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.