Homeschooling Various Ages at One Time

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homeschooling various ages

Many thanks to Stephanie Gaddis for offering this Guest Post on Homeschooling various ages as a part of our Guide to Homeschooling in RI!

As a homeschooling mom of six kids, I’m asked a LOT of questions. One of the questions I’m asked the most often (after socialization and curriculum) is “how do you homeschool multiple grades at the same time?!” Maybe you are wondering the same thing. Here’s a snapshot of how we make homeschooling various ages work:

Use a flexible routine

My friends believe I’m a super-organized person, but really, I’ve just put much of my life on auto-pilot. It started as a way to cope with decision fatigue. I began homeschooling my oldest child for kindergarten and six weeks later gave birth to my 4th child. With sleep deprivation, hormones, and keeping 4 children under the age of 6 alive, even the simplest decisions overwhelmed me. So, I began using three tools to reduce the number of daily decisions I have to make: a flexible routine, a weekly menu, a household chore chart.

Our daily rhythm hasn’t changed much over the 12 years we’ve homeschooled. Our days flow in a predictable pattern with everyone knowing what to expect. I don’t have to decide each day when to do science or who will wash the dishes – the decisions are already made.

Notice that this is a routine or a rhythm and NOT a schedule. Schedules are stiff and unyielding; life with children is too unpredictable to stick to a rigid schedule. However, a rhythm flexes and breathes; as surprises happen you bend with them and then move back to the normal flow of the day.

Learn together

I have 6 students this year (ages 5, 7, 11, 13, 15, 17). That’s 6 students for math, language arts, history/geography, science, P.E./health — 30 different courses just to get the minimum education. Ain’t NOBODY got time for that! I reduce 30 courses to a manageable number by teaching my kids in groups.

This doesn’t work for all subjects and skill levels, such as math, beginning readers, and new writers. But, history/geography, science, and P.E./health are perfect for combining grade levels.

I intentionally select curricula that will allow me to group my kids. For example, this fall we will study Marine Biology for my high school students. Everyone else will use an upper elementary course by the same publisher on “swimming creatures.” This reduces 6 science classes to two. It also allows me to plan field trips and experiments that work for both courses.

Enlist ‘Assistant Teachers’

I love using “assistant teachers” for reading aloud chapter books and lessons in textbooks. The older student gets practice reading aloud, the younger student listens to the material, and I am free to work with another student or fold laundry.

Don’t grade schoolwork

I know, it’s revolutionary! Stay with me as I explain! I’m NOT saying to never correct your student’s assignments.

I teach to mastery and work directly with each of my students. I know where they are excelling and where they are struggling; I don’t need a grade to tell me. When I correct a student’s math workbook (or whatever the course is) we review the problems he got wrong and figure out why he missed them. If I see that he is struggling with the concept, then we review the lesson and try the assignment again. Because I only have 6 students instead of 20 like a traditional classroom, I have the freedom to review concepts until I am confident it is completely mastered.

I use this method for elementary and middle school. However, I switch to a traditional grading method (with GPA) for high school because that’s what colleges want to see.

Outsource Courses

Homeschooling doesn’t mean you are the only person who can teach your child. In fact, I think it’s a wise parent who knows her limitations and finds someone else to fill in the gaps. Outsourcing possibilities are endless: co-ops with other homeschooling families, online classes, classes at museums and aquariums, and expert tutors are just a few options we’ve used through the years.

Homeschooling various ages can be challenging, but with creativity and outside-the-box thinking it can also be a very rewarding experience.