Not too long ago, we were studying Turkey and read about the Whirling Dervishes, who dance whirling continuously as a form of worship in the practice of Sufism, an offshoot of Islam. It is a fascinating thing to watch. It brought to mind the dance I do as a homeschooling parent teaching three different age levels. My whirling is far less elegant and has seemingly far more obstacles in the way.
Homeschooling children in different grades, with different needs and learning styles is no walk in the park. Each and every year, I ask the same question as I plan for the following year: How am I going to pull this off?
Here are some of the things that have helped me:
SEPARATE THE ESSENTIAL FROM THE OPTIMAL. This is tough for me because I think it is ALL important. With a lot of effort, I have been able to determine that reading, writing, and math need to happen every day in some form. Initially, art and/or music happened several times a week, but as my kids move up in grade level, these moved to the elective camp, which means we do either once a week. However, I keep art supplies out and available for spontaneous projects during the time I read aloud every day, an activity that is in my essential category. I have also determined that formal science doesn’t begin until 5th grade; in the meantime, my younger ones linger and observe the science experiments their older sibling is doing. And we also participate in a nature class twice a month where they trek outside and learn something of the natural world. These are hard choices to make, but mentally separating out what must be done from what you would like to do can help you get more done.
DELEGATE. My oldest is a natural-born teacher, and when he was younger, he volunteered to do preschool with my youngest while I taught my middle child. He taught his sister her colors and made her proficient in the use of scissors, crayons, and tape. He ran a better preschool than I could! His academic program is too intense for me to ask this of him these days, but I still call on him in pinch situations when I am struggling to teach a concept. He has swooped in and resolved mental blocks for his sister many times. This year we introduced the “evening” class when we started Logic. This resulted more from my husband and I both wanting to be participants in the class than as a scheduling resolution, but it took a lot of pressure off and freed up some time during the day for me. We have also benefitted from adding in an online class for my son. This is a wonderful option, particularly when you are in over your head with a subject; e.g. Latin 3. Co-ops can be helpful too, though I have found they don’t save me any time, because I’m still teaching someone. But they do allow you to take your focus off teaching a subject that might require a lot of prep time or a skill you don’t possess.
BALANCE SUPERVISED AND INDEPENDENT LEARNING. Just when I thought I could not manage one more thing, my son needed less supervision. He has two or three subjects where he merely needs to be able to ask me questions, or where his independent learning and work takes about two-thirds of the class time. When he is working independently, I whirl over and work with my 3rd grader on her work. This year I added on a 30-minute Kindergarten focus with my youngest, and my 3rd grader found she could do math and handwriting without a lot of help from me.
TEACH ONE CLASS FOR MULTIPLE GRADES. Sometimes you can teach to multiple age levels and just have different assignments and assessment methods. We do this with our Bible class; everyone listens to the same material and does the same memory work. We have always done this for history class, with my 6th grader expected to do written assignments and independent research, while my 3rd grader focuses on short writing assignments and verbal feedback. My 6th grader and 3rd grader are taking Spanish I together this year.
I suggest you be careful not to over-rely on teaching one course to different levels. It is common for a younger child to feel inadequate or overwhelmed simply by their inability to keep up with an older sibling, particularly if one is more gifted than another in a particular area. And often a curriculum or approach that works well with one is a disaster with another child.
My days do feel like a dance most of the time, albeit a clumsy one. I wish there were more personal fitness benefits to this dance, but I’m working that in there too, along with reading the mail between answering questions and getting up earlier to get a crockpot dinner going on particularly busy days.
Some days, I feel like a falling-down disaster. But with more and more practice, my days flow more smoothly. And every once in a while, I have to smile that we are doing more than I thought was possible. More importantly, learning happens here. That’s worth some crazy choreography.