I am a homeschool mom of four wonderful daughters. When I started homeschooling six years ago, I had a second-grader, a kindergartener, a toddler, and an infant. This year I am homeschooling an eighth grader, a fifth grader, a third grader, and a kindergartener. I sometimes get asked how I manage homeschooling multiple ages. My answer—It’s hard. But it has actually gotten easier now that all my children are in school. And I’ve had several years to learn what works and what doesn’t work for my family.
A few years ago, BJU Press published a podcast entitled “Homeschooling Multiple Grades”. The guest, HomeWorks by Precept Consultant Jennifer Lont, had some really helpful tips that have helped my own homeschool run more smoothly. Below are her tips as well as a few of my own.
The Challenge of Homeschooling Multiple Ages and Grades
Homeschooling multiple ages and grades is challenging because you are outnumbered. There’s only one of you, but your children seem to have an infinite number of needs. And since you are right there with them, they are usually very quick to try to demand your attention to get those needs met. It’s hard to teach a reading lesson with a toddler sitting on your lap opening and closing your teacher’s edition while begging for a snack. It’s hard to help a child with math while trying to soothe a sleep-resistant infant. Interruptions and frustrations seem to be everywhere and can leave you stressed and discouraged.
Homeschooling multiple ages and grades is also challenging because you only have so much time every day. A parent-led approach to homeschooling (you are teaching every subject) is not very scalable. You might be able to teach six lessons a day to one student (maybe 2-3 hours of homeschooling), but once you start adding multiple students, you start running out of time.
How to Homeschool Multiple Ages
Believe it or not, it is possible to homeschool multiple ages and grades. Here are some tips to help you.
1. Establish a routine.
If you are homeschooling multiple children, you will want to establish a routine on the very first day and train your children to follow it. You don’t have to have a strict schedule—in fact, overscheduling your day will probably leave you frustrated. But setting expectations and communicating them is important. My homeschool routine looks a little like this:
- Bible time
- dressing/personal hygiene
- 1.5 hours schoolwork
- 20 minute break (includes snack)
- 1.5 hours schoolwork
- 1 hour break (includes lunch)
- Finish any remaining schoolwork
- Music practice
- Afternoon outings (such as library, music lessons, etc.) or free time
- Afternoon chores
If you need help coming up with a homeschool schedule or a routine, check out Jenna’s post on “How to Create a Homeschool Schedule by Grade” for some great tips!
2. Check in and check out.
Jennifer Lont suggested the “check in and check out” method for homeschooling multiple children, and it has been hugely helpful to me. The idea behind “check in and check out” is that that you start your homeschool day off by “checking in” with one child (usually starting with the youngest), and work with that child for a while before giving a job or task to do independently while you go and work with another child.
If you are using a parent-led approach to homeschooling, the “check in and check out” method might mean that you might teach a lesson and then have the child do the corresponding worktext page independently while you are teaching another lesson to another child. If you are using video lessons, your “check in” time might be shorter, but you can use it to preview assignments, review the previous day’s graded work, or help your child with concepts that he or she is struggling with.
3. Provide your children with to-do lists.
It’s helpful to give your children a list of what they need to do every day. Have them check off assignments and tasks as they finish them so that both you and they can know at a glance what work has already been done and what work is still outstanding.
You can use a printed homeschool planner to make to-do lists for your children, but the easiest way to provide those task lists is through the Homeschool Hub, BJU Press’s free online homeschooling tool. If you are using BJU Press materials, you and your children will be able to see their homeschooling to-do lists right on the dashboard. Your children can check off tasks as they finish them, and you can easily skip, move, or add any tasks.
4. Teach your children to solve their own problems.
When you are homeschooling multiple children, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a slew of small problems—”Mommy, I need a pencil;” “Mommy, have you seen my math book?” “Mommy, I’m not sure what to do here.” Unfortunately, these problems can leave your children feeling stuck and keep them from accomplishing their tasks. But you need to resist the temptation to run to their immediate aid. If you do, it will be hard for you to get anything done! Instead, teach your children how to solve their own problems. Jennifer Lont suggests a few strategies:
- Teach your children to re-read the instructions aloud if they don’t understand an assignment.
- Teach your children how to look up answers in their textbooks.
