Archive for the ‘FAQs’ Category

Setting academic expectations in early years

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

>>As a new homeschooler of young children, I am struggling with how to set the tone and expectation of “school time”.  As we travel down the homeschool road, I am having a difficult time teaching my oldest daughter (age 5) the expectation of when its time to learn. That is, what I expect from her when we sit down to learn etc.  How have you taught your children what is expected of them during “school time” and the like?

I understand that a little girl can’t sit for hours and learn. We don’t do anything like that. Rather, interspersed with her play, we have a few times a day that we learn together, be it parsha, Hebrew reading etc.  Some days, she is right on target and I have no issues. Other days, she just breaks down.  How much control should I let her have over “school time”? If she gives me signs that she doesn’t want to do it, do I let her have her way and let her take a pass or should I be in control of when she does “school work”?  What is appropriate for this age? How much should I worry about total accomplishment?<<


I take a very relaxed approach to homeschooling young children (and am pretty relaxed with the older kids, too) so that’s what you’re going to hear from me.  🙂  My strong feeling is to follow a child’s lead in what they are ready to learn, and to follow their cues as to what they want to do.  I really believe that a child (or adult) doesn’t truly learn anything unless they are interested and engaged, and want to learn.  We can make our kids of whatever age spit back facts of all sorts, but we can’t make them assimilate it.  And assimilation is where true learning is at.

A young child’s play is his learning.  There really isn’t anything that a five year old needs to learn that he can’t easily learn in his playtime.  If you want her to do something like parsha, then tell her stories – and you don’t have to be sitting side by side while you do this.  You can talk as she helps you in the kitchen, before bed, when you’re driving somewhere.  We found pasha story cassettes wonderful and used them a lot over the years. 
If she’s resisting even the casual introduction of a topic (for example, parsha), then I’m guessing that she’s picking up on your anxiety about what she’s learning or not learning and doesn’t want any of that pressure attached to the activities you do together.  Years ago, my oldest dd (then about 10) just couldn’t learn chumash with me; I realized that I was making her nervous, not by what I said, but because it was clear to her that I expected her to do more/better than she was.  So I totally backed off for over a year because I didn’t want learning Torah to become something she had negative associations with.   She came to enjoy learning, but it wasn’t because of me; it was because I left her alone long enough for her to want to learn it and for it to be meaningful to her. 
Think about what skills you really want your daughter to learn, and then figure out how to integrate it into games or her playtime.   Some parents find it helpful to learn to translate for the value of their childrens’ activities into ‘educationese’ to reassure themselves that even though it doesn’t resemble traditional classroom schooling, learning is going on!
When one of my boys was 5 years old, he expressed an interest in learning to read, but certainly wouldn’t have had any desire for phonics drills (and neither would I).  I decided to play with ABC cards with him, and he learned to sound out easy words after just a couple of times without any formal teaching at all. I only did this for maybe ten minutes each time because I wanedt it to be fun and low pressure.  The same thing with math – I played with manipulatives with him from time to time (I do this with my ds4 and ds3 now, too).  He wanted a math book so I gave him one but I didn’t attach any importance to him doing it.  I really didn’t mind if he never looked at it after the first time he used it (though he ended up zooming through the workbook), because I was confident that he’d learn math when he was ready for it.  And I also know how many concepts can be learned through hands on play, particularly if the parent is a good facilitator.
Don’t worry about total accomplishments, just watch how much she’s learning as she plays.  It might help to find out what kids actually are expected to learn in kindergarten – not how they learn – but what they learn.  Keeping in mind that kindergarten has become overkill and high pressure nowadays, and therefore not developmentally appropriate or healthy, I think you’ll see that if a child learns to count and the sounds of the letters, they’re on track and will have the foundational understanding to progress to reading and math.
Categories: FAQs

Do you have to be 'smart' to homeschool?

February 1, 2010 6 comments

>>i have always been a a poor student myself and am scared therefore to homeschool. would you say that being “smart” is a requisite to homeschooling?<<

Does being a poor student mean that you’re not smart?  Absolutely not – I reject that!  Similarly, I reject the idea that the kind of intelligence needed to do well in school is more valuable than other kinds of intelligence.  There are many kinds of intelligence and every single person is uniquely gifted in some way. Many people did fantastically well in school but weren’t successful in life, career, relationships….  School based success is very limited.

