When I started homeschooling I really only had the Princess who was doing school. Sure, sometimes my Little Man would “sit in” on school work, but my primary focus was on the Princess. Over the years our family has grown by one more, the Littles have gotten older. And now I am homeschooling 3 kiddos instead of just one.
Honestly, I kinda let things go with the Littles long after I should have been working with them. I was anxious about trying to educate more than one child at a time, and especially THREE at once. But apparently, I can’t wait until one is graduated to start educating the others. Who knew? Hahaha.
Seriously though, this year is my first year with all 3 kiddos officially doing school work. You can read what curriculum I chose in this post ———> Paterson Academy Curriculum Round Up 2018-2019. The biggest challenge I have is the large age gap. The Princess is 11 and in 6th grade while the Littles are 5 and 7 in K and 1st respectively. That age gap doesn’t seem like a big deal with some things, but educationally speaking, that gap can be more like a canyon. I approached things with that in mind, and made my primary goal to make things as easy as possible for everyone, especially me. Here is how I did that:
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Give older students as much independence as possible
Sixth grade is considered Middle School in most standard school systems, and by middle school students have a certain amount of personal responsibility. Homeschooling shouldn’t reduce the level of personal responsibility just because the kids are home with us. I don’t personally love telling my daughter what to do every step of the way. I like to give her a list of things she needs to have accomplished by the end of the day and leave her to it. Every step of her education is moving towards the next step which means the steps she’s taking now need to prepare her for the steps she will take later.
At this point in her education, I am still making all assignments with daily plans for what should be accomplished. We are still very much working on “should do” subjects, not just “want to do” subjects. But there is no reason I can’t give her a daily list of assignments and send her on her way to get them done. I am always available for her if she has questions, but for the most part, her school work is self-taught. And of course I take time to check her work and make sure she understands what she’s doing and doing a good job.
Find work that can be done as a group
One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we get to spend a lot more time together as a family. Our Daily Basket is one way we can learn together (you can read more about that here —–> The Daily Basket for the Secular Homeschooler). The beauty of subjects like history, art, music, poetry, and literature is that they can be taught to kids of a variety of ages and each child will take from it what they are able to for their individual level. And if you put things on rotation like Shakespeare, poetry, etc. you will find that what children can build on their take away with each round. So what a child gets from studying Van Gogh in 1st grade will be simple, but when they come back around to Van Gogh in say 4th grade they will build on that simple idea and have something more complex. Again when they get back him in 7th and 10th.
Field trips are also a fantastic way to get everyone learning together. As you already know we are on the go A LOT and this is one of the main reasons why. Everyone learns when we’re at the museum or exploring nature or whatever. They each learn at their own level, and are better able to find things that interest them specifically. Sometimes all 3 do go in 3 separate directions so maybe they are not necessarily learning “together” but it’s still better than trying to teach 3 completely different subjects at once.
Get curriculum that matches even if it’s on a different level
This year I bought the Littles the same curriculum for every subject. The only difference is their Math levels (1 & 2). This works because the same curriculum usually maintains the same type of schedule which means each child can be doing Lesson 16, but in their own book. Not only does this make planning easier on me, but also there is no competition between who is doing what. For kids close in age (like within a couple of years) it is also possible for the kids to be doing the exact same book. Both of my Littles are doing Handwriting Without Tears and Explode the Code 1. They work together on it which is convenient because I don’t feel like I have to sit and explain everything twice. Little Man reads the directions to the Baby who doesn’t read well yet.
Older kids can help guide the younger ones with their work
With one little one that doesn’t read and one little one that doesn’t write there are times that both little ones need me at the same time. I have yet to perfect my ability to be two places at once (where is that time turner necklace Hermoine had?) so I need the help of The Princess. It’s really a wonderful opportunity for her to practice patience and kindness when she is working with one of the Littles, and it helps me keep everyone on track. I do have to pick which little one needs my help most vs. which one just needs something simple. Even like in the example above, the Little Man will read things to the Baby to help out, although he struggles with not just giving her the answers.
Overall, I believe that pairing older and younger kids is a very good way to help younger ones get through their work. If I had more children like many wonderful homeschooling families I know, I think this would be something I put into practice quite often. I believe there is benefit to both age groups through this because they each get to learn from the other.
In the end, I think that homeschooling multiple children is definitely different than just focusing on one, but no more difficult. I think that you have to plan ahead, considering that those little kids need (and deserve) to be educated as much as the older ones. Most importantly I think it’s imperative that you consider the ways you can make this easy on yourself while still giving each child a full educational opportunity. Don’t stress yourself trying to give each child a complete individualized attention. There’s only one you and 24 hours in a single day and sometime during that 24 hours you still have to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom…. Give yourself the grace to make it easy on yourself and I assure you the kids will also appreciate it.