All four of my kids are different from each other – they have different learning styles, different strengths, weaknesses and interests. One of my ideals that I wanted to shape our homeschooling was that we had the opportunity to learn together. Actually it was deeper than that – learning together was a teaching method that enabled me to be involved in the learning process. Teaching four different lessons in each subject every day would have driven me to a packaged curriculum where I wasn’t as involved.
One of the questions that homeschool mums ask is how to teach multiple ages, multiple levels.
An idea that helped me with this was from Ruth Beechick who said, you learn to read and then you read to learn. We had individual lessons to learn the study skills of reading and writing and then they applied those skills to the other subjects. I had individual lessons for the math, learning to read, learning to write, and typing. For the other subjects, the general knowledge subjects such as Bible, Science, Geography, Art, History, Character and language arts, we learnt together applying reading and writing as we learnt.
There are three aspects to any lesson
- The content – the knowledge you want to be learnt
- The teaching method – how you give information, and how the child receives it
- The product – the project at the end, the proof of learning
By being aware of these three aspects we can easily adapt a lesson to fit all of our children.
The Content: I found curriculum or resources that were easy to adapt to various ages. My favourites were Five in a Row, and Answers in Genesis By Design science. These gave me the content to work with. Reading aloud is another way of coming together with one central idea to explore (Sonlight is a helpful book list at the least).
The Teaching Method: We tend to teach in much the say way as we personally learn. In our family this worked really well for my oldest two as they have the same learning style as I do. But my younger two learn differently. They need more movement, more creativity, more space to process. I found the book, Every Child can Succeed by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias very helpful in helping me see the differences in my kids. It helped me accept the fidgets, the need to drink, the need for sound and the need for quiet. It helped me understand there is more to learning styles than simply Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic. Because we were committed to learning together, and wanted the best for each other, we grew in tolerance when we varied things up a bit. Though most of my teaching method was by reading books – I did try and incorporate different things when we started to discuss and explore a topic further.
The Product: Up until this time in our lesson we have all been together. I’ve been reading or talking, the kids have been listening, narrating, asking question, discussing. It is at this point that I would start to separate the kids depending on their ability. It is at this stage that the kids would start to respond at their own level. I would set up the youngest – they would be excused to go and play, or they would be asked to create something – a colouring in, a playdough model, cut and paste. Those who could nearly write might do some copywork, or a drawing to base a narration on later, those who could read independently might be given a non-fiction book to dig deeper, those who could write would give an oral narration and then go and write a written narration, those who were advanced in their thinking would talk through their ideas with me further and then go and research and record to their level of academic skill. If my children finished their work before the whole group then they would be expected to read, draw, Lego or finish other independent work. And then we would move onto the next thing in our day together.
Dealing with the very young – the pre-schoolers – is a challenge that often unravels these plans. My strategy here would be short term pain for long term gain – we need to set aside time and teach and train the pre-schooler to focus, play independently, and be quiet. There will be times that the pre-schooler needs some extra training to get up to speed. I have found it best to train the pre-schooler and then work with the lessons. This may mean a month or so where your school age children work independently on something different than your ideal plan. If you see yourself needing such a time of training, consider the things that your older children can do independently, do some research to find apps, or online activities that they could enjoy for a month or so, set some art or creative projects for them to do, maybe you could do a series of DVD-school (Magic School Bus, or a series of documentaries). Set these activities for the times you are training and focused on your pre-schooler – when pre-schooler is doing well, or having a nap, then you can pull out the priority choice of your planned lessons. Once your pre-schooler is being productive rather than destructive you can start learning as a family again.
When I set our study routine for our mornings I would plan for the whole family – this mean I would include the things that I needed to achieve as a homemaker, as well as activities for the younger children. As I set out each subject that the school age kids need to work on, I also consider what the baby will be doing (or likely to be doing), what the pre-schooler can be doing.
Because we were literature based learning, I found that the pre-schooler could join in for the beginning of every lesson slot. We would have Bible time and one other lesson each day. After the story was read, there would be an activity for each level – the pre-schooler would do the activity for the duration of their attention and then go and play – sometimes free play, sometimes structured play with activities I would set. I would also include in the pre-schoolers day room time and screen time (ABC’s Playschool was always a favourite). Once my older children would settle into their reading/writing aspect of their lesson I generally did a little housework – did the laundry, prepared lunch and dinner, swept the floor – or I’d focus on the pre-schooler again with another story time, and a focus activity just for them – threading, matching, painting, playdough, dressups etc.
So far I’ve focused on the pre-schooler as they are seen as a major disruption to lesson time. But we also need to consider things at the other end too – the older children. There comes a time when our children need to study more independently. This happened at different ages for each of my children. As I reflect back now, I see that the general knowledge subjects that we studied together as a family created a general knowledge, taught study skills, and consolidated their reading and writing. There came a time where their personal strengths and interests became such a strong pull and motivator that it was necessary and right to let them study on their own.
If you are still holding your child’s hand in terms of understanding, processing, and analysing information/knowledge then they are not ready to be studying independently. Not to say that they won’t need to you to help them get over a hump, or they might need you as a listening buddy as they occasionally process but if they need your help to do the work on a daily basis – they are not studying independently and there is no shame in joining the family for group work for a little longer.
The main benefit of studying as a family – other than using this time to establish study skills – is that it reduces the amount of prep the homeschool mum needs to do. When studying as a family I am only planning for one class per subject, though I set different assignments. When my children study independently they are involved in choosing course content, they are choosing learning methods that work for them, and they are working through assignments (the product) on their own. For me to do that for each individual child will be exhausting. So keeping everyone together until they are ready to do it on their own is a key for healthy homeschooling family life.
Also sharing and linking with others:
Throughout the week I share with one, or more of these blogs (see more details on my Link Parties page)
Monday’s Musings, Thoughtful Spot, Hip Homeschool Moms Blog Hop, Titus 2 Tuesdays, Coffee and Conversation, Finishing Strong (Middle & Highschool years), Capture your Journey, Thriving Thursdays, Hearts for Home, A Little R & R, From House to Home, Fellowship Fridays, Homeschooling Highschool Linkup, Weekly Wrap-up, Collage Fridays