On those inevitable days when you’re sitting at the kitchen table head in hands, stressing out, and wondering why you decided to homeschool your one, two, or maybe even three or four children, take a deep breath and think of Karen Derrico. If you’re not familiar with Karen, she is one of the stars on the TLC reality show, Doubling Down with the Derricos. She is also a Bridgeway Academy mom who homeschools nine of her 14 children. Yes, nine.
At this point, you might be wondering, “HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?” Well, it is, and to find out what a typical day in the life of the Derrico family is, you’ll have to tune in to the show–and read our interview below with Karen, who provided us with a glimpse into a school day in the Derrico home!
(To learn some tips on how to manage your homeschooling, check out our recent blog article, Staying Sane While Homeschooling: 5 Tips from TLC Star Karen Derrico!)
Bridgeway Academy: When did you decide to homeschool your children?
Karen Derrico: We had already decided to pull the [nine] kids out of their school before COVID happened, so we were already acclimated with homeschooling at that time, so that was a huge blessing. Although at the time I didn’t think it was! I was just like, “This is really frustrating right now. How am I going to do this…homeschool all nine of them, take care of the younger ones, be pregnant, be on home rest and bedrest?” It was a lot.
BA: So, you’re homeschooling nine children. How do you find time to do anything else during the day?
KD: [Laughs]. I have them on a very strict bedtime rule. They have to go to bed no later than eight o’clock. Every time they do something they’re not supposed to, they lose 15 minutes. And they feel that 15 minutes!
BA: So, if you have the kids in bed by 8, that gives you time to do what you want or need to do?
KD: It truly does. I start them getting ready by 7:15. You can’t tell them their bedtime is 8 and they’re in bed at 8. Because then bedtime turns into 8:30. Because that’s when they decide they want to tell you a thousand times that they love you. That’s when they decide to go get a gallon of water. That’s when they say, “Mommy, let me show you what I did in school today!” I know what you did today in school…I worked with you today! [Laughs] They have all these different things, that by the time you have all of them coming to you saying this and this and this, it’s already eight o’clock. So, it’s like, no…start it at 7:15. Clean up your toys, make sure your laptops are all set up and together, make sure your bedtime routine is all set, and then you go to bed. And they usually end up in bed about 10 minutes earlier [than 8], but that’s how I want it.
BA: How do you juggle responsibilities and commitments to the show while you’re homeschooling?
KD: We have a calendar where we talk to everyone, and we communicate it all out. They [show producers] know that education is important and they know my position as far as mom things…that’s my role and there are things I need to do. For example, this morning I told them I needed the first half of the day off because I needed to run errands. I tell them, “This is what I’ve got going on today, and I have to work with the kids with school, things like that. So it’s not like cameras come into my home and are like, “OK, we’re gonna be here all day, so do what you need to do.” No, that doesn’t work because it can be distracting. I want to make sure the kids are learning.
BA: OK, so you’re getting ready for a typical school day. Can you shed some light on the morning part of your day?
KD: Oh, my gosh…I am a drill sergeant [laughs]. For us, school starts at nine o’clock West Coast time, so a couple hours before that, they are brushing their teeth, getting their breakfast, and then closer to the time– maybe 8:30–I make them have the laptops out, get all their school supplies, and they have a checklist…class books, dry erase markers, erasers, headphones. And then they hear me in the house–”IT’S 8:30! THE TIMER IS SET!” [Laughs] All you hear is little feet just running all through the house getting their stuff.
BA: Do the kids do anything in the morning leading up to that, besides getting their stuff ready?
KD: They eat their breakfast together. And I recently posted on Instagram their early morning dance. I’ll turn on some music…I just don’t want them sitting at their computers, spinning around in their chairs. I figure, if you’ve got a good warm-up time, turn on our favorite music, dance it out, get it out. And by the time they sit down, they’ve still got that adrenaline rush from dancing to their favorite song or artist.
BA: Can you tell us about your classroom setup and what it looks like?
KD: Oh, my gosh…in a perfect world, I’d have a 10-bedroom home with a state-of-the-art classroom [laughs]. But that’s just not happening. The reality is, we’re in a 2,300-square-foot house. Downstairs at the dining table are the quintuplets, and then upstairs, I took one of our four bedrooms–I don’t know why–and made that one into a classroom. Derek, Dallas, and Denver are in that room. Darian, I bought her a desk and made an area for her. So, five are downstairs, three are together in one room, and Darian is alone.
And I am constantly walking up and down the stairs, checking on them, giving them a thumbs up while they’re in class. You know, there are technical issues, or someone is trying to spell a word. I have to keep an eye on the older three because they’re in there laughing and playing sometimes, and I’m like “Stop.” Or one of them will mute or stop his video and want to show me a cute girl. And I’m like, “You need to focus on your schoolwork.” [Laughs]
BA: What type of learning happens before lunch?
