by Tamara Eaton
Most moms of several children become experts at multitasking with experience--although don't let anyone convince you that it's as simple to homeschool a bunch as it is one or two. Those same people use the argument that once you have so many children, adding more doesn't make a difference--each child makes a difference (otherwise, why does it seem so different if even one or two of them are gone for a while?), but we can trust the Lord to enable us to care for them and homeschool them. The multiplied joy more than makes up for the sometimes multiplied challenges and trials!
We often are asked how we manage homeschooling multiple learning levels and I find it difficult to explain. It's like preparing a seven course dinner--how do you tell someone exactly how to prepare everything in such a way that it's all ready at the proper time and stays the proper temperature?
I suppose you could lead them step-by-step through all the directions and it would be easier, but still experience is the best teacher. And there is no way we could have a "normal" homeschooling day if I had to take the time to write down each and every thing that was said and done. (I'd go crazy well before 9 a.m.--wait!! slow down, children, I'm not getting all of this written down fast enough!) Besides, each family is unique. No one else would have the exact same combination of personalities, learning styles, number of children, curriculum and other circumstances that we have.
In the very early years, I worked a little separately with my oldest child while the younger ones played--later the next oldest would sit in on what we were doing and start to pick up things, and I would spend a few minutes introducing her to new things, too. We talked about things as we did the laundry, cleaned house, cooked, played, etc.--all those ways parents teach and influence their children every day. [See Teaching Kindergartners.]
Eventually, we wound up on several different levels of math and reading, but did history and science together by reading aloud books and discussing textbooks that were on one of their levels. We filled in any gaps by extra explanations to the younger one and older one.
There would be times when one of the children would leap ahead or others would need extra attention in an area, and then I provided help or used different materials. Since we used a lot of "real books" in our homeschooling (not limited to one grade level), this helped.
We also worked to give them the basic tools they needed for independent studies and encouraged them from an early age to spend even five or ten minutes working on something with us nearby, but not watching over their shoulder.
During one period when my youngest two were babies, I had the older three children in one level of BJU (Bob Jones University Press Textbooks) English which made it much easier. This method worked for three years. (Later we used another basic high school grammar course and writing materials geared more toward independent studies.) During this same period, my fourth child used a different BJU English textbook, but she participated in the older girls' history and science studies, while the my older son worked on a higher level independently. For example, we used one of BJU's Heritage studies as a "springboard" to more studies using real books for the girls, and my older son did a separate BJU course. This was during the time I had a very active toddler and a nursing baby and it was helpful to have a combination of texts and books so I didn't have to spend hours supervising and planning things.
So, for some years, we were able to cover some of the same subjects with some of the children at the same time, but it was unrealistic to think we could do this all the time for every subject. Some children prefer to work alone, rather than in groups, too.
For several years now, my older children have preferred to do mostly independent studies, with the exception of occasional unit studies. Recently they studied Classical composers and their enthusiasm was so contagious that the younger children wanted to get involved, too!
We no longer use as many textbooks, but have a traditional high school on CD-Rom program that the teens are continuing to use, along with reading a large variety of good books and writing. Our "unit studies" would be better defined as using books and materials to research topics in depth and don't always include "hands on" projects. Our older children are involved in our family business and ministry though--the ultimate "hands on" projects!
I am now doing very much the same thing with my younger two that I did with my oldest two when they were this age--we do things separately for math and reading, but read aloud books for history and science together and discuss them. Some things go over my youngest child's head, that's fine. There is no pressure. Her slightly older brother is advanced in some areas and so we help him research interests and make sure he stays challenged. [If you're interested in learning more about how we teach the youngest two, see "Homeschool Highlights".]
In summary, these are the things that have helped us the most in teaching many different levels:
- Training our children to be obedient (otherwise, what a lot of wasted time goes into, "JOHNNY, FOR THE TENTH TIME, I TOLD YOU NOT TO BOTHER THAT!") [See "Training Children (And Parents!)"
- Training our children to be responsible and help with the house as they get older so all the burden doesn't fall on mom--thus freeing up time to help with all the different children. [See Homeschool & Housework for training tips!]
- Not structuring our homeschool to be a "school" at home.
- Having a basic structure to our day, yet allowing room for flexibility.
- Staying home a lot.
- Encouraging each child to learn to play alone at times without having to be "entertained" by another.
- Teaching our children to respect our need to sometimes have quiet time to work with another.
- Giving our children the tools they need for independent studies.
- Choosing curriculum that doesn't require too much advance preparation and teaches concepts as simply as possible.
- Teaching children the same subjects together whenever possible and adjusting them to fit each level. (Especially when they're younger and not ready for independent studies.)
- Helping them learn to be self-motivated and responsible in their assignments and eventually, planning their own schooling with our direction, when needed. [For more help on this topic, see "Let's Get Motivated!" and "Motivation Tips!"]
- Encouraging them to help each other out when needed--often while one child was waiting for me to have time to explain something, another sibling was able to explain it perfectly.
- Allowing the older ones to tutor the younger ones in favorite subjects or lead a discussion on what they've been learning about something.
- Concentrating on the "basics" when young instead of too many neat sounding projects or tangents--there will be time when they're older to make papier mache' models of the solar system, etc. (Unless you just love this sort of thing--in this case, it won't cause stress!)
Sometimes people read what we've written about our homeschooling experiences and feel overwhelmed--not remembering that we've done these things over a period of many years, not all in one school year. There will be time for projects when the two year old is no longer two! I no longer have little ones so we now have freedom to pursue projects and activities that were once difficult when we had toddlers in the house. Plus we have another advantage now-- the children are old enough to clean up their own messes!
Whatever your children's ages or levels, you can be confident that God has a homeschooling plan just perfect for your family. Take time to thank Him today for showing you His path and enabling you to walk in it joyfully!
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." (Romans 15:13)
"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen." (Jude 1:24-25)
© Copyright Tamara Eaton 1994-2000, all rights reserved.
Permission is given to reprint any of Tamara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and website address. Please send a copy of the publication to :Deeper Life Family Ministries, P.O. Box 909, Killen, AL 35645.
We have always homeschooled our six children (elementary through high school and beyond!) and enjoy encouraging other families in their homeschooling, parenting and in the Lord! For more help and information, please join us on the Christian Homeschool Fellowship Message Board.
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"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."