When I first started my blog, I did a series on homeschooling multiple ages. It was a sweet series chock full of tips, but wouldn’t you like to know how successful that method was for me?
Fast forward to the present with three kids graduated, you will love these tried and true tips for juggling multiple ages and ideas you wished you knew earlier.
HOMESCHOOLING MULTIPLE AGES
So, I’m breaking down the tips into big chunks so that you can easily find the help you need as I share details. I’ve had a lot of time to refine the process over the last 20+ years.
First, let’s discuss ten benefits of teaching mixed ages together and eight challenges.
Ten Benefits of Teaching Mixed Ages Together
- The public school approach has complicated the simple. More subjects do not equal more; it just equals more busywork. Teaching subjects together combines several bodies of knowledge which are related.
- Shorter more productive days stick. The time after instruction is filled with how each child connects what is learned today with yesterday. A child needs time to linger on what is newly learned.
- We homeschool because we want to nurture family togetherness and teaching siblings together does that.
- Focusing on one science, history, geography, music, book, or art topic multiplied my time as a teacher. From topics came lesson plans suited to each age and ability. Bottom line is my time planning yielded huge results.
- Covering a topic with multiple ages enriches the depth of each child’s knowledge as they share their research with the family.
- Teaching multiple ages together is easy on your budget. Buying one science or history book for all your ages screams homeschool savings. (Yes, it’s fantastic. I’ll share in a minute how to do it.)
- It fosters a love of independent learning. I didn’t realize this until later. Coming together to study encouraged my kids to research their ideas and to present them to the rest of the family.
- Older children model for younger children.
- Younger children learn from older siblings.
- All of your children learn from each other as the older children review facts mouthed by the younger siblings. That equals natural review instead of forced worksheets.
Eight Challenges of Teaching Mixed Ages
Identifying the challenges I’ll be addressing will help you to see which part of this process gives you a bump in the road.
More important, I’m also giving you tips for smooth sailing on teaching your mixed ages.
Next, let’s dive into listing the challenges.
- Does teaching together really mean at the same time? Should I teach a few kids separately?
- How do you give each child one-to-one and when?
- It could create an unhealthy spirit of competition. For example, an older learner may outshine a younger learner. Also, in some instances an advanced younger learner can outshine an older sibling.
- Also, if you have several small children creating a lot of interruptions this can make for an atmosphere of chaos instead of calm.
- Another challenge is how to create lesson plans which fits all ages.
- What activities are good for all ages?
- Teacher time planning is increased.
- Determining if this approach is good for all of your children can be stressful.
If you’re new to homeschooling, you’ll love my online self-paced Boot Camp for New Homeschoolers.
DEFINING HOMESCHOOLING MULTIPLE AGES
Now that some challenges and benefits have been identified, I’m moving on to explaining what is homeschooling multiple ages.
Understanding a definition brings clarity which is sanity saving.
Look at six ways to understand what it means to juggle mixed ages.
Six Ways to Define Homeschooling Mixed Ages
- It means you can teach your children together, but each one can be working independently on an assignment. The kids are not all huddled together in front of you every minute. Of course, unless you want that. Just saying.
- Creating multiple assignments on one topic for each child’s needs is the very foundation of homeschooling multiple children.
- You can create individual hands-on projects based on ages.
- Creating ONE BIG project by all the kids teaches siblings how to collaborate. You decide which projects and how many projects your kids do jointly or individually. Maintaining flexibility of how many hands-on ideas or projects you want to assign to your older or younger set of kids or assign individually is key to savoring the process. Flexibility is king for projects.
- Understanding that you do NOT have to do all the teaching when the kids are together is another important element to know.
- Older siblings reading to younger siblings or reviewing math facts is part of how you juggle mixed ages.
Did you know this method of teaching is time tested? It reminds me of the one-room schoolhouses of the past.
If you were to ask a seasoned homeschooling mom if a one-room schoolhouse is a thing of the past, they would probably say no.
The building may be long gone, but the idea of teaching mixed ages together is alive and strong in the homeschool world.
NUTS AND BOLTS OF HOMESCHOOLING MULTIPLE AGED CHILDREN
One of the most common mistakes or misunderstandings about teaching multiple grades is that all your kids sit down together in front of you and you teach them at the same time.
That is not true.
While it’s easier to do this when they are young, it gets harder to do as they get older.
So this means you have to know when to teach together at the same time and know when to teach separately.
Key to teaching ONE lesson plan for multiple ages is knowing that some subjects are more essential while other subjects can be taught in a variety of ways.
Six GENERAL Tips for Homeschooling Multiple PRESCHOOL and ELEMENTARY Children
Look at the nitty-gritty tips of teaching when ALL your kids are 8 years old and younger.