- Teach your children to pause for a few minutes and think about their problem and how they might fix it before they come to you for help.
5. Provide your children with independent activities.
If you are homeschooling multiple children, you will definitely want to provide quiet, independent activities that your children can do while you are working one-on-one with a child. As Jennifer Lont discussed, independent activities can take a lot of different forms. Here are some that she mentioned:
Learning apps that review key concepts such as math facts, parts of speech, or phonics rules are a great way to keep children occupied and learning.
If you are looking for some great reading apps, check out Jennifer’s recommendations in her post “8 Best Reading Apps for Kids.”
Independent Study Courses
Some students are able to work through some subjects completely on their own. In my family, spelling and handwriting are usually independent study courses. Also, one of my daughters is a very advanced reader and very good at history, so she actually taught herself Heritage Studies last year.
Not every child can work through a course independently—you will need to access your child’s ability before assigning an independent study course. But many children can work independently on subjects such as spelling, handwriting, typing, and art.
Household chores can also be independent activities. Keep a list of the chores that need to be done on a whiteboard or other central location, and if a child is stuck waiting for your help, he or she can choose a chore to work on.
Video courses can be a sanity-saver for homeschoolers with multiple children because they allow children to work through most of their school work independently. My family has been using video courses from BJU Press from the very beginning of our homeschool journey. At first, we only used a few video courses, but as more of my children started school, we have relied on video courses more heavily. I still sometimes have to re-teach or reinforce some concepts, but video courses have allowed our school days to flow smoothly.
Other Learning Activities
Your BJU Press teacher editions often have suggestions for enrichment activities that you can use to help reinforce chapter or unit content. Take advantage of them!
Additionally, you may want to consider investing in some appropriate learning toys to have available in your homeschool space. Educational puzzles can help your child learn the alphabet, United States geography, or the order of the planets in the solar system. Alphabet magnets can help your child practice his or her spelling words. And simple dice games can help a child practice math facts.
6. Set up an “I Need” list.
One of the ways that Jennifer Lont managed interruptions in her homeschool was by setting up an “I Need” list. She designated a section of a large whiteboard to this list and encouraged her children to write down the things that they needed from her throughout the day. For example, a child might write “I need you to pull my math test” or “I need to go to the library to get a book about an animal for science.” Jennifer would check that list whenever she had a spare moment throughout the day and triage those needs.
7. Have older children help younger children.
Sometimes it’s really helpful to have your older children help your younger children practice new skills. For example, kindergarten children need to practice reading a lot in order to become good, confident readers. You definitely want to listen to some of that practice, but you don’t have to listen to all of it. You may want to assign an older-sibling to be a reading buddy. Older children can also help their younger siblings practice math facts, study for a test, or complete science activities.
8. Organize your space.
Homeschooling multiple children means a lot of textbooks, a lot of pencils, a lot of paper, and a lot of everything. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but keeping everything where you and your children can find it. Doing so will save you a lot of frustration and will spare you and your children from wasting time looking for lost items.
How to Choose the Best Homeschool Curriculum for Multiple Ages
Choosing a homeschool curriculum is always a daunting task, but if you are homeschooling multiple grades and ages, it can be especially overwhelming. Here are some things that you will want to consider.
Consider your unique family.
The ages and age spread of your children will undoubtedly affect the makeup of your homeschool. Are your children old enough that they can learn independently? Are some of your children close enough in age that they may be able to do the same level of work? Do you have infants or toddlers in your home that will demand a lot of your time? Do one or more of your children have learning challenges that may require some extra help or accommodations?
Choose a robust curriculum that will meet all your needs.
Purchasing a homeschool curriculum package will help you simplify your homeschool. As Jenna mentions in her post “What is a Homeschool Curriculum Package and Why Should you Invest in One?” a curriculum package will help you save money, provide you with daily lesson plans and scheduling helps, and will help you stay organized.
The BJU Press homeschool curriculum is especially suited to families who are homeschooling multiple ages and grades because it provides you with a lot of options. If you choose to teach the lessons yourself, BJU Press will fully support you with fully detailed lesson plans. If you are especially short on time, you can also choose to use video courses taught by expert, engaging teachers. Whatever you choose, you can be confident that your children are getting the best educational experience that you can provide them!