I just replied to a discussion on a forum with other homeschooling moms and thought my reply might help some of you with lots of little ones at home. This was addressed to a mom with four kids five and under.
I have five kids — my first four came within four and a half years. So I UNDERSTAND! My oldest is now nine, and life is changing and getting much, much easier with the tasks you’re talking about. So my first piece of advice is don’t lose hope…the kids will keep on growing and keep on learning how to take care of themselves. You will not always feel this frazzled. My boys (the oldest four) now all dress themselves, bathe themselves, and they do a decent job taking care of their teeth. There was a time when I thought this might never happen, but it does! 🙂
It sounds like you are getting up before them — that’s excellent. If you can be a few steps ahead of them and have some quiet time before they get up, you will be better equipped spiritually, mentally, and physically to deal with all the little upsets that might come your way. If you’re showered and dressed and maybe have some food or coffee in your system before they get up, you’re ahead of the game. Then you can remain with the kids while they dress, hopefully making it go a little faster (I have nudists in my family, too. I sometimes refer to my upstairs as “the frat house”).
I use mealtime as “school time” — I think if all the kids are sitting in one spot, it’s an ideal time to read the Bible and some poetry or a storybook to them. It’s so rare that I have them all sitting still in the same location that I try to cash in on that time!
It does help me to have an established goal time to be starting and ending breakfast. I try to get everyone to the table by 8:00. That means they’ve dressed by this time, and they all work together to empty the dishwasher. If we don’t get there by 8, I try to be done in the kitchen by 9. Then we all do chores for just 15 minutes and start school. If choretime goes longer than 15 minutes, the kids tend to lose focus on what they’re doing.
But I have to say, if your kids are all 5 and under, you shouldn’t be worrying about “lessons” as much as you are spending time reading to them and spending time outdoors. If you feel that your oldest is ready to start some beginning phonics, you can do that. But the large amount of what we know as preschool and kindergarten lessons can be learned in the context of everyday life with little ones. Have the five year old help you put the groceries away and count how many cans there are. Talk about the concepts of yesterday-today-tomorrow in the context of activities you might be doing during the week. Create a love for great stories in them by reading living books. Ambleside has a great list of books for little ones. Also, if you page down on that link, there is a list of “Formidable Achievements for a Child of Six,” which are good goals to work for. Most of them can be taught in a short space of time and come quite naturally to small children.
I think if you work towards creating an atmosphere of learning in your home then you will find yourself feeling freed up from the schedule a bit.
I do use Managers of Their Homes, which is a book for scheduling. But I only do it now that my kids are old enough to read and follow the schedule themselves. If I tried it when they were smaller, I think it would have only fostered frustration in them and me. This book might be helpful to you but be sure that any kind of schedule you develop is your servant and not your master.