This is probably one of the most frequent concerns posed when speaking with new homeschooling Mamas. The job of mothering a newborn or infant seems daunting enough without adding in another formidable challenge of educating your children. But in reality, it’s probably because you have never seen it done before. Having small babies for all of my early homeschooling years, I can tell you from experience that it is likely easier to have a nursing baby, or a baby in a sling or wrap while you teach than it is to have a busy toddler who wants to do all the things with you or disappears to explore his environment while everyone else is occupied. We will chat about those adventures next time. This is not to say that homeschooling with babies isn’t without a challenge. Both mothering newborns and teaching can be a challenge in and of themselves, but homeschooling during this time yields so many rewards. Some tips? Adjust your expectations. Get an instant pot. Keep your days slow and close to home. Wear your baby in a sling, wrap, or carrier. Newborns love to be snuggled close to Mama. They sleep better, it helps your milk production if you are nursing, and you don't have to walk away to check on the baby. Don't use a complicated curriculum or follow a demanding pedagogy during this time. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
I look back on our season of homeschooling with newborns and infants with great fondness. It is such a slow, tender, and sweet season. I am so grateful that we all got to savor the newness and joy of our babies as a whole family. It was exhausting. Yes. It was a little disorganized. Yes. But it was also hours upon hours snuggled up on the couch nursing brand new humans while reading aloud, or working math problems, or writing paragraphs. The natural break of burping a baby was sometimes a much-needed distraction and break from the struggle of number crunching. Marveling over little toes, laughing at baby belches, howling over baby blowouts that interrupt Laura Ingalls or Anne with an “E”- such sweetness and hilarity that could have been lost or worse, never even experienced had they all been safely tucked away at school separated from the stretching and expanding of our family. I have memories of siblings leaning in to rub baby backs, kiss sweet smelling baby hair, or hold tiny little fingers as I read aloud to them. Something is soothing and hopeful about discussing war while snuggling babies. It grounds you to your family’s new history-in-the-making while you sift through and try to understand the pain of the past. I remember marveling at how my children learned to supply me as a ravenously hungry nursing Mama with water and a snack as we sat down to “do school” and nurse together, often without prompting. Compassion, selflessness, kindness, biology, and nutrition- all things that they were learning during that time. Those days of newborns are gauzy in my memory. It seems like the lights were always low, eager voices were always muffled, and tenderness abounded even in my weariness because a sweet baby was snuggled safe and cozy in a wrap on my chest as I taught, discussed, inquired, edited and celebrated. Those babies were surrounded in a cocoon of their family’s loving voices, learning, loving, fighting, struggling, succeeding. I would often pass the baby to one of the big sisters to burp while I helped another. Such teamwork is a prize. In those early days our family contracts, draws close, stays together. We minimize extracurricular activities and errands. We do things together, have playdates at our home, play loads of board games, take lots of walks, play outside, read, read, read, cook together and care for our home together. A few times we went camping; because nursing several times a night in a tent or a home- what is the difference? We do puzzles of all sizes. We play with Play-Doh. We learn about chores, and what it takes to keep a home running smoothly. We have Poetry Tea Times- my girls decorate the table, gather the poetry books, and sometimes bake a special sweet treat. We sit at the table sipping herbal tea and sharing beautiful, inspiring, silly, or random poems. We soak ourselves in words. We help each other. Is it always peaceful and happy and lovely? No. Are there growing pains? Of course! But the days are slower, I was more available - always on the couch, always nursing an infant. I wasn’t running around trying to do all the things, I didn’t feel the pressure to have everything picture perfect. I had just grown and was nourishing a human. It was exhausting, and beautiful and significant. I wanted my children to soak in that time, savor the feeling of that weight. Not rush through it or over it. I wanted to be fully present and intentional and I wanted that for my children as well. The season is a gift, a celebration. The season is a climax after a long season of discomfort and then pain, bursting forth with unrivaled sweetness and love. I am so glad my children got to experience that time in our home learning, growing, experiencing together.
As we have just passed my last baby’s third birthday I feel my self moving faster, moving confidently into a new season: one with deeper topics, and Algebra, and ancient civilizations, and animal studies with a three-year-old in tow. He no longer nurses during our read aloud, but he still listens (often not quietly, but always reticent to leave the fray to play). It feels faster, louder, exciting. The haze of too few hours of sleep has lifted. I am embracing a routine of my choosing and not one placed around feedings and naps. We have more freedom and flexibility. I have more brain cells available to do more experiments and experiences. Our learning time has transitioned from my bed, or the couch to a table or the floor, and the girls spread out to their rooms to study without distractions. It is no longer a time of contraction, but expansion. So many possibilities lie before us. But I remember the early days. I hold them close to my heart.