Tips for Homeschooling Multiple Ages
One of the many benefits and challenges of homeschooling is the mix of ages gathered in your school each day. Popular culture says effective teaching means dividing everyone up by ages into “grades” and handing out materials that have been assigned to that group to learn. Children will certainly be mastering skills at different ages, but that doesn’t preclude having shared learning experiences among a range of ages. You can have different expectations about what your seventh grader will gain from a geocaching expedition than your first grader, but both will learn something from the experience and from each other.
There are times, however, when you need to devote a chunk of homeschooling time to work with just one child, and that’s usually when mayhem wants to break in on your day. Or you may feel torn between the pressing needs of helping to set up a science experiment with your 10th grader, practicing math skills with your middle two, and spending time with the youngest child (who seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting your attention).
Sometimes the crazy answer is that you need to take a day off! Spend that day developing a plan. You will benefit from using that time to organize priorities and create ways to develop independence in your students, rather than continuing to go from one stressful situation to another in your homeschooling. You might want to check out some good planning materials and then set aside a day to come up with a more workable plan to guide your students toward independent learning. You may also want to check out the curriculum that comes with student notebooks to provide students with the independent guidance they need.
Homeschooling Tip – Dividing Your Day
If you need a temporary fix while you come up with a long-range plan, one step toward developing independence would be to divide your school day into guided work time and individual time.
Guided work time: If you have two students who need much of your time on the same subject – let’s say two different science topics or levels – it may not work for both of them to work on science at the same time and get reasonable assistance from you.
Here are some tips for guided work time:
- Perhaps you designate Tuesday afternoon for one child to have a block of science time with you and Thursday afternoon for the other. Set up a similar dedicated time for your other children during the week.
- Put up a calendar where everyone can see their one-on-one time and be reminded of the other blocks of time you are not available for their projects.
- Stick with the guidelines and do not allow interruptions – including email and phone distractions.
Individual time: Sometimes it takes a little salesmanship to get a plan rolling. Do some brainstorming with your students about all the things they are able to manage on their own already. You are fostering independent learners, so help them create their own plans for the times you are committed to a guided work time with someone else.
Here are some tips for establishing individual time:
- This could be a formal plan they submit for your approval each week, giving them a taste of the planning process and time management.
- You may choose to have an idea jar and allow them to select something at random from their brainstorm of ideas.
- Keep the other children occupied by assigning them independent reading time combined with journal writing.
- Mix things up and turn the individual time into a session for the others to team up. Issue a challenge that they can play any game if they can explain how it improves their math skills, vocabulary, or whatever you want them to practice. Flashcards can be used for multiplication practice for one child, addition or subtraction problems for a younger brother, and number recognition for the preschooler.
As you are modifying and implementing your plan, remember to allow students as much choice as possible in their activities. Taking breaks to play outside or with a board game, or just decompressing from a busy morning all come under the benefits of homeschooling. Some first graders still profit from an afternoon nap or some quiet time on their own, as do some older students. Having extra time to read a book or research a favorite topic is food for the mind and the spirit. Time spent building relationships with siblings will reap lifelong rewards.
Even with the best of plans up and running, some days are just going to fall apart around you. Take courage from the fact that this happens to the most experienced homeschoolers. Those are good days to head out to the library for a new batch of books or go around the neighborhood for a walk or bike ride. Then it’s back to the plan tomorrow!
Vicki Dincher holds a master’s degree in biology. Her four children, all homeschooled, have earned or are pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences. Vicki has taught high school science, including Advanced Placement courses, since 1995. She remains active in her local homeschool community as director of Creative Home Educators Support Services (CHESS) and creative director for Encore! Home School Productions. Vicki and her husband, Jerry, live in Camp Hill, PA. Vicki is the author of Exploring Creation with Physical Science Student Notebook, Exploring Creation with General Science Student Notebook, Exploring Creation with Biology Student Notebook, and Exploring Creation with Advanced Biology: The Human Body.