One of the most received comments we get as a homeschool family spanning early elementary through high school is “I could never homeschool so many ages at the same time…. How do you do it?”
Homeschooling Multiple Ages At Once
There are a lot of articles and advice out there about managing multiple ages. And many of them offer fabulous ideas for helping to meet multiple-age kids’ needs in a homeschool setting. In fact, we have utilized many of these ideas when my kids were younger.
We did get the occasional glimpses of snuggly couch time with a beloved read-aloud. I fully embraced nursing babies while making the elementary years of my older two kids full of adventure, exploration, and bonding.
We managed through the toddler underfoot years sandwiching school adventures between early wake-ups and the evening witching hours, grouping our subjects all together in family learning.
But as I look at managing a high schooler on one end, and a 5-year-old on the other, I find that a lot of the advice that worked so well when everyone was little is just NOT working in this current season. Gaps are forming, interests are pulling everyone in individual directions, and doing things the way we used to is just no longer an option.
As I navigate supporting each child as needed, the way I manage our educational journey with these multiple aged kiddos has changed. So, as I often do when trying to figure out the new path forward, I sidestepped, I tweaked, and at times I just threw up my hands and went along for the ride – finding a new rhythm and working out kinks as I went.
It isn’t always perfect – in fact, I would say it is pretty much never perfect. Just like parenting, I’m figuring things out as I go, and hopefully, these kids will make it through just fine! It is often draining, exhausting even, and it takes mental space both as an educator and as a parent.
But as I’m navigating these new rhythms, I found that I was visiting some specific guiding thoughts each time we needed to make a shift. You know, the list I go to first as I weed out these new challenges of multiple ages at multiple levels that all need different things from me.
Here are the 4 guideposts I look at first as I reevaluate meeting the need of each kiddo while maintaining some sanity for myself along the way.
4 Things You Need To Know About Homeschool Multiple Ages
1. As Your Kids Age, Your Season is Changing – So Must Your Rhythm
When my kids were all little we used to have a magical morning time. We would all meet in the living room after breakfast and read through our basket of picture books, literature read alouds and any other things that fit our rhythm then. Kids amused themselves on the living room floor (because who am I kidding, the kids were WAY too busy to stay on the couch with me) building with blocks, coloring pictures, or setting up single-player games.
But as my oldest started to approach middle school material we were starting to look at tackling some books that were just over the heads of my then 5- and 3- year old’s. And I found myself trying to figure out how to get everyone’s read alouds in as I managed older reads and rereading all those elementary classics.
Add in the fact that tween and teen hormones have two of the kids sleeping until late morning while the younger two are still bright-eyed and ready to start adventuring at 7 am, along with my frustration because we were always waiting on someone and never accomplishing anything, and it just didn’t add up to a working solution anymore.
All signs that say step back and reevaluate!
Sometimes this happens year-by-year, sometimes child-by-child or subject-by-subject, and lately month-by-month. The important thing is to recognize that the current rhythm isn’t working and adjust to find a new one that honors where you as in that moment.
As you look at options for creating a new rhythm consider your goals in creating that rhythm, can you structure your rhythm to include those items in a new way?
For us, our current season in our group reading is to only do selected reading all together with all four kids. In addition, we changed our group reading times.
Our group reading happens at lunchtime now. I grab a snack or eat a later lunch, and while the kids are eating, I read to the captive audience. I do the reading with my younger two in the morning keeping that feeling of the magical morning going a little bit longer, and then I spend some time with my older two in the afternoon while my younger two are off on an adventure of their own.
I do miss starting the day all together as a family, but this is the new rhythm that is working now, and I choose to feel accomplishment every day, even if reading is all we are doing, over the exact time of day we are doing that reading.
And of course, if this starts to cause problems and struggles, I will reassess this rhythm and try a new one!
2. When it comes to Homeschooling Multiple Ages It’s OK to Split them Up!
I know, I know. This is the exact opposite of what everyone else says about working with multiple ages!
I truly love doing things together and learning as a family – and we do incorporate A LOT of learning this way. But the truth is that there are times when it is just better to split the kids up.
Sometimes that might look like science with just the younger kids, so the older kids can deep dive into their courses and complete those advanced projects. Sometimes it looks like each child getting their own time with you to discuss language arts or play the game that is at their level.
And can that be hard?
You bet it can!
But here’s the thing, when you have kids that have a range of abilities group learning can make it harder to focus on those individual needs. And, for us, one of the most important reasons we homeschool is to be able to offer individualized attention to what each kid needs, both academically and emotionally.
So, when I have two kids learning to read at the same time – but one is a struggling reader…… individual lessons have been the way to go. Sibling competition can be intense, and since I have a late emergent reader and a beginning reader that seems to just breeze through phonics,
I can’t put them together – even if they are on the same concept. It will only highlight the difference and not support the needs of each child.
Individual work may be spending time with lessons individually, but it has also looked like two kids at the same math level and choosing two different math programs so the comparisons and competition are mitigated. It can also look like reading two completely different books for history and then sharing about them with the other.
The reality is that grouping together can save time, it can be less work for you in planning, or prepping, and in just the amount of time spent on the work. But sometimes it isn’t the best thing – particularly if you have teenagers that are practicing their independence and are working from a different priority list than your own!
