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.
Let's borrow some wisdom from the members of my Courageous Homeschooling Facebook group to help you.
Here's Ange's question:
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:
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
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!
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.
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:
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!
There's no doubt there are a lot of advantages to homeschooling mixed ages.
Michelle put it well when she said:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
While their older siblings took on the things they found most interesting like:
Excitingly, Ciarra from my facebook page seems to have found this works for her too:
And you can look here for ideas to revitalize your homeschool.
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.
There are activities where homeschooling mixed ages can be an advantage - the trick is in finding them!
Geocaching for kids is one of those activities which is ideally suited to all of you - and teaches geography at the same time.
Adding a craft to your lesson can really help because they often lend themselves to different ages.
Have a look at our art activities and remember even decorating the Christmas tree together is a learning opportunity!
If you are homeschooling mixed ages please contact me with any tips you have.
This is what Helena suggests:
And here's Laura's thoughts:
My friend Rachel homeschools 11 children and you can get a glimpse into her day in her homeschooling 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.
Homeschooling › Mixed Ages