Dealing with Interruptions while Homeschooling

Interruptions3

Yes, the photo was staged. Interruptions aren’t typically quite so chaotic, although it sure does seem that way sometimes!

As a followup to a recent post on Logistical Tips for Homeschooling Moms, I received a great question from a reader:

I have a question about what the other children do when there is an “interruption.” I have 8 children, the oldest almost 14 and the youngest nearing a year. My problem is losing everyone. Let’s say I am reading History aloud and there is some sort of interruption. Do you have a plan B, like okay everyone just read something else independently until I can come back, or go ahead and work on your math until I return? That works ok for the older independent workers, but not so much for the toddlers and in between ages. Any tips or ideas that work for you so that you don’t lose the flow?

What she described is one of the hardest aspects to manage in homeschooling.

Taking on the education of one child is an endeavor in itself (and one with its own set of challenges, I might add). Overseeing the education of a handful of students of multiple grade levels brings about some other interesting complexities that need to be worked through. But add to that mix a baby or toddler or preschooler (or all three), and you have just brought things to a whole new level!

The blessings and benefits of homeschooling are enormous, but truly I could not do it without the grace of God. I’m not that smart, I’m not that patient, and I’m not that organized. Homeschooling is a humbling, growing, and sanctifying experience, and one that keeps me constantly aware of my dependence on God.

We Can’t Always Plan

The short answer to the question of how we handle interruptions is that no, we do not have a set plan B. I try to have systems in place for so many things, from schedules to chores to seating arrangements, and even to discipline issues. But interruptions? Well, the nature of interruptions is that they are hard to plan for. My response varies greatly and really depends on who I’m working with, what we were working on, and the nature of the interruption.

I need to weigh priorities to determine whether the interruption can wait a few minutes, or whether the other children need to wait. Sometimes I’ll decide well, and other times I’ll decide poorly. Regardless of how well I respond, I’ll almost always feel guilty about who had to wait for me, and I’ll doubt I did the right thing. (No, I don’t recommend that last bit; I’m just being painfully transparent).

Suppose I’m reading aloud, and we are interrupted by something that can wait; for example, perhaps a toddler wants a drink, or someone can’t get their math CD to load. I might try to get my kids to a point where they can work independently, and then excuse myself to deal with the unexpected issue at hand. That’s my ideal response, but it isn’t always possible.

Other interruptions are urgent; not necessarily an emergency, but something that will cause a worse situation if I delay. For example, perhaps a toddler has taken off a dirty diaper and I need to clean her up before we get stains on the carpet… or the baby has something in her mouth… or a mischief-maker is discovered wreaking havoc with nail polish in the bathroom. Times like that, I need to act fast. In that case, I will probably hand the book to a proficient reader in the group, and tell them to keep reading aloud until I get back.

Mom-Related Interruptions

Some interruptions have nothing to do with the children. They have more to do with me, and to a certain extent I can control these.

I don’t keep my cell phone in the school room. I don’t need to hear every notification that an email or text has come in; those are unnecessary distractions. I check notifications often enough, and most people closest to me call my home phone anyhow.

I generally don’t answer the phone while schooling, unless it’s a close friend or family member. Anyone else can leave a message, and I’ll check it soon enough. Sometimes I even let loved ones go to voicemail if we are in the middle of something very hands-on. I can usually call them back within fifteen minutes.

If a close loved one does call, I generally keep it short if we are in the middle of school. They understand. If I haven’t spoken to the person in a long time, or if they really need to talk, then they take priority over school for a time. I might whisper to the kids, “Go read a book in the living room, or “work on your independent school,” or I might ask the person on the phone if they can hold for just a minute while I get the kids settled. That doesn’t happen often, but I want these dearest people in my life to know I’m always there when they need me.

Rotate Babysitters

I do put a few systems in place to try to avoid interruptions as much as we can, especially when I am working one-on-one with my children. They share me a lot, and since those one-on-one times are for helping them in the areas where they need me most, I try to ensure that my attention can stay 100% focused on them. One way we do this is by having babysitting rotations.

For example, I work with child A while child B babysits. Then I work with B while C babysits. Finally, I work with C while A babysits. We have few interruptions this way, but when they still happen, we play it by ear.

For more information, check out this post: How Older Kids Babysit Younger Ones.

Start the School Year SLOWLY

Those first weeks of homeschool are always the hardest, have the most interruptions, and take the longest. You would think that after thirteen years of homeschooling, I would no longer struggle with starting a brand new school year! But no, it happens every year.

Why are there so many interruptions during these early weeks? I can think of a few reasons.

First, not only are the children transitioning from a carefree, rather unstructured summer schedule, but I am as well.

Additionally, the first weeks of school are full of tweaking and changing things up. We are always bound to discover that something isn’t working. Maybe my schedule was too ambitious. Or I realize that we are going to have to move History to the littles’ naptime instead of mornings. Or whoops – I forgot to order a new spelling book for the 3rd grader. Or yikes – we really don’t like that math program after all.

Years ago, I learned not to expect much to get done the first few weeks. Thus, we wade into the waters of homeschooling very slowly each year. It looks like this:

Week 1 – we do the basics only. Bible, the 3 Rs, and music. Just getting our feet wet.

Week 2 – we add in history and science. Waist deep now.

Week 3 – we add in everything else – typing or Spanish or logic or whatever else they may be studying that year. Dunk.

Week 4 – interruptions still happen, but the routines are mostly in place, and everyone mostly knows what is expected of them. We are swimming! 

Another Kind of Education

Interruptions are not always easy, neither for the children nor for me, but it is a growing experience for all. Those moments give me an opportunity to practice patience – and believe me, I need that practice! They also remind me that I can’t do it on my own, and they lead me to pray often.

But the kids grow and learn from these daily inconveniences too. The interrupters need to know that they are valuable and I am willing to drop things when they need me for something important. They also need to know that many times, they can and should wait patiently. The kids who are interrupted learn a thing or two about putting others first sometimes, even when it’s inconvenient. These are God-ordained educational opportunities in learning to love others.

Your Ideas?

How do you deal with interruptions in your homeschool? How do you plan in advance to avoid them? Please comment and share!