Having said that, I understand that the question is being asked because of the insecurity that as a poor student, you might not be able to meet your child’s academic needs.  Parents who haven’t completed their high school education (sometimes only up to 8th grade education) have successfully homeschooled their children past the point that their education was completed.  If they needed to know what their children needed to learn, there’s no way they could have been successful.   I can say with confidence that you can go beyond your school experience and support your child/ren effectively and watch them thrive while homeschooling.

How so?  There are a number of options.  First of all, there are other resources out there except for you – you don’t have to know everything!  There are books, dvd programs, classes, mentors, and paid resource people.  I love the library; it’s free and has a huge variety of materials for you and your children to access. Many who did do well in high school still don’t remember the information well enough to effectively teach it to their children.  I have two children homeschooling high school now, and their interests and my strengths don’t always line up. But they aren’t limited by me and my knowledge base – I’ve encouraged them to develop  independent learning skills, and they’ve been able to explore their interests and gain skills beyond me.  (They already know not to bother asking me for help with math at this point! :))

Second of all, a fun aspect of homeschooling is that you can learn along with your children!  There’s so much to know out there and it’s ridiculous to think that anyone covered it all in four years as a teenager, no matter how high their report card grades were.  My kids are constantly sharing new things they learn with me, and as I learn new information, I share it with them.  It’s invigorating and exciting to expand your knowledge base, and being a parent doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn more.  It’s never too late!

What’s more important than your academic success in school is your willingness to tune into your child’s needs and find ways to support him.  It’s not really any different than what a parent who was ‘school smart’ needs to do.  Don’t be afraid, and don’t think you’re unusual – we all have areas we feel inadequate about.  You can homeschool and you can do a great job!

(This post is part of the Carnival of Homeschooling.)


When to push child

January 16, 2010 2 comments

>>And another big topic that comes to mind is — when do we push children to take on something that is hard for them, and when do we let them make their own decision on whether or not they want to pursue a certain area? Examples in my family: one daughter decided to drop out of a class she was taking. Another daughter would rather not study a certain subject that I feel is important. Etc.<<

I’ve had this dilemma a number of times over the years in our homeschooling.  The choice I’ve come to is that I’ll insist on something if a) I know it’s something they need and they’ll later be disadvantaged; b) it’s something that they won’t need but will regret not having the skills for later on.

The first tends to affect academic type issues – I want my kids to have the skills to navigate life successfully.  There are things that I think are important to that goal – for example, because I feel that strong reading, writing, and math skills are an asset and a person is disadvantaged without it, I’ll insist on this regardless of whether a child wants to do it or not.  However, I’m very flexible about at what age I expect a child to do certain level work.  I also try to help the kids find ways to impart the information in as enjoyable way as possible.  So insisting doesn’t mean making a child miserable and being rigid.  There’s a lot of flexibility and personalizing that goes along with this.

So let’s say a young child hates writing.  I’ll back off this and let it be for a while – this means knowing your child and paying attention to their cues.  I did this with ds7 and he’s just now finishing the lettering for the ABC.    I know the readiness wasn’t there before this and pushing wasn’t going to help and probably would be damaging.  But with some time, the resistance generally fades and the readiness builds.  At that point I’ll start them off slow and pay attention to how it’s going for the child in question.

To do this, you have to be confident that 1) your child wants to learn and 2) will learn when given the chance, or you’ll get hung up on what kids in school are up to and put yourself and your child under lots of unnecessary pressure.  This gets easier to do with time, but is sometimes agonizing the in the beginning, as you’re going out on faith that the principles of true education and relationship building will work before the results are there.  At this point it’s much easier for me since I’ve gone through this so many times, and seen that in the end they get where you want them to be- happily.

The second area to think about pushing is regarding things that they don’t need to do, like lessons you sign them up for in the spirit of fun.  Years ago my ds16 had an unpleasant experience at swim lessons (at age eight) and refused to go back.  I didn’t see the point of pushing it, and since he continued to be resistant to the idea over the years, he didn’t go back for lessons.  It would have been a mistake to make him go back right away, because it really was a frightening and unnerving situation he was put in.  But looking back I think there was a point where I could have encouraged – pushed – him to try lessons again, maybe two years after the initial trauma.  I didn’t, though, because I was unsure about how much to push, and now despite the fact that he’s an extremely athletic young man, his swimming skills remain weak.

