Homeschooling one child can feel challenging. Adding more children at different levels can feel like launching a plate-spinning act, rushing from pole to pole to give each a quick twirl and keep all those plates in the air!
But take a deep breath, grab your favorite cuppa, and sink into a comfortable chair for a few minutes! As a homeschool mama who taught 17 kids over the years (my own eight daughters plus nine more!), I want to reassure you that you can do this—in a way that keeps your family’s most important “plates” spinning. Although all of us have to occasionally clean up a plate that hits the floor, here are a few hints that have helped me keep everyone learning while teaching different ages.
1. Set goals and prioritize.
Map out your year, but be flexible (use pencil!). Education is more than just academics, so it’s okay to include some character-building and passion-exploration goals as well. (When your children enjoy what they’re learning and are gradually growing in focus, attention, and flexibility, everyone wins!)
And speaking of academics: Keep it simple. In the younger years (preschool through early primary grades), your goal is to build relationships within your family while facilitating experiential learning, or “hooks,” on which they can hang their future learning.
When teaching multiple students, many parents feel most confident if they concentrate on mastery of foundational skill areas like language arts and math at each child’s own level. Then they can add a multi-level approach in areas of history, geography, science, and arts by utilizing family-friendly, nongraded materials. (More on that below!)
2. Organize your home and your schedule for success.
Simplify your homemaking and your chores. Have a routine, but be flexible! Build in some “down time” as well as catch-up time. I found it helpful to incorporate a half-day off every few weeks to account for household chores (like the laundry
pile!), interruptions to our hoped-for progress, and other “life happens” time adjustments.
Encourage realistic expectations and create an environment conducive to a learning lifestyle!
3. Encourage independent study.
Teach your kids to work without you right at their sides each moment. This may be tough at first, but it really does get easier!
- Try prepping educational “while you wait for mom” materials for times that your child needs to wait a few moments for help.
- Consider using the computer for drills, research, and educational software. Make it easy for them to correct their own work in skills areas such as math.
- Consider giving your child his own planner with assignments listed so he can move at his own pace, or try Sue Patrick’s workbox system.
- You can also categorize materials into “learning stations” (a place to keep all your educational materials—like the way you would keep all your baking supplies in one area) to make self-study more user-friendly. Some items to include in the “learning stations” might be computer apps or CDs, supplemental workbooks or coloring books, games, or drills, as well as books on various topics related to the studies at hand.
Keep in mind that children tend to do what you inspect, not always what you expect, so try to stay nearby and available. As you inspect, you can give them positive, growth-oriented feedback they need to begin polishing their skills and become more independent learners.
4. Include your little ones.
I recommend providing “mommy time” early and often! If you spend time with your little ones at the beginning of your homeschool day or learning session, they will be more content playing nearby on their own while you work with the older children. Include your toddler as a young learner—you’ll be amazed how much he’ll pick up by the trickle-down approach!
For example: involve the younger ones in discussions with your older children. You might not expect answers from the young ones, but don’t discount that possibility, either! If the conversation will likely be too far above their heads, keep educational toys nearby for the younger ones during the lesson times.
For more insights on and creative ideas for homeschooling with little ones, see my article “What to Do with Your Young Learner” here, as well as posts by our many experienced blogger moms here. (Type “preschool” into the search box.)
5. Read aloud.
When children hear good literature read aloud, it introduces them to a love for language, builds vocabulary, motivates them to read, and encourages them to use their imagination. Kids have a much higher receptive vocabulary compared to their personal reading vocabulary, so it’s okay to read books aloud that are well above their reading level. It can increase engagement and give you a feel for what they’re understanding if you stop occasionally to let them narrate back to you or to dramatize what you’ve read. And remember—leave time for discussion and enjoy the experience!
6. Adapt your curriculum.
Consider adapting your educational materials to teach both younger and older students, especially in subjects like science and social studies. These materials might include any or all of the following:
- biographies, historical fiction, and other “living books”*
- CDs, podcasts, and videos
To adapt your textbooks, you can use the table of contents (from the oldest child’s textbook) as a guide, then use living books for learning time—modifying assignments to give the younger ones learning material appropriate for their age and developmental level. Skim chapters, noting vocabulary (bold words or vocabulary lists), timelines, important people, project ideas, and experiments or field trips. You might use just this one book, or you might find lower-level textbooks that cover similar topics for the younger ones, then use them as references.
Or you may prefer to simply use the same multi-level, family-friendly, content-area program for all, such as Konos, Moving Beyond the Page, Tapestry of Grace, BookShark, Trail Guide to Learning, or Five in a Row, to list a few.
If you are concerned that you may miss key concepts you want to cover with your younger ones, a scope-and-sequence guide can help you check off the milestones. See our article, “What Should I Be Teaching?”
While homeschooling multiple learning levels can be quite a challenge, you are a family first! As educational psychologist Dr. Debra Bell confirmed in her studies, “If we built a school from the ground up that is based on the research showing how kids learn best . . . we’d build a home.”
Explore HSLDA’s website for more tips and encouragement to equip you as you create an engaging learning environment for your family. If you’re an HSLDA member, we invite you to reach out to our educational consultants: they’d be happy to answer your specific questions and give personalized suggestions to equip you to make homeschooling possible for your family!
*What are “living” books?
Living books are non-textbooks such as biographies, autobiographies, great literature, and ungraded books that take a deep dive on a specific subject written by an author with a real passion for exploring and teaching that subject.