Home schooling is a daunting endeavour. Teaching one child is a juggling act having to balance school, family life and outside activities; while teaching more than one child is an outright circus show! Constantly keeping up while trying to keep the peace between the monkeys and elephants! (sometimes I feel I have monkeys instead of children) But it doesn’t have to be that way. Alhamdullilah as a mother of 6 with 4 officially being school aged I confidently can say it is possible to homeschool multiple ages and maintain your sanity. Over the years as more children have been blessed in our home, I have tried many things to help ease my day and put peace in our school. I humbly offer you ten advices to help you on your homeschool journey.
1-Know Yourself and your Children
Assess how you and your children work together. How do you best teach? How do your children learn? Once you have this all figured out, you need to learn how those are all going to work together. When you are homeschooling multiple ages, you have a lot of forces at work. You have your children’s emotional needs, learning needs, academic levels, and personalities to deal with. You may be a night owl and they are up at the crack of dawn. You may be a visual learner while they are tactile. Taking these differences into account before setting your routine will make teaching and learning easier for everyone.
2- Start with the youngest
Homeschooling multiple ages doesn’t always mean that every child is school-age. A big challenge when you homeschool and have younger children is figuring out how to keep your toddlers busy during the homeschool day. I like to focus on the young children first – giving them some full attention. This way they don’t feel neglected. I try to have fun and educational things on hand that they can play with independently. But before they do this, I try to ‘work’ individually with them. Either play a short game, do some colouring or read a book together.
3- Unit Studies/Combining grades
I have found that unit studies work well for including children of all different ages in the same lessons. With a unit study, I can cover the material but adapt it to the ability of each child. This works well because I’m preparing one main lesson and set of materials, but each child is able to learn at his or her own pace. Also, I have combined children that are close in age for some subjects such as science, history, Islamic studies. Subjects like these are not ‘grade’ dependent so many levels can participate in learning.
4- Join a co-op or group study
If you are finding it tough to teach all subjects to multiple ages, I would recommend looking into a local homeschool co-op that offers classes. A co-op is typically a group of several homeschool families who meet on a regular basis to help each other teach classes. Sometimes just having a change in your daily routine can make all the difference. You can teach a class that you enjoy and send your children to classes taught by parents who are passionate about their favourite topics. Win- win
(This also helps with ‘socialization’)
5- Online learning/classes
Some years it was impossible to teach the older kids. Either I became pregnant or just delivered a baby. During these most difficult times I would turn to online programs for the basic academics. We’ve used EasyPeasy homeschool sporadically and other online programs and classes. Generally, I would have my children do a few ‘subjects’ online such as typing, math, French or a course that interests them. This takes away the guilt of not doing “anything “with them but allows me to know that they are at least engaged in learning.
6- Use evenings or weekends for learning
Homeschooling doesn’t have to happen Monday to Friday 9-3pm. Use the time when you have the baby sleeping or when someone is around to watch the little ones. Teach subjects on weekend mornings or evenings when your spouse is home. Remember homeschooling is flexible and works on your schedule. Don’t get trapped in thinking you only have a finite amount of time for teaching/learning.
7-Send the little ones off!
If you can, I would recommend sending the little ones off to preschool for a few hours/days a week. I’ve done this on and off for the past few years and it has saved hours of activity preparation for them (not to mention my patience!). I would consciously know that the time they are away is ‘precious’ teaching and learning time. It would get me on track and the other kids would know that we HAVE to get work done while the little one was gone. It got us motivated and took away a lot of stress from the day.
8- Set a Routine/plan
I don’t know have a schedule set in stone, rather we have a routine. The children know what general activities are coming up and what the general plan for the day is. The children know that a routine is there but it is flexible, meaning that some days we may just skip school and go outside or join an impromptu field trip.
I think some planning is needed for each day to know in advance what is required for a lesson; which lessons are independent, which are guided, and which might require extra time or materials. This doesn’t mean you have to plan out everything to the last detail; just to prepare mentally what is required from you that day.
Routines take time to fall into. It may take months or even years before you get into your groove. Try different ways and see what suits your family best.
From very early on, my goal has been to help my children develop into independent learners. One goal of education is to produce children who can learn and adapt. I can’t possibly teach my children every single skill, concept or fact. No one can. But I can teach them how to learn those ideas for themselves. And learning to be an independent learner is crucial. A side benefit has been that they can work independently on a task while I go and help another child. This way they know they have to work as independently as possible until I am free to help them. This doesn’t not come overnight, but with practice and dedication they will learn to work on their own.
10- Space and Organization
More students mean more school supplies and more space needed to work in. While it’s not necessary to have a whole room dedicated to school, it is a good idea to set aside some space just for learning, even if it’s just an unused corner. I keep all materials, books, and supplies together and easily accessible to the children. I try to set aside some space where they can work independently and free from distractions. Even a quiet nook for independent reading can be great for giving kids some space.
Lastly, I remind myself that the “perfect solution” doesn’t exist. There is no perfect curriculum, perfect schedule, or routine because our children are not perfect. WE are not perfect! Life is unpredictable and will have an effect on our home-school journey. Our focus should not be to run the perfect homeschool, but to build a framework that supports our changing needs and life events.
Sajida Zalgaonker is a mother of 6, and is homeschooling 4 of her children.