Long time large family homeschoolers have a few tricks up their sleeves. When it comes to managing their days, they appear almost super human. People new to homeschooling always wonder how I manage to homeschool multiple grades without going completely nuts. Well, I’m here to share some of my winning strategies!
How I Homeschool Multiple Grades:
When families are new to homeschooling, they often picture replicating a public school environment at home. If you have multiple children, the idea of teaching each child in their own grade specific program for every single subject sounds like madness.
That’s because it is!
In my experience, most large homeschooling families agree. It’s best to combine your children where possible. Now, for skill based subjects like math, learning to read, grammar, or spelling this won’t be an effective strategy. But there are so many other content based subjects that you can easily enjoy together. History, science, literature, geography, and endless electives are great fun to experience family style.
How does this work? How will my first grader and fifth grader each get what they need from the same lesson? It will happen. There are plenty of homeschooling resources that appeal to a wide age range. Each child will glean what they are ready to learn.
You can enjoy reading a book in high school and again as an adult, but have completely different insights each time. Does that mean it wasn’t worth the read the first time?
No! It’s the same for your children.
There are also ways to enhance the lesson for each age group without having a separate focus for each child. Have a younger child? Add some picture books or easy readers on the same topic. Let them make a drawing about what they learned. Have an older child? Let them read at their own level or watch an in-depth documentary. Assign an essay or note booking page. This is still way less juggling than doing a completely different program for each child.
If you have a very wide age spread, you may benefit from combining some things in two groups instead of one. Spend a morning with your little ones while your older kids work independently. Then switch it up after lunch and let the little ones play while you work with the older set. Two separate lessons is still better than 5, 6, or 7.
As mentioned before, there will still be times where each child will need individual attention. I’ve found it works best to alternate. Set one child or group of children up with an independent task while you work with another child. Once they’re in a routine, everyone will know what’s expected.
If you set everyone working on the same skill subject at their own level at the same time (like math), you may run into problems. I have attempted this before, thinking I would streamline things.
It absolutely did not work.
Everyone ended up having questions and needing help at the same time. This was just frustrating for all, and a lot of time was wasted.
It’s also helpful to know that you don’t need to try to have a large block of one on one school time with each child every single day. Imagine you have 5 or 6 kids and you try to fit in 45 minutes of one on one instruction time with each child every day. This would be on top of group lessons, outside activities, meal times, melt downs, diaper changes, and dishes.
It is not humanly possible to maintain this pace.
Some families realize this and try to fit everyone in each day by scaling way back on the time. It can work to spend 15 to 20 minutes of focused time per child consistently versus slogging through a longer session. You may end up spending half the time trying to redirect attention and focus over longer stretches anyway.
Another way to handle this when more time is needed is to alternate days. Switch up which days each child will have their one on one time. For example, child A and B can receive one on one attention on Mondays and Wednesdays. Child C and D can have theirs on Tuesdays and Thursday. On their “off” days, let them work on independent learning. Sometimes kids need a longer session to make progress.
If this is too rigid for you, let it flow! On any given day, you can notice which child needs the time and go with it! You will be amazed at the progress your children make without the usual 6 hours a day of direct classroom instruction.
3.Routine V. Rigid Scheduling
You may think I’m just splitting hairs here and it’s all semantics. But I’ve found there is a definite difference between a rigid bell type schedule and a routine. A rigid schedule can leave families feeling burnt out and rushed. Mom’s feel like they’re always “behind” and there is no margin for the events of daily life that happen with small children underfoot.
Sorry, can’t change the diaper just yet, there’s still 20 minutes left on the clock for this subject. Having a bad day, honey? Buck up, there’s no time for that. Got to move on to math at 10:30 sharp if we’re going to make it through our entire list. Have a rough night with a teething baby? Forget about it! This train leaves at 8 am regardless. I can already feel my stress levels rising. Shudder!
And life happens. Every day.
With a routine, there’s still a plan and consistency but there’s more margin for real life. After breakfast, we always do ABC, whether we begin at 8:30 or 9:15. Following ABC, we work on XYZ. As soon as we’re finished with that, we’ll clean up for lunch. The day has a pattern and a flow, but there is a fluidity and flexibility about it.
The self-imposed urgency vanishes. If you have an off day and something comes up, you don’t worry about it. You know you will get to that lesson the next day or week. Much more gets accomplished when people are happy, relaxed, and comfortable. It’s true.
4.Keep it Simple
When first starting out, you might be tempted to chase after every shiny new curriculum that crosses your path. They all look wonderful. And then parts of others look better. Then, before you know it, you’re trying to include the best parts of six different programs. This leads to the need to redesign most of them to fit together. Everything just became super complicated and way harder than it needs to be.
There are so many choices for homeschoolers today!
You really don’t need to drive yourself crazy trying to find the very best of the best. You will wind up on a never ending quest of insanity. Seasoned homeschoolers will tell you, most of the programs out there will get the job done. They’re all good. It’s more about consistency and daily steps forward than the nitty-gritty details.
But if after a fair trial run something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make changes. You’re in charge. And if I’m being completely honest, I believe that it’s possible to give your child a top-notch education with nothing but an internet connection and a library card.
Honestly. Keep it simple.
You’re also allowed to think outside the box. Simplify. You don’t have to include every subject you want to teach your kids every single day. Or even every single term. Want to include both history and science? Maybe you’ll choose to do each topic twice a week rather than both each day. If that feels like too much juggling, why not to a history unit for 6 weeks and then switch and do a science unit for 6 weeks. This type of scheduling flexibility can be applied to most subjects.
If it feels like too much, it probably is! And this can change from year to year or season to season. Scale back until you and your family feel comfortable.
Reading aloud is one of the best ways to keep your homeschool simple and get the best return on investment. There are quality children’s books on almost every topic imaginable.
Gather everyone together, and read good books. So much learning happens. Sometimes meaningful discussions naturally arise or other interests are sparked. Vocabularies are increased. Personal character building happens through experiencing the stories of others. A shared family culture is built.
I cannot sing enough praises about the practice of reading aloud.
There is so much to say about it, in fact, that I’m going to direct you to one of my favorite resources on the topic. Check out Read Aloud Revival. There are podcasts, homeschooling encouragement, book lists, and family book clubs. If you don’t know about this resource, you’re in for a real treat!
6.Create Daily Highlights
I like to include at least one thing in each day that we all look forward to. It’s not always possible to please everyone, but for the most part this works. This practice really helps the kids (and myself!) feel motivated to start the day.
Sometimes we put the activity at the beginning of the day. Morning time is a great place to anchor many of these things. Other times we move it closer to the end of the day and kids are motivated to finish other daily tasks so they can participate.
Some examples include playing Mad-Libs for grammar, watching a family movie on a topic we’re learning about, going for a nature walk, playing board games, having poetry tea time, doing an art project. Think about what your family loves, and include those things.
The sky’s the limit!
You don’t need to do everything every day. And it doesn’t need to be a complicated or huge event. Just one small thing to look forward to each day can make all the difference.
Thanks for listening, friend.
If you found this article helpful, read 6 more tips in How I Homeschool Multiple Grades: Part 2!
Learn about what a heart-based homeschool can look like in your home by reading more here.