Any parent who has more than one child wonders how to teach different levels at the same time. The thought of teaching five sons eight different subjects was certainly daunting for me, even though I was a certified elementary teacher. I wanted to personalize each son’s education but I wasn’t willing to plop them in front of endless workbooks or a computer all day. Here are some things that worked for us.
Teach non-sequential subjects to the whole family.
Our family used a combination of unit studies, textbooks, and library books. Each boy worked independently on sequential subjects such as beginning reading, math, and spelling; these are subjects that must be taught in a specific order. I rotated between the boys, teaching new concepts and answering questions. Then we gathered for group studies in non-sequential subjects such as history, science, art, music, and P.E. After all, it doesn’t really matter whether you teach the solar system in third grade or in sixth grade, as long as it is taught at some point.
Think about what you want each child to accomplish as you begin a new topic. Keep that in mind as you select materials and projects appropriate to each child. When we were studying the bones of the human body, for example, we traced around each boy’s body on a sheet of freezer paper. The older boys labeled each of the bones on their body outlines using the medical terms such as femur or fibula. I worked with the first-grader, writing common names such as leg or arm as he identified them on his drawing, pointing out the phonetic sounds of the words as I wrote. Suddenly he asked, “Mommy, where is my liver?” I was surprised that he knew he even had one! We labeled it on his outline, never dreaming that this son would one day become a physician.
Plan your work, work your plan.
I didn’t make elaborate lesson plans. Rather, each summer I listed the topics we needed to cover in each group subject that year and divided them by months. This helped us to stay on track. I valued mastery over simply covering the material, however, so I built in catch-up weeks to allow for additional time to go into more in-depth on a topic of interest.
Each son had a 6”x9” spiral-bound stenographer tablet for his weekly assignments. If I was called away to change a diaper or to answer the door they could continue with their work. If I was helping a sibling, they could start another subject while waiting for my help.
Plan for toddlers, too.
Don’t cheat your little ones of the careful time and teaching the older children received just because you are now formally homeschooling. Plan engaging activities for them, too. They will likely want to “do school” with their older siblings, so have some paper and supplies for their use.
One smart mom reserved certain toys for use only during school time. Another got the toddler up early so he was ready for a nap when she was ready to teach her older child reading and math at 8:00. One mother of many rotated between her older children, assigning them to play with the little one while she taught the other children. Another mother paired each younger child with an older sibling who could answer questions while she, the mother, spent concentrated time with her preschooler.
Cling to the promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2 Cor. 12:9) God’s will never leads us where His grace cannot keep us. The old maxim, “This too shall pass,” applies to many homeschooling situations. Before you know it, all of your children will be independent learners and someone will be asking you for advice about teaching multiple grades.