One of the challenges when homeschooling more than one child, is figuring out how to juggle different grade levels. One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how to use one grade level with multiple ages. If you have children who are relatively close in age (less than a 4 year gap), then combining them into the same content-based subjects is the easiest method for handling multiple ages. You can easily use one Build Your Library grade level with 2 or more children. I have addressed this in a previous blog post: Can I Combine My Children in One Program?
But what if you have a wider age gap? Or children with wildly different interests? If combining just won’t work in your situation, you will have to adjust to doing 2 different levels at the same time. But this is not impossible! I have a 11th grader, two 8th graders and a 1st grader this year. While I have often combined my 3 eldest children, I didn’t this year, and my youngest is doing her own level apart from everyone else too. I’m going to share some tips with you today to help you teach multiple levels without losing your mind!
Streamline your curriculum. We live in a time of great abundance when it comes to homeschooling resources. It is easy to over do it. And when you are teaching several grade levels, curriculum overload can quickly get out of hand! Whenever possible, make your life easier by using curriculum that is reusable and that can multitask. Build Your Library covers quite a few bases, for example, teaching literature, history, science, language arts and art. The more you can get our of a resource, the better!
Get organized. Since you are going to have to deal with different grade levels, you need to look ahead to be able to see what you will be reading each day, materials you’ll need, etc. I like to print out a week at a time and keep those schedules and notes in my Mom binder. I keep a piece of paper in the front where I can jot down notes about things I need for the week, field trip possibilities, needed supplies, etc. If you aren’t a paper person, you can do the same thing on your computer using something like Evernote or Google Calendar. The idea is to stay a week ahead so you can keep all your ducks in a row.
Be flexible. This goes along with staying organized – sometimes you get behind, or the book you needed to check out at the library is already checked out. Sometimes kids get sick, or you have unexpected company, or a fun field trip opportunity randomly presents itself. Homeschooling tends towards chaos. When you know that, you can plan around it. Expect the unexpected, and leave some wiggle room in your schedule.
Stagger your day. When you are teaching 2 – 3 children, you need to plan your day so that everyone has something to do. I generally do the family read aloud at breakfast. Then I work with my 8th graders, and go over their day while my high schooler does her courses online (she’s studying with an online high school this year). My youngest gets dressed and has a quiet activity until her turn. While the 8th graders are working on their independent work (math, reading, writing assignments), I sit down and work on lessons with my 1st grader. Because she is young I still need to sit with her the whole time, but we also only do about an hour of lessons at her age, so we can generally get all of her work done while her siblings are working on their independent work.
It sounds like it would take all day to teach 3+ separate lessons, but for the most part, we are finished by 1 PM, leaving our afternoons open for other activities. For example: I am studying Grade 1 with my youngest and Grade 8 with my twins. At breakfast I’ll read the Grade 8 read aloud with everyone, then while the girls are occupied with other activities, I’ll read a chapter from Story of Science, or a reading from our history text and go over any activities we’ll be doing later in the day. I’ll hand out their checklists and send them off to do their work. While they are working, I’ll sit down with my 1st grader and we’ll do her school work. I save her read aloud for last to give my voice a break. Sometimes I’ll do it at bedtime if we’re having an an especially trying day. The only way this works is if I break up the time I spend reading aloud throughout the day. Otherwise I’d go hoarse very quickly!
Use checklists to inspire independence. I have been writing out daily checklists for my older children for years. It only takes a few minutes to write them out, but then they can easily see exactly what’s expected of them each day. I just check in a few times a day to make sure everyone is staying on task. I wish I could say that my children were disciplined enough and always stayed on task,but they are not. Some of my children are chronic dawdlers. Some of them are easily distracted. But having checklists makes it much easier for me to just point to the next assignment and get them moving. I made a video about how I do our checklists:
Stick to a routine. This goes along with everything else I’ve already said and it might feel a bit redundant to say it here. But sticking to a reliable plan most days will make homeschooling multiple ages that much easier. When everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing, even if that routine is very simple: read aloud at breakfast, math after getting dressed, science after lunch…that’s enough to keep your days flowing smoothly. I like to peg activities that I want to make sure happen on activities that always happen. That’s why I read aloud at breakfast every day. We’re all sitting at the table, everyone is occupied in a quiet activity, so it makes sense to read to them at that time. Maybe you could peg narrations to the time you are folding the laundry. Or if you have an infant or toddler who naps, you might peg messy art projects or serious school work that requires concentration and quiet to that time. Having a basic daily routine can be the thing that saves your homeschool from burning out.
Plan your meals. This doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with teaching multiple ages, but trust me on this one. If you have dinner planned ahead, you are going to save yourself so much stress. There is nothing worse than the 4 PM panic of figuring out what you are going to make for dinner. It can be as simple as sitting down at the beginning of the week and making a list of meals, or as elaborate as doing a month of freezer cooking in advance. Find what works for you and stick to it.
Delegate chores. When Mom is stressed out, everyone is stressed out. And a messy house is a great way to make Mom stressed! If you are trying to homeschool, meal plan AND clean the entire house on your own – that is a recipe for burn out. You can’t do everything! Delegate chores to your children – even the 7 year old can help fold and put away laundry or wipe down the kitchen table. When everyone helps, the job becomes that much easier, and it frees up time for you to read, plan lessons, or just have a moment to yourself.
Teaching multiple ages doesn’t have to be an impossible challenge. When it gets overwhelming, take a minute to remember why you are doing this in the first place, and then evaluate and figure out why you are so overwhelmed. With a little discipline, you can smoothly sail through your days using more than one level of curriculum.
Do you have any tips or tricks that make your days run smoother? Please share them in the comments! I’d love to make this an even better resource for the frazzled homeschooling mother!