Homeschooling Mixed Ages:
How Do You Teach Children Of Different Ages?

Homeschooling mixed ages is one of the top challenges homeschoolers face.  With children of different ages there's always the worry that you won't get time to help each child learn what they need - so it's great to hear from homeschoolers how they manage.

homeschooling mixed ages

Let's borrow some wisdom from the members of my Courageous Homeschooling Facebook group to help you.

Here's Ange's question:

homeschool help for teaching different age children

And here are some of the helpful replies about homeschooling mixed ages from members of the group:

"Get them to choose their independent activities that they are happy to do on their own. Personal project? Watching YouTube?? Playing a game?" ~ Sheila x

"What about some purposefully destructive play. E.g. a big wad of cotton wool to make snow, leave a train set in view and let him make snow drifts and crash the trains etc. My boy is a sensory seeker (autistic) and needs lots of destructive play. We do hammer and nails into an old piece of soft pine. At 5, he can do this safely on his own now and even built his brother a little toy shelf for Christmas with minimal help from his dad. Cushion stepping stones with 'sharks in the water'. Toilet roll marble run. Blowing a ping pong ball with a straw. You could build a maze first out of junk." ~ Jessica

"I give my 3 year old granddaughter a workbook and let her trace lines and color pictures. She likes to try to do anything her big brother does." ~ Becky

"I struggle with this with my 4 year old and two 6 year olds. The girls (age 6) need a lot of support if we're reading or writing etc, but the 4 year old wants to be disruptive. If he's given the iPad to do math seed or reading eggs, which he will settle and do, there are howls of 'it's not fair, I want the ipad' from the other 2. It also happens the other way around, if the girls are working independently on the iPads playing learning games, if I try and do anything 1:1 with my 4 year old, he won't do it as he wants the iPad like the girls!!! We all end up having to do the same thing, so that means I'm going slowly mad trying to support three of them at the same time! Aaaaaaaahhhhh! So no advice, but watching with interest." ~ Cathy

"Before you start set up play zones around the room I also used to have a cat litter tray and I would fill it with uncooked rice and then bury small items in it then add some cups and spoons to dig with can get messy but I used an old shower curtain to cover the floor." ~ Maria

And Ruth has some more suggestions for homeschooling mixed ages:

"I've never set separate activities. I've got a 6, 8, 10 and 11 year olds at home. We've been homeschooling for three years and I just sit everyone down at the table and work at the level of the most capable child. My youngest used to sit for a few minutes then go do her own thing. If she came back she'd be asked to be respectful and sit with us or leave and do her own thing. It's amazing how they'll entertain themselves if the other option bores them. She now sits and remains most of the time but all of them know they can go off and do something else if they wish, but must be respectful that table time learning is quiet and ordered. Maybe your three year old would like to join in with your other child's learning. It's really amazing what they pick up even in five minutes." ~ Ruth

"Thank you everyone for taking the time to make wonderful suggestions! I've got lots of great ideas to try and even if they only work for the first five minutes, well, that's still a bunch of extra 5 minute peaceful blocks that I'm definitely not getting now!:)" ~ Ange

As you can see, the Courageous Homeschooling Facebook group is the place to come for advice, help and encouragement.  Please join us!

Research On Homeschooling Mixed Ages

I want to start by looking at the advantages of homeschooling mixed ages.

Because research shows that children learn a tremendous amount from being with children of different ages. That gives you some stamina to get through the tough bits!

The beauty of homeschooling is that we can all choose the method that suits us and our children best.

The mistake is to imagine that the only model to follow is the one offered by public school.

Grade levels and boundaries are arbitrary.

Children learn in their own time and in their own way - and usually end up in the same place in the end!

In fact, many public schools have tried mixing ages in one classroom.

And educational researchers like Lilian Katz are quite clear that teaching mixed ages together has a lot of advantages:

"Single-age groups seem to create enormous...pressures on the children and the teacher to expect all the children to possess the same knowledge and skills. 

There is no evidence to show that a group of children who are all within a twelve-month age range can be expected to learn the same things, in the same way, on the same day, at the same time."

~ Lilian G. Katz

So if you are homeschooling twins (like my friend Wendy) you may find you're actually at a disadvantage.

You'll tend to get rivalry and one child feeling less able than the other - just like the problems many children have to face at public school!

Advantages Of Homeschooling Mixed Ages

There's no doubt there are a lot of advantages to homeschooling mixed ages.

Michelle put it well when she said:

"They learn from each other." ~ Michelle

You can see that easily from toys.  Children can't resist playing with their older sibling things ...whatever the 'suggested age range' written on the shop label!

And seeing an older brother or sister doing something really helps encourage younger ones to try things out for themselves.

That's just the same with learning.  Younger children may well be way ahead of where they are 'supposed' to be and happily join in with older age activities.

And let's not forget the social skills too.

Although you may worry about homeschool socialization, there is no evidence that putting lots of kids all the same age together in the same room day after day is 'normal.'

Older siblings will learn from helping their younger brothers and sisters and it's never too young to start off learning how to share and take turns.

