The most common questions I receive about homeschooling have to do with curriculum and how to manage school with younger siblings. Homeschooling multiple ages and grades can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. If the idea is embraced rather than resisted, it often leads to a richer educational and relational experience.
Seven years into this homeschooling journey, I have a few suggestions and recommendations to share. It is important to remember that every child, every relationship, every family dynamic is different. Attention spans and developmental skills widely vary across ages. Try not to compare your own children to each other. Be flexible and keep trying until you find what works best for you and your kids.
With that said, there are several things that have helped while I was homeschooling with a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, and now finally with three different levels.
1.) Include younger siblings in all lessons as much as possible. Little brothers and sisters love to be part of the action. Make a special spot for them at your homeschool table. Encourage them to try some of their older sibling’s activities. Print off an extra page, make a copy of the worksheet, give them their own paper and pencil. Make it a big deal that they have “schoolwork” to do too.
This might sound easier said than done, and it will probably add some distraction and extra things to manage. It may also require an extra dose of strength and patience. BUT it will make your younger children feel loved, respected, and important. This is great for building family team and rapport.
Homeschooling is really about teamwork. And you, as the team leader, are laying the foundation for your team to be successful. In a team, everyone is important and brings something special to the table. That includes the littlest team members.
2.) Plan special activities just for them.
Littles have a short attention spans. Lessons and activities should be kept brief, include movement, and varied activities. Include younger siblings as much as you can in big kid activities, but give them their own activities too. I’ve created a list of recommendations at my Amazon Storefront.
Some ideas to try:
- Sensory Boxes. Check out a few ideas on my Pinterest board!
- BOX TIME! Make special boxes for each day of the week. Label five plastic shoeboxes or bins with the days of the week. Add different objects, items and toys that can only be used during “box time.” Switch out the toys or items weekly or every couple of weeks. Items in the boxes could be as simple as a sheet of stickers and colorful paper, or as special as a new toy.
- Music makes everything better. When emotions seem to be running high, try classical music as a calming agent. It does wonders for the imagination too!
- Take time to stretch. Every so often, stop lessons, stretch together as a family. Try some jumping jacks or switch to dance music to get bodies moving.
(Amazon Affiliate links included. While it does not cost you anything extra, I earn a small commission for each product ordered.)
3.) Wait for naptimes to “do” school.
This was incredibly helpful to me when my son was born and my daughters were in kindergarten and first grade. I was nursing every three hours and being interrupted more often than that. I tried to “school” the girls, but all the distractions were very frustrating and usually resulted in one of us in tears.
We changed up our school schedule, and started waiting for my son’s naptime to do the work that required more focus and less distractions (reading, language arts, and some math.) This worked so well that we continued to do this until my son stopped taking naps.
4.) An effective behavior management system.
This is a big topic to break down and discuss, so I will save it for another blog post. But, do you have a system of behavior management and discipline that is working for you and your family? In short, the less words and emotion you use, the more clear and consistent expectations are given, the more effective discipline will be.
I really like Magic 1-2-3. I have found success with this program when I was teaching in a special education in a public school classroom and at home with my own children.
When homeschooling, especially multiple ages, each day can feel very long. Yet, the days add up quickly and go by fast. Enjoy the age that your children are at. Hard days pass, new challenges come. Don’t forget to breathe.