When the Important Seems Unimportant (Making Time for the Littles in the Midst of Homeschool Mornings)

“Momma, when you’re done with Abby, you do pattern blocks with me?” – Emmalyn, 3.

“Yes, Emmalyn. When Abby and I are done.”

Emmalyn and Noah (5) start playing pattern blocks pretty well together until the bickering starts and it’s clear I’ll need to break this up.

“Okay, Noah, come sit at the kitchen table for school.”

“Momma (I love that she calls me this–sometimes it’s “Mommy” or “Mom” but mostly it’s “Momma”), when you’re done with Noah, you play pattern blocks with me?”

“Yes, when we’re all done.”

Abby finishes her work and I send her to play with Emmalyn while I continue working with Noah. Then Noah finishes and I know we have to get science in so I’ll need to clear the kitchen table and set up the experiment so I call to the kids to start picking up the living room so they can do yoga while I clean and set up the kitchen. They start fighting about cleaning up and I can tell that Emmalyn is being the obstinate one. I call her into the kitchen ready to give her a time-out for not listening to my directions. She comes into the kitchen in tears and I’m suddenly so aware that I’m staring at my little girl who has been waiting all morning just to play pattern blocks with me and I’ve just told her to clean up. So I sit her down and I say, “Emmalyn, I told you I’d play pattern blocks with you and I haven’t yet, and I’m sorry.”

And in my head I’m struggling because I don’t want to interrupt our school routine–if I let Abby and Noah free play, I’ll have to draw them out of it to finish school and it’ll push us back, at least. And playing pattern blocks seems so unimportant right now. Can’t we just push it off a little longer? I promise we’ll still do it!

But will we? I’ll want to clean up after science, then maybe start getting lunch ready or the one-year-old will need me or I’ll have to fold laundry or I’ll want to start planning next week’s lessons… I know myself too well.

Every morning my attention gets divided. I have four children who all need something different from me–help with a math problem, explaining the spelling directions, help with printing, help with a toy, kisses and cuddles, good ol’ fashioned attention, not to mention the teacher-directed schooling we have to do. Then there’s the housework. We don’t have a dishwasher and most mornings we have a hot breakfast which means I have a sink and counter full of dishes that I need to get done before I start making lunch. And laundry. And changing diapers. Then there’s the direction I pull myself in when I get sucked into checking my texts or emails. Fortunately this isn’t a regular habit, but I do it more often than I wish.

It can be so hard to decide what’s most important–isn’t it all important? Yes, it is. And it all needs to get done. But does it have to get done at the cost of my sanity? No. All school year I’ve been trying to figure out the perfect school morning and I haven’t yet. Maybe it doesn’t exist. But I have found some things that work better for us and preserve my sanity in the process.

With two school-age kids and two toddlers, I’m constantly looking for ways to occupy the toddlers so that school can get done. But I’ve found that giving the toddlers the attention they crave (even if only a little) is the real key. Sometimes this is in the form of reading a quick book together right after breakfast before school. Sometimes we do a puzzle while Abby does her independent work. But I usually like to get the dishes done while independent work is happening. So sometimes the three-year-old helps with the dishes (thanks, Randy, for that one) and that time spent with me washing dishes is enough to put her on cloud-9 for the rest of the morning. Sometimes she sits on my lap and does a puzzle at the kitchen table while I’m available to help the older kids. (By the way, can I just say how thankful I am for a husband who listens to my frustrations and is able to offer gentle suggestions when needed? He kinda rocks.)

Yes, it’s important for us to get school done. But it’s also important for me to love on my younger children at the same time. And yes, the housework is important, too. I’m so grateful that God grants me the grace to accomplish all I need to each morning. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post in itself!)

And that morning, I told Abby and Noah to go play in another room for a few minutes. Emmalyn and I needed to play pattern blocks before they were put away. It took all of 5-10 minutes to complete a pattern and she happily brought them into her room to put away and we continued on with our school day.