Several months ago ds10 told me he wanted to quit piano lessons.  I grappled with this, since this isn’t something he needs to be able to do long term.  After asking him why he wanted to stop (answer: he wasn’t progressing at the rate he wanted because he wasn’t putting in enough practice time), I told him that he needed to continue and to find time to practice more frequently so he’d see progress.  How did I decide on this?

Aquiring competence is a discipline – it’s wonderful to play music well, but it doesn’t happen by itself.  I know that, but he doesn’t.  I didn’t want him to give up and years later, instead of a skill he would have taken pleasure from would be the memory of giving up.  I told him that he didn’t have to stay with it if he didn’t like it, but that I didn’t want him to quit without really making a fair effort.   He’s now really enjoying piano and is very glad he didn’t quit.  He had a recital last week and is at the beginning intermediate level, now able to play simple classical compositions and performed duets with each of his sisters in addition to his own two pieces, and gets so much satisfaction from it.

Again, it’s critical to know your child.  A general tip I would say is, if you’re feeling the desire to push because you feel fearful, then wait.


Categories: FAQs, home education, parenting

Making time for yourself

December 16, 2009 5 comments

Today I set out to do my monthly shopping, which I always enjoy.  But it was a long day and when I got home there was the van to unpack, then a living room filled with boxes of groceries to put away – and the baby was crying while ds2 and ds3 discovered things I bought that they wanted to eat right that minute, pulling them out and asking to eat them (or just opening it and throwing the wrapper/peel on the floor). And it was time for dinner and my mother had gotten there earlier (I forgot to tell her I’d be home late) and wanted to give the kids their presents right then (she had somewhere she needed to be at a certain time so she couldn’t really wait).

The way I do present giving is that each person gets a gift, opens it, and thanks the giver before the next person receives anything.  It makes the entire thing an experience of togetherness instead of each person focusing on what he’s getting/giving.  That wasn’t what was happening!  Instead I had a chaotic, noisy house, was tired, hungry (it was 7 pm and hadn’t eaten since breakfast), tense, and felt like I’d scream if one more person touched me or even came near me. :))   Fortunately, I’ve learned when I feel like this that as long as I remember to take a deep breath and be careful about how I speak and interact with those around me, then it passes.

So I nursed the baby, my mom gave presents and left, we had dinner, we put away a bunch of groceries, the kids went to bed, I cleaned up the kitchen – and with each step, it got easier to unknot the tension I was feeling.  Now I’ve had a hot cup of tea and am enjoying a quiet house, and since what I was really feeling earlier was the need for was some self-time, it seemed like an appropriate time to respond to the question below!

>>Avivah, could you share how you manage to take downtime/selftime/recharging time for yourself?<<

This is such an important question!  Mothers do so much all day long for everyone, and it’s too easy to forget to take time for ourselves.  When we keep giving and giving without taking time to recharge ourselves, we end up resentful, hostile, and burnt out.  Oh, and guilty – guilty for feeling resentful and hostile, guilty for having needs, angry for feeling guilty for having needs….

My reality was living far from family, with no extra money for cleaning/babysitting help, a husband who wasn’t home very often – and having six children under the age of 9 home all day long, every single day.  So if I wanted to have a break, it was up to me to create the space for it to happen. This is crucial – you have to value yourself enough to make the time.  That might mean going to sleep early so you can get up when the house is still quiet, or staying up  late after the house has settled for the night (that’s what I do).  When you have that quiet time, you can use it for whatever you find relaxing and rejuvenating – talking to a friend, a good book and a cup of herbal tea, a relaxing bath, crafting, computer time, etc.

I used to love to go walking with a friend.  This has been different times of the day, depending on my life circumstances.  I started when I had two young children at home and one or two out for a few hours a morning, and I would take a double stroller with the two kids loaded up and go for a walk (and this was before the days of jogging strollers!) mid morning.  I sometimes went walking late at night after the kids were in bed (when I lived in a neighborhood that was safe enough to feel comfortable with that).  This depended on my buddy in large part – I found that my walking partners all ended up becoming friends, because you end up talking quite a bit to each other.  Then I moved to a new neighborhood and didn’t have anyone to walk with, but I started swimming a few times a week (I became friendly with someone on a women’s syncronized swimming team and they let me do laps while they practiced for their state and national competition – they offered this to me since they knew that I needed a womens only swim environment – I left the house at about 5 or 5:30 am and drove 20 miles in each direction to get there!)  This was when I was homeschooling and had five kids.   Later when I was in yet a different city and homeschooling six kids, I again found a walking buddy and at 5 am would head out before the kids were awake and before my husband left for the day.  At one point, I went to a woman’s gym to exercise almost daily, though I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as a walk outside!  Unfortunately I haven’t been walking for a long time; I don’t have a partner and my efforts to consistently walk by myself didn’t pan out.

