How to work and homeschool multiple children

Parents who are considering working and homeschooling often feel more intimidated about the idea if they have multiple children. How do you work full time and keep up with several subjects for all of your kids?

My first response to this question is another question: How much time do you currently spend helping with homework for multiple kids who are all learning different topics and subjects? How crazy is you evening when they all have assignments? I hope to show you that homeschooling can make your life less crazy.

Let me tell you about a conversation I overheard at the ballpark once that shows how we are conditioned to think about school. At this point I had been homeschooling a couple of years already, when two parents behind me started talking about an upcoming science test:

“What do you learn in science in 4th grade?”

“I think it’s plants.”

I was silently marveling at that exchange. Why do we think kids are born with a certain schedule on what they learn each year of their lives? I’ll tell you why - because we’ve all been raised in a 13-year school system that was designed to keep kids in school until they are adults. There is nothing natural or logical about it.

Homeschool Grade Levels

If you decide to work and homeschool with multiple children, you will certainly find packages of traditional textbooks that have grades stamped on them like packages of meat, and you can hand a package to each child to complete. However, most of the time this is expensive and inefficient. You will find that the majority of homeschool curriculum is more topic-based and designed to adapt to multiple ages.

THIS is more natural and more logical than the training that has been implanted in our brains all of these years. Instead of thinking of children year by year, homeschoolers tend to group children into one of four categories: younger elementary, older elementary, middle school, and high school.  For subjects like history and science, a family can focus on one topic or one time period, and simply adjust the complexity of work for each of these four levels.

Our Experience Homeschooling More than One Child

For example, most years my family used Tapestry of Grace (TOG) as our core curriculum. This is just one of many curriculum options that are designed to homeschool with multiple children, but I will use our experience as an example.  I had one high schooler and one middle schooler (I know, not quite the same as those of you with 4 or 5, but bear with me, it works). First, the curriculum cycles through history in order, so that kids get a better sense of the entire historical picture. TOG uses an integrated study approach, meaning that when we studied the Middle Ages, we were also reading literature that lined up with the time period (either written during that time or a story in that time setting).

Writing assignments, Bible study, and electives for older kids like philosophy and government  would also be tied to this topic. My kids were usually able to work on their timeline and map work together. Sometimes they were reading the same novel and sometimes they were reading literature on different levels, but they were always in the same place in history. They each used a self-grading math curriculum, and we chose to use separate science curriculum (some also integrate this using different levels of the same topic)

One optional feature in Tapestry of Grace is a set of audio tracks that gives a summary of the historical period each week.  These are designed for dads to stay connected to the subject matter so that they can come home and participate in a dinnertime discussion about what everyone is learning. I listened to these myself while I was at work (it turns out these work great for working moms, too). I received the best education of my life as my family moved through history together from ancient times to the present, lining up Biblical and church history as well.

Which Sounds More Crazy?

So let me ask you which sounds more desirable:  Hectically moving from child to child across multiple subjects, each with a hard deadline to turn in each assignment tomorrow? Or sitting together talking about the Renaissance and Reformation (don’t worry, I wasn’t well-versed on this either and I learned so much along with my kids - I’m telling you, you will get the education you never knew you missed).

With science, you can spend a month, a semester, or a whole year diving deep into one topic. Your elementary school kids can all learn about plants at the same time. I promise you, we aren’t all inherently stamped with “need plant learning in 4th grade.”  Apologia offers great curriculum for this.

Math is almost always individualized, unless you have two that are very close in age or learning level. The majority of homeschool curriculum for math is done with a video and self-grading software so that you can sit down with the one or two kids who had trouble that day. But he truth is that math isn’t magically divided into thirteen years of competency that somehow just happen to fit the years kids are in school.

Math can be learned at a child’s own pace, slowing down and taking time to learn where they are having difficulty and zipping through the areas that are working well. There is no reason to move on to the next lesson just because the rest of the class is going there - and that means that your child really learns a concept before moving on. This is why most curriculum publishers give an online test to determine what level to buy rather than asking how old your child is (again, it makes more sense).

The Bottom Line for Homeschooling Multiple Age Levels

The key to success when homeschooling multiple children is to adopt the mind set that your family is going to map out the best path for learning together and do it in a way that everyone is really learning, not checking off an assignment. The more you can detach your educational philosophy from a system that was designed to be efficient for groups of twenty kids the same age, the easier it will for you to create a plan for a group of five who are different ages. You just might find it less hectic and more enriching than moving in five different directions at school.

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