We all have our excuses and hesitations when it comes to getting up and out. Whether it seems too hard because of the ages of our kids, or how many we have, or how difficult the processes can feel, the interview below will inspire you that you CAN do it!
I don't remember the first time I met Amanda. Whenever it was, I'm sure I thought something like, "That mom has A LOT of kids." To be exact, Amanda has 8 children, ages 8 and down. No twins. So that's an impressive feat on it's own. But I became all the more impressed when I kept seeing Amanda WITH all her children. At swimming lessons, at ballet classes, at fun activities, at the library. She wasn't with one or two, but was managing all eight children at places that have been a challenge for my meager 4 - two of whom are 8 or older!
When she and I chatted about how passionate she felt about Goschooling - the process of learning by being up and doing - I KNEW she was someone everyone should know better. So I interviewed her. I hope you'll enjoy and benefit from the wisdom she shares below as much as I have! Thanks Amanda!
Q: If there was ever a great reason to hunker down and be a home-body, many would think having 8 children ages 8 and down would be it. Why do you chose to be up and going with your children?
A: Regardless of how many children I have, or their ages, I want them to have a rich learning environment. I want them to see new places, learn new things, and truly experience as much of this wonderful world as they can. If I can’t do things with my children and enjoy them, then what is the point? I’m also one who likes a challenge, and I have a can-do attitude.
Q: Do you have any tips for getting 8 little ones all heading in one direction?
A: Teach and expect independence. Expect obedience. Kids try to live up (or down) to your expectations. So I have high expectations, but try to have safeties in place for when they can’t meet them. I tend to think of myself as a chaos manager :) I have found over the years, that my parenting expectations have changed. I've also realized that many of them are influenced greatly by our family dynamics. I have a very good friend who has two children. She can let them go where they want, and still keep track of them. I can’t. Whenever we go somewhere, all the kids know they have to stay with me. They ask to go the bathroom (I send them with a buddy or take everyone). They learn very early they can’t run off. Running off is one of those rules that I HAVE to be strict on. If I tell them to stand by the van, I HAVE to know that that is where they are and not wandering off. When a child doesn’t want to obey or when they forget and don’t do what is expected, then they lose the opportunity to be free. They get in a stroller, or have to hold my hand. (Yes, holding my hand is a punishment.)
On the other hand, as long as their clothes are clean, I don’t care what they wear. I don't have time or energy to spend on fighting those battles. I give them directed freedom. For example, we attend swim lessons regularly. The kids get out of the van and go to the grass area in from of it (I make sure to park by the grass). They know to wait in front of the van, where they can see me. When I have the babies out, then I tell them they can go. They run in the grass to the edge of the curb and wait. When everyone is there, I tell them ‘go’. They run across the parking lot to the next grass or side walk I designated. We repeat until we are at the door to the building. I try to have very short clear directions. With this arrangement, they all (even my 2 year old) know to stop before going into the parking lot, and all I have to do is supervise to make sure no one gets distracted or left behind. Directed chaos ;)
Q: With so many little ones, do you have a rule of thumb you follow when deciding what activities and opportunities to participate in and which ones to pass on?
A: I recently bought a quad stroller (goes through doors) which helps significantly. I almost always require the stroller, so I look for wheelchair accessible trails and such. I also ask myself (and sometimes the venue) questions, such as:
1) How harmful is it when they make noise?
2) How much money do we lose if we find it's not suitable?
3) How much is there that the kids might find interesting? (Sometimes I make mistakes….like the Magna Carta Exhibit that was almost entirely written with few interesting pictures.)
4) Can we go at our pace?
5) Are there opportunities to stop and play (low stress activities) or to take a break and come back?
Some examples: Movies - almost never. Museums that are part of the ASTC group, so we get free or discounted admission - great! Guided tours - no. Self-guided tours - great! Children's museums - great. Museums that we can leave and come back to - great. Scheduled anything - probably not.
Q: Do you have a support system (or systems) you rely on?
A: Yes! I have a wonderfully supportive family on both sides. I have a friend who watches the kids once a week. I have other friends who are willing to help out. I am truly blessed with friends that love me and my crazy family! My husband also is incredibly supportive. He often comes home to find he gets to make dinner, and rarely complains. He puts the kids to bed, so I can veg during that time. He lets me sleep as much as he can. He also is blessed with a flexible job which enables him to come home if I really need help. That's the hardest part of these road trips: being "on " 24/7 the whole time we are gone, and not having him for backup. But he’s so sweet he lets me come home and crash! (That's right, Amanda field trips AND road trips without her hubby!)
Q: On the Goschoolers team, you are called the Road Trip Guru. What tips do you have for road-tripping with little ones?
A: Accept and understand the kids needs to be kids. Give you and them time to go slow. Make sure everyone tries to go to the bathroom any time any one child does (significantly reduces potty stops). Help them work to lengthen the time between bathroom breaks. Bring a toddler potty, just in case you have to stop on the side of the road. Don’t be afraid of pull-ups - use them if it makes every one's life less stressful. Books on tape are good for the 5+ crowd, young adult books move quickly enough for the kids but are interesting for you. Limit drinking in the car. Bring snacks. For our larger family, we need to plan and even make reservations for any eating out that's not fast food. Have a plan, but be flexible. I plan an activity for the day, and have a list of other activities we could do if we have extra time. Plan time for decompressing, like running around at a campground or park. Bring a comfort item from home. Do what you need to keep yourself calm and happy. If you’re not having fun, no one will. Relax and enjoy your kids!
Q: What other insights do you have on Goschooling, little kids, and large families?
A: Our kids can do so much more than we usually give them credit for. Don’t underestimate the power of persuasion. I can talk my kids into almost anything - its all how you present it. I mean, which sounds more fun: 1) Lets go look at some bones from millions of years ago? or 2) Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to see some real bones of dinosaurs?! (be enthusiastic!) Think they will have a T-rex? How big do you think they are?
When something is overwhelming, take a step back and ask why. Why am I doing this? Why is it important? Is it really that important? What are we getting out of it?
One of the most influential comments I received was an older lady with grown children who told me that whether she folded the clothes or not, the clothes ended up the same way: half folded in the drawers. The lesson I learned: Do I really need to fold the clothes? For us, it's not that important. By the time the kids have worn them for 10 minutes, they are wrinkly anyway. It also led to us cutting down the amount of clothes we have out, so that there is one basket for each person, and that's all the clothes they have access to. Now I don’t fold clothes, or carry them up to the bedrooms. I sort them into each kid's basket and they dig in their basket for their clothes. It saves me lots of time and effort that I can now spend with my kids!
This is just an example. There is nothing wrong if you like crisp folded clothes. The point is to look at our lives and see what is truly of value, and those we waste time on. The more that is on your plate (like 8 little kids) the more important it is to cut out the unfulfilling or unnecessary parts of our lives.
Finally, get your kids involved. If you are excited about something, they will probably be interested in it too. Almost anything can be explained to the point a young child can start to understand it. Have fun!!
In the future, Goschoolers.com hopes to feature Amanda's road trip plans and itineraries and even host Goschoolers road trip caravans! Read a few of Amanda's reviews on the Go! Vacations tab.