This post is contributed by Oak Meadow, the sponsor of our Living Education series.
by Lawrence Williams and DeeDee Hughes; originally published in Oak Meadow’s educational journal, Living Education, Winter 2009-2010
Families new to homeschooling often wonder if it is possible to successfully homeschool more than one child at a time. It can seem very daunting! There are always challenges to homeschooling, whether you have one child or several. The trick to homeschooling multiple children, ages or grades with some measure of success and grace can be summed up in one word: organization.
Planning ahead is one of the best ways to feel ready for a new day guiding busy minds and bodies who are all moving in different directions at once. Many parents develop their daily plan the night before, after the household has settled down, or at some point late in the day when they have a few minutes. Start by thinking over what worked and didn’t work that day, what avenues are worth pursuing again, and which children need work in certain areas. Oak Meadow curriculum is very flexible so that you can guide a specific child to a project that emphasizes a particular skill or focuses on certain knowledge.
Take a look at the curriculum to see what is next and consider which activities are time-specific (weather observations at the same time each day, for example) or need to happen outside the home (community service or library research). Think about what supplies you’ll need, how long each activity will take, and which activities need concentrated attention on your part. Plan what the other children, particularly younger ones, will be doing during that time, and then have a backup plan, just in case!
After you’ve planned the next day’s school schedule—take a deep breath and relax. Trust that the day will unfold in its own way. Flexibility is vital in a family of lively, inquisitive, vibrant little human beings. It’s important to have a plan, both as a starting point and a fallback position, but it’s just as important to be able to let it go if something better comes along. That’s the whole point of homeschooling!
Schedule according to age and temperament
When you are planning your day, you will probably automatically take into account the needs of each child. The baby sleeps from 10:30am–noon, so you know that is a perfect time for the 6th grader to work on math while you sit down and work on reading with the 2nd grader. Or the young children have swim lessons on Tuesday afternoons, so that is your library research time for the older children. Logistics aside, you also know your children, and will quickly be able to see how and when they learn best. Some need to be right in the thick of things—front and center on the kitchen counter—and others need to curl up in a beanbag chair squeezed between the couch and the window. Some children are sharp and ready at 7:00am while others need to come awake slowly and aren’t really ready to think clearly until after lunch. Every child is different and you can use this to your advantage.
Think of the activities of the day as having a rhythm, and create your daily dance accordingly. After solving math problems for 45 minutes, don’t expect your children to jump right into right into another brain activity like research or meticulous note taking. Instead, switch gears to something active or artistic. Make sure your schedule includes time for individual and group work. Working together as a family can provide energized, exciting, creative exchanges, but children also need time by themselves, to ponder, reflect, absorb, and integrate. Find time each day to sit for a few minutes alone with each child. You might find that this time alone together becomes the most important teachable moment of the day, and one of the most delightful.
Let everyone have a job
Siblings can help each other out so homeschooling doesn’t just fall your shoulders. Called peer tutoring by educators, older children can help the younger ones with their work, or those who are better in a particular subject help others who aren’t as good, regardless of age. Having children work in pairs can free you up to focus on a child who is struggling to acquire a skill or who needs help with a tricky project.
Older children may need some coaching on how to be patient with a younger child who works more slowly than they might expect. You can model the type of mentoring you’d like to see, and comment on how to make the work go more smoothly: “Try letting your brother sound out the words before you say the word for him—you might be surprised at what he can figure out on his own.”
Peer tutoring gives children a chance to experience the feeling of satisfaction that comes from helping someone. It can increase their self-confidence and make them more considerate and appreciative of others. In addition, it gives them a chance to experience the frustrations of being a teacher, which can help them become more patient students in the long run.
Making Connections Across the Grades
Children tend to work together with certain projects, especially hands-on and artistic projects, and separately on others. You can teach several children at once by having them work on the same lesson material but at different levels. Known as integrative teaching, you can approach it in two ways: vertical integration and horizontal integration.
Vertical integration involves adapting the same subject to different children’s abilities. For example, for U.S. history, you might tell the story of Paul Revere and then have your fifth grader write a paragraph about the ride of Paul Revere while your first grader writes some words from the story (sea, tower, horse, lantern) and draws a picture. Your younger child could be practicing a letter (maybe “B” for British) and drawing a picture.
With horizontal integration, several subjects are integrated into one lesson. For instance, one child might write an essay (an English lesson) about the Revolutionary War (“In three paragraphs, write the story of Paul Revere’s ride, then underline all the verbs”), another child can solve math problems related to that story (“If there were 13 companies of British soldiers, and each company consisted of 75 soldiers, how many soldiers were there in all?”), while a third child draws a map to show the relative locations of Paul Revere, the British troops and the old North Church (a geography lesson). The possibilities are endless.
The Joy of Homeschooling Family-Style
Homeschooling multiple children may seem overwhelming at first, but in reality you may find it easier than you expect. When children have a buddy to work with, they don’t need you to answer every single question. In a lively, active group, creative juices can flow and ideas spark off one another.
Children are remarkably ingenious creatures who are internally driven to learn. It’s true that they may all be going in different directions at once, and all by vying for your attention at once. You may not be able to reclaim your dining room table for months because the Jamestown diorama morphed into a multi-grade, multi-subject project. But your children will learn. It is their nature. So every now and then, take a minute to sit back amid the non-stop activity and enjoy in the vibrant living and learning that fills your home.
©2009 Lawrence Williams and DeeDee Hughes; Used by permission
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