Raise your hand if the idea of homeschooling several different kids, all of different ages and different grades, intimidates you. To be honest, my hand is up.
I have one child that is homeschooled, and I work from home, and some days it feels like a real juggling act. But when I think about the prospect of homeschooling multiple kids – maybe even toddlers and teens – together? That just seems hard. It seems really hard.
Some of you know all about this, first hand, whether you’ve been homeschooling for awhile or are brand new to it.
Still, even though thinking about homeschooling differently-aged kids is intimidating, it also makes me realize something: I’ve known a whole lot of big homeschooling families with kids ranging from 0 – 18. Some of them had as many as 10 children. And in many more cases than not, those children grew up into kind, intelligent, happy adults.
It can be done, and it can be done well. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can even be really fun and rewarding.
In today’s post, I’m going to dive into the question of HOW. How do those super successful homeschooling parents of multiple children do it? And, if you are homeschooling multiple children of different ages, how can you can do it, too?
“Now wait,” you might be thinking, “she said she just had one child.” Yep, that’s accurate. That’s why I reached out to my homeschooling friends and homeschooling communities to find some help with this one. All of these tips come from veteran homeschooling parents who successfully raised and taught multiple kids of different ages. Here are some of the amazing life-hacks that they shared (I was surprised by how often tips overlapped!)
1. Plan and Prioritize Your Time
One of the main tips I received for homeschooling children of different ages was to be intentional with how you organize your time. This involves finding that perfect balance for your family with regards to active teaching time, independent studies, and quality time. Below, you’ll find some more specific insights into this one.
Balance Active Teaching Time with Independent Activities
Sometimes you will need uninterrupted sections of time when you can “actively teach,” (AKA sit down with your child and explain new concepts, demonstrate examples, etc.) Because it’s just not possible to actively teach addition and algebra at the same time (for instance), you’ll need to decide when you are going to actively teach each child and what other children will be doing at that time. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you do this:
- You don’t have to mimic a public school schedule by spending a full hour with each age group, on each subject. Instead, focus on using your “active teaching time” wisely, introducing difficult new material and concepts in a one-on-one way. Often, when the instruction is personal and one-on-one, active teaching doesn’t take nearly as long as it would in a large classroom setting.
- Have assignments ready that different children can work on independently. Whether it’s a review activity, a reading or writing assignment, or a creative project that you know your child will enjoy, have some things prepared that you can let one child (or age group) work on independently when you are otherwise engaged.
- Plan for the littlest ones. Many homeschooling families also have very young toddlers or infants in the mix who require extra attention. One way to prep for this is by spending intentional quality time with your little ones before you start your homeschool day. When infants and toddlers get good quality time, they tend to be calmer the rest of the day. However, if they feel ignored or uninvolved, they may get stressed and cranky. Research indicates that, when it comes to one-on-one time, quality is even more important than quantity For this reason, many homeschooling parents find it works best to commit to spending some quality time with little ones first thing in the morning. Also, anyone with an infant will tell you that you have to be willing to be flexible. If you are starting to homeschool with a baby in the house, have some extra independent activities ready for the older kids to do–just in case chaos strikes. These tips for homeschooling with an infant are also really helpful!
- Find the balance between flexibility and consistency. I know that I just said that having a really young child in the house can unexpectedly turn your homeschool day on its head. And it’s true that kids (no matter their age) have a way of throwing some chaotic curveballs that you couldn’t have planned for. However, the most important way that you can be consistent is in letting your kids know that you have a course of action for how things are going to work in your homeschool: What do they need to work on independently? When do they need help from you? What do they do if the baby needs you suddenly and it takes 45 minutes before you can resume what you were doing? Have a plan of action laid out for these things ahead of time, so that your kids know the expectations.
2. Prepare some activities specifically for young children to play with during older children’s school time.
I received this tip from pretty much every homeschooling veteran I talked to on this topic. A lot of people refer to these as “busy boxes” or “busy bags.” The basic premise is this: when you are working with older kids and have young children (old enough to toddle and up), give them something special to play with that they can’t access at any other time. It’s simple, but brilliant and effective. Assuming that the toys or activities in the box/bag are educational, you can even call this their “school time.” Below are a couple of specific things you may want to try.
Encourage them to learn through sensory play.
For very young kids, exploring the world via the various senses is definitely fun AND educational! Did you know that sensory play actually helps develop fine motor skills and language skills? You can give your younger children a chance to learn independently by providing them with special “school time” sensory activities while you actively teach older children. Here are some ideas that make great sensory play items:
- Kinetic Sand
- Boxes full of different shapes/colors of pasta
- A box with rocks and shells to sort by color, shape, size, etc.
Create a special toy box or bag.
Another idea here is simply to keep a special box of toys on reserve solely for when you are actively teaching older kids. Before long, your young children will learn that this box/bag is special. Because their time with it is so limited, it can keep them busier than you might expect. You could even have your child help decorate the special box or bag that the “school toys” go into.
Make them a part of “your school.”
Young children want to be part of whatever the big kids are doing. Therefore, let them feel like they are part of the homeschool group. Think your child is too young to homeschool? While you may be right that your toddler is too young for formal lessons and worksheets, they are truly learning all the time at this age. This article goes into this topic a bit more deeply. Children also simply love to feel included, so include them in your homeschool! (Bonus: if you are associating school with play and inclusion, you are already giving them positive connections to the word “school!”)
3. Incorporate Fun, Independent Activities for Older Children, Too.
If you have young children that you are beginning to actively teach, you can likewise pull out fun, independent learning activities for older children (the older kid’s equivalent to a special toy box). One of the awesome things about homeschooling older children is seeing older children begin to take ownership of their learning and be more independent. I mentioned that using review activities, reading or writing can be a good options to pull out for independent work, but you can also include some less conventional choices, such as:
Enroll your older child in an online course (or courses).
