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Homeschooling Multiple Grades: Tips from 20 Years of Homeschooling

Homeschooling multiple grades and ages in a large family.

{Post originally written in 2008. I have edited for clarity and for the purpose of sharing more information. Here are my best tips on homeschooling multiple grades from 20 years of homeschooling.}

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Brilliant tips on how to homeschool multiple grades in a large family.

One frequent question I am asked is how I teach so many different subjects to so many children of different ages. I had to think about that for a moment. I have been educating my children since the day my firstborn was born. It’s not like I pulled all ten (school age) children out of school one day and began “teaching them school”. I have just spent nearly every day of their lives living and learning with them. This, I think, is the key to successfully homeschooling multiple grades.

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Homeschooling Multiple Grades

Above All: Keep It Simple

Keep it simple! You do not need to teach every subject every day. Guess what? Even in public schools, they don’t do this.

The reality is the only subjects I teach separately are math and reading. All other subjects (history, science, cooking, music appreciation, art, etc) are studied as a group, each child learning what they are ready for. Once a child can read independently, I am done on that front. I realize that may not work as smoothly for other families, but my kids have all been strong readers. Once they can read, they do read.  As far as how I teach a subject to multi-age children, let me show you an example of a typical week of homeschooling multiple grades goes.

Unit Studies are Great Way to Teach Multiple Ages

How to throw together a quick and easy unity study.

A unit study is simple when you choose a subject and teach around that. In our case, we will choose a topic or subject, and dive in. Here is a post describing how to easily create your own unit study based on your children’s interests. It is easy to assign more advanced books and projects to older kids and do a few fun crafts with your younger kids. I have also written How to Create Your Own Unit Study and a mini-unit study Pacific Northwest Alphabet Books and Activities.

A Weekly Overview of Homeschooling Mulitple Grades

Story of the World accidentally (and serendipitously) became the backbone of our homeschool years ago. I used it as the basis for our weekly schedule. We would do Story of the World related activities three days a week, giving us plenty of wiggle room in our large family. On Mondays, I would read the current chapter aloud, while the children color the corresponding picture (be sure and order the activity book for this).

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Once my little ones were older, they would usually sit at the table and join us. Everyone from Keziah (16) to Kalina (7) was required to be there, and usually, Jubilee (5) and Hezekiah (4) would choose to join us. They enjoyed the stories and coloring the pictures. Having a page to color kept squirmy kids somewhat occupied. Another option would be to give them Thinking Putty or something else quiet to fidget with.

Here is a list of activities to keep your toddler and preschooler occupied.

Homeschool math games are a great way to inspire learning.

Answering Questions Orally

After I read, the chapter I would ask the questions provided in the activity guide. This puts everyone on equal footing. The teens, as well as the little ones, would have an opportunity to answer questions. Next, I would have the children write about the chapter we had read. As soon as they were finished, I checked them over, and they corrected any grammatical or spelling errors. One child might write two pages, one might write two sentences, and another simply copy related words off the dry erase board. This teaches handwriting and spelling, and get the kids comfortable with writing in a low-pressure setting.

Now we’ve covered History, handwriting and Language Arts for the day.

Unit studies are a simple method for homeshooling multiple grades.

Day Two of Story of the World

The next day we would read books relating to the chapter we read (Story of the World provides suggestions in the activity book, and I put these on hold at our local library ahead of time), and the older children would do the corresponding map work (to learn geography and, more importantly, how to follow directions). Throughout the week we would continue to read books from that time period each day and almost always do some type of fun project. If the week was particularly busy, we will skip the extra project.

This DIY Candy Sushi project is perfect for a homeschool study of Japan.
Making Candy Sushi has been a favorite homeschooling project.

Day Three of Story of the World

Day three would include more books and finishing up any projects or crafts that we started.

All of the younger children would participate in our read-aloud books and projects. Each child picked up information this way, at their own level. It’s amazing what even younger children will glean from being present during the older children’s lessons.

Now we have covered Geography, study skills, and art. In addition, I know my little kids have gotten plenty of read-aloud time with me.

Separate for Essentials Only: Reading and Math

How Important it Grade Level?

This will honestly depend on what state you live in and what the regulations are. Here in Washington we only have two yearly requirements. To file a intent to homeschool letter with our local district and have our kids evaluated or tested once per year (these are kept on file and not shared with anyone).

This means here in Washington, I don’t have to worry about grade levels. While I fill it in on my intent to homeschool form, there is no one checking in to see what curriculum I am using or what grade-level my kids are at.

Individual Math Curriculum

I have my children work through math at the appropriate level for them. Judah and Tilly (one year apart) have worked through math together, at the same grade level, every year. This has worked well. They are able to study together and to help each other when they run into issues. This puts Tilly a bit ahead and Judah right on schedule.

The other kids work through whatever level of math they are in at their own pace. I don’t worry about them completing a book or level in a year. One of the beauties of homeschooling is being able to allow children to work at their own pace.

Our favorite math curriculums have been Teaching Textbooks and Life of Fred. I am currently using Khan Academy with Hezekiah and Tucker.

My five older children all graduated with high school diplomas and Associate of Arts degrees at age 17 or 18. Two have gone on to 4-year universities, one is a Washington State Trooper, one a home care aid, and two married with kids. Clearly, this method worked just fine.

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Examples of Multi-Age Learning

Here is an example of learning that happened after spending a morning with a local police officer who was giving a talk to homeschoolers.

Keziah (16) asked some great, thoughtful questions (how old do you have to be to become a police officer? How long do you have to go to school?)

The middle children asked about police dogs, how fast the police cruiser could go, what were the scariest calls the police officer had ever gone on.

And even the youngest kids asked some great (if hilarious) questions.

Hezekiah (4) raised his hand and asked, “What should I do if I see a man with a gun in the middle of the road, and he’s not a police officer?”

And even Tucker (3)  learned something yesterday. At dinner last night he said, “Mama, police officers brush their own teeth…right?”

So see, every child will pick up some new piece of information along the way.

In review


1 Comment

  1. Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

    I often wonder how big families homeschool. I’m “formally” teaching my oldest, although this year I hope to include my 3-year-old in more learning activities.

    At the end of last year, I started doing blended studies (I think some people might refer to it as unit studies). I select a science topic and then weave my math, language arts, and social studies into it. I love that style of learning and it’s very similar to what I used to do when I worked in Early Childhood Education.

    I was excited to hear about your activities with The Story of The World! I just purchased volume one and we’ll be doing it this year. I’ve heard awesome things about it and can’t wait to dig in!

    Thanks for sharing (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop).

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

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