Typically, the Number 3 question asked of me right after “How do you socialize your kids?” and “What curriculum do you use?” is “How are you homeschooling more than one child?”
It’s a good question, especially in our day and age, when most people school with same age peers.
First, consider that most children are at slightly or even grossly different levels of learning even within one classroom. Often teachers spend years fine-tuning what is called teaching with differentiation, which means making lesson plans that span the differences in learning to teach all students the same lesson. Knowing that makes it easier to understand that homeschooling multiple ages isn’t all that different from normal classroom teaching.
The thing we all have to think about when we’re teaching our kids is THEM! Forget about their varying ages. Forget about the status quo. If you focus on teaching your children where they are, it doesn’t matter if you have triplets all in the third grade or six kids in varying grades. Their lessons should be different anyway. This leads us back to the same question (re-worded): “How do we go about homeschooling more than one child at a time?”
The second consideration is what you are going to teach your children. This may seem a ridiculous point since there are scores of curriculum options on the market. But, I’m not talking about academics. I am talking about whether you want your children to learn to fill in work book pages or to master the subjects on these pages. Click through the online curriculum or really absorb the content? Do you want to teach your children to be hand-fed learners or seekers? Do you want your children to care about helping their siblings learn?
When you set your schooling standards so that school is about mastering content instead of filling in workbook pages or clicking through screens, you get immediate benefits! You get kids who are going to learn deeper, think more critically, and become seekers! Plus, they’ll feel able to help each other.
One simple adjustment on your part establishes an environment conducive to homeschooling multiple grades.
When you focus on mastering content instead of busy work, a typical school day might look like this: Student A can call spelling words to Student B, while you help Student C understand the concept of basic addition. Student A can sit and read with you, while Student B is practicing letter/sound matching with Student C—all the while, refreshing his memory for stronger reading. Students C and B can sit quietly by themselves with a learning tool or practice worksheet, while you instruct Student A how to write an outline properly.
You do have to keep an eye on your kids’ learning progress yourself. Then you can decide if they understand their set of math questions quickly and are ready to move on—without doing every single problem on the page—or if they are still struggling and need you to break the lesson down or offer more practice problems.
For example, you may find that your eight-year-old and your eleven-year-old are both ready to learn multiplication facts at the same time. These two students can play various multiplication-based games together to help reinforce their learning as a team!
I have used this method in a slightly underhanded—yet merciful way. When I knew that the eleven-year-old needed to learn multiplication facts at the same time as the eight-year-old, I asked the eleven-year-old to be the “teacher.” She didn’t need to know that I knew she was struggling to memorize, and that’s why she was about to start from the ground up with her eight-year-old brother. This little trick gave the eleven-year-old the self-esteem boost needed, rather than making her feel bad about not knowing something the eight-year-old was learning. She finally learned multiplication, which is necessary for going on to all higher math.
Another great way to manage homeschooling multiple ages is with online curriculum. With a good, comprehensive web-based program, several students can work at their individual level and at a pace tailored to their needs. A good curricula is mastery-based so I know there will be no gaps in their learning. I like that I can see at a glance the progress they have made.
I hope all of you will feel confident in the fact that learning at different levels is not only easier for you, it’s normal! There will be less “babysitting” and forcing students to sit and finish worksheets, etc. Your children will learn more academically, seek information, and share their learning time with siblings.
They might even learn to be patient, less selfish of your time, and begin nurturing a servant’s heart within themselves.
Multi-age teaching is a gift, not a burden, and helps your children become well-rounded, both academically and emotionally.
Lisa Blauvelt (with her family and three dogs, two cats, a horse, pony, donkey, two red eared turtles, a fluctuating number of tadpoles and baby fish, and various other creatures collected by her adventurous boys) puts her education degrees to work at her home in the Deep South. There she teaches not only her own children, but others who come to her home to learn. Her decade long experience in teaching children to read will soon be published as a 476 page guide for parents.