3. When Working with Multiple Ages Choose Your Independent Work Wisely
Now, this can be a hard one. Independent work is often suggested, particularly because out in society we are told that middle schoolers and high schoolers “should” be able to take the majority of their work independently as they transition toward adulthood And, yes, that is the eventual goal – to raise competent, independent people that know how to find information and have great learning strategies, enabling us to send them out into the world to find success.
When I owned my dance center, I would start my day with the precocious 3-year-old’s and end it with the teenagers. And one of my takeaways from this daily view of development was the need for partnership and support during the puberty years. The kids between 9 and 15 needed MORE support for me instead of less, more reminders, more feelings of partnership, and lots of small successful steps forward.
Parenting and homeschooling my children I see that same progression with my boys. They are looking for more independence, but they still need that support and partnership to help them float along towards success. And finding that balance of growth while still holding onto their level of success can be a tricky balance beam to walk.
So, I try to be very mindful of embracing where the kids are in their level of independence and integrating them into our day. Currently, this is going over our daily goals, but giving a lot of freedom to choose when they accomplish their tasks. To support this we check in at lunch, and then at dinner, we usually recap what went well that day and what we might need to change for tomorrow.
Since homeschooling is a lifestyle for us we are constantly in a flow of school and life blending together and these checkpoints have really helped.
And this isn’t just the older kids – although they are often the two that are doing more things independently. I encourage independent and even alone time for all the kids. I will send my younger kids off with a big box of cardboard and let them create armor or send them outside with a magnifying glass and a quest to find something to come back and tell me about.
4. Embrace Your Older Kids Wanting to Help with the Younger Ones
This option will of course be dependent upon your kids and if they can work well with your younger ones. And, keeping it real, that changes here depending on the day, the combination of children, and the developmental stage we are currently in at the time!
I have always encouraged my kids to share their knowledge with each other. Mealtime conversations have been a group discussion of explanation, description, and even a time where we problem solve as a team. And, it is just fabulous when the kids can share their knowledge and have a moment of subject matter expertise!
We have many moments where older kids are reading to the younger ones, they are teaching through a new game, or they are just honoring their siblings’ ideas as they immerse themselves in their own creative adventure.
Up until just recently, this was the way I would utilize the older kids to help if I needed to find that one-on-one time. But, over the last month or so we have entered a new phase of my older kids wanting to help their siblings.
My younger two just started using The Waldock Way’s Survival Unit Study, which is a fabulous unit study using the Bear Grylls Adventure series. And it is totally down my adventure-loving 8-year-old’s alley! As I was setting everything up my middle schooler asked if I would mind if he did the study too, and as we were looking through everything, he turned to me and offered to be the one to read the books aloud.
And, then after the first activity, he told me he wanted to do the whole study with his siblings – without me!
“Would you mind, Mom?”
UMMM – Not at All! I am SO on board with this!
In his mind he is seeing a fun activity he can do with his brother and sister while waiting for the older brother to be finished. He has no idea how much he will be gaining from this situation.
He took complete ownership, setting everything up. He has done all the read alouds so far (allowing me to give my oldest some of that one-on-one time) and has set up some great adventure games out in the yard.
It has quickly become one of the best learning moments for our daily rhythm this year.
The best part is that he is having fun and has no idea that he is gaining so much himself. From the reading practice to the comprehension tracking so he can answer questions, from the executive functioning skills being practiced to the self-confidence growing. They have all made this an important thing to include in our rhythm.
I HIGHLY recommend tapping into interested older siblings if they are up for it – it is so great for everyone involved!
Homeschooling Multiple Ages Does Require Flexibility, But it is Worth It!
Homeschooling multiple ages will change as the kids grow and change. And as you are managing multiple aged kids that are at vastly different learning stages can be a struggle. What used to work with younger kids just has to change as your children change. It can take a lot of your time, and isn’t always the smoothest rhythm, particularly on those days when the kids aren’t feeling it. As things become challenging and I know we need to make a change I come back to these four thoughts first.
Sometimes the rhythm of routine is just in a bumpy phase, but that’s what makes it a lifestyle.
Life itself is messy, frustrating, and filled with things that don’t always work. And since homeschooling IS our lifestyle, it can be filled with these things too!
However, it is also filled with some amazing conversations connecting The Odyssey with Star Wars, observing Acorn Ants out in the yard, and siblings who are excited to join a science experiment because they remember the fun they had years ago.
This is the life of homeschooling multiple ages. And it is a wild and grand adventure!
A Note From Cait:
Jena’s perspective is always such welcome breath of fresh air.
I have gotten to know her, and her approach to homeschooling through the Never Board Learning community. I have found her to be a wonderful source for creative ideas and am inspired by her innovative approach to homeschooling.
Jena Kocsis is a second-generation homeschooling mom of four and a dance educator. As a military family, she has traveled the globe and is currently exploring life in Central Virginia. As relaxed, eclectic homeschoolers, gameschooling has always been a large part of daily life. When not playing games, Jena usually has a mug of coffee, a stack of books, and a knitting project nearby. You can find Jena sharing their homeschooling journey on Instagram @learningbeyondthebarre.