When my kids were all younger, it wasn’t enough to get up early or wait until 9 or 10 pm to have some quiet time.  My kids are fantastic, I love being with them – but there are a lot of demands on a mother and it can be very draining to go and go and go all day long.  I recognized that I needed to create a mini break in the middle of the day for myself.  I did that by putting my toddlers in for a nap once the baby was down for a nap.  Then, I’d tell the older three kids (this was when I had only six kids, so the older kids were about 6,8,9 when I started this) they needed to have quiet time in their rooms for an hour.  They didn’t have to nap, but they had to stay in their beds and they had to be quiet.  They could take a book or game with them, but they could not get out of bed and they couldn’t talk.  That was a huge help since I had an hour mid day to  physically and psychologically recharge myself, and enabled me to thrive through years with no outside help at all in any area, while continuing to enjoy my family.

Nowadays I have other ways to meet my needs.  Some people have asked me how I find time to write on my blog. The answer is that writing here is something I do because I enjoy it.  Once in a while I start to feel like I have to do it, and that’s usually when you might notice a two day hiatus while I recenter myself.  Recharging yourself shouldn’t be something that feels like a chore, or something else on your ‘to do’ list!

Another thing is to give yourself a break emotionally.  Tonight, why was I getting so uptight?  Where was all the pressure coming from?  From everyone else?  Not really.  Mostly it was inside my head.  It was what I was telling myself that was the true problem – usually I can have that exact same situation going on and I can stay cheerful and relaxed.   We have to learn to let go and relax our standards sometimes.  There are things you can do at some periods of your life that will leave you chronically run down and overextended at other stages.  And we have to learn to accept ourselves as we are, not only when we’re at our best, but when we’re at out worst.


Categories: FAQs, home education, parenting

Older boys and homeschooling

December 10, 2009 11 comments

>>your 16 yr old son…. how does he learn gemara and other things 16 yr old yeshiva boys should be learning?<<

He learns them pretty much same way any other boy does; the main difference is his location.

>>is it really in the best interest of a yeshiva age boy to be home all day instead of in yeshiva?<<

Historically, I think the answer is that yes, boys were taught by their fathers or in small groups by a hired teacher for short periods of time each day.  Large yeshivas are a fairly new development in the way things have been done for generations.

But regardless of history, I can only determine what’s in the best interest of my child at this time.  Every person has to make a well-thought out decision for themselves. There is no perfect solution – the yeshivas have challenges but also there are advantages.  Homeschooling has  advantages and challenges.  That’s why it’s so important to think about this, to make a thorough cost benefit analysis of the situation.  Doing that requires a parent to really think about what the true strengths and weaknesses of each situation are.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that following the well-trodden path means that there are no problems and that you’re guaranteed a certain result – you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having said that, I think what’s far more important than where they learn, is how they learn, why they learn, and what they do with it. I’m interested in my child’s character development and intellectual development, both of which I believe are better served by homeschooling.   I’m not impressed by bench warming.  I want my children to develop a relationship with H-shem (G-d) and find a Torah life full of meaning and joy, not to be religious robots who do it because everyone else does.  The reasons I choose to homeschool are at the root of my approach.

I think that speaking to high school aged boys and girls will be very enlightening for most parents as to what is actually going on in our schools.  What the adults think is happening and what the students experience are often two entirely different things.  (If you can’t speak to high schoolers, at least speak to their parents.  They’ll also have experience to share.)  My approach isn’t to slam the schools but rather to focus on the positives of my experience,  so I won’t detail things that concern me about school.

I’ll generalize and say that good middos aren’t generally developed by throwing together a bunch of immature pubescent boys for many hours a day with minimal adult guidance.  The hours are very long, and it’s a small percentage of boys who are really shteiging all day long.  A disproportionate number of kids are burnt out and going through the motions.  And mainly what’s necessary to get by in school is to look the part, act the part – not to be the part.

