I know how Latin can prepare you for just about any language, so I humored him…and no, I do not know Latin myself). I went to the homeschool convention this year and talked with the Classical Conversations people. They sold one curriculum, yet highly recommended another and even sent me to that booth with rave reviews. So, he is using Latin for Children Primer A and is doing very well with it! The pronunciations are taught on DVD so I don’t have to worry if I’m getting it right.

      • Wow, that’s really amazing that your son wanted to do it – if my child were asking I would humour them too! That’s just wonderful to see a thirst for learning like that!
        Thanks for the information. Languages are just SO expensive!

    • Hi there,
      I’m reading this post 2 years after it was written but that’s one of the blessings of blogs right?! *smile* just thought in case you picked back up on German again, I’m from Switzerland .. In case your kids need to practice writing .. I’d be up for it.

      From one homeschool mom to another,

  5. I have a 5 year old, 3 year old, and an 8 month old. After breakfast/bible time we break apart and the 3 year old goes and plays in the floor and watces VeggieTales with the baby, while Derek and I work on school. We use Saxon Phonics and Math, because that is what I taught in public school. We start with the math meeting book because that goes over calendar and weather. Then on to his math lesson and then to phonics. And we end with reading a book from the library or a reader from Saxon. Then it’s sissy’s turn an I only do school with her on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We have something in the mornings on Tuesday and Thursdays and besides if she was in public school I justify that she would only o to school 3 days a week as a preschooler. I’ve started Saxon Phonics with her as well. And we go over numbers and colors. And through out the day, the kids play at and I have also purchased Nick Jr. Boost, which my kids love to play on their computers. Derek also has spelling he completes everyday on

  6. Perfect post. And so true.

    I have had to adjust our schooling to reflect this style as well. I went to this seminar on large families and this mom of eleven told me that she starts her day reading to her littles and moves up. When you wrote about them first or not at all — I totally get it.

    Bless you my friend. Bless you!

  7. We do much the same thing. I’ve noticed that my older ones benefit from a little more sleep (12 and 14 year olds), so I get started with the younger ones first, knocking out all of the Math, Reading and Writing, ect.
    Then we all come togethter and do Bible (and whatever residual work) and then I’m available to help the boys. It works for us! I prayed for God to give us a workable schedule and this is what He did. :)

  8. Amy,
    Oh, how I L.O.V.E. your posts on homeschooling! I work with my younger kids first, as well…and for the same reason: it wouldn’t get done otherwise! Thanks for all that you’ve taught me.

  9. I have discovered the same thing. I rarely get back to teaching my girls if we don’t do phonics first.

    We all have a Bible lesson over breakfast followed by a short worship time and prayer. Then my son does his piano practice. And that is the best time to tackle phonics and math with my little ones.

    There are also a couple of times during the week that big brother is gone and I use that time for working on literature and crafts with the girls.

  10. I have 6, 5, 3 years and an 8 month old. We have “1st grade” for the 6 year old. I usually try to get him started first on something that he can finish or do completely on his own (reading, math, copywork). Then we move on to “kindergarten” for the 5 year old. We try to do phonics/math first and move on from there. I switch out instruction time with them both throughout the morning. For the 3 year old, she participates in some of the older kids stuff, but we “do school” about halfway through the morning. We read a library book of her choice and then she gets a coloring sheet or craft that coincides at least a little bit with the book we read. The baby takes a morning nap and I don’t pick her up after she wakes, unless she is crying or needs to eat. If she doesn’t see me she will entertain herself for a while.

  11. for us it seems we change our school routine about 2x year! I used to think i just hadn’t found what would really work- but recently i realized I am just adapting to the everchanging needs in our home. We have to be flexible to make it all work out.
    currently we are in transition again, but our summer routine that worked was this:
    breakfast/bible then morning chores.
    outside activity(park, bikeride, swimming) then snack.
    nap for the baby- help the 4&5 yearl old with a simple lesson (HOP, SSRW, singapore, HWT, coloring) while the older 9,10, 11 year olds worked independently on their spelling apples, math or reading. then break, lunch and during afternoon rest and read/nap i could help again.
    but since its fall and the weather is not always nice out and the baby does not need a moring nap anymore we are changing things.
    Now i take 15m with my 5 year old at bedtime to let her practice reading with HOP to me, then i read to her for 15m using sonlight. She really enjoys this special and its so much more productive than trying to accomplish it in the day with all the distractions. My 4 year old does not need “school” but he does need some quality time each day so i try to make that happen. My oldest daughter does her independent work in the morning and then during rest/read/nap for the younger 3 – i take 1 hour to give the focused time she needs (math help, writing help, read alouds).
    It would be so simple if 1 routine worked perfectly forevor!
    ps i would love to hear about veritas press too.

