On occasion, when I feel someone else is better qualified to answer a question, I’ll ask another homeschooling mom to be a guest blogger. For this question I sought out experienced and capable Tristan, mother of six blessings with one more on the way!
May you be blessed by Tristan’s response:
When I was invited to write a guest post here on the Homeschool Share blog I was excited to find out my topic. It turns out I have a lot to say about this one:
“How do I homeschool multiple children and still get done by a reasonable time?”
Ha! If you don’t know my family yet let me just explain that I am about to have my 7th baby and my oldest is only 10 years old. I’ve got tons of experience with this one and have several keys I want to share. Please be aware that you don’t have to use every key, but each one can help. Also remember that what works right now may need tweaked later, while what doesn’t work right now may be perfect for later!
Key 1: Combine Combine Combine
No matter the age range you’re facing there are subjects that can be done with the whole family together with creativity. Our family learns history together by reading living books. Older children are welcome to listen in or even be the one reading aloud to the younger children. Anyone 3rd grade and under can narrate to me, draw a picture, or make a notebook page about the day’s reading. Older children discuss their book with me or write about it.
In practice this could look as follows for a family learning about the Middle Ages beginning with the Vikings, Huns, and Goths (all alive and pillaging in the same general time period):
- Family Read Aloud:Famous Men of the Middle Ages – short biographies of characters such as Theodoric the Ostrogoth, Rollo the Viking, and Atilla the Hun, read 1 per day.
- Under 3rd Read Aloud:Leif the Lucky – story of Viking Leif Ericsson, divide into short sections to read over a week or more.
- 4th-6th Independent Read:The Vikings – A more detailed story of Leif Ericsson, read 1 chapter per week, or 1 per day as fits your child.
- 7th-9th Independent Read:The White Stag – Story of Atilla the Hun from a Hun point of view.
- 10th-12th Independent Read: The Lantern Bearers – Battles in Britain while Huns and Goths are attacking Roman territories in Europe.
Art, music, and science can be combined similarly. Everyone is learning about the same masterpiece or topic at their level. Younger children may only learn basics about an artist, for example, then be turned loose with pastels to reproduce the art, while older children can learn more about the artist, materials, and techniques used before attempting to use them personally.
You may also be able to combine a few children close in age for some subjects. At my house right now I do phonics, writing, spelling, and math with two children simultaneously who are pretty much at the same level. They were born 13 months apart, while each one has strengths and weaknesses, they combine well in these areas.
Key 2: Rotate Mom Around the Table
Most days you’ll find all 6 of my children ages 12 mos –10 years doing ‘table time’ together. They are given independent work that needs mom’s occasional help and I walk around the table as needed. The littlest ones are seat-belted in booster seats playing. An example from a recent morning:
- The 5th grader, who had a lesson on finding the area of a triangle earlier in the week, is doing a practice page on the topic. I occasionally answer her questions or remind her to get back to work.
- The Kindergartener and 1st grader, who had a lesson on adding doubles previously, do a page practicing that and the last several skills. I help read word problems and answer questions using the manipulative blocks as needed.
- The Preschooler (age 4) plays with math manipulatives. This particular day it was magnetic pattern blocks. He built the pictures from pattern cards – he didn’t need me except for praise when he finished each picture.
- The next Preschooler (age 2yrs 8mos) also plays with pattern blocks matching shapes and colors. I ask him to “find all the yellow hexagons” or “put all the green triangles in a pile” when he needs some direction.
- The baby, just turned 12 months old, spends math time with a large wooden puzzle. He chews on pieces, puts them in and out of a bowl I set beside him, and ultimately tosses them to the floor. My role? Smile, talk to him, and clap occasionally.
As children finish their math I begin rotating through with the next activity for them, be it phonics practice, reading, writing assignments, etc. I try to alternate something active with something sitting, so it may be practicing spelling words while hopping across the room toward me with each correctly spelled word, or writing their words on the dry erase board instead of sitting at the table. Little ones are given a new activity at the table or on the floor as needed.
Key 3: Stagger new lessons in a subject.
This idea has become really helpful to me this year. I do not teach each child’s new math lesson on the same day. If Monday finds my 5th grader ready to learn new concepts then the other ages are practicing independently or taking the test. The next day the 5th grader is practicing her new concept, the K and 1st are learning a new concept with mom, and so on.
New spelling/phonics lessons are staggered as well, with the K and 1st grader’s new lesson on the day they did not have a new math lesson, while the 5th grader’s new spelling lesson will be on the day after her new math lesson. Writing is the same – if we are about to embark on a new writing unit it is done on separate days from the other grades new writing unit.
