How do you homeschool with multiple ages of children in the house? How do you spend time with each one? I’ve seen this question a lot in the Homeschool Lounge recently, and I thought that, since this is the time of year when several parents pull their children out of traditional schools in the attempt to salvage some of the academic year, I might share what works in our home and solicit some thoughts about what works in others’ homes. I don’t pretend to be an expert on handling multiple ages, but my own testimony is that we’ve always had to deal with this reality in our home. When we began, our children were 8, 5, and I’d just given birth to our youngest. I don’t know what it is like not to homeschool children of multiple ages.
Because of their abilities and interests, I’ve been able to teach the older two together for a number of years. We sat as a threesome for history, science, and reading, among other subjects. This has been a tremendous building block for a real friendship to form between them, over and beyond the familial relationship that has to exist. Of course, they have their squabbles like typical siblings, but they also genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together. Next year will be the first year that, because of where they are in their studies (one high schooler, one middle schooler, and one elementary schooler), I will have three separate sets of plans. Yes, I’m already praying.
One of the best ideas I’d seen early in our journey was to establish learning corners in various areas of the house. When our youngest was a toddler, I had an area near the kitchen table, our elementary school (I say that because the older two have now moved into the dining room and the youngest considers the kitchen her domain), that was full of learning toys, games, puzzles, blocks, etc. for little hands. That way, the toddler had something to do while I worked with the older ones, and she was still getting "schooled" while the others worked at their own pace. I’ve seen this idea expanded upon with corners that are music-oriented (keyboards, xylophones, books on composers, etc.), science/discovery corners, art and craft corners (paint, markers, paper, etc.). Also, another word of wisdom: when establishing learning corners, don’t forget the garage—that’s a space, too. As a final thought here, fully stocking each “center” can take years and need not be a cause of overspending and certainly not a source of debt.
Another blessing for us that I’ve shared before is the willingness of the older kids to take a break and help the youngest with her work. This takes a load off Mom and again, allows the kids the opportunity to bond in a different way. I often tell the oldest that being able to teach a subject is a true test of understanding the subject. When it’s not too much of a distraction for them, I have no problem with the kids helping one another with math, using each other as sounding boards, or reading to the youngest. Sometimes they even work on science projects as a group, like yesterday when everybody got involved in the Skittles scavenger hunt, a lesson in animal camouflage. In summary, we used a basket to hide Skittles among paper, much of it brightly colored like the Skittles themselves. The kids had 2 minutes each to find as many Skittles as they could. (Getting to eat the “prey” afterward was a great incentive!) I take no creative credit; this was one of the first experiments in Jeannie Fulbright’s Zoology 3 text—neat stuff.
Finally, several years back, I heard something in a homeschool conference that I didn’t understand immediately, but thank God that the Holy Spirit brought it back to my remembrance as comfort and encouragement, especially this year. As homeschooling parents, we won’t be able to focus on every kid, every year. As a new homeschooling mom, I found myself baffled and even a bit put off at that comment, but now I see the wisdom of it. With smaller ones like preschoolers, it won’t hurt if formal school happens later rather than sooner. Personally, I was always amazed at how much our youngest picked up just by being near the table—Latin prayers, science experiments, and reading comprehension, to name a few accomplishments. Look at what are your goals for each kid, who’s struggling in a given area, and who can work independently, etc. As an example, in our household, our girls, 13-1/2 and 5, need for more help this year for different reasons. Our 10-1/2-year-old son is cruising. I still check on him and spend 1-on-1 time, but I spend a lot more time with the girls. I believe wholeheartedly in rearing kids toward self-sufficiency, and I relish every minute of them not needing me (though I still enjoy our time together—smile).
Again, I don’t pretend to be the expert on this, but I thought that it is definitely a conversation worth having, and worth sharing in order to help someone who’s struggling in this area. If nothing else, it reminds me that I need to clean out the kitchen area learning center designed for the youngest. God bless.
10 thoughts on “An Aspiring “How To” on Multiple Kids, Multiple Ages”
Wonderful post! I felt like just chatting with you on this subject. LOL Very helpful thoughts.
Great thoughts. I agree whole heartedly with the statement that some years you are going to concentrate on a given child more than another. Last year I really concentrated on the two oldest. Even though I did not successfully get my oldest dd reading she is not my highest priority this year. I know it will come for her someday. This year I am really concentrating on the oldest (last year of school) and the youngest who is learning to read. Of course, I spend time with all of them everyday, but these are children who are often in my thoughts and dreams…. We do find that having assigned playtimes with siblings while I work with someone helps a lot.
I have been thinking about you too! There is a good discussion at THL on what are you doing for the inauguration..I think you should join in. They need celebrators!
As for your words of wisdom. The best nugget I even had for young ones was fill a file boox with cards that list all their games, toys and activities plus things like look out the window for five minutes and tellmom what you saw. It turns out the most distracting thing was coming up with something for them to do when you are "BUSY". If they have a school file box, they pull out the card and do whatever it says to do.No thinking, no arguing.
I love you.And am praying for our new President. He needs great wisdom, more than ever. Just between us ( and all your readers) my hope is Hillary gets hired and then fired so he doesnt have to deal with her at all. One can dream.
Because of Jesus, Bobbie
Belinda, thanks for your comment. We are well familiar with George Muller! My husband is resolved to live they way he did, as far as asking only the Lord for help. It is such a blessing this way, because God gets the glory for everything we are supplied with. :o)
You are so right, there are times when the children don't all need our attention equally. And then there are times when the one who is being trusted and seems to be doing great on her own is actually shirking her responsibilities while the mom is concentrating on the others… grrr. I have to say being disappointed is worse for the morale than being outright disobeyed.
I especially love the idea of separate learning centers. I'm having a pretty tough time with Camille this year. She does not like doing anything alone. Do you use traditional school desks or small table/chair combos?
This is a GREAT post! Thank you for sharing all of your insights and gleanings.
I agree with you on all that you have written. It's just too bad that most of us have to learn the hard way, like inventing the wheel, although others have already discovered this. There should be a book put together with all the wonderful insights and gleanings like this one and published for growing families and those new to homeschool (or those not new but struggling.)
Hi. Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm just getting started and trying to figure out how everything works. It might take me awhile. But, I noticed that we have much more than homeschooling in common. I am also a college instructor. I usually teach 3 or 5 online courses each semester and one live class. (Business and Office Technology)
That was good info. My struggle is a little different with 6 children (1 on the way) and only 3 are school age. But by the time this journey is over maybe I'll have something to say and share!
Great Wisdom. I know where to find you! LOL
When we first began homeschooling, my oldest was in 2nd grade, and the 2nd one was 4. She would be playing away with her dolls on the other side of the room. I'd ask the oldest a question, and while she pondered it, the youngest was sitting over there raising her hand, about to pop, wanting to answer it. She was absorbing everything we said. I have 2 that learned to read by being read to. They learned before I had time to have the first lesson. They don't need us as much as we think they do! At least not in the sense of lecturing/"teaching" directly.