KD: So, they have class at 9 for an hour. Then they have an hour break and then they have another class at 11. So it really works out because that break is so needed after spending an hour in class. They have their assignments, so after their class, I let them have their lunch and then they get back on again and start doing their work.
BA: How do you coordinate lunch for 14 kids?
KD: OK, so the true answer…while we’re filming, we don’t have to pay for any of our food, which is amazing. So, the children have a field day picking and choosing their meals. But when we’re not filming, my husband will provide their lunch. Like a sandwich, chips–he’ll give them something that’ll hold them over until he fixes dinner. So, we give them a deli sandwich and pickles with chips and juice for their lunch. Then we let them rest for a couple hours before getting started with their schoolwork.
That’s when I break it down into groups. I’ll start with Derek, and I have myself timed…30 minutes here, 30 minutes there, and an hour with the quintuplets, to help them all with their schoolwork. They still have work that may take longer, and I get them started. I found that when I have them all working at the same time, no one person is getting upset or jealous because the other ones aren’t working. So I have them all working together in that way–it’s like, this is a family thing and we’re all doing this.
BA: How do you wrap up the school day?
KD: There is a really neat game that I learned called “high and low”, and it normally involves “What’s your high today? What’s your low today in school?” Versus you just say what you learned today. If their high is, “The teacher called on me,” it’ll really start the conversation. “My teacher called on me, and I answered the question and I got it right.” What was your low today? “My low today was, I really didn’t feel like doing schoolwork”, or something like that. But I like the fact we talk about it, because then i’ll be able to ask, “Why didn’t you like doing it? Was it because you didn’t understand it? So, I wrap it up with that question. I’m always trying to reinforce that. After that, they have their checklist, so they have to make sure their computers are logged out, their area is cleaned up, they have everything organized and put away for class tomorrow.
BA: Do all the kids have a standard length for a school day?
KD: Their regular school hours are 9 to 12. Then I try to start back up around 4 or 5. That’s for doing any extra work. But I always tell them, if there’s a day you understand an assignment and I see that you’re getting it, I don’t spend more time on it. That’s their reward for understanding it. For the ones that don’t, I have to weed it out because If i’m wasting my time on a child that fully understands multiplication and division, now I am neglecting a child that really needs help with multiplication and division. With that being said, I direct them to do something else, like read a book to the other children. That makes it easier on me because, again, I can now use my time very wisely.
I try to wrap up around 6 PM, between 6 and 6:30. But if we’re in a learning session and we are having fun with it, we can go on and on with it. But I try to wrap up by no later than 6:30 because it really helps me to be done by that time.
BA: Do you normally wrap filming by then?
KD: We usually wrap filming by 7. They’re here from 9 AM to 7 PM. It’s a major balancing act. We’re off this week (Thanksgiving week), so I’m going through all of their online stuff and any work that they may have not done yet. Most of them are pretty caught up. I thank God the teachers send their newsletters out for the next week because, it’s like, you know what, let’s start knocking out next week. I look at their assignments, and that’s one thing I always tell parents–try to look over your assignments before they’re due. Some of my children just did a writing assignment and it wasn’t done properly. And, even after I looked at it, and I corrected it, I had someone else work with them, because you’ve got to make sure you’re reading and understanding it to help them out so you’re not repeating assignments or going back over it.
BA: What does your family do after school is over? Extracurricular activities? Playtime? How do you manage it all?
KD: Oh, my gosh. We’re exhausted [laughs]. Our assistant brings us our food, we sit down and eat. If there’s an assignment after the late time, of course I go ahead and get it done. But, for the most part, you know, we’re kind of like we’re just collecting our conversations with each other. And we reflect on the day…”Oh, that was fun,” and “How was school?” And we just kind of let everybody be. Because you’re so busy in the daytime, and it’s kind of like, use these last few minutes to play with your toys or unwind. You just really need to just unwind and not have someone telling you what to do for a moment.
BA: Have there ever been moments when you and your husband just want to throw your hands up in the air and give up? If so, what keeps you going?
KD: Oh, my gosh. We have those moments all the time, trust me! What keeps us going is, this is what we asked for. It’s a huge blessing. We are so grateful and thankful to God for it and for all of our babies. Our reality show Is a huge blessing, and we feel it’s God’s way of using us to tell our story to help other families out there that are going through some of the life challenges that we are. Just like any job…as much as you love it, you have those one or two things that you just don’t feel like doing. But, for us, to be able to be with your family all day–and get paid to be with your family all day–it is a huge blessing that we do not take for granted. We teach it to our children as well. You don’t take for granted that someone is buying you food. It’s the small things like that. So, we just keep each other going, and, hey, we’ve got a story to tell. There’s someone out there struggling with this, and we have found an easier way to help them get through this.
