Back when our great grandparents were growing up, kids all learned together in one room schools, regardless of their age or grade level. Teachers had to juggle multiple learning styles, academic abilities, and keep the chaos to a minimum while instructing a class of kids ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.
Today’s home school family with multiple children faces a similar task. As a homeschooling mom with three children, one of the biggest issues I have faced so far is teaching different grades at the same time. We are in our third year of teaching 2 separate levels, and next year, we’ll add another one to the mix when my youngest starts kindergarten. It is a challenging job, but it can be done. Here are a few of the things that work (and a couple that have not!) for our family as we teach two grades at the same time.
First, and probably foremost, is organization. When you are teaching more than one level at a time, you have got to have a plan. We have always used a curriculum with lesson plans laid out. When you’re schooling just one child, you can open and go most days, but when you have more than one to teach, it can get a little more challenging. I have found it extremely helpful to write out my lesson plans for each week (usually on Sunday afternoons) in a $10 planner I got from Wal Mart. I still use our curriculum lesson plans as a guide, but writing in the planner allows me to write down what each child needs for the day in one spot, so I am not flipping back and forth between 2 different teacher’s manuals.
You can also find several free printable lesson plan templates online – like this template for teaching 2 grade levels. You could make a copy for each week of the school year and put them in a binder to make your own planner. Another thing that helps me stay organized is to have a bin in our home school area for each grade level we are doing that year – each bin holds the books, workbooks, and readers for a grade level. I also have created Pinterest boards for ideas I run across for certain subjects/curriculum by grade. I make a note in my lesson plans if I have an idea or craft saved on Pinterest so I don’t forget to use them! Being organized does not come naturally to me, but teaching more than one grade has helped me to work on my organizational skills.
Another thing that has been a huge help to me as we teach two grades at once is to teach certain subjects together. There are several curriculum choices out there that make this possible. We use a curriculum with a “family cycle” – meaning that beginning in 2nd grade, a student enters the cycle, so they do the same Bible, history, and science lessons as older siblings. Each child also has grade level appropriate math and language arts that they work on independently. This definitely helps with the planning, but it also helps with the teaching load, too. You can do this if you buy all of your subjects separately, too. Just plan to teach certain subjects together, and some individually. Science and history seem to be the ones that many families do together, but you could also do reading, music, or art together, if you think it will work with where your kids are academically.
Switching off blocks of time is a great way to teach multiple grades, too. You can work on math with one student while the others work independently on subjects they can do on their own, or review work on newly learned skills. You could also have older students read to preschoolers while you work with another child. Not only does it help them with reading practice, it helps with younger siblings, and gives you one on one time to work individually to teach another child. You can block off parts of your daily schedule for group learning in between spots for individual work.
Using work boxes is a wonderful way to work with multiple students. Each student’s subjects for the day are put into different boxes. When they finish one, they move on to the next box, working through them until they are all completed. This is especially helpful if you have someone else filling in as teacher for the day, or if you need older students to work independently while you teach a new skill to younger ones.
If you have infants or toddlers who still take naps during the day, you can use this to your advantage. Try doing group learning time in the morning while toddlers play nearby. “Busy bags” for toddlers – that only come out during school time – are a wonderful solution for moms who have little ones who want to be at the table with their older siblings. These bags would be filled with quiet activities for them to work on while it’s teaching time. You could include puzzles, bead stringing activities, crayons and coloring pages, or even Play-doh. You can also save focused individual instruction times for older students until afternoon nap time for smaller siblings. We have also done family read aloud time at night – even little ones enjoy hearing classic stories, and that time will become a cherished part of your day.
Understandably, there will be times when teaching multiple ages and stages at once may be overwhelming, and probably frustrating. You may feel like you are in a tug of war some days! Just remember, though, that kids are learning all the time. Family projects are an awesome way to bring learning outside the classroom. You can work on building projects, a garden, or even cooking a meal together to provide a learning experience for all ages. The whole family can go to the library and choose book, or go on a nature walk together. Learning happens anywhere and everywhere. The world can be your classroom!
Don’t let the thought of teaching multiple grades intimidate you. Sometimes figuring out what works best for your family’s school day will take some trial and error. You may find that the schedule you used when most of your kids were younger may not work so well when most of them are school age. You can make whatever adjustments you need to find a workable schedule for your home. After all, it’s your home school, and you know the needs of the people you love better than anyone!