Staying Home Instead
Balancing Needs at Home and School
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 1, January-February 1998, pp. 14-15
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My oldest is going off to kindergarten this year. I also have a two-year-old. I want to volunteer in my older child's classroom and still be able to take care of my youngest's needs. At the same time I want my older child to still feel included in the activities that we do at home. How can I strike a balance and meet needs in both places?
One of my greatest pleasures as a stay-at-home mother is the opportunity to help in my children's schools and continue to be a part of their lives, even when they are away from home. When my oldest child began school, I began volunteering in her class by reading to the children. I also worked one-on-one with children who needed extra help. I brought my toddler along that year. He sat quietly and listened, or played with quiet toys. I kept my visits short for his sake. Now, six years later, I am still loving my weekly visits to my children's classes, toting along a two-year-old once again. He is the hit of the second and fifth grades! As long as mom is close by, a toddler is usually a happy addition to a class.
I have found that when a school child comes home he or she needs a listening ear, uninterrupted for a good 30 minutes, and usually a snack, too. After that my children seem to need some private time to play and work, without being required to play with their siblings. Although the at-home sibling may be anxious to see his older brother or sister, the older one is happier to join in playing once he has had a chance to shift gears. I hope these ideas help you enjoy this new stage in your lives.
Tucson AZ USA
I commend you for wanting to volunteer in your child's classroom. I have been volunteering at my children's school for years and here are some ideas that worked for us.
Find another mother in the same situation and take turns caring for younger siblings. A short time is all that's necessary. An hour a week will help you get to know your child's teacher and make a difference in the classroom, yet it's not too long for little one to handle. Try taking your two-year-old with you!. Most kindergarten classrooms have a corner where a sibling could play quietly. Get him a backpack or tote bag and fill it with quiet "losable" toys, or fill a pencil box with "school" supplies. Keep your volunteer time short to allow for the toddler's tolerance level. Noon duty or playground supervision are great opportunities for a mother with a toddler. You can watch your school child interacting with playmates and get a chance to talk to the teacher, while your two-year-old plays safely near you.
Talk with the teacher about her needs and don't be shy about offering talents she may not be aware you have!
Your older child is going to miss out on parts of the at-home routine now that he's at school. However, you can ease the transition for him in several ways. Look at pictures of his preschool years together, and reminisce about what you did when he was little. Talk to him about how proud you are that he is grown-up enough to go to school and learn from new people and new situations. Help him feel the excitement of school projects and outings. At times, my children bring home ideas that are new to me and then they teach me something!
Oceanside CA USA
We may be going through the very same thing as you. Our son attends a cooperative school, so I am obligated to participate. I trade babysitting with other parents for our help days.
It feels strange to have my oldest away from us for some hours each day, so I try to involve him in some household activities, even though he's not there all the time. For instance, I ask what cereal he wants me to get when I shop for groceries while he's at school. His father takes both children to the library on the weekend, now that weekdays are busier for our older son.
My younger child enjoys the time alone with mommy. My older child is enjoying kindergarten and every morning is impatient to go. I guess what may be happening in our house is that everyone's needs are changing and we are having to adjust our lives to meet them. I hope that just knowing other mothers are going through the same thing is reassuring.
Lexington KY USA
It certainly can be difficult to balance the needs of every family member. When one of them starts school it is a major change for the whole family. I have three children, one of whom just started half-day kindergarten, and my youngest is two years old. I have volunteered on a limited basis, once a month, at my daughter's school. A neighbor watches my toddler while I am there. My toddler is quite comfortable at the neighbor's because she knows her well. I have found that the teachers are very flexible. Perhaps you can volunteer shorter hours, or even take your toddler along.
For those times your older child is at home, it is nice to have planned activities-something other than running errands-that both children can enjoy. We sometimes have a special snack, or playtime at the park. Adjusting to a new school year is a challenge, but with patience and understanding, your family will settle into the new routine just fine.
Saline MI USA
I can relate to your desire to meet the needs of children both at home and at school. My oldest just started kindergarten this fall and I also have two younger ones at home. There are several ways to strike the balance you are looking for. What is right for you will depend on your family's unique situation.
Is your two-year-old content without your presence for a few hours? If so then she may be happy spending time with a family member or friend while you are at the school. You might even find a classmate's mother in a similar situation and be able to trade caregiving hours with her. One father I know arranges a morning off work once a month or so to allow his wife to volunteer in school while he stays at home with the younger children. Perhaps your two-year-old isn't ready to be away from you. Lots of little ones that age aren't! There may still be ways for you to help at school. Some teachers (and schools) will allow siblings to accompany volunteers. It never hurts to ask! If this isn't possible, perhaps there are jobs that you can do at home to help the class. Teachers often need help collating work booklets, cutting out decorations, or preparing for art projects. This would allow you to make important contributions to your older child's class while still meeting your little one's needs.
It may also help to remember that your situation is temporary. There are many years of volunteering at school ahead of you as your children grow older. For now, giving your two-year-old the love she needs and being there for a happy reunion with your oldest when school lets out each day are critically important jobs. You provide a warm loving home base for your kindergartner: nothing could be more important than that.
Martha Ellis Crone
Columbus OH USA
Editor's Note: A previous "Staying Home Instead" column (July-August 1997) addressed social and emotional concerns about providing in-home child care. In many communities, there may also be legal requirements for those who wish to provide child care in their homes. Learning about local laws and guidelines before starting to provide in-home child care helps protect both child care providers and the families that they serve.