- When teaching young children who have shorter attention spans more breaks are needed between topics. Knowing this you want to prep for several 15 to 30 minute teaching slots throughout your day.
- Do reading aloud first for the school day. This way you have set the tone for the teaching day.
- Reading aloud can be any book which covers a subject you need to teach for the day. History, science, math, literature and even books which teach grammar in a humorous way are your guides for reading. One budget saving tip is to use a book, yes even a textbook which you already have. A textbook is not my first choice because it’s tweaked to fit one age. A book which covers multiple ages is your aim.
- However, if you don’t have a book which covers multiple ages to teach the subject and only have textbooks aim for the book that targets the middle age of your children or your oldest children. For example, by a rule of thumb your 8 year old would be considered third grade. You want to use a second or third grade textbook.
- When choosing resources for your children know it’s ALWAYS easier to adjust lesson plans DOWN from a resource for younger children than up for an older child.
- Another sanity saving tip when working with young children is that you give one-to-one time starting with your YOUNGEST and work your way up to your OLDEST.
For instance, language arts and math are skill subjects.
While it’s not completely impossible to do so, it’s harder to teach those skills to multiple children using one level.
Incidentally, this is a concept that even public school teachers understand which is that even children in the same grade are all over the place skill wise.
On the other hand, content subjects like history, science, art, and many others can be taught together.
Although you want to keep the information at your children’s level, it’s not critical for them to master one concept in content subjects before moving on to another one. However, it is for skill subjects. Children need to know the four basic operations of math before moving on to Algebra.
Another example of the important point I’m making is if a child does not learn to read and write well by the older grades, he could be at a deficit for learning. He may be set up for struggling if enough time was not spent mastering skill subjects as his individual pace.
However, if a child did not learn the capitals of every state by fourth grade, he will not necessarily be ill-equipped in adulthood. He would need to know how to read to look up the capitals of states.
Five Specific Tips for Homeschooling Multiple PRESCHOOL and ELEMENTARY Children
Now that you understand the differences in the types of subjects, look at these specific tips for homeschooling multiple young children.
- After reading aloud, begin one-to-one with your preschoolers and toddlers on the lesson for the day.
- Start with the skill subjects first since they’re most vital at this age. If you did a literature read aloud, then work with letter recognition or sound with your group of littles.
- Fine motor skills can be done at this time too. Set up your learning area for painting, beading, or playdough.
- Bottom line is to teach all of your youngest children together. As the youngest learners they’re your true schedulers.
- Before you move on to the group of older kids or your next group, being READY INSTANTLY with activities is key to teaching the littles. If you have a large family, you may need a division of three groups depending on the ages.
Next, let’s move on to tips for older learners. It’s one thing for your kids to be real little and have years to teach, but it can be quite scary as your kids approach middle and high school.
For the most part, skill subjects are just as important in the older grades as they are in the younger grades.
The huge difference is in the upper grades content subjects need equal attention. That can be the rub, but I have some tips and tricks for you in a just a bit.
As I mentioned earlier, the general rule of thumb when working in a group is that you work with the youngest group of children first and work your way up.
In short, your older kids will get your one-to-one later or even last. This calls for an absolute clear direction for them to start their day on the topic.
Six Practical Tips for Homeschooling Multiple OLDER Children
Look at these tips for homeschooling multiple older children.
- After you come together to start your day with the lesson topic, then let your older kids decide what lesson to do OR even a different subject. For example, if you’re teaching a science lesson, he may want to do math instead. Allowing your older kids to make decisions like that gives them control over their learning journey. Having an order for lessons is key because you will always need to work with the youngest first. Your older kids can’t be held up for the day waiting on you.
- This brings me to my next tip. Let your older kids do lessons or subjects that require minimal help from you.
- On the other hand, if they struggle with a subject like math, I suggest they do that first when they’re freshest in the day. The key here is to use a program which teaches step by step or even visually.
- Let them do some of the reading or teaching to their younger siblings. It’s great training.
- Also, get them to help do the research on an upcoming lesson plan or topic. It’s a win-win. They learn research skills, you get help, and your older kids are diving deeper into learning. Valuable research skills and outlining are learned. They feel a useful part of your teaching team while increasing their knowledge.
- Finally, one more tip that I call the broccoli cheese sauce method is to combine one skill subjects which your older child may not like, maybe essays, with a content subject he does. For instance, assign writing topics based on a science passion, geography, nature, history or a Bible topic.
To summarize this section, it’s important to put all of these tips I mentioned above into a working day.
How does the day or schedule look?
Flexible Homeschool Schedule for Juggling Mixed Ages
Block of Time
(could be morning)
Begin the start of your day together. Usually the morning time is the beginning of the homeschool day. Whatever time is the first to your homeschool day, the key is to start with all kids together.
