Homeschooling is different from a public school setting in many different ways. Instead of getting into all of those differences, I’m just going to talk about one difference: having to manage multiple ages. In a classroom setting kids are typically in a group with their peers who are the same grade or age. But if you are teaching your kids at home, you find yourself teaching (or managing) all of your kids at once! And those ages can really be a wide variety.
In our house, we have four kids ranging from 6 years old down to an infant. For now my main school focus is teaching my 1st grader and doing some preschool work with my 4 year-old. But that leaves two younger kids (or sometimes three if my 4 year-old is done with her work) to take care of while teaching at the same time. Balancing all of my kiddos’ needs on a daily basis is tough enough, but throw school work into the mix and it can be a challenge! I’m still figuring things out, but I’ve definitely learned some helpful tips through my experiences so far.
If you are homeschooling (or considering homeschooling) multiple children you may have similar or different ages in your house. While my experience has been with balancing kids on the younger end of things, here are some basic tips that can be applied to any homeschooling situation.
Adjust your school schedule
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, one of the main perks to homeschooling is the flexibility! You may feel like there is some unwritten rule that you must do school work starting at a certain time and ending at a certain time. You don’t need to follow the school schedule. Adjust when you do school to what will work best for your family. If you can do school work while younger-age kids nap, go for it! If you can do school work first thing in the morning, do that! The point is, don’t force a schedule that is causing problems.
My baby is still taking 2 naps a day. So we try to do school work in the morning while he is napping. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but its a good pattern for us to follow for now. When he drops his morning nap we will adjust our routine to what will work next.
You probably know your kids pretty well. You know what times they might be more prone to be crabby, tired, hungry, focused, energized, etc. Work with those times instead of forcing a rigid schedule on everyone. And as your kids’ needs change that could mean adjusting even throughout the seasons, but again that’s the beauty of flexibility! Embrace it and let it help you have a more successful school day.
Set realistic expectations
I wish our school time was always calm, quiet, and free from distractions but let me tell you, that is NOT the case. If I went into my day expecting all four my kids to behave like little angels, I would be devastated when they didn’t met my lofty (and unrealistic) expectations. When little kids are playing nearby while I work with my 6 year old, distractions happen. That’s okay.
I don’t let chaos rule my house, but I do expect that my younger kids to listen to rules and instructions, that they join for some of our reading and activities, and that they be kind and keep an inside voice. I don’t expect perfection or silence–again that’s not realistic. Toys get pulled out and messes get made, but even in their play I recognize that they are learning at their ages. I embrace it and also encourage as much imaginative play as possible.
Include your younger kids
I mentioned briefly above that I do include my younger kids when I can. Since my kids are all fairly close in age, this isn’t too difficult. But even if you have a large age gap in your kids, younger kids can still be part of a lot! We do a lot of reading, both picture books and longer chapter books. While some of these are more geared towards my 1st grader, I invite the younger kids to listen as well. So while they color, create with play-doh or build with blocks, I read. My oldest also loves practicing her reading for her siblings, which I just love.
In other practical things we are learning, we talk about it together and they observe what their big sister is doing. We’ve been learning about different varieties of birds lately and you better believe even my 2 year old likes to get in on the bird watching. While they are all learning in different ways and on different levels, they are all learning. So whenever possible, I try to include everyone. Also practically-speaking, if we are all doing an activity together, it’s less likely for the 2 year-old to get into mischief!
Find Practical Solutions
A few practical solutions I’ve found helpful to help accommodate the multiple ages and actually have productive school days are:
- Use a table instead of separate desks. I can easily reach and help everyone if we are all sitting together.
- Baby carrier/play pen for baby. Since I have a crawling baby, it’s helpful to know he is contained either in a carrier or play pen (if he’s awake while we are doing schoolwork).
- Craft supplies within reach. My 2 and 4 year-olds love being artistic and crafty. Even a small new item (stickers, colored pencils, paper) can help keep their attention at the table for awhile. I keep a few out for them to access. It doesn’t need to be an detailed or messy craft to be effective.
- Snacks. And more snacks. You know it’s a powerful tool so use it when needed!
- Books on rotation. I don’t have an elaborate system, but I pull out 8-10 books at a time and try to change it up from time to time. You can add library books in too to keep things new and exciting.
Give yourself some grace if you are in the middle or homeschooling multiple kids at different ages. It is not easy, but it also isn’t impossible. Some days may be harder, but other days will run smoother. Find the rhythm that works for you and your family.
If you have any tips to add to my list, let me know in the comments!