These issues are recognized by educators as growing in severity all the time, and they’re searching for answers.  So far the answers I’ve seen seem to have a common theme – try to make the school environment more home like (ie, more warmth, personal attention, discussion about issues of concern). The yeshivas will do whatever they think is best, and so will I.  I have a responsibility to my children to focus my energy to actively raise them as I think H-shem wants me to.   And for us that means homeschooling.


How can you stand to be around your kids all day?

December 8, 2009 25 comments

>>you get so much credit for not losing your mind being home every single day with 8 kids. really.<<

Quick correction – there are actually nine kids. 😆

At the camp my dd13 was working at this summer, there were two adult women and another teen assistant in addition to her.  She came home one day, once again telling me how amazed these two women were about me.  I asked her how they could be impressed by me when they don’t know me from a hole in the wall?  She said “They can’t understand how you can have all of us around all day – they said they would go crazy.”   Now you see how easy it is to show you’re made of the stuff of angels – be able to tolerate your kids without checking in at the loony bin and that’s all the proof anyone will need. 🙂

“How can she stand to be around her kids the whole day?  I mean, I like my kids but I don’t like them that much.”  My dd has heard me say I think it’s unfortunate that this is such a common sentiment, but this is the first time she’s heard it herself, and this is exactly what she was asked.  The women told my dd that Shabbos and Sundays are the hardest days of the week for them, because their kids are home (one was, ironically, a preschool teacher).  One went on to tell dd:

“My kids get bored all the time.”    My dd13 responded, “That’s because they go to school so they’re used to being entertained.”  “Really??”  This took the woman aback – she clearly had never considered this.    After they asked her these questions and more, they continued discussing their perplexity with one another about me.   “It must be the kind of personality that she has.”  “Maybe all of her kids were just born good.”  They were ‘mystified’, to quote dd.

My dd was laughing when she told us about this since she knows quite well that I’m a regular mom and that she and her siblings weren’t all ‘born good’.  She said it seemed like they knew what they were offering as reasons couldn’t be the answer but they couldn’t think what else it could be.

So are you wondering what the answer is??  🙂  I can reassure you that I wasn’t born with a special personality that equipped me to enjoy my kids any more than anyone else!  By nature I’m not an especially patient person nor was I one of those women who just loved being around kids before having my own.  Those qualities have been developed over time.  See, you don’t need to be naturally saintly to enjoy having your kids around!

The secret to enjoying spending time with your kids, is to spend more time with them and make it enjoyable!  When you spend relaxed time with your children, you enjoy them and are pleasant to them. They then respond to your pleasantness by behaving better and wanting to please you, to which you positively respond by wanting to spend more time with them…..  It creates a positive spiral between you and your children, and this positive spiral is what makes it enjoyable for parents and children to spend lots of time together.  Everyone likes being around people who love and respect them, right?

It’s not hard for me to be around my kids because I like them.   I don’t mean that I love them – all parents love their children.  I mean that I really like them.  (Having well disciplined children makes this much easier- your positive view of them isn’t constantly being overshadowed by their bad behavior.)  And as kids get older, they just get better and better.  I’ve said it a couple of times before, but teenagers are awesome!  They have the maturity and critical thinking skills to have really stimulating conversations and fun interactions.  It’s kind of like getting to be around your friends all day.  The myth of impossible teenagers is really a shame, since everyone buys into it and it becomes a self perpetuating reality, and parents end up missing the enjoyment of an amazing stage in their childrens’ lives.

Even though this concept is so simple, it’s foreign to our culture.  Parenting is supposed to be hard, filled with struggle and aggravation.  Motherhood and martyrdom seem to go hand in had.  When someone tells me how wonderful I am for spending so much time with my kids, I know they just don’t understand.  Raising children is work; it takes lots of time, energy, and effort.  But I’m not suffering or gritting my teeth every day – I’m so grateful and feel so blessed; I often feel that it’s not fair my husband has to go to work all day and doesn’t get to spend the kind of time I do with the kids.  It’s true that it took work to get to this point, but the hardest thing was probably to let go of my ideas that being around my kids was something to be endured.


Categories: FAQs, home education, parenting

How do my kids stay busy?

