One of the questions people ask when they come across homeschooling parents is how they manage to teach their kids when they have more than one. Since so many homeschooling families seem to have larger families, it can certainly be done and it’s not as difficult as some might think. In fact, there are certain advantages to homeschooling when you have several kids.
For parents making the decision to homeschool, the fact that they have more than one child may concern them. They might fear that they won’t have enough time to focus on each child’s education enough.
Here are some tips to help you juggle your various children’s needs while you teach your kids at home.
Homeschooling the older kids when you have babies and toddlers in the house is probably the most challenging time. With a baby or tot small enough to be held a lot, you can use a sling to keep your youngest close and happy and meet his needs while you read to or work with older children.
Use feeding times for study periods and read aloud time.
Since you’ll likely be sitting down to feed your baby anyway, have your other child(ren) read to you or sit them on your other side and read aloud to them. Your baby will benefit too from hearing words read aloud. They will learn that reading is a pleasurable activity, and hearing all those words spoken will improve their own vocabulary and reading skills later on.
For preschool and Kindergarteners, a literature based curriculum like Five In a Row may be just the thing if you have lots of little kids.
Create and enforce quiet time/nap time.
When your baby or toddler is napping is an ideal time for more focused attention on the schoolwork, but what if nobody is still napping? Create and enforce quiet time. This is a good time for you to regroup and rest or catch up a struggling reader or child who needs some extra attention with school.
Keep little ones busy.
Toddlers and preschoolers can “do school” in the same area when older children are doing seatwork. Keep them stocked with appropriate arts and crafts activities to do. Likely they’ll pick up on much of the discussion going on during school time.
If this doesn’t work well for your kids and you need to separate them, try moving around the house a little. Perhaps the older child(ren) can sit at the dining room table for a bit and the younger ones use the floor or coffee table in the living room. Or an older child can do schoolwork at a desk in their room or a parent’s office.
If you have older children, let them take turns taking care of the baby/toddler in the house for short periods. This allows you to spend some one on one time with each child during the day.
Homeschooling Multiple Children: Your Older Kids
If your children are older (and certainly once they’re all reading well!), things are a little easier. They no longer need much supervision. Most older homeschooled kids are pretty accustomed to figuring things out on their own and coming to you when they get stuck and need some help or to get more information. And for trips to the library!
With older kids, you can definitely use their size and maturity to help you get things done around the house, increasing the time you have available for homeschooling projects and field trips.
Get your kids involved in chores and meal preparation.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Learning how to clean up, complete simple handy projects around the house, do laundry and cook is very important real life preparation. In the old days, they called this stuff home economics!
If you have a child who is old enough, teach them how to prepare simple meals on their own without your assistance. A child as young as 7 can be taught how to make toast, eggs, oatmeal, sandwiches, cut vegetables and fruits, etc. After my youngest was born, my oldest son was a huge help to me because he could make snacks and easy meals for me. He was only 7 but he could do a lot around the kitchen. Now at ten, he loves to bake snacks and desserts, bake bread from scratch (no bread machine, he kneads the dough by hand), and help with dinner.
Meal prep isn’t just about eating and helping mom, but also reinforces reading, math and science skills.
A child as young as 3 can take their folded laundry to be put away in their dresser. Older kids can bring you dirty laundry, help fold and put things away when they’re done. Children can operate a vacuum properly from the time they’re around 6. A 5 year old can sweep small messes (like crumbs under the table) with a hand held broom and dustpan.
The reason I mention this is because as a homeschooling family, your house will likely get messier simply due to the fact that the kids are in it more hours of the day!
Forego summer and other lengthy vacations and do school year round.
Teaching through the summer can make up for lost time you experience during the year due to having a baby or illness or other family challenges that come up. Some parents even do a little schoolwork on the weekends. Why should learning be limited to 5 days a week?
One of the best things about homeschooling is the fact that learning can take place anytime, anywhere. Sometimes I even have to urge my kids to stop reading or building or creating and Go.To.Bed. My oldest can often be found reading his Science book at 10 PM (past his bedtime!).
Use your support network.
Can your husband, grandparents, or babysitters help the kids with schoolwork in the evenings and on weekends? Or are their other experiences your family and friends can expose your child to? Does your local homeschool support group offer a co-op? You don’t have to go it alone. Your children will benefit from different people’s perspective.
Avoid the “school at home” mentality.
Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling doesn’t involve sitting across the table from your child for several hours a day doing schoolwork. Most homeschoolers do not follow this model and the ones that do, burn out really quickly and either quit entirely or change their methods. Usually everyone is much happier!
Use curriculum that isn’t instructor intensive.
This means that you won’t have to spend a lot of time in prep work each day/week. The kids will be able to dig right in to their work, saving time. If the curriculum you’ve chosen requires you to spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans, it might not work for your family situation. That’s ok. Choose another!
On the other hand, unit studies, which do require more advance planning on the part of the parent, can allow children of different ages to learn together since everyone can do activities on their skill level. Try it out and see what works best for your situation. You don’t have to find the “perfect” solution right away.
Encourage working together.
Older kids can help younger kids with their schoolwork when you can’t be available. This reinforces the older child’s skills – the best way to learn something is to teach it! It can also increase goodwill among children.
You might want to forgo a traditional preschool curriculum for 3 to 5 year olds and let the younger kids learn alongside the older ones.
Allow older kids leeway in their school schedule. You may even want to let them choose their own curriculum or how they learn various subjects.
And finally, don’t set yourself up for failure with a rigid schedule. Adding pregnancy, a new baby, toddlers, and preschoolers to the mix can be challenging for any parent, and if you’re homeschooling, you especially need to be realistic about what you can accomplish. You might want to adopt an eclectic homeschooling style or even unschool for a period (or permanently).
If you ever doubt that your children are getting a good education because of homeschooling during their various ages and stages, think about what school was like for many people in this country a hundred years ago. Schoolkids of all ages were put in one room together with one teacher and this system produced a generation of Americans that were far more literate than modern generations!
Create a flexible, visual Schedule
When it comes to organizing your homeschool day, creating a visual schedule may work best for you. If you can SEE everything at a glance, you can see where there may be “bottlenecks” in your day and shuffle things around for a better fit. Also, if the kids can SEE the schedule prominently, they’re more likely to stay on task.
Finally here is a book recommendation. Homeschooling More Than One Child: A Practical Guide for Families is a wonderful book that has hundreds of tips and bits of advice for families. The author is a homeschooling mom of 4 who also founded a homeschool support group in her state.