Homeschool Tips

Nonetheless, the practicalities of homeschooling mixed ages when everyone is at different points can get you down!

No wonder Heather wrote in saying her main worry was:

"How to deal with 7 kids in seven different grades," ~ Heather

Tip One

Learn Outdoors

I come from a family of six children...and I know that the more you can get outside the less stressful it will be for all of you.

Trying to keep toddlers and babies entertained while you are all sitting indoors is often a nightmare and somehow the noise seem to get less on top of everyone when the fresh air is blowing!

If you can arrange it so that some of you at least are outside as much as possible that helps enormously.

Tip Two

Projects And Unit Studies

When you are homeschooling mixed ages, one tip is to adapt what you are doing to different ages.

Many homeschool projects and Unit Studies allow you to find things the little ones can do while the older siblings get on with something more advanced.

If you look at our World Unit Studies you can see that younger siblings would be very happy:

  • drawing animals, plants, trains
  • deciding what food they would like to try from that country
  • sticking down stamps, labels, post cards

While their older siblings took on the things they found most interesting like:

  • finding out country facts
  • drawing a map
  • watching videos showing the culture of that country - music, art etc.

Excitingly, Ciarra from my facebook page seems to have found this works for her too:

"In the beginning, I tried to have different things for each kid and it was a nightmare. Now, I teach them all the same thing but with different expectations of each age.

For example, this year we are going on a world tour. I got each of my kids a passport and each week we do a different country. They love making the flags and hearing about the different tales from that country (even my 3 year old listens to those). In their passports is where the difference is though. The older kids are into the facts and different things so they have more info about that country in their passports. We also cook a meal from that country and all the kids love helping with that." ~ Ciarra

top tips to rejuvenate your homeschool

And you can look here for ideas to revitalize your homeschool.

Tip Three

One-to-One Time

I know it's hard but carving out some one-to-one time with each child is a real help to enable you to focus on each child's needs.

To do that, it always helps to remember that there is learning in everything.  So you'll be doing yourself a big favor if you can manage not to worry too much about what other children choose to do so long as they are happy and relatively quiet!

Listening to an audio-tape, time on the computer, even a video game...there really is learning in everything - even though it is hard to realize it at times!

You don't have to fill every moment in your child's day with the things which adults call 'learning.' 

In fact, if you look at the evidence for the effectiveness of homeschooling, you'll see there is much research to show that you don't actually need to 'teach' to get children to learn.

Dr Alan Thomas research on unschooling

Tip Four

Take Advantage Of All Learning Opportunities

There are activities where homeschooling mixed ages can be an advantage - the trick is in finding them!

Are there some tasks you can all join in with - like setting up a vegetable plot,  hatching butterflies, going on a nature walk?

Geocaching for kids is one of those activities which is ideally suited to all of you - and teaches geography at the same time.

geocaching

Tip Five

Homeschooling Crafts

Adding a craft to your lesson can really help because they often lend themselves to different ages.

  • Our dino robots are an example of a construction craft where you learn lots - including science, design, technology and craft skills - and while the older children get on with making the wheels the younger ones can be finding things from the trash can to make a good head!
  • Older learners can help the younger ones. Even if you keep the craft very, very simple, each child will be able to make something that suits their level of maturity. 

Have a look at our art activities and remember even decorating the Christmas tree together is a learning opportunity!

What Do You Suggest?

If you are homeschooling mixed ages please contact me with any tips you have.

This is what Helena suggests:

"Hi, at the moment I have a 9 year old that I'm home schooling and a 2 year old little tornado running around so I feel your pain lol!

I usually try and organize an activity for him to do while we are working like...... Crayons and coloring in sheets, his favorite thing which keeps him amused for quite a while is a tray with corn flour mixed with water sometimes bit of food coloring, messy but great. Playdough, painting, I find if he's at the table with us busy doing his thing he's a lot happier."

~ Helena

And here's Laura's thoughts:

"I try to to plan seat work and one on one with for when the young ones are napping. Of course my youngest has now outgrown naps! But she is older and able to go play with the other kids. I encourage them to play while I work one-on-one with one of the other kids. I utilize educational media for short periods to keep youngers occupied. (Starfall, Leapfrog videos, etc.) I also have my oldest doing independent work for language arts and math. We all sit together and do read-alouds for history and science.

I try to stay relaxed and not get overwhelmed by all we *could* be doing and let go of my idea of what homeschooling *should* be like. As long as you are getting the basics covered there will be time to go more in depth and do more things when you're out of the season of having littles."

~ Laura

My friend Rachel homeschools 11 children and you can get a glimpse into her day in her homeschooling story.

homeschool mom story

I get the feeling I may have made it sound like I think it's easy homeschooling mixed ages.  It isn't!!!! 

We all get pushed to the ends of our patience at times and frustrated because we can't spend time helping one child because another is calling out at the same time - or the paint has gone all over the craft table.

But even though your day might not go smoothly, you can find activities which work better and your child will be getting much more individual attention than they would stuck in a public school class.

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