I have six boys, ages 12, 11, 7, 5, 3, and 1. I have to teach algebra, phonics, advanced grammar and simple addition simultaneously while also cleaning up messes made by the toddler, breast feeding the baby, and keep the washing machine running. Well, ok, the baby is no longer breast feeding, but it wasn’t too long ago.
Some days I think I’m going to go crazy. Some days I am crazy.
One of the challenges of homeschooling is teaching many ages at once. We say we can provide one on one instruction, but that’s only true if you have one kid. I have six! Not only am I outnumbered, but they are all in vastly different places in their schoolwork.
How I Cope With Teaching Many Ages At Once
Sense of Humor
Have a sense of humor and perspective. When you have kids, things aren’t going to be perfect all the time. They just aren’t, so learn to be light-hearted and loving.
Read and Follow Directions
I do my best to train my older kids to follow directions from their books and work out the lessons for themselves. They still need a lot of help and direction, but they are getting better at being self-sufficient. I always say that there’s something they can do on their own until I can get to them. There is some problem on the page or some writing assignment or some flashcards to practice. They are all expected to be learning even if I’m not immediately available to answer a question.
I have planners for all of my kids. They know all of their assignments and check them off as they go. This way they don’t have to ask me for new direction between each assignment. It would be impossible to keep all six on track without it. I would constantly be leaving to go find the one who wandered off.
All of them are taught not to interrupt, but to wait patiently while I finish helping another child. I have a trick – I have taught them to put their hand nicely on my upper arm or shoulder when they need something. When I pat their hand they know I’m aware of them. They can go back to work, knowing I will come over as soon as I’m finished. Without interrupting, they made me aware that I’m needed. It also works well when I’m on the phone, having a conversation with other adults, or anytime they are tempted to interrupt.
Managing Little Ones
I give the toddlers and preschoolers a workbook. Toddlers like to be a part of things. You can also have little games, blocks, toys, and other fun things close by. Pull out just one at a time so you’ve got something interesting. Let them do some of the projects even if it’s way above their heads. They hate to be ignored, and in my experience, will NOT be ignored. They will do something to get your attention. And that something is never good.
I turn on the TV or computer when I’ve had it with the little ones. We have several educational shows and games that fill their time so I can focus on some lessons with my older kids.
I don’t worry too much about the messes the younger ones make during school time. Messes are part of childhood. At the end of the school day everyone can clean up together. No matter the mess, it seems that ten minutes of clean up time together can always get the job done.
I have my big kids buddy up with my little kids. Each of them has a buddy. They correct their work and even help explain or read aloud problems. They read to their buddy and often do projects and maps together. It takes the pressure off of me and has taught invaluable lessons to my little ones.
I use grades. This encourages my kids to work even when they are not being supervised directly. Without accountability, they would find opportunities to slack off.
We use a point system. Good behavior and good work earns points while poor behavior or work, loses points. We love all things Harry Potter, so ours are in the form of house points.
Family Style School
We have a family style school, which means we have many of our lessons out loud together. I keep them short and interesting, and then the kids all go work on the projects on their own level (or sometimes they work as buddies). All of our history, geography, science, and art is done that way. It frees me up from feeling tugged all over the place. And we learn so much more than we ever did before. Using Layers of Learning makes family style school really work.
Teaching Kids of Many Ages Is Possible
Teaching kids of many ages all at once can have its challenges for sure, but it’s doable. The bottom line is, I keep plugging away at it in spite of a certain level of chaos.
As long as you can take things in stride and set aside that perfect picture in your mind of what homeschool should look like, you can have a lot of success. Let go of that image. Just love your kids, teach them to work hard, be curious, and always be helpful. And by all means, embrace even the moments when your hammock collapses and you all fall down.