Then let older kids work independently.
Block of Time
(could be afternoon)
If you have all young kids like 8 years old and younger, you need time to come back together to teach the lesson in more depth or through a hands-on idea.
Do one hands-on idea/project for all your kids.
If you have a set of older and younger kids, then only come together with the youngest set. This allows the older learners independent time.
Block of Time
(could be after school)
This time period is a flexible time. I could use this time before supper to help one of my kids who was struggling. Also, we did music and art during this time. As my kids grew older, they used it for fitness time and research time. Too, silent reading time was during this period.
As you see from the above flexible schedule, adjustments will have to be made along the way.
From PreK to high school I’ve used the method above with variations for each year.
While it’s true that as each son entered high school, the time together was shorter. It wasn’t because my older children needed more time alone; it was because they learned to be independent using this method of teaching multiple ages. On the threshold of adulthood, they were already using their time wisely.
ACTIVITIES FOR MIXED AGES
Next, having a list of activities ready to choose from and which will work with a variety of ages was indispensable.
Look at some activities below which will simplify your day.
21 Ideal Activities for Juggling Mixed Ages
- Watching Dvds.
- Coloring. Museum quality coloring books and coloring books are not just for young kids anymore. These high quality pages are great learning aids for any age, but especially young adults.
- A mixed age homeschool co-op.
- Drawing and labeling. Whether your kids draw and label an animal or plant cell, it’s an activity that adjusts to each age.
- Poetry recital. When one kid remembers one poem and recites IT, all your kids benefit.
- Listening to an audio book can be enjoyed by all ages.
- Growing a garden or tending plants is a wonderful family activity.
- Discussing current events.
- Virtual field trips.
- Physical field trips.
- Combining math and art.
- Drama and plays.
- Watching a musical.
- Viewing a documentary.
- Studying maps and atlases.
- Reading together, of course.
- Have your children prepare ONE huge lapbook together or have your kids prepare individual ones.
- Make vocabulary cards for a game.
- Educational board games.
- Make character cards from a movie, documentary, or book.
- Any life skill like sewing, baking, or cooking.
To summarize, make a list of ideas for you to have quickly available to you. Ideas will vary according to whatever topic you’re teaching.
The point is make a huge list from the resources you have on hand and of course stalk my Pinterest for ideas.
HOMESCHOOL CURRICULUM FOR MULTIPLE CHILDREN
Finally, resources for homeschooling multiple children are EVERYTHING; resources can literally make or break teaching multiple ages.
Not having the perfect resources when I started, I still used what I had already purchased because I didn’t have to go out of my budget.
Further, I promised earlier that I would explain how to choose resources and how to choose one book for all ages.
Before I go on, I do want to touch on one important point which made teaching multiple ages successful through to high school for each kid.
I switched to a unit study homeschool.
It may seem harder to lesson plan, but using a unit study approach gave me ample information to feed each of my children’s learning appetite at any age.
Now, look at how to choose resources and unit study curriculum ideas.
- Although textbooks are not my first choice, it’s what I had when I started. I encourage you to use what you have; I didn’t know the difference between living books and just books. Tip: Use the textbook from your oldest child to teach your subject. As I’ve stated before, it’s EASIER to plan down than up for your oldest learner. You can adjust lessons for younger learners when you have more than enough information to choose from for lesson plans.
- In addition, book series work great for multiple ages. I aim for a middle school or higher series. As an example, a few book series are The Boxcar Children, The Little House, J.R.R. Tolkien Set, and The Puffin in Bloom Collection.
- Also, some curriculum is easier to use with multiple ages of children than others. Here are the ones I like and have worked timelessly for me through the years: Beautiful Feet, Ellen Mchenry Games and Learning Resources, Home School in The Woods, Literary Adventures For Kids, Case of Adventure, Art History Kids, Backyard Science, Music in Our Homeschool, Tapestry of Grace, NaturExplorers from Shining Dawn Books, Five in A Row series, Learning Language Arts Through Literature series, KONOS, and All About Spelling.
In summary, it wasn’t easy to let go of the thinking that children need to be segregated by age.
By nature we fight it because are so very aware of the fact that the educational future of our children is in our direct hands.
It is natural for our kids to compare themselves to each other, but it is our job to be sure we nurture them in their own unique talents.
This means separate time for the little ones so they can shine and not be overshadowed.
The one room school house is still alive and well in homeschooling today. Though it has its challenges, the rewards are well worth it.
Did you find a part here that can help you? What part do you struggle with in teaching multiple ages?
Enjoy my seasoned homeschool mom tips? You’ll love these too!
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- 3 Ways to Choose the BEST Writing Curriculum (for a Growing Homeschool Family)
Hugs and love ya,