You do have to be comfortable in your skin with this approach. There is not a neat and tidy “start the chapter on Monday and take the test on Friday” routine. I resisted it for a long time but dived in full force this year. I have goals we’re heading toward and we’ll get there at our own pace.
Key 4: Train for independence.
With my oldest daughter I literally sat beside her for every subject while holding a baby or toddler. I micromanaged and she let me. Then I realized that if I were to work one on one for 2-3 hours per day with each of my children I would be doing school from breakfast to bedtime. It wasn’t practical. That is when I started looking for the ways I could encourage my children to work independently on some of their schoolwork.
As I described above with table time, each child has work they can do with minimal help from me. In the beginning we used workboxes, which we’ve done in a variety of forms from boxes to hanging files in a crate. This was a wonderful way to train my children to ‘do the next thing’ and ‘work without mom’. I placed a book to read in one folder with a note telling them what pages to read. Another folder might have a math practice page, then the third would be a reminder to practice piano, and so on.
I’ve found some children naturally want to work on their own, while others won’t lift a pencil unless you’re right next to them. Training these children to work independently is done in small steps. Sit together and go over instructions, help them get started, and then go do something for a few minutes in another room. Tell them you’ll be back in just a minute. Switching loads of laundry or sweeping the kitchen kept me close enough they could see me, but I wasn’t right there beside them. Once they’re used to that extend your time away by tackling two chores before returning to check on their progress.
Some children are easily distracted. For those darlings try unusual solutions:
- A desk in a quiet space – we have one by the bathroom.
- A clipboard so the child can go work on the floor in the hall where there are no toys or siblings to distract them.
- Headphones with music on low to tune out distractions – make sure it’s instrumental so they don’t get distracted by words to a song.
- Sometimes even a checklist helps keep them on task.
Key 5: Don’t Teach Everything Every Day
Did you know there is no law saying you must teach history or science or art every day, or even every week? You are the one in charge. Choose a schedule that works for your family. At my house we have core subjects that need done daily. These are the priority and take up 1-2 hours of the morning between all my children. Our core subjects currently are:
- Religion– Reading scriptures, discussing the gospel, singing hymns, and memorizing scriptures. This is done as a group and takes about 20 minutes.
- Math – This basic needs regular practice to master it, so it’s a core for us. We work as a group around the table with mom rotating between ages. It usually takes 20-40 minutes (40 on a day when someone is getting a new lesson).
- Reading/Phonics– It needs daily practice but does not take a long time each day. 5-10 minutes with each child who is learning to read. We may practice a new concept as a group, like how to read words with a silent e, then I sit with each beginning reader for 5 minutes. They read to me and we work on anything they stumble over. Older children spend this time reading to themselves.
- Writing – This basic is also a daily thing. Young children do copywork pages with a single letter to copy, then progress to copying a word, phrase, or sentence. Copywork takes 1-5 minutes at the table. Then we begin actual composition lessons, which take between 5 and 25 minutes for each age group. I have two groups at this stage currently, the rest are only doing copywork.
We can knock our core subjects out between 8:00am-10:00am easily every day. That leaves us two more hours to tackle everything else and we’re done by lunch every day.
In that 2 hour block before lunch we typically choose to do either history OR science as a family, plus one other non-core subject. We may do 2 days of science and 3 of history each week, but there are other possibilities. Want to know some others we’ve done?
- One week focused on history, then one focused on science.
- One month focused on history, then one on science.
- One semester focused on history, then one on science.
You can do the same thing with any subject. Who says you must do art, spelling, music, government, or health every day of the school year? Take control of your family’s learning. Perhaps you want to do art on Mondays in that 2 hour before lunch block with science. On Tuesdays you do music with history in the same block of time. Wednesdays may find you learning about health, or spending the whole 2 hours on science because you want to do some experiments. Maybe you choose to alternate months for art/artist study and music/composer study. Whatever you do make it work for you.
When you get children in the upper grades (8th and up) they will be spending more time on school independently. They read harder material, they write longer compositions, they may even be learning a language or doing a special study related to their interests. They do the morning work with the family, they work for part of the afternoon hours independently, and they are ready the next morning for some time with mom and the family again.
I plan to have ‘office hours’ for my older students like they would find with a college professor. During the afternoon hours when little ones are napping I’ll be available for one on one questions and time to work with them in their studies if they need me. However, at this stage they’ll need to be the ones to approach me.
What about you? What are your keys to homeschooling multiple ages in a reasonable amount of time?
Tristan blogs about her family’s adventures at Our Busy Homeschool.