BA: What led you to choose Bridgeway Academy as your homeschool partner?
KD: That’s a great question! So, what happened was, we were going into our first season of filming, and I had already bought a ton of learning stuff. I was putting together my own curriculum, and since my background is in early childhood education, I knew what to do with lesson plans and things like that. But it was still a lot of work. At the time I had a ninth grader, all the way down to my babies being in kindergarten, first grade. It was a lot, with the quintuplets being in that grade level.
All of them learn differently, all of them are on different academic levels, so I was buying literally like each child their own set of learning. It was overwhelming. So, I started looking online and I’m like, I’ve got to find something that’s going to really make this easier for me. I know I needed support. And the first time that I ordered, I just ordered all books. I thought, “This is great, I got all my books!” I opened up the books and was like, “Oh my, oh hold on….I have to teach all of this too.” You can’t just order books and say here you go.
So, I had to break it down, I had to customize it, I had to learn it so that I can teach it to them in a different way, and that was just a lot. And Bridgeway was just so amazing, and I love how you have the different ways a child learns. For me, that was phenomenal because that’s how I teach my children. Not everyone can just sit there and be repetitious all day. Audio learners, visual learners, hands-on learners–you have to know your child’s learning style. Bridgeway just had all the learning styles for me. The first year, I did it myself and was overwhelmed with Bridgeway material, because it was still just me. So, this year, I thought “OK, Bridgeway, I’m ready for you now!” Because I need support, I can’t do this on my own!
Out of all the programs that I called, I actually spoke with someone at Bridgeway, and I just love how, immediately, I felt like all of my concerns were addressed and someone listened to me, and it was just so great.
BA: We definitely hear that a lot that–having the live classes and the teacher support is huge for parents. So, for you, you can’t do it with nine kids by yourself.
KD: Hey, people say I’m Super-Mom, but, I mean…I don’t see a cape anywhere on this back! I don’t know what you’re talking about! [Laughs]
BA: What advice would you give to parents who maybe only have one or two kids but are overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling?
KD: You have to hold your child accountable. Even if they’re in kindergarten, you can make it simple. Make a little checkbox and put stickers in it. I put my laptop away–sticker. I put my clothes away–sticker. You hold them accountable for putting their school supplies away. Buy a timer and set it. This is what you’re going to be working on right now for 30 minutes. When you’re through with Book A, you go to Book B. Then you watch a video.
You have to hold them accountable, and if they’re not still sitting there in that spot doing their work, you use whatever system you want to use–take stickers away, cut down 15 minutes of time before bed. You’ve now given them what they need to do, you set the tone for what they need to do, you’ve given them the circumstances. If you don’t do this, this is what’s going to happen.
Also, reach out to your advisor. You’ve got to have great communication. Set standards for yourself and know that each day is going to get better. Stick to your goals. Seek outside tutoring help if you need it. Don’t feel like you’re doing it all alone. The reward in this is so great. There is nothing better than my child talking to other people, and they’re like, “How did you learn that?” “Oh, my mommy taught me.”
BA: What would you tell a parent who’s considering Bridgeway?
KD: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? [Laughs] If you are considering Bridgeway, you need to be on a phone call now! I would say, listen to all of the great options that Bridgeway has. Any experience that you’ve had with homeschooling, you need to let them know about those experiences–good or bad. Find out your child’s learning style. Don’t stress and worry about it–Bridgeway will definitely be there to support you. When I get a moment, I can text my advisor and say hey, this is a quick question I had. Or, teacher, I have a quick question I want to email you.
BA: Is there anything else you would like to share with us and our readers?
KD: I have my days of being stressed out as well. I get my days that I feel like, “Oh my gosh, this is a lot.” But, like I said, I know what my core reasons and beliefs are. My objective at the end of their school journey is, how did I impact and make a difference for them?
It is very overwhelming at first, because if you’re new to it, you don’t really know what to expect. You’re asking questions, you’ve got to acclimate your child to it. But you just let your child know, look, I’m right here beside you and we’re going to get through this together. And I think once you get that understanding of why you really want to do this, what are your core reasons and beliefs, and what your main objective is in this whole homeschooling journey and you stick to that, you will find you would never want to go back to traditional school. Many thanks to Karen for taking time out of her very busy day to talk to Bridgeway. As you can see, homeschooling can be the perfect choice for your child’s education–whether you have one or 14!