One of the questions people frequently ask is: how do you homeschool multiple children?
My family isn’t unique. Most homeschooling families have more than one child. Seem have very large families. Homeschooling several kids is certainly possible, and in fact, there are certain advantages to homeschooling when you have multiple children to teach.
For parents making the decision about whether to homeschool, one fear that comes up is that they won’t be able to focus enough time on each child and their education.
Homeschool Multiple Children: When You Have Babies and Toddlers
With a baby or tot who needs to nurse or be held a lot, a soft cloth baby carrier or sling is your best friend. It keeps your youngest close and happy and allows you to meet his needs while you read to or work with older children.
Use feeding times for study periods and read aloud time.
Since you’ll likely be sitting down to feed your baby anyway, have your other child(ren) read to you, or read aloud to them. Your baby will also benefit from hearing books read aloud. Baby will learn that reading is a pleasurable activity. And hearing all those words spoken will improve their own vocabulary and reading skills later on.
For preschool and Kindergarten, a literature based, unit study curriculum like Five In a Row may be just the thing if you have lots of little kids. Read my review of Five in a Row here or check it out on Amazon.
Create and enforce quiet time/nap time.
While your baby or toddler is napping, this is an ideal time for more focused attention on the schoolwork. Unless you’re tired, in which case, it’s more sensible to take a short nap with baby so you’re operating on full power later!
But what if nobody is still napping? Create and enforce quiet time. This is a good time for you to regroup and rest or help a child who needs some extra attention with schoolwork.
Toddlers and preschoolers can “do school” in the same area when older children are doing seat work. (If they think it’s a privilege to be around the big kids during school time, they’ll learn to keep their voices down.)
Stock age-appropriate arts and crafts activities. High-quality wooden puzzles are great too.
If this doesn’t work well for your kids and you need to separate them, try moving around the house a little. Perhaps the older children can sit at the dining room table and the younger ones use the floor or coffee table in the living room. Or an older child can do schoolwork at a desk in their room or a parent’s office.
If you have older children, have take turns taking care of the baby/toddler in the house for short periods. This allows you to spend some one on one time with each child during the day and encourages bonding.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: Older Kids
If your children are older (and certainly once they’re all reading well!), things are much easier. They no longer need a lot of supervision, and your role becomes that of facilitator. Most older homeschooled kids get great at figuring things out on their own. They’ll come to you when they get stuck and need some help or to get more information.
With older kids, their maturity is an asset with getting things done around the house. This increases the time you have available for homeschooling projects and field trips.
Get your kids involved in chores and meal preparation.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Learning how to clean up, complete simple handy projects around the house, do laundry and cook is very important real life preparation. In the old days, they called this home economics.
If you have a child who is mature enough, teach them how to prepare simple meals on their own without your assistance. A child as young as 7 can be taught how to make toast, eggs, oatmeal, sandwiches, and to cut vegetables and fruits. Meal prep isn’t just about helping mom. It also reinforces reading, math and science skills.
A child as young as 3 can take their folded laundry to be put away in their dresser. Older kids can bring dirties to the laundry room, help fold and put things away when they’re done, or even do their own laundry completely.
Children can operate a vacuum properly from the time they’re around 6. A 5 year old can sweep small messes (like crumbs under the table) with a hand held broom and dustpan.
I mention this because as a homeschooling family, your house will likely get messy simply due to the fact that the kids are in it more hours of the day!
Consider schooling year round.
Teaching through the summer can make up for lost time you experience during the year due to having a baby, illness or other family challenges that come up. Some parents even do a little schoolwork on the weekends. Why should learning be limited to 5 days a week? In adulthood, learning isn’t limited to tidy hours.
One of the best things about homeschooling is that learning can take place anytime, anywhere. Sometimes I even have to urge my kids to stop reading or building or creating and Go.To.Bed. My oldest is often reading his science textbook at 10 PM (past his bedtime!).
Use your support network.
Can your husband, grandparents, or babysitters help the kids with schoolwork in the evenings and on weekends? Or are their other experiences your family and friends can expose your child to? Does your local homeschool support group offer a co-op?
You don’t have to go it alone. Your children will benefit from different people’s perspective. More on how to teach subjects you don’t know or enjoy here.
Avoid the “school at home” mentality.
Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling doesn’t involve sitting across the table from your child for several hours a day. Most homeschoolers do not follow this model. The ones that do attempt this burn out really quickly and either quit entirely or eventually change their methods. Usually everyone is much happier when they do.
Use curriculum that isn’t instructor intensive.
This means that you won’t have to spend a lot of time in prep work each day/week. The kids will be able to dig right in to their work, saving time. If the curriculum you’ve chosen requires you to spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans, it might not work for your family situation. That’s ok. Choose another!
On the other hand, unit studies, which do require more advance planning on the part of the parent, can allow children of different ages to learn together since everyone can do activities on their skill level. Try it out and see what works best for your situation. You don’t have to find the “perfect” solution right away.
Encourage working together.
Older kids can help younger kids with their schoolwork when you can’t be available. This reinforces the older child’s skills – the best way to learn something is to teach it! It can also increase goodwill among children.
It’s entirely possible to teach certain subjects (the “content” areas such as history, not the “skill” areas like math) with multiple children at the same time. We did this with history for a while.
You might want to forgo a traditional preschool curriculum for 3 to 5 year olds and let the younger kids learn alongside the older ones. In some countries, children don’t begin formal schooling until age 7, and they are none the worse for it.
Allow older kids leeway in their school schedule. You may even want to let them choose their own curriculum or how they learn various subjects.
And finally, don’t set yourself up for failure with a rigid schedule. A flexible routine is better. Adding pregnancy, a new baby, toddlers, and preschoolers to the mix can be challenging for any parent. If you’re homeschooling, you especially need to be realistic about what you can accomplish. You might want to adopt an eclectic homeschooling style or even unschool for a period (or permanently).
If you ever doubt that your children are getting a good education because of homeschooling during their various ages and stages, think about what school was like for many people in this country a hundred years ago. Schoolkids of all ages were put in one room together with one teacher. This system produced a generation of Americans that were literate and hardworking.
Create a flexible, visual schedule
When it comes to organizing your homeschool day, creating a visual schedule may work best for you. If you can see everything at a glance, you can spot “bottlenecks” in your day and shuffle things around for a better fit. Also, if the kids can see the schedule prominently, they’re more likely to stay on task.
Finally here is a book recommendation. Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families is a wonderful book that has hundreds of tips and bits of advice for families. The author is a homeschooling mom of 4 who also founded a homeschool support group in her state.