  12. Hi I have a 10 yr, 8 yr, 6 yr, twin 3 yr, and a 9 month old. I personally try to get the bigger ones started of their worksheets. Then I will thy to work with the little ones. Once the big kids get some work accomplished we usually take a snack break and I read aloud science and history to the kids as a group. The liitle ones usually stay in for it, but if they chose I don’t mind if they play quietly. That has work best for our house. We are generally done by 1:00 and start at 9. I was more relaxed about it in the beginning, but with the bigger one I find that the schedual works better.

  13. I start with the younger first also. My 12 year is almost completely independent and my 7 year old is getting there so they get to work while I entertain the babies and do math and phonics ( I use phonics museum too) with my 5 year old. Then he does Montessori work while I work with my 7 year old and my 12 year old if he needs me. We all come together for lunch and history or science depending on the day. Afternoons are spent reading, doing projects, or finishing up any morning work. I work toward having them as independent as possible and keeping lessons as a family for history and science (with each working at their own level in any work required after the group lesson).

  14. After a morning Bible story the first thing I do is sit down with my 6yo and do phonics (while the two older ones work independently). We love Phonics Museum! Fortunatly I found it when my oldest was in 1st grade, so we have gotten a lot of use out of it. One day recently I walked in to see my 2yo sitting at the table with the big letter cards and she was singing “a, a, apple, m, m, mummy.” I’m afraid that she’s going to be wanting to “do school” before I’m ready to add her to the mix.

    On a side note, I laminated the letter cards so that I wouldn’t stress out about them getting ruined. I’m loving my $20 laminator that I got at Costco.

  15. I have a 4 year old and an 8 month old so I have to start with a little as there are no older ones but first thing in the morning is usually a nappy change followed by showing my baby animal posters on the wall and telling her the sounds then reading her a nursery rhyme – my 4 year old climbs in her cot and insists on choosing the nursery rhyme.

    With the 4 year old we do a very brief phonics session and then counting and basic math. She has also been asking for swimming lessons so we do that later in the morning and reading to her takes place any time of day (we have a few sessions)

  16. So, I have been trying to get an idea of what the Phonics zoo is but can not seem to get a close up look at what it is all about- what a lesson entails or anything. I have a first grader whom I almost NEVER got to because I failed to school her first (I read up there to do the littles first- so true!). I will have a K, 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th grader next year! This will only be my second year to homeschool.
    Anyway- can you give me a little bit of what Phonics Zoo is about…

      • Well, I have a K5 and a 1st grader so I am not sure. I guess it would be nice to know about both better, but whatever you are familiar with is good:). The site has pictures but I can not really see what is in it or an explanation of what a day in the curriculum looks like. Do I make sense?? LOL.

  17. I have learned to homeschool my youngest ones first, too… unfortunately my 2nd daughter didn’t get much homeschooling until she reached 1st grade (before then, it was hit and miss… just like you described I focused so much on my oldest child’s schooling first, that there were many days that my 2nd child didn’t get any “school,”) Now, after our family morning prayers and family reading, I sit down with my 3rd child (pre-K/K) for 30 minutes before moving on to my two older children. She REALLY loves this time with me! My 2yo listens to my lessons with her and often pays attention when I’m reading a book… I’ll eventually have to add “schooling” him into our schedule, too, I suppose! Getting a bit apprehensive about juggling it all with #5 about to be born soon! Thank you so much for your site and advice; I have spent a long time reading a lot of your posts and it makes me feel better to know I am not alone with my daily struggles.

  18. I bought Abeka K4 videos for my 4 and 2 year old. Most days we only watch Bible, Phonocs, and Numbers. I sit with them. I stand and say the pledge, I sing like I’m 4, I do it all, but I am also very close to my two older ones and can help them if they need it. At some point, the two little ones get tired of playing school and run upstairs to have a tea party and I am free to finish up with the older kids.