How to be an Octopus (or rather, how to school multiple kids at one time)

It almost seems counter-intuitive that I would write a post about schooling children of multiple ages and grades when I now have one child to educate, yes?   But for many years, our table looked more like this:


By homeschooling standards, this is a small group.  Yet, I might be helpful to someone when it comes to managing a table full.

First, no education happens without first having a level of discipline.   Most homeschoolers, whether they use a Charlotte Mason approach or not, are familiar with her quote that ‘education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.’    This discipline that she speaks of comes through the development of habits, and specifically, the habit of attention:

Let children alone… the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions – a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose.

In “Belinda speak,” set expectations for learning, including sitting down and paying attention.   Even if sitting starts with just 15 minutes to hear a book or complete a math lesson, go and grow from there.  The quote above speaks to the fruit of instilling these types of habits: when a child knows what is expected, and when he understands boundaries, he will be able to work–and play–purposefully and independently.      Here are some thoughts about managing a quiver full:

  1. As much as makes sense, teach your brood together.   While the public school differentiates between a 10-year-old, an 12-year-old, and a 13-year-old, you don’t have to.   Their comprehension and skill sets might vary slightly, but they will benefit from learning together, and you can focus in on one set of lesson plans rather than two or three.  When the oldest studied Homer’s  Iliad and Odyssey, we  held our own mock Olympic games.    Did the youngest understand who was Homer and the mythological details that triggered the start of the Trojan War?  Nope. The time for that is coming.   In the meantime, she simply relished the ability to beat her sister and brother at the games!





2. Older children can help more than you might think.  They can make sandwiches, beds, and laundry loads.   They might even be able to cook and clean.  They can tickle, chase, and dry tears.   Academically speaking,  I have actually been to conferences where Mom would have an older sibling select curriculum for a younger child, because the older sibling had worked more closely with the child.  Being able to teach something is an indication of learning.  Even if your older child is not teacher-ready, he might be able to entertain a toddler by reading, or sorting by colors, or memorizing numbers.



3.  Don’t forget to take full advantage of the moment when little eyes need to rest!



4.  Be sure to take advantage of the home in your school by using more than one area.   As our children grew, the older two decided that the dining room would become the middle and high school.  I hated this idea; the dining room was in the front of the house.  So any unexpected guest saw this upon walking through the front door:



But in hindsight, it gave me years to work with the youngest, with all her “little person” energy, while the older two focused in on their studies with more depth.   Even while we all gathered at the table together, however, I compiled a crate of educational materials for her to work with while the other two studied.


While she played, she learned plenty–Latin prayers, book plots, and a host of other items that helped build her foundation.

An internet search with the keywords “learning centers for homeschool” will get you going with great, inexpensive ideas for learning centers, but I will list one or two links below.

Consider also combining this learning center establishment with a teaching rotation!   If your children are all fairly little, one might work (semi)independently at a math station while one reads with Mom, and still another takes advantage of an art station with lots of crayons, Play-doh, and stamps and stencils.   Of course, the reality is that everyone might at some point abandon their station and want to sit on Mom’s lap, but even in in doing so, they are being read to.  Again, you are training habits by setting expectations.

Be open to a child’s imagination, which will allow him or her to develop areas for learning that are all his own.   What we once  saw as trash from a new washer/dryer set, the youngest turned into her own apartment!


5. Finally, piggybacking on the learning center concept, realize that different homeschooling seasons might require you to focus differently on one child or the other.   As a personal example, our first experience with homeschooling high school required my full attention.   It was more of a learning curve for me than it was for our oldest, and I felt as if enough was at stake until I needed to give it the lion’s share of my attention.   Our son was very independent by that time, and I am now using those precious middle school years to shore up the youngest’s foundation before she takes flight.

Here are other ideas, from me and elsewhere, regarding setting up your home for multiple ages and multiple learners:

Getting Books Off the Shelves and Into Your Child’s Hands

An Aspiring "How To" on Multiple Kids, Multiple Ages

Ideas for What to Place in Learning Centers

Turning Your Home into One, Big Homeschool Learning Center


Happy tentacle management, dear friend.  Be encouraged in Christ, for you can do ALL things through Him who strengthens you.   (Philippians 4:13)

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