Especially if you have a self-motivated child on your hands, quality online learning can be an awesome resource for you both. In addition (or instead) of using online learning for basic academics, you could also consider enrolling your child in an online course that teaches something creative. For instance, Sparketh offers numerous online art courses featuring talented instructors. Homeschooled students who enroll can take high-quality art classes at home, anytime! This would be an awesome instructional resource, as well as a lot of fun, for a homeschooling student with an interest in the arts.
Use movies to your advantage.
Not that you want to do this all the time, but movies can be a fun and informative way to reinforce learning. Everyone loves a movie break, right? Allow your older child or teen to watch the movie after they read the novel (you could even have them write about the differences), or watch a sci-fi movie based on principals you’ve studied in science. You could even microwave some popcorn and make it a fun family activity!
Have fun with creative projects.
Once they start getting older, a lot of homeschooled children really enjoy working on creative projects (either independently or with friends). Creative projects are perfect to assign once a basic concept has been mastered because it allows them to synthesize the information and present it in a personal and creative way. I wrote a bit about creative projects and learning styles. Here are some ideas for creative projects your older student might enjoy working on independently:
- Designing a collage or movie poster based on a book.
- Writing and illustrating a comic strip that explains a scientific/mathematical concept.
- Making a serious, documentary-style video (or a less serious, documentary style video) about a historical event.
- Writing a script, acting out and filming a skit in a foreign language you are studying.
Get involved in a Co-Op/ Extracurricular Activity
I’ve talked about the importance of finding your tribe here, and co-ops and extracurricular activities are a vital way to keep your homeschool environment interesting, active and diverse! While children of all ages can enjoy learning in co-ops and through extracurricular activities, older children often take ownership of these types of activities for themselves. It can really help them start to figure out who they are and what they’re interested in. Also, the time older children spend learning at co-ops or through extracurricular activities can give you more active teaching time/quality time with your younger children.
4. Consider Making a Designated Space (or Spaces) for Your Homeschool
Personally, I love that you can homeschool anywhere: the park, the beach, the car. A lot of homeschool families enjoy the fact that you can literally take your school with you, anywhere. Plenty of homeschoolers work also successfully from the living room couch, the dining room table, or their individual bedrooms. However, there is also something to be said for having a designated homeschooling space in your home. Many of the larger homeschool families I know particularly love their homeschool rooms/areas because:
Everyone is wrangled up within plain sight.
Different areas can be designated for different ages (including a play area for little ones.)
You can also create different areas for different subjects or activities.
Your multitude of homeschooling resources in one accessible, semi-organized location.
It gives you the opportunity to create a visual look and feel for your “homeschool vibe.”
Some students truly do focus better when they have a designated space for “work mode,” within the home.
Are you now trying to figure out how you’ll transform a part of your home into a designated homeschool space? This article has some amazing ideas for how to make the most of the space you have, from a large room to a corner of the living room! You can also get some really fun inspiration for different types of homeschool rooms, here.
5. Seize Opportunities to Include Everyone
We’ve talked about how you will spend portions of your homeschool day working with each child (or age/grade level) individually. Fortunately, you will also spend a lot of time together, having fun and learning as a family. Most of the homeschooling families I know, especially the large ones, love the way that homeschooling allows their family to learn to work as a team.
Many homeschooling parents are able to use family teamwork to help illustrate the kind of morals and principals that they hope to instill in their children. (Being able to shape moral development is actually one of the top reasons parents choose to homeschool!) Here are a few of the many ways that you can include everyone simultaneously in your homeschool, regardless of age or grade level.
When you can, teach the same basic concept to differently-aged children at the same time, but assign different tasks to demonstrate learning. For instance, a science experiment could be a great opportunities to explain a concept (maybe at a couple of different levels), and introduce vocabulary and new information. However, you might ask a young child to draw a picture of the event or talk about it with you, whereas you might ask an older child to write a short essay about or do a creative project on it. Science, history and creative extracurriculars offer great opportunities for learning together.
Take Field Trips Whenever You Can.
Field trips are great for learning as well as for making fun memories together as a family. Nature hikes, zoos, aquariums, children’s museums, art galleries and culturally/historically significant places all present great opportunities to learn about the world around us. Many museums and learning centers also offer educational activities for all ages.
Let Older Students Work with Younger Students
Though it may not be something you want to do all the time, you can also occasionally involve your older children in helping your younger children learn. You have to know a subject really well to teach it, so this can be a good way to reinforce learning as well as to foster helpful attitudes within your family. Of course, you’ll want to use this one at your own discretion–it works better for some families than others!
Learn Through Everyday Tasks.
Mundane “grown-up” tasks can be exciting and educational for kids of all ages, and kids usually loved to be involved in whatever you’re doing. Use everyday tasks as teaching tools for different ages and academic levels. For instance, when baking brownies, get your younger children to count out measurements. For older children, use this activity for multiplication practice (“if I cut each of these three brownie pieces into three smaller pieces, how many brownies will I have?”) By including these sorts of activities in your homeschool, you are also teaching children (of any age) life skills that will come in handy, later! When your kids are able to learn by helping you do everyday tasks, it’s a win-win for everyone!
I want to thank the homeschooling parents who chimed in to contribute their life-hacks for this article. Hopefully, some of these ideas help make your life easier if you are homeschooling several different children of different ages! Do you have additional tips to offer? Let us know!
Written by Kathryn Gustafson