July 5, 2009 3 comments

>>What do your kids do when school isn’t in session, in the afternoon? And what do your youngest ones do? Especially curious, since I have a 3 year old and an 8 month old.<<

I’m assuming you’re asking what the kids do when not busy with academic work, right?  The truth is that this is the case most of the day, all year round, since academic work doesn’t take an especially long time!  (Except for the kids ages 10 and up – but they still all have the afternoon free.)  Because the kids have learned to entertain themselves, I don’t have to entertain them.  The two women at the camp where my dd12 was working last week told her her that Saturdays and Sundays were their worst days, because their kids were home and drove her crazy because they were so bored.  My dd told them, “It’s because they go to school that they’re bored – they’re used to being entertained all day.”  The mothers were both taken aback by her answer – “Really???” – they clearly had never thought about it.

It’s true, though – my kids aren’t unusually self sufficient.  Kids learn to entertain themselves by being given the free time to structure on their own.  When kids are in school all day, they learn to wait for the cues of the adult in charge to tell them what to do.  This is something that can take a while for kids to learn, but they can learn it from a very young age. 

Practically speaking, here’s what I notice them doing.  Those who are old enough read, play board games, play outside together (biking, playing ball, rollerblading), work on projects, and listen to audio books (this tends to be a winter activity), and go to the gym (swimming, game room, ball playing).  When dd14 goes to the pool, she often takes dd8 and ds3 – now that she’s at camp, they’re missing that!  They have independent projects that they take on – like ds10 with his cookie selling business, dd12 and dd14 are now planning a production as a community fundraiser, and ds16 (his birthday was yesterday :)) just got a job for Thursdays and Fridays.

The little ones hang around their older siblings and watch them and interact with them.  They have books read to them and games played with them.  The two littles (ds3 and ds22 months) play with each other a lot – they seem to make anything they do a game!  When the baby is old enough, he’ll join them and then they will be a threesome.  Though we have a huge amount of books and games, we don’t have a very large collection of toys – I haven’t found most of them worth the space they take up and have given a lot away.  Or if they get left out long enough or often enough, my decluttering gene goes into overdrive and they’re swept into the garbage.

When school friends or neighborhood kids are home, they play with them, but I limit that a lot since I don’t find so much peer to peer socialization positive in the younger years.  (I’m right now having an issue with my ds3 who wants to play with a 4 year old neighbor all the time – they would happily play together all day long, but I feel that peer play should be a side dish, not the main course.)

With the summer here I’m planning to do more outings and trips with the kids, but this past ‘school’ year I haven’t done that much.  Some years I do a lot more than others – it depends on the ages of the kids and where I’m at.  This year because I was pregnant and tired, I didn’t feel it was the best use of my limited energy to orchestrate family trips on a regular basis, and during the winter everyone seems to enjoy cozying up at home, anyway.  Then it was Purim, Pesach, the baby was born – and now it’s already the summer and time for outings!

Every day looks different, but here’s some of what they did today.  My ds7 discovered Monopoly a couple of weeks ago, and every day it seems like he’s getting someone to play with him.  After the morning with the dining room table covered with board games, they went out to play in the front yard.  Then the two littles took a nap while everyone else had a snack/lunch, and went back outside.  Dd8 and ds10 went bike riding together and picked wineberries growing wild (they learned last summer in their Junior Rangers program to identify them) and brought back a bunch.  Meanwhile ds16 played baseball with all the youngers – it’s so sweet to see him play with all of his siblings.  He’s teaching ds7 and ds3 to hit the ball.  After that ds16 played Monopoly in the back yard with ds7, while in the front yard ds10 played Candyland with ds3 and his four year old friend.  Dd8 was deeply engrossed with a book, while dd12 has been making plans on the phone all day, trying to figure out a way to get to upstate NY for camp visiting day to see dd14 this coming Sunday.  Then I took ds16, ds10, ds7, ds3, and dd12 with me to get some free gravel from someone who’s redoing their landscaping.  (I want to build a patio in the backyard with the kids to replace the platform deck we built when ds22 months was born, and am looking to do it on the cheap, like everything else! :))  They spent quite a while shovelling and hauling gravel to our van, and then they did the same thing in reverse when they unloaded it in our yard.  After that they had a late dinner in the back yard, and watched part of The Ten Commandments with dh. 

None of this is going to be of much help to you right now, though, since you’re at the stage of life where you do need to actively keep your kids occupied and supervised most of the day.  When your baby is a little older and the two of them can play with each other more, you’ll start to find things get easier.  When I was at the stage you were at, I read to them a lot, baked with them, had them help me with my chores like laundry, and daily walks to the playground or to a friend helped keep us all busy.