This week's TOS Blog Cruise questions is, "How do you homeschool multiple ages?"
With a classroom of only two students, I'm not sure how qualified I am to answer this question. I no longer have little ones in the house. While I don't have a lot of kids to juggle, my kids are not at the same grade level on anything. In fact, our grade level range is much wider than the age range when you take into account grade variances among subjects for the same child. I'll try to pull from my memory what I did one my youngest was still ripping wallpaper off the wall when I turned my back, but most of my perspective will be on two school-aged children with a wide gap between functional grade levels.
There is no reason why teaching multiple levels should be a huge concern. The one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear worked under this model successfully. In fact, there are various levels within the modern classroom, even if segmented by grade. Essentially, this question is one of using time wisely so that the children in your homeschool get a balance of one-on-one and independent learning time.
1. Incorporate the younger kids
When my kids were younger, my son benefited from many field trips and activities that I normally wouldn't have done with him until he was much older. He was learning right along and secretly soaking up all kinds of information. Of course, you should check with the activity coordinator and make sure little ones can come and never bring younger siblings that may have behaviors that will disrupt the older kids. The main point is, don't limit activities that your older kids will enjoy because you think your younger kids won't get much out of it. They likely will get more out of it than you think.
2. Nap, anyone?
This seems obvious, but worth mentioning because new homeschoolers don't always realize that homeschooling doesn't mean 6 straight hours of work. Utilize nap time wisely and do whatever subjects your older kids need the most help on while little ones nap. A lot can be accomplished in 2 hours. When your toddler is needing supervision, have independent work available for your older kids.
3. Look for materials that can be modified up or down to meet all levels.
Sonlight is a prime example of this. Children can enjoy read-alouds at various levels. Younger children can narrate back the story while older kids can be assigned written comprehension questions. While my children have quite a gap in their grade level, I can almost always teach history together on some level.
4. Strive towards independence of the older children.
I'll admit that I actually teach my oldest very little. At 13, she is able to do most of her work on her own. I am more of a facilitator and am available to help in trouble areas. I understand that not all kids are independent, but it is something that should eventually be the goal. After all, a major part of learning is to know how to teach oneself. With the oldest more independent, I have more time available to work with my younger child.
5. Outsource some subjects.
There is nothing wrong with outsourcing some subjects. My daughter currently takes two online classes. One is in a foreign language which I really didn't want to teach. The other is in a subject that I could teach, but I wanted to give the experience of working with someone other than me and receiving outside grades. Online courses are sometimes expensive, but worth it to me. Another option would be a local co-op course.
I've also swapped time with a friend. While she taught my daughter and her son writing, I taught her daughter spelling. It saved time and money for both of us.
6. Have independent learning activities available when needed.
There are times when I'm working with one child and the other is requiring my help. I try to have several independent activities ready and available. Rather than loose the learning opportunity while one child waits, I will instruct them to silently read the next chapter of a book, log on to an educational website, or work out of a puzzle workbook. The important thing is to have the items ready and available. What I do is incorporate this into our workboxes. Typically, I'll have the materials for several independent activities in the last few workboxes. If my son is needing me, I just tell him to pick one of the last three boxes to work on while he waits.
My daughter is able to select something on her own if her assignments are neatly in front of her. If she needs me for math but I am not available, it is simple to catch up on some textbook reading of another subject is she has her materials and assignments well laid-out.
If you have little ones not formally learning, be sure to have plenty of boxes of new activities to rotate. Puzzles, playdough, and playsets that aren't all the time are great to pull out to steal 15 minutes to work with another child.
The answer to teaching multiple levels is to use your time wisely and thinking outside of the box. Make use of your time and their time, while striving towards an independent learner.